Saturday, January 19, 2013

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

"Pension ruling sets up political battle"

"The Florida Supreme Court’s endorsement of public employee contributions to the state pension fund may embolden lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to pursue more changes in the state retirement system. But those changes — such as moving new workers into a 401(K)-type plan — may not come until after the 2014 elections." "Pension ruling sets up political battle". Meanwhile ...

Crist Mum about his appointees' decision against Teachers

Newly minted Democrat and want-to-be-Governor-again, Charlie Crist, has been uncharacteristically silent about three of his Florida Supreme Court appointees, Jorge Labarga, Ricky Polston and Charles T. Canady, voting against teachers, the Teachers Union, and other public employees and their unions, including firefighters.

The key fourth vote who joined the Republican Crist appointees was provided by Justice Pariente, a Chiles appointee, in a concurring opinion that was savaged by the three dissenters. Here's a .pdf link to the opinion.

Justice Lewis wrote in dissent, joined by Justices Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry that the "interpretation advanced by Justice Pariente is certainly without support and contrary to logical analysis." (Slip opinion at pp. 29-30).

These are unusually harsh words for Justices, particularly those perceived to be in the same wing of the Court.

Scott's job creation promises take another hit

Sorry Rick, but "Florida’s job market lurched to the end of the year with another downturn in hiring offset by an improvement in the unemployment rate."

Economist Dave Denslow of the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research said job growth and the quality of jobs were “disappointing” in 2012.

“If you look at the gains in sectors, they were primarily in the relatively low paying sectors and the declines were in the relatively high paying sectors,” he said.

"Job creation lagged in 2012". The Republicans see things differently, trumpeting headlines like this: "Florida Unemployment Dips to New Four-Year Low".

Only if you promise not to vomit on me next time I run on you

"Senate Asked to Cut Overtime from Police, Firefighter Pension Calculations".

"It should be obvious to everyone, including Kingsley"

Stephen Goldstein: "The "free market" is a myth, perpetuated by vested interests to guarantee their ongoing success, justify however low they have to go to ensure it, and delude poor schnooks into thinking that, if they're not filthy rich, they're lazy and un-American. In fact, a truly 'free market' is a license to steal — and the likelihood thieves will never be caught, caught after too many people have been ripped off, or caught too late to make their punishment fit their crime(s)."

Our legal system is rigged for corporate malfeasance. Guaranteed, a kid who gets caught stealing a loaf of bread from a 7-11 will be hauled off to jail. More often than not, a corporate executive who commits fraud will resign without admitting guilt and walk away with a generous severance package. Think Wall Street and big banks/bucks!

It should be obvious to everyone, including Kingsley Guy that, as long as there are people, there can never be a legitimately "free market." A "market" to be truly "free" presupposes a level playing field, where all participants have equal access, follow the same rules and compete ethically on the basis of the quality and marketability of their goods and services. It would be a worthy ideal.

"'Free market' is a myth".

Always a must read

Agree or disagree, Nancy Smith is always a must read: "American Inauguration, Always a Bargain".

Teabaggers in a dither

"FEMA rejects Sandy disaster assistance for Florida".

Isn't that nice

"Charlie Crist is heading to Washington for President Barack Obama’s second inaugural. . . . He said he and wife Carole got tickets for Monday’s oath-taking ceremonies from the White House and have also accepted a 'gracious' invitation to attend a reception at the White House on Monday night. . . . Crist said he has attended several other presidential inaugurations, going back to Ronald Reagan’s first in 1981." "Crist plans to attend inauguration, White House reception".

"Florida's clout culture"

Aaron Deslatte urges you to "Consider the list of recent lawmakers who tried to parlay their Capitol access, connections or clout into gravy-train jobs."

There's former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who immediately after taking the reins of the House in 2008 took a six-figure job at a state college he'd pushed millions of dollars to as House appropriations chair.

Or former Lake Mary Rep. Chris Dorworth, who critics say lived large despite his own personal bankruptcy, thanks to a $1.1 million political fund fueled by big checks from Walt Disney World, casinos, trial lawyers, insurers and health-care companies. After he lost his re-election bid in November, he was promptly scooped up to work for Ballard Partners, one of Tallahassee's top Republican lobbying firms.

There's former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who was hired to a faculty job at the University of Florida and paid more than $152,000 by a Brevard state college to write a book on politics while he was in the Legislature.

And most recently, there's Winter Park's Dean Cannon, who wasn't out of office a week before setting up his own lobbying firm with former House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, and luring in big clients including Disney, the Florida Realtors, The Villages, HCA and the Florida Association of Broadcasters.

All these former lawmakers have maintained they operated within the ethics rules governing behavior of elected officials. Sansom was indicted by a grand jury for perjury over the money he steered to a state college in Okaloosa County, but the case was dropped.

Cannon has formed a lobbying/political consulting firm called Capitol Insight, but won't register to lobby the Legislature for the current two-year "revolving door" waiting period.

He is allowed, however, to lobby the governor and executive agencies immediately. And his firm can hire someone else – like Cretul and former Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia Lorenzo – to lobby lawmakers now.

"Florida's clout culture on a collision course with ethics reform".

Pension Law Experts Coming Out of the Woodwork

- The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "A right ruling on pensions".

- The Tampa Tribune editors: "Pension ruling a win for taxpayers".

Overlooked in the sage analysis by most of the legal experts squatting in editorial conference rooms across the state is the fact that "the legislature and Gov. Rick Scott cared more about sticking it to teachers unions than shoring up the Florida Retirement System" and "the law upheld in this case was about politics, not prudence". That perspective is of course is confluent with the views of Florida's editorial boards (and their owners); hence their rush to agree with the political decision by a political court.

TaxWatch Wingnuts Wanna Privatize State Lands

"Florida TaxWatch to Legislators: Privatize State Lands".

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Let My People Vote (Early and in More Places)".

"Lieutenant governor’s sexual preference" off limits

"Several current and former employees in the administration of Gov. Rick Scott are being ordered by a judge to testify in a sensational criminal case that centers on allegations of illegal taping."

It is still unclear whether Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will be forced to answer questions in the criminal case against her former aide that has also included allegations of improper relationships in Carroll’s office.

Carletha Cole, who was fired last year, was arrested in 2011 and accused of giving a reporter a secret recording containing a conversation between Cole and Carroll’s chief of staff. Cole has not been charged with making the recording — nor have prosecutors said exactly when the recording was made.

Circuit Judge Frank Sheffield initially ruled that Carroll must answer questions from lawyers representing Cole. But then he changed his mind at the urging of Scott’s top lawyer. Sheffield said Carroll would be questioned last and only if Cole’s lawyers could show her testimony was needed.

Sheffield, however, made it clear that questions of Scott administration employees will be limited to illegal taping and whether or not top officials working for the governor had ordered widespread taping as alleged by Cole.

The judge said lawyers could not ask Carroll or anyone else about the lieutenant governor’s sexual preference or whether or not the her office was the "absolute worst place in the world to work."

"Gov. Rick Scott's staff ordered to testify in Carletha Cole trial". See also "Gov.'s staff ordered to testify in recording case".

"A recipe for influence peddling"

"Among the provisions in the proposed Senate bill:"

• Cracks down on legislators who cash in on their positions of power by taking jobs in school districts, community colleges, universities and water districts.

• Expands the two-year ban on legislators, members of the executive branch and their staff from lobbying the legislature to extend to the executive branch; the ban also includes strategy and public relations work.

• Requires legislators to abstain from voting on issues that benefit them or family members.

• Bans the use of political committees and Committees of Continuous Existence from being used as persona slush funds to pay for dinners, travel and gifts and limits those expenditures to campaign-related activities.

• Allows for the garnishment of wages for any elected officials who fail to pay their fines.

• Gives people who fail to file their financial disclosure paperwork on time 60 days to complete it or pay a fine.

• Requires mandatory four-hour ethics training for public officials.

"Major ethics bill unveiled in Tallahassee". The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "Through set-ups called Committees of Continuous Existence, top Florida lawmakers and their deep-pocketed benefactors enjoy great leeway to receive as well as spend certain donations. No such access is granted to individual voters -- the little guys."
The CCEs allow nearly unlimited fundraising for influential legislative leaders. The committees are composed of donations and "dues" from groups and businesses that may want to curry favor -- or receive one -- from a powerful lawmaker.

At best, the CCE situation looks bad. At worst, it's a recipe for influence peddling.

Committees of Continuous Existence should be outlawed as one of several state campaign-finance reforms. There should be no illusion, however, that these steps would restore faith in the political system.

"Discontinue the CCEs".

Red tide

"Red tide worst off Sarasota County beaches".

Vern hiding under his bed

"U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan repeatedly refused to say where he stood on reinstituting a ban on assault weapons during a town hall meeting with residents here Friday." "Buchanan is mum on gun laws".

Scott can't help meddling

Our Governor is not off to a good start in his quest to transform the University of Florida into a world class university: "The accrediting organization for colleges and universities is looking into Gov. Rick Scott's involvement in the University of Florida's presidential search."

Scott's office confirmed that the governor met with a potential candidate before asking Machen to stay. UF faculty have expressed concern that Scott was overstepping his authority and interfering in a decision that should be beyond his control.

[The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools] tells the Herald/Times it is looking into the matter.

"We are aware of what's going on and we're reviewing it," spokeswoman Pamela Cravey said.

If SACS decides Scott exerted too much influence over Machen and UF trustees, this could be the second time Scott crosses the organization. The first was December 2011 after SACS learned the governor publicly suggested Florida A&M University suspend then-President James Ammons a month after the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

SACS President Belle Wheelan sent Scott a letter reminding him that school leaders needed to remain free of outside political influences. FAMU's issues with hazing "are those of the University and as such should be handled by the governing board," Wheelan wrote.

"Gov. Rick Scott's involvement in UF president decision under review".