Saturday, August 18, 2012

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

This will put a serious damper on the Florida Republican Party's voter suppression effort in at least part of the critical I-4 corridor: "Florida's decision to reduce the days of early voting discourages African-Americans from voting and cannot take effect in Hillsborough and four other counties in the November election, a panel of judges ruled late Thursday."
The long-awaited decision strikes down changes to early voting in those counties, part of an overhaul of election laws that has been under steady legal and political assault since it passed the Legislature and was signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Scott.

"The state has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters," the judges wrote, adding that a shorter early voting period is "analogous to closing polling places in disproportionately African-American precincts."

The ruling by a three-judge tribunal in U.S. District Court in Washington means the five counties must offer 12 days of early voting, instead of the eight called for under the new law.

Besides Hillsborough, the affected counties are Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry.
"Judges block reduction of early voting in 5 Florida counties, including Hillsborough". See also "Florida law could sharply reduce minority votes, federal court says", "Federal court rejects Florida early voting changes, says they’d cut black participation" and "Early voting cutback could hurt blacks, court rules".

"The court ruled late Thursday that Florida was unable to rebut testimony that a reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African-Americans make it more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot."
“We just got the ruling last night and we’re still evaluating what the ruling exactly means and what are options are,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Of Friday the incoming leader of Florida House Democrats called on Gov. Rick Scott to throw out what he called a “Voter Suppression Act.”

“It is imperative that Governor Scott and the state’s top election officer take action now to ensure statewide, uniform early-voting standards that maximize early voting opportunities in all 67 counties,” Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, said in a prepared statement.

In 2008, early voting was allowed for 14 days and a total of 96 hours. The 2011 law reduced the number of days to eight and set a minimum of 48 hours with election supervisors having the option for up to 96. The court prohibits the application of the new rules in the five counties.

“Every county must follow the law as it applies to them and that is what these counties have been doing,” Cate said.

However, there is the uniform statewide application of voting procedures.

“I can tell you, you can expect significant litigation on this point,” Sancho said. “It’s in the statute and someone will make a case for a uniform voting standard and bring it before a legal authority.”
"Court rejection of voting law changes leaves confusion".

Week in Review

"Week in Review for Aug. 13 to Aug. 16".

Nelson v. Mack cheat-sheet

Politifact: "We've watched the budding matchup between Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV, left, and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for months, vetting many attacks you might have seen on TV. (If you haven't seen them yet, don't worry — you will.) Consider this a cheat-sheet on what to expect through Election Day. " "A Senate showdown primer".

No longer an outsider

"Scott's image as an outsider will officially come to an end at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where he'll serve as a hometown host of the four-day party. When he isn't polishing his convention speech, Scott will rub elbows with deep-pocketed GOP donors and reconnect with people who worked on his campaign two years ago." "Rick Scott will be schmoozer-in-chief at GOP convention". See also "Bill Nelson, Connie Mack IV to battle for U.S. Senate".

Yee haw!

"Conservation panel approves shooting park for wildlife area".

Hialeah firefighter uncovers absentee-ballot fraud

"A Hialeah activist and union leader says he is the anonymous donor who hired the private investigator who first uncovered evidence of door-to-door ballot brokers and sparked a criminal probe that has led to two arrests. Eric Johnson, vice president of Hialeah’s firefighters union, said Friday that he hired investigator Joe Carrillo to try to uncover absentee-ballot fraud, an issue that Johnson said he has complained to the police about for years. Johnson’s role in the investigation was first reported by blogger Elaine de Valle on her website," "Hialeah activist: I hired ballot-broker private eye". The blog post: "There are two heroes: Firefighter hired PI".

State rule limits Medicaid payments for undocumented immigrants in charity hospitals

"Hospitals throughout Florida are challenging a state rule that limits payments to treat undocumented immigrants."

The hospitals say the Agency for Health Care Administration made the rule without following the proper procedures and unfairly wants them to reimburse the state for some of the Medicaid payments used to treat immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

At issue is a technical dispute over how much Medicaid pays for emergency services and when an emergency patient turns into a "stable" patient still in need of care. AHCA's position is that Medicaid covers emergency care for undocumented patients, but not the ongoing treatment needed to keep the patient stable.

The rule could save taxpayers "millions and millions of dollars," but it would burden large hospital systems that provide loads of charity care, said Joanne Erde, an attorney representing the hospitals.
"Hospitals battle Medicaid rule changes over undocumented immigrants".

Florida unemployment up to 8.8%

"The state Department of Economic Opportunity announced an 8.8 percent, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July, with approximately 816,000 out of work from the work force of 9.27 million." "Florida's Jobless Numbers Grow as Sunshine State Slows Through the Summer". See also "Unemployment rate bumps up to 8.8 percent". Related: "Unemployment picture clouds Scott's Manatee jobs event". More: "Florida unemployment rises to 8.8 percent".

"On the cheap"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board on "a lost opportunity for Florida."

The National Institute for Early Education, which is housed at Rutgers University and supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, has reported that in 2011 ranked first for access to pre-Kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds. The 164,000-plus students enrolled was a remarkable 76 percent of eligible children. For once, Florida was well ahead of states like Massachusetts and North Carolina in some measurable education category.

However, according to the institute, “Florida ... currently has the lowest reported level of per-child spending on its pre-K program.” Florida provided only $2,422 per child in 2011. Eighteen percent of that came from the federal stimulus that so many Florida politicians claim to hate. The institute estimated that Florida needed to spend another $2,042 per student to meet minimum standards.

Top-ranked New Jersey provided $11,669 per child from all sources. For perspective, North Carolina and Massachusetts once again were ahead of Florida, providing totals of $7,910 and $3,691, respectively.

Further, the National Institute for Early Education graded each state according to 10 “quality standards,” and Florida scored just 30 percent. Florida does not require pre-K teachers to have a college degree, allows a staff-to-child ratio higher than 1-to-10 and does not provide any meals.

Florida is blessed with a voluntary pre-K program available to every 4-year-old because voters in 2002 put the program into the state’s constitution. But when it was implemented in 2005, the Legislature and then-Gov. Bush had given the state a program done on the cheap.

Instead of a full day of education, Florida authorized just three hours a day. Instead of fully qualified teachers, Florida settled for teachers with a high school diploma. Despite promises of improvements, Florida has continued to shortchange its pre-K students. It does so even though the program is provided almost exclusively through private centers with what amounts to a voucher program — a setup that ought to thrill Florida’s voucher-happy legislators.
"Editorial: Florida should spend more on state’s pre-K program".

The best they could do?

"Saying there is strength in numbers, Republican congressional candidate Todd Long stood arm-in-arm with two former political foes on Friday — John QuiƱones and Mark Oxner — as the three announced they will work together to battle Democrat Alan Grayson for the 9th District seat in November." "Former Republican foes present united front to fight Grayson".

Voucher madness

Aaron Deslatte: "Legislative elections this fall may have outsized importance for the future direction of public schools, charters and school vouchers -- and the unions, for-profit companies and education advocates attempting to gain sway."

In last week's primaries, one aim of the "school choice" organizations working under the banner of Florida Federation for Children was to elect Democrats that were more supportive of expanding private school-vouchers. The group's top goal is passing the "parent trigger" bill to let parents in failing schools decide on corrective steps, including turning schools over to for-profit charter companies. ...

School-choice supporters backed Democrats in three hard-fought Senate primaries – Victoria Siplin in Orlando, Ron Saunders in Key West and Mack Bernard in West Palm Beach – and came up short in all three, although Bernard is in a recount and down only 34 votes.

"It looks like Democratic primary voters went for more liberal candidates," said incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, a former Okaloosa schools superintendent and school-choice proponent. "But all that means is there will be spirited and healthy debate on the floor of the Senate." ...

The state's largest teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, poured money into a counter-offensive to preserve its toehold in the Senate.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, got $50,000 from the FEA that went to pay for direct-mail, radio and newspaper ads in her win over Siplin.

And Rep. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, teacher and son of former Rep. Ed Bullard and termed-out Sen. Larcenia Bullard, benefited from an electioneering group created by his father in late July. Thanks to $349,000 from unions that bought a wave of mail and radio, Bullard kept the Dade-Monroe seat in the family. ...

"It appears at least on the Democratic side, public schools were the winner. The schemes didn't pan out," said FEA President Andy Ford.

But on the GOP side, he added, "the moderates didn't win when you were up against the extremist view."

Now two or three fights this fall – like the SD 8 matchup of Republican Dorothy Hukill, R-DeLand, versus Democrat Frank Bruno, and the SD 34 race of Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, versus Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach – could tip the scales.
"'School choice' measure hinges on outcome of Senate races".

Where's Pammy Bondi when you need her?

"Executive says he didn't get airport post after refusing to give to GOP".

Four weekend recounts

"Two state House races, one state Senate contest and a single judicial election from Tuesday’s primary are headed into weekend recounts." "Runoffs Called for in One Judicial, Three Legislative Contests".

"Jeff Clemens clung to a 29-vote lead over Mack Bernard on Friday night in the nail-biting state Senate District 27 race, with hundreds of ballots with questionable markings slated for review Saturday." "Clemens-Bernard race tightens".

Related: "Recount looming in Palm Beach Senate race" and "Razor-thin races dominate Florida Senate primaries".

Just a another "conservative Christian Republican with a libertarian slant"

"North Central Florida’s new Republican congressional nominee is a self-styled 'conservative Christian Republican with a libertarian slant' who plans to take a hatchet to thousands of pages of federal regulations, beginning with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

There’s certainly a lot more to Yoho’s congressional campaign than the usual smattering of right-wing platitude. His interpretation of the Constitution places him well outside the mainstream of his political party, especially on matters of foreign policy and civil liberties.

Yoho is a self-styled “conservative Christian” and “very pro-life; life begins at conception.” He insists, however, that controversial social issues such as abortion and homosexual marriages are properly “states issues. That’s the way our founders set up this country. I’m a big believer in the 10th Amendment, and leaving the federal government to that handful of powers delegated to it in the Constitution. The social issues are important, but this election is more about stopping socialism in our country, where the federal government dictates everything you do. Once we halt this socialism, these social issues can be dealt with at the local level. Let’s leave the federal government out of it.”

When asked if he would continue Stearns’ efforts to investigate alleged fraud at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion-provider, he says, matter-of-factly, “That’s something that should have been done a long time ago. I’m glad [Stearns] looked into it. He’s written a letter and I haven’t seen anything else [done] about that. We spend millions of dollars on that agency. Especially in this economy, where 42 cents of every dollar is borrowed money, that’s just inappropriate.”

He toes the typical line on immigration. “This is a classic example of Congress having failed to lead,” he says. “We have an immigration crisis 30 years too long in the making. It is both a national security and an economic issue. I don’t care how we do it, but we need to close off our border, and we definitely have the technological means to do so.
Much more here: "Rising Star Ted Yoho, 'Republican with Libertarian Slant'".

Country club overflow

"Initially, former ambassador and developer Mel Sembler planned to throw the reception at his office, which holds up to 100. But the Ryan pick prompted a move to the Club at Treasure Island, where Sembler's a member and there's banquet space for 350." "Romney running mate Paul Ryan's first Florida fundraiser forced to move to a bigger venue".

And he's bringing his mommy

"Ryan takes Medicare mother on campaign trail".

Complaint against Aronberg

"A Palm Beach Gardens resident has filed ethics and elections complaints against state attorney candidate Dave Aronberg, saying he took financial help to run a negative campaign against a potential political rival without formally declaring his candidacy. The complaints, citing a July 22-23 series in The Palm Beach Post, allege that Aronberg’s actions violated laws meant to limit campaign contributions and assure transparency in campaigns. Aronberg, a Democrat, is the front-runner in a three-way race for state attorney." "Complaints lodged against state attorney hopeful".

A problem waiting to happen

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Whether St. Petersburg's new law goes too far during the RNC in limiting innocent and constitutionally protected activities will depend on how police use their enforcement powers." "Balancing civil rights, safety".