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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio denies involvement in Colombian meeting at Mar-a-Lago

Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday denied a role in setting up a meeting at Mar-a-Lago between former Colombian presidents opposed to a peace deal.

Appearing on Meet The Press, Rubio also expressed understanding for President Trump's shifting positions.

"I think when you're running for president, especially someone that's never held elected office, there's one set of things that you may view the world through-- a lens that you may view the world through. Then, you get elected and you get good people. And those good people bring you the facts. And they bring you, "Here's what's going on. Here are our options. Here's what happens if you do this. Here's what happens when you do that." And that reality begins to assert itself. And you have to react to that. You're now the president. You're no longer a candidate. You're not a pundit. You have to actually make decisions that have real impact and consequence. And I think that's what you're seeing here. I think you're seeing a president--


Do you think he's moving away from maybe the isolationist rhetoric and tendencies that he had as a candidate?


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Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

Loser of the week

Frank Artiles. The Miami Republican who resigned Friday after a tirade of racial slurs was a patsy for utility companies he was supposed to help regulate, paid hot calendar girls as campaign "consultants" and was once accused of sucker-punching a college kid in a Tallahassee bar. Don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you on your way out of the Legislature, Frank.

Loser of the week II

Miami-Dade. Former Sen. Artiles, R-Miami, said his racist slurs were common words in Hialeah. Let's hope not, although the Miami-Dade community saw another legislator, Ralph Arza, resign over racist language in 2006. On the same day Artiles resigned, news came that former state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, will plead guilty to failing to file a tax return on income of $270,000 in 2011. Wonder why so many Floridians mistrust Miami-Dade politicians.

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How Frank Artiles went from exposed to ousted

Frank Artiles.

Times files

Frank Artiles.

The Times/Herald team of Patricia Mazzei, Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas bring us an extraordinary tick-tock of a memorable week in the Florida Capitol:

Last Monday afternoon, at the start of the state Legislature’s seventh week of session, Sen. Audrey Gibson raced up three floors to present one of her bills to the Florida Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.

Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, stood behind the lectern and tried to catch her breath as she told colleagues about a 6-year-old from back home who had been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility for three days for a “temper tantrum.” She filed legislation to require such facilities to speed up their evaluation of the about 30,000 admitted each year under the state’s Baker Act.

But a Miami Republican on the committee had questions. Wouldn’t it cost more money for the facilities to work faster? Sen. Frank Artiles asked. Only for more transportation, Gibson said. Artiles continued: If a child is released before 72 hours have gone by and has a psychotic break, won’t lawmakers just be forced to change the law again? …

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In big field of Democratic candidates for governor, two stand out so far

The Democratic field

Times files

The Democratic field

Four of the five top contenders for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination spoke to voters in Tampa Bay on Friday. Two stood out: Andrew Gillum, the 37-year-old, largely unknown mayor of Tallahassee, and John Morgan, the 61-year-old, widely known personal injury lawyer from the Orlando area.

Gillum brought Democrats roaring to their feet in Manatee County with a soaring speech about being raised by a hard-working dad who never got past fourth grade, and a mother who never got past high school. Democrats need a nominee who will take a progressive agenda to every corner of the Sunshine State, including the conservative Panhandle, where Floridian families struggle to make ends meet and vent over high-stakes testing in schools just like elsewhere in Florida.

“They’re as frustrated, those rural, white working-class voters, as much as the black and the Latino working-class voters,” declared Gillum, who would be Florida’s first African-American gubernatorial nominee. “Don’t let them separate us in that way. We have a lot more in common than we do that separates ourselves.” …

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Trump adds another Floridian to his administration

President Donald Trump announced new nominations, including:

Heather L. MacDougall of Florida to be a Member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

"Ms. MacDougall was designated acting Chair of the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission in January 2017.  In 2014, she was nominated to the Commission by then-President Obama and confirmed unanimously by the Senate.  Before this, Ms. MacDougall had 20 years of experience representing employers throughout the United States in matters involving labor, employment, and occupational safety and health law, most recently with Akerman LLP in West Palm Beach, Florida.  In addition, she served as Chief Counsel to OSHRC Chairman W. Scott Railton.  Earlier in her career, she was Associate General Counsel to the HR Policy Association, a public policy organization that advocates for the human resource officers of major employers, where she represented the association as amicus curiae in U.S. Courts of Appeals and Supreme Court cases. Chairman MacDougall received a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and a J.D. from Marquette University Law School."

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Replacing Artiles: Who's in and who's out (so far)

Miami politics went into overdrive Friday following state Sen. Frank Artiles' resignation, as elected officials and their political consultants scrambled to figure out who might run in a yet-to-be-scheduled special election to replace the freshman Miami Republican.

Political insiders in Miami and Tallahassee had begun whispering about Artiles' potential successor even before he stepped down. District 40 in Southwest Miami-Dade County is a competitive, Democratic-leaning and overwhelmingly Hispanic seat.

Here's what potential candidates had to say Friday.


Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck (R): "I will be announcing my campaign."


State Rep. Robert Asencio (D):"I ran for office because we deserve better. I want to make sure that the best person gets elected to that seat, and whereas I will consider it, I need to be very realistic and ask myself, 'Do I think I am the right person for that seat?'"

Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard (D): "I have a lot of folks that were supporters that would like to see me back in the Legislature, but at the same time you have a lot of considerations. I'm a pragmatist in the sense that sometimes you need new energy, new ideas."

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R) …

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John Morgan: I was not drunk that night at Boots N Buckles

Personal injury lawyer John Morgan speaks to guests of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club luncheon at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC in Tampa on Friday.


Personal injury lawyer John Morgan speaks to guests of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club luncheon at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC in Tampa on Friday.

More to come later, but John Morgan charmed an overflow crowd at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club today, where he was asked about that 2014 viral video of him, drink in hand, addressing a crowd at the Boots N Buckles saloon in Lakeland while campaigning to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. Good question, considering how many of the people who doubt Morgan's strength as a candidate mention booze. (Morgan was charged with driving under the influence in 1997 and 1993.)

"First of all, I was not drunk when I was on that video," said Morgan, laughing off the question and explaining that he had had two drinks at Outback before that video was filed. "I guess if I use the f-word, f-bombs, people think I'm drunk. If that's the case, I'm drunk every damn day of my life. ... When I got on my bus to go back to my beach house, I got drunk. And when I got to my beach house, I got drunker. But I was not drunk at Boots N Buckles. But I do love Boots N Buckles it will be in my heart forever."

If he runs for governor — and many people in the crowd today thought he sounded more likely to run than not — Boots N Buckles may be his unofficial campaign headquarters, Morgan said. …

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Politicians react to Frank Artiles' resignation over racist, profane remarks

Former Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Former Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami

Since embattled Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigned earlier today, Florida politicians have begun to react on social media.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens 

.@oscarjb2 on @Artiles40 Senate resignation: "His actions, today, show the contrition demanded, and the Senate was owed.” #Sayfie #FlaPol

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

My statement on the resignation of @Artiles40

Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park

Lesson for everyone:"Be careful what we do & say to one another." With that being said, let's get back to work and #finishSTRONG, TOGETHER!

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa

@Artiles40 is my friend but he made the only choice possible. Purposefully offensive speech has no place in politics. Or anywhere.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando

Chris King, a Democratic candidate for governor

This proves the power and strength of energized organizing. If we work together, we CAN build a better Florida. #riseandlead

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor …

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Nelson says United Airlines evasive in probe of passenger removal

United Airlines has snubbed Sen. Bill Nelson.

The Florida Democrat, who joined a letter demanding answers to the worldwide controversy of violently removing a passenger from a flight, says United did not sufficiently respond.

“We’re disappointed that neither United Airlines nor the Chicago Department of Aviation has yet provided substantive answers to the straightforward questions we asked about the forcible removal of a passenger on April 9, 2017," reads a letter from Nelson and other senators. "Getting answers for the public about what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident from happening again is a priority for the members of our committee. We find any further delay in getting necessary answers unacceptable.”

The statement was drafted by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Nelson, who serve respectively as the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation along with Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) who serve as the chairman and ranking member of the Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee.

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Frank Artiles resigns, says he needs time for personal reflection, growth


[Tampa Bay Times]


Sen. Frank Artiles resigned from the Florida Legislature today, consumed by a scandal that erupted three days earlier over a diatribe of insults the Miami Republican unleashed against two lawmakers at a Tallahassee bar.

In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Artiles said he was stepping down for the sake of his family and of the institution of the Senate, whose work ground to a near halt this week as Republican leaders grappled with Artiles’ political future.

“My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State,” Artiles wrote. “I am responsible and I am accountable and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

“It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need time for personal reflection and growth.” …

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Inside Bill Nelson's first fundraising report: Al Gore, Elizabeth Warren but mostly Florida cash

There are donations from Elizabeth Warren, Al Gore and Steven Spielberg, but Floridians powered Sen. Bill Nelson’s first fundraising quarter. Nearly 80 percent of his individual contributions came from within the state, a review shows.

Nelson raised more than $2 million for the first three months of the year, a showing that dispels any talk he would not seek a fourth term in 2018. Nelson, 74, has $3.6 million in the bank.

He raised about $1.3 million from individuals, of which 78 percent came from within Florida. The rest of Nelson’s haul came from PACs, including $10,000 from Sen. Warren’s committee.

“Is this why Nelson votes with Warren 92% of the time?” asked the NRSC, which will again seek to cast the Florida Democrat as too liberal for the state, a strategy that has floundered before. “Nearly identical voting records and now $10k from Warren makes it pretty clear that Nelson isn’t the moderate he pretends to be.”

Nelson also got $5,000 from the Moderate Democrats PAC. …

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Aramis Ayala receives noose in the mail


[Orlando Sentinel]


From the Orlando Sentinel's Christal Hayes:

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is investigating after Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala was sent a noose in the mail.

Ayala’s office reported the incident to the Sheriff’s Office after receiving two threatening and racist letters in the mail, one of which included a noose, an incident report states.

The first letter was received March 20 after a clerk at the State Attorney’s Office picked up mail and saw a racist message on an envelope addressed to Ayala, an incident report states.

A week later, deputies say the clerk found a second threatening piece of mail, which appeared to have come from the same person.

He opened the envelope and found a noose made out of green twine. It was taped to a post card, authorities said.

The content of both letters was redacted by the Sheriff’s Office.

Workers told Ayala, the state’s first African-American state attorney, about the threatening pieces of mail.

She said she “believes the hangman’s noose was meant as a threat to her as a public official,” according to an incident report.

Ayala also said she thinks the incidents are a hate crime. …

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Rubio focuses on opioids, takes pass on whether Florida should declare emergency

Sen. Marco Rubio has spent the Congressional recess traveling Florida to talk with officials about a grim subject: opioids.

“In just the last week I’ve met and talked with local officials and members of law enforcement in West Palm Beach, Pensacola, and Jacksonville about how the opioid epidemic is ravaging Florida’s communities. It’s clear that we must do more to make sure people seeking help are able to get the treatment they need,” Rubio said in a news release Wednesday praising $27 million in federal funds to combat the problem in Florida.

Rubio has also recently helped introduce legislation to stop the flow of fentanyl.

His attention to the crisis comes as state leaders are grappling with a response. That raises a question: What does Rubio think about calls for Gov. Rick Scott to declare an emergency, something Scott has resisted.

“That’s a decision for state government leaders to make,” a Rubio spokesman tells the Tampa Bay Times. …

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Florida Insiders: John Morgan is strongest Dem for governor, but Gwen Graham probably wins primary

Our latest Florida Insider Poll finds that nearly 70 percent of the 188 campaign consultants, political scientists, party activists, money-raisers and lobbyists we surveyed doubt the wealthy Orlando area attorney who bankrolled the successful medical marijuana ballot initiative will enter the race.

[Times files]

Our latest Florida Insider Poll finds that nearly 70 percent of the 188 campaign consultants, political scientists, party activists, money-raisers and lobbyists we surveyed doubt the wealthy Orlando area attorney who bankrolled the successful medical marijuana ballot initiative will enter the race.

Personal injury lawyer John Morgan is scheduled to address the Tampa Tiger Bay Club today, which means Florida's political world once again considers whether he does or does not sound like a probable candidate. The man himself tells me he is more likely to run than I suspect he is, but many of Florida's savviest political operators also have their doubts.

Our latest Florida Insider Poll finds that nearly 70 percent of the 188 campaign consultants, political scientists, party activists, money-raisers and lobbyists we surveyed doubt the wealthy Orlando area attorney who bankrolled the successful medical marijuana ballot initiative will enter the race.

But nearly 47 percent also think Morgan would be the strongest Democratic nominee for governor in 2018 among the most likely major candidates. Nearly 39 percent said former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, 6 percent said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, 5 percent said wealthy businessman and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and 3 percent said Orlando businessman Chris King. …

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How the Legislature could use $1.5 billion in extra Medicaid money for something other than hospitals

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, (center).


House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, (center).

There's $1.5 billion on the table that could shore up the state budget, but the question in Tallahassee is this: How will the Legislature be allowed to use it?

Both the House and Senate appear ready to use the Low Income Pool approved by the Trump administration last week to offset cuts to hospitals and free up money for other priorities.

"It’ll free up money from general revenue that then can be used to put into reserves to shore up out years or to pay for some of the projects that members have a unique interest," said House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. "Whether it’s Lake Okeechobee in the Senate or on the House side, a lot of the K-12 priorities, Schools of Hope and Best and Brightest."

After other House leaders indicated earlier this week that taking LIP money wasn't a sure thing, Trujillo's comments Wednesday and Thursday echo remarks made last week by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who heads the Senate's health care budget subcommittee. She said the federal government's last-minute agreement to reinstate the LIP -- which technically reimburses hospitals that care for the uninsured -- gives the Legislature more flexibilitty.

But can they do that? …

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