Saturday, December 29, 2012

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

Voter suppression deprived Obama of 11,000 votes in Central Florida alone

David Damron and Scott Powers write that "as many as 49,000 people across Central Florida were discouraged from voting because of long lines on Election Day, according to a researcher at Ohio State University who analyzed election data compiled by the Orlando Sentinel."

About 30,000 of those discouraged voters — most of them in Orange and Osceola counties — likely would have backed Democratic President Barack Obama, according to Theodore Allen, an associate professor of industrial engineering at OSU.

About 19,000 voters would have likely backed Republican Mitt Romney, Allen said.

This suggests that Obama's margin over Romney in Florida could have been roughly 11,000 votes higher than it was, based just on Central Florida results. Obama carried the state by 74,309 votes out of more than 8.4 million cast.

Allen's first analysis of the impact of long lines at the polls was done in 2004, when he estimated that more than 20,000 voters in Franklin County, Ohio, where Ohio State is located, were discouraged from casting ballots in the razor-close contest between President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry. He has continued his research in every election since.

His analysis of Central Florida results compared precinct closing times, Election Day turnout and results in the presidential race — which attracted the highest vote totals of any race on the ballot — for all Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole county precincts.

His review indicated that for every additional hour that a precinct stayed open past 7 p.m. — a good indicator of line length throughout the day — turnout dropped by as much as 4.8 percent. The precincts with the longest lines, he found, had some of the lowest turnouts, a fact he attributed mostly to a record-long ballot that, in Orange County, ran to six pages.

As Allen put it in a report to the Sentinel: "Without understanding the importance of ballot length as a variable, it would be surprising to see from the data from 2012 in Central Florida that lower turnout was recorded in the locations with the longest waits. This is because longer ballots (not higher turnout) likely caused the longer lines which, in turn, suppressed the turnout."

Florida's long lines and late results have drawn unfavorable comparisons to the Sunshine State's 2000 presidential election problems, and state and federal lawmakers are pledging again to address it.

"Researcher: Long lines at polls caused 49,000 not to vote".

"School grades remain a function of politics, not academics"

The Palm Beach Post editorsial Board's Jac Wilder VerSteeg writes that "Florida’s high school grades for last year are out, and they show… what? For an alleged accountability system, the state-assigned grades show very little." "Higher high school grades show…not much".

"Extrapolating from narrow perspectives"

Bill Maxwell suggests that "elected officials and other leaders who have the power to make life-and-death decisions for the rest of us should be guided by a commitment to objectivity when they make policy."

In 2011, for example, the GOP-dominated Florida Legislature proposed a firearms law that would permit concealed weapons on college campuses. Surprisingly, the measure was voted down, handing the National Rifle Association a rare defeat in the Sunshine State.

The bill was defeated because Sen. John Thrasher, the powerful chairman of the Rules Committee and former Florida House speaker, persuaded fellow Republicans to reject it. He had been personally affected by a gun-related tragedy in a fraternity house at Florida State University.

On Jan. 9, 2011, Amy Cowie, 20, held her dying twin sister Ashley after she was accidently shot by Amy's boyfriend with his AK-47 rifle. The twins' father, Robert Cowie, was Thrasher's dentist.

Asked by journalists why he opposed the concealed-carry bill, Thrasher said: "It's beyond personal for me. Any other time, I might support something like this, but I can't."

What had prevented Thrasher from objectively weighing the need for concealed weapons on college campuses? Why did his dentist's 20-year-old daughter have to die for him to stop the gun lunacy?

"Florida congressman C.W. Bill Young, the longest-serving Republican member of Congress, is a defense hawk and has supported every war the United States has fought during his career, which began in 1970. Until recently, he repeatedly opposed resolutions to pull troops out of Afghanistan, even a resolution to set a timetable for a total withdrawal."
Objective evidence — dead troops, maimed bodies, suicides, Afghan betrayals, millions of U.S. tax dollars squandered — indicated from the beginning that our military ambitions, like those of all nations before us, would be buried in Afghanistan, "the Graveyard of Empires."

None of it dissuaded Young, chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee. He believed that our mythic invincibility would make us victorious where others had failed.

In September, the congressman changed course after Army Ranger Matthew Sitton was killed in Kandahar province. Sitton was a local warrior who had attended the Christian school operated by the church where Young worships.

Before Sitton was killed, the congressman had received a letter from the soldier describing bad decisions by commanders and Sisyphean challenges that may have contributed to the deaths of many troops.

Young acknowledged to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that he been moved by Sitton's prediction of his own death, saying: "I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can. I just think we're killing kids that don't need to die."

We were "killing our kids that don't need to die" long before Sitton's letter. And we are still killing them.

Leaders who control the fates of other Americans should not make vital decisions based on emotion. Yes, it is good the likes of Thrasher ... and Young modified their thinking, but we cannot trust leaders who are not seekers, who dodge objective information, who extrapolate from their own narrow perspectives.

"True leaders act on facts, not emotion".

Republicans stalling confirmation votes

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Irresponsible Republican Senate leaders are stalling the confirmation votes for judicial nominees, including one in Florida’s Middle District for close to a year. What is needed is an up-or-down vote." "Senate stall hurts the courts".

"Florida stands to lose"

"Florida stands to lose 80,000 jobs, long-term unemployment benefits keeping families afloat and tax breaks worth about $2,000 for a middle-income family as leaders in Washington charge to a New Year’s deadline with no deal to stave off historic tax increases and spending cuts." "Florida has a lot at stake in fiscal cliff outcome". See also "Benefits for long-term unemployed falling over fiscal cliff as year ends without extension".


The nonunion, without health insurance or pension, cheating on workers comp insurance industry is about to explode: "Tampa Bay area housing market poised to rebuild".

McBride remembered

"Bill McBride's bravery in battle and compassion toward others were celebrated Friday by hundreds of people who said goodbye, with laughter and tears, to the Tampa lawyer and civic leader who died last Saturday. Tampa's Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church was packed to overflowing with a civic and political who's who of Tampa Bay and beyond for a 90-minute memorial service." "Fond, even funny farewells". ("As Friday's memorial service drew to a conclusion, three U.S. Marines meticulously folded an American flag and presented it to Sink. McBride's ashes will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery").

"They recalled Bill McBride's rise from a working class family in Leesburg through a golden boyhood of academic and athletic stardom, then combat decorations as a Marine in Vietnam, to become a lawyer known for free work for charitable causes as head of a firm he built into one of the state's largest." "Bill McBride remembered for community service, work ethic".

One of this site's first posts, more than a decade ago on Saturday, October 12, 2002, read:

Recent polling shows the race tightening and trending in McBride's favor. Several weeks ago, several polls had McBride 6 points behind. An October 2-5 poll by Insider Advantage showed McBride closing the gap to 5% (Bush 47%, Mcbride 42%). The most recent numbers (Oct 8-7), a Survey USA poll, show McBride behind by 3 points (Bush 50%, Mcbride 47%). Mcbride has cut Bush's 6% lead in half, and is well within the margin of error.
"FLORIDA POLITICS" (go to "Notes Archive", and click on the Notes for the period 10/01/2002 - 10/31/2002).

"Restricting data-collection on all things related to guns"

Aaron Deslatte points out that "places like Florida have chosen to"

restrict data-collection on all things related to guns. The Legislature tried last year to lock up doctors for even asking about gun ownership. So, while corporations and political parties are free to data-mine with impunity your shopping habits, voting patterns, web-surfing and credit histories, we're purposefully in the dark about what makes people take up arms to kill each other. And more importantly, what types of collective action are required to make them stop.
"Fact is, we don't know what might curb gun violence".

Bondi is all about "waging partisan battles on cable television"

The Tampa Bay Times editors write that "Pam Bondi spent the first half of her first term as attorney general staking out very conservative positions that surprised many of her friends and former colleagues in Tampa."

At times she appeared to be taking direction from Gov. Rick Scott as the two more seasoned Cabinet members distanced themselves from the governor and established their own identities.

Bondi, 47, is on a losing streak. She lost her fight to overturn the federal health care law in the U.S. Supreme Court, and she traveled the country as a high-profile surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. She also had difficulty resolving a fight with legislative leaders over how to divide up $300 million in home foreclosure settlement money, making Florida one of the slowest states to spend the money.

With a re-election campaign less than two years away, 2013 is the year for Bondi to demonstrate she can set her own agenda and is more interested in holding public office than waging partisan battles on cable television.

"Six leaders to watch in 2013".

Florida’s unemployment declining because fewer people are looking for work

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Until November, Florida’s unemployment rate had been declining because the number of people looking for work shrank. Discouraged job-seekers who give up aren’t counted in the official statistics. If they start looking again, the unemployment rate goes up — but economists see their return as a good sign." "Don’t throw jobs over the fiscal cliff".

Stevedores stand down ... for now

"Port Strike Averted for Now, Threat Remains".

"PBC the setting for big and bizarre political stories"

"From Mitt Romney’s '47 percent' remarks to a Boynton Beach commissioner’s nude photo scandal to new frontiers in elections bungling, Palm Beach County was the setting for some big and bizarre political stories in 2012." "U.S. politics vividly on display in Palm Beach County in 2012".

Florida ranks last in both size and cost of state government

"Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned as a conservative business executive determined to shrink the size and cost of state government, has overseen a sharp decline in Florida government employment, a steep drop in state personnel costs and a six-fold increase in state employee layoffs during the first half of his term."

In its year-end personnel report, the Department of Management Services marked a falloff from 167,787 authorized state positions last fiscal year to 161,648 in all agency classifications as of June 30. The sharpest decline was in the three-tiered State Personnel System: the office workers and laborers, professional staff and top management appointees who make up nearly 65 percent of state job rolls.

The Annual Workforce Report documented cuts in authorized positions in the university system, courts, Legislature, Lottery and a few small categories. Scott's own office had an increase from 187 to 234 job slots, but that's not unusual in a transition. The Executive Office of the Governor last year shed a tourism-economic development office, an information-technology agency and an energy office -- while gaining the Division of Emergency Management. . . .

Data in the 2011-12 report do not support an image many Republican leaders often convey about state employees. In both size and cost of state government, Florida ranks last in the nation -- with 112 state workers per 10,000 population and a payroll cost of $37 per resident. The national averages in those categories are 213 employees per 10,000 population and $74 per resident in state personnel costs.

Those figures have changed very little over several years, with Florida always last or tied for 50th among states in size and cost of state personnel rolls.

"It's hard to make people understand that," said Jeanette Wynn, state president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents government office workers and laborers. "I believe Gov. Scott is doing exactly what he said he would do. His goal is to privatize everything and reduce government, and he has a Legislature that's going along with exactly what he wants to do."

The DMS report said the average Career Service salary on June 30 was $34,277 -- up from $34,119 a year earlier -- but the state's total cost of compensation, including benefits, in Career Service was down from $58,517 to exactly $57,000. That's largely because of the 3 percent pension deduction Scott imposed at the start of the last fiscal year, which is being challenged by AFSCME and other public-employee unions in the Florida Supreme Court.

The study found that the average for all SPS pay classes, including Selected Exempt and Senior Management, was $38,165 -- down 1.7 percent over five years. It also found that the average state employee in mid-2011 earned 11.6 percent less than the average annual wage for all industries in Florida, which was $42,311 then.

"Scott oversees steep decline in state jobs".