Back when Miami-Dade was still referred to as Metro-Dade and Donald Trump was just a flamboyant businessman, a young Miguel Diaz de la Portilla supported a county effort to give $35,000 to the blustery developer’s Miss Universe pageant on Miami Beach.
Twenty years later, now that many Republican candidates are fleeing any association with Trump’s presidential campaign and the former Metro commissioner is a Florida state senator facing reelection, the Florida Democratic Party wants to remind voters how helpful he was to The Donald.
“After Donald Trump promised to bring his Miss Universe show to town, Diaz de la Portilla delivered our tax dollars to help Trump,” states a new commercial released this week in the increasingly nasty Senate District 37 race between the incumbent and state Rep. José Javier Rodríguez.
The commercial, which Diaz de la Portilla laughingly called a “reeeaaal stretch,” is just one example of how the candidates are using their voting records against each other — fairly or otherwise. The Trump attack, for instance, omits that the Miss Universe grant was proposed by a tourism committee led by then-commission chairwoman and recently retired Democratic state Sen. Gwen Margolis, and supported by past Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairman Jimmy Morales.
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Is Rodríguez associating the belle of the Florida Senate, Senator Gwen Margolis, with Donald Trump?
State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla
“Is Rodríguez associating the belle of the Florida Senate, Senator Gwen Margolis, with Donald Trump?” Diaz de la Portilla, who says he isn’t voting for Trump or Clinton, asked rhetorically.
But the incumbent — labeled “Lobbyist of the Year” in attack ads by Democrats — isn’t the only one crying foul. While he says Rodríguez is bastardizing his record on county contracts, education and insurance fees, Rodríguez — dubbed in turn by Republicans as “Pay to Play José” — says Diaz de la Portilla is twisting his votes on public healthcare and Medicaid inaction into positions against children and cancer medication.
In one of many mailers by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Rodríguez is accused of voting against funding for government health insurer Florida KidCare in order to appease his campaign donors: “big insurance companies and their lobbyists.” In another, Rodríguez is ripped for opposing a measure that required insurance companies to cover chemotherapy pills taken orally.
Rodríguez counters that Republicans are cherry-picking items out of bills that he opposed for different reasons.
When he voted against HB 5101, for instance, he says he opposed the bill because it failed to expand Medicaid, not because it expanded KidCare eligibility. And when HB 1159 went to a vote in 2013, Rodríguez was among those who worried it allowed Miami Children’s Hospital to skirt state regulations in order to open a maternity ward for high-risk pregnancies — potentially siphoning money away from the publicly funded Jackson Health System. A provision requiring insurers to cover oral cancer medications was unrelated to his opposition, he said.
“He’s trying to make it seem like I’m against affordable access to healthcare when the opposite was true,” Rodríguez said.
Rodríguez has received significant support from a political committee and a 501(c)(4) advocacy group associated with Chris Findlater, a Miami Beach businessman and major Democratic donor who founded NetQuote, an online insurance market. A new commercial attacking the candidate says “big insurance and big money means Rodríguez owes big favors.”
“I sue insurance companies for a living, so the idea that I would be going up and voting against consumers in Tallahassee is ridiculous,” said Rodríguez, a Kelley/Uustal trial attorney.
I sue insurance companies for a living, so the idea that I would be going up and voting against consumers in Tallahassee is ridiculous
State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez
Meanwhile, Democrats have tried to paint Diaz de la Portilla, a land-use attorney who represents clients as a lobbyist before municipal boards, as beholden to special interests. One attack dredges up a 16-year-old claim from then-county mayor Alex Penelas that Diaz de la Portilla voted for 45 no-bid contracts at Miami International Airport. At the time, Diaz de la Portilla — who as commissioner pushed to create the county’s inspector general’s office and helped uncover a $58 million paving scandal — said he probably had voted for the contracts, but only at the behest of the county administration.
“I was Mr. Good Government before it was popular,” he said.
Still, both candidates have continued to lob similar attacks at each other over their votes.
On insurance rate increases, Republicans say Rodríguez stood by and did nothing as rates rose, while Diaz de la Portilla filed a bill this past session that attempted to crack down on fraud related to the assignment of benefits from homeowners to contractors. Rodríguez calls the attack “ironic,” as Democrats have blasted Diaz de la Portilla for his support of SB 408, a 2011 measure that, while primarily about curbing a deluge of sinkhole-related claims pushing the state’s Citizens Property Insurance underwater, allowed residential property insurers to pass re-insurance increases on to consumers of up to 15 percent subject to the approval of a state regulator.
Previously, the maximum was 10 percent.
On the budget, Democrats note Diaz de la Portilla supported Rick Scott’s 2011 budget, which included a $1.3 billion reduction in education funding, and subsequent budgets that steered millions of public education dollars to “for-profit corporations,” a vague reference to the allocation of public education capital outlay (PECO) dollars for charter schools.
The problem with those attacks? Rodríguez opposed budgets that Republicans say included nearly $800 million in education funding increases.
And when he finally voted in favor of the budget this year for the first time, the state’s spending plan included $75 million in capital dollars for charter schools.