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August 02, 2017

In bipartisan show of support, Democrats plan to host fundraiser for Curbelo. He's also got Rubio lined up.


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@PatriciaMazzei

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A group of well-known local Democrats will collect campaign cash later this month -- for a Republican.

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo will attend an Aug. 23 fundraising reception hosted by nine Democrats, including former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter and Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace, according to an invitation to the event.

Curbelo drew his first Democratic opponent with national party backing, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, on Wednesday.

The sophomore congressman has campaigned as a moderate -- an image that can only be bolstered with Democratic financial support. Among the Democrats co-hosting the fundraiser are Ira Leesfield, a major Hillary Clinton donor, and attorney Roland Sanchez-Medina. Last year, Sanchez-Medina served as campaign treasurer for Curbelo's Democratic rival, Joe Garcia

"While we don't agree with him on every issue, he is a voice of reason in an increasingly unreasonably partisan world, he works hard to represent Miami-Dade County in Washington, and, in particular, he is trying to bring both parties together for the good of the country," Sanchez-Medina said in an email to the Miami Herald. "We are proud to support Carlos."

Some Democrats on the list, including Porter, Wallace, political consultant Freddy Balsera and lobbyist Brian Mayhave also supported Curbelo in the past.

National Democrats consider Curbelo's 26th congressional district, which extends from Westchester to Key West, to be one of the most competitive in the country.

If Republicans worry Democratic support could hurt Curbelo's GOP bona fides: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also plans to host a fundraiser for Curbelo later in August, the Herald has learned. 

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

State Department won’t call Venezuelan election ‘illegitimate’ while White House takes harder stance

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

The top State Department official in charge of Latin America declined Wednesday — even when pressed — to call a Venezuelan election “illegitimate,” as evidence mounted that the vote for a new legislative body with nearly unfettered power was fraudulent.

Francisco Palmieri, acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, characterized Sunday’s election as “flawed” and said the U.S. will not recognize the new constituent assembly once it is seated as early as Wednesday.

“The election Sunday was a flawed attempt to undermine democratic institutions in Venezuela,” Palmieri said at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing. “We support the democratically elected National Assembly in its efforts to promote an enduring, peaceful solution to the crises in Venezuela.”

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who was chairing the hearing, wasn’t satisfied.

“So, just to be clear, is it the position of the administration that the vote that occurred on Sunday is illegitimate?” Rubio asked.

Palmieri repeated himself. Again Rubio asked. Again Palmieri deflected, though each time he inched closer to Rubio’s position.

“I know the process was flawed,” Rubio said, taking Palmieri to task. “The outcome is this new constituent assembly. There cannot be a legitimate National Assembly and a legitimate constituent assembly. If the National Assembly is the only legitimate entity, the constituent assembly by definition is illegitimate.”

“I take your point,” Palmieri conceded. “Yes, sir.”

The State Department’s resistance to use “illegitimate” came after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley deployed the word Sunday. The White House, National Security Council and Treasury Department also adopted far harsher language against Venezuela in recent days, branding President Nicolás Maduro a “dictator” and referring to his government as a “dictatorship” that could be hit with escalating U.S. sanctions.

Critics have argued going hard after Maduro’s government is counterproductive because it gives him an anti-U.S. cause to rally supporters.

“Impose all the sanctions you want!” Maduro said in a televised speech Monday. “The Venezuelan people have decided to be free, and I’ve decided to be the president of a free people.”

In an interview published late Tuesday by Spanish news agency EFE and cited by Rubio, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America Michael Fitzpatrick said the U.S. wants “dialogue” with Maduro’s government.

“We respect the official government of Venezuela and of President Maduro at this time,” Fitzpatrick said.

In contrast, President Donald Trump has vowed “strong and swift” economic sanctions against Venezuela that have yet to materialize.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who took a few days off last week as the U.S. sanctioned 13 members of Maduro’s government, said Tuesday the administration is still considering “what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future — and wants to leave of his own accord — or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”

Read more here.

August 01, 2017

Democrat challenging Curbelo lived in the district — for 2 months

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@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will challenge Republican Carlos Curbelo to represent voters living in a sprawling Miami-to-Key West district. She doesn’t live in the district now, but history shows she has a handy fallback option in the Florida Keys.

When Mucarsel-Powell ran for office in 2016 — an ultimately unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat — she changed her voter registration two months before Election Day from an out-of-district Pinecrest home she has owned since 2009 to an in-district rental property 60 miles away in the Florida Keys. It was a gambit that allowed her to criticize her competitor for living outside of the district.

“My opponent can’t vote for herself,” Mucarsel-Powell tweeted a few weeks before Election Day. “Why should the voters of SD 39?”

 After the vote, she switched her registration back to Pinecrest  raising the question of whether she ever really lived in the Keys, or simply rented an apartment there because it was good politics. A questionable residency could be fodder for Curbelo and Republicans looking to keep his swing seat.

Mucarsel-Powell declined to comment Tuesday. Pressed by the Miami Herald, her campaign produced a lease for a rental property in Islamorada signed on Oct. 9, 2016. The $3,000-a-month lease was set to end in January 2017, but Mucarsel-Powell switched her voter registration to Pinecrest in December. Mucarsel-Powell and her husband have three school-age children.

In an interview Monday announcing her candidacy, Mucarsel-Powell acknowledged currently living outside the 26th congressional district and made no claim that she’d plan to move there — though she said she rents property in the Keys and would love to live there.

“That’s where my heart is,” she said.

Members of Congress aren’t required to live in the districts they represent.

In 2016, Mucarsel-Powell was in the midst of an expensive state Senate campaign against Anitere Flores, a Republican with a massive campaign warchest.

But both Flores and Mucarsel-Powell shared the same political disadvantage: Neither candidate lived in the sprawling Senate District 39, which closely mirrors Curbelo’s congressional district, at the start of the campaign.

In October, Mucarsel-Powell changed her voter registration from her Pinecrest home to Islamorada, according to voting records in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Four weeks later, on Nov. 5, she touted her vote on Twitter.

“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and her husband Robert cast their ballots today in Islamorada!”

November 2016 Herald story from highlighting candidates who didn’t live in their districts identified Mucarsel-Powell as “Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Islamorada.” But in December 2016, after losing to Flores by about 8 percentage points, Mucarsel-Powell changed her voter registration back to her Pinecrest home, about 5 miles outside the congressional district.

Read more here.

Miami's mayor says Tuesday's floods 'making the case' for $400 million bond

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(Picture posted on Twitter Tuesday afternoon by Eileen Higgins.)

@NewsbySmiley

The flash floods that inundated coastal Miami-Dade Tuesday afternoon proved a major inconvenience for thousands across Miami and Miami Beach trying to get home from work. But for Miami's mayor, the timing couldn't have been better.

Fresh off last week's victory, when the Miami City Commission agreed to ask voters in November to authorize $400 million in public projects -- nearly half of which would pay for new pumps and storm water systems amid estimates that sea-rise will cost Miami $1 billion over the coming decades -- Tomas Regalado's campaign just got a little easier.

"We think that this makes the case for -- not sea-level rise in 50 years, or two more feet of bay water -- this is happening. It's local flooding and we have to address the storm sewers and the drainage of the city," Regalado told the Herald. "This little storm is making the case for flood mitigation."

Regalado said Public Works employees are going around the city, documenting flooding. Downtown and the Omni reported flooding. In Little Havana, he said, two private ambulances transporting patients were caught in flash floods.

"They're trying to get the patients out," he said.

Regalado's "Miami Forever" bond initiative includes $100 million for affordable housing, and about the same amount to fund improvements to parks and cultural facilities and various other projects. But the signature item in the bond referendum is money to address the slow-growing complications of climate change.

The city, under state law, can't campaign for the referendum but can educate voters on the item. Miami should expect to see some images from Tuesday resurfacing over the coming months.

 

"This is the poster child for flooding in the city of Miami," Regalado said.

Special election dates set for Hillsborough state House seat

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@ByKristenMClark

With Plant City Republican state Rep. Dan Raulerson stepping down this month, Gov. Rick Scott has decided voters in Hillsborough County should select their next state representative in time for he or she to take office before the 2018 session begins in January.

Scott signed an executive order Tuesday that sets the special election dates for Raulerson's District 58 seat. The special primary election will be held Oct. 10, with the special general election happening Dec. 19.

The 2018 legislative session begins Jan. 9.

Raulerson announced last week that he'll resign effective Aug. 15, telling the Tampa Bay Times he needed "to focus on my health and my business." Raulerson, who has spinal stenosis, plans to have back surgery soon.

Some Republicans are already considering bids for his seat in the red-leaning district.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Patronis names former Senate President John McKay to Citizens Board

John McKayChief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has named Bradenton businessman and former Senate President John McKay to the board of governors at Citizens Property Insurance. 

McKay, 68, president of The Riverside Real Estate Company, will succeed former board member, Juan Cocuy, for a three-year term ending July 31, 2020. The eight-member board oversees the plan of operation of the state-run insurance of last resort. Florida's governor, Senate president, House speaker and CFO each appoint two members to the Board.

McKay, a Republican, was Senate president from 2000-2002 and was first elected to the Florida Senate in 1990. He has had a 35-year career in real estate and property management. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, served as board chairman for the Manatee Rural Health Foundation and the McKay Academy. McKay is a former board chairman for the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and Ringling Museum of Art.

The appointment comes after House Speaker Richard Corcoran tried and failed to appoint another former senator, Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano to the Citizens board. More on that here: Corcoran's choice of friend Fasano for a key post goes badly awry

Mark Silva, longtime newsman in Tallahassee and D.C., dies at age 63

Mark Silva

Mark Silva, longtime Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald who went on to cover the White House for the Chicago Tribune, died early Tuesday at his home in Alexandria, Virginia. He was 63 and recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Silva led the Herald’s capital bureau from the mid-1980s through the 1990s and became the paper’s political editor through the 2000 presidential election, a contest decided only after a pivotal Florida recount that brought the state global fame.

He joined the Orlando Sentinel as political editor in 2001, moving to Washington three years later to cover the George W. Bush White House. Later, he was an editor with Bloomberg News and most recently an editor with U.S. News & World Report, where he led a team examining politics and policies in the 50 states at the organization’s Best States project.

Silva leaves his wife of 33-years, Nina, and two children, Dylan and Lisa and a grandson, Noah.

Silva was a force in Tallahassee during a newspaper heyday when Florida dailies maintained robust capital bureaus that competed fiercely over every inch of political, legislative and policy territory. Silva was rarely beaten — and he often beat others.

With a relentless work ethic and a passion for collecting news tips from lobbyists drinking “see-through” at Clydes, Silva could power out a steady stream of dailies and weekenders. He also could turn a phrase.

One of the first reporters to carry a bulky, brick cellphone at the Capitol, Silva was around long enough for cellphones to shrink in size but expand in capability. Noting the change, Silva once wrote for the Herald that “cellphones were one of the few things male lobbyists bragged about who had the smallest.”

Few knew more than Silva about Florida’s politics and the personalities it attracted. As a political reporter, he scoured the state, clocking miles as a tireless traveler from his Tallahassee base, always willing to share a tale or offer advice to younger reporters.

Working for the Orlando Sentinel 16 years ago, Silva was assigned early morning media “pool duty” during a President Bush visit to a second-grade classroom in Sarasota. On that Sept. 11 morning, Silva was a witness to the president reading “The Pet Goat” to school children, then being told that terrorist-commandeered aircraft had struck New York’s World Trade Center.

When he moved to Washington, Silva was among the first to write a well-regarded must-read political blog. He traveled the globe with the president and first lady Laura Bush, including a four-country Africa trip that crossed the equator twice and more than 40 countries logged in his passport.

Along the way, he made friends and earned admirers, even among those he covered with a relentless search for truth.

“He was always straight, fair and even-tempered,’’ said Jim Scott, former Florida Senate president from Fort Lauderdale. “He was a great guy.”

Silva described himself in his Twitter account, @NewsmanSilva, as a “Wayward Floridian, Devout Bluesman.” He had a passion for guitar, a talent for writing, a devotion to his family and a determination to see all things clearly.

He was the author of two books, “When We’re 64: Reflections on the Real World,” a memoir that he described as “a collection of essays about rediscovering the natural world after a life devoted to the working world,” and “McCain: The Essential Guide to the Republican Nominee,” with the Tribune staff.

James Warren of the Poynter Institute included the news in his morning newsletter on Tuesday.

“Mark Silva was as smart, decent and collegial a reporter-editor as you’ll ever find,’’ he wrote. “Out of the blue, he was diagnosed recently with several bad brain tumors, fought valiantly and passed away at 3:30 a.m. at home in Virginia with his family. They don’t come any better.”

-- Mary Ellen Klas with John Kennedy

Photo above: Mark Silva, outside the Miami Herald's former building. Courtesy of Mark Silva.

Photo below: At Silva's farewell from Tallahassee party at Clydes. Courtesy of Steve BousquetSilva farewell at Clydes

Rubio delivers speech in Spanish on independent Venezuelan TV station

 

@PatriciaMazzei

In an unusual move possible only for a bilingual U.S. senator, Florida Republican Marco Rubio got to make a speech late Monday night on an independent Venezuelan TV news channel in which he expressed solidarity for opponents of President Nicolás Maduro, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration Monday as a "dictator."

"There is no U.S. economic blockade on Venezuela. 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," said Rubio, who is fluent in Spanish. "For Nicolás Maduro, who I am sure is watching, the current path you are on will not end well for you."

The address, taped in Washington, aired on Globovisión, which is expected to continue playing the speech Tuesday.

"While the people of Venezuela struggle each day to feed their families, have you noticed how many of your leaders have gained weight?" Rubio said, pointing to periodic food shortages that have plagued the oil-rich South American nation.

Hours after the speech's initial airing, Venezuelan state security agents took two political prisoners who were under house arrest into custody. On Sunday, Maduro's government carried out a violent-marred election widely seen as fraudulent for a new all-powerful constituent assembly.

"Go ahead," Maduro said in a televised speech Monday evening. "Bring on your sanctions, Donald Trump."

Rubio noted in a Tuesday statement that Vice President Mike Pence had spoken to one of the prisoners, high-profile opposition leader Leopoldo López, by phone Friday. The other prisoner is former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma.

 “There should be no doubt that his arrest is a direct challenge to President Trump," Rubio said.

Rubio brought Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the Oval Office to meet Trump in February. Last week, López posted an online video urging Venezuelans to boycott Sunday’s constituent assembly vote and remain in the streets protesting. The terms of his house arrest prohibited him from speaking to reporters.

Curbelo draws Democratic challenger in swing Florida district

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty

Months after Democrats began calling him a top national target, Carlos Curbelo has drawn a serious 2018 challenger.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ran a stronger-than-expected state Senate campaign in 2016, will run for Congress. She plans to hold a news conference announcing her candidacy Wednesday.

“It’s shocking that the people in Washington are trying to strip healthcare from millions of Americans,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Miami Herald in an interview Monday, taking a jab at Curbelo. “The person that I’m running against voted for Trumpcare.”

She claimed Curbelo “has voted more than 86 percent of the time with Trump,” but also insisted: “I don’t want to focus my entire energy on what’s happening with the president.”

The bilingual Mucarsel-Powell, 46, was born in Ecuador, where she lived until she was 14. That’s when she and her single mother and three sisters moved to southern California. Mucarsel-Powell followed a sister to South Florida in 1996.

Now married with a stepdaughter, a daughter and a son, Mucarsel-Powell lives in Pinecrest, which is outside the 26th congressional district, a stretch of Westchester to Key West. She rents property in the Florida Keys, she said. Curbelo lives about a mile from the district’s boundaries in West Kendall.

After years of working in various nonprofit organizations, at ZooMiami and for Florida International University, Mucarsel-Powell opened a consulting firm on strategic planning.

“I’ve spent my entire life in nonprofits trying to bring change, positive change,” she said. “People are really charged. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They want change.”

For months, national Democrats have labeled Curbelo a top target, citing his district’s Democratic-leaning makeup. It favors Democrats by 6 percentage points, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, making Curbelo’s district the most Democratic in the country currently held by a Republican. Last year, Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the district by 16 points.

But Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 points, a 28-point swing showing Curbelo’s crossover appeal among Democrats and independents. He’s also a prolific fundraiser who had $1.1 million in his campaign account as of June 30 and consistently posts among the highest fundraising hauls of House members in both parties. Mucarsel-Powell said she expects to have to raise at least $4 million to compete.

Curbelo’s support in May for the American Health Care Act, House Republicans’ proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, was political manna for Democratic Party leaders, who see the vote as one of Curbelo’s biggest electoral weaknesses in a district where 92,500 people get health insurance through Obamacare — one of the highest rates in the country. Republicans have already vowed to spend millions of dollars defending Curbelo and other Republicans in competitive districts who backed the legislation.

Read more here.

Seventh Democrat enters race to replace Republican Ros-Lehtinen

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

Matt Haggman, the former program director of Miami’s Knight Foundation, will run for Congress as a Democrat to seek retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat.

“Our biggest challenges continue to go unmet,” he told the Miami Herald on Monday. “We’re not building for the future. Sea-level rise is being ignored. Many of the jobs today will be dramatically different in a very, very short time. We’re doing very little on that — and that has to change.”

Haggman has invited backers to a Tuesday event dubbed “Building a Better Miami,” where he will announce his candidacy. He signaled his impending run when he resigned earlier this month from Knight, where he had worked since 2011. He plans to be a full-time candidate and cast himself as a political newcomer with the sort of civic experience that might appeal to pragmatic progressive voters. 

Haggman, 46, said he’s been contemplating a run since President Donald Trump won the presidency last November — and before Ros-Lehtinen stunned the local political establishment by announcing her retirement in April. He has never been a candidate before, though Democrats have tried to recruit him in the past for local office.

Trump’s victory — and how Republican leaders in Congress have handled him — nudged him to run, Haggman said. 

“With the election of Donald Trump, who I stand firmly and strongly and adamantly against, many of our bedrock values are under threat: the values of welcoming immigrants with open arms, of a free press guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.

Hillary Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.

Haggman, a Boston native and Coconut Grove resident, is married to Danet Linares, vice chairman of Blanca Commercial Real Estate. Before joining Knight, Haggman was a Herald reporter, covering real estate and Miami-Dade County Hall; he had previously worked for the Daily Business Review. Though he holds a law degree from the University of Vermont, Haggman never practiced as an attorney.

Accustomed to awarding Knight’s grants, Haggman will now have to get used to asking political donors for campaign cash. He’s hired Washington firm SKDKnickerbocker as his political consultant and Anzalone Liszt Grove Research as his pollster.

Mostly unknown outside of the tight-knit technology, media and arts community supported by Knight, Haggman will face the challenge of raising his public profile in a Democratic primary field rife with candidates, most of them with past ballot experience.

Read more here.