Sunday, January 13, 2013

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

Payroll tax pushed by GOP hurts Florida's working poor

"It's a particularly painful blow in Volusia and Flagler counties, where wages tend to be low. Median earnings for Volusia workers were $25,182 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. "

The payroll tax holiday was part of President Barack Obama's stimulus plan to boost the economy. It temporarily reduced employees' Social Security contributions from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

The president pushed for an extension early in fiscal cliff negotiations out of a fear that its loss would threaten economic growth in 2013. He relented in the face of opposition from Republicans and groups like the AARP.

"Average Volusia-Flagler worker will pay $500-plus more a year in payroll taxes".

Manufacturing and electing business-bots

Michael Sasso reports that a "school that grooms future politicians, bankrolled by the Tampa region's biggest corporations, has had its first graduate win public office."

Kathryn Starkey's election to the Pasco County Commission this fall was a small, but significant, victory for the Tampa Bay Public Leadership Institute, a two-year-old political boot camp. It and its sister organizations have been spreading across Florida, teaching dozens of would-be politicians how to raise campaign cash and survive attack ads.

Paying the bills for students' tuition are companies, including Publix Super Markets, CSX Corp., TECO Energy, AT&T and Outback Steakhouse. . . .

The idea was simple: find business-savvy people with an interest in politics and teach them how to build a campaign staff, raise cash, market themselves to voters and withstand attack ads. The group usually partners with a local economic development group, such as the Tampa Bay Partnership or the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and solicits contributions from major corporations to cover the students' tuition.

Students are expected to understand and support business, but [Institute President Mark] Mills insists there's no litmus test.

"Political school celebrates its first campaign victory".


"Fort Lauderdale-area employers had a better year in 2012 than they expected, according to the latest survey of members of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Council of Economic Advisors, a group of CEOs and top executives who meet quarterly to give the Federal Reserve their input." "Local businesses had a better 2012 than expected".

Clendenin, Tant Kerfuffle

Adam C. Smith on the FlaDem party chairman race now raging between Tampa's Alan Clendenin and Tallahassee's Allison Tant:

We really have no clear sense of whether Clendenin, a retired air traffic controller, or former lobbyist Tant will win the race to succeed Rod Smith. At first blush, Clendenin would seem to have the edge — especially after party leaders in the Democratic strongholds of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties on Tuesday signed a pledge to cast all their votes for him.

Pledge, schmedge. Less than a day later, one of those six officials, Palm Beach state committeeman John Ramos, announced he would support Tant[*]. A running tally of declared votes compiled by Tallahassee activist Jon Ausman has Clendenin with 438 votes (about 77 percent of what it will take to win) and Tant with 337 (about 60 percent of what's needed).

Smith guesses "Tant will be the next chair of the state Democratic Party. She has overwhelming support from the party establishment, including Wasserman Schultz, Sen. Bill Nelson, most of the Democratic congressional delegation and the teachers union. The party establishment usually wins out in these races."
- State party staffers ought to be worried. Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the state party, will almost certainly be looking for a new job if Clendenin wins. Hard to see how Clendenin would retain a top staffer who actively campaigned for Tant.

- The shadow of the 2014 gubernatorial race hangs over the election. It may not be accurate, but plenty of players in this party chairmanship drama see repercussions for the race to take on Gov. Rick Scott.

Tant is a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama, whose political team clearly has fond feelings for Republican-turned Democrat Charlie Crist, while Clendenin's base of support comes from the grass roots, where skepticism about Crist is widespread. That may help to explain why Alex Sink, Crist's toughest potential rival for the Democratic nomination, backs Clendenin. . . .

- Wasserman Schultz has diminished her reputation. The Broward Democrat may well wind up delivering the chairmanship to Tant, but the difficulty the DNC chairwoman has had snuffing a challenge from an obscure activist like Clendenin hardly signals vast influence among her home state party activists.

"Tight race to succeed chairman of Dems".

- - - - - - - -

*Here's the latest: After Ramos changed his mind, the Palm Beach County’s DEC voted to endorse Clendenin for state chair.

The county DEC’s endorsement of Clendenin over Allison Tant isn’t binding, but it heaps more pressure on wavering State Committeeman John Ramos, who signed an endorsement of Clendenin on Monday but [later said] he would support Tant.

After tonight’s DEC vote, Ramos said he was torn over how he should vote in the Jan. 26 election for state chairman in Lake Mary.

Ramos and State Committeewoman Bunny Steinman are the only people who will actually cast ballots on behalf of the county in the chairman’s race. . . .

Ramos, who had left the meeting before the vote to endorse Clendenin, was told of the DEC’s action by a reporter and initially sounded unsure of how he’ll respond.

“I’m going to have to seek advice,” Ramos said. “As state committeeman, that’s my job to represent the party. That’s a quandary for me.”

Under the Florida Democratic Party’s weighted voting system, there are 1,140 statewide votes for chairman and Palm Beach County has 82 of them. Ramos and Steinman, a Clendenin supporter, control 41 votes apiece.

"Palm Beach County Dems endorse Clendenin, put more pressure on wavering committeeman".

Fables of the deconstruction

John Romano tells a story:

There once was a governor who watched faithfully over his flock of citizens. One day, from atop his mansion, he began to cry out, "Bankrupt! We're going Bankrupt!''

The citizens grew concerned and hurried over to see. When they realized he was not telling the truth, they went grumbling back to their homes. A short time later, the governor spoke up again.

"Bankrupt,'' he cried. "We're going bankrupt!''

Once again, the citizens panicked. And once again, they realized they had been duped. Later, when the governor wanted to talk about all the good things he had accomplished for his flock of citizens, he couldn't understand why no one wanted to listen.

"We get it. Gov. Rick Scott does not like the Affordable Care Act."
But today's worry is not about details. It is about honesty. Trust. Fair play.

A number of times in recent months, Scott has tossed around incorrect facts and highly dubious numbers while railing against the Affordable Care Act.

"Frankly, it's hard to say which is worse:"
That a sitting governor does not know simple truths about this important legislation, or that he does know the truth and chooses to ignore it.

Scott once went on CNN and talked about a small-business owner who told him he could not afford to pay for health care for 20 employees, and thus would have to go out of business.

It sounded drastic, poignant and sad. Except it was utterly wrong. The ACA does not require businesses to provide health care unless they have 50 or more employees.

It is one of the most basic components of a plan Scott has supposedly studied, and yet the governor brazenly passed on this bad information to a national television audience.

He has also compared the new law to Canada's system and suggested it will lead to a rationing of health care. This is a spurious argument since the majority of Americans will keep the same health insurance they've always had.

Scott has also offered wildly inflated costs for Obamacare on several occasions, even after being told by his own state officials that the numbers he was quoting were incorrect by billions and billions of dollars.

Now all of this is troubling on two major fronts.

No. 1, how strong is your argument against the Affordable Care Act if you have to continually exaggerate to make your point?

If this plan is as dangerous as you claim, the numbers should speak for themselves and Americans should be able to figure that out. Instead, the governor chooses the most extreme and unlikely scenarios, and then embellishes from there.

No. 2, if you're continually caught stretching the truth on health care, how much credibility do you have on other issues?

"A political fable: The governor who cried wolf".

"And it's a shocker"

The Sun Sentinel editorial board would like to "have an honest conversation about the costs and benefits of adding more uninsured Floridians to the state's Medicaid rolls under a provision of the federal health reform law known as Obamacare. For after hyper-inflating the true cost, and getting push back from legislative budget analysts, Gov. Rick Scott's administration finally released a more realistic cost estimate for helping poor people get health care. And it's a shocker. The new price tag is about a fifth of what the governor has been leading us to believe." "A business case for expanding Medicaid".

"Legalization won't come overnight"

Kingsley Guy: "Now that Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use of marijuana, it's time for Floridians to start talking seriously about doing the same."

Legalization won't come overnight. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found only 42 percent of Florida voters think recreational pot smoking should be legal, while 52 percent think it should continue to be proscribed.
"Time to re-think our War on Drugs".

"Brain-free zone usually encircles Florida’s Legislature"

Carl Hiaasen shows no mercy today: "It’s only fitting that the NRA’s biggest tool in Florida is a funeral director."

He is Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who does whatever the gun lobby wants.

Three days after the slaughter of first-graders in Newtown, Conn., Baxley made national headlines by suggesting that weapons should be carried by employees at public schools.

"And since a brain-free zone usually encircles Florida’s Legislature, count on some eager-beaver lawmaker to follow up on Baxley’s idea of arming teachers, coaches, maybe even cafeteria workers."
You might be wondering what kind of a person would advocate saturating our schools with loaded firearms. How about a grandfather of eight who lists his hobbies as fishing, reading and “listening to Gospel music”?

Rock on, Dennis. Nearer my Glock to thee! . . .

He’s been a long-time darling of the NRA. In 2004 the group gave him an A-plus rating and a “Defender of Freedom” award, and four years later it pumped $35,000 into his election campaign, according to Mother Jones magazine.

In return, Baxley has been obedient and loyal as a puppy. He’s responsible for Florida’s half-baked “Stand Your Ground” law, now a go-to legal defense for any dope dealer or gang banger who shoots down a rival on the street. . . .

He’s way too tight with Marion Hammer, Florida’s top gun lobbyist and a cloud-mate of that jibbering NRA wingnut, Wayne LaPierre.

Read it all: "Appropriate job for big NRA backer".

Not surprisingly, the Baxley-NRA crew has shills in the media. Consider this from The Daytona Beach News Journal editors, who believe the "Florida Legislature should debate whether teachers or administrators should be allowed to carry concealed guns." "Legislature should review school security measures".

Scott Maxwell begs to differ: "Instead of exploring ways to keep guns away from the bad guys and out of the hands of the mentally ill, there are proposals — from Lake County to Tallahassee — to infuse more guns in schools. This is not a proposal. It's a psychotic break." "Don't let fringes stifle frank talk on guns".

Meanwhile, Michael Mayo writes that "After Newtown massacre, Lauderdale gun show does bang-up business".

"Pro-life, super-Christian fallen legislator"

Billy Manes writes that his "favorite cuddly pro-life, super-Christian fallen legislator, Scott Plakon, filed his paperwork to make another go at Tallahassee on Jan. 2. You'll recall that Plakon went down in flames after an attempted Sandusk-ing of opponent (now state Rep.) Karen Castor Dentel in November."

Well, now Plakon says he's ready to "throw his head back in" the race, only this time running in the highly conservative Florida House District 29 he granted bestie (and failed future House Speaker) Chris Dorworth two months ago. It is the district he's called home for 30 years, he says, and even people at his local Chinese restaurant are behind the idea! Still, he'll have to face off with newbie state Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, who doesn't even have a record to run against yet.

"This will be an election about ideas and records," he says. "I do think that my record in the legislature is well-suited to that district."

Plakon expects to launch the whole phoenix-from-the-ashes campaign some time in March with your typical fundraisers and conservative donor calls. As for the loss last year, he says he felt some kind of martyred "peace" about the whole thing; also, these next two years are the last he will have with his high-school daughter before she leaves for college, making him and his wife empty-nesters. In other words, he meant to do that.

"Remakin' Plakon".

All About Charlie

Adam C. Smith relays that Miami New Times has "published a strong and tough profile of Crist."

"Crist wasn't a star football player, as he and his father have implied, New Times has found. And perhaps even more surprising, his father and closest confidant, Dr. Charles Crist, was a segregationist who — despite a kind heart — resigned abruptly from the Pinellas County School Board in 1977 following a controversial tenure. Charlie Crist was also a mediocre student and, according to his ex-wife, an inept husband who dissolved the marriage after only eight months and disappeared."
"Tough on Crist". See also "Will Crist Be Florida's Next Governor?"

The Rubio Makeover Continues

"Sen. Marco Rubio has a long record opposing gun control the Miami Republican suggests he could support one restriction likely to emerge from Vice President Joe Biden's task force: universal background checks". "Rubio on guns".

Newark Mayor Cory Booker helps out Broward Dems

"Rising Democratic star and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker will be the keynote speaker at the Broward Democrats’ annual fundraiser March 23." "Newark mayor to headline Broward Democrats’ fundraiser".