It’s Monday, Oct. 24. Election Day is two weeks away. Early voting in Florida begins today, and the one and only debate between the leading candidates for governor happens tonight in Fort Pierce.
What should we expect in the gubernatorial debate between Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist? The event almost didn’t happen, after having been postponed because of Hurricane Ian.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Crist, who is down in the polls and woefully outspent by DeSantis, will likely try to score by pressing DeSantis on his culture wars and plans for abortion policy in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that pivoted control of the issue to the states. DeSantis will try to expound on his record, and continue to avoid specifics on abortion restrictions. The governor will try to tie Crist to “Biden-inflation.” Will Crist ask why, if federal spending has led to inflation, did the governor spend federal stimulus money so freely?
Will there be any questions about property insurance, or housing costs? Rebuilding in flood zones or labor shortages amid a tightened immigration policy? Here are a few other questions the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times think the candidates need to answer as voters head to the polls by Nov. 8. The debate will be carried on West Palm Beach’s WPEC-Channel 12 and 10 other stations across Florida. Viewers can also watch on YouTube at floridadebate2022.com/.
Governors’ management styles: Both candidates for governor are instinctive politicians whose ambition for higher office has been a hallmark of much of their tenure. The Herald’s inside look at their first terms as governor suggests that, despite some striking similarities, they would bring drastically different management styles. DeSantis operates a tightly-controlled, top-down, approach to governing, while Crist took a hands-off approach that focused on enabling and trusting his subordinates.
Fiery U.S. Senate debate: Meanwhile, candidates at the top of the ticket, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Democrat U.S. Rep. Val Demings held their first and only debate last week and it was a humdinger. It didn’t take long for things to get testy in the hour-long debate, as they sparred over inflation, abortion rights, recovery efforts from Hurricane Ian, guns and immigration policy.
Crist’s loses manager: Crist’s campaign was hit with another blow last week when his campaign manager, Austin Durrer, was arrested shortly before he resigned from the campaign, according to court records. Durrer was charged with second-degree assault in Cambridge, Maryland, in a domestic violence case.
Biden to visit: In what would be his first political event in the state since taking office, President Joe Biden will stump for Charlie Crist in South Florida one week before Election Day.
Ballots returns: As of Friday, Republicans were returning their vote-by-mail ballots at a higher rate than Democrats, but more Democrats have requested absentee ballots.
Donor payback: As of last week, DeSantis had over $105 million in his a campaign war chest, and at least $3 million in campaign donations came from about 250 people he selected for leadership roles — a significantly higher rate than his predecessor, according to an analysis of campaign contributions and political appointments by the Miami Herald and American Bridge 21st Century.
WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT
Viral body cam footage: The revealing body cam footage recorded by Hillsborough County police when they arrested residents for casting ballots in 2020 attracted national attention last week. The video exposed the confusion and outrage of residents who had been given permission by the state to vote but found themselves in handcuffs following investigations by DeSantis’ new Office of Election Crimes and Security. Even police appeared confused.
In a telling exchange, one former felon asked the officer: “What is wrong with this state, man? Voter fraud? Y’all said anybody with a felony could vote, man….Why would you let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?” “I’m not sure, buddy,” the officer replied. “I don’t know.”
‘A broken system’: After the video went viral, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition called on state officials to fix what it says is a “broken” Florida voting system and urged people to sign a petition for state and local prosecutors to “immediately stop arrests” of people with felonies on their records for voting in 2020.
Miami case thrown out: In sign that the 19 arrests may be difficult to prosecute as predicted, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch on Friday tossed out a criminal case against a Miami man the governor’s election’s police accused of voting illegally. The judge said the statewide prosecutor did not have jurisdiction to bring the charges.
Inside story of migrant op: Details continue to emerge about the governor’s questionable migrant flights from Texas. Perla Huerta, the former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent working for the state, and Vertol Systems Company, recruited migrants for DeSantis’ flights to Martha’s Vineyard and Delaware with the help of a Venezuelan migrant named Emmanuel.
State hires ‘illegal immigrant’: The record shows that Emmanuel, who was unable to legally work in the United States, was paid cash by Huerta to coordinate a migrant flight to Delaware, which was subsequently called off. The hiring of Emmanuel appears to violate a 2020 law passed by DeSantis and legislators which requires all state contractors and subcontractors to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm that all newly hired employees are legally allowed to work in the U.S.
Migrants hired for hurricane clean-up: Meanwhile, as the governor criticizes the porous Mexican border, Florida continues to struggle with a tight labor market as Florida’s already-low unemployment rate dipped to 2.5% in September. After being tricked to going to Martha’s Vineyard, at least one of the migrants ended up in Florida. Pedro Escalona, a 24-year-old from Venezuela, was recruited by a debris clean-up firm hired to clean-up the massive mountains of debris left by Hurricane Ian.
Breaking self-imposed laws? Florida also may have violated its own guidelines in flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. Documents obtained from the Florida Department of Transportation explicitly say that its mission was “to relocate out of the State of Florida foreign nationals who are not lawfully present in the United States.” The Legislature approved spending $12 million on the project but required that the money be used to transport people out of Florida. None of the migrants appear to have stepped foot in the state. Florida legislators didn’t want to talk about it when reporters asked.
Top aides in charge: Records released also show that DeSantis’ public safety czar, Larry Keefe, and his chief of staff James Uthmeier played key roles in organizing the migrant flights, with Keefe even traveling to San Antonio as the operation was underway.
More flights on the way: Finally, in a letter dated Oct. 8, the CEO for Vertol Systems Company told FDOT that it wanted to continue its “Humanitarian Services Proposal” through Dec. 1. The proposal called for sending 100 or more migrants to “Delaware, Illinois or other states” — at a cost of $950,000 in state funds. That would bring the total spent close to $2.5 million, which appears to be a cost of about $16,700 per migrant.
Hispanic test case: The nation is watching the Congressional District 27 race between Republican U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar and Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo. 73% of the voting age population in the district is Hispanic, the highest in the state, and the race is considered a bellwether of where Hispanic voters stand on immigration and democratic systems at home and abroad.
Hernandez-Mats stands down on referendum: Karla Hernandez-Mats, the Miami-Dade teachers union president who is Crist’s running mate, has distanced herself from the school district’s referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot to boost teacher pay. As she campaigns across the state, she said the decision to take a “behind-the-scenes” approach to campaigning for the referendum was to avoid mixing messaging.
Democrats struggle: Florida Democrats face their toughest cycle in decades as as there are working to mobilize Democratic Latino voters in next month’s midterm election, and they face an increasingly uphill battle to unseat incumbents in the Governor’s Mansion and U.S. Senate. Absent also is national interest in assisting the state’s Democrats as well as and deep-pocketed spending from super PACs.
Celebrity assist: Lin-Manuel Miranda was at a Coral Gables bookstore last week announced lawmakers would call a special legislative session ahead of upcoming November elections.. “What happens in Florida affects the rest of the United States,’’ he told the crowd. The walls behind the singer-songwriter and Broadway producer read “Censorship leaves us in the dark,” with a list of banned books printed in black paint.
Suarez for president? Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told Punchbowl News that he would strongly consider a run for president if he thought voters wanted a ‘next generation’ Republican with a positive message. They were the most straightforward public comments yet from the 45-year-old mayor and private equity executive about whether he views himself as White House material.
Senate race and dueling doxing: Two candidates competing in a Florida Senate race have launched dueling accusations of doxing, with police opening a criminal investigation after Democrat Janelle Perez reported that she received death threats to her personal cell phone. Perez faces Republican challenger Alexis Calatayud for the state Senate District 38 seat to represent much of South Miami-Dade County.
December special session ahead: With damage estimates mounting and uncertainty shrouding Florida’s insurance market, the governor last week announced lawmakers would call a special legislative session in December to provide property-tax relief to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ian. He offered no details but also said they would address insurance issues. Meanwhile, the governor signed an executive order to delay tax-payment deadlines in storm-impacted counties.
‘Biscayne Bay is dying’: Scientists were sounding the alarm last week as Biscayne Bay experienced another significant fish die-off, likely caused by the same low oxygen and high pollution levels that caused the last major fish kill in August 2020.
Malnourished Dolphins: For the second times, the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors are accusing the Miami Seaquarium of underfeeding dolphins as a form of punishment, causing unhealthy weight loss and dangerous aggressive behavior, according to a report released Friday.
Thank you for reading. Miami Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curates the Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State newsletter. We appreciate our readers and if you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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