Sunday, November 25, 2012

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

Legislation "intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters"

Dara Kam and John Lantigua write that "new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post."

Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.

“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.

“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”

"Greer is now under indictment, accused of stealing $200,000 from the party through a phony campaign fundraising operation. He, in turn, has sued the party, saying GOP leaders knew what he was doing and voiced no objection."
“Jim Greer has been accused of criminal acts against this organization and anything he says has to be considered in that light,” says Brian Burgess, Florida GOP spokesman since September.
But Greer’s statements about the motivations for the party’s legislative efforts, implemented by a GOP-majority House and Senate in Tallahassee in 2011, are backed by Crist — also now on the outs with the party — and two veteran GOP campaign consultants.
Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal. . . .

Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.

"Ex-Fla. GOP leaders: Law pushed to suppress voters".

"Not theoretically. Provably. It has failed"

Scott Maxwell writes that it is "all spelled out in the 178-page report presented to Enterprise Florida, the state's economic-development arm: more taxpayer giveaways. And now they want us to shoot for lower-paying jobs."

I guess when you can't clear the bar, you lower it.

This should be shocking. Unfortunately, it's merely a continuation of Florida's failed, two-prong approach to the economy.

For years, Florida leaders have argued that if we just keep lowering corporate taxes — and keep giving away taxpayer money — the economy will boom.

Yet it hasn't worked.

Let me repeat that last sentence, because it's important: It hasn't worked.

Not arguably. Not theoretically. Provably. It has failed.

Despite lowering corporate taxes to among the lowest in America (45th) and courting companies with hundreds of millions of incentive dollars, our economy is a mess — much worse than America's in general.

Our unemployment rate is higher. Our foreclosure rate leads the nation. We have a higher percentage of uninsured residents. And our average paycheck lags.

If you're still arguing that lowering corporate-tax rates and increasing corporate handouts is a formula for success, you're delusional.

"State incentives for lower-wage jobs? Bad idea".

West lost because of Republicans

Randy Schultz explains how "Democrats didn’t dump Allen West from his tea party perch in Congress. Republicans did." "Allen West lost because of Republican voters".

On to The Villages

"Huckabee to promote book on return to The Villages".

"So far, anyway"

"After years of increasingly intense hyper-partisan warfare, Republicans and Democrats sound serious — so far, anyway — about working in harmony for the common good of Floridians."

“They want us to work together, they’re not going to reward acrimony, they’re going to reward results,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. “I’m a conservative, I have a conservative view of the world, but the notion of representative democracy is that we respect one another and recognize we don’t have the market cornered on good ideas and are willing to compromise to advance the ball.” . . .

In Tallahassee, Republicans set the tone because they are firmly in control. However, they seem chastened by what happened in Florida: Their party’s presidential candidate lost, as did most of the constitutional amendments they placed on the November ballot. They lost seats in the House and Senate, and voters grew angry standing in line for hours to cast ballots.

"It will be months before we’ll know if lawmakers mean what they say, and it’s justified to be at least a little cynical."
Democrats picked up five seats in the 120-seat House, which now has 76 Republicans and 44 Democrats. Republicans needed 80 seats to hold a supermajority and completely control the legislative agenda.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up two seats, and while they are still outnumbered by Republicans 26-14, they did break the GOP’s supermajority.

"Lawmakers heard the voters on Election Day: They say they’ll work together — at least for now".

"A hidden sickness, deep within the earth"

"A century ago Florida’s gin-clear springs drew presidents, millionaires and tourists who sought to cure ailments by bathing in the healing cascades. Now the springs tell the story of a hidden sickness, deep within the earth." "Florida's vanishing springs".

"Our republic is what happens between the votes"

Stephen Goldstein: "With the disquieting wisdom of a Zen master, the French composer Claude Debussy wrote, 'Music is the silence between the notes,' which pretty much turns our understanding of it on its ear."

To apply that high-minded aesthetic to the low-life of American politics: Policy-making, the stuff that really affects your life, is what happens between elections — in the winks and nods of back-room dealing.

And yet, tragically, most people are distracted by the noise of political campaigns, feel they've done their civic duty if they watch a debate and drag themselves to the polls, then go about their personal business — oblivious of the fact that, during (what they think is) downtime, when "the people" aren't looking, politicians and lobbyists are conspiring where they don't have to face the music of voters. Our republic is what happens between the votes.

"To fix the system, don't be silent".

Juggling the classroom with Capitol duties

"There are always plenty of lawyers within the legislative ranks. Real estate developers and insurance execs? Ditto. The Florida House even has a couple of funeral directors. This month, west-central Florida voters sent a trio of newcomers to Tallahassee. They all knocked off entrenched incumbents. They're all Democrats. And they're all public school teachers."

While it's not unheard of for those in the academic ranks to pursue politics – several veteran members of the Legislature identify themselves as retired educators or one-time teachers – two of the three rookies will juggle day-to-day classroom responsibilities with their Capitol duties.

And the trio will bring years of experience to the table as lawmakers debate such hot-button issues as teacher evaluation and pay, charter schools and expansion of voucher programs.

"They're heading into an atmosphere that hasn't been terribly friendly toward public school teachers:"
• This spring, the Legislature passed what Gov. Rick Scott called "an education budget," with $1 billion in new spending for K-12 schools. But detractors noted that the budget did not make up for five prior years of education cuts, including $1.3 billion in cuts approved in 2011.

• The Legislature recently required those in the public employee retirement plan, including teachers, to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their retirement. Public employees successfully challenged the plan in court, but the state is appealing. House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, has already announced he will seek to convert future public employees' retirement from a traditional pension plan to a 401(k)-style plan.

• The Republican-dominated 2011 Legislature considered making it illegal to deduct certain payments – including union dues – from the paychecks of public employees. Teacher's unions generally favor Democratic candidates. The measure eventually died.

• This spring, the House passed a plan to allow parents at failing schools to initiate turnaround plans, including turning the schools over to private or charter school companies. The "parent trigger" bill failed on a tie vote in the Senate.

• Teachers and union officials held a news conference in Tallahassee last week calling for the suspension of the state's "value-added model," a formula intended to judge teacher effectiveness based on test scores. Teachers say the plan is degrading and invalid; the state is sticking to its formula.

"Trio of teachers headed for state House".

Another "elections disaster waiting to happen"

Lloyd Dunkelberger: "Florida will no longer be known for hours-long waits to vote and days-long waits to count ballots, two of the state’s top legislators vowed Tuesday." "Legislative leaders pledge to improve Florida elections".

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board addresses the "long waits at the polls in some of the state's most populous counties, especially those in Southeast Florida. Delays were not limited to heavily populated areas of the state on Nov. 6: Even in mid-size counties, such as Manatee, voters who opted for early voting experienced delays up to two hours. (Manatee had only one early voting site, a ridiculously low number; in comparison, Sarasota County had six.)"

Even though Florida made substantial progress toward reforming its election laws following the debacle of 2000, the state took steps backward in 2011 -- for example, reducing the number of days available for early voting.

Restoring, or perhaps expanding, the number of early-voting days should be considered. The Legislature should also engage county-level elections supervisors to determine what legislative roadblocks prevent the addition of early-voting sites -- especially in general elections, when turnout is substantially higher than in other elections. . . .

One of the most frequently cited reasons for long lines and vote-processing delays was the length of the general election ballot. Fortunately, the Legislature can make future ballots shorter and voter-friendly. . . .

The leaders should also take a proactive step by re-examining another law adopted in 2011. That provision could, under certain circumstances, require elections supervisors to include the entire wording of proposed constitutional amendments, not only the summaries, on ballots. The law could also require the ballot to include the text of the constitution that would be stricken if voters approve the amendment.

This seems like an elections disaster waiting to happen -- creating the likelihood of more delays at the polls, lengthening and complicating ballots and raising printing costs. Consider: Had this law applied to the recent voting, the entire text of Amendment 4 and the "strike-throughs" would have totaled more than 3,800 words.

Another constructive step will require legislative discipline. The Florida Constitution says amendments proposed by "the people ... shall embrace but one subject." That provision does not explicitly cover initiatives by the Legislature but, at the least, lawmakers should respect its spirit and limit future amendments to single subjects.

"Following are some other ideas for the Legislature to consider:"
• Change state election rules and laws to overcome rules that enable a slot for write-in candidates to appear on the general election ballot -- without meeting the basic requirements that other candidates must meet. The status quo allows write-ins to circumvent the voter-approved "universal primary" amendment and crowds the ballot.

• Revisit the 1998 constitutional amendment that made it too easy for candidates to be on the ballot for president. Florida had 12 candidates for president listed, second most in the nation. One of those was comedian Roseanne Barr.

• Hire, under temporary contracts, efficiency experts who could help elections supervisors, especially those in populous counties, better estimate voter turnout at precincts. Data-driven assessments would provide supervisors with information they need to match resources -- such as personnel, ballots and machines -- to turnout.

"Election reforms". The Palm Beach Post editors: "Since President Barack Obama still carried Florida, and since the groups the GOP targeted for harassment make up the new majority, Republicans in Tallahassee have a reason beyond good government to rethink their approach. The state should accommodate these voting shifts while providing necessary safeguards, not try to manipulate the process for partisan advantage." "Make voting easier in Florida, not harder".

I'm shocked, shocked

Here's a shocker: charter school operator, one Adam Miller, who currently draws a government paycheck as "Charter Schools Director" in the Florida Department of Education's Office of Independent Education & Parental Choice, thinks he's doing a great job:

Student achievement data compiled by the Florida Department of Education suggests charter students are performing better than their peers in traditional schools.

That goes against research by Dr. Stanley Smith, a University of Central Florida business professor.

He found that charters perform worse than traditional schools when poverty and minority status are taken into account.

Smith’s research can be found here.

"State Analysis Says Florida Charters Perform Better Than Traditional Schools".

False equivalence

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "State law does cap direct contributions to candidates at $500. But the law also lets candidates create separate committees to rake in unlimited donations to cover campaign expenses — 'committees of continuous existence' or CCEs — and advertising costs — electioneering campaign organizations, or ECOs. Corporations, unions and wealthy fat cats looking to maintain or expand their influence in Tallahassee routinely take advantage of this loophole to shower thousands of dollars on their favorite candidates." "Take out political trash: Harness the committees".

We understand the Sentinel owners hate unions, but please, don't - in a phony attempt at equivalence - equate the amount of cash flowing into politics from "corporations, unions and wealthy fat cats".

Oh no . . . Not another mini-"Jeb!"

Beth Kassab points out that Florida "is on its fourth commissioner in 18 months and going on its fifth."

Beth continues with this silly remark:

The new commissioner will have a big influence on what qualifies as a passing score on high-stakes tests and could help keep Florida as a national leader for education reform.
What on earth makes dear Beth think Florida is "a national leader for education reform"?

Beth then continues to burnish her Republican bona fides with this:

Everybody has an eye on Tony Bennett, the shake-'em-up reformer with an impressive list of accomplishments as Indiana's top education chief. He lost his re-election bid earlier this month — and Indiana lost its place as a reform leader — in an upset by a veteran teacher and union leader.

Indiana's loss could be Florida's gain.

"Next education commissioner will tell us a lot about Florida's commitment to reform".

Really, Beth? Do we really need another mini-"Jeb!" running Florida's education system into the ground? A failed Republican who could not keep his seat in a Republican "stronghold" like Indiana?

And, although "Jeb!" is running as fast as he can away from the Indiana flop, the fact is that Indiana's repudiation of Tony Bennett was a flat out repudiation of Jebbie and his "reform" freak show. Although

many states have borrowed from Bush’s education agenda, few have embraced it as fully as Indiana. Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz’s supporters say these policies — A-F grading for schools, teacher evaluations, performance based pay, expansive voucher programs and expanded charter school options — are why Bennett lost earlier this month.
"Jeb Bush On Tony Bennett’s Defeat: ‘It’s Not My Education Agenda’".

More: "Glenda Ritz Unseats Tony Bennett In ‘Referendum’ On Indiana Education Policy". See also "Incumbent Superintendent Tony Bennett Concedes Race To Ritz" ("Bennett had been a critical force in moving forward education priorities of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration: school voucher programs, merit pay for teachers and expansion of charter schools, policies many teachers criticize.")

Meanwhile, the wingnuts are in a dither as the "reform" movement crashes and burns: "What we learned about school reform in 2012".

"Paying law firms to not ferret out bad behavior"

Fred Grimm concludes that the "nice thing about working for Citizens is that forgetting about scandalous instances of corporate misconduct appears to be official company policy."

The report [on Citizens] has this stuff about the braless bar dancing in Tampa and the former director of underwriting taking his staff on a rowdy outing in Key West, replete with more inappropriate, harassing behavior. And the Citizen corporate counsel’s lack of a Florida law license. And other stuff (including an interesting passage about an employee running a sex toy mail order business using the company computers and the Citizens mail room.)

Most of the allegations of unseemly behavior had originally been dismissed after a faux investigations performed by hired private law firms. The hired guns knew what to find. The company paid $2,403,952 since 2003 to outside lawyers to find, 92 percent of the time, that allegations of bad behavior were “unsubstantiated.” (The review by the Office of Corporate Integrity, noting that the lawyers didn’t do much actual investigating, found only 46 percent of the complaints had been unwarranted.)

But if the rowdy behavior was too much, even by Citizens’ permissive standards, getting fired could be pretty lucrative. The report found Citizens had written checks amounting to $752,903 in severance pay since 2004. Scandalous behavior seem to pay off big-time. Another underwriting veep accused of having an adulterous affair with one of his workers, and hitting up another young woman in his office for $5,000 to help him hire a lawyer to fend off the accusations, was given $80,000 severance, and $40,000 in accrued vacation and sick pay, to go away.

The problem, of course, is that Citizens, while giving away big chunks of severance money to its naughty party boys and paying law firms to not ferret out bad behavior by other employees, was simultaneously putting the big squeeze on Floridians.

"Citizens Office of Corporate Integrity can’t compete with Coyote Ugly".