Saturday, September 22, 2012

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

FBI Investigating Rubio's "Pal", David Rivera

"A key witness in a federal grand jury case involving U.S. Rep.David Rivera is still missing, but she left important evidence behind for investigators: at least four envelopes that had been stuffed with unreported campaign cash."

Ana Alliegro, a Republican political operative, delivered the cash-stuffed envelopes to a Hialeah mail house that sent out fliers in a congressional race against a Rivera political rival, the mail house owner told the FBI.

The FBI has the envelopes to check for fingerprints and handwriting comparisons.

"Also in the hands of FBI agents: at least six invoices initially made out to the attention of David Rivera — all marked paid “cash” — to cover the mailings for Democratic primary challenger Justin Lamar Sternad, a suspected Rivera straw-man candidate. The congressman demanded that his name be removed from the invoices with Wite-Out, documents and interviews show."
Alliegro went missing two weeks ago, shortly after her computer was seized by FBI agents and just hours before she was scheduled to talk to a federal prosecutor about her involvement in the Rivera-Sternad operation. She also had been jailed by Miami cops on an old suspended driver-license warrant. . . .

Sternad initially failed to report the cash receipts or expenditures — totaling at least $47,000 — which could violate federal campaign laws concerning financial disclosures for congressional candidates. It’s also illegal to conspire to break federal laws and launder money.

Rivera, already under a separate federal criminal investigation into his personal and campaign finances, denied any association with Sternad, who often attacked candidate Joe Garcia in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary.

Garcia won that race and now faces Rivera in the general election for the Kendall-to-Key West District 26 seat.

"FBI checks envelopes used in probe of Rep. David Rivera". "Marco Rubio keeps distance from 'Nixonian' pal David Rivera".

The Interstate 4 corridor

"Today's installment of 'Letters from Florida' describes the Interstate 4 corridor and its importance to the presidential race." "Presidential voters along I-4 angry, discouraged, likely to decide race".

Po' Paul

"Republican vice president nominee Paul Ryan said today that he expected the negative reaction he received during a New Orleans AARP event and that the 2011 tax return release by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney shows his family's generosity." "VP nominee Ryan says he expected negative reaction at AARP".

You know a GOPer is desperate when he shows up in Little Havana: " "Paul Ryan courts Cuban-American voters in Miami".".

Does Florida "hold special promise for Romney"?

"Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama in Florida by a single point, 48-47 percent, in a new installment of the Purple Poll, a result unchanged from the poll’s last installment in August. . . . The result differs somewhat from a couple of other recent polls, including a Fox News poll showing Obama with a 5-point lead in Florida." "Purple Poll: Romney over Obama 48-47 in Florida".

More: "In the race for the 270 electoral votes need to win, Florida (29 votes) is always the biggest up-for-grabs state, and this year it seems to hold special promise for Romney. Unemployment there still exceeds the national average, helping his indictment of Obama’s economic performance. The housing collapse has left vast numbers of homeowners in default. Yet two polls of likely Florida voters, one by Fox News and one by NBC, showed Obama leading 49 percent to 44 percent." "Tide shifts to Obama in most competitive states".

"Watch for absentee ballot fraud"

The Palm Beach Post editors warn: "Watch for absentee ballot fraud in Palm Beach County".

Orlando Mormon critical of Romney faces expulsion

"Local Mormon critical of Romney: I face expulsion".

So much for judicial independence

"The Republican Party of Florida waded into a traditionally apolitical fight Friday, announcing it will oppose the retention of three state Supreme Court justices on the November ballot."

Supporters of the justices accused the state GOP of using the merit-retention vote, and the case, as a subterfuge to try to seize control of the courts. If a majority of voters reject the justices, Republican Gov. Rick Scott will have an opportunity to appoint their replacements. . . . The decision by the state GOP to enter the debate allows the party to use its fundraising heft to steer money into opposition campaigns. Party officials would not say how much money they are willing to devote to defeating the justices.

“We are not talking strategy,” said Brian Burgess, a party spokesman.

Authors of the decades-old merit retention law said it was adopted in response to a system in which the Legislature became too cozy with the Supreme Court, forcing the impeachment and removal of corrupt judges.

"In surprise move, Florida GOP opposes Supreme Court justices’ retention in November". See also "Republican Party of Florida opposes 3 Supreme Court justices' retention" and "Florida GOP joins fight to unseat three justices".

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board writes that "the campaign by the misnamed Restore Justice 2012 group seeks to oust the justices because it disagrees with some of the court's opinions. The state Republican Party injected unprecedented political pressure into the mix late Friday by announcing that it opposes the retention of the three justices. This is just the latest in a growing special-interest movement nationwide aimed at intimidating the courts." "On ballot, a supreme attempt to intimidate".

Campaign Roundup

"Campaign Roundup: Democrats get cash boost, Republicans oppose Supremes".

"Scott has boxed himself into a corner"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Florida's jobless rate remained mired last month at 8.8 percent even as employers added a net of 23,200 jobs since July. But the reality is the state's unemployment rate, just like the nation's, should be much worse, and it's disingenuous of Gov. Rick Scott to boast that the state's job creation efforts have somehow led to a more than 2 percentage-point drop in unemployment. The sad fact is, discouraged, jobless Floridians have impacted the unemployment rate more than anything coming from Tallahassee. . . . Florida has real jobless problems that demand real solutions. And it needs a governor who comes to work leaving the rose-colored glasses back at the mansion." "Scott has skewed view of jobless rate".

Aaron Deslatte: "Gov. Rick Scott is going to have a hard time during the next two years trying to explain to voters that placards and politicians don't lie, but economists do."

When the governor got into a disagreement with a reporter last week over the relationship between Florida's declining unemployment rate and its worsening labor market, the exchange illustrated how Scott has boxed himself into a corner tying his score card to an imprecise measure of economic recovery.

Scott was trying to explain how the drop in the unemployment rate to 8.8 percent shows the progress he's made during his first two years. . . .

The governor says the rate has fallen because the state has created 153,000 new private-sector jobs since he took office. But state economists draw a more complicated picture of a churning labor market that's seen more people moving into the state looking for work, and large numbers of would-be workers giving up their job search.

"Scott's latest salvo came a week after the head of the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research presented a long-range fiscal report to lawmakers prepared by 60 analysts in the Legislature, state agencies and Scott's own office. It said that, through July, 91 percent of the drop in the jobless rate this year was because workers were dropping out of the hunt."
"What we're seeing is participation in the labor force is declining," ERD coordinator Amy Baker said.

Confronted with that analysis, Scott said: "That's not true." He then jousted with reporters over his campaign pledge to generate 700,000 new jobs on top of the normal economic growth projected before he took office.

"Tell me what 'normal growth' is?" he chided one reporter.

"Facts belie Scott's use of job numbers". Background: "Florida's August unemployment rate stays at 8.8 percent", "Florida’s unemployment rate holds as state has best job creation in 16 months" and "Florida Up 28,000 Private-Sector Jobs as Unemployment Holds Steady".

"Dream on"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board wites that, with respect to immigration reform, voters "have an unenviable choice: a candidate whose immigration plan in wrong-headed and another whose plan makes sense but whose commitment is suspect." "Immigration reform coming? Dream on".

Romney trails in ground game

"Romney campaign trails in crucial ground game" ("The Democratic campaign boasts nearly three times as many offices in eight swing states.")

FlaDems closing fundraising gap

"After Republican candidates depleted their accounts during a series of free-spending primary battles, their Democratic opponents now appear to be closing the fundraising gap." "Money becomes tight in state Senate races".

"Before he knew it, he had to buckle down to a serious grilling"

Fabiola Santiago: "The Big Meet didn’t come close to bullfight status, but interviewers Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, the anchors of Univision’s nightly news, gave no free passes — not even to a friendly president more popular than his challenger with the network’s national audience."

As a result, the winners were the country’s 50 million Hispanics, whose concerns — the economy and jobs but also immigration, health and education — were pointedly posed before the candidates.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney seemed relaxed and tanned, but nothing could save him from the 47 percent question. He fell short all night, choosing to answer questions with well rehearsed campaign-trail lines.

President Barack Obama, who is handily winning the Hispanic vote, strolled on set exuding confidence — too much of it, perhaps — but before he knew it, he had to buckle down to a serious grilling on his failure to deliver immigration reform.

“You promised that, and a promise is a promise, and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise,” Ramos said at one point. Salinas also delivered a reminder of that failure at the end of the interview.

Though neither candidate said anything news-breaking, their presence alone at a forum of this magnitude conducted in Spanish was significant and unprecedented, an important recognition of the country’s fastest-growing minority.

Add that both candidates underestimated Ramos and Salinas — journalism royalty to consumers of Spanish-language news and excellent interviewers — and it’s not a stretch to say that these forums will be remembered as historic.

"Univision encuentros a win for Hispanic viewers". Related: "In Miami, Obama voices support for Dream Act, improved education opportunities".

Determining "who can vote based, not on citizenship, but assumptions about whom voters will support"

The Miami Herald editorial board: "It’s election season, as if anyone needed reminding, and candidates on the national, state and local levels want to lure voters to the polls. It’s the American way. Except . . . Florida continues its bad habit of engineering who can vote based, not on citizenship, but assumptions about whom voters will support based on age and ethnicity, skin color and past behavior." "A vote for fairness".

Scott's "handful of gimme and a mouthful of much obliged"

"Time after time since taking office, Gov. Rick Scott has boasted of rejecting billions of dollars from the federal government. Now, Washington has turned the tables, shutting down Scott’s plea for financial aid in a move that almost instantly took on political tones."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency refused Scott’s request for a presidential declaration of disaster for damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaac, declining to provide $26.9 million in aid to hard-hit counties.

Scott moved this week to appeal the decision, but not before the issue was cast in a political light, highlighting Florida’s importance in the presidential election and the rocky relationship between Washington and the Sunshine State.

“Today, I asked the Division of Emergency Management to appeal the denial to ensure Florida communities have the full capability to recover from Isaac’s damage,” Scott wrote to FEMA’s director, Craig Fugate, this week. The letter states that the cost of damage to Monroe, Broward, Palm Beach, Collier, Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Franklin and Martin counties is actually about $10 million worse than originally thought, at about $36.6 million.

The Republican Party of Florida quickly blasted President Barack Obama for not “redistributing” money to hurricane victims.

"Feds turn tables on Scott, deny storm money". See also "Florida to Appeal Obama Admin's Rejection of Hurricane Isaac Relief".

Good luck with that

"Restoring millions slashed from the budgets of Florida's water management districts would help boost jobs, tourism and the environment, according to a coalition of former agency leaders. Twenty former board members from Florida's five water management district's this week sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott calling on him to support sending more money to the agencies that guard against flooding, protect water supplies and lead environmental restoration." "Water district advocates call for governor to restore budget cuts".

Mack's chances "slipping away"

"The Republican shot at unseating U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is slipping away, according to a new Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll."

Nelson leads Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV 48-40 percent, the new poll shows, a three-point shift in the Democrat’s favor since July.

That’s the good news for Mack, who is losing by double digits in a slew of other recent surveys.

With the exception of an outlier poll from an Orlando firm, Gravis Marketing, Mack has been trailing between eight and 14 points in the last seven statewide polls. The average of those polls, as compiled by Real Clear Politics, lists the spread at eight points, matching the Herald/Times poll.

The percentage of undecided voters, however, remains unusually high at 11 percent with a little more than six weeks to go in the race.

Mack’s decline is even sharper when voters are asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. In July, 30 percent of voters surveyed said they had a favorable view of the four-term U.S. representative from Cape Coral and his unfavorable rating was only 13 percent. Now, Mack is disliked by 33 percent of the voters surveyed and his favorability rating has dropped to 27 percent.

The telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote in the Nov. 6 election — was conducted Sept. 17-19 for The Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times, El Nuevo Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13.

"Poll: Mack trailing Nelson by wider margin".

Scott flops like a mackerel

"While Scott rode the tea party message into office after an upset win in both the GOP primary – in which he also ran against much of the Republican establishment – and the general election, his outsider image has softened a bit as he has moved to bring more 'insiders' with Tallahassee experience into his inner circle." "Adam Hollingsworth: Rick Scott's Staff Will Listen to Lobbyists, But No Favoritism".

"Charlie's days as the pretty face for a big-name personal injury lawyer are numbered"

Nancy Smith: "We can be sure of only one thing. Charlie's days as the pretty face for a big-name personal injury lawyer like John Morgan are numbered. It's no secret along the I-4 corridor that Carole Crist, who didn't marry Charlie so he could line his pockets chasing ambulances, wants her husband back in high-profile politics. And pronto."

Which, incidentally, is just as well. By all accounts, Florida's 44th governor doesn't practice much, if any, law at the firm. Actually, when I called Morgan and Morgan, nobody there could name me a single Charlie Crist case in the last two years. What the folks there did tell me is that the firm's investment in Charlie has paid off. His billboards up and down Florida highways suck clients in like a giant sand dredge, and Morgan -- a significant donor to the Democratic Party -- is likely to help launch Charlie's career as a cash-carrying Dem.

For a while, Charlie thought the wind was blowing him back into the governor's mansion. After all, Rick Scott's approval ratings were bunched down around his ankles, the Dems' candidate cupboard looked bare and talk of any Scott challenge in 2012 invariably turned to Charlie as the Democrats' last and best hope to reclaim leadership in Tallahassee.

But then he spoke at the Democratic National Convention as a maverick, a Republican turned independent who now backs "good for Florida" Democrat incumbent Barack Obama. It was clear he believed the delegates would rise to cheer him wildly. That didn't happen. Even when he said, "I didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me," the reception was at best polite.

Charlie expected, perhaps even relished, the outrage he conjured among Republicans. What he didn't expect was the Democrats' disdain, not only in Florida, but in the liberal-leaning mainstream press.

Summing up "Charlie Crist: A Sorry Legacy," his piece in HuffPost the day after the Democratic National Convention, journalist Eli Lehrer said this: "The bottom line is simple: Charlie Crist was a bad governor and appears to have no core political principles. While his speechifying may help President Obama and the Democrats, they should learn what Republicans have found out through painful experience: Charlie Crist is a political opportunist with a sorry legacy."

And in the polls? Charlie's not faring that well. . . .

Then, on Thursday, a poll conducted for the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and their affiliates had Democrat Alex Sink -- not Charlie Crist -- defeating Gov. Rick Scott in a 2014 governor’s election. Conducted by Mason Dixon, the poll showed Sink beating Scott 47 percent to 39 percent, and Charlie essentially tied with Scott.

"Charlie Crist: He'll Be Coming Around the Mountain When He Comes".

Back to Boca

"Days after uproar over Boca remarks, Romney back in county for money".

Scott disses Teabaggers

"The Republican governor rejected a candidate with tea party backing". "Scott reappoints Edgar to Florida PSC". See also "Scott reappoints veteran Lisa Edgar to Public Service Commission".

Gambling pumps $936,500 since April into Florida Committee

"Malaysian-based gambling giant Genting has pumped $936,500 since April into a political action committee designed to sell the concept of Las Vegas-style casinos to voters in the Sunshine State, documents made public Friday show. But the casino company is still coy about its exact aims in Florida." "Gambling giant spends more than $900,000 on pro-casino PAC".

Rick Scott, Rick Perry and Scott Walker brain trust

"A group of Chinese private investors will be in Florida next week, but Gov. Rick Scott was already suited up at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on Friday [with fellow geniuses Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry] to begin promoting the Sunshine State." "Rick Scott Selling Chinese Investors on Florida ... at Cowboys Stadium".