Thursday, December 06, 2012

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

Rubio declares that public schools are a "disaster" for millions

"Most of Florida's public-school teachers earned good evaluations under a new and highly controversial evaluation system, data released this morning showed." "Teachers fare well in new evaluation". See also "State: Almost half of local teachers 'highly effective'".

Meanwhile, would-be-president Rubio declares that "Public schools are a 'disaster' for millions of disadvantaged children, Rubio said in a speech Tuesday night outlining proposals for helping workaday folks improve their lot. 'We need to allow charter schools and other innovative schools to flourish.'" "Rubio touts charter school tax credits to help middle class".

Florida has budget surplus, but the whinging never ends

"Initial, positive indications about Florida’s budget for the coming fiscal year could be overtaken by events if the Florida Supreme Court strikes down changes to state employees or the nation plunges over the fiscal cliff, the state’s top economist warned Wednesday."

Speaking to the first meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Amy Baker — coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research — told lawmakers that the current projection of a $436.8 million budget surplus could still change.
"State lawmakers cautious about projected $437 million budget surplus". See also "Florida budget is in the black, but future is uncertain", "State economy brightens, but pension decision, fiscal cliff could cast shadow" and "Uncertainty Prevails over Florida’s Budget".

All Rubio all the time

Alex Leary: "Rubio has found a safe word for discussing his presidential ambitions: opportunity." "Sen. Marco Rubio has safe word for presidential ambitions: 'opportunity'".


"Sen. Tom Lee: Judicial Reform 'Not High Priority' for Florida Legislature in 2013".

Well, if Saint "Jeb!" did it

"In 2003, former Gov. Jeb Bush removed the Broward County supervisor of elections for neglect of duty, incompetence and misfeasance."

The same thing could happen again.

The chairman of the state Senate Ethics and Elections Committee suggested a few Florida supervisors face similar prospects after a chaotic 2012 presidential contest that saw long lines, broken tabulating machines, questionable counting, untrained poll workers and delayed totals in select counties.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would not specifically say which county supervisors he believes are the most vulnerable. But he did say they are most likely in South Florida -- South Florida being anything from and including St. Lucie County south.

“All of us remember the governor one time suspended a supervisor for poor performance,” Latvala said after his committee held its first meeting on Tuesday.

"Jack Latvala Suggests Removal of Elections Supervisors for 2012 Problems".

Unconfirmed Appointees

"Senate Intends to Work Quickly This Time on Governor's Appointees".

"Expanding early voting and making it easier to register to vote"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "What a difference an election can make. Roughly one month after Florida once again made voting too difficult, state legislators are signaling a willingness to make constructive changes. It's a welcome retreat from the past two years that included a Republican-driven voter suppression law and the governor's faulty attempt to purge voter rolls. But any reforms should include expanding early voting and making it easier to register to vote." "Repair Florida's voting system". See also "Detzner outlines to lawmakers his plans to look into voting problems". Related: "House Democrats will push election reforms".

Back door privatizing slammed again

"For the second time in over a year, a state judge has ruled that the Florida Legislature violated the law when it tried to privatize the state’s role in operating prisons."

Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper on Tuesday struck down an attempt by the Florida Legislature to privatize prison health care by using a budgetary process instead of making the change through a full vote of lawmakers.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Corrections said they will appeal the ruling, warning that the state now faces a $90 million deficit because they had counted saving that much over the next two years by having private contractors provide prison health care.

Cooper said that the Legislature had the power to contract its prison health services to private, for-profit companies, but it went about it the wrong way. Rather than put the issue up for a full vote — and face likely defeat — legislative leaders chose to rely on the 14-member Legislative Budget Commission to authorize the change during its September meeting.

“While the State of Florida does have authority to privatize prison health care throughout the state, the full Legislature must do so by passing the appropriate funding mechanism specifically directed to that goal,’’ Cooper wrote in his 12-page ruling. “Authorizing and funding privatizing health services in Florida’s prisons is the prerogative of the full Legislature and not that of the Legislative Budget Commission.”

The ruling is the second rebuke to legislative leaders in just over a year as they have struggled to usher in prison privatization without putting the controversial concept to a full vote. Unions and legislators from rural counties, where the prison industry is strong, have been the most vocal opponents.

"Judge mostly rejects Fla. prison medical outsourcing".

"Ironies and unintended consequences"

Bill Cotterell: "Florida politics is full of ironies and unintended consequences."

So it's not surprising that a big tactical shift made by mostly Old South Democrats a half-century ago will help Republican Rick Scott, one of the nation's least-popular governors, keep his job in two years. Despite dismal poll numbers, Scott has a lot going for him in 2014.

First, the best advantage anyone can have is incumbency. Governors make news just by showing up. Their policies can be spun into bumper stickers and campaign ads; any dissent within their parties is politely snuffed; and, best of all, the smart money flows their way.

Scott has all of those advantages — not even counting his personal wealth. His "Let's Get to Work" re-election fund already has more than $5 million, with lots more to come.

Much more: "Florida politics is full of ironies and unintended consequences." "Rick Scott has advantages in bid for another term".

Negron speaks

"Senate budget chief tells subcommittee chairs to start asking questions about how the state spends money." "Negron wants to examine contracts, state programs and local projects".

Jones steps up

"House Minority Leader pro tempore Mia Jones declared her candidacy Wednesday to become her party's leader in the chamber in 2014. Jones, D-Jacksonville, formally notified the House clerk's office of her candidacy for speaker in the 2014-16 term. But unless the Democrats pick up an astronomical 17 seats in the next elections, the post will really be House minority leader." "Another Democrat vying for leadership role".

So-called "Defenders of Liberty"

"The nation’s oldest and most prominent conservative lobbying organization released Wednesday its second annual ideological ratings of Florida’s Republican and Democratic legislators. . . . The ACU designates a legislator “conservative” when he votes at least 80 percent of the time in accordance with the position taken by the organization on certain pieces of legislation. The ACU also awards special designations to “Defenders of Liberty” and “True Liberals,” lawmakers who score 100 percent and 0 percent respectively." "Who’s Conservative, Who’s Liberal? American Conservative Union Rates Florida's Legislators".

"Whatever it took"

"Developer Bruce Chait testified that he did whatever he had to do — bribing Broward County politicians and making illegal campaign donations — to control votes so he could build homes on land in Tamarac that cost him more than $9.3 million." "Developer says he paid bribes, 'did whatever it took'".

Rubio's raw political courage

Marco Rubio, his with his eyes firmly on the White House, or at least the Naval Observatory, is blabbity-blabbing about the "expansion of energy production to create jobs while tapping 'massive new deposits of oil and natural gas.'"

The senator stopped short, however, of proposing oil and gas drilling along the shores of his home state of Florida, an idea strongly opposed by environmentalists, Democrats and many tourism promoters.
"Rubio touts charter school tax credits to help middle class".

Meanwhile, expect a self-serving Rubio press conference momentarily: "Marco Rubio: Tell Me Your Fiscal Cliff Story".

Earnings plummet, Darden flip flops on Obamacare

"A day after warning its earnings had plummeted, Darden Restaurants on Wednesday said it would back off somewhat from a test limiting employee hours to avoid higher costs for Obamacare in 2014. Darden told The Associated Press it would not convert any current full-time employees to part time to forgo the coming health-care changes. It remained unclear how the changes would affect new employees, particularly at new restaurants." "Darden backs off on some 'Obamacare' changes".

No state legislators, please

The Miami Herald editorial board: "The members of the Miami-Dade School Board have built up quite a reserve of public trust, so much that last month voters, by more than 68 percent, approved a $1.2 billion bond issue to renovate schools across the county. It was a stunning vote of confidence on the part of county residents. So the School Board should avoid even the appearance — or, worse, the reality — of conducting business as usual today and reject a proposal to place two state legislators on the citizens committee charged with ensuring the bond money is spent fairly and wisely." "Don’t tinker with school-bond program".

"Out of the shadows"

"About 15,000 young illegal immigrants in Florida have stepped out of the shadows to apply for protection against deportation since federal officials started accepting applications in August." "About 15,000 young immigrants in Florida apply to avoid deportation".

A "dumb decision"

The Miami Herald editors: "Now that the president of Florida’s last-resort windstorm insurer, Citizens, has admitted that it was a 'dumb decision' to fire the company’s internal watchdogs the day it did in October, it’s time for the both the governor and the Legislature to take a long, hard look at how the company is being managed and what’s behind these firings." "End the scandals at Citizens".

Revolutionizing budget accountability

"On the same day Senate leaders announced they would conduct an intensive review of the state budget, two government watchdog groups said a budget transparency program — put on hold by the Senate — could 'save Florida millions of dollars' and revolutionize budget accountability." "Budget tracker gets raves".

Alleged absentee ballot scheme

"A judge is hearing motions to dismiss election fraud charges against six defendants, including a suspended school board member in a rural north Florida county."

Defense lawyers were set to argue Wednesday in a Madison courtroom that their clients, all black, did nothing wrong and are victims of an attempt by state authorities to suppress minority voter turnout.

The charges stem from a 2010 school board election in Madison County. The winner, by a mere 28 votes, was Abra Hill Johnson. She's one of the six defendants charged with felony election fraud in an alleged absentee ballot scheme.

"Florida judge hearing 6 election fraud cases".

Big of them

"State university presidents and student government leaders are offering Florida lawmakers a deal in exchange for not raising tuition next year." "Fla. university leaders want to avoid tuition hike".

Ethics Commission find probable cause against Fresen

"The Florida Ethics Commission announced Wednesday it has found probable cause that state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, failed to properly disclose his annual net worth, assets, and liabilities from 2008 to 2011."

Fresen called the allegations “baseless and pointless.”

The commission’s next step is to determine whether Fresen violated state ethics laws by failing to properly report his income and liabilities on his annual state disclosure forms. That process could take several weeks.

Fresen’s finances have been the subject of several reports, including in the Miami Herald, and became an issue in his successful primary campaign against opponent Amory Bodin.

Fresen said Wednesday the charges were filed against him by an aide to Bodin and he considers them "nothing but a textbook political attack" and he expects to fight the charges. He said the probable cause findings "deal with technicalities and not substantive issues."

"State ethics commission: State Rep. Erik Fresen may have failed to disclose personal finances".