Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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

Scott may dump education chief who inflated grades for GOP contributor's charter school

Update: "Gov. Rick Scott has been silent on the scandal engulfing his education commissioner. He declined two opportunities to speak publicly on the matter Tuesday, saying he had not read the AP report. . . . But with the 2014 governor’s race on the horizon, observers say Scott has a tough decision to make." "Gov. Scott silent regarding future of his education commissioner".

Bennett doesn't see a problem: "Bennett: No smoking gun there". See also "Tony Bennett Defends Grade Changes in Indiana".

Background: "Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold 'failing' schools accountable."

But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s mark.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an A, despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a C. . . .

The Associated Press story comes at a difficult time for Bennett, now Florida’s education commissioner, who recently came under fire for revising the state’s school grading formula. . . .

Florida Democrats weighed in Monday, saying the latest development cast doubt on Bennett.

“How can we trust Florida’s school grades — already the product of political manipulation — with Tony Bennett in charge?” Florida Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant said.

"Bennett rocketed to prominence with the help of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a national network of Republican leaders and donors, such as [charter school owner and GOP donor] DeHaan."
Bennett is a co-founder of Bush’s Chiefs for Change, a group consisting mostly of Republican state school superintendents pushing school vouchers, teacher merit pay and many other policies introduced by Bennett in Indiana.

Bush could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

"The emails clearly show Bennett’s staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to Indiana legislative leaders."
But trouble loomed when Indiana’s then-grading director, Jon Gubera, alerted Bennett on Sept. 12 that the Christel House Academy had scored less than an A.

“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012, email to Neal, the chief of staff.

Neal fired back a few minutes later, “Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved.”

DeHaan, who opened the Christel House Academy charter school in Indianapolis in 2002 and has since opened schools in India, Mexico and South Africa, said in a statement Monday that no one from the school ever made any requests that would affect Christel House’s grades.

Current Indiana schools chief Glenda Ritz’s office declined to comment on the emails.

Ritz, a Democrat, defeated Bennett in November with a grass-roots campaign driven by teachers angered by Bennett’s education agenda.

"Donor’s school grade raised". More: "Fla Ed Commish changed donor's school grade".


"Times change. Reubin Askew doesn't. The oldest living former Florida governor views government as a force for good, not evil, rates personal integrity as a cornerstone of public service, and encourages young people to get involved in politics." "Times may have changed, but former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew hasn't".

Atwater "setting the stage"

"After a big win in 2010 and little expected in the way of Democratic opposition in the coming election, Jeff Atwater is poised to be something of an afterthought in 2014. That being the case, he can use his spot on the political undercard as he runs for a second term as Florida’s CFO, setting the stage for a future run for office." "Jeff Atwater Can Use 2014 as a Springboard for Higher Office".

Dream Defenders "dug in"

Update: "Plan B: Dream Defenders work to persuade lawmakers to call special session".

"A compact core of Dream Defenders, still staked out inside the Florida Capitol, maintain they're on a mission driven by the spirit of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955. And lawmakers, they say, would best be served by meeting their demands, convening in special session and reconsidering the state's 'unjust' Stand Your Ground law." "Dream Defenders: We're Dug In; 'We Have a Blueprint'". Related: "FDLE Gave Dream Defenders Permission to Protest Overnight" and "Jesse Jackson joins Capitol protest".

Update: "Speaker Weatherford open to 'stand your ground' change". The Tampa Trib editors: "Weatherford's reasonable stance on "stand your ground"".

"Residency 'Litmus Test'"

"The Legislature may be asked to consider imposing stronger residency requirements, amid allegations that a number of sitting lawmakers are loosely following the current rules." "Don Gaetz Suggests Residency 'Litmus Test' For All Lawmakers".

Rubio's "pants are on fire", yet again

"Rubio, arguing to defund Obamacare, said '75 percent of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours.' That's not remotely true. In the study of small businesses he cited, less than 10 percent said they might make that choice. We rate this Pants on Fire." "Rubio cites flawed data on Obamacare".

The other Gaetz

"The Florida Republican Party is blessed with a growing bench of officeholders in their 30s and early 40s and one of the rising stars -- Matt Gaetz -- is well-poised to move from the state House to the state Senate in 2016."

The son of Senate President Don Gaetz, Matt Gaetz threw his hat in the ring for the seat his father currently holds. Between the middle of May and the end of June, Gaetz raised an impressive $232,360 and spent around $6,750. With more than three years to go until the actual election, Gaetz should be in great shape, especially as running a campaign in the Panhandle doesn’t cost as much as it would in other parts of the state.
"Matt Gaetz Poised to be Legislative Force -- Possibly More -- for Years to Come".

To the victors go the spoils

"The Department of Transportation won’t be altering its policies regarding bid procedures even though an administrative law judge criticized its lack of specific rules for delaying bid deadlines." "DOT won't change bid procedures despite judicial criticism".

Money, money

"Ballard Partners adds new partner".

Florida's consumer confidence level falls behind national average

"Florida's consumer confidence dropped three points to 78 in July."

Four of the five components in the report fell. Perceptions that residents are better off now than they were a year ago went down three points to 66. The outlook for where they will be a year from now fell six points to 76. Confidence in the US economy for the next year dropped three points to 79, while confidence in the economy over five years slid seven points to 75.

The only component to see an increase was whether now is a good time to buy big-ticket items, which went up four points to 96. That component of the survey hasn't hit that level since April 2007.

Chris McCarty, director of the University of Florida's Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said he was surprised by the sudden drop given that [by contrast to Florida] national levels saw a slight increase in July.

“The drop in confidence seems to be driven by pessimism among younger respondents with lower incomes,“ McCarty said. “This age group reports not only lower current personal finances now compared to a year ago, but their expectations of lower personal finances a year from now fell too, dramatically dropping from 101 to 87 for those under 60 and from 82 to 68 for those with incomes under $30,000.”

"Consumer confidence falls after 4-month climb".

"We’re just missing the partridge in a mango tree"

The Miami Herald editors: "Three bond offerings by the city of Miami totaling $153.5 million were a shell game. The money was moved around from the city’s construction fund to the general fund to hide a big hole in the city’s budget and make it look to investors and bond rating agencies like the city was sitting pretty when its financial health was really in a deadly tailspin. This shell game started in 2007, and finally the Securities and Exchange Commission has concluded its years’ long investigation into the three 2009 bond offerings — an investigation that came after a Miami Herald report revealed that the city’s then-budget director moved $37.5 million from the capital budget to the general budget, all in an effort, it seems, to inflate the city’s required reserves before the bond offerings."

Mayor Tom├ís Regalado says the city’s handling of finances has vastly improved, but that’s hard to believe when you consider that in the past three years and counting, the city has had four city managers, five finance chiefs, three budget directors and we’re just missing the partridge in a mango tree. It’s ridiculous!
"Miami in the SEC’s doghouse".

Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Valrico

"Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Valrico, is getting ready to run for a second term in the Florida House, hoping to showcase his conservative credentials as he prepares for a Republican primary challenge." "Jake Raburn Gears Up for Second Term in the Florida House".

GOPer "‘crazyroots’ and the 2014 elections"

Marc Caputo: "Race, ‘crazyroots’ and the 2014 elections".

To replace Patronis

Kevin Derby: "With two additions to the race, an increasingly crowded field of candidates is battling for the Florida House seat currently held by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, who faces term limits in 2014." "Bay County House Seat Draws More Candidates in Crowded Contest".

Grayson pushes reforms for workers' wages and benefits

"With much of the political talk in Washington focusing on issues ranging from gun control to immigration or deficit reduction to health-care insurance, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson returned to Orlando Monday night to push reforms for workers' wages and benefits. Calling workers rights a critical economic issue that people just do not talk about, Grayson, D-Orlando, held his first town hall meeting since getting elected last fall. He used the event to focus on his bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour." "Grayson pushes worker wages and benefits at Orlando town hall".

"Too little, too late" from Scott

The Miami Herald editorial board argues that the governor "has been too content to sow the seeds of divisiveness. The price has been high — costing Florida money, prestige, progress, the quality of people’s lives and, perhaps, their very lives. Mr. Scott’s refusal to revisit Stand Your Ground laws, for instance, guarantees more bloodshed."

Perhaps the most blatant instance of Mr. Scott’s willingness to pound a wedge between Floridians lies in the painful memory of last year’s presidential elections. Mr. Scott did his level best to ensure that some, “those people” — be they black, liberal-leaning Hispanic, urban dweller or college student — had to clear a higher hurdle to exercise their right to vote. The Legislature curtailed the number of days that early voting was permitted, even making sure that the polls were shut on the Sunday before Election Day, when African-American churchgoers traditionally vote after services.

It was an un-American act of dividing in hopes of conquering. But its only success was in rendering Florida’s vote useless and making the state, once again, look ridiculous, inept. It was a disgrace to democracy.

So was the governor’s refusal to allow the teenage or adult children of undocumented immigrants to get temporary driver’s licenses after an Obama administration policy allowed them to stay in this country and work. Even lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature saw the wisdom of this bill, which passed almost unanimously. But Mr. Scott spurned compassion and common sense and got out his veto pen. It was one more mean-spirited move that undercut the aspirations of young people who want to succeed here. They did not violate this nation’s laws by coming here, or staying here, illegally. That was their parents’ doing. But Mr. Scott blithely squandered what Florida needs most — the talent of smart, hard-working residents — by making it harder for them to contribute to society. Again, fostering an us-vs.-them mentality.

"This year, Mr. Scott said that he would support a three-year trial run for Medicaid expansion. Too little, too late. Lawmakers failed to come through with legislation, and Mr. Scott hasn’t boldly stepped up call a special session."
The governor’s call for unity had a nice ring to it. But instead of relying on a higher authority to provide it, he, too, must take seriously his own ability to close the gap. Otherwise, too many Floridians just don’t have a prayer.
"The politics and costs of divisiveness".