Ryan Nicol, Author at Florida Politics

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

Lauren Baer promises to ‘listen’ to voters in new ad

Lauren Baer, the Democratic congressional candidate in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, is out with a new ad accusing her Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, of ignoring the concerns of the district.

Baer’s ad features three supporters spotlighted in previous campaign ads. The new spot, titled “Listen,” contains new commentary from those supporters about why they back Baer in supporting the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Mast voted in the House to repeal the law last year, though those efforts failed in the Senate.

“It’s just knowing that if I get sick, I’m not gonna get bankrupt,” says Mel Liebman, a Baer supporter and owner of The Clock Shop of Fort Pierce.

“Brian Mast has taken drug and insurance money and voted to make your health care premiums higher…,” the narrator adds.

“Makes me angry,” Liebman interjects.

“…and voted to gut protections for pre-existing conditions,” the narrator continues.

“And I begged, and said, ‘please don’t do this,'” says Veronica “Ronnie” Ciaramella, a breast cancer survivor who lobbied mass to oppose repeal of the ACA.

“He hurt my family,” adds “Ava,” another Baer supporter whose daughter suffers from chronic epilepsy.

“The Palm Beach Post endorsed Lauren Baer because she will protect our health care,” the narrator notes.

“She is gonna listen to me,” Ciaramella says.

“I think she’ll be excellent,” Liebman says.

“She’s going to listen to her constituents and not people who are giving her money,” Ava says.

The Mast campaign pushed back against criticism of his vote in a statement.

“Under Obamacare, insurance premiums have more than doubled and both St. Lucie County and Martin County are down to only one insurer on the individual exchange, yet Lauren Baer has said the bill didn’t go far enough,” said Brad Stewart, a spokesperson for Mast.

“She supports a massive expansion of government-controlled health care that experts say could jeopardize Medicare for seniors who have paid into the program their whole life. This begs the question: why would we double down on a failed policy that has caused prices to skyrocket and eliminated individual choice?”

Recent fundraising reports showed Baer with a strong third quarter, bringing it $1.7 million. That topped the incumbent Mast by more than $700,000. Despite those strong numbers, election analysts see Mast as the favorite in the race.

The turnaround: Rick Scott leads Bill Nelson by 2 in new FAU poll

The newest numbers from the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative (FAU BEPI) show Republican Gov. Rick Scott ahead by just shy of 2 points in his efforts to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen Bill Nelson.

Scott pulled in just over 42 percent support, according to the new survey, whereas Nelson was sitting at a little under 41 percent support.

A total of 13 percent said they were undecided, with 4 percent saying they would vote for someone else entirely.

The FAU BEPI poll was conducted Oct. 18-21 and sampled 704 likely voters. It contains a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

Scott’s position is slightly improved from the previous poll conducted by FAU BEPI. That survey showed Scott with a lead of less than a percentage point over Nelson.

The university also asked voters who is to blame over the state’s recent algae problem. Overall, voters gave more of the blame to Scott, with 35 percent saying the Governor was responsible. Just 20 percent blamed Nelson, with 45 percent saying they didn’t know.

“Perhaps holding Scott back is the algae problem in the state,” said Monica Escaleras, director of the BEPI. “Voters are nearly twice as likely to blame him as they are Nelson.”

Scott did pull in better favorable numbers than Nelson, however, with 43 percent of voters approving of his job as Governor and 36 percent disapproving.

For Nelson, 36 percent approved of his work in the Senate, while 35 percent disapproved.

Health care was listed as the most important issue for voters, with 31 percent rating it at the top of their list. In second was immigration at 24 percent, followed by the economy at 13 percent.

Progressives file ethics complaint against Mario Diaz-Balart over mortgages

The American Democracy Legal Fund (ADLF), a progressive group founded by liberal activist David Brock, has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) over a pair of mortgages taken out by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

While it’s not clear yet whether anything improper occurred, allegations of wrongdoing by Diaz-Balart were first made in a piece by Grant Stern on DCReport. In it, Stern alleges Diaz-Balart may have violated federal criminal law by the way his mortgages were set up for properties in Miami and Washington, D.C.

According to Stern’s reporting, Diaz-Balart took out a “primary residence” mortgage in his Washington, D.C. condo in June 2012. Stern argues that naming a D.C. condo as his primary residence should have made him ineligible to represent Florida, as congressional members must live in the states they represent per Article I of the Constitution.

Diaz-Balart then claimed a homestead exemption on his Miami home nine months later, again appearing to label it his “primary residence,” enabling him to acquire a large tax break. “Falsely claiming a condo or house as a primary residence can be a felony,” Stern notes, arguing both locations could not serve as Diaz-Balart’s primary residence.

In ADLF’s letter to the OCE, the group piggybacks on the report, noting that if Diaz-Balart was ineligible for that tax break, he “may have received an improper gift in violation of long-standing House rules.”

The group asserts that “Rep. Diaz-Balart received loans and tax exemptions he likely did not qualify for, and under more generous terms than he otherwise would have received, by simultaneously presenting as his primary residences the Miami home and D.C. condo.”

However, as noted by POLITICO’s Marc Caputo, the Diaz-Balart team has put forward documentation from both the originator of the D.C. mortgage and the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser showing the arrangement was on the up-and-up.

A letter from the Congressional Federal Credit Union, the originator of Diaz-Balart’s D.C. mortgage, was sent to Diaz-Balart after the allegations first surfaced.

That letter reads, in part, “After review, we can confirm that your loan was underwritten and priced in a manner consistent with our standard practices and procedures in place at the time of the loan, and that you fully disclosed the nature and details of your ownership and residency at both the Florida and Washington, D.C. properties.”

An investigative report from the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser was also issued on Oct. 12. That summary reads, in part, “No evidence of an overlapping homestead exemption was found.”

While any potential investigation by the OCE could find differently, the Diaz-Balart team sounded confident in a reply sent to Florida Politics.

“The facts speak for themselves.”

Jesse Jackson, Florida lawmakers support ‘crime victims’ bill of rights’

A new round of Florida lawmakers gave their endorsement for Amendment 6 on Tuesday, off the heels of civil-rights legend Jesse Jackson Sr. stating his support for the measure.

The amendment aims to increase rights for crime victims in the state of Florida. It was modeled after “Marsy’s Law.”

Advocates say Amendment 6 will help victims be more informed of the progression of the legal case against the defendant. For instance, victims would be able to give an impact statement during a trial, or would receive notification that an attacker was released from prison.

Critics where it is already law counter that the measure has “increased government costs beyond what they had expected, and police complained it had inhibited their ability to investigate crimes.”

Marsy’s Law for Florida, a group advocating for the amendment’s passage, announced a group of former and current representatives who are voicing their support. They are:

— Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th Congressional District

— Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida’s 26th

— Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Florida’s 5th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida’s 17th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 27th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida’s 15th

— Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Florida’s 9th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida’s 3rd

— Former U.S. Rep. and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis

The list of lawmakers join previous officials who have advocated for the amendment’s approval, including state Sens. Lauren Book of Plantation and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, both Democrats, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee.

Jackson gave a shout-out to Gillum on Twitter for his work on the subject: “Crime victims and their families deserve equal rights,” Jackson wrote.

“If you believe in equal rights, join Mayor Gillum and support Amendment 6 in November!”

“We appreciate the support of these Florida Congressional members who are standing with the people of their districts who have had their lives forever altered by crime,” said Greg Ungru, state director for Marsy’s Law for Florida.

“With their advocacy, we further strengthen our efforts to communicate to voters why Florida needs clear, enforceable rights in our state’s most powerful legal document.”

The group held an early voting rally on Monday featuring state Book and former Miami Heat player Shane Battier to convince voters to support the amendment.

Donna Shalala drops ad hitting opponent over Cuba comments

Donna Shalala is out with a new radio ad hitting her Republican opponent over comments on Fidel Castro and Cuba policy under the Donald Trump administration.

Shalala, the Democratic candidate in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, is competing against Maria Elvira Salazar for the seat.

The Democrat’s new minute-long, Spanish-language spot is called “Postura Real.” It goes after Salazar, a former journalist, over previous deferential comments she made to Fidel Castro during an interview.

The ad also tackles Salazar’s suggestion that President Trump should engage in talks with Raul Castro, despite Salazar’s efforts to keep those remarks off the record.

“Maria Elvira Salazar called the murderous dictator, Fidel Castro, ‘El Comandante,’ ” the ad’s narrator begins in Spanish.

“She lied to the voters saying that Donald Trump and the United States should break any kind of relationship or link with Cuba. But meanwhile, behind closed doors, Maria Elvira asserts that Trump must speak with Raul Castro. What is her true position on murderous dictators? Maria Elvira Salazar is not reliable. She is not trustworthy on Cuba or any other issue.

“We cannot trust Maria Elvira Salazar and her double standards.

“Donna Shalala is a woman of her word, a woman who fulfills her promises and gets things done. Donna Shalala will confront dictators and murderous regimes, she will fight for human rights in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and all of Latin America. Don’t be fooled or confused by Maria Elvira Salazar and Donald Trump. They will say anything to win.”

The Salazar campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Salazar faced similar criticism over her interview with Fidel, who died in 2016, during the Republican primary. One of her GOP opponents, Stephen Marks, cut an ad featuring those comments. Salazar then attempted to threaten legal action to have the ad taken off the air.

Shalala’s attempts to hit Salazar over her comments regarding the Cuban dictators comes after Shalala faced criticism over a planned appearance with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who has appeared to praise Castro’s leadership in the past.

Ultimately, Lee did not end up attending the event after concerns were raised by the Shalala campaign.

Maria Elvira Salazar internal poll puts her ahead by 9 points

The Maria Elvira Salazar campaign is pushing back against the notion that she’s falling behind in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, releasing an internal campaign poll showing her well ahead in the contest.

Salazar, the Republican candidate in CD 27, is competing against Democratic nominee Donna Shalala for the seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The new poll from Salazar’s team, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, shows Salazar earning 50 percent support to Shalala’s 41 percent. The survey was conducted Oct. 11-14 and sampled 400 registered voters.

Those results are in opposition to an independent poll from the New York Times showing Shalala ahead 44 percent to 37 percent. Another recent poll from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had Shalala up by 5 points.

As always, take publicly-released internal polls with a grain of salt. Having said that, the Tampa Bay Times did recently downgrade Shalala’s chances to win the CD 27 seat, event after the release of the New York Times poll.

However, with the same information, the Cook Political Report moved its projection in the opposite direction, changing the race from a toss up to “lean Democratic.” That means Shalala is not a slight favorite, according to the site.

What’s for sure is the seat is not as much of a sure thing as Democrats had hoped. But given other available polling, it’s unlikely Salazar is running away with the race, as her internal poll claims.

Pro-veterans group hits Lauren Baer over 9/11 comments

A new ad from With Honor, a PAC committed to electing veterans to Congress, is going after Democratic candidate Lauren Baer over her critiques of American foreign policy following the 9/11 attacks.

Baer is currently attempting to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. Mast, a U.S. Army veteran, also released an ad hitting Baer over those comments earlier this month.

During Baer’s time at Harvard, she had critiqued the notion of American political leaders calling 9/11 an “attack on the world” when, in her view, the U.S. was not equally responsive to other mass tragedies across the globe. She mentions the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia as a few examples.

The new ad from With Honor, called “Stand,” argues such criticism just a month after the attacks were inappropriate.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 innocent Americans were killed by terrorists,” the ad’s narrator recalls.

“Just one month later Lauren Baer criticized our country, calling our response to 9/11, when hundreds of first responders sacrificed their lives, ‘a moment of hypocrisy,’ writing that America has a ‘shameful history’ of rarely standing up for values of justice and righteousness.

“If Lauren Baer couldn’t stand with us after 9/11, how can she stand up for us in Congress?”

Grant Moody, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and political director for With Honor, echoed those critiques in a statement.

“As someone who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve seen firsthand our country’s sacrifice in response to the attack on Sept. 11,” Moody said.

“In the years that have passed, congressional candidate Lauren Baer still has not accepted responsibility for her damaging comments and apologized for crossing the line.”

But as noted in the summary of Mast’s ad regarding Baer’s article, the piece in no way criticized America’s first responders. Instead, the piece was a challenge to be more responsive when massive tragedies occur overseas.

Many will disagree about whether that complaint is valid, or whether it should have been made so soon after the attacks. Baer spoke on the subject at a recent debate with Mast, attempting to make clear her main message in the piece.

“I said if we are going to have other countries see an attack on America as an attack on (themselves), then an attack on American values anywhere in the world should be seen as an attack on us ourselves as well,” Baer argued.

“That’s why I devoted my career, six years of my life to taking an oath to protect and defend our Constitution, to serve two different Secretaries of State, to promote American values abroad.”

Baer added, “This is the greatest country in the world. But it is not a flawless country. We make mistakes. And what we expect from our leaders is individuals who are going to be vocal when mistakes are being made.”

To read Baer’s 2001 article, click here.

To watch the group’s new ad, click on the image below.

Shane Battier, Lauren Book, others speak out in support of Amendment 6

Former Miami Heat player Shane Battier, state Sen. Lauren Book, and other high-profile supporters of Amendment 6 were on hand Monday evening to highlight an Early Voting event and help advocate for passage of Florida’s own “Marsy’s Law.”

Amendment 6 would establish a so-called “bill of rights” for crime victims. The measure was modeled after California’s Marsy’s Law. Advocates say it would guarantee victims’ ability to be notified of important benchmarks in the case, participate in case proceedings, and prevent disclosure of victims’ information, among other benefits.

Monday’s event was held at the Miramar Branch Library in Broward County, and was hosted by Marsy’s Law for Florida, a group advocating for approval Amendment 6.

Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, is passionate about the measure. Before serving as a state Senator, she established “Lauren’s Kids,” a nonprofit aimed a stopping the abuse of children and setting up a help network for survivors.

“Our constitution is sacred,” Book began.

“I do believe that. And when we stand for those who are most vulnerable among us, I think that says a lot about who we are. So I’m very hopeful in asking people across our state to support this measure and give victims equal rights.”

Battier said his reasons for supporting the amendment were straightforward.

“So often you look at a ballot, especially when there’s a constitutional amendment, and it’s really difficult to decipher,” Battier said.

“When I learned about Amendment 6, I said this is a common sense change. If you’re the victim of a crime, you should have rights and you should be able to participate in the trial.”

He also says the past success of similar measures across the nation convinced him to come out in favor.

“California has had this law enacted for the last 10 years. Other states have gone toward this. So when I saw a common-sense measure on the ballot, I said, ‘How can I get involved?'”

Tracy Mourning, wife of former Heat player Alonzo Mourning, was also on hand to show her support for the event as a way to educate voters.

“I know a lot of people, just like me, we hear about these different amendments and different things that are going on and we don’t know a lot about it. And this is a way to find out more for people to understand what equal rights for victims means.”

Battier, Mourning, and others in attendance join Emmy-winning actor Kelsey Grammer in pushing for passage of Amendment 6. Grammer was featured in a 30-second spot last week, detailing the death of his father and sister at the hands of criminals and speaking out for increased rights for victims and their families.

But critics argue Florida law already adequately protects victims and the new constitutional rights could end up superseding defendants’ rights.

Nevertheless, Amendment 6 backers are standing behind the measure, pouring in $30 million to a campaign to secure passage.

And former state Sen. Chris Smith says he was similarly skeptical about the measure, before eventually coming out in support after changes were made to get it to its current form.

“After hearing about the story of Marsy, and really looking at the different parts of it, I became a supporter,” Smith noted.

“I’m a vote that they earned.”

Monday’s event also featured impassioned messages from victims who say they saw the problems with the current criminal justice system firsthand.

Shannon Taylor told her story of being raped at knifepoint, only to see her attacker go free. She says even though she utilized a rape kit after the attack, no charges were ever filed and no one communicated to her about why that decision was made.

She says her pain intensified when she began seeing her attacker from time to time around her community.

“How traumatizing the rape itself, then the rape examination, then seeing him in my neighborhood and nothing was ever done,” Taylor recalled.

“I was never protected. I was never informed.”

In order to pass on Nov. 6, the measure needs 60 percent of voters to approve it.

But regardless of where one stands on the many amendments on the ballot, all in attendance Monday agreed on making your voice heard as early as possible.

“Things always come up last minute,” Mourning said, urging people to get out and vote early.

“There are always excuses or reasons why, so any opportunity you can take advantage of to be heard and have your voice heard and to be a part of this community.”

Book also pushed people to take advantage of the opportunities to vote early, noting “life gets crazy.”

“I think it’s immensely important,” she said of the voting process.

“I just hope everybody gets out and votes.”

Rick Scott internal poll has him leading Bill Nelson

A new internal poll released by the Rick Scott campaign shows the Republican ahead by 5 percentage points in the race for U.S. Senate.

That’s in disagreement with a pair of independent polls released Monday, which show the candidates either deadlocked or with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the lead.

The Scott survey was conducted by OnMessage Inc. and consisted of 2,200 likely voters. It showed Scott earning 51 percent support with Nelson nabbing 46 percent, leaving 3 percent undecided. The margin of error was just over 2 percent.

As usual, be advised against latching onto publicly-released findings from campaigns.

The 5-point margin for Scott does match his lead in polls taken from May through mid-August, most of which appeared to show Nelson was in trouble of losing his Senate seat.

However, Nelson’s fortunes have turned around in recent months according to outside pollsters. FiveThirtyEight now gives him about a 2 in 3 chance of beating back Scott’s challenge.

Scott’s internal also has him with 56 percent approval rating, while 40 percent of voters disapprove. That’s well ahead of Nelson, who was barely above water. In total, 46 percent of those polled approved of his work in the Senate, while 45 percent disapproved.

The survey was conducted from Oct. 14-18.

Rick Scott pledges to ‘fight for you’ in new Spanish-language ad

A new Spanish-language ad supporting Gov. Rick Scott‘s bid for the U.S. Senate is out, arguing Scott will be a better fighter for Florida than his Democratic opponent, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

The ad, released by the Rick Scott for Florida campaign, is titled “Fight For You.” The 30-second spot will be airing on both television and digital platforms.

The Scott team attempts to tout the work the Governor has done for Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria, while also doubting Nelson’s ability to deliver for the state.

“Bill Nelson attacks Rick Scott for working with President [Donald] Trump,” says the ad’s narrator in Spanish.

“Here are the facts: Rick Scott has visited Puerto Rico eight times and works with Republicans and Democrats to help Puerto Rico. Rick Scott has confronted President Trump when he disagrees with him.

“Bill Nelson: Weak, confronts no one and only shows up on election time. Scott is recognized for the way he aided the victims of the hurricane. Who will fight for you? With your vote, you’ll decide.”

Here, Scott is again using a Spanish-language spot to attempt to distance himself from President Trump. Scott is also attempting to shore up support among Puerto Ricans, as previous polling has showed him ahead among the group.

Nelson and Scott have gone back and forth over their respective responses to last year’s storm. And while Nelson secured the endorsement of Puerto Rico’s Governor, Scott had also been endorsed by dozens of the island’s officials.

The Democrat’s position in the polls has improved as well in recent weeks, with a Quinnipiac survey released Monday showing Nelson ahead of Scott by 6 percentage points.

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