Saturday, August 03, 2013

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

Yet another fine RPOFer mess

On the heels of the messy resignation of Florida's Secretary of Education, there's yet another RPOFer scandal in the making: "State House Speaker Will Weatherford is a founding member and former director of a Texas company that since 2008 has received $826,676 from Florida’s state-run insurance company, according to records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting."

Weatherford, a Republican who represents Wesley Chapel, has never disclosed his and his wife Courtney’s relationship with Mt. Pleasant, Texas-based U.S. Cat Adjusters, which has been a contractor for Citizens Property Insurance for five years — while Weatherford was a member of the Florida House of Representatives.
"Florida House speaker tied to Citizens contractor".

"Weatherford declined to be interviewed for this story, but in an emailed response to questions, the House Speaker said he has made no money from his connection to U.S. Cat Adjusters, which is a private insurance adjustment company"

.“Since the company’s inception, neither Courtney nor I have ever received a single dollar of income,” Weatherford wrote. He acknowledged that he was “listed” as a board member for several years.

Weatherford has not reported the relationship to U.S. Cat Adjusters on state financial disclosure forms.

“The question is, does Weatherford own stock in [U.S. Cat Adjusters]?” said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration and policy at the University of South Florida.

He doubted Weatherford’s claim of no interest.

“He would have to have an interest beyond sitting on the board. He’s not doing this as charity. What is being raised here is the possibility of a rather obscure but significant conflict of interest that would be hard to track and hard to know if there are violations of the spirit of the law.”

This isn’t the first time Weatherford has left questions about potential conflicts of interest unanswered, and U.S. Cat Adjusters isn’t the only company to which Weatherford has connections he won’t explain.

"Florida House Speaker Connected to Citizens Contractor".

Scott demands apology

"Rev. Jesse Jackson calls Florida ‘Selma of our time’; Gov. Rick Scott calls for apology". See also "Jesse Jackson’s Selma, apartheid remarks denounced by Scott, GOP chairman" and "Latest Selma comparison part of a long rhetorical tradition for Jesse Jackson".

"Rick Scott, with his penchant for losers, hired Bennett"

Fred Grimm points out that "Grown-ups might not buy Tony Bennett’s tortured explanation for jacking up that C grade to an A, but every school child in Florida understands the rationale."

Sometimes a middling C, as Tony told his underlings back in Indiana on Sept. 12, 2012, can be a “HUGE problem for us.”

Us too, say the kids.

The HUGE problem to which Tony was referring was the C grade scored by an Indianapolis charter school. At the time, Bennett was still Indiana state superintendent of education. (Two months later, voters would knock him out of office. Gov. Rick Scott, with his penchant for losers, hired Bennett to be his education commissioner in Florida.)

This was not just any charter school, as Bennett made clear in a cache of emails uncovered this week by the Associated Press in Indiana. This was Christel House, namesake of school founder and very generous Republican donor Christel DeHaan.

“Oh, crap,” his despondent assistant superintendent told Bennett. “We cannot release until this is resolved.”

The emails reveal Bennett and his staff working frantically over the next nine days, while his office delayed the statewide release of all the A-F school grades, to find some way to jack up Christel House’s grade. The word “loophole” pops up at least four times in the exchanges.

"Education chief Tony Bennett’s excuses don’t make the grade".

Webster wants Buford T. Justice in on immigration enforcement

In what will surely put off reform advocates, Central Florida Congressman Dan Webster "wants to empower state and local authorities to help enforce the new immigration law — an issue that has been contentious in several states." "Webster endorses immigration reform — with preconditions".

Medical marijuana money

"Morgan to spend 'a lot of money' on medical marijuana campaign".

He gone

Jeb Bush protege, "State Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned Thursday, fueling controversy over the school grading system and delivering a blow to Gov. Rick Scott and the leaders working to overhaul Florida's system of school accountability."

Coming to Florida in January from Indiana, Bennett had faced mounting calls for his resignation this week after revelations that he intervened in the grading system in Indiana to benefit a charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor.
"On Thursday, Bennett said he was leaving his post immediately to avoid becoming a 'distraction.'".
Bennett is a longtime ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Florida's Future has driven education policy in Florida for the past decade. He is active in Bush's coalition of state education leaders, Chiefs for Change.
"Amid school grading controversy, Florida education chief Tony Bennett resigns". See also "Florida education chief Tony Bennett resigns" and Scott Maxwell's "Florida's education system is a mess". More: "Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett Resigns Amid Grading Controversy".

"Three commissioners and two interim commissioners have gone through the state Department of Education in Gov. Rick Scott's 31 months.".

Meanwhile," Democrats and union leaders are calling for the state education commissioner to be elected by the voters, not appointed by the Board of Education." "Florida education board names interim commissioner".

Putnam frustrated

"Adam Putnam's frustration w Fla Cabinet".

Rick Scott not taking credit for this?

"Orlando is unlikely to see its recent home-price gains continue in the months ahead, according to a new national forecast." "Forecast: Orlando home prices to soften after sharp run-up".

Medicaid privatization begins

"Some of Florida’s most vulnerable residents — the frail elderly and poor or disabled adults — will be ushered into a new era of healthcare over the next five months that will change the way they receive their taxpayer funded long-term care from Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled." "State health reform plans include Medicaid managed care".