« November 2015 | Main | January 2016 »

272 posts from December 2015

December 31, 2015

Florida Senate has not ruled out appealing redistricting decision


The Florida Legislature has not ruled out appealing Wednesday's state court decision to set new Senate districts that could bolster Democratic chances at the ballot box in 2016.

"We have not foreclosed the option to appeal on the state or federal level," said State Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who led the Senate's redistricting plan which a judge dismissed in favor of a plan presented by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

Galvano said Thursday the Senate is also exploring a legal option to request a rehearing of the redistricting case.

Similarly, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who on Wednesday issued a statement proclaiming the maps are set, said he never intended to suggest an appeal was off the table. He said the decision is under legal review and any decision will be up to current Senate President Andy Gardiner and the Senate's legal team. Negron said he was just trying to make it clear Republicans were prepared to fight to hold their majority in the Florida Senate in 2016 regardless of the way the map has been crafted.

Republicans currently hold 26 seats in the Senate while Democrats hold 14. Under the redistricting plan Circuit Judge George Reynolds approved Wednesday, President Barack Obama in 2012 carried the majority of the vote in 21 of 40 seats, according to an analyst by Democratic data consultant Matthew Isbell. That would, on paper, give Democrats improved chances to win current GOP-held districts.

Galvano, an attorney, said there are issues in Reynolds ruling from Wednesday that could merit an appeal. He said the way the process of redistricting was handled by the courts and even how minority-access districts were drawn in South Florida both are being reviewed with the Senate's legal counsel. Under the redistricting plan Reynolds approved, one South Florida district represented now by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, would see the black voting age population decline enough that it could affect whether and African-American can win the seat in the future.

An appeal would extend the already long-running redistricting saga that has raged for almost three years. It has cost taxpayers more than $8 million in legal fees and resulted in two acrimonious special sessions of the Florida Legislature that produced maps for Congressional districts and Florida Senate districts that the courts have refused to accept because of constitutional flaws.

More here.

Some states are making voting much easier, but Florida isn't one of them


This November in Austin, Texas, voters will pick a president during their regular trip to the grocery store.

Maine residents who have never voted will register on Election Day. Every Colorado voter will get a ballot in the mail that they can mail or drop off anytime before the polls close. And some Alaskans will simply mark their ballots online.

Don Morris, Times

More and more, waiting in line at a neighborhood school or church to vote on a Tuesday in November is becoming archaic. Around the country, states are changing their laws accordingly, hoping to make casting a ballot as convenient as possible.

And then there's Florida, a state that has shunned same-day voter registration and vote centers as an alternative to busy precincts. Residents here have to request a mail-in ballot every other election year or set aside time to go to a polling place.

"We have a state that has a history of disenfranchising voters," said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. "We have to continually be on the watch for legislation that moves us backward instead of forward."

Florida has developed a reputation for its long lines well into the night on Election Day in 2012 and for rarely granting voting rights to felons who have served their full sentences. But perhaps the biggest hurdle facing potential voters, Goodman said, is the state's resistance to allowing voter registration on Election Day.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley disagrees with the critics, saying it's not fair to paint Florida as behind-the-times. Rather, he said, programs like early voting, mail-in ballots and online voter registration set to begin in 2017 make it more convenient for people to vote in Florida than many other states.

"I think Florida to some degree gets unfairly criticized," Corley said. "We talk about things such as early voting… Some states have restrictions on voting by mail."

Increasingly, Florida's nearly 12 million voters are turning to those alternatives. In the 2012 and 2014 elections, more ballots were cast at early-voting locations or via mail than in person on Election Day.

Still, some voting rights advocates contend that Florida ought to do more to bring elections into the 21st century. Reforming Election Day access and voter registration laws, they say, could ease difficulties faced by some of the very people who are most likely to be turned off to the political process, namely young and minority voters.

"I tend to want to start with the positive," Goodman said, "but we certainly have many battles yet to climb."

Read the full story, part of the Herald/Times' "The Florida voter" series, here.

Miami-Dade commissioner draws old 'nemesis' as a challenger for 2016


Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson appears to have garnered the first competitive commission race of the 2016 cycle. 

The two-term commissioner drew a challenge for her District 3 seat this week from former El Portal Mayor Daisy Black, a old rival of Edmonson's from her days in that city's political leadership. "She was my nemesis," Edmonson said. Black was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

With Mayor Carlos Gimenez, County Clerk Harvey Ruvin and seven of the county's 13 commissioners up for reelection next year, 2016 has the potential to be particularly busy for politics on the county level. But so far, no commissioner has received a challenger who has held elected office already or begun to raise money.

District 9's Dennis Moss has two filed challengers: Earl Beaver, a restaurateur, and Rubin Young, who is also running against Ruvin at the same time. Former pharmaceutical salesman Felix Lorenzo, who described himself as an anti-incorporation advocate to the Political Cortadito blog, is running his first race against District 11 Commissioner Juan C. Zapata.   

For Edmonson, 2016 is bringing a challenger who has both name recognition and a track record of winning local office. A longtime council member at El Portal, Black was elected mayor in 2010 but lost a 2014 reelection bid to the city's current mayor, Claudia Cubillos

Continue reading "Miami-Dade commissioner draws old 'nemesis' as a challenger for 2016" »

Ballot initiatives face year-end goal for petitions


With the end of 2015 in sight, groups pushing ballot initiatives for the 2016 election are up against the clock.

The fates of constitutional amendments legalizing medical marijuana and reaffirming existing, utility-friendly solar energy laws could be decided in the coming hours.

For both groups, Dec. 31 represents a crucial deadline by which they hope to submit all the petitions required to be on the ballot. County election supervisors aren’t required to count petitions received after that point.

It takes 683,149 petitions, signed by registered voters, to make the ballot in 2016. They must include support from 8 percent of voters in 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts.

Both Consumers for Smart Solar — the solar group funded by the state’s major utility companies — and United for Care — the medical marijuana group funded by lawyer John Morgan — say they have gathered more than 1 million petitions.

Still, they continue to solicit support from donors and petition signers.

Continue reading "Ballot initiatives face year-end goal for petitions" »

Amid party feud, Ted Cruz plays political chess with Miami-Dade GOP



The Miami-Dade Republican Party is feuding with an executive board member who publicly endorsed Ted Cruz for president. So what does Cruz's campaign do?

It accepts an invitation from the local GOP to speak at its annual Lincoln Day dinner fundraiser in 2016.

The Cruz campaign received a letter dated Dec. 16 from Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz asking the Texas senator to the fundraiser, planned for sometime in mid-to-late May.

"We are currently planning the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County's 68th Annual Lincoln Day Dinner and would be honored to have a Republican presidential candidate as the Keynote Speaker of the evening," the letter says. "As a passionate supporter of the Constitution and freedom in America, you are well suited to address this crowd of hard working Republicans eager to elect a Republican president."

"He has accepted the invitation," Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler said in an email Thursday to the Miami Herald.

Diaz said he's unaware of any RSVPs yet to the invitation he sent all Republican presidential candidates. The party's board will meet after the end of January to see which ones have responded and which ones they'll actually schedule for the dinner, which will take place late enough in the year that some of them may not be contenders anymore.

Cruz packed the house as the keynote speaker in 2014. But when party vice-chairman Manny Roman announced in a letter to the Herald editor last week that he was backing Cruz, Roman caused an intra-party polemic over whether he had broken GOP officer rules. Roman counters he's been singled out because he's not supporting Cruz's local rivals, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. The party plans to vote next week on whether Roman should be removed from his post.

With that dispute still unresolved, Cruz accepted the party's fundraiser invitation -- making it difficult for the GOP to ultimately turn him down. If it does, the Cruz campaign might then argue that Miami Republicans are biased against candidates not named Rubio or Bush -- the precise point Roman has been making.

Photo credit: J Pat Carter, Associated Press

Miami Republican to court donors at Monday's Heat game


State Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, plans to host a fundraiser for an upcoming state Senate run during Monday's Miami Heat game at American Airlines Arena.

According to an email invitation to the event, Fresen is hosting a suite during the game against the Indiana Pacers with entrance costing $5,000 for one ticket or $10,000 for three tickets.  Download Fresen-Heat Game

Individual or corporate donations to candidate committees are limited to $1,000, under Florida law. However, Fresen also has a political committee, "Floridians for a Strong 67," where he's raising money as well.

Guests at Fresen's fundraiser are asked to make contributions to "Erik Fresen Campaign."

Fresen started raising money in July toward a 2018 bid for the state Senate seat currently held by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who would ordinarily have been termed out that year from seeking re-election.

But with new Senate districts finalized in a court ruling yesterday, some sitting lawmakers and future Senate contenders are re-evaluating their options. All 40 Senate seats will be on the ballot in 2016, with a lottery deciding which seats will be for initial two-year terms or for four-year terms.

Fresen, chairman of the House education budget committee, cannot run for his House seat again because of term limits. He told the Herald/Times on Thursday that he plans to run for the new District 35 whenever Diaz de la Portilla either is term-limited or chooses not to seek re-election. Fresen and Diaz de la Portilla both live within that new district, as does Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami.

"I would never run against my good friend, Sen. Diaz de la Portilla," Fresen said via text message. "He represents our district very well. I will, however be running for the new District 35 whenever it becomes open and/or he is not running."

With all seats on the ballot next year and depending on the term set for the new District 35, Diaz de la Portilla could pursue another two or four years in office -- scenarios that could affect which election Fresen will target his ongoing fundraising efforts.

Is Gitmo a key part of ISIS recruitment propaganda?

Supporters of closing the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, including President Barack Obama, often refer to the military prison’s existence as a major recruitment tool for terrorist groups.

The theory is that terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can rally potential followers by highlighting alleged human rights abuses against suspected terrorists held at the prison.

But Weekly Standard senior editor Stephen Hayes said this is flat-out wrong.

Guantanamo has "never been a key component of ISIS or al-Qaida propaganda, and yet the president is insisting on moving forward and closing it," Hayes said on Fox News Sunday Dec. 27.

We decided to get to the bottom of this question. See what Lauren Carroll of PunditFact found.

December 30, 2015

Human trafficking law goes into effect Friday

 @MichaelAuslen  Notification

Expect a new sight at Florida strip clubs starting Friday.

In an effort to curb human trafficking and help victims find safety, state lawmakers last year mandated that signs be posted in “a conspicuous location” to advertise a hotline they can call or text for assistance.

It’s not just strip clubs. Under the law passed this spring and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the signs will be required at rest stops, airports, emergency rooms and massage parlors, as well as strip clubs, starting Jan. 1.

"If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in an activity and cannot leave—whether it is prostitution, housework, farm work, factory work, retail work, restaurant work, or any other activity—call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to 233-733 to access help and services. Victims of slavery and human trafficking are protected under United States and Florida law," the signs say.

The human trafficking law is one of two that goes into effect at the start of 2016. A second impacts licensed athletic trainers, including requiring background checks and making changing the term of office for those on the state’s governing board of the profession to four years.

Jeb Bush moves staff from Miami to New Hampshire and other early states

Jeb Bush's presidential campaign announced today that it is moving staffers out of Miami headquarters to deploy more to the early states.

“Today, given the fluid race and the spending decisions by outside groups, we are making strategic adjustments with our resources to ensure we are in the most competitive position possible," said a statement from the Bush campaign. "We are excited about the massive Jeb army that will be spreading his message to voters on the ground in the February states and beyond.”

With the moves, the Bush campaign is moving about 60 additional staffers -- mostly from headquarters in Miami --  to early states in January. It will have over 40 paid staff in New Hampshire and 20 apiece in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.

"This will give Jeb by far the largest ground operation in the first four states," according to the press release. 

The campaign also announced changes to Right to Rise's TV ad buys by removing $3 million in scheduled ad buys and focus on voter contact instead. The Bush super PAC will remove $1 million in ads in Iowa and $2 million in South Carolina. That means that the amount of ad spending in the states between Dec. 28 and election days will total $3.9 million in Iowa, over $11 million in New Hampshire and $4.2 million in South Carolina.

A Bush spokeswoman said some staff will remain in Florida, but didn't provide a specific number.

This follows a downsizing of staff in the Miami headquarters in October.

The staff deployment is an effort by Bush to re-energize his campaign. A Real Clear Politics average of the polls Dec. 10-21 showed Bush at 4.4 percent behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Chris Christie.

Judge approves voting rights' groups remap of Florida Senate

A judge on Wednesday approved a new map of Florida's 40 Senate districts drawn by a coalition of voting rights groups, dealing yet another political and legal setback to the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Senate had no immediate comment on Circuit Judge George Reynolds' order. His 73-page ruling orders the Senate to randomly assign district numbers to all 40 districts within three days of a final judgment being entered.

Republicans currently control 26 seats and Democrats 14. After reviewing the approved map, known as CPS-4a, Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell posted on Twitter that the map appears to improve Democrats' chances of gaining seats next fall.