Thursday, March 28, 2013

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

"And that is just the way powerful Republicans want it"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "Greer and his wife regularly complained that the scandal had left them deserted by longtime friends and broke. Yet Greer suddenly showed up in court with a new lawyer in February and has repaid the state party $65,000. Where did the money come from?"

Greer was charged with creating a secret company that contracted with the state Republican Party to raise money while he was chairman. Who knew about that deal? And what really happened during a 2008 trip to the Bahamas that included Greer, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, billionaire and former party finance chairman Harry Sargeant III and dozens of large Republican donors?
"Without a trial, the answers may never be known — and that is just the way powerful Republicans want it. Among those scheduled to testify were Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat who is considering running for his old job; former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff; and prominent Republican legislators. But even without a trial, the depth of the reckless spending, poor judgment and arrogance exposed by the Greer scandal has stained the Republican Party and some of the state's most prominent political figures."
Crist can expect more questions about his poor judgment. He says he didn't know Greer created the company to raise money for the party. But he hand-picked Greer as chairman, and there was plenty of evidence that Greer was misbehaving and that the state party was out of control.

Then there is Sargeant, who previously gave money to Greer. If Greer was paid to plead guilty and given money to repay the state party, Sargeant would be a likely benefactor. Sargeant won't talk and has his own issues, including a federal investigation into accusations his shipping business overcharged the Pentagon by more than $200 million.

"For Greer, prison and unanswered questions".

Good question: "Where did the money come from?"

Greer gets 18 months

"Jim Greer, Florida ex-GOP chairman, gets 18 months in prison". See also "Ex-Florida GOP chief Jim Greer gets 18 months in prison" and "Free-spending ex-Florida GOP chief Greer gets 18 months in prison".

Trial lawyers take it on the chin

"Amid a renewed lobbying fight between business groups and trial lawyers, a House panel Wednesday narrowly approved a bill that could help shield insurers from big-money lawsuits in disputes about settling claims. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 7-6 to approve a measure (HB 813) aimed at reining in what are commonly known as "bad faith" lawsuits. " "Trial Lawyers vs. Business Groups: 'Bad Faith' Changes Take First Step".

Crist pushed $20 million titanic flop

"An internal investigation has turned up evidence that former Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders were personally involved in pushing a failed, $20 million economic-development project that bypassed the normal review process for incentives."

The Port St. Lucie-based Digital Domain project initiated in 2009 was personally pushed by Crist, according to the report by Gov. Rick Scott's chief internal investigator, through leftover incentive dollars that would have otherwise reverted back to general revenues. Instead, they were allocated through a political process known as "proviso language" inserted in the budget.
"Three years later, Digital Domain, a special-effects company founded by James Cameron that worked on films including 'Titanic,' filed for bankruptcy and closed its offices. The state is in line with other creditors attempting to get its $20 million back."
The report documents how the company's representative, John Textor, originally approached Crist's economic-development director, Dale Brill, and Enterprise Florida with a pitch for $100 million in incentives to create 500 jobs in Martin or Broward counties.

But based on its return-on-investment requirements and Digital's "extremely weak" financial statements, Enterprise Florida offered only $6.1 million in incentives, according to Enterprise Florida's former CEO John Adams, whom Scott replaced after his election.

So instead, former Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, and Crist's office decided to fund the project outside of Enterprise Florida through budget language. Ambler later got a $20,000 position on Digital Domain's board, and the company hired Ambler's son.

"Crist personally pushed failed Digital Domain deal".

The Palm Beach Post editors point out that "not talking" during the investigation was one "Charlie Crist, who would be wrong to think that he can duck this issue if he runs against Gov. Rick Scott." "Avoid sequel to Digital Domain and the $20 million".

Corporate welfare

"House less stingy than Senate with incentive funds". Background: "Policy Note: Economic Incentives".

Per-student funding

"House panel will propose a $395 per-pupil increase in school spending for next year. The budget proposal will also include a raise for teachers and restore cuts made last year to state universities." "House plans to increase per-student funding".

Is Scott mismanaging $1 billion of federal money?

"State officials fired back Wednesday afternoon at U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's claims that -- under the stewardship of Gov. Rick Scott -- they are mismanaging about $1 billion of federal money earmarked to help Floridians pay their mortgages." "Scott Administration to Bill Nelson: We're Working on Mortgage Assistance".

"Gun-toting teachers"

"A controversial bill that would allow schools employees to carry weapons on campus won the support of a House education subcommittee on Wednesday." "Gun-toting teachers? House education panel says 'yes'". See also "House panel passes bill to arm Florida teachers".

"Politics were at play"

"Politics were at play as hurricane threatened RNC".

Florida Forever

"House, Senate subcommittees on Wednesday recommended money for Florida Forever. Conservation land-buying is a top priority of environmental groups, but they face skepticism from some legislators who say the state already owns too much land. Bills would require state and local agencies to sell land before they could buy more. Other bills allow landowners to acquire state lands by agreeing not to develop other private property." "Policy Note: State Lands".

Not your mommy's Republican Party

"Three pro-life bills moved through the Florida House committee process Wednesday morning, while a fourth – an outright ban on all abortions except those performed to save the life of the mother – appears to have stalled in the Judiciary Committee." "Three Pro-Life Bills Making Their Way Through Legislature; Abortion Ban Stalled".

Nelson says "no"; maybe

Bill Cotterell: "Bill Nelson said Wednesday he has no intention of running for governor next year."

But -- like every politician who can never know what tomorrow may bring -- he wouldn't totally rule out challenging Gov. Rick Scott for the job Nelson sought unsuccessfully in 1990.
"Nelson shrugs off talk of governor's race".

Wednesday in Tally

"Wednesday in Tallahassee". More: "Trooper fired after giving legislator break; more state news" and "Fla. House budget boosts K-12 spending, allows higher ed tuition hikes".

Was that three branches ... or two?

"The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) is warning the public that legislation slugging its way through the House threatens the independence of the state's judicial branch of government."

The measure, HB 7033, would provide that the five members of each court's Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) appointed by the governor serve at his pleasure, whereas under current law they can only be removed before their term expires “for cause” -- i.e., in the case of crime or some serious ethical lapse.
"League of Women Voters Sounds Alarm over House Judiciary Bill".

"Legislature’s assault on people who work for a living"

The Miami Herald editorial board: "Will the state Legislature’s assault on people who work for a living never end? Once again, lawmakers from the north part of the state not only are trying to pick the pockets of working folks, they want to neutralize Miami-Dade County’s home-rule charter in the process. In addition, they want to prevent other counties or municipalities in the state from trying to do right by their constituents."

This time, lawmakers are going after not just one, but two ordinances in Miami-Dade that protect workers by guaranteeing that their employers pay them, and pay them fairly.
"Stop assault on fair-wage laws".

The dreaded "task force"

"The Legislature remains a long way from offering the public real-time access to budget data." "Senate creates task force to review budget transparency".