June 30, 2017

Rival candidate offers to represent man who threatened to 'kill' Miami Republican lawmaker

Steve Stfeliz@martindvassolo

A Miami attorney and Republican candidate for the state Senate offered Friday to represent a man who was arrested after he threatened to "kill" Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, one of the attorney's rivals.

Lorenzo Palomares said Friday he's willing to represent Steve St. Felix, who was charged Monday after he left a threatening comment on Diaz's Facebook page.

“It will be an honor to represent him pro bono,” said Palomares, who like Diaz is running in the July 25 primary for Senate District 40.

Police say St. Felix was “fed up” with the Republican Party and that he was not taking his medication when he threatened Diaz. It is unknown what condition St. Felix might suffer.

“I’ll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting,” St. Felix wrote on Facebook, referring to the Republican Executive Committee, the local party's formal name.

St. Felix was an REC member until he resigned "several months ago," said REC Chairman Nelson Diaz, no relation to the state representative. A St. Felix friend said he sometimes called him "Mr. Republican."

Rep. Diaz, Palomares and the third Republican in the primary race, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, remain REC members, according to the party.

Rep. Diaz reported the threat to police, who then arrested the 34-year-old and charged him with written threats with intent to do bodily injury. St. Felix told police he was sorry for making the threat, and that he did not intend to harm Diaz. He remains in jail on a $500,000 bond.

During a court hearing Thursday, St. Felix invoked the names of other Miami Republicans, including party Chairman Diaz, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“I want Marco Rubio, Nelson Diaz, Manny Diaz, Manny Diaz Jr., Carlos Gimenez...go eat a Cuban sandwich boy,” he said, according to court footage from WTVJ-NBC 6.

Following St. Felix's arrest, Rep. Diaz said it was disheartening to be threatened over politics.

“It is sad to see that our national political discourse has led us to a place where someone threatens the life of a stranger based solely on their party affiliation,” he said in a written statement.

Palomares accused Rep. Diaz of using the incident to score free publicity ahead of a July 25 primary.

“He is certainly the one who caused this issue to happen," Palomares said of the St. Felix incident. "This man is not a violent man. I’ve seen him. I’ve dealt with him."

Palomares called St. Felix's half-a-million-dollar bond "ridiculous" and said Rep. Diaz overreacted.

The night after St. Felix's arrest, Rep. Diaz grabbed a microphone at the end of the local GOP's annual fundraiser and told the crowd gathered to listen to a speech by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway that he “was told not to come here because if I came here, somebody was gonna try to kill me.”

“I don’t care. I’m here because I want to be here with you tonight,” he said, to raucous applause.

Party Chairman Diaz said St. Felix "never displayed any signs of mental health problems” while at the REC, but clearly he was grappling with a psychological condition.

“Steven is upset in the manner and means by which the party is being managed by Nelson Diaz," Palomares said. "He didn’t take his pills, but they overreacted to it.”

St. Felix has made controversial comments online before, especially when not on his medication, said high school friend Frantz Jean, a 35-year-old living in Lauderhill. The two played varsity football at North Miami Beach Senior High before St. Felix went on the Florida A&M University to play college ball, Jean said. At the time, he was a “typical teenager.”

“It’s after high school that we started noticing the change in his behavior from time to time,” he said, adding that St. Felix was obsessive about his Republican affiliation.

“That’s the number one thing he always says, 'I’m a Republican. He’s always been a proud Republican. That’s why we always call him ‘Mr. Republican,’” he said.

He said St. Felix would often take to social media to vent about his life, sometimes rattling off posts until early in the morning.

“When I saw him on the news, it broke my heart,” Jean said. “This is the first time that it's actually gone this far to him being incarcerated.”

Jean said he and his friends will try to make sure St. Felix has access to his medications and maintains a strict regimen.

“When he’s under his medication, he’s a perfectly fine citizen,” he said.

Photo: Miami-Dade Corrections

June 26, 2017

In bitter Miami Senate primary, Republican attacks Republican in first TV ad



The bitter state Senate primary between Republicans Jose Felix Diaz and Alex Diaz de la Portilla has spilled onto the television screens of Miami's District 40 voters, with a new Spanish-language ad funded by Rep. Diaz criticizing Diaz de la Portilla’s legislative and personal history.

Diaz de la Portilla, a former lawmaker of more than two decades, is “bad for constituents,” the narrator says to begin the 30-second attack ad, the first in the race.

The ad, which claims Diaz de la Portilla is facing foreclosure and that he supported tax increases and new taxes while in office, is part of a quarter-million-dollar TV campaign paid for by Rebuild Florida, Diaz's political committee, POLITICO Florida first reported. The committee shelled out $260,000 in the past two weeks to a consulting firm run by Diaz's political consultant David Custin, according to the committee's most recent expenditure filings.

“At the expense of middle-class families, he voted to impose more than $2 million in new taxes and rates,” the ad says. “He supported the implementation of higher property taxes and raised taxes on small businesses. We can’t count on [Diaz] de la Portilla.”

According to Diaz's campaign, the ad refers to five Senate and House bills Diaz de la Portilla voted “yes” on, which increased license taxes for saltwater products dealers, fees for some certificates of titles and fees for some resident and non-resident hunting and fishing licenses, among other provisions.

Custin said the tax and fee increases added up to about $2 million. Diaz de la Portilla called the accusations “outright lies" in a text message.

Diaz de la Portilla claimed he cut taxes by $20.3 billion during his time in the legislature, citing data from the Florida Office of Demographic Research, which releases annual revenue reports, and state budgets he said he supported. He did not specify how he came up with that figure, nor did he provide specific tax-cutting legislation he backed, saying he didn’t “have time to respond to dirty campaigns.”

The Miami-Dade elections department will begin sending mail-in ballots Tuesday, which is why candidates are ramping up their media campaigns. Diaz de la Portilla, however, said he would not run any television ads, citing financial restraints. Diaz de la Portilla reported having $72,500 on hand in his most recent campaign-finance report. Diaz reported $279,182. Rebuild Florida also has $825,654 in its coffers.

Attacking Diaz de la Portilla with his first ad suggests Diaz has ground to make up in the race. Previous polls conducted for the well-known Diaz de la Portilla show him in the lead, although Diaz said his poll numbers are "healthier than Alex would ever want to admit." Diaz said he chose to go after his rival because, according to Diaz, Diaz de la Portilla is less conservative than he claims.

The third Republican candidate is attorney Lorenzo Palomares.

A special election was called to fill the vacant District 40 seat following the resignation of former Sen. Frank Artiles. The primary will take place July 25, followed by a general election on Sept. 26.

June 22, 2017

Florida lawmakers will return to Tallahassee in less than 3 months



Not even two weeks removed from a special session to close out this year's legislative agenda, Florida lawmakers are already looking ahead to 2018.

Because that's an even-numbered (i.e. election) year, the 60-day session will run from January through early March -- which means pre-session committee weeks will start this fall.

In less than three months, to be exact.

Mark your calendars -- here are the House's and Senate's schedule, released Thursday afternoon:

-- Week of Sept. 11, with meetings starting no earlier than 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12
-- Week of Oct. 9
-- Week of Oct. 23
-- Week of Nov. 6 (finishing before the Veterans Day Holiday that Friday)
-- Week of Nov. 13
-- Week of Dec. 4

The 2018 regular session starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Photo credit: Florida Senate during the 2017 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

June 20, 2017

Republican rivals disagree on key issues in Miami Senate forum

Diaz Palomares Forum


Two of three Republicans running for a competitive Miami-Dade state Senate district found plenty to disagree on at a forum Monday, despite their shared political party affiliation.

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and attorney Lorenzo Palomares told about 100 people gathered at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus where they stand on key issues. Primary candidates tend to have few differences — but not in this case.

On recently passed education legislation known as House Bill 7069: Diaz supports it, Palomares doesn't. On a legislative deal to implement medical-marijuana rules: Diaz supports it, Palomares doesn't. On the future of transit in Miami-Dade County: Diaz envisions autonomous vehicles, Palomares wants to expand the Dolphin Expressway past the western edge of the Urban Development Boundary.

Both candidates expressed support for gun rights — but Diaz said Florida needs to increase funding for mental-health issues. Palomares, a self-described gun collector, didn't see it that way.

“I support the Second Amendment; I will expand it if I can,” he said. “I don’t believe mental health is an issue.”

More here.

Photo: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald



June 19, 2017

Florida Senate candidate: I'll return money from Miami developer under investigation 'if they're guilty'



State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Republican candidate for Senate, is "closely" monitoring a federal affordable-housing investigation now examining the largest real estate developer in South Florida, the Related Group, which gave Diaz and his political committee $5,000 this month.

"There was no way I could have known" about the investigation, said Diaz, who is running in the District 40 special election.

The Miami Herald revealed the investigation on Thursday. The Feds are focusing on the Related Group and its involvement in a low-income apartment building for seniors in Miami’s Shenandoah neighborhood. The publicly subsidized project was developed and built by its affordable housing branch, Related Urban Development Group.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is heading up the investigation, will determine whether the Related Group skewed construction costs through its wholly owned contractor and its subcontractors, and then pocketed money that should have gone toward other county-funded affordable housing projects, sources familiar with the investigation told the Herald.

The investigation is part of a larger federal look into South Florida’s affordable housing industry, which has already taken down two large affordable-housing developers, Pinnacle Housing Group and Carlisle Development Group.

On June 6, Related Urban Development Group cut a $3,000 check to Diaz’s political committee, Rebuild Florida, according to the committee's finance records. A day later, it gave $1,000 directly to Diaz, as did Fortune Urban Construction, Related Group’s wholly owned contractor.

“If they’re guilty of any crime, obviously I will return” the money, Diaz said. “In our system, the premise is you’re innocent until you’re found guilty.”

A self-described proponent of affordable housing, Diaz said like-minded developers have been “very supportive of me.”

Between 2012-13, Pinnacle Housing Group and its partners gave Diaz $2,500, state records show. An affiliate of the group was charged with affordable housing funds theft earlier this year.

Between 2013-15, Related Urban Development Group, Fortune Urban Construction, the Related Group and PRH Investments, Related’s parent group, gave Diaz $3,000, according to state records. Because those contributions were from past campaign cycles, Diaz can’t return them, he said.

Diaz, who is the only candidate in the race to report receiving money from Related Group, is running against two Republicans in the primary to fill the seat left vacant by former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles. Artiles resigned amid controversy in April after using the word “niggas” before two fellow lawmakers and hiring a Playboy model and former Hooters “calendar girl” as consultants.

The primary will be held on June 25, followed by the general election on Sept. 26. Two Democrats and an independent candidate are also running.

This post has been updated

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

June 13, 2017

Republicans outraise Democrats ahead of Florida Senate, House elections


Republican candidates in a pair of special state Senate and House races in Miami have so far outraised their Democratic counterparts, according to their first batch of campaign finance reports.

Of the nine total candidates running to represent broad swaths of Miami-Dade County in Senate District 40 and House District 116, Republican Jose Felix Diaz in District 40 and Jose Mallea  in District 116 have the most cash on hand thus far, while the sole Democrat in the House race has less than $20.

District 40

Diaz, a state representative, is the leading money-getter in either race. He raised $278,400 in the latest filing period, which ended June 8.

He has $245,770 on hand from 334 contributions, including about $53,000 from 55 political committees. That’s on top of the $825,654 tucked in the coffers of his own political committee, Rebuild Florida.

After loaning himself $50,000, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, also Republican, has $22,962 on hand from 31 contributions, including $3,000 from political committees. He raised $22,500 in the latest filing period.

Republican Lorenzo Palomares, a former Spanish-language campaign surrogate for President Donald Trump, raised $9,000. He has $10,047 on hand from 15 contributions, including $15,000 in loans to himself.

On the Democratic side, Annette Taddeo — the owner of a translation company who unsuccessfully ran for Florida’s 26th House District last year — raised $45,559 and has $42,286 on hand. Taddeo ranks second among all District 40 candidates in cash on hand. Fight Back Florida, Taddeo's political committee, raised $19,747, according to a listing of contributions and expenditures on its website, although that information has yet to be filed with the state.

Former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, who previously served as a Republican before becoming a Democrat, raised $10,425. She has $8,035 on hand from 21 contributions, including a $2,500 loan from herself.

The sole independent in the race, Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, raised $134. He has $3,013 on hand from eight contributions, including a $3,200 loan from himself.

District 116

In House District 116, candidates are running to fill the seat Diaz left open when he decided to run for Senate.

Mallea, who has received an endorsement from former Gov. Jeb Bush, raised $50,640. He has $88,489 on hand from 297 contributions, including $1,300 from lobbyists and $5,000 from three political committees, including the IRL PAC, which is affiliated with Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

His campaign also received $3,000 from gasoline distributors and $2,000 from tobacco distributors.

Daniel Perez, a Republican, raised $33,660 in the latest filing period. He has $35,419 on hand from 190 contributions.

The winner of the Republican primary will face off against Gabriela Mayaudon, a political newcomer who registered to vote for the first time earlier this month. The sole Democrat in the House race, Mayaudon has just $18.18 on hand. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party, her sole backer so far, cut her a check for $1,800 last week. She spent $1,781 of it to qualify for the race.

Both special elections were called by Gov. Rick Scott following the resignation of former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who vacated his District 40 seat after using the n-word in conversation and hiring a former Hooters "calendar girl" and a Playboy model with no political experience as "consultants." Primaries will be held July 25, followed by the general election on September 26.

June 12, 2017

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.

June 09, 2017

Dems on K-12 funding: 'The increase is helpful but more is needed'

Florida Legislature (14)


Some House Democrats on Friday criticized a new K-12 schools budget for 2017-18 that would boost spending by $100 per student over this school year — calling the additional dollars a “hollow victory” and “not enough” to truly address public education.

“I believe the increase is helpful but more is needed,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “Florida is the third largest state in the nation, yet our per-pupil funding is still $3,000 below the national average.”

“We’re underfunding public education,” agreed Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura. “That’s a mistake. That sells short the future of our state.”

“Public education has been the great leveler in this country; it’s been the main means of advancement for people of modest means,” Geller added, before making reference to a $419 million, charter school-friendly bill (HB 7069) lawmakers passed last month: “We’re putting way too much money into non-public education at the expense of public education.”

RELATED FROM POLITIFACT: “Florida House speaker touts record education spending, but there’s more to grade”

The increased funding — addressed in a contentious three-day special session this week — was a compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and House and Senate leaders after Scott a week ago vetoed the Legislature’s initial K-12 budget, deeming it insufficient.

In calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee, Scott asked for $215 million more in state money for K-12 in order to raise the per-pupil level by $100, an increase of 1.4 percent.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Funding for HB 7069 left alone after Senate backs off

Florida Legislature (22)


Florida senators wanting a second crack at stopping a contentious $419 million education reform bill that narrowly passed the Legislature last month were unsuccessful on Thursday in defunding it to redirect the dollars to general K-12 public school spending.

Broward County Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer led the charge to undo HB 7069, after Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons — earlier passionately defiant — backed off his plans to force lawmakers to revisit the legislation during a three-day special session, even though it’s not on the Legislature’s restricted agenda.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land O’Lakes, and his Republican caucus have dismissed the Senate’s effort as a waste of time and said even if the Senate approved changes to the HB 7069 funding, they wouldn’t support them. The bill is a top priority of Corcoran’s.

But Senate Democrats cast Thursday as the day for the Senate to stand up for itself and “redo” the May 8 result when the legislation passed by one vote.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

June 07, 2017

Diaz de la Portilla faces foreclosure on out-of-district home


On campaign filings for the District 40 state Senate race, Republican Alex Diaz de la Portilla lists two addresses: a mattress company that belongs to his father and a five-bedroom West Miami home facing foreclosure.

Both lie outside the district he is running to represent, a large swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County.

The mattress company, Dé Mattress Inc., is located in District 38. The home, which has a homestead exemption reserved for primary residences, is located in District 37 in West Miami.

Florida law requires candidates for state office to live in their district by Election Day, which will be Sept. 26.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Diaz de la Portilla acknowledged he doesn’t currently live in the district but said that he plans to rent a home or apartment unit before the deadline approaches. He said it is to be expected, with the surprise resignation of former state Sen. Frank Artiles in April and the announcement of a special election by Gov. Rick Scott, but he is looking at several options for his move.

As for the mattress company, he said he runs his political consulting firm, First Stone Management LLC, from inside the space.

He said despite not living in the district, he has served more voters of District 40 over his decades of public service in the state Legislature than all of his competitors combined.

“I have very deep ties with this district,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla is running against two other Republicans, three Democrats and an independent candidate in the special election to replace Artiles,who vacated his seat in April after making offensive remarks to colleagues. The primary will be July 25.

According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, Diaz de la Portilla and his ex-wife jointly own the West Miami home. In April, Wells Fargo filed a notice in county court seeking to foreclose on the home, according to a copy of the notice obtained by the Herald and first reported by Politico. Diaz de la Portilla listed the home as being worth $603,357 in a financial disclosure form. Diaz de la Portilla said the foreclosure was a necessary step toward modifying the loan on his home following a divorce.

“It should be resolved shortly,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla blamed the “sleazy campaign” tactics of fellow Republican candidate and former Rep. Jose Felix Diaz for bringing the foreclosure notice to light, an accusation Diaz denied Wednesday.

“[His] financial mismanagement is a matter of public record,” Diaz wrote in a text message.