Sunday, August 05, 2012

Today's Florida Political News and Punditry

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

Florida's GOP grubstakers "pumping millions of dollars into a myriad of stealthy political funds"

Aaron Deslatte: "They are some of the biggest brand names in Florida politics, and this summer they're pumping millions of dollars into a myriad of stealthy political funds — all with the aim of influencing the outcome of a few key legislative races."

Publix. Walt Disney Co. U.S. Sugar. Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
"But the return on investment this year could be huge: Legislation regulating gambling and Internet cafes; turning more traditional public schools into charters; and cracking down on union influence and trial-lawyer lawsuits could hang in the balance."
Though Republicans have a lock on the state House, the Senate — despite the GOP's 28-12 supermajority — has remained [in a handful of cases*] a difficult place to pass ideologically conservative and corporate-tilted legislation. Lawmakers on both sides say the dollars are flowing into a half-dozen state Senate races in the hope of influencing that balance. ...

Four Florida companies — Blue Cross/Blue Shield, U.S. Sugar Corp., Disney and Publix — have already blown past the million-dollar barrier in political giving this year. All have also surpassed — in one case by more than tenfold — their total contributions to state races in the 2008 elections, the last election cycle without statewide Cabinet offices on the ballot.

Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson, whose lobbying organization is scoring big checks from the companies, said they broadly support "free enterprise efforts to improve education, stabilize taxes, [and] lower the cost of doing business." [And, may we add, crush Florida's public sector labor movement**]
"Special interests sharply step up political giving".

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*Deslatte understates the right wing's dominance in the Senate. To be sure, the Senate is not as extremist as the House, but it nevertheless has done much of the bidding of Rick Scott and the Teabaggers.

**Florida's private sector labor movement, aside from a few pockets - e.g., UPS, Disney and the contractors at the cape and KSC, although the latter is fading fast with the demise of the shuttle program - has faded.

Medicare wars

"In Florida, where nearly one in five residents is a Medicare beneficiary, politicians who sound a false note on Medicare can risk losing election."

As the political season heats up, Floridians can expect to see plenty of political ads warning that President Obama or challenger Mitt Romney will destroy the program.

Indeed, the battle already is underway as both men seek voter support in this battleground state.

In a campaign swing through Florida last month, Obama used the issue to galvanize older voters against Republicans, warning that Romney’s proposal to repackage Medicare as a fixed benefit is a “voucher” system that “will end Medicare as we know it”. He said his health care reforms have helped seniors receive discounted prescription drugs and get access to free preventive care.

Romney, meanwhile, has vowed to repeal the Democrat’s 2010 health care law that he says cuts Medicare by $500 billion.
"Medicare indispensible for many after 47 years".

Hiaasen: "Uncensored peek at Scott’s e-mail"

Carl Hiaasen has some fun with "An uncensored peek at Gov. Scott’s e-mail".

SunRail accused of not hiring minorities

"Outgoing state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, contended Wednesday that the $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train is not hiring minorities. His allegations were denied by SunRail spokesman Steve Olson, who said in an email that at least $16.6 million in work has awarded so far to contractors with minority connections." "Siplin: SunRail will not hire minorities".

Gelber's proposal will help Crist

"Former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, has an intriguing idea for his party: open Democratic primaries to independent voters."

Why do it? Democrats have a lousy track record turning out voters in nonpresidential years. If unaffiliated voters were included in the primary, it would force primary candidates to reach out to a big chunk of the electorate that is crucial in the general election.

"It would force us to engage early and meaningfully important voters who by definition are unaffiliated and in play,'' said Gelber, who ran for attorney general in 2010. He said the move could help the party in 2014.

Who else might it help? Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist is widely seen as a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2014. If he does run, Crist could have a tough time in a primary, given his history supporting Republican priorities. But Crist remains popular with independent voters.
"Florida Democrat wants party to reach out to independents".

West whines

"Fans of Rep. Allen West, including Rush Limbaugh, have been complaining for months that Tallahassee Republicans purposefully redrew his district to include more Democrats. Now, the assertion is being used to raise money for West." "Fundraising's fighting words".

"Florida has a very long way to go"

"The University of Central Florida's latest economic forecast tries hard to find something nice to say about the state's condition."

Being in a recovery – even a bumpy, sluggish, unsatisfying one – it says, "sure beats an economic recession," says the report released Thursday. But Florida, it concludes, has a very long way to go before it's once again feeling strong.

Just how long, in some cases, is remarkable.

Consider the construction industry, which was devastated by the housing bust and economic collapse.

The UCF forecast says the construction sector lost 384,000 jobs from its peak employment levels before the recession and will not return to those levels until 2031.

"That sector has gone through carnage, really," said UCF economist Sean Snaith. "And those jobs aren't going to come back any time soon."

The rest of the labor market isn't quite so bleak.

The UCF forecast projects unemployment will stay above 8 percent through the second half of 2014 – an estimate consistent with recent state forecasts. Snaith says payrolls will grow gradually over the next three years, returning to pre-recession levels by the end of 2016.
"Florida economy faces long road to recovery, report says".

"The most unpopular governor in the country"

Adam C. Smith: "There's little or no precedent for the popularity of a governor influencing a presidential election in that state, but Arceneaux said the party will do everything it can to exploit the low approval ratings of Gov. Rick Scott before the election."

"He's the most unpopular governor in the country. He lacks any political skills, and that's the Republicans saying that, not me. We're certainly going to make an issue of him. And we think the fact that people just don't like him, that'll help really define the Republican brand in Florida by Rick Scott," [executive director of the Florida Democratic Party Scott Arceneaux] said. "If you don't like what Rick Scott's doing in Tallahassee, which we don't think people do, if you don't like the Republican governor, you're not going to like Mitt Romney."
"Assessing Crist, Scott".

Scott's publicity stunt "won't save much money"

Aaron Deslatte: "When they hear gripes about the perceived high levels of taxation in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers have a go-to pressure-relief valve: this weekend's sales-tax holiday."

The "back-to-school" three-day tax holiday is a skimpy version of past efforts. It covers only clothing selling for $75 or less and school supplies going for $15 or less. And it doesn't cover books, which any studious school-shopper can tell you cost quite a bit these days.

Hope you enjoy it. But advocates from both sides agree: You probably won't save much money.
"Attention, shoppers: Sales-tax holiday won't save you as much as you think".

Scott's latest damage controller

"For the third time since taking office, Gov. Rick Scott has a new chief of staff to help shape his agenda, steer him through political minefields and bolster his shaky standing with Floridians."

Adam Hollingsworth, 43, is a battle-tested former chief of staff to a Jacksonville mayor, a communications specialist and former executive at CSX Corp. who already has faced several tough tests since taking over July 6.

Embarrassing news reports over school grades, the lieutenant governor and a botched open government website threatened to deepen the governor’s already-low approval ratings. In each instance, Hollingsworth worked behind the scenes to contain the damage by reversing course, with Scott’s consent.
"Adam Hollingsworth: Gov. Rick Scott’s new right-hand man".

"Nelson ad ridicules Mack"

Adam C. Smith: "For much of the year, it looked like Democrat Bill Nelson would have far more money for his re-election than the Republican nominee. But spending by outside groups is likely to mean Nelson's campaign actually has significantly fewer resources than his Republican rivals. Assorted conservative organizations already have spent more than $9 million on TV ads attacking Nelson as a liberal."

Now Nelson is firing back — hard.

A new Nelson ad ridicules likely GOP nominee Connie Mack IV as a former Hooters employee with one of the worst attendance records in Congress, as well as a history of debts, liens and "barroom brawling.''

It's going to be an ugly campaign.
"Campaign getting ugly". See also William March's "March on Politics: Nelson debuts attack on Mack".

"Lawmaker’s finances are murkier than they first appear"

"In disclosure forms filed in June, state Rep. Erik Fresen presents a picture of financial health, earning $225,000 last year with just $103,000 in outstanding debts for student loans."

But the Republican lawmaker’s finances are murkier than they first appear. There’s the $29,000 debt to the Internal Revenue Service that remains unpaid. There’s the $10,000 citation for a code violation. And there’s the longstanding foreclosure lawsuit that nearly cost Fresen his Little Gables home.
"Lawmaker seeking reelection faces questions over finances".

Bushco won't die

Can anyone in the Bush family ever get a real* job? "In the eyes of one new political action committee, immigration, Hispanic outreach and education are the new frontier—and it’s headed by a member of the Bush political dynasty."

The man in focus is Jeb Bush Jr., the son of former Gov. Jeb Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush, and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush.

In Miami on last Thursday, Jeb Bush Jr. was headlining an education luncheon sponsored by his Sun Political Action Committee, a new PAC dedicated to “engage, educate and recruit Hispanics,” according to its website.

The event was co-hosted by the James Madison Institute, a nonpartisan[**] free-market think tank based in Tallahassee, focusing on how to improve educational options for parents and students.

While his father was in the national press supporting the hypothetical Republican vice presidential candidacy of fellow Floridian and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush Jr. was introducing the audience to his new conservative group.
"Jeb Bush Jr. Hypes Super PAC, Talks Education and Immigration".

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* For example, Jeb Bush, the "son of former President George Bush has followed the family's patrician play book: Hurry up and get rich, then go into public service. Trading on the famous family name, Bush gained entry to exclusive business ventures courtesy of wealthy Republicans." "Make the Money and Run".

** The author of this piece does her readers a disservice by failing to disclose the true nature of the James Madison Institute. Ostensibly "nonpartisan", JMI is yet another well funded right wing "think tank".

"Slow start to early voting"

"A slow start to early voting in Broward and Palm Beach counties".

True Florida voting fraud rests with "super voters" — most of them registered Republicans

Myriam Marquez: "While Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature focus on 'illegal' votes by non-citizens and on limiting the time the polls will be open for early voting, the true nature of fraud in Florida rests with elderly 'super voters' — most of them in South Florida registered Republicans — who are visited at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, community centers, comedores and even their homes by campaign 'volunteers' to 'assist' them in getting their ballots to the mail. Such volunteers are nothing more than paid ballot runners too often abusing the law." "Why use a boletera when there’s mail service?"

Dems in newly drawn CD 7 also have a choice to make

"While the spotlight has been aimed on the Republican primary — and the rare spectacle of two incumbents, U.S. Reps. Sandy Adams and John Mica, squaring off against one another — Democratic voters in Florida's newly drawn Seventh Congressional District also have a choice to make."

And unlike in most primaries, the differences between these two candidates are stark.

Jason H. Kendall calls himself a moderate "Blue Dog Democrat" and advocates abolishing the income tax in favor of a flat sales tax. Nicholas Ruiz III is a self-described "old school liberal and progressive New Deal Democrat" who supports lowering the Social Security retirement age to 55 and increasing benefits by 20 percent.
"Two Democrats vie to meet the winner of Mica-Adams".

"The murky edges of Hialeah politics"

"Deisy Cabrera has been a small-time fixture at the murky edges of Hialeah politics for many years, one of many freelance ballot-brokers who collect absentee votes on behalf of candidates for office, usually for a fee."

But the obscure Cabrera found herself suddenly enveloped in unwanted public notoriety this week when anti-corruption Miami-Dade County cops targeted her for alleged ballot fraud, lifting the lid on what many say is a long-tolerated practice among local political operatives.
"Cabrera was fixture of Hialeah politics".