Sunday, March 17, 2013

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

"More grim news for the governor"

Carl Hiaasen writes that Jennifer Carroll's

troubles are more grim news for the governor, who has had a rocky time keeping top staff and agency heads. Carroll herself had been in hot water for racking up $300,000 in travel expenses during her first year in office, causing Scott to put her on a strict $10,000-per-month budget.

In this latest case, some of the GOP lawmakers who are disgruntled with Scott have their own worries. Investigators say that Allied Veterans donated about $2 million to state and local political campaigns, and spent $740,000 lobbying in Tallahassee.

"Did anybody at the Capitol not wonder how a so-called charity could afford an army of lobbyists? Did any of the legislators give back the campaign contributions so that the money might be used to help military veterans?"
The mass arrests last week were described as “the first wave,” and awaiting the second are numerous queasy politicians. So far, more than 60 persons connected to Allied Veterans have been busted in 23 Florida counties.

Currently the state has hundreds of Internet gambling cafes, and all of them are supposed to donate their profits to charity. The odds of that taking place in Florida’s anti-regulatory fog are microscopic. Prosecutors are aiming at several more companies.

The scammers at Allied Veterans certainly got their money’s worth from those high-paid lobbyists. Last year, the state Senate obligingly rebuffed a law passed by the House that would have outlawed the cafes.

Ah, but there’s nothing like a lightning sweep by IRS and Secret Service agents to bring on a moral epiphany. Now Senate President Don Gaetz and Gaming Committee Chairman Garret Richter are promising to ban the gaming centers as soon as possible.

"Another scandal in Tallahassee? You bet!"

More: Fred Grimm: "An Internet cafe epiphany for cash-collecting legislators".

"Lofty aspiration is more honored in the breach"

The Miami Herald editors: "Florida once reveled in the title of Sunshine State because it adhered faithfully to the code of open government, thanks to a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1992. Unfortunately, that’s no longer true. Today, that lofty aspiration is more honored in the breach than in the observance." "Bring back the sunshine".

Paul edges Rubio in wingnut-fest

"Rand Paul won the annual CPAC straw poll, backed by a youthful, libertarian-leaning group of activists. Sen. Marco Rubio came in a very close second." "Rand Paul narrowly beats Marco Rubio in CPAC straw poll". See also "Marco Rubio Made It Close, but Rand Paul Wins 2013 CPAC Straw Poll".

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Going Bust".

Sequestration blues

"Florida economists Friday maintained that state tax collections continue to pour in at a pace not seen since 2007, but added a fresh caution about the lingering effect of across-the-board federal cuts to military and domestic programs." "Florida’s budget at mercy of federal cuts".

Weatherford's empty suit blows in the wind at CPAC

"Introduced as the youngest House speaker in America, Florida Rep. Will Weatherford used a speech Saturday before a large gathering of conservative activists to double down on a promise to reject a federal expansion of Medicaid." "At CPAC, Speaker Will Weatherford emphasizes opposition to Medicaid expansion". See also "State House Speaker Weatherford: Florida should reject Medicaid expansion, become ‘pocket of freedom’".

Speaking of empty suits: "Jeb Bush: Conservatives ‘have the solutions’ to nation’s problems". More: "Tears of joy for Jeb Bush at CPAC".

"Robin Hood in reverse"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "One of the broadest assaults on the Everglades cleanup effort is speeding toward passage in the Florida House. The measure would put the state's taxpayers on the hook for pollution caused by the agriculture industry — and open an avenue for even more environmental damage down the road. Shifting cleanup costs from Big Sugar to those who are downstream from its dirty fields is Robin Hood in reverse and undermines the intent of a voters' mandate to have polluters pay. Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate need to stop it."

The measure, HB 7065, would rewrite the state's plan to clean pollution flowing from farms in the Everglades' agricultural zones to the protection areas in the south. Supporters say the legislation is needed to codify the agreement between Scott and the federal government that calls on Florida to spend $880 million over 12 years to build storm water treatment and water storage to intercept runoff from the farms, preventing further pollution of an ecosystem that is vital to the state's economy, environment and drinking water needs.

The legislation, though, does far more than that.

"A House measure would put taxpayers on the hook for Everglades cleanup.".

GOPers "working hard to backtrack on their horrendous efforts to repress voters in last year’s election"

The Palm Beach Post editors: "Florida legislators are working hard to backtrack on their horrendous efforts to repress voters in last year’s election. The stampede is so frenzied that a bill undoing much of the damage inflicted on democracy by Republican legislators cleared the Florida House this month on a 118-1 vote. Even the state representative who sponsored the cynical bill that shortened Florida’s early voting period two years ago voted to undo it." "Good start — but more to do — on election reform".

Bullard Dies

"Former Sen. Larcenia Bullard Dies".

"Opportunities for Scott"

Lloyd Dunkelberger: "Although Jennifer Carroll’s resignation in the middle of a gambling investigation adds another controversy to Gov. Rick Scott’s rather sizable list, the lieutenant governor’s departure also presents some opportunities for Scott. Facing a challenging re-election in 2014, Scott can select a new lieutenant governor who can bring some positives to his image and his campaign. And Scott plans to take his time in making that choice, announcing he will not seek to replace Carroll until at least May." "Lieutenant governor opening an opportunity for Scott".

Profiting from political ties?

"Five years ago, the Florida Legislature voted to put state-paid mental health and substance abuse services under managed care, saying the change would control the state’s costs, coordinate patients’ care and provide services to more people."

It didn’t supply any money to pay for the managed care companies, however.

With seven regional managed care overseers now hired and processing state spending of $520 million a year, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found the change is costing already cash-strapped clinics more to treat their patients and in some cases forcing them to cut staff and services to needy people. Meanwhile, subcontractors for those overseers, which make decisions about care, have been handed rich incentives to cut spending on patients.

The subcontractor serving Broward, Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, Concordia Care, is backed by a major donor to Gov. Rick Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” communications committee as well as the Republican Party of Florida. Although Concordia was a start-up with almost no prior track record, it won the business thanks to the reputation of the men investing in it, and the influence of former DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth. . . .

Butterworth, who never registered as a lobbyist, has played a key role in how the non-profits were set up and how they presented their bids to the state.

In an interview , Butterworth said he had represented Concordia as an attorney, not a lobbyist. He said he no longer works for Concordia.

He’s now the volunteer chairman of Broward Behavioral Health, the non-profit managing entity that he helped to assemble and to bid on the DCF contract.

"Did Concordia Care profit from political ties?".

"Florida may go rogue"

"When Florida’s Rick Scott became the seventh Republican governor to support Medicaid expansion, he gave President Obama unexpected momentum for the nationwide effort, a key piece of the federal health care overhaul. But just as quickly, federal regulators stalled the effort with an out-of-the-box policy decision that critics say now clouds prospects for bringing health coverage to 1 million low-income Floridians." "Florida may go rogue on Medicaid expansion".

"Flurry of bills to deal with school security"

"The national debate that erupted following last December’s horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, leaving 26 children and teachers dead, ranged from gun control to mental health to school safety. In Tallahassee, where this month lawmakers started their annual 60-day legislative session, a flurry of bills have been introduced to specifically deal with school security." "A flurry of proposals for making Florida schools safer".

FlaDems rolling over for Crist?

"Possible Democratic gubernatorial candidates this week closed the door on challenging Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, leaving more room for former Gov. Charlie Crist."

On Wednesday, the team behind U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who won a third term in 2012, shot down rumors that their boss would take on Scott in 2014. Media reports appeared this week that former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who once seemed likely to challenge Scott in 2014, is slowing down his operations, leading many of his closest allies to conclude that he will not enter the race. At the end of February, during his State of the City address, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who generated some buzz as a possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate, announced that he was not running for governor in 2014.

This week Crist scored national media attention, covering a range from liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow to the conservative Washington Times, as he increasingly says he is open to running for governor again in 2014. Crist’s face remains plastered on billboards across the state for trial attorney firm Morgan & Morgan, where the former governor went to work after his loss to Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate race.

Crist still faces some foes for the Democratic nomination. Former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is actively running but her bid has gained little traction to date. Former state CFO Alex Sink, who was the Democratic candidate who lost to Scott in 2010, is also in the mix but she remains on the political sidelines after the sudden death at the end of last year of her husband Bill McBride, a prominent attorney and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2002.

"Democrats Start Clearing the Decks for Charlie Crist".

"Not the same Scott who won office"

"The Scott now seeking re-election is not the same Scott who won office in 2010 during a conservative wave by embracing the tea party. While he hasn't switched political allegiances as Crist did, Scott is no longer conducting official business at tea party rallies. But the more he moves toward the middle, the more he'll lose ammunition against Crist in a potential matchup next year." "Scott's shifting stances may be an election issue".

Crist's boss to lead pot initiative

"Charlie Crist's boss, John Morgan, to lead pot initiative in Florida". See also "John Morgan, Ben Pollara to lead medical marijuana fight" and "Obama donor and Charlie Crist boss backs medical marijuana plan".

You gotta problem wit dat?

"The chairman of a Florida Senate committee that oversees gambling relies on the plane owned by a gaming lobbyist for travel to Tallahassee and his Naples home. Sen. Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Gaming, said that his primary mode of travel is Capital Air, owned by Dave Ramba, who is a licensed pilot, lawyer, fundraiser and prominent lobbyist."

In the past two years, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith and others have also flown on what one senator jokingly calls "Air Ramba."
"Gaming committee chairman relies on flights from gaming lobbyist".

And he's pulling the ladder up behind him

"Will Weatherford's fast rise started from humble beginnings".