Saturday, October 13, 2012

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

"'Ground game' gets fierce"

Lloyd Dunkelberger: "With voter registration having closed on Tuesday, the final stages of the 'ground game' for the Nov. 6 election for both the Republicans and Democrats in Florida is well under way."

Early-voting and absentee-ballot voting have become very popular. A poll released Oct. 11 by NBC, the Wall Street Journal and Marist College showed 38 percent of Floridians plan to vote early or cast absentee ballots, with 45 percent aiming for a traditional Election Day ballot. Another 17 percent were undecided. Both parties like the early voters — because those are essentially votes in the bank for their candidates. And in recent elections, Republicans have done the best job of getting their voters to cast absentee ballots, while the Democrats have benefited from the early-voting days.

There’s an indication those trends are changing in this election cycle. Democrats seemed to have narrowed the advantage that the Republicans have in the absentee ballots. But the Democrats also face a shortened early-voting period, which begins Oct. 27 but will be a week shorter than 2008 because of changes in state elections law made by the Legislature in 2011. Of the nearly 2 million absentee ballots that have been requested, Republicans asked for 43.4 percent, compared to 39 percent for the Democrats — an advantage cited by the Romney campaign. In a briefing for national reporters on Thursday, Jen Psaki, a press secretary for the Obama effort, cited Democrats’ efforts to close the absentee ballot gap in Florida.

"At this point in 2008, Republicans outnumbered Democrats among absentee mail voters by more than 245,000," Psaki said, according to a transcript of her remarks. "We’ve narrowed that gap, that margin, so now it’s just over 70,000."

Meanwhile, Democrats are modifying their strategy for dealing with shorter early-voting period. One element they must face is a lack of early voting on the Sunday before the Nov. 6 election. In 2008, the Sunday before the election was a key day for African-American churches to get their voters to the polls, in the so-called "Souls to the Polls" initiative.

This year, the churches are targeting Oct. 28 for “Souls to the Polls.”

"With registration over, ‘ground game’ gets fierce".

Week in Review

"Week in Review for Oct. 8 to Oct. 12". See also "Weekly Roundup: Being Sucked into the Election Vortex".

Alleged voting fraud scheme

"Lawyers for six of the nine defendants accused in an alleged voting fraud scheme in northern Florida asked a judge to dismiss the charges Friday, saying the state is attempting suppress black voter turnout by criminalizing technical election law violations. The charges stem from a Madison County School Board election two years ago that was decided by 28 votes. The defendants include the winning candidate and the county's top election official." "Fla. election fraud defendants seek dismissal".

Nelson continues to lead Mack

"Sen. Bill Nelson is drawing support from Florida’s crucial I-4 corridor and among seniors, younger voters and Hispanics, while Republican challenger Connie Mack dominates in North and Southwest Florida." "Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll: Sen. Bill Nelson continues to lead Connie Mack, 47-42 percent".

Tuition increases on the horizon

"Under one proposal, university funding would be determined by how well individual schools meet accountability benchmarks, including a measurement of how many students find jobs." "Higher education task force considers big changes, higher tuition". See also "Higher education task force enters home stretch" and "Scott higher ed panel weighs tuition increases".

Campaign Roundup

"Campaign Roundup: Absentee ballot misprints and election misfits".

Never mind her battle with breast cancer

"Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is sparring with her Republican challenger over whether it's appropriate on the campaign trail to highlight being a cancer survivor. Republican Karen Harrington is accusing Wasserman Schultz, who is also the chair of the Democratic National Committee, of referring to her battle with breast cancer in a recent campaign flier to score political points in her South Florida district." "Wasserman Schultz, GOP foe spar over cancer issue".

Deep thinkers

The ink stained wretches over at the Sunshine State News give us a lesson in constitutional jurisprudence this morning: "Just How Activist Are Florida Justices Pariente, Lewis, and Quince? A Look at Vouchers". Meanwhile, "3 GOP senators endorse Supreme Court justices".

But this federal largess OK

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are urging President Obama to set aside plans to retire the C-23 Sherpa transport planes, known by some as 'flying shoeboxes,' that have proven their efficiency in loading troops and cargo through more than two decades of use." "Rick Scott, Rick Perry Urge Obama to Rethink Scuttling of Emergency Aircraft".

"Embarrassing leaks from Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's office"

"A stern circuit judge complained that the case of embarrassing leaks from Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's office "is getting way out of hand" Thursday and bluntly told attorneys on both sides he won't let them air the lurid allegations in the news media."

Judge Frank Sheffield said he would decide on a witness-by-witness basis whether attorneys for Carletha Cole can take testimony from Carroll and other officers of Gov. Rick Scott's administration. He told defense attorney Stephen Webster to submit lists of potential witnesses -- so Cole's lawyers can't "go on a fishing expedition" for irrelevant information -- but also told Jesse Panuccio, the governor's general counsel, he won't exclude pertinent witnesses just because they might make some high-level government officials uncomfortable.
"Judge scolds attorneys in Lt. Gov. Carroll info leak case".

Convention over ... Scott goes after massage parlors

"Gov. Rick Scott announced the suspension of 81 massage licenses he said had been illegally obtained for $10,000 or more each through an unnamed state massage school." "Tampa targets massage parlors that front for prostitution".

Mack alleges that poll results are skewed

"A new poll showing Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson with a large lead over Republican challenger Rep. Connie Mack IV — and showing President Barack Obama clinging to a razor-thin lead in Florida — has reawakened allegations from the Mack campaign that results are skewed." "Differing poll results raising new questions on accuracy".

Nelson kicks off cross-state tour

"Incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is kicking off a cross-state tour for his re-election campaign with a Sanford appearance alongside singer Jimmy Buffett." "Sen. Nelson kicks off statewide tour".

Romney steals "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" slogan

"The creator of TV's 'Friday Night Lights' is accusing Mitt Romney of plagiarizing a phrase from the show to use as a campaign slogan."

Peter Berg wrote a letter to Romney today saying he's "not thrilled" that the Republican presidential candidate is using the phrase "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" on campaign posters and his Facebook page. . . .

Berg's agent distributed the letter to the media. In it, the writer-director-actor says Romney's politics and campaign aren't aligned with the themes of the TV series.

"'Friday Night Lights' writer accuses Romney of plagiarism".

Entrepreneur in action

"Man pleads guilty to $1.9 million TV infomercial fraud".

All of that and nothing

"Florida's workers compensation insurance rates have climbed from 40th to 29th most expensive in the nation over the last two years. That 11-point increase was reported in a study released this week by the Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services. It issues a comparison of rates in the 50 states on Jan. 1 of each even-numbered year." "Florida workers comp rates now 29th most expensive".

Palm Beach County absentee ballots in limbo

"About 10,000 absentee ballots have been in limbo since Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher discovered that there was a mistake on about 60,000 ballots that were mailed out Oct. 2."

But, she said Friday, that’s a good thing.

The 10,000 ballots were in the batch that had printing errors. Tabulating machines won’t be able to read about half of the flawed ballots. So when voters return them, they will have to be hand-copied onto new ballots which will be fed through machines.

“We stopped 10,000 from going out,” she said. Workers were stuffing new ballots into envelopes Friday, in hopes of getting them in the mail.

"Absentee ballot delays a concern". See also "Palm Beach Prepares to Hand Count Votes".

CD 26 race "setting a new standard for dirty tricks"

"A campaign finance scandal involving a South Florida Republican could open the door to a surprise congressional victory for his Democratic party challenger, resulting in the election of Miami's first Cuban-American Democrat. The race for Florida's 26th district between two rival Cuban Americans is setting a new standard for dirty tricks, even for Miami's politically passionate Cuban exile community." "Scandal rocks Cuban-American congressional race in Miami".

"An ideologically driven backwater"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board wonders if Pinellas County will remain "an ideologically driven backwater that takes fluoride out of the drinking water, caves in to vocal extremists and refuses to invest in the future?" "Bring Pinellas commission back to mainstream".

"It certainly doesn’t pass the smell test"

"Representatives with three left-leaning voter groups suddenly facing allegations of voter registration wrong-doing say Florida elections officials are diverting attention from a criminal investigation into suspicious applications filed on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida by trumping up accusations against them."

Florida Division of Elections spokesman Chris Cate told reporters last week that forms filed by the state Democratic Party, the Florida New Majority Education Fund and the National Council of La Raza involved "potential irregular voter registration activities" that "constituted a legally sufficient complaint of voter registration fraud."

Representatives for all three deny fraud took place and say the state has yet to contact them about the allegations.

"It certainly doesn’t pass the smell test that this information was released to the press before the party was ever notified," said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan. "Both the timing and release of this information appears highly political."

The allegations were announced two days after the FDLE launched a criminal investigation into voter applications filed by Strategic Allied Consulting, a private firm hired by the RPOF to register voters. Hundreds of questionable registration forms have been found in a dozen counties, spanning from South Florida to the Panhandle. Republicans, who had made voter fraud a top campaign issue, reacted swiftly by firing the firm and filing an elections complaint against it.

They’ve also responded by filing dubious allegations against other groups, said Rebecca Wakefield, spokeswoman for the Education Fund, a nonpartisan group that aims to increase voter registration among under-represented groups.

"It’s clear to us that this was all about timing," Wakefield said. "It’s a distraction from the Republican case which made such big national news a few days before. This is all about Florida politics."

La Raza spokeswoman Camila Gallardo said her group had registered more than 50,000 voters since March with no complaints. She said it wasn’t until the final week before the Oct. 8 registration deadline that her group, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States, was hit with two fraud allegations.

"Left-leaning Florida voter groups deny allegations of registration fraud".

"The hidden hand of the marketplace — a hand with the middle finger sticking up"

"Five of Florida’s former governors met at the University of Florida Friday and offered up a stern bi-partisan warning about the future direction of the state. The governors — Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Bob Martinez, Buddy MacKay and Charlie Crist — lamented the loss of environmental protections, the dismantling of guided growth management, and the recent partisan assault on the Florida Supreme Court."

Absent from the panel was former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. The “Conversation with Florida Governors” was sponsored by the UF law school’s Law Review as part of the Allen L. Poucher Legal Education Series.

Askew, who as a Democratic governor (1971-79) ushered in judicial reform and the non-partisan merit retention elections for the Supreme Court, said he was disappointed that the Republican Party had joined in the push to oppose the three justices up for merit retention. He chided critics who claim that the justices should not be judged by their records.

“The Republican Party is, I think, making a serious mistake when it injects a partisan view on what should be a non-partisan system,’’ he said. But, “an election is an election” and “people can’t get told what they can consider.”

MacKay, the former Democratic legislator and congressman who served as lieutenant governor under the late Gov. Lawton Chiles from 1991-97, chided the Republican-led legislature as having forgotten the state’s past.

He recalled how the Legislature in the 1970s was controlled by a tight-knit group of conservative leaders who “were facing the wrong direction.”

“We were the fastest growing state and they were fighting change,’’ MacKay recalled. “The state didn’t have any plan, we were growing 1,000 net new residents a day and a lot of people said let the market take care of it.”

Today’s legislative leadership “is basically faced in the wrong direction” again, he said, “ blaming things on the federal government and basically saying we don’t need a plan: let the hidden hand of the market take care of it.”

He drew chuckles and applause from the crowd when he said Gov. Rick Scott also “believes in the hidden hand of the marketplace — which some people think is a fist clenched. Others believe it’s a hand with the middle finger sticking up.’’

"Former governors offer critique of Florida’s future".