Sunday, November 11, 2012

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

Florida "a freak show"

"Scott on Friday defended the state’s handling of the election, while his elections chief said the state bears some responsibility for long voting lines and late vote counts."

As his top elections official conceded that the state bears responsibility for long lines and late vote counts that have made Florida a target of national ridicule, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday defended the state’s handling of the election.
"[I]n an exclusive interview with the Herald/Times, Scott made no apologies for the problems that led to an incomplete final vote count Friday, three days after the election."
From author Carl Hiaasen on CBS (“a freak show”) to The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart (bleeped-out expletives for Florida), writers and comedians have had a field day lampooning the state’s latest electoral embarrassment. The scrutiny would have been immeasurably worse if Ohio had not sealed President Barack Obama’s re-election.

But it’s no joke, and the most ferocious criticism is aimed squarely at Scott, the former hospital-chain CEO who repeatedly urges people to hold him accountable for his performance.

For years,
Republican legislators in Tallahassee have ignored pleas by county election supervisors to let them expand early voting to sites beyond their own offices, city halls and libraries, so crowds at each site would be smaller.

For the past three years, Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, filed bills to add flexibility to the choices of early voting sites. The 2012 version, SB 516, was shelved and never heard by a committee chaired by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, whose county had by far the longest lines and who voted with other Republicans to reduce early voting days.

“The Legislature wouldn’t hear that bill,” Rich said. “The governor and Republican-dominated Legislature caused this to happen, by reducing early voting days and by putting all of those constitutional amendments on the ballot.”

Rich and other Democrats say the limited sites and long ballot were a sinister plot by Republicans to make it harder for Democrats to vote.

Elections are run by counties in Florida, but are governed by state law.

In 2011, Scott signed into law changes that cut early voting days from 14 to eight. As the early voting lines grew longer last month, he refused requests to issue an executive order adding more days. The day after the election, he said: “Let’s look and see what we can improve.”

In turning down a request last week by Monroe County elections chief Harry Sawyer to add additional days of early voting, Detzner said the state had no authority to do so except during a state of emergency that could risk lives or property.

CNN’s Banfield, who said she spent 14 hours at Miami-area voting sites Tuesday, peppered Detzner with tough questions and demanded he explain why the state didn’t expand the locations.

“We were following the law,” Detzner said. “It appears as though now we need to redress the issue regarding the locations. The governor has asked me to look at that issue.”

Banfield told viewers it was time for Scott to “face the music” and explain what went wrong.

As she closed her program, Friday, she spoke directly to Scott, noting that he has declined two offers to appear on the air.

"Gov. Scott defends Florida elections process". Meanwhile, "2012 Election Results Won't Alter How Rick Scott Looks to 2014".

"After Election Day, America went to bed — four times — and still the Sunshine State hadn't declared official results. Days later, we were still counting, despite presidential challenger Mitt Romney conceding. And while Florida once again held up the nation's final election tally, the nation held Florida in ridicule, wondering why we can't get our election act together." "Florida's 2012 election mess: Heavy turnout, wordy ballot, fewer early voting days".

Carl Hiaasen: "The 2012 presidential race was basically over last Tuesday night when precincts in Cleveland and other key areas began reporting. President Obama’s victory was announced shortly after 11 p.m., while many Miami voters were still waiting in long lines."

To their honor, lots of them stayed and voted anyway.

On Wednesday, Floridians awoke to learn that thousands of ballots remained uncounted in Miami-Dade and several other counties. As the sorting process dragged into Thursday, we all began hearing from friends and relatives living in normal places where elections are conducted without scandal or farce.

"Whether it was a text, e-mail or phone call, the gist of the inquiry was the same:"
What is wrong with your state?

CBS asked me the same question, and all I could say was: “It’s a freak show.”

Yes, Florida’s ballot was ridiculously long, stacked with dense constitutional amendments.

Yes, exceptionally long poll lines were made worse by the Legislature’s decision to cut the early-voting period from 14 days to eight days. It was one of several Republican strategies to stifle turnout in the cities, and it backfired.

And yes, Gov. Scott could have made the election go smoother if he hadn’t refused to extend polling hours for early voting. However, there was scant chance of the governor lifting a finger to help urban Hispanics or African-Americans cast ballots, because they often vote Democrat.

Adding to those factors last week were the same demons that helped send the 2000 presidential contest to the Supreme Court — random bungling, lack of preparation and free-floating confusion.

Chads or no chads, Florida simply isn’t equipped to run a major election. We’re in way over our heads, and we should admit it.

"Once again, Florida’s the national punchline". See also "The election jokes are all on Florida". The Miami Herald editorial board: "Time to get it right". The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Big losers Tuesday: Politicians’ sneaky proposals".

Late to the Game

"Ken Detzner: Wait Time at Election Sites Will Be Reduced".

Bondi strikes bad deal

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Attorney General Pam Bondi assured Floridians that $300 million from a national mortgage settlement would go to distressed homeowners. She can’t keep that promise, though, because she’s given the Florida Legislature control over most of the money." "Bondi struck bad deal on $200 million from mortgage fraud settlement".

Has Nelson's Moment Arrived?

"Democrat Bill Nelson made the state and the nation a promise in his acceptance speech Tuesday night: He said he will be the voice of moderation, the voice of bipartisanship. He said he will work to unite the country." "Has Bill Nelson's Moment Finally Arrived?".

"GOP’s far-right direction has turned off many Floridians"

The Miami Herald editors believe "voters sent a signal to Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans that they’ve gone too far right" "Florida GOP’s overreach".

Legislature "an extremist, special-interest-driven morass that disrespects the constitution"

Scott Maxwell: "The legislature has mutated from a respected institution designed to do the people's will into an extremist, special-interest-driven morass that disrespects the constitution as much its constituents."

Tuesday's election was a repudiation of Tallahassee's status quo.

Powerful incumbents lost.

The Legislature's attack on the courts failed.

Most of the legislators' ham-fisted attempts to muck up the constitution — and clog up voting lines — went down in flames.

And, most historically, Central Florida voters appear to have done something that hasn't happened in a quarter-century in this state: oust a future speaker of the House — a man who embodied much of what is out of whack.

This wasn't just a liberal rebellion against power-drunk Republicans. It was the work of another, neglected group of people I often write about: the "common-sense conservatives" often abused by the hacks who rule in their name.

Collectively, voters of all stripes finally stood up to say our state deserves better.

They were citizens who don't like politicians playing games with democracy — such as gerrymandered districts. . . .

And in the most remarkable event in the entire state, Seminole County voters appear to have ousted House speaker-to-be Chris Dorworth — from a district that was specifically drawn to keep him safe, stocked with 25 percent more Republicans than Democrats.

"Voters upend Tallahassee's status quo". The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Election proves voters prefer pragmatic course".

"Officially Blue"

"Florida Officially Goes Blue for Obama".

Dorworth Says Defeat Is Likely, Recount Begins Today

Note: The Machine recount begins at 1:00 this afternoon, preceded by logic and accuracy testing. It is expected that this automatic recount will keep the race within 0.25% of the total votes cast, leading to a hand recount (with counting tables trying to discern "voter intent", observers and all that) in the next several days. We will be updating regularly on Twitter. "Chris Dorworth Says Defeat Is Likely; GOP Rallies Around Steve Crisafulli".

Early vote recount set for Sunday in West contest

"Returns submitted to the state Division of Elections today show Democrat Patrick Murphy edging Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West by 2,442 votes or 0.74 percent — a big enough margin to avoid an automatic recount under state law."

But the counting isn’t completely finished.

St. Lucie County’s elections canvassing board has scheduled an emergency meeting for 7 a.m. Sunday to recount all the early votes cast in the county. Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker on Wednesday estimated there were about 37,000 early votes.

West has not conceded and has raised questions about the early vote tally after some electronic memory cards storing early ballots could not initially be counted Tuesday night. The ballots were counted later in the evening and turned a narrow West lead into a small Murphy advantage.

"Murphy tops West, but partial recount set for Sunday morning". See also "Partial recount underway in West-Murphy race".

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Dems Move Forward; GOP Still in Control".

Public employees at work

"Broward Sheriff Fire-Rescue's technical rescue team lifted El Saidy, one of six workers on the job, from the bottom of the tank in a basket." "Worker rescued after fall into water tank".

"Scott and his Bowery Boys of the ballot"

Daniel Ruth writes that "the extremist losers this week look like a gathering of weevils."

But perhaps the most notable Sad Sack of the stump who saw his duty and ducked it faster than the Duke of Windsor has to be Gov. Rick Scott, a man who gave up what's left of his integrity for the votes he abhors.

It was Scott, along with his Bowery Boys of the ballot in the Florida Legislature, who looked at all those minorities and Democrats voting early and thought to themselves, "Well! We'll just see about that. This democracy nonsense can only go so far."

Thus it was the Gov. Lepetomane of the Apalachee Parkway conspired with the Republican-led Legislature to reduce voting hours and otherwise make it more difficult to cast a ballot than catch a glimpse of the Florida swamp ape.

The deceit behind all this was that there was so much make-believe voter fraud occurring. But since nobody could come up with any proof of election hanky-panky, Scott and his little friends decided to commit some of their own voter suppression fraud, perhaps to show people how it's really done.

But the cynical ploy backfired as millions of Floridians defiantly stood in line for hours to commit the single most important act of citizenship — casting a vote, a civic duty the chief executive officer of the state showed little appetite for honoring.

Scott had a second chance. He could have ordered the voting hours to be extended. He could have sided with the public. He could have done the right thing. He took a pass — on democracy.

In 2014, Scott will be up for re-election, asking the public for their vote.

He can be sure Floridians will be more than happy to stand in line for as long as it takes to cast a ballot.

"Voters see through cash and chicanery".

They finally got un

"Non-citizen behind bars after illegally voting in presidential election".

"Epic" move to blue in Orange County

Beth Kassab: "This will go down as the year Orange County's swing between Republicans and Democrats finally came to a stop and landed on the left."

Orange is no longer up for grabs.

We now look an awful lot like Palm Beach County — one of the state's most heavily Democratic-leaning counties — but 10 degrees colder in the winter and no ocean view.

Last week's election confirmed what many have seen coming for much of the past decade: The increase in voters who are either Hispanic, young or both is dramatic.

"'Dramatic' is an understatement," Orange County Republican Party Chairman Lew Oliver said.

OK, then: epic.

Tuesday, President Obama won Orange County with 59 percent of the vote, about the same as in Palm Beach.

That wasn't all.

Alan Grayson won his congressional seat with 63 percent. Newcomer Karen Castor Dentel ousted incumbent Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon. Joe Saunders, one of two openly gay members of the state House elected this year, won by 12 points against his GOP opponent. Linda Stewart buried former legislator Bob Brooks.

The Democratic fever spilled all the way down the ballot to the constitutional offices, where longtime and well-respected Republican Property Appraiser Bill Donegan was unseated by no-name Democrat Rick Singh.

Orange County was once the epicenter of the I-4 corridor in the middle of the largest swing state.

Now Orange appears frozen in the D column among the other counties along Interstate 4 that have more potential to sway from R to D.

"Orange's political pendulum stops swinging".

Is Scott Softening on HCR?

"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, President Barack Obama has won re-election and a majority of Florida voters rejected Amendment 1, the effort to etch into the state constitution a permanent ban on mandatory health insurance. With the Affordable Care Act more certain than ever, some lawmakers are calling for a careful look at how to implement it here. Even Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a staunch opponent, appeared to be softening his longstanding refusal to acknowledge the law." "Florida moving to work on implementing health-care law".

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Scott's obsessive opposition to President Barack Obama's signature health reform law should not be the final word in Tallahassee, and the state’s Republican leadership should rise above partisanship and rigid ideology." "Time to put health care over politics".

"Then, there is Charlie Crist"

"President Barack Obama’s narrow victory over Mitt Romney in Florida this week has Democrats eager to seize the momentum to focus on the next hurdle: defeating Republican Gov. Rick Scott."

Party leaders are thumping their chest that the triumph was a repudiation of the tea party, a signal that the state party is out-of-touch and a blueprint for unseating Scott, the most unpopular governor in Florida in two decades. But Democrats have one big problem: no standout candidate to challenge him.

“Working on that one,’’ joked Scott Arceneaux, director of the Florida Democratic Party.

Their bench includes former legislators, failed former candidates, and a long list of mayors. Only state Sen. Nan Rich, of Weston, who is little known outside Tallahassee, has announced she is in the race.

Then, there is Charlie Crist.

The populist former governor is undergoing a metamorphosis that is substantial even by political standards. He left his party in 2010 as a candidate for U.S. Senate, ran without party affiliation and lost to Republican Marco Rubio.

As an independent, he has since spent this election cycle campaigning aggressively for Obama, chastising his former party for an “extremist” agenda, and, in the last week, he has been accelerating criticism against Rick Scott.

When Scott refused to extend early voting hours as Crist had done in 2008, Crist tweeted “indefensible.” When Scott defiantly defended his decision, Crist sent out a link to his statement and added: “I don’t think the people would agree, Governor.”

"Could Democrats tap former Gov. Charlie Crist to unseat Gov. Rick Scott in 2014?"

Tom Nickens: "Charlie Crist was waiting on a call and had to call me back."

No wonder.

The other caller turned out to be President Barack Obama. The president called the former Florida governor Thursday afternoon to offer his thanks for helping him win re-election. The two men talked briefly about how the voting mess here needs to be fixed.

And before he hung up, Obama told Crist he looked forward to getting together in person to talk about the future.

Of course, that's the juiciest part. Crist won't elaborate on what that means or what he might do next. But I can't see him sticking around a law firm forever and asking folks to call up if they want to say hello.

"For a guy who wasn't even on the ballot, last week was a very good week for Crist."
Tuesday was a rout of the radical right in Florida. Obama won. So did U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democratic centrist, over Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV. Voters rejected eight of 11 amendments to the state Constitution proposed by the Legislature, and they retained three Florida Supreme Court justices targeted by conservative groups. Democrats gained seats in the state House, the Senate and the congressional delegation.

Crist knows all about the futility of trying to appease the most conservative Republicans. In the 2006 Republican primary for governor, the once-moderate Tom Gallagher tried to remake himself into a conservative to run to the right of Crist and got killed. Crist moved to the right toward the end of his governorship, signing into law the dismantlement of growth management to appease antigovernment conservatives.

That didn't work, either. Republican Marco Rubio became the tea party darling, forcing Crist out of the party in 2010 and into an unsuccessful Senate run as an independent. Now Rubio is in the Senate, and his name will be tossed around as a potential candidate for president in 2016.

But something tells me Crist's political career is not over — particularly when the newly re-elected president sounds ready to show how much he appreciates his help.

"It's Obama calling on Crist's phone".