Sunday, October 14, 2012

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

Scott’s political priorities superseded concerns about deadly TB outbreak

"More than 4,000 emails among staff at the Florida Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obtained by The Palm Beach Post, show how a disease outbreak became secondary as Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s staff advanced his political priorities to downsize and privatize much of the department. The emails, which span 2009 to mid-2012, portray CDC staff as consistently deferential to the state, even as their concerns about Florida’s handling of a deadly TB outbreak grew." "TB surge: CDC asked state to tell public".

90 percent of Florida's big money goes to Republicans

"In Florida's vast political orbit, Barbara Stiefel hardly registers. Yet if President Barack Obama wins re-election, the 59-year-old retiree from Coral Gables will have played an outsized role."

Stiefel this year has written checks for $50,000 and $1 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, one of the new breed of "super PACs" using unlimited donations to scramble the rules of political campaigns. Her money — a mountain compared to the $5,000 she was legally allowed to give directly to Obama — helped produce an onslaught of TV ads portraying Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch corporate raider. Stiefel, whose family made money in the pharmaceutical business, is not alone in Florida, but she is the only Democratic super donor. Ten residents have given at least $500,000 to super PACs.
"The nine other heavyweights in Florida have given to Republican causes."
• John W. Childs, 71, of Vero Beach. He runs a private equity firm in Boston and has given $3.1 million to three conservative super PACs, according to records collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. He contributed $1 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future; $1.1 million to Club for Growth Action; and $1 million to American Crossroads, a group started by Karl Rove. (Crossroads' latest work is an ad attacking Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for getting a tax break on pasture land in Brevard County.)

• Bill Koch, 72, of Palm Beach. He is not as well known as his brothers, David and Charles, who have donated millions to conservative causes. Koch and two of his coal companies, Oxbow Carbon and Huron Carbon, have given $3 million to Restore Our Future. "He's a big believer in Mitt Romney," said Koch spokesman Brad Goldstein.

• Irving Moskowitz, 84, of Miami Beach. The businessman and California bingo operator has long been a pro-Israel activist, pushing for Jewish settlements in Arab sections of Jerusalem. Moskowitz gave $1 million to American Crossroads in February.

• Grace Evenstad, 68, of Naples, who owns a winery in Oregon. She has given $250,000 to American Crossroads and $500,000 to Restore Our Future.

• Margaret Caveney, 88, and husband Jack Caveney, 86, of North Palm Beach. They have ties to Panduit Corp. in Illinois. They have given $550,000 to several groups, including Restore Our Future and Winning Our Future, which supported Newt Gingrich in the GOP presidential primary.

• Jerry Jordan, 73, of Palm Beach. He founded a hedge fund in Boston and is close to Romney. He and his wife, Darlene, 45, are also on Romney's Florida finance team. The couple have given $500,000 to Restore Our Future.

• Miguel "Mike" Fernandez, 60, of Miami. The chairman of MBF Health Care Partners, a private equity firm, is also on Romney's finance team. He gave $500,000 to Restore Our Future. The related MBF Family Investments gave $500,000 to the same committee.

"Meet Florida's big-time donors to super PACs".

"Florida numbers should be worrisome for the Romney campaign"

Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe: "Keys to Obama winning Florida, he said, include women voters and the growing Puerto Rican population in the Orlando area. Plouffe, who led the president's 2008 campaign, also believes Obama can win Miami-Dade by even more than the 139,000-vote margin he won it by in 2008."

Rich Beeson, national political director for the Romney campaign, contends the Romney/GOP grass roots campaign is keeping pace with the vaunted Obama machine. "Since the debate, we've seen a 63 percent increase in volunteer hours, a growing enthusiasm gap that continues to favor Gov. Romney, a strengthening of our already strong ground game, and we're seeing the effects of this in polling numbers across the battleground states," Beeson said in an email. "What the Obama campaign didn't tell you is that we are leading or even with them in early vote in key states across the country — FL, NC, CO, NV, and NH. Our early vote numbers are outperforming voter registration in battleground states, demonstrating the strength of our ground game and the excitement for the Romney/Ryan ticket."

While it's true Romney appears to be leading Obama among absentee ballots requested and cast so far in Florida, the numbers actually should be worrisome for the Romney campaign.

At this point in the campaign four years ago, Florida Republicans had requested 14 percent more absentee ballots than Democrats, an advantage of more than 220,000 absentee ballots. Republicans had returned nearly 17 percent more at this point four years ago. Through Thursday, Republicans had requested only about 68,000, or 3 percent, more absentees than Democrats. The Democrats have cut the GOP advantage on returned absentee ballots to 3.5 percent.

"Obama adviser David Plouffe says campaign in good shape in Florida".

"Judge will accept even the most meager excuse to dispatch him to oblivion"

Fred Grimm: "Notions of 'normal Christian belief' must be slightly different up there in Bradford County. Either that or when the convict before the court has eight murders on his rap sheet, a judge will accept even the most meager excuse to dispatch him to oblivion." "Nothing good about execution of mentally ill man".

HD 72

Zac Anderson: "Whether voters in one of Sarasota County’s more liberal state House districts buy into [Sarasota attorney Liz] Alpert’s depiction of [Florida House District 72 Rep. Ray] Pilon as right-wing idealogue, and how much weight they give local community service, will help determine the District 72 election, along with lingering questions about whether Alpert has the right connections, resources and resume to make the race competitive." "A challenge to Pilon in redrawn District 72".

Nelson maintains lead

"Independent voters and party switchers are providing the edge for Democrat Bill Nelson as he maintains his lead over Republican challenger Connie Mack in the U.S. Senate race, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll." "A look into the Senate race".

"Shortening the ballot"

Thomas Tryon: "The general election ballot includes 11 proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution. All of the proposals came from the Florida Legislature." "Tryon: Shortening the ballot".

"The most valued of voters, and the most vulnerable"

"With a relentless barrage of phone calls, mailers and targeted ads, local and statewide campaigns are now aggressively pursuing absentee voters — the most valued of voters, and the most vulnerable."

Absentee voters, who submit their ballots by mail, make up an ever-increasing share of the Florida electorate — the result of relaxed voting laws and aggressive campaign strategies. In the coming election, as many as one in four Florida voters will cast their ballots from home instead of a voting booth.

In Miami-Dade County, the share of absentee voters this fall could be even higher: Already more than 208,000 absentee ballots have been mailed to Miami-Dade voters since Oct. 5.

"Absentee-ballot fraud is nothing new, particularly in Miami-Dade, where two local elections were overturned in the 1990s because of phony and forged absentee ballots. In 1976, local elections officials tossed out piles of suspicious absentee ballots cast at Miami nursing homes."
“Absentee ballots seem to be prone to manipulation,” said Joe Centorino, director of Miami-Dade’s Ethics Commission and a former assistant state attorney who prosecuted several vote-fraud cases stemming from Miami’s tainted 1997 mayoral election. “Once those ballots go out, there’s no more control.”

But despite the recurring fraud problems, state lawmakers have repeatedly loosened the state’s absentee voting rules, making it easier to vote from home — while also making vote fraud harder to detect, critics say.

At the same time, the state has increased scrutiny of in-person voters by requiring those voters to provide photo ID at the polling place — a burden that absentee voters don’t have to bear.

“It is clearly easier to vote, with less obstacles, absentee than in person at the polls. And there’s more room for shenanigans,” said Murray Greenberg, the former Miami-Dade County Attorney who now teaches election law at the Florida International University College of Law.

In recent years, the Republican Party of Florida has aggressively promoted high absentee turnout among GOP voters. Republicans have dominated the Legislature as it has loosened absentee voting rules and cut the number of days for early voting, which tends to favor Democrats.

For candidates, absentee ballots present an alluring opportunity: Their campaigns can target these voters with mailers, ads, phone calls and at-home visits while the voters have the ballots in their hands.

Florida law now allows campaigns to track absentee ballots in real time, confirming on a daily basis who has voted and who still has a ballot at home. Campaigns pester the slackers with phone calls “until you drive them crazy,” said Dario Moreno, a campaign consultant and political science professor at Florida International University. . . .

Once a voter receives a ballot, the campaigning begins.

Under a 2005 state law, all local election offices must report daily which voters have received absentee ballots, and which voters have mailed them in. Candidates and political committees can then download this data every day and contact voters who have not yet voted. (Absentee request information is not a public record under Florida law; however, candidates and political committees are specifically allowed to receive this data.) . . .

The boletero arrests this summer highlighted the risks of absentee voting: If campaigns can identify who has an absentee ballot, they can also send workers to voters’ homes to influence them, or even take their ballots. This danger is most acute among older or disabled voters, or those unfamiliar with the process. Ballot-broker Deisy Cabrera, for example, is accused of filling out the ballot of an incapacitated woman in a nursing home. Police found her carrying the ballots of a dozen voters, court records show.

Over the years, prosecutors have also chased rumors of campaigns sending stooges to collect ballots from a rival’s supporters, and make the votes disappear. But because of the secrecy of the ballot, such claims are almost impossible to prosecute after the fact, Centorino said.

Much more here: "Absentee ballots: easy to cast, open to fraud". Related: "Signature a must for absentee ballots".

Randy Schultz: "Absentee balloting should be for those who can’t to the polls — college students, members of the armed forces, the infirm and shut-ins. Anything else invites risk and, worse, fraud. The Miami Herald has reported how absentee ballot brokers work Cuban-American and Haitian-American neighborhoods. Similarly, as The New York Times reported, operatives at senior-heavy communities in Florida 'help' elderly voters fill out their ballots."

Since all commentary on Florida election problems comes back to 2000, recall the claims that Democrats and Republicans tried to “steal” that election. “Stealing,” though, happens only when one side does something illegal. Lawsuits and staged demonstrations aren’t illegal. The only illegal act involved…absentee ballots.

In Martin and Seminole counties, Republican operatives filled out absentee ballot applications. Only the voter is allowed to do that. The elections supervisors were not prosecuted — wrongly — and a lawsuit to throw out all the absentees in both counties failed — rightly. Legitimate votes also would have been tossed.

Voting at the polls is more reliable in all ways, since you won’t get surprised by faulty ballots or late campaign developments. Heavy absentee voting might be good for the parties, but it’s bad for democracy.

"Schultz commentary: Parties push absentee ballots on unsuspecting voters".

"Dysfunctional madhouse"

Tom Lyons on Jennifer Carroll, Florida’s lieutenant governor. Lyons admits he "didn’t know all that much about her, either, but that has changed of late."

Who wouldn’t now love to know for sure what the heck has been going on in Carroll’s capitol building office and on her official overnight trips, if even half of what a former aide says is true?

That former aide, Carletha Cole, is now a felony defendant, charged with the heinous crime of giving a reporter a recording of an office conversation, possibly taped in secret, to help show what she says was a dysfunctional madhouse.

Cole says in court documents that she was harassed vindictively — and that her criminal charges are now part of that — ever since she saw Carroll in a sexually compromising position in Carroll’s office with an employee of the same gender. . . .

Lt. Gov. Carroll’s reason for not wanting to be questioned under oath is exactly the reason I hope she has to.

Carroll just doesn’t want her elected office’s laundry — whether really dirty or only mildly muddy — to be further exposed in court. Nor does she want her image linked to all this stuff any more than it is now.

Well, golly, it’s tough being an elected official sometimes.

Too bad if being cross-examined under oath about what Cole says she saw wouldn’t be any more comfortable for Carroll than the time she so awkwardly explained to reporters how such a thing is not possible for someone who looks like her.

I’d pay to see her on the witness stand having another go at that.

"Hoping Carroll is told to testify". Background: "Fla. judge to decide whether to shield Carroll".

"A simple-minded and dangerous way of thinking"

Scott Maxwell: Florida "legislators have become increasingly angry about not getting their way. So they vowed to exact revenge and reshape the state's entire court system."

They became petulant boys trying to undo generations of work by great men.

After House Speaker Dean Cannon lost an argument in front of the Supreme Court, Cannon actually tried to break apart the state's highest court.

He wanted to split the court in two, paving the way for new justices more to his liking.

His proposal was ultimately watered down. What's left is Amendment 5, which, among other things, would give the Legislature the power to overrule the courts on certain rules and procedures.

You'll have the chance to vote that down in November.

And now, Cannon's Republican Party of Florida has upped the stakes, launching a battle to remove members of the Supreme Court whom it doesn't like.

You see, for some people, the definition of an "activist judge" is simply one who makes a ruling with which they disagree.

It's a simple-minded and dangerous way of thinking.

"Petulant politicians wage war on Florida courts".


"The 9,000 people expected to swoop in next week for the final presidential debate at Lynn University will be providing an economic boost during Palm Beach County’s off-season." "Lynn debate expected to boost PB County economy".

Presidential candidates see Treasure Coast

"Presidential candidates now see Treasure Coast as appealing campaign stop".

"The poster child for the next worker-rights campaign"

Beth Kassab: "Darden Restaurants just became the poster child for the next worker-rights campaign in Orange County. With an experiment designed to test whether it can still serve up Olive Garden breadsticks hot and fast enough with an even larger number of part-time vs. full-time workers, Darden also is dishing up a hearty helping of corporate distrust."

The Sentinel's Sandra Pedicini uncovered and reported how the chain that also owns Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse is testing whether it can run restaurants mostly with workers who clock fewer than 30 hours a week. That way, the company can avoid the cost of offering them a health plan under the Affordable Care Act.
"Darden doesn't help image by cutting hours".

"The spectrum of Florida voters"

"To capture voices across the spectrum of Florida voters, Malone and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Patrick Farrell logged more than 2,000 miles during a 10-day trek crisscrossing Florida. Their criteria: to get personal stories from a cross-section of Floridians, then layer in the politics." "The eloquent voices of Florida’s voters".

"Tea party/GOP conspiracy to win the country for corporate America"

Stephen Goldstein writes about the "nationwide strategy of voter suppression."

The clumsy model for it was home-grown in Florida in 2000, when Gov. Jeb Bush and his puppet, Secretary of State Katherine Harris, purged voter rolls with abandon.

This year, it's been refined and become brazen.

On the flimsy, and disproven, contention that voter fraud is epidemic, 12 years later, tea party/Republican governors and their party-dominated legislatures all across the country followed the same playbook — reducing or eliminating the days and hours for early voting, requiring picture identification, challenging the legitimacy of registered voters. In fact, it has been a blatant attempt to disenfranchise traditional Democratic voters — for example, minorities, older voters, college students.

Now, directly or indirectly, every American has gotten to experience the rejection and connivance that would-be African-American voters routinely experienced in the Jim Crow South. Fortunately, the Department of Justice and the courts have intervened to stop some suppression efforts. But the bitterness of the attempt will not be lost on voters — ever.

The net result of the tea party/GOP conspiracy to win the country for corporate America is the greatest threat to the survival of our founding principles in all of our history. To set out to deny people the right to vote is so dastardly, that it is unthinkable, were it not so open and blatant.

""Shining city" on verge of ash heap".

"'snowbirds' and special interests"

"Amendment 4 seeks major reforms to Florida’s property tax system. Supporters say its passage will revitalize the housing industry, while opponents slam it as a tax break that favors 'snowbirds' and special interests." "Amendment 4 offers big tax break for some, big revenue drain for local governments". See also "Realtors, local governments spar over effects of property tax amendment".