Sunday, December 09, 2012

This holiday season, you should consider giving a newspaper subscription as a gift and/or buying one or more subscriptions for delivery to your workplace. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Spouse of Bush-Cheney lawyer recruited to lead FlaDems

"Two of Florida's most prominent Democrats, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have recruited a new candidate to lead the state Democratic Party: Allison Tant, a top fundraiser in Tallahassee."

Tant is married to top trial lawyer Barry Richard, a lifelong Democrat best known for leading the Bush-Cheney Florida legal team during the 2000 recount battle.
"Former lobbyist Allison Tant joins race to lead Florida Democratic Party".

"Perhaps he can blame that on the colleges and universities, too"

Randy Schultz reminds us that "the people who run Florida’s public colleges and universities didn’t cut $300 million from this year’s higher education budget. The people who run Florida’s public colleges and universities didn’t approved an unneeded 12th university, which will drain money from the other, underfinanced 11."

Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature did those things. But to hear Gov. Scott, he’s not the problem with Florida’s public colleges and universities. The problem is the people who run Florida’s public colleges and universities.
"His reelection date is nearly two years away, but Gov. Scott acts as if it’s two weeks away. News releases tout every bit of positive economic news, down to the arrival of new jobs at a convenience store — all because Rick Scott’s CEO approach has brought salvation to the benighted state forced to live without him until January 2011."
The governor disparaged public education during his first year in office. His first budget cut more from public schools than the Legislature did. Someone finally clued in the governor. When he signed the 2011-12 budget at the tea-party friendly pseudo-city known as The Villages, he vetoed some spending and called on the Legislature to divert the money to education. Which the Legislature couldn’t do. But we saw what was coming.

So this year’s budget contained $1 billion more for schools, or $300 million less than Gov. Scott cut last year. For next year, the governor has vowed to hold school spending at its current level. Given inflation and student growth, the schools will fall behind. Then there’s that Tallahassee-ordered “merit pay” system for teachers. If Gov. Scott is serious, he will find money for it from the state budget. If he isn’t, he will demand that local school districts find it.

Having blessed the schools with his beneficence, Gov. Scott has turned to the colleges and universities. As Tallahassee has cut and cut money for higher education, administrators have raised tuition. Gov. Scott has pledged to cut the cost of living in Florida — except when it comes to property insurance. His “vision” for higher education, which he issued in June, called for Florida to be “No. 1 in university and college affordability.” In fact, the state has been close to that for years. University tuition ranked 45th until the recent increases, and has risen all the way to 41st. Not good enough. Two weeks ago, Gov. Scott issued his “$10,000 challenge” to the 28 state colleges, which until not long ago were two-year community colleges. The governor wants the colleges to offer a four-degree that costs no more than $10,000 — nice, round political figure — and leads to a job. . . .

Last week, as Gov. Scott was pursuing his “vision” for higher education, he was having to find the third leader in barely a year for his supposedly transformational Department of Economic Opportunity. Perhaps he can blame that on the colleges and universities, too.

"Scott is the ‘challenge’ for higher education in Florida".

"The buck, it sometimes seems, stops nowhere"

William March: "Trying to figure out who pays for campaigns by members of the Florida Legislature has become a bewildering trek through a morass of anonymous, independent committees funneling money back and forth among themselves. The buck, it sometimes seems, stops nowhere." "Florida lawmakers seek reform of independent campaign committees".

"Another hat in the ring"

"A third Democrat in the Florida House has declared his candidacy for the post of minority leader for the 2014-2016 cycle. Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, entered the fray Thursday, joining Reps. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Mia Jones of Jacksonville. All three are in the running to succeed Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, after the 2014 election." "Another hat in the ring".

The next time you whine about their pay or pensions . . .

. . . recall this example, of so many examples, of "the bravery of firefighters". The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "Finding a suspected meth lab at a tony, Lido Beach high-rise may be the surprise of the year. There was nothing surprising, however, about the bravery of Sarasota firefighters, who last Tuesday risked their own safety -- as they often do -- to rescue residents from a blaze in the building."

This episode was unusual, but it is representative of first responders' everyday commitment to putting the public's well being before their own.
"Editorial: Everyday bravery".

Research challenges notion of STEM as economic elixir

"As STEM has become an education buzzword in recent years, a steady stream of research has emerged that challenges the notion of STEM as an economic elixir. In some STEM careers, the employment picture is downright lousy." "More STEM degrees may not equal more jobs".

"You lied to me"

"Now that former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is a Democrat, pretty much everyone in Florida's political world expects him to seek his old job. 'I will consider it, and I will think about it,' Crist told The Associated Press by phone while boating off of Miami and before a planned dinner Saturday evening with former Democratic governor and Sen. Bob Graham."

Earlier Saturday, Florida Republicans gathered for a meeting and said they will be extra motivated to re-elect Gov. Rick Scott if his opponent is Crist, who left the GOP during his 2010 run for Senate.

"Bring it on," Peter Feaman, the party's national committeeman, told a room of Republican activists. "That man sat at my house, in my kitchen, at my breakfast table and told me he was a Ronald Reagan Republican. OK, I'm putting my boots on, because guess what? You lied to me." . . .

Republicans, anticipating the switch, have been attacking him for months. As Crist campaigned with President Barack Obama and other Democrats during the fall, Republicans ran a television ad and issued scores of press releases pointing out his previous conservative positions.

"If he runs for his old job, Crist will have better name recognition than any other Democrat seeking the governor's seat, including former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who lost a hard-fought campaign to Scott."
Scott's approval ratings haven't come close to what Crist had in office. Scott, a former hospital chain CEO and tea party favorite who never ran for office before spending nearly $80 million of his and his family's money to win election, isn't considered a natural politician. He can be an awkward speaker, and it has taken a while for him to grow comfortable in the spotlight.

But that doesn't mean Crist would have an easy time winning. During primary elections, only about 20 percent of voters turn out, and they are the most faithful in the party. Activists on both sides will remember the many elections in which they fought Crist, who often called himself a Ronald Reagan and Jeb Bush Republican.

"Florida's Crist may run again; GOP says its ready".

Meanwhile, Lloyd Dunkelberger writes that the "potential Crist-Scott showdown would provide a political drama of the highest order in the nation’s fourth-largest state. The matchup also presents plenty of risks and rewards for each side." "In a Crist-Scott showdown, opportunity for drama".

Runnin' "nonprofits" like a bidness

"Top managers at South Florida's main blood bank charged meals with co-workers that featured alcohol and cost nearly $1,000, and one executive took limousine rides worth almost $1,400, according to expense-report receipts obtained by the Orlando Sentinel." "Execs charged meals, limos to South Florida blood bank".

Mack's last act . . . benefits "sugar daddy"

The Suyn Sentinel editorial board: "He came to Washington with a good name: U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, son of a U.S. senator and great grandson of baseball icon Connie Mack. But he leaves Congress under a political cloud after his last-minute push on a bill that would benefit a key political donor."

Mack, who lost his race to unseat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and has about a month left in Congress, chairs a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. Last week, the Fort Myers Republican scheduled a vote on the only piece of legislation he has pushed through his subcommittee this year: a bill that would pressure Argentina to compensate American investors hurt when it defaulted on its foreign debt more than 10 years ago.

According to a front-page story in USA Today, Mack's bill would largely benefit Paul Singer, a New York venture capitalist whose companies lost more than $1 billion in Argentina. Singer also is a major contributor to Republican races, including Mack and his wife, U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California, who lost her re-election campaign.

To call Singer a "sugar daddy" is within the bounds of reason. Employees of his hedge fund contributed $39,413 to Connie Mack's failed Senate campaign. And a political action committee Singer backed spent more than $400,000 attacking Bono Mack's opponent, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

So you can understand why skeptics might see Mack's final move as more proof that big-moneyed interests expect a return on their investments in political candidates, even as those candidates are on their way out the door.

"Connie Mack leaves on sour note".

What liberal media?

The Daytona Beach News Journal editors share two less than impressive editorials with us this morning: see "Provisions of Obamacare threaten state budget" and "Full Legislature should weigh prison privatization" ("Legislature should endorse Scott's privatization plans to save precious tax dollars and free up money for other critical areas of the state budget").

Will Scott block this federal help?

The Tallahassee Democrat editors: "Without a steady infusion of fresh water, more salt water finds its way into the bay, and the oysters can’t survive. Oyster harvesters tell of raking in three or four bags a day, when once they were able to fill 20 bags with the world-famous oysters. Help has come to the area. A $2.7 million federal grant will provide jobs for the oystermen." "We need water".

Mary McCarty 2?

"Three years after a sobbing Mary McCarty told a judge she used her Palm Beach County Commission seat for personal gain, the longtime politician will speak to Delray Beach business leaders about the roughly two years she spent in federal lockup."

In what some are calling an eyebrow-raising coming out party and others say is just a sly way to boost numbers at a little-attended event, McCarty on Friday will talk at a closed-door meeting of the government affairs committee of the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.

McCarty didn’t return a phone call for comment last week about her first semi-public appearance since she was sent to prison in June 2009. But tongues are wagging throughout the city that launched her political career in 1987 when it elected her to the city commission and then was tarred by allegations that it helped perpetuate her misdeeds.

“This is her inauguration. Mary McCarty 2,” said Vincent Dole, a retired venture capitalist who blogs about city goings-on. “It’s a concerted effort to try to help her rehabilitate her image. She wants back in and this is her first step.” . . .

[Others agree] They say they have seen McCarty’s fingerprints on various issues. Her brother, Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard, on Tuesday won a $15,000 contract to persuade state lawmakers to help the city regulate sober houses. She has long been close with outgoing Mayor Woodie McDuffie. Some say she is advising attorney Tom Carney in his upcoming March mayoral race. Carney vehemently denied it, adding that he is tired of the lies linking him with McCarty.

"Is ex-commissioner McCarty making a comeback?".

Florida endangering the safety and development of vulnerable children

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The Justice Department says that by sticking children in nursing homes Florida is violating federal law that prohibits discrimination against disabled people and endangering the safety and development of vulnerable children." "We're failing to protect our children".

"Florida's sucking the exhaust of perennial academic also-rans Alabama and Mississippi"

Jebbie Bush's sorry education legacy: The Orlando Sentinel editorial board points out that in "2011, the state posted a mediocre 71 percent graduate rate. How sorry is that? Florida's mark bested only five other states." Even today, in late 2012, with "Florida's sucking the exhaust of perennial academic also-rans Alabama and Mississippi, there remains plenty of work to do."

Where's Mister Scott in all this?"

Dismal numbers — such as only 57 percent of black males and 47 percent of disabled students graduating — may make Florida attractive to Walmart. But relocating businesses of the kind Scott wants prefer to set up shop in areas with educated workforces.
Graduation rates reflect a grim reality in Florida".