Incumbent Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard announced on Tuesday — by way of his Florida Senate office — his “top legislative priorities” for the 2017 session.
Ordinarily, such an official message might be considered routine for a state lawmaker to send, except that voters haven’t determined yet whether Bullard will still be in the Florida Legislature next year.
They’re still making up their minds.
And with a week to go until the end of a heated election season, some — including Bullard’s challenger, Republican Miami state Rep. Frank Artiles — question whether the timing, tone and details of Bullard’s announcement make it not unlike a last-minute campaign pitch out of a government office.
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State law prohibits candidates from using government services, including public employees during working hours, “in the furtherance of his or her candidacy for nomination or election to public office.”
“Could I have saved it until the 9th?” Bullard said, referring to the day after the election. “Sure. Am I trying to be presumptuous about winning? I hope not; I hope it doesn’t come off that way — but at the same time, I just wanted folks to realize in the midst of all this politics and political stuff that we still want to be in the business of addressing some of the concerns and issues people are having.”
Between the campaign trail and calls to my legislative office, people have questioned whether or not there would be any significant changes to what my agenda would look like now that I have a new district that’s not as Democratic.
State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami
Bullard, a veteran lawmaker, has been in a competitive and bitter fight for re-election against Artiles, as the men battle for the newly redrawn District 40 seat in central Miami-Dade County.
The announcement from Bullard’s Senate office referred to Bullard as “an indomitable voice for middle-class and low-income Floridians” and said he is “anticipating the continuation of his popular progressive agenda.”
Bullard said the message was sent in his role as a sitting lawmaker as an attempt to address constituent questions. His Senate office also noted it didn’t specifically mention either Bullard’s campaign or Artiles.
In explaining his decision to announce his legislative priorities from his Senate office rather than his campaign, Bullard told the Herald/Times: “Between the campaign trail and calls to my legislative office, people have questioned whether or not there would be any significant changes to what my agenda would look like now that I have a new district that’s not as Democratic. ... Would I be the quintessential progressive, or would I be moderating the tone?”
The new District 40 still leans Democratic but is more heavily Hispanic than the population of Bullard’s current district.
Bullard’s announcement pledged his proposed agenda would “once again address issues that affect Florida working families,” and it listed specific goals such as raising the minimum wage and expanding access to health care — prominent talking points used on the campaign trail, too.
Artiles’ campaign spokeswoman, Sarah Bascom, called on Senate Democratic leaders to “publicly denounce this as an inappropriate use of taxpayer-paid staff and resources” and she said it was “clearly inappropriate” for Bullard “to use the official Senate Democratic Office to send out a press release that is meant to garner earned media for a campaign.”
After looking at the announcement, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, disagreed that the message had political undertones.
“It looks rather innocuous,” he said, although he acknowledged “the timing is not great, I guess.”
But Braynon added that “it’s disingenuous for them [Artiles’ campaign] to say they’re appalled” when, he said, Artiles has campaigned heavily using his status as a sitting Florida House member.
Senate Democratic leaders should publicly denounce this as an inappropriate use of taxpayer-paid staff and resources.
Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for state Senate candidate and state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami
Bullard’s announcement was signed off by and sent by Michelle DeMarco, the Senate Democratic Office’s communications director in the Florida Capitol — with Bullard’s legislative assistant, Shannon Cooper, listed as the contact. The email addresses included in the message were official state accounts.
“Routinely, I’ll get requests to take a look at drafts and, in turn, send them if they deal with statewide issues. This was the case with the press release draft from Sen. Bullard’s office,” DeMarco said in an email. She said she believed about 240 people are on the email list that received the message.
Bullard said, “From the legislative side, we wanted to be proactive about addressing what, at least, a handful of our bills are going to look like going into session. I’ve said on the campaign trail a bunch of times that the first bill I’d file would be the ban on fracking.” That proposal was among those listed on Bullard’s legislative agenda.