Sunday, January 20, 2013

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

At least 201,000 Florida voters simply gave up

"Analyzing data compiled by the Orlando Sentinel, Ohio State University professor Theodore Allen estimated last week that at least 201,000 voters likely gave up in frustration on Nov. 6, based on research Allen has been doing on voter behavior."

His preliminary conclusion was based on the Sentinel's analysis of voter patterns and precinct-closing times in Florida's 25 largest counties, home to 86 percent of the state's 11.9 million registered voters.

"My gut is telling me that the real number [of voters] deterred is likely higher," Allen said. "You make people wait longer, they are less likely to vote."

Around the state, more than 2 million registered voters live in precincts that stayed open at least 90 minutes past the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time, according to Sentinel analysis of voting data obtained from county elections supervisors. Of those, 602,000 voters live in precincts that stayed open three extra hours or longer.

And three of the five counties with the worst lines were in Central Florida. In Orange, Osceola and Volusia counties, as many as 48 percent of those who cast votes on Election Day live in precincts that closed at least 90 minutes late, the analysis showed.

Professor Allen
concluded, the lost voters appeared to favor President Barack Obama. Of the 201,000 "missing" votes, 108,000 likely would have voted for Obama and 93,000 for Republican Mitt Romney, he said.
"Analysis: 201,000 in Florida didn't vote because of long lines".

"We are kidding ourselves"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board believes "Florida's campaign finance laws are broken."

Unlimited special interest money gushes through hard-to-trace third-party committees. Political parties are increasingly irrelevant. And individual candidate fundraising — with outdated contribution limits — is often an afterthought. The result is voters cannot effectively trace the source of big money influencing elections, and a state Legislature beholden to special interests instead of Floridians. For the first time in more than a decade, legislative leaders are considering serious reforms. Their challenge will be to ensure that in fixing some problems they don't create new ones. . . .

Much of the opaqueness in the current campaigns stems from so-called CCEs, committees of continued existence. The committees have become popular vehicles for powerful politicians to raise unlimited dollars from special interests. For example, Gov. Rick Scott, who is still 22 months from the 2014 general election, collected $5.2 million for his Let's Get to Work committee in the 2012 cycle. An embarrassing number of politicians have used CCEs as little more than slush funds to grease the political process. "People like having CCEs … to subsidize their filet mignon lifestyles," [Senate President Don] Gaetz acknowledged to the Times editorial board last week. He has joined [House Speaker Will] Weatherford in calling for abolishing those committees, though Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, is leading a charge to try to reform them.

Whether it's worth trying to reform those committees is questionable, there is no doubt that the $500 contribution limit to individual candidates is outdated and should be raised. Some reform advocates, including nonpartisan watchdog group Integrity Florida, want to eliminate any limits on individual contributions to campaigns. With more disclosure and the abolishment of CCEs, they argue, the public would be better served.

That is not a smart trade-off. It is not in Florida's best interest to allow individual officeholders to be bought and sold with huge individual checks. That would breed corruption, undercut grass roots campaigns and benefit candidates with ties to deep pockets.

"Fix campaign finance with finesse".

The Sun Sentinel editorial board reminds us that, "back in 1991, when then-Gov. Lawton Chiles helped lower the personal limit on campaign contributions from $1,000 to $500 per person, we told ourselves reform is working and special interests would no longer hold sway."

And we are kidding ourselves.

For while politicians no longer want to accept a cup of coffee without filing a disclosure form, a shadow political financing system has evolved that gives special interests powerful sway over our political leaders.

State law restricts what political candidates can accept, but it allows supportive political action committees to accept — even demand — unlimited amounts of money from corporations and other special interest groups that want something from government.

This money has become largely untraceable as it moves between committees with noble-sounding names, some structured under a law that lets them raise unlimited money for issues, others structured under a law that lets them spend unlimited money on candidates, so long as there is no coordination with the candidate.

In reality, these funds often become intertwined and pay to pollute our televisions and mailboxes with sleazy ads meant to influence our vote.

"Lift $500 limit on donations".

Crist plays games

Charlie Crist - the man who appointed three of the four Florida Supreme Court Justices who handed Rick Scott a "major victory" over public employees - won't tell us whether he voted for Scott. Adam C. Smith writes that it "seemed a fairly basic question for a fellow considering running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination: Back in 2010, when Charlie Crist was running for the U.S. Senate without party affiliation, did he vote for Democratic nominee Alex Sink for governor or for Rick Scott, of the GOP's tea party wing? Crist won't say." Crist recently had little difficulty "volunteer[ing] that he voted for Barack Obama in 2012, though not in 2008." "Crist won't reveal 2010 gubernatorial choice".

Scott wants $500,000 to recoup $20M business "incentive"

"Call it another unfortunate plot twist in an already upsetting script."

State taxpayers, who handed out $20 million in incentives to a now bankrupt movie studio, are being asked to dig back into their pockets to pay lawyers to try to get the money back.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity has hired bankruptcy attorneys Sean Cork and Albert del Castillo at $540 per hour to try to reclaim money awarded in 2009 to Digital Domain Media Group — the animation company behind Titanic and founded by popular director James Cameron.

The $20 million in incentives helped lured Digital Domain to Port St. Lucie. But the company filed for bankruptcy in September, closed its offices and laid off 300 Florida workers.

The Department of Economic Opportunity, an office under Gov. Rick Scott, has asked the Legislature for $500,000 to help recoup the state’s original $20 million investment.

"The episode, however, raises clear questions about Florida’s process of luring companies to the state with up-front cash on the hope that they will create high-paying jobs here. Scott has asked the Legislature for more freedom to recruit businesses to the state with cash incentives."
In total, Florida has disbursed about $4 billion in business incentives — which translates to about 16 percent of the state budget or $212 per taxpayer, according to database by the New York Times. Only a handful of states give more.
Oh yeah, back to the Digital Domain Media Group story. The Herald/Times previously reported that
state Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, tucked the funding into the 2009 state budget. Ambler later got a $20,000 position on Digital Domain’s board, and the company hired Ambler’s son.

Neither Ambler nor Digital Domain could be reached for comment.

"Florida faces tough fight to reclaim $20 million from bankrupt firm". See also "Gov. Scott wants $20M back from Digital Domain".

Floridians celebrate

"More than a few chilly South Floridians will join the throng of hundreds of thousands outside the Capitol or along the inaugural parade route on Monday when President Barack Obama takes the oath of office for his second term." "Floridians celebrate Obama inauguration".

Demonstrating competence with a gun

"At a time when gun ownership has been driven to the forefront of American consciousness by the school shooting in Connecticut and by the Obama administration's recent proposals for reducing gun violence, state law is vague on the specifics of training required for a concealed-carry permit. It says only that students must 'demonstrate competence' with a gun, leaving much to be interpreted by the thousands of instructors operating independently in the state; their exact number is not known." "Should Florida's concealed-carry gun rules be tougher?".

School employees go elsewhere for insurance

"Broward school workers going elsewhere for health insurance".

Vern gets another earful on gun control

"For a second consecutive day, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan got an earful on gun control, both for and against, at a town hall meeting in his 16th Congressional District." "Buchanan gets another earful on firearms". Meanwhile, "5 hurt in accidental shootings at gun shows".

Courtesy of Florida's "values" crowd

"What do violent video games, gory movies and high-powered assault weapons have in common?"

They have all been blamed for tragic mass shootings, including last month’s at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — and are all subsidized by Florida taxpayers.

With Florida’s tax code more business-friendly in recent years, economic incentives and tax breaks have flowed to companies and industries currently under fire for their roles in America’s gun violence.

Meanwhile, the state has cut funding for mental healthcare and school safety programs, two areas at the forefront of the national gun-control debate.

While it has become more difficult and expensive to access mental healthcare in Florida, it is getting easier and cheaper to obtain high-powered weapons. Last year, the Legislature cut the cost of obtaining a weapons license by $5, and a string of gun-friendly measures has boosted the number of concealed firearms carriers past one million.

"Gun makers feast on Florida tax breaks".

"Obama administration reinvigorated Everglades' restoration"

Bill Maxwell argues that you "cannot overestimate the value of Everglades National Park. Unlike other parks that were created for their scenery, Everglades was established to preserve the 1,542,526-acre ecosystem as a wildlife habitat, with surface water as its most important resource and lifeline."

Everglades habitat restoration projects, the largest in the world, have been faring well during the last four years, with several dedications and groundbreakings. On Jan. 11, for example, a ribbon cutting was held at a facility in south Miami-Dade that will pump needed freshwater into Everglades National Park and into a troubled part of Florida Bay. . . .

Progress has been possible because the Obama administration reinvigorated the Everglades' restoration with $1.5 billion. One clear result of this infusion of money is that polluted water is being cleaned up. This newly clean water directly benefits South Florida homes and businesses.

But coalition members fear that congressional partisanship may stall progress.

"Set politics aside to restore Everglades".

"A variety of misdeeds"

"The new rules follow 2011’s scathing grand jury report that ripped the district for a variety of misdeeds — including a naming policy it called 'self serving.' The report’s criticism focused on two different school athletic facilities that were named after former School Board member Robert Parks — while Parks was still in office." "Broward district changes school-naming guidelines".