Saturday, March 09, 2013

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

"Factors holding back Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations"

Jeff Henderson: "There are other factors holding Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations back besides his brother’s legacy."

Florida could have another favorite son in 2016 in the shape of Rubio. In most of the early polls, Rubio is doing better among potential Republican primary voters than Bush is. As large a state as Florida is, it might not be large enough to support two presidential candidates. Jeb Bush could study his family’s history to see how this could work. When he first sought the presidency in 1980, George H. W. Bush was hurt by the candidacy of fellow Texan John Connally.

Political geography could also hurt Jeb Bush’s chances in 2016. . . .

In recent years, social conservatives in Iowa upended favorite candidates in the Republican caucuses. Mike Huckabee scored a major upset by beating out Mitt Romney in 2008‘s caucus. Four years later, Rick Santorum, who had placed fourth in the Iowa straw poll a few months earlier, came out of nowhere to upset Romney in the Iowa caucus. If he wants to run in 2016, Jeb Bush needs to keep an eye on Iowa in 2014 and see which way the winds are blowing as Republicans prepare to see who they will nominate to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin.

After Iowa comes New Hampshire. While New Hampshire rallied behind George H.W. Bush in 1988, the incumbent president got a scare from Pat Buchanan in 1992‘s primary. Independents can vote in the New Hampshire primary which helped John McCain upset George W. Bush in 2000. Independents are still a factor in New Hampshire. While his presidential bid flopped badly across the nation, Jon Huntsman scored with New Hampshire independents. While only 10 percent of registered Republicans backed Huntsman in the 2012 primary, he still won third place with 17 percent.

If New Hampshire independents are still down on his brother in 2016 and high on a moderate Republican (Chris Christie, for example), Jeb Bush could well pay the price. South Carolina helped George H.W. Bush secure the GOP’s nomination in 1988 and did the same thing for George W. Bush in 2000. But, with the rise of the tea party, South Carolina Republicans are getting more conservative. . . .

If Jeb Bush wants to be president in 2016, he will have to start early to overcome his brother’s legacy and the unfavorable political map.

"Jeb Bush's Rough Path to 2016". See also "In Immigration Discussion, Jeb Bush Fell Victim to Bad Timing. Or Did He?" and "A shaky start for Jeb! 2016" ("giving a nod to hard-liners on immigration is an interesting gambit, considering how badly the GOP lost the Hispanic vote in 2012.")

Race to the bottom

"A House committee Friday approved an overhaul of the Florida Retirement System, despite opposition from public worker unions and less-than-resounding support from a financial analyst advising Republican leaders."

The FRS is considered 87 percent funded, with most analysts acknowledging that 80 percent is the benchmark for a fund considered to be on solid financial footing.

Republican leaders, however, say that unfunded actuarial liability is $19.2 billion — a level they say is alarming. Still, those defending the fund say the shortfall exists only if every pensioner demanded their full payments at once, which analysts say would never happen.

"Over state workers’ objections, lawmakers move toward pension overhaul". See also "House budget panel OKs pension shift" and "House plan to close state pension system to new employees moves forward".

Big of them

"The Florida Chamber of Commerce said it's willing to endorse Medicaid expansion, as long as the Legislature plays by its rules." "Florida Chamber endorses Medicaid expansion — with caveats". Meanwhile, "Senators to discuss Medicaid expansion Monday". More "Rep. Cruz hoping Legislature reverses course on Medicaid".

Another Scott flip-flop

"Gov. Rick Scott made a stop in Orlando Friday afternoon to promote his proposed $36 million hike in funding for residents with severe disabilities — a move embraced by families whose loved ones have spent years on a state waiting list for services."

For Scott, the scene was a dramatic contrast to April 2011, when the governor ordered steep cuts to the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities to halt its mushrooming deficit. The move was so widely vilified that, two weeks later, Scott announced he had negotiated a deal with lawmakers to reverse some of the cuts.
"Scott says more funding needed to help people with disabilities".

"Political firestorm"

"The appointment of a new judge to the 4th District Court of Appeal has sparked a political firestorm that reaches all the way to the Florida Supreme Court."

Hours after Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday appointed Alan O. Forst to the West Palm Beach-based appellate court, a group formed to keep politics out of the judicial system blasted the Palm City labor lawyer as unqualified. Further, the group Democracy at Stake questioned whether Forst’s conservative credentials, rather than his legal acumen, spurred the Republican governor to hand him the powerful post.

By Friday, however, the focus had turned from Forst, chairman of the quasi-judicial Reemployment Assistance Appeals Commission, to Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.

After surviving the most vicious and costly merit retention elections in state history, both gave leftover campaign cash to the group that is criticizing Forst’s appointment. Quince in December gave Democracy at Stake $5,922, according to campaign finance reports. Pariente, who once practiced in West Palm Beach and still lives here, gave it $23,000.

Jesse Phillips, president of Restore Justice, a tea party-linked group that worked to defeat the two justices and their colleague R. Fred Lewis in November, said Democracy at Stake is well within its right to criticize Forst’s appointment. But he questioned whether two Supreme Court justices should be funding its activity.

Pariente said she was not aware Sandy D’Alemberte, a former state legislator, law school dean and one of the state’s most prominent attorneys, had issued a press release on behalf of Democracy at Stake criticizing Forst’s selection. Forst will replace her husband, Fred Hazouri, who is retiring.

"Gov. Scott’s pick for 4th DCA judge sparks controversy, raises questions about ‘competence’". As if the Fourth DCA wasn't already "conservative" enough: "Hollywood's police union loses lawsuit challenging pension reform".

Too much Coley

"Coley named to committees in Ford's absence".

Publix rebuffs farmworkers

"The marchers will pass through Sarasota today as they trek to the corporate headquarters of Florida’s largest grocery chain. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been pushing Publix to join other companies like McDonald’s, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, which buy tomatoes from growers who follow the code of conduct." "Immokalee farmworkers group marks progress with march".

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Taking Care of Business".

Bushco lapdogs ignore trigger trouble

"A controversial 'parent trigger' plan to let parents take over failing schools is on the fast track, but Education Commissioner Tony Bennett cautioned lawmakers this week that the proposal gives the state too much power and creates too much red tape for parents. . . . Bennett wrote that the parent trigger option pushed by conservative think tanks, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future and Foundation for Education Excellence, the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has problems."

The day after Bennett sent his memo, a House committee approved the measure along party lines with representatives of Bush’s foundation speaking in favor.
"Schools chief: 'Parent trigger' proposal has problems". See also "Gaetz 'open' to Bennett's suggestions on trigger bill".

Related: "Tim Tebow Act Underscores Trend in Partisan Divide over School Choice".

GOPers blind to absentee ballot fraud

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "In hindsight, Gov. Rick Scott's flawed attempt to purge Florida's voter rolls of noncitizens last fall almost appears quaint."

The real threat to the integrity of elections is in absentee ballots. Exhibit A: South Florida, where hackers in three primary elections requested absentee ballots for 2,552 voters. Elections officials blocked the scammers, the ballots were not sent and prosecutors are investigating. But it is a cautionary tale that has so far been largely unaddressed in Tallahassee. The House elections bill passed last week makes it easier for voters to cure mistakes in submitting absentee ballots but is silent on curtailing absentee ballot fraud.
"Miami-Dade County elections officials were almost immediately suspicious in July of a flurry of online requests for absentee ballots for the primary election. They called several of the voters whose names were on the requests and confirmed the requests were fraudulent. Elections staff blocked the offending IP addresses from submitting more forms. But the hackers adapted, and over more than two weeks they submitted thousands more that were subsequently traced to just 15 IP addresses — most of them overseas."
No absentee ballots were ever mailed, and it remains a mystery who was responsible. All the winners in the 2012 primary in the three races, one Democratic congressional primary and two Republican legislative primaries, won by large margins. But the sophistication — the hackers only targeted infrequent voters who had not requested an absentee ballot — suggests a tie to a candidate's campaign. Under state law only candidates, political committees and political parties have access to absentee ballot request information before the election.
"While the security at the elections office worked, what about the next hacker who may be more sophisticated?"
The Miami-Dade hacking attempt only became public because of a grand jury investigation stemming from another absentee ballot scandal in Miami-Dade in which two so-called boleteros, or ballot brokers, were arrested before the primary and charged with voter fraud. There's mounting evidence that it's Florida's mail ballots — not its Election Day polls — that are most susceptible to fraud.
"Absentee ballots are real threat to voting integrity".

"Florida falling behind on open government"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial Board: "Florida is falling behind on open government. The state has strong laws that guarantee public access to government records and meetings, but it hasn't kept up with technological advances. Jeff Atwater, the state's chief financial officer, is commendably leading on the issue. But it's an uphill climb, with too many lawmakers indifferent or hostile to putting the state's $70 billion budget online in searchable form and pursuing other reforms. Today is the start of Sunshine Week, an annual event that highlights the importance of open government. It's a good time for Florida's leaders to renew the state's commitment in tangible ways." "Reboot law on open records".