Wednesday, October 03, 2012

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

Registrations, lies and the FDLE

Ashley Lopez: "In the mother of all ironies, the Florida Republican Party is embroiled in a voter fraud scandal, putting hundreds of voter registration forms in about 10 counties in question." "Florida GOP Caught in Voter Fraud Scandal". "On Tuesday, new details emerged that Strategic Allied Consulting knew of problems in Florida weeks ago in what is now a case of possible voter registration fraud in a dozen counties."

"I have grave concerns not just about the Republican National Committee's decision to retain this company, but also about what the company has allegedly done," said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland in a statement to the Times/Herald. "Contrary to a 'zero-tolerance' policy, it appears that the RNC knew exactly what it was doing when it hired this company as the only one it uses to conduct this kind of work across the country."

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is asking that Sproul make himself available for an Oct. 12 interview and provide copies of correspondence with state and national Republicans. Sproul's firm was the only vendor hired by the RNC to register voters in seven battleground states and was paid $3 million.

"Republicans say they didn't hear about the flawed forms until a week later when told about them by a Palm Beach Post reporter. But Cheryl Johnson, Lee County's voter registration director, told the Times/Herald on Tuesday that she noticed some odd applications that came quite a bit earlier, on Aug. 28."
Fred Petti, an attorney for Strategic Allied Consulting, failed to mention the Lee County problem to the Times/Herald last week as the news broke.

During a phone interview Friday, as he explained that one employee was responsible for the flawed registration forms in Palm Beach, he said he didn't know about reports of other flagged forms in other counties.

"This is the only person we've fired for this," Petti said, referring to the Palm Beach employee. "The only thing we've seen are the forms in Palm Beach."

When asked about Lee County on Tuesday, however, Petti apologized. "I'm sorry," Petti said. "I was running around like crazy that day. If I said something that was inaccurate, I didn't do it intentionally. I was so focused on Palm Beach County. I wasn't purposely trying to mislead you."

"It's unknown how extensive the registration form problem is in Florida."
David Leibowitz, spokesman for Strategic Allied Consulting, said many thousands more filed by the firm are legitimate. The FDLE is reviewing the forms for possible criminal misconduct.

But it poses a crisis for Sproul, a Tempe, Ariz., native who also owns Lincoln Strategy Group, which received about $70,000 from Romney for President Inc.

After graduating in 1994 from the Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Minnesota, Sproul went to Washington as an intern for then-U.S. Rep. Jon Kyl of Arizona. Later he became director of the Christian Coalition Arizona branch, then executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. In 2002, he started his own consulting firm, Sproul & Associates.

"Firm knew weeks ago of faulty forms".

"Sparks are flying"

"Regulators announced approval of a 10.8 percent rate increase for homeowners with Florida’s last-resort insurer Citizens Tuesday, but sparks are flying over a plan that would write $350 million in checks from the ratepayers’ surplus to lure private insurers to take over customers." "Consumer advocates blast Citizens’ rate increase, question plan to move customers".

"It's not clear where the money will come from"

"The state Board of Education is set to take up a budget proposal that would make a massive investment in computers and broadband connectivity, but it's not clear where the money will come from." "State education officials propose $440 million for classroom technology".

Will he sing about bombing Iran?

"McCain campaigns for Romney in Tallahassee today".

Voter suppression laws "getting walloped" in courts

The Nation's Ari Berman: "Pennsylvania is one of eleven voter suppression laws passed by Republicans since the 2010 election that have been invalidated by state or federal courts in the past year, including in crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin." "Courts Block GOP Voter Suppression Laws". See also "GOP voter laws getting walloped by the courts".

Restoration campaign

"Six million Americans, including 1.5 million Floridians can't vote because of felony convictions. While more than 154,000 people had their voting rights restored during the Crist administration, 78 ex-felons regained that right in 2011. Florida releases from custody about 50,000 ex-felons annually." "NAACP brings campaign for voting rights restoration to Capitol".

Let them go to Gulliver Prep*

"In May 2011, in front of hundreds of cheering supporters in The Villages, under a banner proclaiming "Promises Made, Promises Kept," Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a state budget that cut nearly $1.4 billion from Florida's public schools. Sixteen months later, the GOP legislators who passed that budget at Scott's urging are under siege across Florida from Democrats who accuse them of slashing pre-K-12 funding and sacrificing traditional public schools in favor of alternatives such as charter and private schools."

In Central Florida, Democrat Karen Castor Dentel has sent mailers blistering her opponent, Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood, as "wrong, wrong, wrong on schools." In television ads, the Maitland public-school teacher tells voters, "I've seen firsthand how Tallahassee is hurting our schools."

Democrat Frank Bruno, campaigning for a Senate seat that covers parts of Volusia, Lake and Marion counties, has attacked his opponent, Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, for supporting a Legislature that "guts the public schools that middle-class families rely on."

Similar strategies are playing out in other parts of the state. In a South Florida Senate race between two incumbents, Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs of Delray Beach has a new television ad blistering Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale for voting in favor of nearly $2 billion worth of public-school spending cuts plus "a voucher scheme that drains millions more." Television ads for Democratic House candidates from Jacksonville to St. Petersburg to Miami all promise to invest more money in public education.

Expanding on the theme, the Florida Democratic Party this week began distributing fliers on college campuses across the state reminding students that the Legislature also cut $300 million from state universities this year.

"Public-school cuts weigh on Republicans in state races".

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*The private school where "Jeb!" saw fit to send George Prescott Bush to school.

Number of registered voters has risen since 2008

"Statewide, the number of registered voters has risen since the 2008 presidential race, in large part reflecting an increase in voters not affiliated with either of the major parties."

According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of August, there were 2,454,020 voters listed as having no party affiliation, an increase of more than 320,000 since Oct. 2008, just before the presidential election.

Overall 11,700,603 Floridians were registered as of September 29, about 117,000 more than in August and up from 11,386,103 four years ago. The 2012 number almost certainly has risen as the election nears and registration work intensifies, as well as with a recent court ruling easing restrictions on third-party registration organizations like the League of Women Voters.

Within the last month, voter registration numbers have risen for both political parties.

As of Sept. 29, the most recent data available, 4,199,692 Florida voters were registered as Republicans, up from 4,173,177 through August. Democrat registrations rose to 4,676,595 as of Sept. 29, up from 4,627,929 a month earlier.

"Palm Beach County voter registration numbers rise in final push before election".

And so it begins

"Thousands of South Florida voters can now begin casting ballots for president – even before Barack Obama and Mitt Romney meet Wednesday night for the first of three debates. But not yet in Broward County. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher began mailing absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 election on Tuesday. The 110,000 Broward voters who've already requested absentee ballots have to wait another week. Broward's go in the mail starting Oct. 9." "Florida presidential voting about to begin".

Text messages trouble

"Mayor Teresa Jacobs on Tuesday criticized the Orlando Sentinel for a story about text messages that she said distorted how she and those around her dealt with the fierce debate over a proposed Orange County sick-time ballot measure. . . . Jacobs, who declined to comment for the original Sentinel article, said at the County Commission meeting on Tuesday that the wrongly attributed texts left a false impression that she had been lobbied on the issue." "Jacobs blasts sick-time story".

60 percent to 70 percent of voting done before Election Day

Jeremy Wallace: "Statewide, Florida elections officials have seen absentee voting jump from 18 percent of general election ballots in 2004 to 22 percent in 2008. Some experts predict as many as one of every three votes cast this year will be absentee. Combined with early voting, the state now projects 60 percent to 70 percent of all voting will be done before Election Day." "Absentee voting surges".

The hypocrite in an empty suit

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The slew of negative ads that Gov. Rick Scott ran two years ago about his opponent's role with the state public pension fund helped him win the election. Scott claimed that once he was on the job, all would be well for the Florida Retirement System's nearly 900,000 current and retired members."

Yet, 21 months into the job, he has done little differently, and now outside advisers for a second year have warned the state it is investing too little to secure the pension fund long-term. It's time for the governor's actions to match his rhetoric.

Florida's pension fund remains relatively healthy compared to most states, but it still has not rebounded from billions lost in the 2008 financial crisis. Its nearly $130 billion in assets is enough to cover roughly 87 percent of its long-term liabilities. And changes in benefit accrual approved by the Legislature for state and some local government employees hired after July 1, 2011, will reduce the state's liability decades from now.

That hasn't stopped Scott from repeatedly pointing to the state's unfunded liability with dire warnings that employees' pensions could be in jeopardy. His hypocrisy: As one of the three trustees who oversee the pension fund's investments, he has yet to deliver a proposal to improve it.

"Pension promises still unmet". Related: "State pension's assumptions may change".

Did you know Floridians are "being put at risk by public-safety unions"?

The we-don't-want-our-employees-to-get-any-big-ideas crowd on the Palm Beach Post editorial board gives us this gem of an editorial today: "Ease threat to Florida cities from police, fire pensions".

The editorial, written by putative librul Randy Schultz, in an apparent fit of ignorance (we'll be polite and assume he's not stupid), writes that municipal pension changes will "keep cities from being put at risk by public-safety unions." With the little respect Mr. Schultz is apparently due, we urge him to delve into Florida's public sector labor laws; if he can piece his way through the big words, he'll learn that (1) pensions are mandatory subjects of bargaining; and (2) in bargaining, Florida's public employers have the right to unilaterally determine the contents of mandatory subjects of bargaining. So, there's no need for the Legislature to pass any more laws, Mr. Schultz, because Florida's city councils and commissions have all the authority they need to gut municipal police and fire pensions. And the cities are doing just that, Mr. Schultz, largely unhampered, all across the state.

"West, Murphy exchange fire"

"West, Murphy exchange fire in congressional campaign attack ads".

Where's Marco?

"In a unique case followed closely by immigration experts, the Florida Supreme Court will consider whether an undocumented immigrant can practice law in Florida. Jose Godinez-Samperio, 26, of Tampa, is the undocumented child of immigrants and a 'dreamer,' in the jargon of the DREAM Act." "Florida Supreme Court considers: Can immigrant illegally in U.S. practice law?" See also "Florida high court weighs noncitizen’s right to practice law in U.S.".

"Political grandstanding"

The Miami Herald editorial board: "With 11 amendments on the ballot, voters in the Sunshine State will face a lengthy series of proposed changes to the state Constitution, some of them downright confusing and nearly unintelligible. All of the proposals were cooked up in Tallahassee by lawmakers, who often seemed intent on political grandstanding rather than legislating to achieve narrow, often partisan objectives at the cost of fiddling around with the state’s basic document." "No to these amendments". The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Flunking Amendment 12". See also "Environmental opposition announced to Amendments 3, 4". Related: "Court ruling takes teeth out of proposed health care amendment".

"Much stranger, bizarre and improbable than anything a good novelist could make up"

Michael Putney writes that, as "Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen like to say, you can’t make this stuff up. The reality of South Florida politics is so much stranger, bizarre and improbable than anything a good novelist could make up. Consider: A political consultant sitting around naked with a gun telling her former husband that his weapon is nothing compared to hers? And then she squeezes off a round or two as he tries to leave. Yikes!" "David Rivera’s political scandal makes a splash".

"Easier time gaining access to Thomas Pynchon than to Florida Senate President Don Gaetz"

Daniel Ruth: "There's an old line that says if you are going to plot to kill the king, you darn sure better pull it off. Otherwise, unpleasantries ensue."

And that probably explains why longtime Tallahassee lobbyists Jack Cory and his wife, Kenya, are about to discover they'll have an easier time gaining access to Thomas Pynchon than to Florida Senate President Don Gaetz.

The Corys attempted to undermine Gaetz by supporting Senate candidates he opposed. They failed. Think of them as the collective Fredo Corleone of Tallahassee.

Gaetz was about as subtle as a dropped anvil when he called out the couple during a recent gathering of Associated Industries of Florida, where he was receiving an award — presumably for being such a sweetheart pal of the powerful lobbying group.

Let's leave aside for the moment the dubious honor of being recognized by the state's most prominent checkbook of influence-peddlers for being one of their favorite politicians. Gaetz took the plaque and then proceeded to slap AIF and the Corys around with it. Let's put it this way. Gaetz is a sore winner.

Gaetz was miffed that during the recent state Senate primary, the Corys had thrown in their lot with state Rep. Rachel Burgin rather than the Niceville Republican's preferred candidate, former Senate President Tom Lee.

Not only did the Corys support Burgin, they launched a smear campaign against Lee, taking note of his 2001 divorce and hinting the candidate had been a less than faithful husband. The image was in sharp contrast to their efforts to cast Burgin as a sort of Mother Teresa, only with better makeup. . . .

Burgin's loss to Lee and the sight of the Corys being served up as if it was Mel Gibson's unsightly demise in Braveheart ought to put an end to such misadventures. And in the spirit of comity, Gaetz insisted his impaling of the Corys was merely meant as an extension of an olive branch in effort to "repair relations" with the AIF.

Whew, that was close. Imagine how things might have unfolded if Gaetz had been really peeved.

"Gaetz's olive branch looks like a spear".

The right-wing's endless whine

"While prominent lawyers and interest groups around Florida are vociferously condemning organized opposition to the November retention of three of the Sunshine State’s Supreme Court justices, they are curiously silent on one party’s entrance into the public debate: the public-sector unions."

The Florida State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Florida Professional Firefighters (FPF) held a press conference Monday denouncing the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) for its week-old press release announcing the state GOP’s opposition to the merit-retention campaign of Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince.

The justices are accused of being left-wing judicial activists by the RPOF and by Restore Justice 2012, the not-for-profit that is spearheading efforts to remove them from the ballot in November. The two organizations have been criticized by prominent lawyers from the state of injecting politics and partisanship into the merit-retention race.

Critics include former Republican state Sen. Alex Villalobos, former Democratic state representative and American Bar Association president Sandy D'Alemberte, six former Supreme Court justices, several newspaper editorial boards and the pro-retention organizations Democracy at Stake and Defend Justice from Politics.

But for all their willingness to publicly criticize opponents of the justices for politicizing the retention race, none of these persons or organizations has offered a word of public criticism of the police or fire unions.

"Conflict of Interest? Unions Endorse Justices While Florida Supreme Court Decides Their Case". Background: "Police and fire unions blast GOP attack on Supreme Court". Meanwhile, Nancy Smith writes, "For Lord's sake, Floridians only get a say in their high court once every six years. The GOP has nothing to apologize for." "Merit Retention Exposes Warts on the Face of Florida's Legal System".