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181 posts from July 2017

July 30, 2017

Matt Haggman, who may run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat, to make "special announcement" on Tuesday


@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

Matt Haggman looks more like a congressional candidate with each passing day. 

When Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced that she would not run for reelection in 2018, Haggman told the Miami Herald in April a run for her seat is "something I've been actively thinking about for a while now."  

Two weeks ago, Haggman quit his post as the Knight Foundation's program director in Miami, telling a reporter to "stay tuned" about his future plans.

And now Haggman is hosting an event on Tuesday evening dubbed "Building a Better Miami" where he promises a "special announcement," according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald. 

Haggman, a Democrat and former Miami Herald reporter, declined to comment. 

If Haggman jumps in the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat he will become the sixth Democrat aiming for the Miami-based seat that Democrats argue is likely to flip after Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement in April. 

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, attorney Mary Barzee Flores, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person are all running in the Democratic primary. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell formed an exploratory committee as he considers a run. 

Three Republicans are also in the race, former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and school board member Raquel Regalado, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Maria Peiro

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen's district, the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican. 



July 29, 2017

Following fundraising scandal, Miami Beach commissioner expected to drop mayoral bid

Miami Beach Grieco@NickNehamas & @joeflech

After a fundraising scandal tarnished his populist campaign, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco is privately telling supporters he will give up his bid for mayor, three sources with knowledge of his thinking told the Miami Herald on Saturday.

Grieco would instead run for his current commission seat, potentially throwing that race into disarray, one of the sources said.

“He’s following his heart,” said a donor to his campaign who asked not to be named. The donor said that he heard the news directly from Grieco and that the decision seemed to be final.

Read more.

July 28, 2017

Guarding Mar-a-Lago has cost $6.6M so far

From the Washington Post:

As the Trump administration threatened hefty budget cuts for the U.S. Coast Guard, the military service was spending more than $6.6 million protecting the president’s waterfront Mar-a-Lago Club during his seven weekend trips there this spring, documents show.

The Coast Guard deployed cutters, patrol boats, helicopters and anti-terror specialists from across the country to safeguard the luxury Palm Beach, Fla., estate.

The deployments came as Coast Guard leaders, bracing for possible budget cuts, have argued that the cash-strapped service has made painful sacrifices— letting some illegal drug shipments go and delaying certain repairs to its fleet.

The records, released Thursday to The Washington Post in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, offer a glimpse into the intricate costs and demands for a military force tasked with defending the president during his frequent getaways to his private businesses.

They also highlight how taxpayers have helped finance the unusually elaborate lifestyle of Trump and his family in ways that can also benefit his company. In this case, Mar-a-Lago, which Trump has dubbed a “Winter White House,” is also a for-profit, members-only club.

More here.

Members of Congress to Tillerson: Don't unilaterally ban Venezuelan oil imports


A group of nine House Democrats cautioned Friday against banning Venezuelan oil imports, a drastic sanction the Trump administration has considered imposing if the South American nation carries out an election Sunday for a national constituent assembly.

In a letter, the lawmakers asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has been largely absent from the Venezuela issue, to work with other countries in the region to pursue negotiations between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his opponents. Otherwise, they wrote, the U.S. risks triggering an"armed internal conflict [that] would undoubtedly provoke an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and would also likely lead to major disruptions in oil production."

"We would point out that U.S. unilateral sanctions in effect since 2015 and have done nothing to improve the political situation in the country," the lawmakers wrote Tillerson. "Instead, they were successfully exploited by the government to stoke nationalist resentment against U.S. 'imperialism,' undermining U.S. credibility as an impartial arbiter among Venezuelans."

 The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan, Ro Khanna of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, Ruben Gallego of Arizona, James P. McGovern of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California, Henry C. 'Hank' Johnson, Jr. of Georgia, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri.

This week, the U.S. sanctioned 13 Venezuelans tied to Maduro's government. An oil-sector sanction would represent a far more serious punishment. Friday's letter was drafted, circulated and sent within one day, in response to Wednesday's sanctions. 

In pushing for negotiations, the lawmakers mentioned the past role of Pope Francis in trying to broker a Venezuelan peace. But the Vatican has stayed out of recent developments, after its initial talks went nowhere. 

The lawmakers nevertheless urged further talks.

"These negotiations should seek to address both the political crisis, with the objective of achieving a democratic, electoral solution within Venezuela’s constitutional framework, as well as the country’s economic crisis, for which foreign governments and multilateral institutions can be invited to contribute expertise and resources," the lawmakers wrote. "Talks must take into account legitimate concerns of retribution against both supporters and opponents of the government, and guarantee fundamental legal protections of both sides in the event of any political transition."  

Legislators had no kind words for Maduro, who has no apparent friends left in Washington. The letter noted that falling oil prices, corruption and "some of the worst economic mismanagement in the world" have led to widespread Venezuelan food and medicine shortages that have prompted the current political and social crisis. More than 100 people have died in nearly four months of street protests.

Still, they said, an oil-import ban is not the answer. 

At least one high-ranking Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, has also warned against an oil-import ban. The White House has said it is considering all options on Venezuela; an oil ban has the support of Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But a range of sanctions are possible, including financial restrictions aimed at limiting Venezuela's access to credit.

The opposition controls the democratically elected National Assembly, whose power would be wiped out by the new national constituent assembly to be elected Sunday.

Read the letter here.

Venezuela doesn’t have any friends left in Washington



Marco Rubio and Nancy Pelosi rarely see eye to eye.

But both the liberal Democratic leader from San Francisco and the conservative Republican from Miami agree on one thing:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a brutal dictator.

“The President of Venezuela, to me, looks like he’s a thug and we just can’t let them exploit poor people in the country... with a message that looks like he’s their champion,” Pelosi said.

Ahead of a vote Sunday that could dramatically change Venezuela’s constitution in favor of Maduro, the tough talk from Pelosi and other liberal Democrats now mirrors the rhetoric of Miami Republicans who have long opposed Caracas.

As a result, any sympathy towards Maduro in Washington, even among liberal Democrats who once praised the leadership of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, has vanished.

Members of Congress who maintained a dialogue with Caracas during Chavez’s administration no longer speak to Maduro.

The leadership of the Washington-based Organization of American States is demanding free and fair elections.

And the White House declared the U.S. “will take strong and swift economic actions” if the Maduro regime goes ahead with the vote Sunday.

For pro-Venezuela politicians and diplomats in Washington, Chavez’s commitment to the country’s 1999 constitution was a redeeming characteristic for a leader who trafficked in anti-U.S. rhetoric during his 14 years in power.

“I’ve known Chavez and Maduro. Anytime we met, [Chavez] would always go into his pocket and bring out the constitution of Venezuela,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chavez’s funeral in 2013. “Unfortunately, what Maduro is doing is tearing up the constitution.”

Meeks maintained regular contact with Caracas even as Chavez accused the U.S. of orchestrating a failed 2002 coup and referred to former President George W. Bush as “the devil” in 2006.

But Maduro’s decision to annul the Venezuelan legislature in March, and widespread protests that have led to the deaths of more than 100 people, are too much to reconcile.

“He doesn’t seem to me to be same guy that I knew when he was the leader of the Parliament back when I first met him with Hugo Chavez or the individual I spoke with briefly after he became president,” Meeks said.

The congressman added that his conversation with Maduro in 2013 was about “getting diplomatic relationships going again.”

But something changed between 2013 and 2015, when Maduro arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and began suspending democratic norms.

“It seems to me at some point, I don’t know what happened, that he was not interested in having further dialogue, he’s not the same guy,” Meeks said. “Something has to happen to change what has been going on for years now. The lines have been crossed and there’s no attempt at trying to have reconciliation.”

That wasn’t the case years ago, when Chavez enjoyed amicable relations with U.S. officials appointed by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

“The name of the game was to engage,” said John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 1997 to 2000.

Maisto said despite Chavez’s antagonistic rhetoric toward business interests and the United States, he was deeply committed to Article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution, which states “the Venezuelan people will not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that runs counter to democratic values, principles and guarantees, or undermines human rights.”

Protesters, including a man who attacked government buildings with a helicopter in June, have said Maduro is disregarding Article 350.

“The current regime is blatantly violating the constitution by not having local elections, by not having referenda... by trampling separation of powers and the non-recognition of the legislature,” Maisto said. “They are crossing a red line.”

Read more here.

Marco Rubio throws cold water on Bill Nelson's bipartisan health care push



Less than 24 hours after Sen. John McCain scuttled the GOP's push to repeal Obamacare, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson confirmed he is working with moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on a bipartisan health care plan.

"Sen. Collins and I have discussed this issue many times and we are now working together," Nelson said. "As former state insurance commissioners, we know how complicated this issue is and we are working with a small bipartisan group of senators equally dedicated to finding real solutions. This group of senators met for dinner the other night to start sharing our ideas and discussing a path forward." 

But Nelson's Florida colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, threw cold water over a bipartisan health care plan on Friday afternoon. 

"I'd love to see a bipartisan effort to repeal and replace Obamacare," Rubio said. "Unfortunately, the growing consensus within the Democratic party, although they didn't have the courage to admit it yesterday, was to vote in favor of a single payer system." 

Rubio was referring to an effort by Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines on Thursday to force red state Democrats like Nelson on the record as to whether or not they support a single payer health care system. Instead, the majority of Senate Democrats, including liberals who support single payer like Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, voted "present" instead of yes or no.  

"I don't think they (Democrats) are really interested in repealing and I'm not sure we would like the replacement they have in mind because single payer is not a good replacement," Rubio said. "It would make things far worse than what we see now." 

Nelson said Friday he and Collins met earlier in the week to begin laying out ideas.

"While the imminent disaster of 20 percent rate hikes and 16 million people losing coverage has been avoided by the defeat of the Republican’s health care bill, now is the time to come together and start working in a bipartisan way to stabilize the market and make health care more affordable," Nelson said.

Rubio said Friday he's "proud" to be in a party that includes moderates like Collins and hard-line conservatives like Utah Sen. Mike Lee, even if it makes it harder to pass legislation. 

"I'd rather have them both and be a majority than have a more ideologically concise group but be in the minority," Rubio said. 

Rubio, who said he knew that McCain was going to vote against the Obamacare repeal measure dubbed "skinny repeal" about an hour before the dramatic vote early Friday morning, said the effort to repeal Obamacare isn't dead despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing "it's time to move on" after the failed vote.

"I imagine dictatorships are a lot more efficient, but I wouldn't want to live in one," Rubio said. 


Trump's new chief of staff is former head of U.S. Southern Command in Miami


President Donald Trump has replaced Reince Priebus and named Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly his new chief of staff, the president announced in a series of tweets Friday.

Trump praised Priebus to reporters in Washington.

"Reince is a good man," he said. "John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. He's a great great American. Reince is a good man."

Because all big stories have Miami ties: Kelly is the former head of U.S. Southern Command in Miami. Priebus is a University of Miami law school graduate.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Former legislators line-up for opening on Public Service Commission

At least six former legislators and the state's former comptroller have applied to fill the unexpired term on the Florida Public Service Commission while two sitting commissioners whose terms expire this year -- Art Graham and Ron Brisé -- and 12 others have applied to fill their two posts.

State Rep. Rich Glorioso, of Plant City, state Rep. Tom Goodson, of Rockledge, former PSC member and former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield of Dade City former state Rep. Ritch Workman of Melbourne, former Sen. Greg Evers of Baker and former Rep. Dave Murzin of Pensacola, are among 23 candidates applying for the unexpired term being vacated by Jimmy Patronis, the Panama City former state representative who was appointed state chief financial officer by Gov. Rick Scott last month.

Also applying for that job is former state Comptroller Bob Milligan. 

Graham and Brisé are seeking a third four-year term on the panel that regulates utilities. Both were originally appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist and reappointed by Scott. Also applying to replace them is Littlefield as well as William H. Conrad, John R. Coleman, Bill L. Veach, Clayton W. Lindstrom, Kathryn D. Pappas, Norman “Bruce” Doueck, Steven T. Petty, Anibal I. Taboas, Jody Ann Newman, Dale T. Dougherty, and David C. Johnson.

The applicants must be screened by the Public Service Nominating Commission which recommends three names for each position and forwards them to the governor. The governor will then make the final appointment. 

Florida fulfills request for voter data by Trump election commission

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Florida provided voter-roll data to President Donald Trump’s election-fraud commission Friday despite a lawsuit by the ACLU of Florida attempting to prevent the state from providing the information.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner complied with the request by the commission after a federal judge in Washington D.C. cleared the way Monday for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to resume its effort to collect voter data from all states. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rejected a request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to block the data collection.

“Today the Department of State pursuant to Florida law fulfilled the public records request that we received from the Presidential Advisory Commission,” said Sarah Revell, Detzner’s spokeswoman. “As we have said all along, we will follow Florida law and will only submit information that is already available and regularly provided to anyone who requests it.”

Keep reading here.

Bob Milligan says he's ready for another chapter in his government career: PSC

Bob MilliganFormer Florida Comptroller Bob Milligan has been a marine lieutenant general, Florida's top fiscal watchdog, head of the Department of Veterans Affairs and now he wants to be on the panel that regulates utilities.

Milligan has applied to fill the unexpired seat on the Florida Public Service Commission, the position left vacant when Gov. Rick Scott appointed Jimmy Patronis to be chief financial officer.

With a background in finance and economics, an agile mind and a political career, Milligan said he would make a good candidate to fill the 15 months remaining in Patronis' four-year term.

"I thought: 'What the devil. I can jump in there and not miss a beat. I can do it,' he said in an interview Friday. "I've still got a brain that works and I like to use it."

Milligan, 84, has once before been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to fill a vacancy. He was named interim director of the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011, following the death of retired Navy Adm. Leroy Collins Jr., whose father was Florida's governor from 1955 through 1961.

In 1994, Milligan was approached by former head of the Florida state Republican Party Tom Slade and asked to run for state comptroller. He won and served in the role until 2002. 

Milligan was instrumental in persuading the Constitution Revision Commission in 1998 of combining the elective treasurer and comptroller jobs into a single state chief financial officer. It worked.

In 2007, CFO Alex Sink, a Democrat, asked Milligan to return to government. She appointed him consumer advocate in the office, and he took the job. 

"I've always been kind of intereast in the Public Service Commission,'' he said, as he was driving his wife shopping Friday. "I thought shoot let's see how that thing works!" 

He said he has spent his time working with several volunteer organizations since his retirement from government but joked he is also "Driving Miss Daisy,'' he said with a laugh. His wife chuckled. 

Milligan. who now lives in Tallahassee, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and holds an MBA from the University of Rochester. He served 39 years in the military, retiring from the Marines as a lieutenant general in 1991.

Milligan’s name is among  23 applicants to be among three names chosen by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council presented to the governor.

Other applicants for the position include a line up of former Republicans legislators: former state Rep. Rich Glorioso, of Plant City, state Rep. Tom Goodson, of Rockledge, former PSC member and former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, former state Rep. Ritch Workman, former Sen. Greg Evers, and former Rep. Dave Murzin