Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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

Q Poll: Obama up 53 - 44 in Florida

"President Barack Obama is over the magic 50 percent mark and tops Gov. Mitt Romney among likely voters by 9 to 12 percentage points in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a Quinnipiac University/ CBS News/New York Times Swing State Poll released today. Voters in each state see President Obama as better than Gov. Romney to handle the economy, health care, Medicare, national security, an international crisis and immigration. Romney ties or inches ahead of the president on handling the budget deficit. Matching Obama against Romney in each of these key states - no one has won the White House since 1960 without taking at least two of them - shows: "

- Florida: Obama leads Romney 53 - 44 percent, compared to 49 - 46 percent August 23;

- Ohio: Obama over Romney 53 - 43 percent, compared to 50 - 44 percent August 23;

- Pennsylvania: Obama tops Romney 54 - 42 percent, unchanged from 53 - 42 percent August 1.

"Likely voters say Obama can better handle the economy, the top issue listed by voters, 51 - 46 percent in Florida, 51 - 45 percent in Ohio and 51 - 45 percent in Pennsylvania." "Sept. 26 swing state poll". See also "Obama widening lead over Romney in key states".

FBI told Rivera was secretly behind shill's run for office

"Justin Lamar Sternad, whose failed congressional campaign became the subject of a federal grand-jury investigation, has told the FBI that U.S. Rep. David Rivera was secretly behind his run for office, The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald have learned."

Sternad, 35, also told authorities that his campaign manager, Ana Sol Alliegro, acted as the conduit between the campaign and Rivera, who allegedly steered unreported cash to the Democrat’s campaign, according to sources familiar with the investigation and records shared with The Herald.

Sternad said Alliegro referred to the congressman by his initials, “D.R.,” and called him by the nickname, “The Gangster.” . . .

[Sternad a] political newcomer — a night-time hotel worker — said he continued with the scheme because Alliegro told him that “D.R.” would get him a better job to support his wife and five kids if he lost.

"Sternad’s cooperation comes at a time when Alliegro has disappeared from public view after promising her lawyer and federal authorities three weeks ago to give a truthful statement of what transpired. Her lawyer still has not heard from her. Sternad’s statement also contradicts Rivera’s claim that he had nothing to do with his campaign."
During the Democratic primary, Joe Garcia — who previously lost to Rivera in the general election — complained that Sternad, a political unknown, was a ringer plopped into the congressional race by Rivera.

On Aug. 15, an El Nuevo Herald reporter went to Rapid Mail & Computer Services to ask how Sternad — who had $120.97 in the bank and reported raising less than $11,400 — could have paid for a dozen costly mailings, which were targeted in a sophisticated way to different types of voters.

Rapid Mail’s owner, John Borrero, said the dozen mailers were paid almost entirely in cash. One mailer, totaling $9,000, was paid by check through a third-party printing company, he said. Another vendor, Campaign Data, said Rivera had ordered the voter data, which was used for the Sternad mailings.

After the story ran in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, Rapid Mail employees said Alliegro stormed into the Hialeah warehouse and screamed: “Did you read the story? You got to get rid of everything. The s--t hit the fan! I got to calm down David and Lamar. This is bad!”

Borrero refused to destroy records, and instead turned everything over to Miami-Dade Public Corruption detectives and two FBI agents who separately contacted him. Alliegro has denied yelling at Borrero, saying she only went to Rapid Mail to collect invoices for Sternad.

"Rivera ran secret campaign, Sternad tells FBI".

Vern gets mad

"Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s congressional re-election campaign is fighting back against a new television ad released by Democratic opponent Keith Fitzgerald, calling it 'false, dishonest and outrageous.'" "Is Keith Fitzgerald Telling Whole Truth About Vern Buchanan Corruption Charges?" See also "Buchanan-Fitzgerald race heats up".

"The 'Republican bad girl' on the lam"

Fabiola Santiago: "Oh, the 'Republican bad girl' on the lam. Now, there’s a riveting character — Ana Sol Alliegro, 42, wanted for questioning by the FBI — who could rev up the ratings of The Real Housewives of Miami."

She’s a Bonnie without her Clyde, a political operative with a penchant for dating and marrying older men with impressive jobs. Only they end up running for their lives, including former Miami Mayor Joe Carrollo, who begged for a divorce after 83 days.

Now the feds investigating Justin Lamar Sternad’s campaign finances want to talk to Alliegro, but she didn’t show up for her Sept. 6 date. . . .

Alliegro has been a part of Rivera’s team for years.

“Politics is rough play, and I like it,” Alliegro tweeted last October. Definitely reality TV material — and that’s only the political side. . . .

[S]he tried in 2007 to shoot her architect ex-husband, Moshe Cosicher, after he refused to remarry her.

"No screenwriter could come up with a livelier scene than this Herald account of police and prosecution reports of that altercation:"
“She then sat naked at a desk with her leg up and compared the gun to a male sexual organ.

“ ‘If you think your [expletive] is powerful (showing the gun), this is mine,’ Alliegro told Cosicher . . .

“She fired a round into the ceiling. ‘You see. It’s loaded — this is business,’ Alliegro allegedly said.”

He tried to leave.

“She shot at me when I approached the front door (she missed my head by inches),” Cosicher wrote in a police statement.

She might be a bad shot, but she knows her Twitter audience. She retweets Paul Ryan and Ann Romney, calls journalists covering the Rivera-Garcia race “pinko commies,” and proclaims “Viva Romney 2012!”

"A Miami Bonnie without a Clyde". Background: "From a shooting to shoplifting, David Rivera’s pal in FBI probe has checkered past".

"Consumer confidence hits 5-year high"

"Consumer confidence jumped 3 points in September to a post-recession high with an increase in housing prices contributing to Floridians’ optimism, according to figures released Tuesday. . . . The survey revealed a significant difference in consumer confidence depending on who respondents support for president. Respondents who say they intend to vote for President Barack Obama score a 98 on the index while respondents who say they intend to vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney score a 63." "Consumer confidence hits 5-year high".

"In front of crowds of a few dozen people"

"In front of crowds of a few dozen people, Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV is using his U.S. Senate campaign bus tour to establish his image as a conservative and paint Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson as a liberal." "Mack pushes ideological differences in U.S. Senate race".

"The noblest profession"

Bill Maxwell: "America needs dedicated and competent schoolteachers. And teaching still is the noblest profession. However: Don’t become a teacher to earn a high salary, because you never will." "Teaching profession: once noble, now brutal".

GOPer invokes fairness doctrine

"GOP speaker to address Pasco school after fairness dispute".

Horner keeps Chamber job

"State Rep. Mike Horner, who abandoned his re-election campaign Monday after being named as a client in in a prostitution and racketeering case, remains president of the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce — at least for the time being." "Mike Horner to remain president of Osceola chamber for now, chairman says". Meanwhile, "RPOF Confident of Quick Off-Ballot Replacement for Mike Horner".

And then there's this: "Republican and Democratic political sources have told the Miami Herald that the prostitution ring included prostitutes catering to gay clients." "State Rep. Mike Horner resigns after being linked to brothel in Orange County".

"Typical mayoral mush-mush"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Perhaps St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has seen one too many James Bond movies. There can't be a better reason why he hides behind a veil of For Your Eyes Only intrigue in treating the city's expenses for the Republican National Convention party as a national security secret. Fortunately, Tampa city officials have a greater appreciation for public records and accountability and released an accounting showing St. Petersburg's reimbursed expenses at $949,647."

Foster was aided and abetted in his cloak-and-dagger avoidance of a public disclosure of the RNC party costs by police Chief Chuck Harmon, who also cited national security concerns. Tampa city officials readily provided the numbers, which include: $281,000 for the police, $161,000 for firefighters, $79,000 for various city workers, $14,516 to secure fire hydrants and $53,000 for police support personnel. Foster's refusal to provide the figures wasn't justifiable hush-hush. It was typical mayoral mush-mush.
"Cloak and dagger games at City Hall".

"Amendment 8 Could Drain Billions from Public Schools"

"K-12 budget cuts resulting from a universal voucher program pursuant to Amendment 8 could cost between $3.7 billion to $6.5 billion over five years, depending on how the voucher program is designed." "Amendment 8 Could Drain Billions from Public Schools".

"Wage Theft in Miami-Dade"

"On February 18, 2010, Miami-Dade County commissioners voted 10 to 0 for the passage of the first county wide Wage Theft Ordinance in the country. This report examines wage theft cases collected by the Small Business Development, the county office assigned to administer the Wage Theft Program. The report finds that wage theft claims filed through Small Business Development have been increasing since the Wage Theft Ordinance passed in 2010." "The Current State of Wage Theft in Miami-Dade County".

"Floridians once again being left in the lurch by Gov. Rick Scott"

The Miami Herald editorial board: "As the effective date for the next major step in creating a public health insurance program nears, Florida’s residents are once again being left in the lurch by the state’s leaders, led by Gov. Rick Scott. The state has refused to lift a finger to create state-run insurance exchanges, and Florida is increasingly isolated in this position, even among Republican-led states." "Not too late".

"The Florida Republican Party's shameful decree"

Martin Dyckman, a retired Times associate editor, is author of "A Most Disorderly Court: Scandal and Reform in the Florida Judiciary," asks us to "consider Florida's future if Gov. Rick Scott packs the state Supreme Court with new justices of his choosing. Scott has craved the opportunity since the 5-2 court opinion last year that stopped him from usurping the Legislature's rulemaking authority. Prison privatization and other significant cases are percolating up the ladder. The one involving drastic pension changes is already there. State or federal courts have now ruled against overreaching by Scott and/or the Legislature on at least 10 occasions in just two years."

So Scott's hand is evident in the Florida Republican Party's unprecedented decision to oppose the retention of three [. . .] justices on the November ballot. It recalls the petty and spiteful attempt by some conservative Republicans to make an issue of the notary signatures on their election documents.
"The 2003 death penalty decision to which the Republican Party attributes its opposition is a red herring, unmistakably resembling the Willie Horton issue of the 1988 presidential race. This one had no consequence because the U.S. Supreme Court reversed it. In any case the justices have upheld dozens of subsequent death sentences, often unanimously."
If the party succeeds in purging Lewis, Pariente and Quince, there's no longer any guarantee that their successors will be qualified, much less independent. Askew set up the nominating commissions so no governor could control them, but since 2001 the governors have been enabled to appoint all nine members of each. Three of his people already sit on the Supreme Court commission, and three other members are ripe for replacement, their terms having expired.

Whether to trust Rick Scott with the future of the Florida Supreme Court — and the liberties of all Floridians — is the real issue put to Florida by the Republican Party's shameful decree.

"Independent court at stake in Florida".

Frank Cerabino: "Having an independent judicial branch of government has become too inconvenient in Florida."

It’s just not working out for those who want to run Florida like a business.

So it makes sense that the Republican Party of Florida has arrived at a plan that would give Gov. Rick Scott the chance to replace three of the seven members of the state’s highest court with justices to his liking.

It’s the least we could do for a guy who has plunked down $73 million of his own money to turn the governor’s mansion into Florida’s corporate headquarters.

Without an independent judiciary, it will be so much easier turning the state prisons into corporate profit centers, dismantling public education with a voucher system that allows for-profit companies to feed on state funds and unleashing the powerful stream of commerce that comes with suspicion-less urine testing of state workers.

With a lapdog high court to launder legal legitimacy to the two Republican-controlled branches of government, Floridians can be given the business in ways yet unimaginable.

"Retention vote on state supreme court justices chance to put in ‘lapdogs’".

The Orlando Sentinel editors: "Unsatisfied with dominating the other two branches of government in Florida, Republican leaders are going for broke. They're out to control the only branch left that will dare stand up to them — the judiciary." "GOP should butt out of high-court decision".

"The list of candidates was unimpressive"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "It took less than five minutes for the Florida Board of Education to make the smart move Tuesday and extend its search for a new state education commissioner by two months. The list of candidates was unimpressive, and the education challenges facing the state are too serious to settle for mediocrity." "Florida's search for a top-flight education chief". See also "Education commissioner search extended", "Board extends hunt for education commissioner" and "Search for Florida education chief is extended to find better candidates". The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The reason [former Commissioner Gerard] Robinson was hired — politics — also is the reason he left so quickly. And it’s the reason the applicant pool once again is poor." "Florida seeking school scapegoat, not school reformer".

"Barring a miracle, the GOP isn’t in danger of losing control of the Florida Senate"

"Barring a miracle, which some might compare to the parting of the Red Sea, the GOP isn’t in danger of losing control of the Florida Senate. But in part because of redistricting, the state’s minority party has its eyes on taking two district seats from red to blue and grabbing a third -- including one which has the only two sitting senators going head to head -- to narrow that margin from last session's 28-12 Republican advantage. Yet they are also in danger of dropping another." "Democrats' High Hopes to Add Senate Seats Rest on 3 Moneyed-Up Races".

"The talk of Tallahassee"

"It is the talk of Tallahassee: Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz arrived in Orlando to accept an award from a business lobbying group and then banned two lobbyists from his office for orchestrating attacks on his candidates in the Republican primary."

Gaetz's scolding of the Associated Industries of Florida also included chastising them for not contributing enough money to his slate of candidates in the primary.

The admonition, in a town where legislative access is currency, hardball politics is routine and presiding officers are as close to royalty as it gets, also sent shivers through the lobbying corps. Few want to talk about it. . . .

He was referring to a mailer targeting former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who was seeking a return to the Senate and was backed by Gaetz.

"Lobbyists scolded for taking sides".

"So-called reformers didn’t do much about the actual fraud"

Fred Grimm: "For all the howls in the Republican-controlled state legislatures this year about imagined hoards of illegal voters invading the polls and committing mass election fraud, these so-called reformers didn’t do much about the actual fraud afflicting those vulnerable communities. Instead, states like Florida have made it easier for crooks to steal elections, using absentee ballots. Corrupted absentee ballots have become the currency of election fraud in Hialeah and Little Haiti." "Absentee ballot fraud looks soooo Hialeah…...".

Raw political courage

"Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has targeted human trafficking, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, who has sponsored his own efforts to curb the international trade, both offered support for President Barack Obama’s executive order aimed at the sex trade. It was signed Tuesday." "Pam Bondi, Marco Rubio Praise Obama on Order Against 'Modern Slavery'".

How convenient

"Attorney: Jim Greer out of money; trial delayed until February".

Scott's listening tour scam

"By virtue of his highly publicized education listening tour, Scott has heightened the stakes for his education agenda."

If he appears to acquiesce to unions and advocacy organizations too much, he could lose favor with the tea party activists who embraced him as an outsider. On the other hand, if the education community doesn’t see its thoughts incorporated into his plan, the recent goodwill could erode.

For example, Scott has said he would like to tie school funding increases to student achievement. Depending on the specifics, unions and school districts might balk at the idea that schools with more-affluent student bodies could get more money by virtue of higher test scores.

Scott also must overcome criticism that he is not serious about education policy, and he must deflect accusations that he is using teachers and schools as the first wave of his 2014 reelection campaign.

Already, the Republican Party of Florida has aired two television ads touting Scott’s commitment to public education.

"Florida school activists wary of Gov. Rick Scott’s listening tour".