Saturday, December 08, 2012

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider becoming a site fan on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Jeb Bush's Former Business Partner Arrested

On Friday, "jet-setting, Venezuelan-born entrepreneur [Claudio Osorio] took the steepest fall of his life when he was arrested by the Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office on federal fraud charges."

To lend legitimacy to his effort, Osorio assembled a high-profile board of directors that included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Miami condo king Jorge Perez and others.
"High-flying Miami millionaire was a fraud, feds say". For more on Jebbie's sketchy past see "Make The Money and Run" (Jebbie "has hawked luxury condos in South Florida, sold industrial sites for IBM, made bank loans in Venezuela and marketed giant water pumps in Nigeria. He has even tried to sell imported shoes to Wal-Mart.")

More: "Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican and the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush, once sat on InnoVida’s board. So did Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark, a onetime Democratic candidate for President. Osorio also is listed in a Federal Election Commission database as an individual contributor to the Presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the Congressional campaign of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, among others." "Another Major Scam Rocks Florida: Claudio Eleazar Osorio Arrested By Feds, Sued By SEC; Miami Entrepreneur And Friend To Politicians Accused Of Stealing Millions From Investors".

Here's one picture Obama would wish he would never have taken.

'Ya reckon?

Lloyd Dunkelberger asks: "Are Florida's ballots too long?".

Crist strolls into Democratic Party

"It was just a matter of time. Charlie Crist is becoming a Democrat."

Crist — Florida’s former Republican governor who relished the tough-on-crime nickname “Chain Gang Charlie” and used to describe himself variously as a “Ronald Reagan Republican” and a “Jeb Bush Republican” — on Friday evening signed papers changing his party from independent to Democrat.

He did so during a Christmas reception at the White House [*], where President Barack Obama greeted the news with a fist bump for the man who had a higher profile campaigning for Obama’s reelection this year than any Florida Democrat. . . .

Critics from both parties sniff that Crist is merely looking for an avenue back into public office and is willing to throw out his principles to achieve the goal.

“Charlie Crist has the ability to meld into any character — from ‘Chain Gang Charlie’ to sympathetic ‘Man of the People’ — there is seemingly no role that he can’t play,” said one recent release from the Florida GOP, which has been blasting Crist regularly in anticipation of him running for governor as a Democrat.

"Charlie Crist signs papers to become a Democrat", "Long Expected, Charlie Crist Is a Democrat" and "Former Gov. Crist tweets he's now a Democrat".

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*Rumour has Crist was at the White House with his mentor: the face of the Democratic Party in Central Florida, one John Morgan.

Scott's teacher evaluation scheme flops

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board write that "the results [of the Legislature's teacher evaluation scheme] bear out what critics warned would happen ever since the Legislature, at Gov. Rick Scott's behest, rushed passage of SB 736 in 2011. For all the merit in trying to assess which teachers are the most effective so they could be paid more starting in 2014-15, lawmakers have not given school districts the time or resources needed to build fair assessment tools." "Fix unreliable teacher ratings".

A wake-up call for those who do not vote in person

"Absentee ballots are often touted as a pain-free, easy way to cast a vote without having to stand in long lines at a polling station."

But nearly 2,500 Miami-Dade County voters had their absentee ballots rejected this election in what amounts to a wake-up call for those who ignore or fall prey to the perils and pitfalls of not voting in person. Another 2,100 ballots were rejected in Broward County.

Some voters forgot to sign their ballots. The county elections office negated others because the signature on the ballot didn’t match the voter’s on-file John Hancock. And three voters died in between Election Day and the time they sent in their absentee ballots.

Most absentee ballots in Miami-Dade and Broward were rejected because they arrived well after Nov. 6 at the elections office.

"Many voters were angry. They cast their mail-in ballots from home for convenience, only to face a greater inconvenience when their vote didn’t count."
The Miami Herald contacted more than 1,000 Miami-Dade voters, hundreds of whom responded by email and phone with explanations and recriminations concerning their rejected absentee ballots.

A large number of voters blamed the post office or the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which interrupted mail service in New York, where many Floridians live part-time. They said their ballots often arrived from the county just before or on Election Day.

"More people than ever voted by absentee ballot this year, nearly 2.4 million in Florida.
About 245,000 came from Miami-Dade, of which about 1 percent were rejected, about the same rate as in 2008."

Only Pinellas County in Tampa Bay had more absentee ballots cast, nearly 249,000, in Florida. The county did not provide the number late of ballots that weren’t accepted, but said .3 percent were rejected for other reasons. Voters in neighboring Hillsborough County cast 171,000, of which 1 percent were rejected.

Broward County cast the third-highest number of absentee ballots in Florida, about 172,000, of which 1.2 percent were rejected.

Palm Beach County, which had the fifth-highest number of absentee ballots cast, about 129,000, rejected about 1.1 percent.

Total statewide figures won’t be available until month’s end and will change as more absentee ballots arrive late.

"Thousands of rejected Miami-Dade absentee ballots show perils of voting by mail".

Recall when one vigilant Supervisor of Elections, in Orange County, was pilloried for asking folks who frequently voted absentee to update their signatures to ensure their ballots were not rejected because their signatures may have changed over time, which could lead to rejection of their absentee ballots. "Orange voters react angrily to request for new signatures" ("Some voters are showing signs of getting fed up with efforts to question their right to vote in Florida, reacting angrily to 214,000 letters sent by Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles this week to longtime and absentee voters in Orange County. . . . Cowles, a Democrat, acknowledged that his effort to seek fresh signatures is tied to the new law, which requires closer scrutiny of absentee ballots. But he said the initiative was his own, not something ordered by the state.")

Webster's friends do the dirty work, he proclaims innocence

Mark K. Matthews: "As a devout Baptist, U.S. Rep. Dan Webster said, he's always been taught to turn the other cheek — which is why, the veteran lawmaker says, he's never zinged a political opponent with an attack ad."

But the Republican from Winter Garden said that code was tested this year when he faced a blistering slate of negative ads from Democrat Val Demings and several outside groups, including one financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in the race for the 10th Congressional District.

In all, at least $4.5 million in outside money was spent against Webster or for Demings — dwarfing the $1.5 million total that Webster himself raised for his campaign, according to fundraising figures filed this week and additional data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan political watchdog.

The groups that targeted Webster include the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Bloomberg-funded Independence USA PAC and the House Majority PAC, a Democratic "Super PAC."

In the face of the attack ads, including a spot by the Bloomberg group calling him a "professional politician," Webster ran low-key ads touting his small-business background and concluding "America's not broken, Washington is." He said allies and friends suggested he re-consider that approach.

"That said, Webster has benefited from attack ads during his two congressional runs. They just haven't been paid for by his campaign."
This year, the conservative American Action Network spent $1.1 million, including a TV ad that tied Demings to "Obamacare" and concluded with a graphic of a flatlining heart beat.

And two years ago, outside groups such as the NRCC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce helped propel Webster to Congress by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads and direct mail, a cash infusion that helped him overcome the massive war chest of then-incumbent U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.

"Webster says he won re-election by ignoring negative ads".

As an aside, when did calling someone a "professional politician" - which Webster plainly is - rise to the level of a "blistering" negative ad?

Why bother teaching "art, history and philosophy"?

"Public university professors statewide are speaking out against a set of higher-education reforms that the Florida lawmakers will consider during the next legislative session."

Many have focused their ire on the most controversial recommendation made by a task force created by Gov. Rick Scott: to start charging tuition based on majors.

To attract more students to high-demand, high-wage fields that state leaders think will help boost Florida's economy, the task force is recommending that public universities charge less for courses in those areas.

The group did not specify which fields to target. It did not suggest how much more to charge for other majors, except to say that tuition for state residents should be frozen for for targeted bachelor's degrees for the next three years. Schools eventually would be able to set differentiated tuitions for other programs.

Professors are upset over the idea of charging students more to study lower-demand fields such as art, history and philosophy, especially considering these programs generally cost less to operate than those in the so-called STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

"Professors pan idea to vary tuition based on students' majors.

Why does our Governor want to create an economic disincentive to studying "art, history and philosophy"? Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago answered that question not long ago, writing that Rick Scott will "do whatever it takes to make sure Florida’s future generations of college graduates do not get the kind of well-rounded education that helps them become independent, critical thinkers, engaged citizens. You know, people who vote with a social conscience." "Gov’s 10K tuition push is political gimmick "

"He lost his shirt, er, seat"

"Perhaps this explains why Republican Allen West was so reluctant to concede last month’s election — he lost his shirt, er, seat."

The Florida congressman spent $17.8 million trying to hang onto a seat in Congress, more than four times as much as did the Democrat who beat him, Patrick Murphy, according to federal campaign finance records released Friday. (It took two weeks and urging by his colleagues for West to concede the race, which was not close enough to trigger an automatic recount.)

The West-Murphy race to represent the Palm Beach County-based seat was by far the most expensive congressional race in Florida, where pricey television markets bump up the cost of running for a seat, and where a national figure like West can tap a vast fundraising network in a bid for office.

It was also the most expensive House race in the country. Just two House members raised more money than West: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who raised $21.8 million; and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who ran for president and raised $25 million.

But Murphy, a 29-year-old businessman in his first political race, also tapped into the national liberal disdain for West, raising $4.6 million. Murphy was third in fundraising in Florida House races behind former Rep. Alan Grayson, who raised and loaned himself $5.2 million to retake a congressional seat in Central Florida, Federal Election Commission records show.

"West spends $18 million in failed bid to keep congressional seat".

League of Cities continues to shill for Republicans

The League of Cities continues to do the bidding of the Republican Party with its continuing attack on pensions and the police and firefighter unions that negotiate them: "Pensions, Water Supply, Synthetic Drugs, Billboards on League of Cities' 2013 Priority List".

"Too good a deal to pass up"

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "After relentlessly raising tuition by double digits for the past four or five years, Florida's public universities have offered state lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott a deal. The universities will hold the line on tuition next year in return for another $118 million in state funding. It's too good a deal to pass up." "Stop cuts to university funding, freeze tuition".

Insurance company examinations rare

We suppose this is what Florida Republicans mean by the "red tape" that is strangling the entrepreneurial spirit of Florida's Claudio Osorios: "Market conduct examinations of property and casualty insurance companies done by regulators have declined from 69 per year from 2000 to 2007 to 2 per year from 2008 through 2012. . . . examinations of property and casualty insurance companies have become extremely rare in recent years. . . . staffers did not respond this week to emails asking for an explanation in the drop off". "Insurance investigations as sought by Artiles have dropped in recent years".

Gaetz gladly accepted, then canceled

"Gov. Rick Scott invited Senate President Don Gaetz to dinner Thursday and the senator gladly accepted, before realizing that going might violate Senate rules and the Florida Constitution."

Reminded that Senate rules and the Constitution prohibit the Senate president and governor from discussing official business in private, Gaetz said: "I'll try not to."

But soon after, Gaetz canceled.

"Senate President Don Gaetz cancels on governor to avoid rule violation".

Never mind

"Backing away from a possible court fight, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles announced Friday that it will halt its attempt to bid license tag services to private vendors." "State drops plan to go private".

Week in Review

"Week in Review for Dec. 3 to Dec. 7".

Insiders maintain informational advantages

Aaron Deslatte: "There's an obvious reason why Florida politicos spend so much time talking about the cleansing effect of transparency without ever hopping in the tub. Whether in war, business or politics, informational advantages are powerful forces that can determine outcomes – and protect the status quo."

Thus, for nearly two decades, Florida's jobs agencies overseeing billions of dollars in economic incentives given to companies never disclosed whether the dollars were producing the promised jobs.

After pressure mounted last year to do so, it became apparent that Gov. Rick Scott's new Department of Economic Opportunity – because of decisions dating back to previous administrations – couldn't answer the question. And despite a directive from lawmakers last year, DEO has dragged its feet in putting the incentive data on a Web site. . . .

The Florida Legislature has always kept the inner workings of its $70-billion spending plan close to the vest. That allows insiders – notably, legislators -- to maintain their informational advantages over would-be contractors, lobbyists and the public.

"'Transparency' is a virtue -- except when it's not". Related: "Senator calls for replacing transparency program" and "Watchdogs want state budget website to go public".