Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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

Rubio must "pick between wilful ignorance and reality"

Frank Cerabino thinks "Marco Rubio should have to choose."

You can pretend that it’s quite possible that the planet we live on is about 6,000 years old, and you can have a seat on the U.S. Senate committee that deals with science.

But you shouldn’t be able to do both at the same time.

Cerabino writes that "it’s only fair that when you reach the highest legislative body in the land, you should have to pick between wilful ignorance and reality." And Rubio's
seat on the science committee should hang in the balance.

While there’s no way of preventing U.S. Senators from holding the notion that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, common decency should keep them from taking up space on a committee dedicated to science, a discipline that has through empirical evidence put the age of the Earth at about 4.55 billion years old.

Choose, Mr. Rubio. Six thousand years or 4.55 billion years?

It’s not like we’re splitting hairs here.

In this month’s issue of GQ magazine, the junior senator from Florida tries to have it both ways, saying that the age of the Earth 'is one of those great mysteries.'"
What’s not a mystery by now, is that Rubio is already running for president in 2016, and by claiming the age of the planet is little more than a matter of equally-valid opinions, he’s going out of his way not to offend any Republican primary voters.
"Rubio walking fine line between science, religion on age-old question, ‘How old is earth?’".

Gaetz, Weatherford take the helm

"The Niceville senator outlines an agenda of growing jobs, lashing education to the economy, strengthening ethics and improving election procedures." "Gaetz takes the Senate helm".

"The new House speaker from Wesley Chapel said he will work across the aisle in his speech during swearing-in ceremonies for the 120 members of the Florida House of Representatives." "Rep. Weatherford formally named House Speaker, pledges bipartisanship".

"Vexing problems"

The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "The state has some vexing problems: Sparse revenue for the state budget, high unemployment and housing woes. Add to that weak ethical standards in state government." "Here's hoping for a more productive session". See also "Florida lawmakers sworn in, face daunting work".

"Era of cooperation" promised

"Florida's new legislative leaders on Tuesday pledged to fix the state's troubled elections system, and promised a new era of cooperation in the wake of a string of Election Day defeats that surprised many top Republicans." "New Legislature leaders vow election fix".

See also "New Senate president: Elections will be improved", "Florida’s new legislative leaders promise elections, ethics reform", "New House Speaker pledges inclusion, cooperation", "Sen. Gaetz calls for new ethics rules, shakes up committee structure" and "For now, spirit of cooperation".

"Key committee vacancies loom"

"New chairmen are needed for some committees but Sen. Charlie Dean has indicated his willingness to serve again as chairman of the Senate environment committee. Rep. Steve Crisafulli says his election as House speaker-designate doesn't preclude him from remaining chairman of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee." "Environment, energy take a back seat in session speeches but key committee vacancies loom".

Senators take a detour this year

"The Senate's traditional walk across the rotunda took a detour this year to avoid a gantlet of people holding signs protesting immigration laws, election problems and 'stand your ground.'" "Lawmakers sidestep protesters".

"Scott must have spent Election Day on a trade mission to Mars"

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "With its hours-long waits for many voters, and its days-delayed results, Florida's 2012 election was another stain on the state's reputation. Yet Gov. Rick Scott, who must have spent Election Day on a trade mission to Mars, at first expressed satisfaction with the process. As public anger and ridicule mounted, Scott belatedly acknowledged problems with the election. But his follow-up, so far, has been feeble." "Fla. needs independent panel on voting reform".

Health care law marches on, Florida Legislature sits on its hands

Yesterday, "Governors such as Florida’s Rick Scott, who had anticipated that a Romney presidency would dismantle the [Affordable Care Act], were put on notice:"

State leaders could get on board or the law would move ahead without them.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius began remarks Tuesday by listing accomplishments under the law and taking a jab at its detractors.

“Of all the worst predictions of the law opponents from accelerated costs to government getting between patients and their doctors to Medicare crumbling, none have come through,” she said.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services extended the deadline for states to declare their intention to open an exchange. That is, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can band together to get better rates and where consumers can compare prices and buy insurance.

Although the law lays out many specifics about exchanges, including the minimum benefits that plans sold on them must offer, states that run their own exchange have much more say in the plans. States that opt out are at the mercy of the federal government to make all the decisions.

“Now that the law is here to stay,” Sebelius said, she hoped state leaders would help implement it.

Florida lawmakers have not decided whether to open an exchange, partner with the federal government or keep their hands out of it entirely.

Florida’s next Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford wrote last week to Sebelius, saying leaders could not yet make a decision. “The state lacks sufficient information to fully evaluate the potential impact of choosing one exchange model over another,” they wrote. They attached their questions. Among them: Would insurers be allowed to participate by region or must they provide coverage to the entire state?

The rules released Tuesday address some of the legislators’ questions including a query about minimum benefits.

But it’s unclear whether that information will speed a decision. Gaetz and Weatherford also wrote that lawmakers, who must authorize an exchange, would not meet until March. HHS’s new deadline is in December.

"Scott campaigned against the law in his bid for governor, and while in office famously denied that Affordable Care Act was the law of the land until the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional."
Scott wrote last week to Sebelius asking for a meeting. He said he doubted that the health care exchange would lower costs in Florida and proposed other changes instead. Scott’s staff said Tuesday that he had not received a response from Sebelius.
"President Obama's health care law marching on, now Florida must decide whether to cooperate".

Will West Surprise?

The Palm Beach Post editors: "Though U.S. Rep. Allen West conceded on Tuesday the honorific 'Rep.' continues to precede his name for the rest of this year, including during the crucial fiscal cliff debate."

There’s still plenty of pressure for conservatives to go down swinging. Grover Norquist is as adamant as ever that Republicans must stick to his no-taxes pledge. But Rep. West had said he wasn’t happy with Mr. Norquist’s inflexible position even before President Obama was reelected and Rep. West became a lame duck. . . .

Instead of staying in the limelight of an election contest, Rep. West returns to Washington for what likely will be a bit part in a more important event. Many people would not expect such a decision from Rep. West. But it’s the kind of decision voters have shown they’d like their representatives to make. It’s ironic that Rep. West could go out in a way that might have kept him in.

"Rep. West should make his last act matter".

What Republicans call "Red Tape"

"Critical violations of state sanitation and safety laws observed by inspectors at five South Florida restaurants last week prompted the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation to cite the owners and briefly suspend their operations." "Miami Subs in Hialeah among restaurants cited by inspectors |".

"Where lawmakers once debated shutting down Florida’s public schools"

"Florida Democratic lawmakers selected two Broward County legislators as their leaders Monday. Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation and Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale will chair their respective chamber's Democratic Caucus. The meeting to elect the two black lawmakers to leadership positions was held in the historic Old Capitol, where lawmakers once debated shutting down Florida’s public schools to protest court-ordered integration." "Democrats pick legislative leaders".

And these guys expect a pension?

"Two off-duty Broward sheriff's deputies and a Coconut Creek officer combined efforts to save a woman from burning to death in a wrecked pickup truck Sunday." "Three officers pull woman from fiery wreck".

Teacher Evaluations Fight

"FEA: Stop New Teacher Evaluations". See also "Teachers give an F to evaluation process".

St. Lucie County Elections Office Scrutinized

"U.S. Rep. Allen West may have ended his two-week battle with election officials in St. Lucie County on Tuesday, but the Treasure Coast office will continue to face scrutiny over how it handled the election."

Florida Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, vowed she will pursue correcting how the supervisor of elections office reportedly double-counted some ballots and misplaced others in West’s defeat to Democrat Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. . . .

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who said he hasn’t talked to St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker, sent an inspection team to the county last week as the race was contested in court and later the county canvassing board ordered a retabulation of the first five days of early voting.

"Allen West's Concession Won't End Troubles for St. Lucie County Elections". Meanwhile, "The state’s Election Canvassing Commission — composed of Gov. Rick Scott, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi — certified the results of the District 18 Congressional race Tuesday at the Capitol. St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker said thousands of ballots from Nov. 1 through 3 were double counted, or not counted at all. The problem was remedied with the recount last Sunday, she said."
At the urging of West’s legal team and his supporters, the canvassing board performed a full early voting recount Saturday and Sunday, but missed a noon deadline to report new results to the state. The adjusted numbers, which included 306 votes never counted, would’ve extended Murphy’s margin of victory to 0.65 percent.
"Gov. Scott calls St. Lucie County missing election deadline disappointing, says it didn't change election".

By the way, the claim by the West crew that "Preliminary totals showed 900 voters cast ballots in Precinct 93, where only seven voters are registered" is "not true." "Fact check: Did precinct in Allen West race have 900 ballots cast but only 7 registered voters?".