Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Today's Florida Political News and Punditry

"Scott is invisible on the campaign trail across Florida"

"Someone is conspicuously absent from the campaign brochures produced by Republican candidates in Florida this summer:"
Gov. Rick Scott.

Hobbled by weak poll numbers, awkward on the stump and still somewhat estranged from the party establishment that shunned him in 2010, Scott is invisible on the campaign trail across Florida.

He also has steadfastly avoided taking sides in party primaries to a greater extent than either of his two predecessors, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush.

Colorful images of Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio can be seen everywhere in GOP circles. But candidates sometimes appear to go out of their way to avoid showing Scott's picture.
"Scott invisible in GOP primary".

Next step in Affordable Care Act litigation: birth control

"Florida led the challenge against the Affordable Care Act, and now that the U.S. Supreme has upheld the law, a small Catholic university on the state’s southwest coast is picking up the charge. Ave Maria University in Naples is asking a judge to throw out the portion of the law that requires an employer offering health insurance to provide free birth control and morning-after drugs." "Contraception suit next step in health care law fight".

Federal Judge to address controversial "write-in" interpretation

"As 'write-in' candidates for Miami-Dade State Attorney, lawyers Michele Samaroo and T. Omar Malone won’t appear on any ballots this fall — voters who want to select them will need to pen their names into a blank space. So do they count as legitimate opposition to the Democratic party?"

That’s the question a federal judge will answer Monday as he decides whether to open up the Aug. 14 Democratic primary election to voters of all stripes.

U.S. Judge William Zloch will hear arguments Monday in a federal lawsuit brought by two voters — one Republican, the other independent — who say that a controversial interpretation of state law is excluding over 700,000 non-Democrats from voting for the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Longtime incumbent Katherine Fernandez Rundle is squaring off against fellow Democrat Rod Vereen. Under a 1998 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution, the race would have been open to all 1.3 million Miami-Dade voters because no Republican or independent filed to run.

But at the last minute in April, Samaroo and Malone filed to run as write-in candidates, which served to close the primary to just 525,890 Democratic voters, making the election the defacto winner-take-race. No write-in candidate in Florida has ever come close to winning an election in Florida, and critics say they are almost always run by political operatives seeking to limit the numbers of voters who can cast ballots.
"Federal judge to rule on opening primary for Miami-Dade State Attorney’s race".

SD 14

"In what is shaping up as one of the more intriguing legislative contests in November, Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, is matched against Republican Will McBride in a contest for the SD 14 open seat in Central Florida that represents parts of Orange County. Both candidates have open shots at their party’s nominations with no opponents in the Aug. 14 primary election." "SD 14: Darren Soto Pitted Against Will McBride in Contest for Open Seat".

"Five key primary races"

Steve Bousquet: "If you're like a lot of voters in Florida, you'll blissfully ignore the Aug. 14 primary election, having convinced yourself that because a primary is sort of a preliminary round, your one vote just isn't very important. In fact, the opposite is true:"

The fewer votes that are cast in a low-turnout election, the greater the power of each vote.

That's why, if you have a track record of voting in primaries, you're being flooded with mailers and phone calls. You're a "super voter," and the political pros who run local elections know who you are.

With that in mind, here's a look at five key primary races for the Legislature on next month's ballot.
"Five primary races to watch".

"Gaming regulation on center stage"

"With Florida emerging as one of the largest gambling states in the nation, legislative leaders are prepared to put gaming regulation on center stage in the next two years and renegotiate the revenue-sharing compact with the Seminole Tribe at least a year early." "Lawmakers looking to tackle gaming regulation".

Aronberg imbroglio

"Aronberg claims he paid for ride on O’Boyle plane". Background: "Did Aronberg violate campaign law?"

"Florida jobless rate to remain bleak"

"Trouble in the housing market and uncertainty in Europe could keep Florida’s jobless rate high through 2016, a group of state economists said Monday." "Economists: Florida jobless rate to remain bleak". See also "Foreign Tourism Slowdown Could Add to Florida's Economic Woes".

Florida's "bewildering intramural Hispanic rivalries"

Marc Caputo: "Rep. Ana Rivas Logan’s opponents call her loads of names on the campaign trail."

But one seemed to bother her more than others: “Nicaraguan.”

“They’re making calls to the little old Cubans, telling them, ‘Don’t vote for her. She’s a Nicaraguan. Your commitment is with the Cuban vote,’” a choked-up Logan said last week about her bare-knuckle race against fellow Republican Rep. Jose Felix “Pepe” Diaz.

Welcome to Miami.

This is a place where calling the daughter of Cuban parents a “Nicaraguan” is a slur even though she was born in Nicaragua and says so on her website. Diaz denies participating in or authorizing the attack.

The fact that it was 1) used against the Cuban-American lawmaker and 2) worked enough to deeply unsettle her is a sign of the hardball politics in Miami-Dade. And it stands as a clear sign that Florida’s Hispanic vote is anything but monolithic.

Just beyond the Spanish-English language barrier is a not-so-brave world of ethnic tensions, borderline racism and nationalistic pride that will subtly play out this election season — from the Rivas Logan-Diaz state House District 116 race to the top of the presidential ticket.

In the presidential race, Puerto Ricans are overwhelmingly Democratic and are expected to vote heavily for President Obama in Central Florida. Cuban voters, overwhelmingly Republican, are largely Romney supporters in South Florida. Nationally, the majority of Hispanic voters have ties to Mexico and vote for Democrats.

Pollsters beware. Sample Hispanics in one Florida region and you’ll often get different survey results than if you polled Hispanics in another part of the state.

The intramural Hispanic rivalries are bewildering to anyone from outside the state.
"Hispanic rivalries add to mix of hardball Florida politics".

But these handouts are OK?

"Florida landed more than $50 million of the $787 million that the federal government doled out Monday for bus line and transportation repair and construction projects." "Feds Roll Out the Bucks for Florida Transit Projects".

I hate when that happens

"Obama flubs name of West Palm Beach mayor's city".

Bus operator on road to Tally as lawmaker

"The sun wasn't even close to rising when Victor Torres pulled his Lynx bus onto the road, starting a route on which he would pick up at least 70 people and drop them off at hotels and Downtown Disney. Almost certainly, the riders didn't know their driver is about to become a member of the Florida Legislature as the representative of newly created District 48 in southeast Orlando and northern Osceola County."

Torres, 64, is apparently the first Lynx bus driver — and possibly the first bus driver, period — to become a state representative, at least in recent memory, officials said.

A lifelong Democrat, Torres ran unopposed in his Democratic-leaning district, where more than half of the 156,456 residents are Hispanic. He'll take office in January.

That means Torres really could take his constituents for a ride, though his routes are nowhere near his home.

A quiet man whose accent attests to his Bronx heritage, Torres often drives a bus packed with service workers, such as maids, landscapers and cooks. One recent morning, his 43-seat bus was filled to capacity, with riders standing front to back in the middle aisle.

Lynx passengers are one of the primary reasons Torres decided to run. He said he wants to stand up in Tallahassee for the men and women who typically ride his buses, the ones who earn an hourly wage and often get by paycheck to paycheck.
"Lynx bus driver on road to Tallahassee as lawmaker".

Thats a lot of T-shirt shops

"Florida vaulted higher in the venture-capital rankings of U.S. states during the second quarter, as nearly a dozen companies received a combined $95 million from wealthy investment firms — a 163 percent increase from the previous quarter, according to a new survey." "Florida breaks top 10 in venture capital deals in 2nd quarter".

SD 7 and SD 18

"SD 7 and SD 18: Republicans Rob Bradley and Wilton Simpson Have Edge for Open Seats".

Campaign Roundup

"This week in the roundup, Republican leaders try to tone down a Tampa-area Senate race, and Democrats sharpen their knives for three fierce campaign battles in the upper chamber." "Campaign Roundup: Tampa Senate race intrigue; Dems home in on 3 Senate races".

3 Diaz de la Portilla brothers in Legislature at once?

"Depending on the outcome of the House District 103 race, three Diaz de la Portilla brothers could be in the Legislature at once, or Manny Diaz -- not the one you know -- could be coming to the Capitol." "Primary Profile: Familiar names lead Northwest Dade House race".

SLAPP suits

"The American Planning Association's Florida chapter says a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling against environmental groups in 2010 would have a chilling effect on public participation in planning if it's allowed to stand." "Planning group files Florida Supreme Court brief warning against discouraging public participation".

"The biggest spenders"

"The biggest spenders so far in the 2012 campaign for the Florida Legislature are committees set up by politicians and others wanting to influence the outcome of the elections. So far this year, groups called Electioneering Communications Organizations and Committees of Continuous Existence have spent more than $29 million in Florida political campaigns." "Political committees' spending dwarfs traditional sources".

"Specter of 'earmarking' hangs over the campaign trail"

"It's been a couple of years since Congress banned lawmakers from "earmarking" federal money to pay for pet projects, but the specter of the once-popular practice still hangs over the campaign trail. Nowhere in Florida is that more evident than in the fierce Republican primary between U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams of Orlando and U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park for the redrawn Seminole County-based Seventh Congressional District." "Rivals Mica, Adams both sought 'earmarks' for local projects".

Department of Education acknowledges it miscalculated school grades

"The Florida Department of Education on Monday acknowledged that it miscalculated school grades across Florida while local education officials said the mistake will fuel more public distrust in the state's student-accountability system that has been under increasing attack in recent months." "DOE acknowledges, explains mistake in school grades across Florida".

Questions for McDonough

"James R. McDonough was the secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections from 2006 to 2008. He was tapped by Gov. Jeb Bush, for whom he'd worked as Florida's drug czar since 1999. McDonough moved to DOC after Bush fired Secretary James Crosby, who later went to prison for taking kickbacks. His no-nonsense style proved the antidote to scandal at DOC. He fired or demoted dozens of prison officials and instituted random drug tests and mandatory fitness programs for employees. He angered many, but is widely credited for cleaning up the place." "Five Questions for Jim McDonough".

SD 13

"Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, is in line to become Senate president after the 2014 elections and he has the edge in SD 13 over a Democratic opponent as he looks for a second term in the upper chamber." "SD 13: Andy Gardiner a Heavy Favorite to Keep Seat and Senate President Plans Alive".

"You never, ever want to piss off a federal judge"

Carl Hiaasen: "Politicians in both parties have resumed rhapsodizing about the magnificence of the Everglades, a phenomenon that occurs every four years with varying degrees of sincerity."

Polls show that most Floridians want the Everglades restored and preserved. This requires candidates to show some love. Neither Democrats nor Republicans want to look like obstructionists on this issue in an election year.

That’s one reason why the Obama administration and the state have reached an agreement tentatively resolving 20 years’ worth of lawsuits that have hobbled efforts to clean the polluted water being pumped into the Everglades.

It’s true that under Obama, funding for Everglades restoration is way up from the Bush years. It’s also true that Gov. Rick Scott pushed for the recent settlement with Washington, which should restart some projects that will help the cleanup.

However, the semi-miraculous truce between Florida and the feds wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a fellow named Alan Gold. He’s a U.S. district judge in Miami who got so fed up with the stalling of both sides that he gave them a glorious reaming two years ago.

You couldn’t blame the man for being ticked off.

Gold was presiding over drawn-out litigation that was holding up some of the Everglades projects. The Miccosukee tribe had sued because phosphorus pollution from farms, ranches and subdivisions was being flushed into the reservation.

In the summer of 2008, Gold had ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection to start enforcing clean-water standards that had been set to take effect back in 2006.

But in the face of heavy lobbying, the feds and the state decided on a 10-year extension — a nice break for the polluters. That didn’t sit well with the Miccosukees, most environmental groups or the judge.

In 2010, Gold issued a ruling that scalded the EPA and the DEP for showing “glacial slowness” in cleaning up the flow into Everglades. He characterized the restoration plan as “rudderless.”

“The hard reality,” he wrote, “is that ongoing destruction due to pollution within the Everglades Protection Area continues to this day at an alarming rate.”

Here’s what else Gold did, which got all sides scrambling:

He threatened to hold state and federal administrators in civil contempt if they didn’t comply with the court. Then he ordered the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to personally appear in front of him and answer some questions.

This is why you never, ever want to piss off a federal judge.
"Glades vows kept thanks to the courts".


"Two small business owners are competing in the Republican primary for Hillsborough County Commission District 5." "Small business owners face off to contest Beckner".

Sorry Rick, "Government jobs prop up the employment picture"

"As Florida’s unemployment mark has slowly ticked down the last year and a half, two tracks have remained in place among the counties: Walton, Monroe, Okaloosa, and Franklin counties, predominately rural communities that have a large dependence upon government -- have held the lowest monthly marks. Why? A little because of tourism jobs, but the greater factor is that Eglin Air Force Base aids both Okaloosa and Walton. Government jobs prop up the employment picture." "Government Still King Job Maker in Counties With Lowest Unemployment".

RNC fears needs for military protection at convention

"Military stands ready if needed at RNC, other conventions".

"Local party had no problem tossing him aside"

"Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder, one of the most popular lawmen in county history -- with a 47-year history of serving his community and the Republican Party -- looks around today at his lonely campaign for U.S. Congress, knows it's a long shot at best and admits he knows why."

He backed Democrat Alex Sink in the 2010 gubernatorial election. No -- he did more than that. He campaigned for her, on national television and in high-profile TV spots.

Nevertheless, the affable sheriff holds out hope that he can pull out a victory in the GOP primary for the new District 18 -- or at least be close to his opulently financed and better-supported opponent -- when the final ballots are tallied Aug. 14.

The local party had no problem tossing him aside and district polls show a wide gap between him and the incumbent forced to run in the new district, flame thrower U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, who is looking to represent the Northern Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast market.
"Sheriff Crowder: I Probably Cooked My Campaign Chances With 2010 Cross-Party Endorsement".

"Genting downscales in Miami"

"Malaysian casino giant Genting says it will move forward with more modest plans for its downtown Miami site. Globally, the company is seeking to expand." "Genting downscales in Miami as it seeks to expand its global brand".