Sunday, April 13, 2014

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.


Florida "Insiders" say "Jeb!" is in

Adam C. Smith: "Jeb Bush says he hasn't made up his mind about running for president in 2016, but the overwhelming verdict from 121 of Florida's most plugged-in politicos is that Bush ultimately will take the plunge." "Insiders predict Jeb Bush will run for president in 2016".


"Scott’s air travel reflects not only his wealth, but his preference for stealth"

"The first campaign promise Gov. Rick Scott kept allows him to travel with the privacy and luxury of a CEO while living in the fishbowl of public office."

As a candidate in 2010, Scott said it was a waste of money for Florida to have two airplanes for official travel, so he replaced them with a private jet at his expense.

The switch has saved taxpayers a lot of money, but how much is a mystery: No public airplanes means no public records.

Scott’s air travel reflects not only his wealth, but his preference for stealth. Despite his oft-stated support for transparency, Scott keeps his flight itineraries off tracking websites and even blacks out arrival and departure details on official schedules after the fact, citing the need for security.

"He also uses the jet to campaign for re-election and might be literally flying above the law."
Other candidates must pay for commercial flights or hop aboard private jets owned by donors — trips that must be publicly disclosed under state campaign finance laws.

Not Scott.

The hospital CEO-turned-governor flies in a Cessna Citation Excel owned by a company whose only officer is his wife, Ann Scott. The jet’s tail number carries her initials, A.S.

Having access to a private jet 24/7 is a luxury other candidates can’t afford, and some experts say it requires more disclosure than Scott is providing. . . .

Scott opened his re-election campaign Dec. 10 and has made dozens of campaign flights since then, but he has disclosed no air travel expenses.

"Two lawyers who are experts in election laws say Scott is not complying with the letter or spirit of Florida’s 'who gave it, who got it' campaign finance law. Both lawyers are Democrats who have advised Democratic and Republican candidates."
“You have to account for it,” said one of the lawyers, Mark Herron. “Otherwise, it could be an unreported contribution to your campaign.”

The other lawyer, Ron Meyer, said it “defies logic” to accept the Scott campaign’s explanation.

“To do so would mean that a campaign could accept all kinds of services and simply not write a check to pay for them until the end,” Meyer said. “Not exactly a transparent way of reporting who gave it and who got it.”

Nancy Watkins, a Tampa certified public accountant who often advises Republicans, said tax law could be interpreted such that Scott’s use of an aircraft owned by a firm whose sole officer is his wife makes it personal transportation — the same as riding in a car — and not reportable as a campaign expense, or what’s known in the tax code as a disregarded entity.

"The plane truth: Florida Gov. Rick Scott travels in wealth, stealth".


The session's final weeks

Gray Rohrer: "The priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, large ominibus bills and the finalization of the budget will all be in play in the session's final weeks." "Final weeks: Weatherford's big ideas, trains and budget talks". See also "Negron: Budget conference meetings to begin on April 21".


All Geller

"With his leading opponent dropping out of the race, Joe Geller has become the strong favorite to win the Florida House seat currently held by Joe Gibbons." "Joe Geller Clear Favorite for Open House Seat in South Florida".


Voucher madness

"The proposal lacks a testing requirement for students and it's not clear if it will be accepted by the Senate where President Don Gaetz has said accountability is one of the themes of the 2014 Workplan." "House school vouchers bill heads to Senate". See also "Floridians Opposed to Voucher Program".


"No other state came close"

Carl Hiaasen: "After being sued by the Wall Street Journal, the government finally released its Medicare reimbursement data last week. It included the less-than-stunning revelation that 28 of the 100 doctors who received the largest payments in 2012 were from Florida. No other state came close." "First, do no harm — to your bank account".


Tampa yawner

Steve Otto: "Tampa still working on ‘Next Great City’ status".


"Has this state’s voting record ever really been out of the headlines?"

The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board "Florida was back in the headlines last week, featured in a story about states that have made it more difficult to vote. But then, considering the voter purges, the restrictions on voting, the subsequent backtracking and the inevitable Election Day foul-ups, has this state’s voting record ever really been out of the headlines?"

The Pew Charitable Trusts issued a report on voter access and found Florida lagging behind much of the rest of the country.
"Voting rights".


"Using the Republicans’ own words against them"

Bill Cotterell suggests that "Florida Democrats, holding neither the veto pen nor the majority vote in either chamber of the Legislature, can employ a bit of political martial arts by using the Republicans’ own words against them sometimes. The difference between a legislative gotcha and that other form of ground fighting is that, in jiu-jitsu, the little guy has a chance. Democrats know they’ll lose. But sometimes, it’s entertaining to watch the them remind GOP leaders of past pronouncements." "Using Republicans' own words to debate them".


The great negotiator

"Gov. Rick Scott, who made a career out of negotiating hospital mergers, is now applying his negotiating skills to a deal with the Seminole Tribe that could singlehandedly dictate the future of gaming in Florida." "Gov. Rick Scott’s negotiations with Seminole Tribe could be a blueprint for gaming’s future in Florida".

Meanwhilee, Nancy Smith wonders "What Happens to Gambling If Charlie Crist Wins?"


To the right of Ander Crenshaw?

"Ander Crenshaw Faces Conservative Primary Challenger Ryman Shoaf in CD 4".


Week in Review

"Week in Review for April 11, 2014". See also Kevin Derby: "Political Bits and Pieces", "Weekly Roundup: Lights Out Permanently on Gambling, Temporarily on Session" and "Arrivals and Departures, April 11, 2014".


"Black caucus struggles"

"In GOP-dominated Legislature, black lawmakers caucus struggles".


"Florida Republicans Say Good Riddance"

"Florida Republicans Say Good Riddance, Kathleen Sebelius".


"Indefensible"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "Florida lawmakers have three weeks to decide if they are going to stand with trauma patients and for rationally priced health care, or with hospitals that are charging indefensible trauma center response fees and driving up costs across the health care system." "Stand with patients, not profits".


Yee haw!

"The sponsor explained the bill extends carry-and-conceal privileges to those fleeing during a mandatory evacuation declared by the governor or local officials. The Senate version has yet to clear a committee." "House sends gun bill to Senate".


"Republican bad girl" denied bond

"Former Congressman David Rivera’s friend Ana Alliegro denied bond, remains in jail".


Choice politics

"It changes the exceptions to a late term abortion and opens the door to a legal framework that would take into account viability for life, rather than a designated time period, for when an abortion could be performed. Among those voting no were four Republicans." "House approves abortion restriction".


Legislators secret save-our-civilization-from-Zombie Bloodbath-agenda

Fred Grimm: "Florida lawmakers are getting us ready for the zombie apocalypse."

At first glance, Senate Bill 296, which allows gun owners to pack heat during civil emergencies, whether or not they happened to have a concealed weapon permit, would seem just another mindless pander to the National Rifle Association.

Sponsors told fellow legislators that a new law was necessary to prevent police from seizing firearms from Floridians fleeing declared civil emergencies. Like a hurricane. Perhaps even a riot.

At first glance, none of that stuff made sense, adding unlicensed gunslingers to civil chaos. One can only suppose that our legislators, as they voted “yea,” were advancing a secret save-our-civilization-from-Zombie Bloodbath-agenda as the measure zipped through Senate committee stops last week and a House companion bill was approved 80-to-36 Friday afternoon. Our leaders are intent on getting us armed and ready to battle The Army of Darkness (or worse, the feminist version, Zombie Women of Satan). Because any other explanation for SB 296 is just plain crazy.

So it’s obvious. Legislators, anxious to avoid setting off mass panic, played it coy. They talked hurricanes. They talked riots. They didn’t broach the fear gnawing at slimy, rotten innards of American culture. They didn’t talk about World War Z. No one mentioned Dawn of the Dead. They said one thing. They were thinking Die You Zombie Bastards!

Their lack of candor did cause a few awkward moments. When one of the bill’s champions, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was pressed to name an actual instance when someone in Florida was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon or had his firearm confiscated during a declared emergency, he couldn’t think of one. Not even during that spate of hurricanes last decade that sent Floridians scurrying from the paths of Katrina, Wilma, Charlie, Jeanne, Dennis and Ivan.

That led Sen. Jack Latvala R-Clearwater, to ask Brandes why, then, our already lenient state gun laws were in such urgent need of fixing, Brandes recalled that firearms had been confiscated in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “Often we see situations around the country that we don’t want repeated here in the great state of Florida.” The word “situation” was code for Night of the Living Dead. Or maybe Night of the Living Dead 3-D.

Of course, most of the guns seized in New Orleans were confiscated at the entrance to the Superdome. Authorities apparently thought gunplay would not improve the mix of the hunger, thirst, stench, despair, anger suffered by 20,000 desperate refugees camped inside the big, dark, domed stadium. That incident so provoked the gun lobby in 2006, that Congress passed a federal law prohibiting “the confiscation of a firearm during an emergency or major disaster if the possession of such firearm is not prohibited under federal or state law.”

Florida’s about to take this even further. At times when fear and desperation and panic grips the population, SB 296 would extend that immunity to folks too lazy or too hinky to qualify for a concealed weapon permit.

Of course, such a premise is way too absurd for anyone to pretend it’s anything other than a diversion from the scary truth. Everyone in Tallahassee surely knows that Brandes‘ real intent is to save Florida from the ultimate civil emergency. What occurred in the capitol (a.k.a. House of the Dead) last week, thanks to this brave senator from St. Petersburg (long known as The City of the Living Dead) was exactly the intersection between heroic politician and the funereal horrors revealed in the 2012 historical classic Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies.

"Zombie Apocalypse bill comes to life".


"Jeb Bush has a lot of baggage"

Steve Otto reminds us that "Jeb Bush has a lot of baggage, particularly in Florida, where his image as an education reformer and other issues don’t carry the same weight they might elsewhere, but he is clearly setting the stage for a campaign later this year, not only for a run for himself but the return of some semblance of balance to the Republican Party." "All you need is a little love, Jeb".

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.


"Hordes of brown-skinned immigrants coming to sabotage Florida’s elections"

Fred Grimm writes that Rick Scott and "Ken Detzner imagine[ ] hordes of brown-skinned immigrants, up from the Caribbean or Central America, come to sabotage Florida’s elections."

They must be purged.

Unhappily for the secretary of state, his efforts to cleanse voter rolls of noncitizens have not gone well. “Far from perfect” was how the U.S. District Court of Appeals put it last week, employing more than a little judicial understatement.

A three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, ruled Tuesday that his rather clumsy attempts in 2012 to reconcile Florida’s rolls of registered voters against databases listing non-citizens constituted violations of the National Voter Registration Act.

In Detzner’s defense, he was just a lobbyist for the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association before Gov. Rick Scott appointed him as secretary of state two years ago. As it turned out, sorting out ineligible voters is a bit more demanding than greasing state legislators. His office started out with some 180,000 suspect voters. After county election supervisors examined the names, the list fell to 2,600, then 198. Finally, the beer meister’s scary hordes had dwindled to 85. . . .

But the court slapped Detzner around without exploring suspect racial or ethnic or partisan political motivations. Nor did the panel bother addressing the other nagging question about the purge. What would motivate someone to add “illegal voter” to his already risky status as “illegal immigrant?”

Detzner and Scott seemed to be clinging to the supposition that some noncitizen would be willing to risk a felony conviction to vote in the 2012 election. To risk a five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine just to add a single, mathematically insignificant vote to the 8,491,920 ballots cast in the general election. . . .

Either that or the beer man has overestimated the threat of noncitizens impacting Florida’s elections.

If Scott and Detzner were truly interested in chasing down cheaters, a much richer, long-ignored category of electoral illegality awaits their intervention. They ought to be hunting down our giant flock of lowdown, double-voting snowbirds. . . .

If Ken Detzner wanted to go after election cheats, double-dipping snowbirds, with their penchant for casting absentee ballots hither and yon, would seem to offer the secretary of state a more promising target than purported gangs of illegal immigrant voters that nobody can seem to find.

Of course, folks able to afford both a house in Ohio and a condo in Florida don’t tend to fall into the demographic our governor and his beer baron buddy fear on Election Day. Some election cheats just aren’t as scary as others. Even if the others don’t exist.

Much more here: "Time to purge the purgers".


Obamacare numbers give Crist an unexpected boost

The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo writes that "Charlie Crist’s reasons to embrace Obamacare has hit the 7.1 million mark."

That’s the number of people who selected an Affordable Care Act plan by the close of the enrollment period last Monday, according to the Obama administration.

The better-than-forecast numbers gave Democrats like Crist an unexpected boost, especially after the sign-up website was essentially non-functional when it debuted in October.

There are many reasons to be skeptical about how many of the 7.1 million actually are enrolled in individual-market healthcare plans (there’s a different between selectees who haven’t paid and those who have paid and enrolled).

Still, 7.1 million is the official number for now.

And politics is about simple things, simple numbers. Like insurance, politics is a numbers game.

Crist had already made the calculation that he wasn’t going to run from Obamacare, unlike Democrats who face more-conservative electorates in other races. Crist wants to use the unpopular Affordable Care Act’s popular positions to strike at the governor.

"As of March 1, the Obama administration reported that about 442,000 Floridians of about 990,000 eligible for individual market plans signed up in Florida (the vast majority of Floridians and Americans are insured through employer group plans that aren’t as central to the Affordable Care Act)."
How many ACA selectees didn’t have insurance before? How many are paying more? How many are paying less or get subsides? How many Floridians signed up from March 1 to the March 31 deadline? . . .

It’s likely Obamacare’s selectee figure would be far higher. But Republican-run states like Florida and Texas (which have the highest uninsured rates of about 25 percent) have fought the law at nearly every turn. They’ve also refused to expand Medicaid, which could give health insurance to as many as 1 million in Florida.

Despite the recent positive news for Obamacare and the number of Floridians who could benefit from it, those who hate the law appear more numerous and more ready to vote than those who love it in Florida. . . .

Meanwhile, for all the misleading presentation of figures in his ads, Scott has perhaps the most-important figures on his side: $45 million. That’s the amount of money he likely has to spend so far on his campaign. He’s trying to raise $100 million.

Crist hopes to get half of that. Fellow Democrat Nan Rich has struggled to fundraise for more than year. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie is a wild card in the race.

Money like Scott’s buys wall-to-wall ads that are seen by far more voters, who spend far more time watching TV or looking at Facebook than they do reading newspapers or PolitiFact.

And no matter how you figure it, $45 million is a bigger number than 7.1 million.

Much more here: "Figuring and politicking with Obamacare figures".


"Fat Man and Little Boy"

"Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal are starring in a new ad for a group seeking to rebrand the Republican Party." "Jeb Bush, Jindal appear in ad to rebrand Republican Party".


Oh . . . the irony

Recent statistics show that "Florida had the nation’s second-highest rate of residents without health insurance with almost 1 out of 4 Floridians lacking it", yet the geniuses in Tally want to invite residents of other states who do have health insurance to come to Florida and spend their health care dollars: "Proposals in the state House and Senate seek to pump $5 million into efforts to promote Florida’s healthcare industry to potential patients worldwide." "Lawmakers seek to draw medical tourists to Florida".


This, from the "values crowd"

"Last year, state employees got their first across-the-board pay raise since 2006 as part of a compromise between House and Senate proposals struck late in the legislative session. Employees earning under $40,000 were given a $1,400 pay increase while those earning $40,000 or more were given a $1,000 pay increase. But union representatives say last year’s raise wasn’t enough to make up for a reduction in pay state workers saw in 2011 when lawmakers passed a measure requiring them to contribute 3 percent of their pay toward their retirement accounts." "State-worker raises an 'uphill battle'".


Political notes

Tally "Political notes".


Court packing

"The proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1188) would allow an outgoing governor to replace appellate or Supreme Court justices whose terms expire on the governor’s last day in office." "Who gets to appoint justices?".


'Glades

"Small but promising step in restoring Everglades".


Scott working to "resolve image problems"

William March: "Worried about his standing among Florida’s Hispanic voters in the wake of turmoil over a major Hispanic fundraiser, Gov. Rick Scott is working to resolve image problems in a key segment of the electorate. Florida Democrats are working just as hard to highlight the problems, accusing Scott of a history of anti-Hispanic discrimination." "Scott courts Hispanics after fracas".


Legislature boosts Scott

"At session midpoint, Legislature boosts Gov. Rick Scott in election year".


"Scott is desperate to appear gubernatorial"

Carl Hiaasen: "With much chest-thumping, Gov. Rick Scott last week signed a law clipping auto-tag fees by about $25 per vehicle in Florida. He used the opportunity to blast former Gov. Charlie Crist for raising those fees five years ago."

What Scott cynically failed to mention during the bill-signing charade was that all the top Republicans standing at his side had also supported the auto-tag hikes. It was the depth of the recession, and the state desperately needed revenue.

Scott himself is desperate to appear gubernatorial because Crist, running as a Democrat, will likely be his opponent in the November election. The auto-tag fee cut was the centerpiece of a tax-relief agenda being pushed by the governor, who trails Crist in the early polls.

"Two of the GOP lawmakers who were crowing about this grand windfall for motor-vehicle owners have an infinitely more important job in the days ahead. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have a chance to do something truly crucial and good."
They can shape a law that saves actual lives — the lives of endangered children.

Bills that would strengthen Florida’s child welfare laws are winding through both houses of the Legislature following publication of the Herald’s shocking investigative series, Innocents Lost ["After Florida cut down on protections for children in troubled homes, deaths soared. The children died in ways cruel, outlandish, predictable and preventable."]

The newspaper documented the deaths of at least 477 children whose parents or caregivers had a history with the state’s Department of Children & Families. During the six-year period studied by reporters, DCF consistently under-reported the number of victims in its files who died because of violence or negligence by parents and caregivers. . . .

Lowering auto-tag fees by 25 bucks might be cause for giddy back-slapping in Tallahassee, but saving even one child from a tortuous death would be a more noble accomplishment.

And one you can’t put a price on.

"The profound urgency of DCF reform".

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.


"This is how the plutocracy works"

Fred Grimm: "A bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall to allow property-tax exemptions for businesses that install solar panels, or other renewable energy devices, was snuffed out this week by the chair of the Florida House tax committee. Backers of the amendment claim that polls show some 90 percent of the voters support the notion. Voters, however, are an ever diminishing consideration in state government."

Florida’s electric power monopolies hate the amendment. They matter. Because, as you might have suspected after perusing your electric bill, they’ve got money to spend. And they know how to use it to manipulate a plutocracy.

The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas reported that the state’s three largest electric power providers have already invested more than $3 million in campaign contributions in this election cycle. Florida Power & Light fed the piggies $2.5 million, while TECO Energy and Duke Energy slopped the political trough with $754,000 and $390,000 respectively.

That’s what matters.

"Not to pick on the electric companies. Other big-money entities know the formula. "
Back in 2011, the Herald documented more than 70 deaths and a host of injuries over a 10-year period at assisted living facilities. The series prompted lots of public outrage, and legislators responded with bills that would foster a tough, new regulatory regime. But that’s not how the system works. The nursing home industry came up with $3 million in political contributions. The Florida Assisted Living Association hired a bunch of lobbyists. Three years later, ALF reform is hardly more than a fading memory.

Integrity Florida spelled out the new rule of governing. “Increasingly, the Florida Legislature sets its agenda and policy outcomes based on the needs of large political donors.”

The report noted how a large Budweiser distributor, after contributing $300,000 to candidates and political committees aligned with Senate President Don Gaetz, has been able fend off assaults on outdated container laws that are a disadvantage to the state’s craft beer brewers. This stuff about Florida government supporting small businesses is just so much guff. What matters is that craft brewers don’t have the money to compete with the likes of Bud.

"All this is small beer compared to what’s coming."
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court jettisoned the limits on what monied folk and corporations can spend on campaigns. Not that the previous limits did much to inhibit influence peddling — $48,600 on contributions to candidates during a two-year election cycle, plus $74,600 total for political parties and committees. But with no limits, the influence of the merely wealthy will wane before the billionaires.

This follows the court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, that allowed corporations — now granted personhood — to buy up elections. “If Citizens United opened a door,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer read from his dissent on Tuesday, “today’s decision we fear will open a floodgate.”

This is how we’ve come to have Wall Street lobbyists in Washington writing banking reform legislation, and nursing home lobbyists in Florida killing ALF reform. This is how the plutocracy works. They have money. You don’t.

"In Tallahassee, only money talks". See also "Legislators roll over, fetch for big utilities".


Nuns demand retraction from ancient wingnut

"A group of Catholic nuns in Apopka, who for decades have advocated for migrant workers and the city's poor, are demanding that Mayor John Land retract a campaign flier that strongly suggests they are endorsing him in his fiercely contested bid for a 20th term." "Apopka nuns want retraction from Mayor Land's campaign".


Desperate Scott lambastes Crist over $25 fee

"Gov. Rick Scott signed a cut in auto tag fees Wednesday and singled out former Gov. Charlie Crist to blame for the increases, giving a bill-signing ceremony the feel of a partisan campaign rally. The typical Florida motorist will save about $25 a year per vehicle registration when the lower fees take effect Sept. 1." "Gov. Rick Scott signs tag fee rollback into law, takes aim at Charlie Crist".


Scott’s admin violated federal election law

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration violated federal law by trying to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls too close to the 2012 presidential election . . . ."

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta invalidated efforts by the Department of State to identify and remove non-citizens from the voter rolls in advance of an election in which a Florida victory was crucial to President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Federal law prohibits states from “systematic” removals of voters less than 90 days before a federal primary or general election.

Judges said they ruled in a case that might otherwise be moot to prevent Scott’s administration from undertaking a future purge effort.

"The 2-1 decision was written by Judge Beverly Martin and joined by Judge Adalberto Jordan, who was born in Cuba and is a University of Miami law school graduate and a former assistant U.S. attorney in Miami. Judge Richard Suhrheinrich dissented."
Scott’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, issued a terse five-word statement through a spokeswoman: “We are reviewing the decision.”

The state could ask for a rehearing before the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last week, Detzner abandoned efforts to scrub the voter rolls of non-citizens in advance of the 2014 election in the face of overwhelming opposition from elected supervisors of elections. He had labeled the program “Project Integrity.”

The state won a lower-court ruling in U.S. District Court in the case of Arcia v. Detzner, but the plaintiffs appealed.

Elections supervisors and voter advocacy groups were alarmed in June 2012 when Scott’s administration launched an effort to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens in advance of the statewide August primary election by comparing the rolls with other state and federal databases. . . .

Scott has consistently defended the purge efforts as a way to reduce voter fraud. The state has spent more than $500,00Crist says Florida should put high-speed rail back on track0 in legal fees in the case.

"Appeals court: Florida’s voter purge violated federal law".


House panel approves guns in Florida schools

"House panel approves bill to allow guns in Florida schools".


Crist wants to undo Scott's $2.4 billion rail gaffe

"Charlie Crist wants to bring the high-speed rail plan back to the Orlando-Tampa corridor, three years after Gov. Rick Scott canceled it and President Barack Obama redistributed its $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money to other states." "Crist says Florida should put high-speed rail back on track".


Exposing Jebbie's phony education legacy

"Former Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education have launched an advertising campaign to sell Floridians on the wonders of standardized testing and school accountability as his reforms turn 15 years old this spring."

But the Bush foundation's campaign called "Learn More. Go Further" tells only one side of a more complicated story. There have been some successes, but the campaign cherry-picks statistics to make Florida's schools look better than they are. Floridians deserve a more accurate picture of the state of public education.
"Here are some of that foundation's happy assertions, with a more sobering assessment that in each case comes from the same report cited by the foundation."
1 Florida's graduation rates reached an all-time high of 75 percent in 2012-2013. BUT the graduation rate was 58.9 percent for African-American males and 80.5 percent for all white students.

2 For the second straight year, Florida finished among the top five states in the percent of high school graduates who passed an AP exam. BUT of all AP exams taken by the class of 2013 during their high school careers, 55.5 percent failed to earn a passing mark.

3 In eighth-grade math, the academic improvement of Florida students is three times higher than that of students nationwide. BUT . . . Florida still lags behind the national average, and 30 percent of Florida's eighth-graders fall below basic proficiency in math. . . .

5 Florida's low-income fourth- graders ranked first in the nation among their peers, and they performed as well or better than the average student in 15 states on the 2013 Nation's Report Card reading test. BUT the achievement gap for Florida's low-income fourth-graders in reading has not closed much in 15 years. . . .

8 Florida's eighth-grade Hispanic students read as well or better than their peers in 35 states in 2013. But the average score for Florida's Hispanic students was 13 points lower than for white students, and the achievement gap hasn't significantly closed in 15 years.

Read it all here: "Florida's education picture not so rosy".


Reviewing the Legislature at the halfway point

"Florida lawmakers have crossed the midpoint in their 60-day march to craft new laws, amend existing ones and agree on a roughly $75 billion budget for the next fiscal year." "Legislature reviewed at its halfway point".


Haters keep after FRS

"A House committee voted on straight party lines to close the Florida Retirement System to elected officers and top government officials Friday, proposing some financial incentives for future employees to opt into a 401(k)-style investment plan."

Get a load of this genius:

“The fact is that pensions are a dinosaur in a 21st century world,” Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, told the House State Affairs Committee before casting his vote in favor of the proposal by committee Chairman Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. “We may have the strongest dinosaur out there, but it’s still a dinosaur.”
"Panel tweaks Florida Retirement System". See also "House panel approves pension overhaul".


Even the test company is gay

"Common Core foes, who contend the 'Florida standards' differ little from the widely adopted national Common Core academic standards, were again disappointed. With their efforts to derail the initiative itself foundering, one group took aim at the testing company instead."

They noted the American Institutes for Research, called AIR, was tied to Common Core with its work creating tests for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Then they accused the organization of promoting a homosexual lifestyle for children. “This is completely unacceptable. Besides implementing the same deceptive plan discussed at the governor’s summit in August, the state has chosen a company that has a significant history of promoting identification of the GLBT lifestyle for children as young as seven years old,” Florida Eagle Forum lobbyist Randy Osborne said in a Florida Stop Common Core Coalition letter to supporters.
"PolitiFact: Group claims education testing company promotes gay lifestyle to school children".


Senate Gives Scott Court-Packing Power

"With a party-line vote Thursday, the Florida Senate approved a controversial proposal about the power of the governor to appoint replacements for retiring Supreme Court justices. The proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1188) would allow an outgoing governor to replace appellate or Supreme Court justices whose terms expire on the governor’s last day in office." "Senate Approves Proposed Constitutional Amendment Giving Scott Court-Packing Power".


Did Bondi's office destroy records?

"A Tallahassee attorney engaged in a bitter property fight with the state is accusing Attorney General Pam Bondi of destroying emails, failing to retain text messages and violating the state's public records laws."

Bondi, the chief custodian of the state's Sunshine law, has acknowledged some documents were inadvertently missing from the records request of Stephen R. Andrews but vigorously rejects his claims. . . .

In court documents filed this week in Leon County Circuit Court, Andrews portrays a department that allows employees to manually delete emails before they are archived, relies on an outdated email archival system and allows metadata to routinely be destroyed.

He claims at least in 19 instances emails were destroyed and the attorney general's office failed to properly retain text messages after he filed a request for a document hold.

Andrews said he discovered the omissions only after he cross-referenced the emails he received from the attorney general through a public records search with those obtained from other agencies. He is asking a judge for a forensic search of all backup servers and storage devices at the agency.

Ray refused requests to explain what the department's policy is regarding retaining emails and text messages.

"Attorney says missing emails prove Attorney General Pam Bondi's office violated records laws".


Mad as wet hen

Nancy Smith is mad as wet hen: "In case you haven't seen it, the liberal San Francisco-based hatcheteers [Mother Jones] have a story this week that comes straight from the Democrats' playbook -- Rule No. 3: Demonize a conservative by association with a 'public enemy,' real or perceived."

Go ahead. Read the Mother Jones story, "GOP Gov. Rick Scott Raising Big Bucks With Founder of Abusive Teen Boot Camps." It cites a $1,000-a-head fundraiser for Scott's re-election campaign. . . .

The truly absurd part is this: Mother Jones -- with the playbook as its guide -- picked the wrong governor to connect with scary Mel.

Charlie Crist was always the guber in Sembler's heart and in his pocket. Until the day Crist quit the party -- the very day -- he and Sembler were closer than a butterfly on a bluebell.

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you, Mel Sembler would have to throw 20 more Miami Beach fundraisers for Rick Scott to come anywhere near the cash he raised and bundled and outright-donated to Charlie Crist over the years.

"Mother Jones 'Mad Libs' ... No Pun Intended".


Week in Review

Kevin Derby's "Political Bits and Pieces". See also "Week in Review for April 4, 2014", "Arrivals and Departures" and "Weekly Roundup: Winners, Losers and the Waiting Game".


That silly Marbury v. Madison thing

The right wing has a problem with . . . you know . . . that Marbury v. Madison thing*, whining that "In recent years new laws enacted in Florida are being challenged in court and are ending up costing taxpayers a bundle in legal fees. Defending just four laws signed into law in 2011 already has cost taxpayers more than $171,000 in legal fees. And figuring in the new retirement plan law, which requires state employees to contribute a percentage of their salary to their retirement plan, this number could soar even higher." "In Florida, Courts Often Have Final Say in Legislative Process".

- - - - - - -

*Wingers especially don't like these passages in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, at least when they're running the legislative show:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Courts must decide on the operation of each."

So, if a law be in opposition to the Constitution, if both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case, so that the Court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution, or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law, the Court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.

If, then, the Courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the Legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177-8 (1803)


Palin a nice fit for SWFla GOP

"Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came down to Southwest Florida Thursday to help Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in the special congressional election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla. Palin was on center stage at a fundraiser for Benacquisto at a private residence in Naples Thursday evening. The former Alaska governor, U.S. Sen. John McCain’s running mate on the 2008 Republican presidential ticket, endorsed Benacquisto last week." "Sarah Palin Takes Center Stage in CD 19 Special Election".

Meanwhile, "A Florida state senator campaigning with former Gov. Sarah Palin caused a bit of a mystery. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was recorded as voting yes Thursday on the state budget, even though she had already left to join Palin at a backyard barbecue in Naples." "Fla. Senate forced to changed official vote record".


"Jeb!"

"Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush to headline annual Connecticut GOP fundraising dinner". See also "Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush team up in new Super PAC ad" and "Jeb Bush talks 2016 on Fox News".


"Senate Folds on Gambling"

"The chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee turned off the lights on a comprehensive gambling measure that could have allowed resort casinos in South Florida, telling the chamber that he lacked the votes to advance it and is instead deferring to Gov. Rick Scott." "Senate Folds on Gambling Bill".


Killing KidCare Expansion

"Lawmakers Poised to Kill Florida KidCare Expansion for 25,000 Children of Legal Immigrants".


Budget blues

"Fla. House approves nearly $75.3 billion budget".


FlaBaggers in a dither

"Tampa federal Judge Susan Bucklew was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to perform a wedding. The marriage of Mark Anderson and Keith Bucklew isn’t recognized by the state of Florida. But the District of Columbia does allow same-sex weddings. So U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, hosted the ceremony in her congressional office." "Castor hosts same-sex wedding at congressional office".


Scott flip-flops on censoring FSU professor

"Amid a growing online controversy, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration reversed itself Wednesday and will invite a scholar to deliver a talk, days after canceling it without explanation."

Secretary of State Ken Detzner apologized to Florida State University professor Diane Roberts and issued a statement that she can speak “on the topic of her choosing.” Detzner also said he wants to find out “if everything was handled appropriately” after learning that an agency employee resigned in protest over the incident.

Roberts, an author and commentator who also writes opinion articles for the Tampa Bay Times, is a frequent critic of Scott’s policies. She had been invited to speak Thursday at the state-run Mission San Luis on a favorite topic, the deterioration of Florida’s lakes, rivers and springs.

But last week a spokeswoman for Detzner, Brittany Lesser, said that an “internal decision” was made to cancel Roberts’ talk because it did not directly relate to Mission San Luis’ emphasis on historical resources.

Roberts said she was amused by the controversy but appreciated Detzner’s call Wednesday.

"Gov. Rick Scott’s administration backtracks on talk by FSU professor Diane Roberts".

It seems Roberts got more of an "apology" than curmudgeonly Canadian War hero and author Farley Mowat ever got when he was denied entry to the U.S. for a book tour because the Reagan administration deemed Mowat "a threat to the country's national security due to his environmentalist writings."

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.


Jebbie begins his inchoate presidential run with a big fat spoonful of mendacity

"Jeb Bush for president in 2016? Speculation keeps heating up". See also "Jeb Bush team awaits 2016 decision: 'We are keeping our powder dry'".

Jebbie begins his presidential run with a big fat spoonful of mendacity: "Jeb Bush says the state’s revenue 'is growing at a faster rate than almost any state in the country.' PolitiFact says he’s wrong."

Former Gov. Jeb Bush waved off any talk of a 2016 presidential run at a meeting of Broward County business leaders on Friday. Instead, he spent a lot of time talking up Florida’s rebound from the Great Recession.

Bush said Tallahassee had been hit hard in the past few years, but was making a comeback. "The revenue of the state is growing at a faster rate than almost any state in the country because our state has been fiscally well-managed and we grew our way out of the hole," he told attendees at the Broward Workshop business breakfast in Davie.

It is probably fair to say the state has bounced back from the worst of the economic downturn, but is the revenue rate outpacing the rest of the country? [Politifact] checked.

Is it true, as Jebbie claims, "that 'the revenue of the state is growing at a faster rate than almost any state in the country'"?
A few reports compiled with data encompassing different kinds of revenue can be confusing, but all paint the same picture: Florida revenues are still down from pre-recession levels, and don’t generally reflect a growth rate consistent with what Bush is claiming, either annually or in recent quarters.

There is one report that says 2014 general revenue is expected to grow at a rate in the top 10 of all states. That data is self-reported from the state, however, and is only an estimate.

According to experts we talked to, the Sunshine State is lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to getting its revenues back to pre-recession levels. We rate [Jeb Bush's] statement Mostly False.

"PolitiFact: Is Florida revenue growing faster than other states?"

Related: "Analysis: Florida economy recovering but problems remain".


Chapter 119

The Florida League of Cities claims to be concerned about the "rising number of lawsuits related to records requests. A House proposal would broaden the open records law and could lead to lower fees charged when a public records request is made." "Public records bill runs into criticism".


"High Obamacare demand in Florida"

"High consumer demand in Florida, nation on last day of Obamacare enrollment". More: "New Analysis: 9.5 Million Uninsured People Covered Under Obamacare".


Scott panders

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with Venzuelan activists who are becoming increasingly frustrated with what they see as President Barack Obama’s indifference to the crackdowns on protesters in the South American country." "Gov. Rick Scott: President Barack Obama’s ‘not caring about Venezuela’".


"Governor's-Race Attacks"

"At Root of Governor's-Race Attacks: 'Who Can Relate to Floridians?'".


"Who is running the fumbling Scott re-election public relations machine? Tallahassee Rose?"

Daniel Ruth: "It is something of a toss-up as to what is really the worse sin here: that the various hapless coat hangers in the employ of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election bid are such tone-deaf toadies? Or that they are so transparently inept in their phoniness?"

It was just days ago that Mike Fernandez, one of the Scott's top-tier re-election fundraisers, charged that some staff minions had engaged in "culturally insensitive" remarks regarding Hispanics, including indulging in some bad, really bad, attempts to mimic a Mexican accent. . . .

And now this. Another high-profile Hispanic voice, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board member Gonzalo Sanabria announced he was resigning from the agency in protest over the Scott campaign's "disparaging and disrespectful" treatment of Fernandez. . . .

What exactly was Sanabria's shortcoming as a board member? Scott jettisoned the Miami Lakes real estate developer because of his "votes to raise toll fees on the people of Miami-Dade." Oddly enough, Sanabria's vote to raise the tolls took place in March 2013. It took Scott a year to get around to being properly riled up? Who is running the fumbling Scott re-election public relations machine? Tallahassee Rose?

"If an expressway authority board member can be given the boot over a toll increase, then certainly Scott, channeling his inner Ralph Nader, ought to be at the very forefront in attempting to dismantle Florida's feckless Public Service Commission."
After all, the PSC has allowed the state's power companies to charge customers $1.8 billion in charges for nuclear plants that will: a) never be repaired or b) never be built.

Can we anticipate the consumer protectionist governor now will demand most of the Citizens Property Insurance & Tanning Parlor board of directors and management lose their jobs? After all, they have dragged their feet on settling claims and foisted homeowners off on dubious carriers who have been in business for all of 20 minutes but were savvy enough to make political contributions to the governor's campaign.

And just wait until Scott ferrets out the dolt who championed the construction of a $131 million elevated tollway linking U.S. 19 and I-275 in Pinellas County. If voting for a rate increase of between 30 cents and 70 cents on the Miami-Dade expressways was enough to incur the wrath of Tallahassee's God of Toll-fire, then surely proposing an elevated toll road would have Scott fuming over yet another assault on the pocketbooks of motorists.

Irony abounds. It seems that the U.S. 19 to I-275 toll road has been warmly embraced by the governor, who has pledged to fast-track the project to completion.

Does this suggest Scott might fire himself? How does one explain this apparent contradiction?

It's simple really. In an election year, one man's toll road treason is merely another man's convenient toll road hypocrisy. Or maybe it's all Obamacare's fault, which is always a favorite Scott default position when he runs out of common sense.

"Taking a toll on Scott's campaign".


"On the cheap"

The Miami Herald editors: "Lawmakers cannot reform DCF on the cheap"

Florida legislators have gotten off the dime and are coming up with one idea after another and another to force the Department of Children & Families to take far better care of kids in grave danger of being abused — or killed. Now, are they going to come up with the money it’s going to take to make dysfunctional families whole?
"Make the investment".


Wonderin'

With the appointments Scott has been making, it is disconcerting to read that Nancy Smith is wondering if "Crist friend and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein [was] telling the truth in all that sworn testimony he gave? In deposition after deposition when he talked about his arrangement with Gov. Crist, his story never wavered. Was it for real? He said he put it in writing once. Anybody follow that up? And were there any more Scott Rothsteins doing the same kind of business with the governor?"

It's going nowhere.

It isn't even a blip on the radar because it doesn't exist.

I tried to reach out last week to Committee Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, to find out why not. I even left a detailed message with one of his aides, but I never got a call back.

"Why Does New Jersey Have Bridgegate, but There's No Judgegate in Florida?".


Scott's "few successes and hundreds of unfulfilled promises"

"Gov. Rick Scott has staked his political future on his ability to bring jobs to Florida, but the first comprehensive review of his efforts shows few successes and hundreds of unfulfilled promises." "We examine Gov. Scott's record on job creation".


"A Republican power grab aimed at stacking the Florida Supreme Court"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board argue that a "governor who is leaving office after two terms or who has just lost a re-election campaign should not be able to pack the Florida Supreme Court on his way out the door. Yet that would be the effect of a proposed constitutional amendment that the Florida Senate will consider[ ]. There is a legitimate issue regarding the appointment of state Supreme Court justices, but this is not the way to solve it."

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, has identified a situation that needs some clarity. Three of the Supreme Court's most liberal justices — R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — will each reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 during the next governor's term. They can serve out their complete six-year terms, which will end on the same day the new governor is inaugurated in January 2019. So which governor gets to appoint their successors? The outgoing governor who is leaving at the same time, or the new governor who is just taking office? . . .

However well-intended, this appears to be a Republican power grab aimed at stacking the seven-member Supreme Court for decades if Gov. Rick Scott wins re-election this fall. A governor who has been ousted by the voters or who has completed eight years in office should not be able to extend his influence this way as he departs. This change would inject even more politics and less accountability into the judicial appointment process. Surely the next Constitution Revision Commission can create a more reasonable solution to this timing question when it meets in 2017.

"Editorial: Senate should reject court-packing move".


Raw Political Courage

"Gov. Scott signs bill allowing veterans to pay in-state college tuition". See also "Rick Scott Signs Florida GI Bill Into Law".


"Power companies control the legislative agenda in Tallahassee"

Mary Ellen Klas: "To understand the influence of Florida's largest electric companies in Tallahassee, look no further than your monthly bill."

You won't see a line item for the "nuclear cost recovery fee" that Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light collect each month for future construction of new nuclear power plants. That's because legislators last year voted down an amendment that would have required them to disclose the fee to customers, something they knew the two companies didn't want to do. . . .

The legislative journey of the nuclear cost recovery fee is but one example of how Florida's power companies control the legislative agenda in Tallahassee, according to a new report by Integrity Florida, a nonprofit Tallahassee research and watchdog group. They say millions of dollars in campaign contributions and an army of lobbyists help keep corporate interests ahead of the public interest, and are calling on lawmakers to make the power companies more transparent and more accountable.

"Our state's monopoly power corporations have demonstrated how politically influential investments can be profitable,'' said Dan Krassner, president of Integrity Florida and one of the authors of the report Power Play: Political Influence of Florida's Top Energy Corporations. "The volume of spending on campaigns and lobbying give this industry an outsized influence." . . .

The report also suggested that a "revolving door" is commonly used "to lure former government regulators and officials into more lucrative lobbying and consulting jobs" for the industry.

"Watchdog report says power companies wield too much influence in Florida Legislature".


What's next, indentured servitude and debtors prisons?

"Labor pools can already pay workerw in cash under current law." "Bill allowing labor pools to pay with debit cards clears Senate panel".


"Downright stunning in a world dominated by conservatives"

"Whatever the outcome of the medical marijuana bills dominating the conversation in the Florida Legislature, one thing is certain: More lawmakers are embracing cannabis as a cure than they are as a curse. This is new. It's downright stunning in a world dominated by conservatives." "Power of a Few: How the Florida Legislature's View of Medical Marijuana Has Turned Around". Related: "Lawmakers discuss medical marijuana implementation" and "Medical marijuana forum brings smiles from advocates, ire from opponents".


"Closer to reducing government control of wetlands, springs and stormwater protections"

"A permitting bill sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, passed through the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee meeting Monday, moving the bill one step closer to reducing government control of wetlands, springs and stormwater protections in Florida." "Bill to Reduce Fed Control Over Florida's Water Issues Passes House Committee".

Meanwhile, "Springs bill passes with most opponents taking the polite role".


"Hard to think of a worse week than the one Scott just survived"

Steve Bousquet: "It's hard to think of a worse week than the one Gov. Rick Scott just survived, but he can turn things around if he wants to."

First, though, a recap of what went wrong.

Scott's campaign finance co-chairman, health care exec Mike Fernandez of Coral Gables, quit in protest of the way the campaign is going. Then, in three blistering emails, the Cuban-American business leader called into question Scott's commitment to Hispanic voters and accused a campaign aide of crudely imitating a Mexican accent. . . .

Anyone who's paying close attention to the legislative session knows exactly what Scott should do, even though it would rile some conservatives.

Rather than waiting for the Legislature to act, he should lead the charge to guarantee passage of a law offering in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers. The bill, HB 851, passed the House 81-33, but it's not clear whether the Senate will take it up, and a strong push from Scott would change the dynamics.

"Bousquet: A solution for Scott's Hispanic problem?". See also "Can 'Dreamers' Bill Help Rick Scott in November?"

Sunday, March 30, 2014

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider "Liking" us on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.


"Here he comes . . . Who will remember him?"

The media is loving the Jebbie - especially Florida's ink stained wretches (who stand to gain if the fellow about whom they possess special insight goes for the brass ring in 2016). That's right, Jeb Bush - he of the "shoot-first, take-no-advice method of governing", and whose "back-to-back terms were marred by frequent ethics scandals, official bungling and the inability of the government he downsized to meet growing demands for state services, including education and aid for the infirm and the elderly." "The Jeb Bush Era Ends in Florida".

Facts be damned, the media loves the thought of a political dynasty, so here's a taste: this from FoxNews: "A group of top Republican donors have reportedly begun an intense effort to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016."

A Washington Post report quotes one major donor as saying that the "vast majority" of the top 100 givers to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney would back Bush in a nomination fight.
"GOP donors reportedly working to draft Jeb Bush for 2016 presidential run".

The Washington Post:

Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.
"Influential Republicans working to draft Jeb Bush into 2016 presidential race". And get this, from the guy - with a degree in Latin American affairs - who doesn't get the difference between a Spanish and U.S. "Republican": "Jeb Bush Blames Obama for ‘American Passivity’".

And the redoubtable locals, like the Tribune Company's Sun Sentinel editors, of course argue "Jeb Bush, GOP's best choice for 2016" (subscription required).


Free speech, Scott style

"Florida officials have abruptly canceled a talk by a Florida State professor and writer who has been critical of the administration of Gov. Rick Scott." "Florida abruptly cancels talk by professor and writer".


Scott's claims "Mostly False"

"The ad suggests that the Congressional Budget Office reported a loss of 2.5 million jobs under Obamacare, but PolitiFact found no such number in the report." "Scott’s ad claim on lost jobs under Obamacare doesn’t add up". More: "Rick Scott’s political committee says Obamacare has led to 300,000 health plans canceled".


Chapter 119

"A bill that unanimously cleared the Senate last week, and is set for a House subcommittee hearing Monday, would make it a little quicker and easier for Floridians to get a look at documents produced by state and local governments. The proposal was produced by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Productivity Committee at the behest of Senate President Don Gaetz, and it represents a change in attitude as much as a new set of ground rules for the public’s right to know." "Proposal codifies Sunshine law".


Runnin' gun'mint like a bidness

"State workers may have to decide next year whether they want a health-insurance plan with more benefits and higher monthly premiums or a cheaper one with fewer benefits and more take-home pay." "Changes may be coming to state employee health insurance plans".


"Fracking has hit a partisan brick wall"

"A bill that would require oil companies to disclose the chemicals used in a controversial drilling process called fracking has hit a partisan brick wall, its sponsor says."

Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, doesn’t think House Bill 71 will pass. The chilly reception is due to partisan politics in an election year, Rodrigues claims.
"Fracking bill smacks a partisan brick wall".


Voucher games

"An attempt to revive a sweeping expansion of the state’s de facto voucher system passed a House subcommittee on a party-line vote Friday, setting up a potential showdown with the Senate over school choice legislation."

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted 8-4 to introduce the measure (PCB EDAS 14-03), which would bind together a program aimed at students with disabilities and the voucher expansion. Senate leaders last week pulled their counterpart to the House voucher bill, but the measure for students with disabilities remains alive. . . .

The House move injected legislative brinksmanship to the debate about one of House Speaker Will Weatherford’s top priorities. Bills establishing a “Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program,” which would reimburse parents for some educational services for children with disabilities, have been moving on both sides of the Capitol. . . .

But Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told reporters that he wasn’t trying to jam the Senate by attaching the two measures. . . .

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, ripped the move to combine the two measures during comments at the subcommittee meeting Friday.

“While we have concerns about the personal learning accounts for children with disabilities, I have to say, as a teacher who taught disabled students daily, that this attempt to salvage the expansion of the … voucher program by attaching it to this bill is disingenuous to the public and those of us who have dedicated our lives to serving disabled students,” said FEA Vice President Joanne McCall.

"'Opportunity Scholarships': Lawmakers Revive Vast Expansion of School Vouchers By Riding Coattails of Students With Disabilities".

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.


Resignations continue to rock Scott campaign

"Gonzalo Sanabria, a longtime Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board member, resigned Thursday from his post to protest the 'disparaging and disrespectful' treatment of Mike Fernandez, the former co-finance chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign."

Sanabria, who also quit his leadership post with the Republican Party of Miami-Dade, said his resignation was “mostly due to your perceived insensitivity to loyal supporters and our Hispanic community in Florida.”
"Fernandez quit his position as top fundraiser for Scott’s campaign last week. Three of his emails, obtained by the Herald/Times and Politico, showed Fernandez repeatedly questioned the judgment of Scott’s advisers and the quality of his campaign ads and his Hispanic outreach."
He also complained about a lack of access to Scott and accused unidentified campaign aides of mimicking a Mexican accent in front of his business partner, a charge the campaign denies but will not discuss in detail. . . .

Scott’s office, without mentioning Sanabria’s resignation, then issued a short press release announcing that Javier Vasquez, a 50-year-old attorney from Miami Lakes, would be appointed to the MDX board.

Later, Scott spokesman Frank Collins issued a terse and blunt statement saying that Sanabria was upset at the governor’s decision earlier that morning to not reappoint him. . . .

Sanabria rejected the explanation, saying he resigned first and that the governor’s office then told him they were going to appoint Vasquez. “I had told them I was resigning this morning due to the events I stated,” Sanabria told the Herald. . . .

Florida Democrats seized on the expiration date of Sanabria’s term and record as a MDX board member to slam Scott. “Rick Scott claims Gonzalo Sanabria’s dismissal was due to his vote to raise toll fees,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp in a statement. “What the Governor fails to mention is that Sanabria has been serving in a vacant seat since February 2013, and the tolls vote took place on March 19th, 2013.

“So for 373 days Rick Scott didn’t have a problem with Sanabria, and expects Floridians to believe that his resignation today is completely unrelated to Sanabria’s concerns over the handling of the racism scandal within the reelection campaign?”

"Another resignation rocks Rick Scott campaign".

Marc Caputo explains the genesis of Rick Scott's recent problems, writing that "Florida Republicans had a well-scripted plan to showcase their Latino outreach last week, as an immigrant-friendly tuition bill passed the state House and national Republicans unveiled their Florida Hispanic Advisory Council."

Then came the Mexican-accent controversy.

On Friday, the Miami Herald reported that Gov. Rick Scott’s top campaign-finance co-chairman, Mike Fernandez, raised a concern in an email last month about campaign associates joking around in over-the-top Mexican accents. . . .

The Scott campaign went into double-damage-control mode, reeling from Fernandez’s abrupt departure and downplaying the Mexican-accent issue, which apparently played out in a van en route to a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables. . . .

Fernandez donated and raised as much as $8 million for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, but watched with dismay as the Republican candidate alienated Hispanics in talking about “self deportation.” Romney and Scott, incidentally, are headlining a Republican Governor’s Association fundraiser Monday that Fernandez is hosting at his Coral Gables home.

Romney lost the Hispanic vote by 44 percentage points.

"In that election, for the first time, the number of Florida Hispanics who registered as having no party affiliation exceeded the number of registered Hispanic Republicans. So before they cast their ballots, Hispanics were already letting Republicans know they didn’t identify with the GOP, which has become far whiter than the rest of Florida."
After Romney’s drubbing at the hands of Hispanics, the Republican National Committee sought to do better with this fast-growing and crucial demographic. . . .

While Republicans, like Sen. Marco Rubio, helped pass immigration reform in the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2013, a majority of his caucus opposed the measure and his poll numbers dropped due to opposition from the right.

About that time, a congressman from Alaska referred to Mexicans as “wetbacks” and another from Iowa suggested that more southern-border crossers were drug mules than possible valedictorians. Republican leaders condemned the comments.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House refused to take up the Senate bill and has stalled immigration reform.

Immigration activists and Democrats have started demonstrating at the home offices of House Republicans.

On Friday, one of those demonstrators — national union leader Eliseo Medina — was arrested by Doral police for refusing to stand on a sidewalk instead of near an entrance door that led to Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s office.

"Mexican-accent controversy nags Gov. Rick Scott".


The Scott clown car drives on

"Gov. Rick Scott on Friday rejected the possibility that bonuses for Florida Highway Patrol troopers could be connected to the numbers of traffic tickets they write. Scott issued a strongly worded statement after media reports raised questions about whether the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles was considering such a plan." "Scott: There will be no trooper bonuses based on number of tickets written". Background: "State's proposed performance measures trouble PBA".


Nelson won't run against Scott

"In case anyone was still wondering, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is taking himself out of contention as a possible candidate in the race for governor of Florida. Nelson's decision could free up money for likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist. At least some of the state's top Democratic fundraisers and donors, who have been loyal to Nelson for years while Crist was still a Republican, have been holding off on getting involved in the governor's race because of the possibility that Nelson might enter." "Nelson says he won't run against Scott".


Rubio moves to the right of Libertarians

"Sen. Marco Rubio has sketched out a firm stance on national security and foreign policy, finding himself to the right of some libertarian Republicans." "Sen. Marco Rubio: ‘We cannot unilaterally disarm’ the NSA, ‘it makes the country less safe’".


"Frankel Should Cruise"

"Lois Frankel Should Cruise to a Second Term".


"Cooking up an insane scheme"

The Tampa Tribune editorial board worries that "a few naive lawmakers [are] being courted by oil-industry lobbyists right now, or cooking up an insane scheme themselves to allow drilling within sight of our gorgeous beaches. It’s happened before, and it’ll undoubtedly happen again. But common sense has always prevailed, with members of both parties working to ensure that drilling remains a safe distance from our coast." "Keep oil away from Florida coast".


"Bits and Pieces"

Kevin Derby: "Political Bits and Pieces".


"The magic of a budget allocation coming out of thin air"

"Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, the ranking member of the Agriculture & Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, said the problem with the budget process is 'the magic of an allocation coming out of thin air.' He said it is a process that involves closed-door meetings and little time for input for representatives and the public." "Democracy in action? The problem is the budget process not the spending, House Democrat says".


Weekly Roundup

"Week in Review for March 28, 2014". See also "Arrivals and Departures" and "Weekly Roundup: A Star-Struck Capitol Keeps the Cameras On".


"How many babies must be buried . . . ?"

Carl Hiaasen: "Most of the dead are babies and toddlers, and they perish in horrible ways — starved, punched, shaken, burned, thrown from cars or simply forgotten. There’s nothing left to protect them except the state of Florida, which fails over and over."

Since January 2008, at least 477 children have died for no other reason than being overlooked by the system. Their families were known to the Department of Children & Families, yet they’d been allowed to remain with reckless parents in high-risk homes. . . .

Of all the services people expect from government, none is more important than shielding the youngest and most helpless from brutality and neglect. Florida’s record, dreadful for decades, is getting worse.

Said interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo, “I don’t think we are broken; I think we are challenged.”

Unbelievable. How many babies must be buried before somebody in Tallahassee admits the system is broken?

DCF has been grossly underreporting the number of child deaths to the Legislature, evidence of either ineptitude or a cover-up. Lawmakers have been consistently misled, which partly explains why DCF funding has been cut.

Under Gov. Rick Scott, more case investigators were hired, yet money for oversight and family counseling was slashed. The agency’s budget shrunk by $100 million during this fiscal year alone. . . .

“We have kind of known they have failed,” Jacobo replied when asked about the written promises, “and we have kind of been at a loss as to how to fix it.” Then kind of stop doing things that fail. How’s that for starters? Try listening more closely to experienced case workers and supervisors. . . .

Last month, the governor proposed adding $40 million to help DCF decrease investigative caseloads and improve oversight of cases. Under his plan, the agency’s budget would rise slightly more than one percent.

That’s not nearly enough.

"How many babies must be buried?".


Scott's voter purge on hold

"Previous efforts to purge the Florida voter rolls of noncitizens were highly controversial, as elections supervisors doubted the accuracy of the state’s data and groups said the removals targeted minority voters." "Florida suspends non-citizen voter purge efforts". See also "Fla. election chief halts voter purge for 2014".


Ad-wars

"After being called out for his support of Obamacare in a new television ad by Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign, former Gov. Charlie Crist responds with a web ad and highlights the benefits of the program." "Crist and Scott go to battle over health care in dueling ads". See also "Rick Scott and Charlie Crist Launch New Ads, Clash on Health Care".


No improvement to unemployment rate

"Florida adds 33,400 jobs, but unemployment rate stays at 6.2 percent".


Charter madness: "$100 million to charter schools for repairing school buildings"

Aaron Deslatte: "Florida Republicans are ramping up a decades-long effort to build the physical and fiscal infrastructure for taxpayer-funded alternatives to the public-school system. Look no further than the not-yet-dead school-voucher expansion and the millions of dollars being poured into construction of charters."

On Thursday, the House passed bills creating a single-gender public-school pilot project (HB 313) and another (HB 533) expanding sports options at public schools for students being home-schooled or in private, charter and "virtual" schools.

"This is the beginning of our school-choice agenda," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who was home-schooled.

The $75.3 billion House budget advanced last week devotes $50 million for public-school repairs, $104 million for public-university maintenance and a record $100 million provided to charter schools for repairing school buildings.

The total for charters, including those managed by for-profit companies, is more than the $91 million they landed last year and the $55 million they received in 2012.

"School choice gets helping hand in Florida Legislature" Related: "School choice bills find support in House" and "New version of school voucher bill passes House committee".


Jesse's Girl

Nancy Smith writes, "Yes, DEO's Jesse Panuccio IS Getting CONNECT Job Done".


"Political hypocrisy driven by the personal agenda of one member"

Orlando Sentinel columnist, Beth Kassab writes, "leave it to the Legislature to hold grudges and champion inequality long after the Civil War."

House Bill 493 also adds a dose of brazen political hypocrisy driven by the personal agenda of one member of the Florida House.

On Monday a House committee approved the bill by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, to micromanage state parks.

Just the kind of thing you would expect from Republicans who preach small government and local control. #DoubleStandard

Baxley doesn't want state park officials to be able to approve changes to historic sites.

Why? Because Baxley and a group of citizens who say they are descendants of Confederate soldiers don't want the state to allow a marker for Union soldiers who died at the Battle of Olustee, which occurred 150 years ago. #WishIWasInTheLandOfCotton

The Sons of Union Veterans would like to add a marker to the battlefield near Lake City to acknowledge the 1,861 Union men who fought there.

Already there are three memorials there for Confederate men.

No one proposed those markers be altered in any way. Just that a prominent Union marker be added nearby. All that's there now is a cross marking a mass grave of Union troops.

"It's hidden by trees, the Porta-Potties and the food shacks," Harvey Linscott, a member of the Sons of Union Vets group, told the Tampa Bay Times. "Our organization just wants to honor our ancestors. The war is over. We thought this wasn't going to be a problem." #ThinkAgain

Instead of letting park officials handle such requests, Baxley wants to make it so that the Florida Cabinet has the final say. #Unnecessary

"Halfway through session, and foolishness abounds".

Baxley, while wrapping himself in a Confederate Flag, is probably ignorant of what happened to Union troops at Olustee. In this New York Times column, University of Alabama History Instructor Glenn David Brasher explains the fate - a sordid moment in Florida history - of black troops who covered the retreat of their fellow Union soldiers who had been were forced to retreat by the more experienced Confederate soldiers at Olustee:

When the black troops arrived at the front, their effective fire slowed the rebel advance, allowing the other federals to withdraw.

But with Union troops in full flight, the 54th [(Massachusetts, the first regiment of African-American troops recruited from the Northern states)] now bore the brunt of the entire Confederate line. They could hold for only so long. Soon, the brigade commander, Colonel Montgomery, became unhinged and shouted “every man for themselves!” Nevertheless, the disciplined officers and men of the 54th executed a textbook retreat that slowed the Confederate advance, especially when the regiment deceptively cheered to create the impression that they were receiving reinforcements. Soon the Confederate advanced slackened, and the 54th was able to escape with the other Union troops.

Still, it was a bloody rout. “What we saw all made our blood run cold,” one Union soldier recalled. “Everywhere, men were staggering out of the forest, faces … dripping with blood and sweat, dragging themselves and their wounded comrades to safety.”

During and after the retreat, a new fear emerged: What would befall the captured and wounded black soldiers? The Confederacy had already made it clear that black soldiers would not be treated the same as whites. The federals at Olustee knew that in several battles, rebels had murdered wounded and surrendering black soldiers. One white soldier recalled that during the retreat, “The endurance of some of the colored soldiers was almost incredible.” He saw many wounded blacks “crawling on their hands and knees, preferring that painful mode of escape to capture.”

One white Union surgeon insisted that African-American soldiers be loaded on the ambulances first, only allowing white soldiers aboard if space permitted. “I know what will become of the white troops who fall into the enemy’s possession,” he explained, “but I am not certain as to the fate of the colored troops.” As they retreated toward Jacksonville, the men of the 54th learned that a locomotive carrying their wounded comrades had broken down. Despite their fatigue, soldiers rushed to the rescue, lashed ropes to the boxcar, and used manpower to strenuously haul it away. “They knew their [own] fate if captured,” one doctor recalled, “but their humanity triumphed. Does history record a nobler deed?”

By Feb. 22 the regiment was safely in Jacksonville with the rest of the army, having marched approximately 120 miles round trip. “Yet the roll-call showed no stragglers,” Emilio proudly claimed. They were soon rewarded with bread that the quartermaster described as an “indigestible paste, very good for diarrhea.”

Unfortunately, not all of the black troops escaped. A wide variety of letters and memoirs written by Confederate troops in the days and years after the battle suggest that as many as 50 wounded African-American troops were shot and even clubbed to death by rebel soldiers. “I tell you our men slayed the Negrows,” a Virginia soldier wrote home, “& if it had not been for the officers their would not one of them been spaired.” A Georgia soldier recalled how the wounded blacks “would beg and pray, but it did them no good.” Some accounts shockingly describe Confederate surgeons performing needless and purposely shoddy amputations on black limbs.

"Confusion and Courage at Olustee".

And Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala stands in the way of a memorial to these men?


NRA hack hammers Scott staffers

"In the wake of testimony from a Florida National Guard attorney critical of her bill, powerful National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer blasted staff in Gov. Rick Scott’s office, blaming them for not doing enough to help her cause, emails show. The bill would allow people without concealed weapon permits to carry guns during forced evacuations prompted by emergencies, such as hurricanes." "NRA lobbyist blasted Scott staff over ‘guns in hurricanes’ bill".


Rubio's Obamacare claim "Mostly False"

"Rubio said, 'Americans increasingly want (Obamacare) to be repealed.' Depending on which polls you consult, anywhere from about 35 to 50 percent of the nation does want the law repealed. That’s not insignificant."

But we take issue with his claim that as time goes on, more voters are calling for repeal. Experts say the percentage of voters who want Obamacare repealed is staying consistent within each poll. We rate Rubio’s claim Mostly False.
"Rubio says increasing number of Americans want Obamacare repealed".