Monday, December 31, 2012

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

The rise and fall of David Rivera

"For a decade, David Rivera was a political force to be reckoned with, the consummate operative who had a cat-like ability to survive any scrape — even as investigations swirled around him."

This November, the congressman’s ninth life expired.
"Voted out of office as the FBI and IRS pressed on with probes into his personal and campaign finances, Rivera officially becomes a private citizen Thursday. Rivera could be charged soon, sources familiar with the investigation say."
Despite the ongoing investigations, Rivera has steadfastly denied he’s under any scrutiny and is already planning a comeback.

Rivera lived and breathed politics since and before his one term in Congress and four in the state Legislature. He was involved in every type of race: obscure party posts, local commission elections, contests for Florida House speaker, presidential races in the state and the winning campaigns of his close friend, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

But Rivera’s penchant for playing the political game proved to be his downfall as well. Rivera often embroiled himself in needless schemes and some ultimately backfired, say friends, foes and former peers.

“At the end of the day, David’s cleverness was a liability. But until now, it was an asset,” said J.C. Planas, a fellow Miami Republican who served and clashed at times with Rivera from 2002-2010 in the Florida House.

Those who were even closer to Rivera, including Rubio backers, have anonymously described his schemes as bordering on “pathological” and “Nixonian.”

"The political rise and fall of U.S. Rep. David Rivera".

"New year promises to be anything but dull in Florida politics"

Jeff Henderson: "Even without major statewide or congressional elections scheduled in 2013, the new year promises to be anything but dull in Florida politics."

All eyes will be on Gov. Rick Scott as he readies to run for a second term. The governor continues to sink in the polls, remaining upside down in almost every survey. Nevertheless, he can point to a dropping unemployment rate as proof that his policies are working. And though he doesn't want to, he remains able to rely on his personal fortune for campaign funds. Despite the south-of-the-border poll numbers, Scott shouldn't be written off as he looks for a second term. . . .

On the Democratic side, former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is looking at getting his old job back, will try to rally Democrats to his standard and assure suspicious liberals that they can trust him in spite of his previous conservative positions and Republican affiliation. How leading Democrats respond to Crist in 2013 will help shape how the former governor does in 2014. Look for Republicans to continue to pound Crist and be joined by unlikely allies -- liberal Democrats who remain wary of the former governor. Nan Rich and other liberal Democrats looking at jumping into the race will certainly fire everything they have at Crist.

"While a potential matchup between Scott and Crist will draw plenty of national attention, the governor is not the only Cabinet official looking for another term in 2014."
Atwater could entice a Democratic opponent and rumors are buzzing that Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, will challenge him in 2014. House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, is sending up trial balloons that he could challenge Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Waldman and Thurston will face challenges in 2013 as they try to balance their duties in Tallahassee with potential 2014 campaigns. This is especially true for Thurston, who is already coping with a race between three Democrats who want his position after the 2014 elections.

"With 15 new senators and more than 40 new members of the House, 2013 should be interesting in the Legislature. Though they have smaller majorities in both chambers, the Republican leadership should have the votes they need, especially as two of the more divisive issues from last year -- redistricting and expanded casino gambling -- are off the table in 2013."
Sen. Jack Latvalla, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, are jockeying for position to see who will lead the Senate after the 2016 elections. After the 2012 election cycle and his role in helping doom the parent trigger in 2012, Latvalla is an underdog. Look for Negron to try to seal things up in 2013.
Much more here: "Politically Speaking, Florida in 2013 Will Be All About 2014".

See also "Legislators to Focus on Health Care, Budget and the Three E's: Education, Elections and Ethics" and "Big Medicaid, Obamacare Issues Face State in 2013". More: "2013: Florida Legislature's top priorities".

Obamanomics taking hold in Florida

"All indicators pointing up for South Florida tourism in 2013" and "A very good year for South Florida housing".

"Legal Issues to Keep an Eye On in 2013"

The Sunshine State News' Eric Giunta writes, "A number of legal developments are sure to dominate headlines in 2013, both nationally and statewide. In a nutshell, here are the issues we think readers should track as we enter into the new year:" "On the Docket: Legal Issues to Keep an Eye On in 2013".

Scott's PIP "reform" fails

"Starting Tuesday, a law that was one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top legislative priorities aims to slam the brakes on what he calls $1 billion in auto insurance fraud, but drivers may have to squint hard to find touted savings in their bills. Target under the law: 10 percent reduction in Personal Injury Protection rates by the start of 2013. Average reduction after 93 rate approvals: less than 1.5 percent." "PIP 'savings' hard to find as new law takes effect".

"We just don't know their names yet"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "They are the mystery players for 2013, the power brokers who will hold influential positions in education, the private sector or the political world. Collectively, their decisions will affect the lives of millions of Floridians. We just don't know their names yet, because the jobs have yet to be filled or the elections have yet to be held. Here are seven positions of power to watch in the new year." "Who will fill these power positions?"

"Scott too willing to allow business to rewrite the playbook"

The Miami Herald editorial board: "As states compete for whatever economic growth that they can secure, especially in this slowly recovering economy, Florida is smart to make clear that it is open for business."

However, the Scott administration has been too intent on not just holding open the door for those who come to do business in the state, but also handing over the keys to business interests as it works to loosen regulations on industries that pollute and profit from the state’s assets.

That may be good for business — too good — while degrading some of the state’s most precious resources, including the quality of life for many of its residents.

In the name of reform and governmental oversight, Gov. Rick Scott has been too willing to allow business interests to rewrite the playbook, giving them an outsize role in how they are governed — if at all. Earlier this year, in the face of horrible deaths at some of the most negligent assisted-living facilities in the state, Mr. Scott vowed to improve conditions for seniors and disabled people living in ALFs.

He appointed a task force to come up with recommendations, and immediately overpopulated it with industry insiders. The result? Just about every proposal to punish the most negligent of ALFs went absolutely nowhere.

"Was Mr. Scott’s vow sincere?"
The latest example comes from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. This month, its leaders decimated the ranks of longtime, experienced — and apolitical — employees, 58 in all. This is the sad, but not surprising, culmination of the slow erosion of the agency’s regulatory imperative to ensure that growth and development did not come at the expense of unreplenishable natural resources. The DEP is charged with protecting the quality of our air, water and land. As its website states, it is “the lead agency for environmental management and stewardship.” Regulatory programming and permitting decisions fall under its purview, and therein lies what shouldn’t be a problem, but is.

The purge got rid of regulators who had the backbone to say No to politically connected developers and engineers. With them went decades of experience and commitment to DEP’s mission, basing their decisions in science and research. Now, the department is being populated by administrators who come directly from the industries that regularly seek the DEP’s favor. It’s telling, disturbingly so, that most of the employees dismissed were in the compliance and enforcement divisions.

"Foxes guard the henhouse".

It never ends

"With the yard signs barely taken down from his combative campaign that unseated Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West, Democrat Patrick Murphy already is pitching hard for cash to armor himself for a re-election bid two years down the road." "No time to stop fundraising for Murphy, Frankel".

Drinking the Teabagger Kool-Aid

The Palm Beach Post editorial board drinks the Teabagger Kool-Aid this morning: "Stable retirement pensions are one of the biggest benefits of working for a city government, but cities and state officials have given out such generous pension perks to favored groups [read firefighters and law enforcement officers] in recent years that many cities’ pensions are now in danger of collapsing. There’s a simple but politically fraught fix that can help to address the crisis, and state lawmakers need to take it up in the next session." "Legislature needs to fix police and fire pensions soon".

Frankel finally makes that journey north

"On Tuesday, 20 years after she first hoped to move to Washington, D.C., Frankel finally will be making that journey north. Two days later, she’ll reach the pinnacle of her political career as she steps onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, raises her right hand and takes the oath of office to become the newest member of Congress from Broward and Palm Beach counties." "Lois Frankel preps for work and life in Washington".

"Slowing judicial confirmations is counted as a victory" for Republicans

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "President Barack Obama has had fewer nominations confirmed than his last two predecessors. Obama has had 173 confirmed during his first term, compared with 205 for George W. Bush and 200 for Bill Clinton. When Obama came into office there were 55 vacancies on the nation's federal district and circuit courts. Now there are 73 vacancies, with dozens considered 'judicial emergencies,' meaning caseloads are already too high to be reasonably handled."

This larger problem can be seen in Florida's Middle District. There are two vacancies out of 15 judges for a jurisdiction that stretches from the Tampa Bay region to Jacksonville and south to Fort Myers. Both vacancies have been designated "judicial emergencies." But that hasn't lit any kind of fire under GOP Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Senate filibuster rules allow the minority party to hold up nominations indefinitely, and McConnell has been abusing this power — a tactic that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should modify with rule changes at the start of the new Congress.

One of the Middle District's seats has had a nominee on deck since February. Judge Brian Davis has been a Jacksonville circuit judge with an excellent record for nearly two decades. He was found to be "well-qualified" for a federal judgeship by the American Bar Association. The Davis nomination has been opposed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, due to race-related statements Davis made more than 15 years ago. Still, Davis was approved by the committee by a vote of 10-7.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Polster Chappell of Fort Myers, who has served in that capacity for nearly 10 years, was tapped for the other seat in June. Both have the bipartisan support of Florida's two U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, but have yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor.

Most of the nominees awaiting a Senate floor vote are qualified, nonideological choices who would easily win confirmation by wide bipartisan margins if McConnell would only allow the process to work as intended. McConnell is damaging our system of justice by putting the courts in a partisan vise, in which slowing judicial confirmations is counted as a victory for his party.

"Senate delays on nominees hurts U.S. justice system".

Bankruptcies fall

"Despite still-high unemployment and "fiscal cliff" uncertainty in the economy, consumer bankruptcies in Central Florida are on track this year to hit their lowest point since 2008 as people continue to regain their financial footing after the Great Recession. . . . 'Maybe the answer is we've reached just about everyone in the population who's going to file bankruptcy at this point.'" "Orlando bankruptcies fall again, heading for lowest mark since '08".