Tuesday, February 05, 2013

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

Emails show Legislators plotted with RPOF over redistricting

Mary Ellen Klas: "Florida’s legislative leaders appear to have authorized their staff to use private email accounts, personal 'dropboxes' and to engage in 'brainstorming meetings' with Republican Party of Florida consultants in attempting to draw favorable political districts, despite a constitutional ban on such coordination."

The allegations arise from a lawsuit challenging the Senate and congressional redistricting that include emails showing how top deputies of Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and several of Gaetz’s consultants were in frequent contact with consultants who drafted and analyzed maps. Redistricting is done every 10 years to redraw boundaries of legislative and congressional districts to ensure equal representation.

The emails show that just a month after voters approved the amendment banning all coordination between the party and lawmakers in 2010, Rich Heffley, the RPOF political consultant who served as a close advisor to Gaetz, called a redistricting “brainstorming” meeting to be held in the chairman’s conference room at RPOF headquarters in Tallahassee.

Heffley listed the expected participants, which included Weatherford’s redistricting chief of staff, Alex Kelly; Gaetz’s redistricting general counsel Andy Bardos; Gaetz’s district aide Chris Clark, and the political consultants running the House and Senate 2012 Republican election campaigns: Frank Terraferma, Joel Springer, Andy Palmer, Marc Reichelderfer, and Pat Bainter. Also attending: the lawyers advising the House and Senate on their redistricting efforts, George Meros and Ben Ginsberg.

Two Republican senators, Andy Gardiner, of Orlando, and Jack Latvala, of St. Petersburg, sent emails using their private email accounts to the RPOF consultants.

"Attorneys for the RPOF consultants argued in December that the court should quash the subpoenas, suggesting they were 'a fishing expedition seeking information that is not relevant.'"
They argued that there was no proof the House or Senate “utilized, considered or much less relied upon any information submitted” by the party officials and consultants. The lawyers for the consultants also noted that there was no attempt to depose any Democrats and accused them of targeting Republicans exclusively.

The voters’ coalition is alleging the two maps violate the constitutional amendments approved by voters that banned lawmakers from drawing districts that favor any political party or individual. . . .

Last week, the Legislature’s attorneys repeatedly attempted to shield the Legislature and the RPOF consultants from producing documents or being questioned in depositions, arguing it was part of the Legislature’s “work product.”

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected those arguments and, when the lawyers mentioned the emails, a reporter for the Associated Press requested access to them.

"Emails show legislative staff talked with party over redistricting maps".

"Soft as butter on incentives for businesses"

The Orlando Sentinel editors: "When Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his latest budget proposal last week, he touted the "tough choices" that Florida has made in prior years to balance the state's books. In fact, lawmakers have been tough as nails in many parts of the budget, slashing billions of dollars for education, health care and other basic services."

But they've have been as soft as butter on incentives for businesses, offering hundreds of millions in cash and tax breaks to companies in return for the promise of new jobs.

Lawmakers haven't just been lazy about ensuring that companies hit their job numbers. They've also been careless and indiscriminate in the basic design of tax breaks.

"Don't squander dollars on pointless tax breaks".

Single-language-only ballots

"Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan C. Zapata is proposing a way to make it easier and quicker to vote: Printing ballots in only the single language chosen by a voter, instead of in English, Spanish and Creole."

Currently in Miami-Dade, under rules set by the U.S. Voting Rights Act, ballots are printed in all three languages. Under Zapata’s ordinance, which is set for a preliminary vote before county commissioners Tuesday, a voter could inform the Elections Department of his or her preferred language prior to a vote.

Then, whether the voter showed up at the polls or voted via an absentee ballot, they would see a ballot printed in only their preferred language. Exact details, like how to notify the Elections Department, have yet to be worked out.

"Miami-Dade Commission considers single-language-only ballots to shorten election lines".

"Contesting impression that Florida botched 2012 elections"

"Contesting the impression that Florida botched the 2012 elections, Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued recommendations Monday to add more days and locations for early voting and to impose word-limits on lawmakers' ballot questions." "Florida's top elections official calls for more early voting". See also "Gov. Rick Scott's elections adviser urges redo on early voting law", "Detzner recommends voting law changes" and "Florida secretary of state urges shorter ballot, more early voting access". Related: "Ken Detzner Seeks Election Solutions Rather than Supervisors' Heads".

"Political gamesmanship and undermines the morale of career employees"

The Tampa Bay Times editors on "another egregious example, even for Scott's administration, of freelance governing on the part of a public agency."

Farming out decisionmaking authority on the operations side to a contract employee reeks of political gamesmanship and undermines the morale of career employees and the department's reputation. [The man who runs Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, Herschel] Vinyard still doesn't grasp the concept of public service, and the secretary's poor judgment reflects squarely on the governor.
"DEP chief is mum, and that speaks volumes".

Medicaid privatization

"Feds give permission to privatize long-term Medicaid care". See also "Washington approves moving some Florida Medicaid recipients to HMOs". Related: "Joe Negron: Fed-Approved Medicaid Waiver ‘Encouraging Sign Washington Treating Florida Like Equal’".

"Determined to do real stuff"

Tim Nickens: "Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz sound determined to do real stuff when the legislative session begins in March: Reforming the broken campaign finance laws that allow for too much money and too little transparency. Tightening ethics rules that do so little to prevent corruption. Fixing the elections system that the Legislature so badly damaged just two years ago." "A breath of fresh air in Tallahassee".

The Week Ahead

"The Week Ahead for Feb. 4 to Feb. 8".

GOPers already eying Castor Dentel's seat

"While the 2013 legislative session has yet to commence, Republicans are already lining up to defeat freshman Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, next time around." "Karen Castor Dentel: Target on Her Back".

"Nothing subtle about former budget-slasher’s about-face"

The Palm Beach Post editors: "Looks as if Rick Scott’s re-election campaign song is going to be Hey, Big Spender."

The governor last week proposed a $74.2 billion budget, about a 6 percent increase from this year and the biggest budget in Florida’s history. There’s nothing subtle about the former budget-slasher’s about-face. To win back voters he alienated, Gov. Scott is throwing cash at public schools, colleges and universities. He also wants to schmooze state workers, who have gone six years without a raise — and, like teachers, got a pay cut because Gov. Scott signed legislation shifting 3 percent of their salaries to pensions.
"Rick Scott spending big on budget, 2014 campaign".

Meanwhile, former Jeb Bush speech writer Lloyd Brown, writes that "Florida has been a leader in school choice, despite the best efforts of the Education Blob. This amorphous mass of intransigence has fought almost every effort to improve standards and accountability, which are the driving forces behind the improvements in education."

Choice opponents even have a support group – a “nonpartisan” liberal outfit called Fund Education Now that fixates on throwing more money at the public schools, which enriches the unions that bankroll liberal politicians.

They employ the usual lame arguments, such as “public money should not be used for private education.” Nonsense. Governments routinely contract work out to private companies.

Fortunately, Florida families have on their side the [Jeb moneymaker and] advocacy group Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is spearheading the fight to improve the lives of Florida children.

Still, the myth that spending equals education is pervasive and last week Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $2,500 bonus for every teacher, regardless of how effective that teacher may be. This is contradictory to his support for performance pay – another reform that has been producing results – but apparently his political advisers think it might garner him a few votes. Predictably, the Blob's response basically has been the polite applause you get from a golf gallery for a mediocre shot, along with the standard complaint that it is not nearly enough.

Scott was elected governor because he was not a politician. Acting like one is not likely to help him retain office -- especially when his opponent may be Charlie Crist, the Baryshnikov of the political pirouette.

"Choice is Good for Everyone, So Why Do Liberals Hate It?"

Greer trial begins next week

"The [criminal] trial of former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer begins next week, leaving some members of the party hopeful and others fearful. But many just want to see it all to end." "A party of mixed emotions" ("The party would also like to get rid of the civil suit Greer filed in an effort to collect the $130,000 he was promised when he agreed to resign as chairman in 2010.") Backstory: "Arrest records outline deception, greed at top".

Buchanan among the lawmakers disclosure law has affected most

Jeremy Wallace: "U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan strongly advocated for a new law to increase disclosure of Congress members' financial transactions, and now that the law is in effect, he is among the lawmakers it has affected most." "Buchanan an advocate of law requiring greater disclosure in Congress".

Buchanan denied knowledge of the illegal contributions

"Timothy Hohl, a Tampa accountant, has been sentenced in federal court in Jacksonville to a year's probation and fined $15,000 for making illegal contributions to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan's first two campaigns." "Tampa accountant sentenced in campaign fraud case".

No afterglow

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "It’s time for Duke Energy to acknowledge that the broken Crystal River nuclear plant is not worth fixing and announce plans to permanently shut it down. The cost of the repairs is too high, and even if the fixes worked it would be years before the plant generated power again. This is an expensive debacle for Duke Energy customers, but it would be better to spend their money on a new natural gas power plant than on trying to repair a 36-year-old nuclear plant that has not produced power since 2009. " "Close nuclear plant for good".

Texting moves into public realm

"Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton announced last week he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the 'textgate' scandal involving a handful of county leaders, but proving that laws were broken might be tough, an open-government expert says."

Investigators would need to determine if county leaders intentionally tried to skirt open-meeting laws or destroy public records by deleting or losing text messages, said First Amendment Foundation general counsel Jon Kaney.

However, if the probe included a forensic audit of cellphones and involved lobbyists and others who received and sent texts, it could shed light on whether any crimes were committed, Kaney said.

"Proving 'textgate' crime will be tough, expert says".