Friday, February 15, 2013

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

RPOF rejoicing that Greer didn't air their dirty laundry

Scott Maxwell: "So Jim Greer pleaded guilty — and now the former chair of the Republican Party of Florida probably will slink quietly away to prison."

This allows Republicans to publicly crow about what a bum he was while privately rejoicing that he didn't air their dirty laundry.
Mowever, as Maxwell points out, "the same guys now tripping over one another to call him a louse used to defend his louselike behavior when he was doing their bidding. Back then, criticism was chalked up as the result of the mean old media.".
It was the same with Greer's handpicked legislator, Chris Dorworth.

After voters tossed Dorworth out of office last fall, Tallahassee Republicans began proclaiming how he was emblematic of ethical problems in this state.

Senate President Don Gaetz even cited Dorworth by name after accusing some legislators of using their political committees to "subsidize their filet-mignon lifestyles."

Really, Don? I mean, I agree. But back when media reported this — when Dorworth was still in office — most of you guys didn't say squat.

In fact, when I wrote about Dorworth's shady spending, one legislator fired back with a strongly worded op-ed about how wrong I was, and all the ways Dorworth "impresses" his legislative peers.

That Dorworth defender was State Rep. Matt Gaetz … Don's son.

Listen, there are some respectable Republicans in this state. I think Gaetz is one of them. (The father, that is.)

But if Florida Republicans want citizens to take their newfound commitment to ethics seriously, they need to start speaking out against bad behavior when it happens — not just when it's easy.

"Only after Greer fell did GOP speak up".

Rubio not ready for prime time

Marco Rubio's monumentally bad performance in his response to the State of the Union Address - wherein he was "sweating like Nixon" - has overshadowed the monumentally bad message he attempted to convey in his "speech".

Paul Krugman put it this way: "the G.O.P. reply, delivered by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, was both interesting and revelatory. And I mean that in the worst way. For Mr. Rubio is a rising star, to such an extent that Time magazine put him on its cover, calling him 'The Republican Savior.' What we learned Tuesday, however, was that zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain."

In case you’re wondering, a zombie idea is a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead — but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both. The classic zombie idea in U.S. political discourse is the notion that tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves, but there are many more. And, as I said, when it comes to economics it appears that Mr. Rubio’s mind is zombie-infested.
Krugman explains here: "Rubio and the Zombies".

Meanwhile, "Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s political action committee, Reclaim America, is hitting back at what it says is excessive coverage of his famous water break during his State of the Union response speech — it’s selling Rubio water bottles." "Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s political action committee, Reclaim America, is hitting back at what it says is excessive coverage of his famous water break during his State of the Union response speech — it’s selling Rubio water bottles." See also "Marco Rubio’s PAC: Drink Water to Send Liberals a Message".

Voting reform bill

"A proposal designed to expand early voting days and limit the length of ballots unanimously passed a House subcommittee Wednesday, but Democrats warned the measure would need to change to continue to attract bipartisan support." "House panel passes voting reform bill". See also "Dems want into the election-reform game".

See also "Obama, Nelson join push to rein in long voting lines". Related: "Federal election commission may take back seat to Florida reforms".

Scott crows

"Rick Scott: Verizon’s Growth in Lake Mary is ‘Proof We have Made the Right Choices’". See also "Democrats Trying to Plant Spikes in Rick Scott’s Manufacturing Tax Breaks".

Whistle blower "calling foul" on campaign finance reform

"The man who blew the whistle on former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer is now calling foul on House Speaker Will Weatherford's self-described campaign finance reform."

"It's the same old money laundering and money hiding approach that's been in place as long as I can remember in Florida politics,'' said Allen Cox, former vice chairman of the Republican Party and the man who exposed Greer's secret strategy to steal party funds.

Cox said he hoped Greer's case would serve as a catalyst to end the tradition of legislators using party funds to skirt state law and live lavish lifestyles. Greer on Monday pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges for setting up a consulting firm and steering party money to his personal account.

A bill moving through the House attempts to crack down on political slush funds known as Committees for Continuous Existence, which legislators use to cut themselves checks and get around a 10-year-old law that bans legislators from accepting meals, travel and entertainment from lobbyists. The proposal bans the committees and imposes new disclosure rules on spending done by political committees and candidates. The legislation is a priority for Weatherford.

Absent from the bill, however, are any rules that would require the state's two dominant political parties to disclose details of how they spend millions of dollars in contributions. Cox thinks that will encourage legislative leaders to continue to use their parties to finance dinners, travel and entertainment — and escape public scrutiny.

"Jim Greer whistleblower blasts campaign finance bill over loophole".

Now he's all-about-bipartisanship?

"Jeb Bush didn’t say whether or not he’s likely to run for president in 2016, but in a speech at Saint Leo University he did suggest the late Lyndon Johnson would be a role model." "Former Gov. Jeb Bush talks immigration, bipartisanship in Florida". See also "Jeb Bush gets warm reception during return to capital".

Here's a real yawner: "Jeb Bush discusses public school alternatives with Florida legislative leaders". See also "Jeb Bush touts "parental trigger" in Capitol homecoming".

Was Greer paid to plead guilty?

"For three years, former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer denied doing anything wrong and promised a trial that would embarrass a lot of people. So why did he plead guilty to five felonies Monday, facing the certainty of spending years in prison?"

And who paid Hank Coxe, a widely respected criminal defense lawyer from Jacksonville who parachuted in at the last minute and quietly negotiated the plea that brought the long-running soap opera to a close? Coxe was in the courtroom when Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges but did not speak and did not formally file a notice of appearance with the court.

For more than two years, Damon Chase, the Lake Mary civil lawyer who represented Greer, hurled insults at party officials insisting the investigation was an attempt to destroy Greer. Chase even predicted that everyone would die in the end like a Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, Chase stood silently beside Greer as he answered, "Guilty, your honor'' five times.

"Statewide prosecutor Nick Cox says he has received no credible information indicating Greer is being paid to plead guilty and has heard nothing to indicate it would be a crime."
If someone decided to make a philanthropic gift of money to help Greer pay a lawyer or help his wife and five children, it would not be against the law, Cox said. . . .

Asked if anyone had paid money to Greer in return for his guilty plea, Chase responded by email: "I can neither confirm nor deny it. Sorry.''

[Delmar] Johnson, who took an immunity agreement to testify against Greer, said: "I think he was paid. I couldn't imagine why else he would make that change. But I don't think any of us will ever know.''

"Jim Greer pleaded guilty, but why?".

Using Charlie to motivate GOP donors

"The Republican Party of Florida is using the possibility of former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist running for his old job as a Democrat to motivate donors." "State GOP uses Crist's potential run to raise money".

"If you can't win fair, change the rules"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "If you can't win fair and square, change the rules."

Florida is a prime example of this phenomenon -- as is often the case with underhanded efforts to influence election results.

President Barack Obama carried the state, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans here. Yet Republicans hold a 17-10 advantage in Florida's congressional delegation, a 26-14 advantage in the state Senate and a 76-44 advantage in the state House.

State legislative leaders say the 2012 redistricting process was transparent and resulted in maps designed without regard to party interests.

But emails obtained by The Associated Press show that party officials worked with political consultants in drawing districts. The emails show that consultants routinely traded information about redistricting and how it would affect Republican incumbents, The AP reported last week.

This all happened after state voters approved the "Fair Districts" constitutional amendments meant to remove partisanship from the creation of maps.

"Fixing the political game".

Murphy on reducing the deficit

"Saying they are 'committed to a new era in Congress where bipartisan solutions are the norm,' newly elected U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and 31 other freshmen from both parties joined Thursday to endorse a bipartisan statement of principles on reducing the deficit." "Jupiter's Murphy leads bipartisan group of U.S. House freshmen for deficit reduction".

Collins report mere hackery?

"A major study questioning the financial health of local governments' pension programs came under fire in a Florida House committee Wednesday, with one analyst saying it was 'way off.'" "Study that faults health of local pension funds is criticized".

More: "Actuarial and financial investment experts told lawmakers Wednesday that an oft-quoted study by two non-profits is exaggerating the problems facing pensions for city and county workers throughout Florida." ("Actuarial and financial investment experts told lawmakers Wednesday that an oft-quoted study by two non-profits is exaggerating the problems facing pensions for city and county workers throughout Florida.")

Which makes one wonder: who paid for the Collins report in the first place? Here's a hint: the right wing, pension haters at "TaxWatch" are up to their elbows in it. See "Our new joint report with FloridaTaxWatch - 'Looking At Florida's Municipal Pensions' - February 2013".

Moreover, Florida State - which houses the Collins Institute - has a sordid record with respect to funding issues. See "FSU Accepts Funds From Charles Koch In Return For Control Over Its Academic Freedom". The Tampa Bay Times editors put it this way:

Florida State University's economics department needs to reconsider its relationship with billionaire Charles G. Koch, who pledged $1.5 million to the school as long as professors hired with the money hew to Koch's Libertarian philosophy. The arrangement reeks of pandering and undermines academic freedom, the cornerstone of American higher education.

Under the terms of a 2008 deal with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, FSU's economics department is scheduled to receive $1.5 million over six years to hire professors. But faculty members hired with foundation money must be approved by an advisory committee handpicked by Koch. That means Koch effectively holds veto power, an arrangement rarely found in the academic community and that threatens independent thinking.

"Koch gift too costly for Florida State".

Scott beckoning lobbyists to the Governor’s Mansion

"When Rick Scott captured the Republican nomination for governor in 2010, he openly made fun of lobbyists backing his opponent for 'crying in their cocktails.' But as he seeks a second term and needs to raise tens of millions of dollars, Scott not only has made peace with lobbyists, but he is beckoning them to the Governor’s Mansion to help get his agenda through the Legislature." "Gov. Rick Scott turns to lobbyists to help push his agenda".

Corporate shills at work

"Legislative leaders who want to make newly hired public employees join an investment fund similar to the 401(k) plans in the private sector -- rather than having the guaranteed monthly pensions now favored by four out of five government workers -- got a tactical boost Thursday from Florida TaxWatch." "Pension swap gets a boost".

"Reality of sea level rise"

"South Florida delegations urged to recognize reality of sea level rise".

"We’re not in Eustis anymore, Toto"

Fred Grimm writes that Rick "Scott seems to have mistaken the $70 million he spent in his 2010 campaign with political genius. Winning an election with less than 50 percent of the vote in an election with less than a 50 percent turnout ought not to be the stuff of great hubris."

Ah, but as Shakespeare’s Rick lamented, “What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by. Richard loves Richard; that is, I and I.”

Rick, a political novice after all, mistook the noise generated by tea party crazies in an off-year election for something more substantial.

It wasn’t just that he whacked $5 billion out of the state budget, laid off thousands of state workers and made unseemly cuts to education, leaving Florida school teachers among the lowest-paid in the nation. It was that he did it which such glee, unveiling his budget two years ago before cheering tea party activists at Eustis and The Villages (a place in the news lately because locals think their electric meters are part of a United Nations takeover conspiracy.)

"Scott didn’t seem to grasp until the November election that he doesn’t live in the old Jim Crow bastions of Mississippi or Alabama or South Carolina, where mean talk means votes. Florida’s votes, despite efforts to tamp down Democrat turnout, went to Obama, while tea party darling U.S. Rep. Allen West was tossed out of Congress."
We’re not in Eustis anymore, Toto (that’s my line, not Shakespeare’s). Governors, in a state like Florida, got to govern the whole damn shebang. Our King Richard seems to have figured this out. Scott has finally endorsed rolling back the so-called “voter reforms” that led to hours-long waits at urban polls.

And Scott’s proposed budget suggests a $1.2 billion increase in public school funding, including $480 million to provide $2,500 annual raises for those once-disparaged teachers. He’s bumping up the money for higher education, earmarking $75 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program and budgeting $60 million toward Everglades restoration. None of these line items are much palatable to the tea party. But he’s not running for the post of tea party martyr.

There are mean cuts in his budget, to be sure — 3,647 state jobs would be eliminated. State workers are looking at their seventh straight year without a raise. Scott shorts both mental health and substance-abuse-prevention programs. But at least he’s not couching these miseries as political triumphs. “ No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity,” as that other Richard said. Of course, he said that not long before he was clubbed and stabbed to death by an army of his unhappy constituents.

The rehabilitation of Rick Scott still seems a formidable task, though his handlers have something that poor Richard III’s champions lacked in their centuries-long rehab efforts — a $100 million campaign war chest.

But his tea party allies must be feeling much betrayed by his sudden lurch toward political moderation. And his enemies, inside the party and out, will be out to further sully his reputation before next year’s primaries.

Much more here: "Can Florida’s own Richard III defuse his realm’s anger?".

Florida remains first in foreclosures

"Florida first in foreclosure woe for fifth straight month".

"The skids are greased"

The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The Florida Legislature’s House Government Operations Subcommittee last week approved a bill that Chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, characterized as making 'minimal changes' to the Florida Retirement System (FRS), which covers state employees, many county employees, first-responders and teachers."

Starting Jan. 1, the bill would bar newly hired employees from entering the most popular program the FRS offers. That “defined benefits” program, which covers more than 500,000 employees, offers a guaranteed retirement payout. House Bill 7011 would not affect current employees, but would put all new employees into 401(k)-type “defined contribution” plans. They are not guaranteed, and as many people discovered in 2008-2009, they tank when the market does.
"That change hardly is “minimal.” The change would be significant and very complicated."
Florida’s is one of the most stable, well-funded retirement systems in the country. If the Legislature shuts out new employees, it also shuts out the money they invest in the defined-benefit plan. To keep promises to current employees, somebody — the state, school boards, county commissions — would have to make up the difference, which would be billions of dollars over many years. . . .

The skids are greased, so the numbers might not matter.

"Change to Florida Retirement System could raise local taxes".

Privatization follies

"Thus far, privatization and consolidation have not provided the cost savings Florida’s prisons officials had hoped for." "Closings costly for state prison budget".

2013 Session Outlook

"2013 Session Outlook: State and Local Administration".

"The anti-Rubio choice for tea party"

"Come 2016, Sen. Rand Paul could be the anti-Rubio choice for tea party faithful".

"So-called Christian reform school"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "The state of Florida long ago should have shut down the Lighthouse of Northwest Florida, a so-called Christian reform school whose operators have been accused of child abuse. Instead it took a Tampa Bay Times investigation to finally help trigger this week's closing." "Step up to protect children".

Contribution Limit Fight

"League of Women Voters: Don't Raise Contribution Limit". See also "Campaign expert finds House fundraising proposal troubling".

"If business did business the way the state of Florida does business"

The Miami Herald editors: "If a private business did business the way the state of Florida does business, it soon would be out of business. A report on state contracting procedures — the way the state goes about buying goods and services from the private sector — makes it clear that the system is haphazard, inconsistent and desperately in need of a thorough overhaul. . . . Among the abuses:"

• The Department of Management Services is not allowed to seek competitive bids for legal services, health services, artistic services, lectures, training and education services and substance abuse and mental health contracts — an estimated total $8.4 billion a year.

• Legislators have also carved out exceptions for 32 vendors whose services don’t have to go through the state’s Web-based contracting database, known as MyFlordaMarketPlace. This online system handles only about $1 billon of the state’s contracts.

• David Wilkins, a retired executive tapped by Gov. Rick Scott to review contracting, found a the state’s guidelines woefully inadequate. Some agencies adhere to strict performance standards, but some don’t. Uniform contract standards are non-existent, and often the providers can lowball their bid to get in the door and then file cost overruns.

• If a vendor doesn’t deliver, often there are no penalties, either. Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has spent $48 million to settle dozens of bad contracts and grants that he described as “hogwash” because the state did a poor job in cutting the deals. Mr. Atwater’s office figured it was cheaper to settle the contract at a loss than take the seller to court.

• The loophole lobbyists and their clients love: Insert language directly into legislation to get what you want. In 2012, a lobbyist close to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon wanted to allow billboards on state lands. Surreptitiously, language to get that done was inserted into a must-pass bill to fund water management districts. Next thing you know, the board that runs the Everglades had granted a company led by its own former board member a lucrative, 10-year contract to manage the so-called “public information systems” on its lands.

"Bad business".