Monday, August 12, 2013

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider becoming a site fan on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

"Scandals cast cloud over Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects"

"Nobody felt the sting of former state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett’s resignation quite like Jeb Bush."

Bush played a key role in recruiting Bennett from Indiana and was among his most ardent supporters — even after Bennett became entangled in an alleged grade-fixing flap.

When Bennett stepped down on Aug. 1, it was the latest in a string of setbacks for Bush, who has spent the last five years pushing an ambitious education reform agenda across the country. Earlier this summer, Bush’s signature model of grading schools on an A-to-F scale came under attack in Florida. Then came a crushing wave of criticism from tea party groups, which oppose the new national standards Bush is promoting.

The political fallout could be significant. Many observers believe Bush is using his role as national education reformer to position himself for a run at the presidency in 2016. That hinges partly on success in Florida, where Bush created his template for school reform.

"Bush, who has ducked questions about his presidential ambitions, did not return an email seeking comment."
Bush’s influence has remained strong in Florida. But there is evidence that he may be losing clout.This spring, Bush and the Foundation for Florida’s Future were unable to pass the parent trigger bill, which would have allowed parents to demand changes at low-performing schools. They suffered another defeat last month, when the state Board of Education approved a “safety-net” to prevent school grades from dropping dramatically in the wake of new, more challenging student state exams. The foundation had argued that artificial inflation would undermine the grading system.

“The long sleep is now over,” said Kathleen Oropeza, of the Orlando-based parent group Fund Education Now. “People are starting to realize that Jeb and his reforms are not good for children and not good for schools. They are meant to privatize public education.” . . .

Bush stood by Bennett after the resignation, writing in an op-ed in the Miami Herald that “those who stooped to nasty political tactics to undermine Tony should be ashamed.”

But Diane Ravitch, a national critic of school grades, called the scandal a “huge embarrassment” for Bush.

“There is no individual more associated with the Bush education idea than Bennett other than Jeb himself,” she said.

Adding to Bush’s woes: the unexpected political dust-up over the Common Core standards.

Bush has said adopting a set of national curriculum standards will raise expectations for students in all states, and is championing the idea. But tea party groups and some prominent Republican lawmakers, including Rubio, have taken the position that curriculum standards ought to be developed on the state and local level.

"Education scandals cast cloud over Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects". More "Jeb!" here: "End of Jeb Bush Miracle? Florida Grades Collapse", "Jeb Bush Slams Public Schools" and "What Jeb Bush Said to ALEC".

More on "Jeb's education racket" from of all people, Michelle Malkin. In an

article in the National Review, titled “Jeb’s Education Racket,” Malkin eviscerates Tony Bennett and Jeb Bush. She writes:
[Bennett's] disgraceful grade-fixing scandal is the perfect symbol of all that’s wrong with the federal education schemes peddled by Bennett and his mentor, former GOP governor Jeb Bush: phony academic standards, crony contracts, and big-government and big-business collusion masquerading as “reform.”
"Conservative Columnist Slams Tony Bennett, Jeb Bush". See also "Jeb’s Education Racket".

"Is it possible central Florida's goose is becoming morbidly obese?"

Jim Stratton: "In Central Florida, we really want to diversify our economy. We want high-tech jobs. We want green power jobs. We want skilled manufacturing. But like sugar addicts jonesin' for Krispy Kremes, we can't help ourselves when we get a chance to throw money at projects that will likely produce more of the same, low-paying jobs we're infamous for."

Check out the plans unfolding in Orange and Osceola counties.

In Orange, officials have all but agreed on a $94.5 million gift for tourism interests (more marketing and convention center money); for sports ventures (a soccer stadium and Citrus Bowl renovation); and for arts backers (money for the performing arts center).

That looks positively thrifty next to what's happening in Osceola.

There, leaders are talking about spending almost $175 million in tourist-tax money on a state-of-the-art spring-training complex for the Washington Nationals. The project would gobble up essentially every uncommitted dollar of the fund for the next 25 years.

Proponents say the projects will generate waves of economic impact, creating jobs for a community still recovering from the recession and nursing an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent.

And there's no question that they're right.

But after the bump of the construction rush, and beyond a relatively small number of administrators, marketing execs, IT people and business managers, what sort of jobs would the spending ultimately produce?

I'm seeing an army of ticket takers, hot dog vendors, hotel housekeepers, restaurant servers and fast-food workers. These are largely tourism-and-leisure focused projects. As such, they'll spin off tourism-and-leisure focused jobs.

That, in itself, isn't a bad thing.

Tourism is what Central Florida is about. It drives our economy, makes us an international destination and provides tens of thousands of jobs for workers with little specialized training or education. It is, as business leaders point out, "the goose that laid the golden egg."

OK, but is it possible our goose is becoming morbidly obese?

There are now almost 221,000 leisure and hospitality workers in Metro Orlando – the most ever – making up 21 percent of our total employment. In the past 12 months, total jobs here have grown by 2.2 percent, while leisure and hospitality has increased by 3.8 percent.

The sector has added 8,100 jobs in the past year – more than a third of our total job growth and more than construction, financial activities, and professional and business services combined (7,100).

It's good news that our biggest sector is flexing its muscles again, but it's the lowest-paying, non-agricultural industry in America. Seems like if we want to funnel local tax money into projects or businesses that juice the economy, we might look for something that offers more bang for the buck.

"Latest plans add low-paying jobs — again" (subscription required).

"Low-income schools struggle"

"Low-income schools struggle under state’s grading system".

Firefighters battle fire, rescue two

"Seminole County firefighters battle a blaze . . . One man died and two women were critically injured . . . ." "Man dies, 2 women critically hurt in house fire near Oviedo".

Lobbyist an "easy mark for FBI informant"

"Newly divorced and struggling financially, lobbyist Richard Candia fit the profile of an easy mark for an FBI informant."

“Candia,” an FBI criminal complaint said, “was believed to have contacts with public officials willing to accept bribery and kickbacks.”

It was a spot-on assessment.

From 2011 until this summer, Candia played a crucial role in recruiting Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño into a kickback sting involving purported federal grants that was orchestrated by the FBI.

Along with Maroño’s right-hand man, Jorge Luis Forte, the men were charged Tuesday and Wednesday in one of Miami-Dade’s biggest corruption busts in years.

For many seasoned politicos and insiders, the corruption wasn’t a shock.

"Miami lobbyist in FBI mayor’s sting goes from political insider to defendant". See also "Mayor of one town, lawyer for another: Is that a problem?" and "Miami crime yarn: Paranoid Pizzi & Macho Maroño" ("Maroño went a step further ... tried to use his connections as head of the Florida League of Cities to recruit other corrupt mayors into the scheme.")

Benefits for same-sex couples

The Palm Beach Post editors argue that "Palm Beach should approve benefits for same-sex couples".

"Oh my! Nobody likes repeated lies"

Paula Dockery reminds us that, as "a co-founder of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, [former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett] is a true believer in the school grading system and the push for school vouchers and teacher merit pay."

The most troubling of the emails from Bennett to his team is hard to walk back from. He writes, “I am a little miffed about this, I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.”

Oh my! Nobody likes repeated lies.

Bennett resigned four days after The AP story broke. During those four days Patricia Levesque, the executive director of Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, circulated a letter defending him; Democratic lawmakers called for his resignation, and the governor remained silent.

While the scandal and the resignation are behind us, the policy and systemic problems are still center stage. Isn’t it time for an honest conversation about doing away with a school grading system that is costly, divisive and unreliable?

Systemically, just how much autonomy does the education commissioner have to run the Department of Education and to whom is he directly accountable? In all fairness, it would be difficult for anyone to succeed in a toxic environment of distrust while having to report to so many chiefs.

Among the education chiefs are the commissioner, the state board that hires and can fire the commissioner; the Legislature, which confirms his appointment; the governor, who appoints the board; the former governor who was the father of Florida’s grading system, and his political foundation, which enjoys tremendous influence with legislators. Curiously missing from the hierarchy are local school boards, teachers, parents and students.

Until we address the policy and systemic challenges, we won’t stop the revolving door. Why would any accomplished educational leader want to come to Florida with our record of resignations, divisiveness, lack of autonomy and complex reporting structure?

"Florida’s education scandal worth a C or an A, whatever".

The Week Ahead

"This week the DEP begins a series of meeting to provide updates on work to develop rules for consumptive-use permits for fresh water, the Florida League of Cities and the Rights Restoration Coaltion hold conferences in Orlando and Republican Senators head to the Big Apple to raise money for the Senate Majority." "The Week Ahead for Aug. 12 to Aug. 16, 2013".

Scott to go all in with teabaggers

"Rick Scott rose to the governor’s office in 2010 as a favorite candidate of the tea party. Facing a tough contest in 2014, he is looking to keep the tea party movement and conservatives in his corner. Last week, tea party group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) announced Scott will be offering the keynote speech at the "Defending the American Dream Summit" over Labor Day weekend in Orlando. Scott will be joined by some Republicans already angling for their party’s presidential nomination in 2016 including Marco Rubio, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal." "Rick Scott Has Chance to Nail Down the Base in AFP Speech".

"What has been done by your elected officials in Florida is sabotage"

The Tampa Bay Times' John Romano writes that "the worst part of this story — the part that should make you tremble with anger — is that your elected officials did this to you. And they did it on purpose."

That would include your state Senate. That would include your state House.

And that would include your governor.

In case you missed the headlines, your leaders recently decided that the state insurance commissioner's power to negotiate rates should be suspended for the next two years. Now, monitoring rates is a large part of the commissioner's job, so it's not like this was some insignificant procedural move.

So why was it done?

Well, upon signing this ridiculous piece of legislation, Gov. Rick Scott suggested it made sense for legislators to hand over review of rates to the federal government during the first two years of the Affordable Care Act.

I see two ways of deciphering that explanation: Either your elected officials are ignorant, or their excuse is a load of hooey. I'm going with hooey.

Romano continues - "Bottom line? No one is saying Republicans have to be cheerleaders for the Affordable Care Act. They are free to grumble about it as much as they like."
But this nonsense is different. It is neither true debate, nor is it constructive. What has been done by your elected officials in Florida is sabotage. And the worst part is they don't give a dang that you might be collateral damage.
"Elected officials abandoned consumers on Obamacare".

A related editorial from the Times editorial board: "By refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature left a million poor residents without health care coverage and turned away billions in federal money. Senate President Don Gaetz sent a list of questions to the Obama administration this summer that ask for more flexibility and has not received a response. The administration should answer with a resounding "no," because states should not be given a loophole that allows them to deprive some needy residents of coverage." "Denying health coverage isn't progress".