Monday, September 17, 2012

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

"South Florida contests attracting national attention"

"Two South Florida contests are attracting national attention and money. Another race is a critical priority in the state capital. And other election showdowns are stirring passions among Democratic and Republican activists throughout Broward and Palm Beach counties."

While none inflict the public with the TV ad barrage or command the news coverage of the Barack Obama-Mitt Romney contest, they do offer county voters a chance to make a slew of decisions that could have big impacts – from county law enforcement to helping determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

The hottest races could go either way on Nov. 6. Republicans have a fighting chance in many, even though they're vastly outnumbered by Democratic voters in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

One plus for Democrats: Their turnout tends to surge in presidential election years. Still, political insiders say, don't expect Obama and Romney to help or hurt all the other candidates. Gone are the days when a presidential candidate had coattails that made a decisive impact on races all the way down the ballot.

"Either side could win critical South Florida elections".

Around-the-clock surveillance?

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The Tampa City Council, which has limited powers to check the mayor, should subject this surveillance camera plan to rigorous debate. Law-abiding residents in public spaces should not be subject to around-the-clock surveillance by their local government." "Tampa's prying eyes need to go".

"Nasty automated telephone calls"

"Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner said that state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, and Florida Power & Light, are behind a series of nasty automated telephone calls to her constituents. Lerner, a former Democratic member of the state House of Representatives, has been an outspoken critic of FPL’s plans to put eight-story-high power lines along U.S. 1 through Pinecrest and neighboring communities." "Pinecrest mayor says state senator backs FPL against his constituents".

"Low levels of Cuba-related contributions this year"

"Just weeks short of the Nov. 7 elections, donors and political action committees linked to Cuba issues are notable by their absence from the campaign."

John Henry CabaƱas, the pro-Castro Miami businessman who donated $75,000 to President Barack Obama’s coffers in 2008 and $14,400 to Joe Garcia’s bid for a U.S. congressional seat in 2010, has given them nothing this year.

The U.S. Cuba Now Political Action Committee, created last year to support candidates who favor ending the U.S. embargo, reported in its most recent filing with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) that it had collected only $6,600.

The pro-sanctions U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which collected $803,000 in 2008, reported taking in $360,000 in its most recent filing to the FEC and said it planned to hit $650,000-$700,00 by Election Day.

Would-be donors say the low levels of Cuba-related contributions this year are due to the slow economy, fatigue with the issue and the likelihood that Congress, stalemated between Democrats and Republicans, can’t significantly change course on Cuba.

"Cuba-related donations are down this electoral cycle".

"Legal showdown over Florida’s commitment" to "'medically fragile' children"

They're called "'medically fragile' children, but labels don’t begin to convey the yeoman help they need to survive. Now, however, Washington and Tallahassee are locked in a legal showdown over Florida’s commitment." "Sick kids getting less help".

"Many living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area are heavily in debt"

"Many of those living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area are heavily in debt, concludes a new survey."

South Floridians owe -- a lot -- on car, home and student loans. The average South Florida mortgage balance is more than $30,000 higher, for example, than the average U.S. home loan balance, according to a report released by Credit Karma, a consumer website. One reason is that South Florida has a higher cost of living than some other parts of the country, said Kenneth Lin, CEO of Credit Karma. Many South Floridians also bought homes a few years ago when prices were inflated during the housing boom, said Lin. Some are now stuck with high mortgage balances, he said.
"South Florida more in debt than rest of nation".

Boleteros spurned

"Some judicial candidates said they were appalled that absentee-ballot brokers, sometimes shamelessly, sometimes obliquely, promised to deliver votes — for a price." "Judge hopefuls spurn boleteros".

"Mack’s linking Nelson to the president may not prove damaging"

"A generation ago, a candidate named Connie Mack was elected U.S. senator in Florida after Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis withdrew his campaign from the state, hurting Democrats up and down the ballot."

This fall, Connie Mack IV can’t count on history repeating.

With presidents past, present and possibly future stumping through Florida in recent weeks, coattails are certain to play a big role in this year’s Senate contest between Mack and two-term Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

“It’s a different era, and a different race for young Connie than for his dad,” said Republican strategist Rick Wilson, who was an aide to the elder Mack in his 1988 Senate race against Democrat Buddy MacKay.

“But he just may not get the help his father did. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney is going to abandon Florida. Instead, Connie’s luck needs to change a bit,” Wilson said.

Mack, a four-term U.S. House member from Cape Coral, has repeatedly sought to tar Nelson and Obama as “lockstep liberals” in TV spots attacking his opponent for supporting the White House on the Affordable Care Act, stimulus package and Bush-era tax cuts.

But some polls last week showed Obama gaining, opening up narrow leads in Florida and across the nation, which suggests Mack’s linking Nelson to the president may not prove so damaging.

And while Romney’s numbers decline, Mack’s might be slumping even more. A Survey USA poll last week showed him trailing Nelson by 11 percentage points, with a Public Policy Polling survey a week earlier placing Mack 7 percentage points back.

"Coattail factor looms in Mack-Nelson Senate race with heavy presidential stumping in Florida".

CD 19

"Facing a well-funded Republican opponent with no extra help from his own party, Democrat Jim Roach has taken on what many consider a quixotic quest to represent the residents of Congressional District 19 in Southwest Florida." "Democrat Jim Roach Faces Uphill Fight for Southwest Congressional Seat".

How Florida’s poor fare in comparison with the rest of the nation

The right-wing "Sunshine State News interviewed [Robert] Rector Friday, and asked him how Florida’s poor fared in comparison with those of the nation."

“None of these data sets allow for any type of state breakdown. They’re simply too small. They’re very good at providing national figures but you can’t break them down by state at all,” he says. “I would imagine, having looked at a lot of different data sets, that there is not a whole lot of variation. Florida is a fairly affluent state, so I would guess that Florida’s poor probably look marginally better than the national figures, but not by a whole lot.”
"How ‘Poor’ Are Florida’s Poor?".

Privatization follies

"Unions Sue to Block Privatization of Health Care in Prisons".

"Foul-smelling disaster"

The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Foul-smelling disaster is not how this Hollywood script was supposed to end, but then this isn't Hollywood. It's Florida's Port St. Lucie trying to become a new center of the animated film industry, using taxpayers' money."

It now looks as if those dollars, including $20 million from state taxpayers, have turned to fairy dust and blown away. Gov. Rick Scott is right to try to figure out exactly how it all happened.

But there are questions beyond the budget process that need attention to maintain public support for the state's jobs incentives programs.

Why must so many of the deals be hush-hush for so long? Why isn't the public clearly shown which companies have gotten what, and what the state has gotten in return? How many current or former lawmakers or their families have gotten money back from the companies they helped get state or local subsidies?

As the Tribune's Michael Sasso reported last week, a $20 million gift from the state to a film company was tucked into the 2009 state budget, according to some reports, by former Rep. Kevin Ambler of Tampa. It happened outside the state's normal review process. Late last year Ambler, who left the Legislature in 2010, took a paying job on the company's board, and his son appears to have gotten one of the hundreds of jobs the company promised to create, paying an average $64,233.

Last week, Digital Domain Media Group announced that it couldn't repay $35 million in private loans. It filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, with debts of $215 million and assets of only $205 million.

The Palm Beach Post reports that in addition to $20 million from the state's Quick Action Closing Fund, the city of Port St. Lucie provided money for land and bond financing. West Palm Beach was also chipping in. The total stake by local governments has been estimated at $110 million.

The company also had a deal with Florida State University, but has announced it is closing its newly opened Digital Domain Institute in West Palm Beach. It also laid off its workforce in Port St. Lucie and is closing its studio there.

"Buying jobs in dark is costly state policy".

"He’s one of our nuts. We’re not proud of it"

Frank Cerabino: "Please ignore Terry Jones."

He’s just one of our nuts. Florida has a lot of them. It has to do with the warm weather and the general lack of adult supervision.

People looking to reinvent themselves come here and act out in all sorts of strange ways.

Jones came to Florida 11 years ago to devote his life to hating Muslims and gays while selling furniture on eBay.

Like I said, he’s one of our nuts. We’re not proud of it.

"It’s time for the media to let Terry Jones go".

"Rethinking of development rules"

"All this post-recession rethinking of development rules started at the top, when the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott struck down most of state government's efforts to coordinate growth, and pushed those decisions back to the local level."

At the same time, developers and their political allies say that with the local economy still flagging, governments must adapt to the times and make changes to spur job creation.
"Counties looking to revamp growth management rules".

"Mystery group with a liberal-sounding name and a GOP-connected address"

"A mystery group with a liberal-sounding name and a GOP-connected address is taking aim at Democratic state Sen. Maria Sachs in Florida’s biggest state Senate race."

Sachs is running against another incumbent, Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, for the newly drawn Palm Beach-Broward District 34 seat. About 49 percent of constituents in the new district are from Bogdanoff’s old district and about 39 percent are from Sachs’ seat. It’s the only Senate district in Florida where two incumbents running against each other.

Sachs has been targeted in mailings from a group called “Progressives.” At least three anti-Sachs pieces from the group have landed in Democratic mailboxes over the past three weeks purporting to criticize Sachs from the left.

The committee was formed Aug. 27, so it hasn’t filed reports yet listing donors. Its address is the same Tallahassee office suite as the law firm of Richard Coates, who is general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida. Several other committees share the address, including one called “Conservatives” and the conservative Liberty Foundation of Florida, which is supported largely by money from the state GOP.

An employee of the Coates firm hand-delivered filing papers from the Progressives committee to the state Division of Elections.

"Mystery group accuses Democrat Sachs of supporting President George W. Bush".