Friday, May 24, 2013

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

Kochs eye South Florida Sun Sentinel

Fred Grimm bemoans the Sun Sentinelhaving been "dragged down by the recession, falling ad revenue, flagging circulation and mostly by dunderhead notions of Chicago real estate billionaire Sam Zell, who bought the Tribune Company in 2007, [and] saddled it with $13 billion in debt, put a former radio shock jock in charge, destroyed 4,500 jobs, looted retirement accounts and drove a great American media conglomerate into bankruptcy."

But the Tribune Company emerged from bankruptcy Dec. 31 and its stakeholders indicated an interest in selling off the company’s newspapers sector (holding on to 23 TV stations), including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, the Hartford Courant and the Sun Sentinel. Last month, reports surfaced that the libertarian activists Kochs were interested. The guess is that the winning bid would require somewhere between $600 million and $700 million, pocket change for brothers at the head of $115 billion Koch Industries.
However, "more than 67 percent of Broward County’s electorate voted for Barack Obama, the very fellow that the Koch brothers and their Americans for Prosperity foundation spent an estimated $30 million trying to unseat in 2012."
The Kochs might also discover that grand philosophical ideas nurtured, with their millions, in the Cato Institute don’t quite translate to local newspaper coverage. Local newspapering has less to do with philosophy than with keeping an eye on influence peddlers or worrying about who’s stealing the silverware down at County Hall. The Kochs and their minions can deny global warming and rising sea levels on the editorial pages, but their newsrooms can’t pretend that big chunks of A1A didn’t wash away on Lauderdale beach last fall. There’s nothing theoretical about failing sewers and flooded streets.

They can preach self-sufficiency, but local newspapers can’t ignore homeless camps in city parks or natural disaster victims begging for government help. The libertarian promise to abolish Social Security won’t endear a newspaper to precious readers in Century Village.

The Kochs, not in the habit of losing money, might come to wonder if they were snookered into buying the Tribune Company newspapers. If it was some liberal conspiracy to get them to fritter away millions that might have gone to the American Legislative Exchange Council or the Heartland Institute or the Heritage Foundation.

"Broward may be Koch brothers’ deal from hell". See also "Extremists On Verge of Controlling I-4 Corridor Newspapers".

Gideon's trumpet

"The Florida Supreme Court embraced justice for all Floridians on Thursday when it reaffirmed the right of the poor to adequate legal counsel. The court ruled that trial courts can stop assigning public defenders to new cases when the Legislature has provided so little money that the result is overwhelming case loads. The ruling, 5-2, is a triumph of reality over the wishful thinking of legislative leadership. At some point, the cost of justice denied is more than any dollars and cents the Legislature wants to save." "The Florida Supreme Court embraced justice for all Floridians Thursday when it reaffirmed the poor's right to adequate legal counsel.".

Falling up

"Pam Bondi, Lizbeth Benacquisto Selected for National GOP Leadership Roles".

Republicans preside over doubling of food stamp usage in Florida

"In spite of the Sunshine State's declining unemployment rate, the number of Floridians on food stamps -- now called SNAP benefits -- has risen in alarming numbers, actually doubling in five years." "Number of Floridians Receiving SNAP Benefits Doubles In Five Years".

"Nelson-for-governor thing may be the real deal"

Scott Maxwell "is increasingly hearing" "buzz that this Bill Nelson-for-governor thing may be the real deal. That would be interesting — not only to watch Nelson vs. Rick Scott, but also to see the scrambling to fill his U.S. Senate seat.".

Scraping the bottom

"Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., was in town recently to interview potential Murphy challengers. McHenry heads up recruiting efforts for the National Republican Congressional Committee." "Murphy draws another out-of-state Republican to South Florida".

More RPOF corporate welfare

The "Tampa Bay Times editors: "Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will never win any popularity contests, and here is another reason why. The state-run insurer's board narrowly decided Wednesday to give away $52 million to a new St. Petersburg insurer with no track record and questionable leadership that will take up to 60,000 Citizens policies. It's a bad deal for Citizens, for homeowners who may be sucked into the small start-up and eventually pay higher rates, and for the state."

Gov. Rick Scott, who defends this corporate welfare, and Citizens board members keep finding more ways to hurt consumers. Florida has been fortunate to avoid direct hits by hurricanes for seven years, and Citizens has a record cash surplus of $6.4 billion. Despite all of the scare tactics about the potential for large assessments after major hurricanes to cover insured losses, Citizens has enough available capital to cover losses from a 1-in-58-year hurricane without any assessments. But the governor and the Citizens board are determined to reduce the size of the insurer regardless of the cost and the poor track record of too many start-up private insurers that may bite off more than they can handle.

Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance Co. just opened nine months ago and has about 40,000 customers — all or most of them former Citizens customers. Yet the Citizens board voted 3-2 to more than double Heritage's number of customers and increase the company's capital by roughly 50 percent. Scott says it is Citizens' responsibility to act in the best interest of its policyholders, but the only interest this sweetheart deal serves is Heritage's. It also appears to fly in the face of the intent of the Legislature, where House Speaker Will Weatherford helped stop Citizens' plan last year to loan private insurers $350 million to take policies. The details of Heritage's unusual arrangement are different, but the result is the same: Citizens policyholders are subsidizing an unproven private insurer, and those whose policies are taken by Heritage may wind up with less reliable coverage and higher rates after three years than they would have if they stayed with Citizens. It's no coincidence that Citizens' decision occurred after the legislative session ended even though the discussions with Heritage have been going on since March.

"The company's best qualification appears to be its $140,000 in political contributions to the governor and state Republican Party in the few months it has been in business. Gilway also has an odd definition of "quality management.'' Heritage's president, Richard Widdicombe, has previously run insurance companies in Florida that were fined by the state for dozens of violations. Its vice president of claims operations, Paul G. Neilson, worked for Citizens and oversaw its controversial reinspection program that cost 250,000 homeowners more than $200 million in increased premiums. So the same guy who helped bring in millions to Citizens through a suspect reinspection program now is taking tens of millions from Citizens for his new private company. How convenient."

"Sweetheart insurance deal hurts consumers".

"Not in the direction of environmental protection"

"Former DEP attorney Christopher T. Byrd wrote on his Facebook page that a new DEP general counsel 'is moving in a 'new direction,' not in the direction of environmental protection, thanks (Gov.) Rick Scott.' A department spokesman said reduction of four attorneys was about reduced caseload and has nothing to do with less environmental protection. " "4 DEP attorneys ousted, prompting Facebook backlash".

"Scott campaign against Charlie Crist"

Adam Smith: "The Rick Scott campaign against Charlie Crist in 1 graphic".