Tuesday, January 08, 2013

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

"Scott doesn't understand why everybody's not a Republican"

Daniel Ruth: "Gov. Rick Scott was in Orlando over the weekend rallying state Republicans to even higher levels of estrangement from the body politic. You know you're in trouble when the top of your 2014 ticket is polling somewhere between replacement NFL referees and Lance Armstrong."

"I don't understand why everybody's not a Republican," the governor said. "Anybody who believes they want to improve themselves should be a Republican."

No doubt the overwhelming white demographic makeup of the GOP top hats had to nod and harrumph in agreement.

Scott doesn't understand why everybody's not a Republican? Is that so?

"Perhaps Scott was channeling his inner Mitt Romney, with the not too thinly veiled assertion that those who don't want to improve themselves tend to gravitate toward the Democratic Party."
Does Scott's definition of those who don't want to "improve" themselves extend to those the GOP might regard as apostates? People who believe in science? People who believe global warming is not merely a passing fad? People who don't believe women can fend off pregnancy caused by rape by virtue of a secret hormone? Gays and lesbians who believe they should be allowed to marry — and serve their country? People who don't buy into the addled paranoia that there is a United Nations conspiracy to take over the country?

There are probably some non-Republicans who might hold the view that lives are hardly improved by a governor who shortly upon taking office signed off on gutting the state's education budget by more than a billion dollars.

It would have improved countless lives around the state had not Scott rejected — based on grumpy tea party opposition — federal high-speed rail funding that could have added thousands of jobs and made travel more convenient.

Florida Republicans alighted on the notion that one way to turn their fortunes around was to disassociate themselves from national politics. Good luck with that, especially since Sen. Marco Rubio is already pondering new drapes for the Oval Office.

As Scott and other party leaders were busy trying to figure out ways to convince independent and moderate voters Republicans really aren't so intolerant, U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland of Panama City attacked Obama, railed against gun control and claimed he is part of the last line of defense protecting freedom against tyranny.

This softer, gentler, open-minded GOP makeover may take a while.

"What Scott doesn't get".

Diaz de la Portilla takes one step back on voter suppression

"In response to the long lines that plagued South Florida polls, two Miami lawmakers have filed legislation to reinstate early voting the Sunday before Election Day."

The proposals by Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis follow a recommendation from a Miami-Dade advisory group examining what went wrong in the November presidential election.

The group made additional suggestions Monday, including allowing voters to return absentee ballots in person at their polling places on Election Day, and setting a goal for how long the average voter should wait in line at the polls.

Advisory group members were pleased to learn about Diaz de la Portilla’s legislation, filed Monday, which also would increase the number of early-voting hours per day to 14 from 12.

"Margolis’ legislation, which the group also touched on, is far more expansive: It calls for 14 days of early voting — instead of the current eight — and it would allow for more early-voting sites."
“There’s so much pressure to get this done,” Margolis said, who filed her bill in late November. “I can’t believe anyone would be against this.”

In 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law sponsored by Diaz de la Portilla’s committee and approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature that reduced the number of early voting days to eight from 14, and eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day — a day that predominantly Democratic African-American churches had used to drive “souls to the polls.”

"Miami lawmakers file bills to reinstate early voting Sunday before Election Day". See also "Detzner to Meet with Legislators on Election Reform as Bill Filed to Extend Early Voting Hours" and "Sponsor of law that pared Florida's early voting days proposes adding one day back".

"End children’s suffering"

The Saint Petersburg Times editors: "Politicians like to blame government bureaucracy for inaction. But in Tallahassee, it looks like bureaucrats are the only ones interested in protecting children in Florida’s unlicensed or lightly regulated group homes." "Act to end children’s suffering". See also "Parents of disabled kids blast Florida care".

School board member: arm teachers

"School Board member Bill Mathias wants teachers and principals in Lake County to be armed with district-purchased guns, which they would carry on campus to protect students. Mathias discussed his idea Monday as armed deputies in Orange County began walking the hallways of public elementary schools in response to the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn." "Lake School Board member: It's time to arm our teachers with guns". Related: "Guns and Florida: a brief history".

That's all you got, Mr. Scott?

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Monday that he had a "great conversation" with the Obama administration’s health secretary, continuing to project openness toward a health care law he once fiercely opposed and used as a springboard to political office."

But Scott emerged from the meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with the same concern about the cost of expanding Medicaid and resistance to partnering with the federal government on a health care exchange, of which the state has already missed a December deadline.

"I want the right health care safety net for our citizens, but whatever we do, it’s got to be a program that works for Florida," the governor told reporters. "We cannot have an adverse impact on access to quality health care or the cost of health care."

The noncommittal approach reflects tense undercurrents, with health care advocates pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the law and President Barack Obama’s re-election as a mandate to move forward and with Scott’s political base not trusting government claims of lower costs.

Tea party members spent the past few days emailing and calling Scott to warn him against working closely with the federal government. "He would be the ultimate hypocrite," said Everett Wilkinson, a group leader in South Florida. "One of the main reasons he ran for governor was to oppose Obamacare."

Scott faces re-election in two years and has moderated his stance on several issues, including health care, saying he was ready to negotiate. Still, he seemed no more open to changes Monday as he did immediately following the November election.

In Florida, it is all teabagger all, the time:
Henry Kelley, with the Florida Tea Party Network, said Scott’s talks in Washington are worthy of praise and concern. "I’m fine with him trying to work out things on Medicaid. It’s an enormous (budget) line item and if there’s a smarter way to do it, it at least needs to be pursued." But he said Scott should let the federal government design a health care exchange for Florida. "The Democrats in Washington passed this. Let them own it."
"Gov. Rick Scott remains skeptical of federal health care changes". See also "Rick Scott: Sebelius Sit-Down ‘Hopefully Productive’" and "Florida Gov. Scott takes softer tone in meeting with Sebelius".

"Rick Scott bashing"

The Sunshine State News' Lloyd Brown struggles with definitional concepts, like what the word "socialism", this morning: "America's recent lurch toward socialism [?], in which Florida participated, has produced something rare among liberals in the Sunshine State: optimism."

The gloom-and-doom crowd are sounding like a Rotary Club meeting, judging by a quick scan of Florida's left-wing political blogs. (Is there any other kind?)

My slanderometer detected an increase in the Rick Scott bashing, as they look forward to next year's governor's race. Also, having made a dent in the conservative majority in the Legislature liberals are almost giddy at the prospect of gaining more control over Floridians.

"Florida Liberals Are Singing, 'Happy Days Are Here Again!'".

"Scott starts trumpeting record"

"Gov. Scott starts trumpeting record for 2014".

Performance bonuses? Really?

"Gov. Rick Scott is looking to take another run at getting performance bonuses for some state employees, he told a newspaper in an interview published Monday. But the move could do little to quiet calls for broad-based pay increases after workers have seen their wages stagnate in recent years."

Doug Martin of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it was "unacceptable" for Scott to make up for six years without pay increases by giving bonuses to 35 percent of workers.
"Rick Scott: Give Workers Performance Bonuses".

Enough of that democracy stuff

"State lawmakers want to stop local sick pay measures, such as the ones that gained support in Orlando and Miami last year." "State Lawmakers Seek to Stop Local Sick Pay Laws".

"Scott maintains narrow view"

"During an interview with The Florida Current staff, the governor was asked to lay out his legislative agenda on a variety of issues. Scott said he has asked DEP to look at Florida's springs and that he's concerned about disrupting the flow of natural gas to the state." "Scott maintains narrow view on water, energy issues".

GOPer Inquisition: Miami-Dade County GOP denies he's a "liberal 'Democrat' collaborator"

They're breaking out the iron maidens in Miami-Dade GOPerland: "The weeks following historic electoral gains by the Ron Paul 'liberty movement' in the Miami-Dade County GOP have not been smooth ones for new chairman Nelson Diaz, accused by some of the Texas congressman’s libertarian supporters of being a 'closet liberal' and 'Democrat collaborator.'" "Miami-Dade GOP Chair Nelson Diaz to Ron Paulers: I'm No Liberal, Let's Work Together".

"Descent into parody"

Rick Scott education confidant (after Jeb Bush), one Michelle Rhee "continues her descent into parody."

Rhee's StudentsFirst organization has released a report card grading states—on their education policies, not their educational results. In fact, not one of the states StudentsFirst ranks in the top five is in the top half of states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, "the nation's report card," when it comes to eighth grade reading scores, and only one is in the top half when it comes to eighth grade math.
- Louisiana is the top-rated state, according to StudentsFirst. It ranks 49th of 51 on eighth grade reading scores and 47th of 51 on eighth grade math scores.

- Florida is StudentsFirst's second-best state according to ideology. According to educational results, Florida is 35th on reading and 42nd on math.

- StudentsFirst says Indiana is third. The "nation's report card" says it's 30th on reading and 23rd on math.

- The District of Columbia, where Rhee had her way from 2007 to 2010, comes in fourth according to Rhee's ranking system. According to the NAEP? Dead last.

- Rhode Island is fifth in Rhee-land. It's 29th in both reading and math on the NAEP.

By contrast, of the 11 states Rhee rates as having the worst policies for education, three are in the top six for eighth grade reading scores on the NAEP, and four more are in the top 20. Another contrast: The three highest-scoring states on reading are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Rhee scores them 14th, 21st and 18th.
"Rhee's StudentsFirst grades education on ideology, not results".

Yet Florida's media blithely reports the "results" of Scott's buddy's self-serving "report". Consider the Orlando Sentinel's Leslie Postal, who trumpets that "Florida ranks second in the nation when it comes to state education laws that promote quality education, according to a new national report card by StudentsFirst. The group was founded by Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, D.C. who served as an education adviser to Gov. Rick Scott as he prepared to take office just after his election." "Rhee's StudentsFirst ranks Florida's education laws 2nd in national study".

Thirty seconds of research would have disclosed that doing well in Ms. Rhee's "report" is indicative of precisely how not to do education; that is, if you care about test "results."

More on Ms. Rhee from the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss, who wrote yesterday that Rhee has

pledged to raise $1 billion to upend the public education system according to her reform tastes. Those include merit pay for teachers (which has been tried over decades and never worked well); using standardized tests to evaluate educators (which assessments experts say is a bad idea); charter school expansion; voucher expansion; and weakening of teachers unions. Rhee says these reforms will improve education; critics say that they are harming it and that they are in reality serving to privatize the public education system.
Strauss observes the following about Rhee's "report":
The states that got the highest score handed out — a B minus — were Florida and Louisiana. No surprise there.

Florida’s reform efforts were spearheaded more than a decade ago by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who was the national leader in these kinds of reforms. The school accountability system that Bush set up, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, is scandal-ridden, but he still travels the country promoting his test-based reform model.

Louisiana is the state where Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal instituted a statewide voucher program that gave public money to scores of Christian schools that teach Young Earth Creationism, the belief that the Earth and the universe were created by God no more than 10,000 years ago. Kids learn that dinosaurs co-existed with humans. That’s the state that got Rhee’s top grade.

One of the measures that was not used was standardized test scores — which is ironic given that she is a big supporter of test-driven accountability for students, teachers and principals. This allowed StudentsFirst to give bad grades to states with high standardized test scores, such as Massachusetts. The reason? StudentsFirst says that while the state is consistently ranked first in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for 4th grade and 8th grade reading and math, there was a large gap in scores in 2011 between white and Hispanic students.

[However,] Louisiana consistently ranks at or near the bottom of states for NAEP scores, and the achievement gap in Louisiana is huge: State tests show a 22.1 point gap for black and white students in English Language Arts in spring 2011 and a 26.7 point gap in math. But the state is implementing reforms that Rhee likes.

"Michelle Rhee’s new state reform report card".

"Another hurdle to discourage the down-and-out"

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Talk about kicking people when they're down. Bad enough that hundreds of thousands of unemployed Floridians must rely on ridiculously meager jobless benefits to get by."

Now, the state wants to erect yet another hurdle to discourage the down-and-out from tapping an earned benefit: requiring the jobless to possess personal email addresses to collect unemployment benefits.
"State sticks another needle in the eye of jobless Floridians".