Wednesday, October 10, 2012

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

Dems heading to local elections offices to "Vote Now!"

"President Barack Obama’s campaign, eager to bank as many early votes as possible in Florida, is launching an unprecedented program to encourage supporters to vote by absentee ballot right away."

The "Vote Now!" initiative aims to spread the word that voters can go to their local elections office, request an absentee ballot, and complete and return the ballot on the spot. That option has been available for years, but this is the first time a campaign has organized a statewide effort to promote the process.

"We’re encouraging voters to not wait and cast their ballot today," said Ashley Walker, Florida director of the Obama for America campaign. "We will be utilizing all of the resources we have available to us to ensure folks know about this option, and understand how it works. We want to make this election as easily accessible and open to any eligible voter as possible."

"The Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott last year cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight and eliminated early voting on the Sunday before election day — over the objections of Democratic leaders. The Florida Obama campaign decided in response to make more of a push on absentee ballots, and encourage people to treat them much like in-person early voting, which doesn’t start until Oct. 27."
Florida Democrats have enjoyed a significant advantage over Republicans with in-person early votes since that option began in 2002, while Republicans have long had an advantage with absentee voting. Early absentee ballot statistics this year show Democrats significantly cutting into that traditional GOP advantage in Florida — in 2008 Republicans requested 15 percent more absentee ballots than Democrats, but so far this year Republicans have requested only 4 percent more — and the "Vote Now!" effort underway quietly for several weeks could help continue that trend.
"President Obama’s campaign makes massive Florida push for absentee votes".

"Embarrassing three-year saga for the Republican Party of Florida"

"A Tallahassee judge refused Monday to dismiss a civil lawsuit by former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer against the party and two prominent state senators."

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper heard for the first time the details of Greer’s suit, filed after the party reneged on a 2010 agreement to give the embattled former chairman $124,000 in severance pay.

The deal was struck in secret as the state Republican Party tried to force Greer, accused of funneling $300,000 from the party to his private company, out the door.

Greer also named Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, then the incoming party chairman, as defendants in the suit.

"For two hours, attorneys for Haridopolos and Thrasher argued their clients couldn’t be personally responsible for the contract because they had signed the agreement as officials, not as individuals."
Greer’s attorney, Damon Chase, retorted that Thrasher and Haridopolos were not party officials at that time, and had no authority to sign on the party’s behalf. At that time, Thrasher was in line to be party chairman, and Haridopolos was in line to be Senate president. Haridopolos and Thrasher promised in the contract to do all they could to make sure Greer got his severance. . . .

The lawsuit is a subplot in an embarrassing three-year saga for the Republican Party of Florida. In May depositions, Greer called party leaders “whack-a-do, right-wing crazies” and accused them of conspiring to suppress the black vote.

A grand jury in 2010 indicted Greer on multiple fraud counts, and the criminal trial is scheduled for February.

"Judge won’t dismiss Greer’s civil case".

"A vast expansion of school vouchers to religious schools"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Amendment 8 is the polar opposite of religious freedom. It opens the door to taxpayers being forced to support religious faiths and to a vast expansion of school vouchers to religious schools." "No on funding religions".

Time share sleaze threatens to fire employees if Obama wins

"Orlando time-share mogul David Siegel has told his 7,000 employees that if Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is not elected, he may have to lay people off -- and might even retire and take their 'opportunities' with him to a beach in the Caribbean."

In a e-mail to all his employees, Siegel said that he did not want to tell them how to vote -- but wanted them to know that another four years of President Barack Obama could make it tough for him to keep people employed.

"You see, I can no longer support a system that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive," he concludes. "My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, so will your opportunities. If that happens, you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about.

"Time-share mogul tells employees to vote for Romney -- to save their jobs".

I think he meant "entrepreneurial spirit"

"Former Gov. Jeb Bush, campaigning for Mitt Romney Tuesday, said a Romney administration would 'unleash the animal spirits of the country' with his plans to deregulate business and simplify taxes." "Jeb Bush in Orlando: Romney would 'unleash' entrepreneurs".

Scott claims he knows nuthin'

"If you want to know why the Republican Party of Florida has opposed the retention of three Florida Supreme Court justices, 'ask them.' That was Gov. Rick Scott's answer when reporters asked him repeatedly on Tuesday."

Talking to the media in his Capitol office following the state Cabinet meeting, Scott responded to a series of questions about the RPOF executive committee's decision to oppose the three justices, as well as his support for a party fundraising letter that focused on removing noncitizens from the lists of registered voters.

"The Republican Party makes the decision about what they want to get involved in," Scott said.

Scott also added that he doesn’t get involved in the state party and that "Lenny Curry runs the Republican Party of Florida."

"Rick Scott: RPOF Can Think on Its Own".

A Palm Beach County thing

"been targeted for defeat by conservative groups, at least 60,000 absentee voters in Palm Beach County may have difficulty finding the judges' names on the November ballot. While the error appears to be a far cry from the infamous 2000 butterfly ballot that spurred people to vote for a different presidential candidate than they intended, the effects could be equally severe, said an attorney for the justices who also represented George W. Bush in the county’s 12-year-old election debacle." "Florida ballot snafu draws fears of voter confusion in court elections".

"The risk of being accused by the pitchfork wing of his party as being a Marxist/socialist tool of the Trilateral Commission"

Daniel Ruth: "How unthinkable was this? Pigs were flying! Cows were jumping over the moon! The sun rose in the west! The Koch brothers voted for a Democrat!"

But there it was for all the world to see. A Republican, most notably incoming Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, had actually — for the moment, at least — stood up to protect consumers from the onerous clutches of a government-run insurance company run amok in its own hubris.

Wait a minute! Was that a snowball fight breaking out in hell?

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who will soon assume the reins of the speakership, dashed off a letter to Carlos Lacasa, the head of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., suggesting not too subtly that it might be a really good idea to halt a loopy idea to divert $350 million to a bunch of tree shade insurance companies.

"Unlike in other speaker successions, departing Speaker Dean Cannon kept Weatherford on a short leash during the last legislative session, affording him little opportunity to establish a leadership style. Now we have learned Weatherford might actually have an interest in governing and representing Floridians rather than dictating and acting for special interests like Cannon did. Who knew?"
But he better be careful. If the speaker is perceived to be too consumer-friendly he runs the risk of being accused by the pitchfork wing of his party as being a Kenya-born, Marxist/socialist tool of the Trilateral Commission.
"Stop presses: Politician supports consumers". Related: "Citizens’ move to delay $350M loan falls short for Weatherford". More: "Citizens slows loan program, wants independent review" and "Citizens Property Panel: Hire Firm to Take a Look at Loan Program".

Florida Legislature drafted amendments with intent to discourage working-class people from voting

Fabiola Santiago: " Neither good intentions nor true desire for voter input placed the 11 state constitutional amendments on a crowded ballot headlined by a presidential election. One clue: misleading and confusing language. The overwhelmingly Republican Florida Legislature drafted them knowing that long lines at the polls are more likely to discourage working-class people from voting, among them women and minorities unable to take large chunks of time off." "Intent of 11 ballot questions was to deceive".

The crazies like Scott, so he must be good

Nancy Smith says, "woe is the Democrat who thinks Rick Scott is chopped liver in 2014."

On the contrary. Not only is Florida's 45th governor politically alive and well, he probably has his lineup of limp-wristed potential opponents exactly where he wants them.

Never mind Scott's approval numbers, voters have said in surveys they like his policies. And now the Wall Street Journal and the libertarian Cato Institute say they do, too.

Scott was celebrated in the pages of the Journal on Tuesday as the co-top-rated governor in the country -- tied for No. 1 of 50 -- for his determined fiscal stewardship. He was one of only four governors to be given a grade of "A" for cutting taxes and spending.

The Cato Institute, 6th most influential U.S.-based think tank, said this of Scott: "(He) has championed major tax and spending reforms. He has proposed substantial budget cuts, vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars of wasteful spending and trimmed state employment.

"Democrats, Don't Go Counting Your Chickens in 2014 Just Yet".

Obama’s 2012 ground game is even bigger than four years ago

"Paul Ryan’s mother visited a crowded Mitt Romney campaign phone bank Monday".


Obama’s 2012 ground game is bigger and more sophisticated than four years ago in Florida.

The Obama campaign had 58 field offices in Florida in 2008; it has 102 this year, including 9 in Palm Beach County. The president’s reelection campaign schedules multiple events every week throughout Florida to fire up supporters or make local elected officials available to the media to comment on national campaign themes.

On the last Saturday in September, the Obama campaign said it held more than 1,000 grass roots events and registered more than 10,000 voters across the state.

“Since this election is going to be won by having conversations block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood, reaching out to Floridians, our grassroots army is working to ensure Floridians make their voice heard this election by voting to reelect President Obama,” said Eric Jotkoff, a Florida spokesman for the Obama campaign.

"Florida ground game: Paul Ryan’s mom helps out".

Never mind the $1.3 billion cut in school funding

"Gov. Rick Scott continued his new-found focus on education Tuesday, announcing that he would seek $2 million from next year’s legislature to finance a teacher training program."

Scott spoke Tuesday alongside his Governor’s Office desk, atop which sits a small chalkboard that touts, “Over $1 billion in NEW education funding.” The motto represents the amount he and the Legislature increased public school dollars this fall.

Unmentioned, however, is the $1.3 billion cut in school funding that he signed into law last year. Also not addressed is a lawsuit now before the Florida Supreme Court challenging Scott and the legislature for ordering public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to belong to the Florida Retirement System.

"Gov. Scott proposes grant program for teacher-training". Related: "BOE to seek increase in budget, flexibility from Legislature".

New chairman of the House Appropriations Committee

"State Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, has been named by House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee." "Will Weatherford Taps Seth McKeel as Appropriations Chairman". See also "Speaker-designate Weatherford taps Rep. McKeel as budget chair".

We'll wait until after the election on that

"The state Board of Education delayed a decision on whether to appeal a judge’s ruling that would require in-state tuition rates for Florida residents who are dependent children of illegal immigrants. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore last month sided with five students who argued current policy violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution." "Board delays action on immigration suit".

Bought and paid for

"More than $150 million has been spent already on the legislatives races in Florida this year, with a month left until the votes are tallied. Another $50 million-plus was currently available for additional TV, print and Internet ads as October began, according to numbers released Monday by the Florida Chamber of Commerce." "Florida Legislative Contests Have Attracted $200 Million".

Scott Walker speaks to Florida Chamber

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave Florida business leaders a history lesson Monday night at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Florida Forum at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club in Orlando." "Scott Walker Offers Florida Businesses a Lesson in Wisconsin ‘Frugality’".


"Crist endorses Fitzgerald in House race".

"On a slippery slope"

"SB 1516 in 2010 required the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Management Services to inventory land and buildings for possible sale. Some legislators said in 2010 that Florida owns too much land and should sell some to raise revenue. But environmentalists said they were concerned that prime conservation land could be sold. Although it wouldn't seem there has been the rush to sell land as perhaps bill supporters hoped or opponents feared, Audubon Florida points to the possible land swap along the Suwannee River as proof the state is on a slippery slope." "Proposed land swap along Suwannee River fuels concerns about future state land sales".

Dems convene circular firing squad

"Jose Vazquez, the Democratic state House District 58 candidate who has voiced plans to quit the race, said Tuesday he awaits word from the party's headquarters."

The 38-year-old Brandon man, whose Republican opponent is Plant City Commissioner Dan Raulerson, said withdrawal hinges on the party's response to his inquiry about whether it plans to replace him on the ticket.

"If they give me a guarantee the party won't fill the seat, I'll step out," Vazquez said in a telephone interview. Because the Hillsborough County Democratic Party never recruited a candidate for the seat, it has no right to fill it, he said.

The feud began last week when the candidate's photograph and website link were removed from the party website. Vazquez initially threatened to withdraw unless Chairman Chris Mitchell resigned.

"District 58 candidate waits for party's response before quitting race".

Romney dispatches second team to Florida

"Ann Romney to visit Moffitt; Ryan preps in St. Pete for debate".

Wingnuts accuse Samuel L. Jackson of racism in Florida ad

Anthony Man: "Randall Terry's ad, which is only getting a few showings in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach TV markets, is guaranteed to grab attention and repulse many people at the same time."

The ad, titled "Samuel L. Jackson Carries Water for Racists," rips the actor for his support for President Barack Obama and asserts that abortion amounts to "black genocide" because African-American fetuses are aborted.
"Anti-abortion candidate puts graphic ads on TV".

"Another case of deception"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "In another case of deception, the Florida Legislature has placed two health care-related amendments on the ballot with titles that don’t come close to describing their mischief." "Reject amendments on health care".

"The more pernicious type of fraud"

"The obviously fraudulent applications filed by a vendor hired by the Republican Party of Florida have gained wide attention in a case that’s now being investigated by law enforcement."

The dead woman registered to vote in Santa Rosa County. Phony addresses in Palm Beach County for voters that led to a gas station, a Land Rover dealership and the Port Everglades administration office.

But it’s not blatant fraud like this that has elections experts worried about possible voting mayhem come November. Rather, it’s the re-registration of voters, where personal information such as someone’s party affiliation, signature or address could have been changed without the person’s knowledge. . . .

The more pernicious type of fraud is where they change the addresses of people already registered, so that when they go to vote, they’ll be at the wrong precinct.”

And unlike the rarer type of voter fraud that Republicans fret about, where ineligible voters cast a ballot, this type of fraud could turn away eligible voters, suppressing turnout.

If voters had their addresses switched by someone else to a location within the county where they are already registered, then they will have to fill out change-of-address forms on Election Day before being allowed to cast a ballot. This would add time at the polls, but generally wouldn’t cause any further complications, Smith said.

If, however, voters had their addresses switched to a location outside the county from where are registered, then they will have to fill out a provisional ballot — a type of voting that had a rejection rate of 50 percent in 2008. It’s a new requirement that Republican lawmakers passed last year that gives voters until 5 p.m. on Nov. 8 to prove that they are eligible to vote, Smith said, an extra step that many won’t take.

"In voter registration fraud case, it's not Mickey Mouse you have to worry about". Frank Cerabino has a little fun with Scott's accidental irony, wondering if "Scott’s letter was really just the work of a master satirist pretending to be the governor. How else can you explain a letter soliciting donations to the Republican Party of Florida to stamp out voter fraud while the Republican Party of Florida was working feverishly to distance itself from an ongoing voter-fraud scandal? That letter is the work of a modern day, Moliere, Jonathan Swift, or Eugene Ionesco. Not Scott. Scott’s too painfully humorless to pull off such a tidy piece of literary farce." "When it comes to voter fraud, only the real Gov. Rick Scott will do".

Charter madness

"The State Board adopted a new strategic plan Tuesday that envisions about 17 percent of one-time public school students attending either charters — public schools run by private groups — or using taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools by the 2017-18 school year. This year, about 9 percent of students are in charter schools or using Tax Credit or McKay scholarships." "State education leaders seek to double enrollment in charter schools".

Atwater, Bondi afraid to take position on RPOF retention imbroglio

Some of Florida's top Republicans are refusing to back their own party when it comes to the fate of three state Supreme Court justices on this year's ballot.

The Republican Party of Florida is officially urging its members to vote down the justices, citing past decisions, including a notorious north Florida death penalty case. If the justices are ousted, GOP Gov. Rick Scott would get to appoint new people to the bench.

Some Republican elected officials, however, are taking a fine line with the issue, saying that party leaders had the right to voice their opposition but then refusing to say if they share that viewpoint.

"I don't know of any elected official that was out suggesting this is an idea we should be taking to the Republican Party of Florida," said Jeff Atwater, the state's chief financial officer and a Republican. "I don't know if it's the best place for the party to be."

Florida since the '70s has had in place a system where the governor appoints Supreme Court justices but then they are subject to an up-or-down vote every six years.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is also refusing to say if she agrees with the decision that was made late last month by the Republican Party executive board.

"Fla. AG and top GOP officials won't back party".

"Attack on the independence of the state judiciary by the Republican Legislature"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Amendment 5 on the general election ballot has a long, complex summary of nearly 600 words that is purposely confusing to voters. Here’s the bottom line: The amendment is an attack on the independence of the state judiciary by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature." "Reject effort to meddle with courts".

"Sleeper legislative campaign of the season"

"In what may be the sleeper legislative campaign of the season, Sen. Gwen Margolis, the veteran Democrat from Miami, is getting a run for her money — literally — from Miami Beach lawyer John Couriel in the newly drawn coastal district."

Margolis has loaned herself $160,000 to win re-election to Senate District 35, which stretches from Golden Beach to Homestead. But she is being out-raised and, thus far, outspent by Republican newcomer, John Couriel, a Miami Beach lawyer.

Couriel, 34, has collected $213,830 in campaign contributions to Margolis’ $174,093 and has won the endorsements of former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. A Harvard-educated lawyer, Couriel quit his job as an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami to run for the seat and vows to out-campaign Margolis, 78, a former state Senate president who was first elected to the state House in 1974.

"Margolis is outraised by surprise newcomer in Senate race".