Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Today's Florida Political News and Punditry

"Guess who’s headed to Iowa? File this one under 2016…or 2020." Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Poll: Obama takes 50 to 42 percent lead in swing states

"President Obama leads Republican Mitt Romney by 6 points in a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 49 percent to 43 percent." "NBC/WSJ Poll: Obama Leads By 6 Points, Americans Tiring Of Candidates"

The lead is even more pronounced in battleground states, like Florida. "Among swing-state respondents in the poll – those living in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin – Obama leads Romney, 50 to 42 percent."

Also in these swing states, Romney’s favorability numbers have dropped, possibly reflecting the toll the negative Obama TV advertisements are having on the former Massachusetts governor in these battlegrounds.

A month ago, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable score stood at 34-38 percent nationally and 36-36 percent in the 12 swing states.

But in this latest survey, his national fav/unfav score is 33-39 percent and 30-41 percent in the swing states.

In addition, the poll shows that attitudes about Romney’s business background – a frequent target in Obama ads – also are more unfavorable in these battlegrounds.
"The swing states: Obama’s lead and Romney’s decline". Here are the poll details (.pdf).

Another privatization scam

"Signaling a major difference in philosophy from his predecessor, Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid now blames a rush to privatize government services for last year’s purchasing scandal. Reid said that an increased reliance on contracts for goods and services — Sarasota County spends about $300 million a year on such contracts — was typical in many other governments as the Great Recession forced hard looks at spending. Compounding the poorly executed attempt to push more government services into the private sector was a reluctance to acknowledge the problems that started arising, Reid said." "New county administrator says privatization fed purchasing scandal".

"Fissures in party ranks, corporate boards and political families"

Aaron Deslatte and Jason Garcia: "With the once-a-decade legislative-redistricting process creating more-competitive primaries, business groups, individual companies and lobbyists are directing an extraordinary amount of cash into attacks on candidates in a handful of Republican and Democratic contests from Orlando to Tampa to Miami in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 14 elections."

Their goal: capitalize on a rare opportunity to tip the ideological balance of the state Senate, historically a moderate body that in recent years has blocked some key policy goals sought by the business lobby and conservative activists.

In a pair of South Florida Democratic primaries, for instance, groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and corporations such as Walt Disney World are sinking money into a pair of preferred candidates: Reps. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, and Ron Saunders, D-Key West. More typical Democratic donors, such as unions and trial lawyers, are lining up behind Bernard's rival, Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth; and Saunders' top opponent, Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami.

Bernard, who is vying with Clemens for Palm Beach-based District 27, has drawn support from a group called Florida Federation for Children, created by the architect of the state's largest school-voucher program and financed in part by $100,000 from the state's most profitable charter-school company, Miami-based Academica Management.

"I support trying to create jobs for all businesses," said Bernard, who has been labeled an ally of "Rick Scott Republicans" by Clemens.

Saunders and Bullard, meanwhile, are part of a five-way Democratic primary for Senate District 39, which stretches from Key West through Miami-Dade to Hendry counties.

The Florida Chamber, Boca Raton-based private-prison company GEO Group, and U.S. Sugar Corp. have all decided to back Saunders and have poured $165,000 during the past two weeks into a fund he helps control called Putting Florida First. ...

The Chamber is also supporting Victoria Siplin, wife of outgoing Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, in a Senate District 12 showdown with Orlando Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who accuses the Siplin family of being a "sellout" to the GOP and business interests in the state Capitol.

The business lobby's interest in Democratic primaries is a matter of simple math.

Republicans hold a 28-12 majority in the chamber, but that edge is expected to shrink thanks to redistricting, which could allow Democrats to take back a handful of those seats.
"But all of the interests involved are self-interests, and the contests are creating fissures in party ranks, on corporate boards and within political families."

And then there's the latest "political stink fest":
A number of lobbyists and companies, including Disney, have bundled checks to Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, in a nasty primary fight for a Tampa Senate seat with former Senate President Tom Lee, who is unpopular among the Tallahassee lobbying corps for passing a law requiring them to disclose details about their income. But Senate Republican leaders have all endorsed Lee.

The race has turned into a political stink fest. Lee was targeted by Tallahassee lobbyists Jack and Keyna Cory with potentially illegal attack fliers that took shots at his past divorce. Yet Keyna Cory lobbies on behalf of another major business organization, Associated Industries of Florida, which on Friday endorsed Lee.

Burgin has said she had no knowledge of the mailer. Sen. Don Gaetz, incoming Senate president and a Lee supporter, denounced it.
"Business lobby seizes chance to tip scales in state Senate".

Garcia and Romero-Roses tussle over labor issues

"The Democrats running to unseat Republican Congressman David Rivera ripped the scandal-plagued incumbent on Tuesday."

But they also turned on each other.

Candidate Gustavo Marin, of Perrine, suggested that fellow Democrats Joe Garcia and Gloria Romero-Roses were “butterflies and carpetbaggers” because they didn’t live in the newly drawn Kendall-to-Key West district.

But the real tensions came at the end of the Miami Herald editorial board interview Tuesday when Garcia and Romero-Roses rehashed the substance of their attack-ad mailers.

Garcia, a lawyer, suggested Romero-Roses, a businesswoman, was anti-labor. He pointed out that she worked for a company that managed employees at Miami Beach’s Sunset Harbor South condominium, which was at the center of a Services Employee International Union dispute.

“When you have a woman that has three children, is making minimum wage and asks for healthcare and can’t get it and gets fired because of it, that’s not right,” Garcia said. “And that is a place where we disagree. We have serious value differences.”

Romero-Roses shot back that Garcia had “mischaracterized” her actions and took a “cheap shot.” She said she had nothing to do with the dispute in which the National Labor Relations Board rapped the company for violating the National Labor Relations Act.
"Dems rip Rep. David Rivera — then each other".

FCAT follies

"A top lawmaker wants to call a time-out on statewide testing of Florida’s students and grading of public schools." "Senator wants a time-out on statewide tests".

Meanwhile, Scott Maxwell writes that "once again, the Florida Department of Education has fouled up on a grand scale — this time handing out the wrong grades to 213 different schools."

And once again, it's making excuses and trying to downplay the goofs.

It's quite a strategy for an agency that constantly preaches accountability ... for everyone else, anyway.

Think about it. The politicians and bureaucrats have no problem threatening teachers and schools with everything from their paychecks to their autonomy — all in the name of accountability.

But when they mess up — repeatedly and in big ways — all that chest-thumping about holding people responsible suddenly disappears.
"Move over, FCAT: The SCATS are here".

Florida GOP has paid $260,000 to lawyers in Greer case

"It has been two years since officials at the Republican Party of Florida signed a controversial agreement to pay ousted chairman Jim Greer the remainder of his 2010 salary."

It would have cost the party about $124,000.

Instead, the party has already paid more than $260,000 to three Tallahassee lawyers who are defending the party, former chairman John Thrasher, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon against a civil suit brought by Greer over the agreement.

And there is no end in sight.

A campaign finance report filed earlier this month indicates the party has paid Stephen Dobson $88,276, Steven R. Andrews $101,509 and Dean R. LeBoeuf $70,299. Dobson and Andrews are lawyers representing the party. Andrews also represented Cannon, but is now representing Brian Ballard, a lobbyist and fundraiser who is a witness in the case. LeBoeuf represents Haridopolos.

The report does not yet include payment of fees to lawyer Kenneth Sukhia, who is representing Thrasher.
"Legal bills pile up in case of former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer".

"Rubio and Jeb Bush are near the back of the pack for 2016"

"Left-leaning polling firm Public Policy Polling releases a survey of likely Iowa caucus-goers' preferences for the 2016 presidential election. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush are near the back of the pack for the GOP, assuming President Obama wins re-election." "Had enough of the 2012 election cycle? How about 2016?".

Aronberg punches back

"In a debate Tuesday, no-party candidate Robert Gershman and Republican Dina Keever slammed Democrat Dave Aronberg, their opponent for Palm Beach County state attorney. Both questioned Aronberg’s ethics as they criticized him for a series of actions exposed by The Palm Beach Post." "Aronberg’s opponents in state attorney race slam him for secret campaign".

GOPers run gub'ment like a bidness

"From 2008 to 2011, as officials struggled to handle Florida's ballooning jobless rate, the state overpaid unemployment recipients by $486 million, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Labor. During the same time, the state's error rate — which includes underpayments and overpayments — climbed from 4.5 percent to 8.4 percent."

The rising error rate was not driven by people scamming the system, experts say, but by the crush of new claims that accompanied a deteriorating job market. Like other states, Florida took workers responsible for verifying the accuracy of unemployment payments and moved them into claims processing.

"Agencies didn't have the staff they needed, and they were under great stress to make payments," said Wayne Vroman, a senior fellow with the Urban Institute. "And one of the ways that manifested itself was in payment errors."
"Report: Florida overpaid jobless benefits by nearly $500M".

More from the "values" crowd

"Thousands in Miami-Dade face loss of child-care subsidies".

Florida's sloppy handling of federal stim dollars

"Florida received the third-highest amount of energy-related stimulus money in the nation but ranks nearly last in the amount spent thus far on the programs, according to an audit released by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office Tuesday."

The stimulus money — nearly $176 million for projects to encourage energy efficiency and alternative fuel use — was meant to jump-start the economy and put Floridians back to work. But nearly three years later, the state has distributed just 60 percent of that, the audit found.

The audit revealed little or no oversight of the five grant programs and four rebate programs once managed by the governor’s office and shifted by lawmakers to Putnam’s purview last year. The grants include university-based research, rebates for homeowners who bought solar panels and air conditioning systems and incentives for government agencies to make public buildings more energy-efficient.
"Audit finds Florida poorly spent federal stimulus grants meant for energy projects".

HD 107

"House Republicans wishing to tout their impartial redistricting process pointed to several new districts that pitted incumbents against each other. But although GOP incumbents in most cases generally dropped out in favor of another, Democrats are fighting it out over one South Florida seat. The new House District 107 drew Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach, and Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, in the same district." "Primary Profile: Redistricting pits Democratic incumbents against each other in HD 107".

T-shirt shops in a dither

"The imminent debt troubles of Greece and Spain will keep the euro weak and the U.S. dollar strong, making U.S. exports less desirable to Europe but also making it more expensive to travel to Florida. That led economists to lower their previous forecast of a 2.1 percent increase in overall tourists for the current fiscal year to 1.7 percent." "Global factors to weigh Florida economy down in coming years, state economists say".

Ander who?

"CD 4: Ander Crenshaw a Strong Favorite to Win a Seventh Term in Congress".

"Judge warns attorneys to watch what they say"

"As the state prepares to interview witnesses in the case against a former aide to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a judge has warned attorneys to watch what they say."

Circuit Court Judge Frank Sheffield declined Assistant State Attorney John Hutchins’ attempt to seal the case file and prevent lawyers representing former aide Carletha Cole from making statements to the media. ...

Cole is accused of sharing an illegal recording of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll with the Florida Times-Union newspaper. The case also involves a mysterious fire that Cole found burning in a trash can in her office, which she believed was arson.

Cole was later fired. In court documents, she said she fell out of favor with Carroll after encountering the lieutenant governor in a “compromising position” with travel aide Beatriz Ramos. ...

Both the defense and the state attorney’s office have named the people they may interview as part of the case.

Among potential witnesses for the state: Brian Burgess, Gov. Rick Scott’s director of communications; John Konkus, Carroll’s chief of staff and the person who’s voice is on the illegally taped conversation; Dawn Hanson, Scott’s director of administration; and Matt Dixon, the Times-Union reporter who received the recording.
"No gag order in case involving ex-aide to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll".

13 million gallons per day

"Members of the Florida Conservation Alliance on Tuesday gave Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. petitions they said were signed by more than 15,000 people calling for more protection for Silver and Rainbow springs in Marion County."

The petition, prompted by a water-use permit application for more than 13 million gallons per day in Marion County, calls on Gov. Rick Scott to create a resource management planning committee.

The petition drive, launched last month at a rally in Ocala headlined by former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, also coincided with a drought across North Central Florida and algae blooms that highlight ongoing threats to Florida's springs and groundwater.

"There is great public interest in this matter," Florida Wildlife President Manley Fuller told Vinyard in the Capitol entrance to the governor's office. "We want to work with you to help wrestle with these different problems."

Vinyard told the environmental group representatives that he shares their concerns and provided them with a three-page letter. He also said, however, he still has the misgivings he expressed last month to The Florida Current about creating delays through establishing a new planning process.
"Coalition presents 15,000 petition signatures urging Gov. Scott to protect Silver, Rainbow springs".

Entrepreneurs in action

"An audit report released by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services's inspector general identified possible fraud among energy grant recipients and halted $2.5 million in payments to two companies. Putnam said two-Florida based companies were involved in complicated schemes to defraud taxpayers and the cases have been turned over to law enforcement agencies." "Putnam cites "rudderless" state energy office for audit findings of mismanagement".

CD 24

"CD 24: Frederica Wilson Faces a Dem Primary Rematch Against Rudy Moise".

Except for the mass murderers

One of the less thoughtful remarks of the week: "Putnam: Vast Majority of Concealed Weapons Permit-Holders Law-Abiding".

Jeb Bush's former speech writer chimes in with this wisdom: "An Armed Citizen Might Have Made a Difference in Aurora".

Clueless in Tally

"The state of Florida on Tuesday appealed a Miami federal judge’s decision to block the implementation of a new state law prohibiting governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba. Gov. Rick Scott announced the appeal in a statement Tuesday. Last month, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore issued a temporary injunction against the law, which would ban state and local governments from awarding future contracts worth at least $1 million to companies whose parent or sister firms work in Cuba or Syria." "Florida appeals Miami federal judge ruling blocking law prohibiting hiring of companies tied to Cuba". See also "Florida Appeals Ruling on Blockade of Embargo on Business Contracts with Cuba".

More on the legal loss front: "An appeals court Tuesday ruled against Attorney General Pam Bondi in a long-running battle about the Legislature's attempt last year to privatize prisons across southern Florida. ... The decision was a victory for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which filed the lawsuit last year after lawmakers included the privatization plan in budget fine print, known as 'proviso language.' Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled that it was unconstitutional to use proviso language to direct the changes, which would have privatized 29 prison facilities." "State Prison Privatization Appeal Rejected". See also "Florida prison privatization appeal rejected" and "Appeal court rebuffs Bondi on prison privatization".