Tuesday, January 01, 2013

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

Can Crist convince Democrats he doesn't really believe the things he believed in when he was a Republican?

Joe Henderson ponders the Scott-Crist thing:

Gov. Rick Scott, whose political death (as of now) is greatly exaggerated: I know the polls show Scott is one of the least-liked governors in the country but, dang, his friends are trying. They have spent months crafting an extreme makeover for him and he has time to make it work. There are signs of daisies popping up through the rubble of Florida's economy, and if that trend continues the governor might be able to brag in 2014 that he actually put the state back to work. Besides, he'll probably be running against …

Charlie Crist, the Republican … uh, Independent … uh, Whig … uh, Democratic candidate: Changeable Charlie looks like the candidate to beat right now in 2014, provided he can convince reluctant Democrats that he doesn't really believe in all the things he believed in when he was the Republican governor. This could be fun . . . .

"Reasons to be optimistic about 2013 in Tampa Bay".

"Rick Scott already has done enough damage"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board hopes there will be more than "quick fixes" in the upcoming year, at least when it comes to "Ethics and elections":

The 2013 Legislature has the potential to reform Tallahassee's pay-to-play culture and restore voter confidence. But can the Republican leadership — including two Tampa Bay lawmakers — rise to the challenge?

New House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel has staked his speakership on ethics reform. Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater has been assigned by Senate President Don Gaetz to steer campaign and ethics legislation. Promising reform is easy, but reducing the influence of special interests by cracking down on secretive third-party committees or unethical colleagues will be difficult.

Even Gov. Rick Scott is acknowledging the voting law he signed in 2011 goes too far in reducing early voting days from 14 to eight. But the 2012 election problems went beyond that to include his nefarious voter purge effort and tricky new registration rules. Nothing short of a sincere attempt to ensure easy voter access to the polls will be acceptable.

And "Health care":
After 2012 was spent fighting over the fate of the Affordable Care Act, 2013 should be spent figuring out how to carry out the federal law and improve it.

The federal government and the states have to design the health insurance exchanges, which will enable millions of uninsured Americans to shop for affordable coverage starting in 2014. Florida and other states also have to decide whether to expand Medicaid — an expansion for low-income Americans that will be entirely paid for by the federal government for the first few years. There are about 4 million uninsured Floridians, and Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature should embrace the expansion.

And finally, "Transportation":
Gov. Rick Scott already has done enough damage to transportation by killing a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando and embracing the foolish idea of new toll roads to crisscross the rural areas. This is the wrong approach in a coastal state where mass transit could save time, money and precious natural resources.
"Look beyond quick fixes".

Host of new laws

"Host of new laws take effect Jan. 1".

"The governor and the Legislature should finally acknowledge that climate change is real"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "If Gov. Rick Scott wants to see Florida's future as the planet warms and sea levels rise, he should take a drive on State Road A1A along the Fort Lauderdale strip where street flooding from the Atlantic Ocean occurred off and on for weeks last year."

The flooding was blamed on a confluence of high winds, a low-pressure system, Superstorm Sandy and the moon's pull. And while it's impossible to say if global warming is the cause, it is certainly true that the oceans are higher because of a warming climate, meaning more coastal flooding. The governor and the Legislature should finally acknowledge that the scientific community is right and climate change is real.
"Climate change reality laps up on Florida shores".

The Sun Sentinel editorial board: "No denying climate change".

Florida banks cater to wealthy Latin Americans

"With the new year, a new IRS rule goes into effect requiring the nation's banks to disclose to the IRS — though not publicly — the identity of foreign nationals who hold U.S. accounts. The state's banks, especially those in South Florida, are used by many wealthy Latin Americans as depositories."

Bankers in Florida and elsewhere have fretted for months about the new regulation, arguing it will scare away wealthy individuals looking to keep their money safely beyond the reach of their own governments. The prospect of transparency so worried the banking industry that executives warned last spring that billions of dollars could leave the state — decimating banks' ability to loan money to Americans.

But with Jan. 1 now here, the fears of an economic Armageddon are looking about as realistic as the Mayan doomsday warnings.

Though exact numbers are impossible to tally, Florida banking leaders said they haven't seen the massive flight of money they once feared. . . .

Why the anxiety? Schwartz said many foreign depositors want to keep their wealth secret so that family members back home won't be put at risk of blackmail by government officials or ransom kidnappings by violent criminals.

The reporting rule applies only to residents of about 80 countries, including such Latin and Central American nations as Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. But others whose nationals have significant deposits in Florida, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba and Haiti, are excluded.

And even if a depositor's name is reported to the IRS, that doesn't mean the information will get back to his or her home country because the Treasury Department reserves the right to withhold details.

Venezuelan crooks can breathe easy, because
the Treasury Department [is] promising not to exchange information with the Venezuelan government of socialist President Hugo Chavez to ease the fears of U.S. depositors from that country.
"Fears ease that new reporting rule will prompt outflow of foreign cash".

Florida's hate crime "assaults increased dramatically"

"While the total number of hate crimes dropped by 6.7 percent from 2010 [reflecting a reduction of property based hate crimes], the number of assaults increased dramatically. In 2011, assaults comprised 51.8 percent of the reported hate crimes, the first time in seven years that crimes against individuals instead of property made up more than half of the total hate crimes. In 2010, there were 58 hate crime-based assaults, or 38.9 percent, of the total 149 hate crimes reported." "Report: hate crimes drop in Florida".

Desperate GOPers floating McCollum primary challenge against Scott

Kingsley Guy: "The 2012 presidential race may be over, but the 2014 Florida gubernatorial race is starting to heat up. Brace yourself. Given the passion of Florida politics, the next two years should provide quite a spectacle."

Scott isn't very popular among Floridians, with only 36 percent thinking he's doing a good job. That's down five points from May, when 41 percent gave Scott the thumbs up. Scott's low popularity comes as no surprise. Plenty of voters, including a large number of Republicans, still are scratching their heads over how this political neophyte could win election, particularly since the health care company he once ran pleaded guilty to the biggest Medicare fraud on record.

The $70 million of his own money that Scott spent on his campaign helped him win. So did support from tea partiers, who backed Scott in the GOP primary over the highly competent Bill McCollum, then Florida's attorney general. Democratic challenger Alex Sink did her part for Scott's victory by running an inept campaign.

"Meanwhile, former Gov. Charlie Crist has registered as a Democrat. That was expected, considering Crist gave Barack Obama a ringing endorsement from the podium of the Democratic convention. Never one to miss a political opportunity, former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist may yet resurrect a once-promising political career by riding a donkey back to the governor's mansion."
In a sensible world, McCollum in 2010 would have been the GOP nominee for governor. He would have crushed Sink in the general election, and at this point been well on his way to re-election. Of course, had Crist opted to run for a second term as governor rather than seeking election to the U.S. Senate, he'd probably be finishing a successful second term right now.

Regardless of their politics, McCollum and Crist both have demonstrated they are intelligent men and competent leaders. Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, "There are no second acts in American lives," but maybe there should be. A McCollum-Crist gubernatorial race would give Floridians something to think about.

"Second acts coming in state politics?".

"Troubling precedent for the rest of Florida"

The Palm Beach Post editors: "For the past few years, the Miami-Dade Police Department has been using drones to patrol the Everglades, setting a low-key but vaguely troubling precedent for the rest of Florida. Most famous as a tool for targeting and killing suspected terrorists in faraway lands, unmanned drones are quickly attracting interest from police departments around the country. Alarmed by this, state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has filed a bill in the Legislature that would ban Florida’s police departments from using drones in nearly all instances, with an exception for people identified by the federal government as terrorism suspects. The senator is rightly concerned about drones’ ability to encroach on citizens’ right to privacy in their homes and neighborhoods." "Editorial: Next privacy issue for Florida? Police drones".

Orlando Sentinel begins in-depth look at how Scott's performance measures up to his promises

"During the next several weeks, the Orlando Sentinel will take an in-depth look at how Gov. Rick Scott's performance in office measures up against each component of his "7-7-7" campaign plan." "What is Rick Scott's '7-7-7' campaign plan?"