Sunday, August 18, 2013

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

The "Jeb!" drumbeat

Frank Bruni, like so many others before him, would love to see Jebbie Bush go for it in 2016. Failing to recognize that, despite years of adoring press work, the man is little more another Marco Rubio, but without the intellectual heft, Bruni is plainly in Jebbie's corner. To be sure, Bruni is careful to point out that when Jeb

was promoting a new book on immigration [he] created enormous confusion about whether he does or doesn’t support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who came here illegally. (He later clarified that he does, with caveats, and even later praised immigrants for being “more fertile.”) That awkwardness gave some of his supporters pause, as they wondered whether he’d been too long out of the fray and was too clumsy for the split-second hyperscrutiny of the Twitter era. He hasn’t run for anything since 2002, when he was re-elected as the governor of Florida, an office he left in early 2007. A whole lot has changed since.
However, Bruni is quick to parrot the Bushco party line:
So what is he for? He talks extensively about educational opportunity, grounded in school choice. He has called for a “patriotic energy security strategy” that diminishes our reliance on foreign oil by more thoroughly tapping domestic sources of oil and natural gas. He’ll need a broader agenda than that, a longer list of affirmatives in order to turn Republicans into the Party of Yes. But he’s seemingly aware of the challenge and hasn’t sprinted away from the autopsy that the party performed on itself after Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

Bush may lack Christie’s verve, but he’s shown some of Christie’s nerve. Last year he said that both his father and Ronald Reagan would have a difficult time fitting into the intensely partisan Republican Party of today and “an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”

Bruni claims he is
told by people in the know that while Bush is definitely mulling a candidacy, there’s only a 20 to 30 percent chance that he’ll press the button. Many factors play into that decision: his family’s privacy; the reality that he and Rubio, his onetime political mentee, can’t both run; the nascent political career of his son George P. Bush, who might be better served by a longer Bush lull.
"The Past’s Future Republican".

For some reason, Bruni overlooks that Floridians remember Jeb Bush's performance*, and polling predictably shows they want no more of this putative favored son: "Fla. poll: Hillary Clinton beats Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio" (June 2013 Q poll).

- - - - - -

*See, e.g., "Bush's back-to-back terms were marred by frequent ethics scandals, official bungling and the inability of the government he downsized to meet growing demands for state services, including education and aid for the infirm and the elderly."

Conflicts, reversals and tricks of the trade

Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano on how Florida Politics has been reduced to "more of the same": conflicts, reversals and tricks of the trade. First, Romano writes about what "you might call a conflict of interest."

You remember [Jebbite] education commissioner Tony Bennett, right? You remember he resigned a few weeks ago after emails surfaced that indicated he ordered changes to school grading guidelines in Indiana that just happened to benefit a prominent political donor?
"Turns out, that wasn't the only cozy relationship Bennett had with business interests. The Indianapolis Star has reported that Bennett's wife was hired earlier this year by Charter Schools USA as one of its regional directors."
The issue is that Charter Schools USA is the same outfit recommended by Bennett to take over three public schools in Indianapolis when he was Indiana's school superintendent. So that means a for-profit charter school company based in Florida got a lucrative taxpayer-funded contract in Indiana while Bennett was in charge and then, coincidentally, hired his wife.
Next Romano shares "what you might call a convenient reversal."
In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott whacked $5 million from the state budget that was earmarked for improvements at a rowing facility in Sarasota. . . .

Scott changed his mind and approved the $5 million. He doubled down this year with another $5 million.

As the Times reported on Friday, Scott's change of heart coincided with about $200,000 in political donations the past two years from developers with financial stakes in the rowing center.

Finally Romano gives what he describes as one of the Tallahassee "tricks of the trade."
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has multiple sources of income, but everyone seems a little fuzzy when it comes to explaining what he does for his paychecks.

One company name listed on past financial disclosure forms has not existed in Florida for a half-dozen years. Weatherford has since added the company's Texas name, but it actually does business in Florida under a third name.

And then there's the Texas company where Weatherford was a founding member and former director. That outfit has gotten more than $800,000 as a contractor for Florida's state-run insurance company in recent years. Weatherford says he has never received income from the company, and his wife replaced him on the board.

If Weatherford is tired of the scrutiny of the speaker job and the difficulty in juggling outside income sources, he should take heart in the fortunes of the man he replaced.

Dean Cannon's brand-spanking-new lobbying firm reported more than $1.5 million in business in the first six months of the year.

"Sadly, Florida politics has even more of the same".

"A surplus of prison beds in Florida"

"When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he was ordering prosecutors to stop charging lower-level drug offenders with “draconian minimum mandatory sentences,” he echoed the refrain from a bi-partisan coalition of activists who have tried and failed to get legislators to change the laws in Florida."

But resistance is strong. In addition to the reluctance of legislators who worry they will be perceived as being soft on crime, the pushback includes prosecutors, the Florida Sheriff’s Association and both public prison officials and private prison lobbyists. The prison advocates have quietly opposed the legislation at a time when there is a surplus of prison beds in Florida.

In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have allowed nonviolent offenders to receive drug counseling. His argument: prosecutors feared it would mean that some prisoners would leave prison early, and fail to serve the mandatory minimum 85 percent of their sentences.

"Push for leniency in drug sentencing has been a hard sell in Florida".

Walmart World

"The bitterness between Miami Planning Director Francisco Garcia and a slew of residents upset over his decision last week to essentially grant Walmart the right to build at Midtown Miami got personal. Garcia received an email from Brandon Berretta, who wanted to know why Garcia approved the plan given that, in Berretta’s view, it violates the zoning code. Then Berretta asked: 'Are they bribing you to do this?'" "Zoning tiff over Walmart in Midtown Miami gets personal, emails show".

Walmart + bribes, is always a legitimate question. As Bloomberg reported, "Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s (WMT) Mexican unit used a current state governor there to facilitate $156,000 in bribes meant to help open stores, an ex-lawyer for the retailer told company officials . . . ." "Wal-Mart Accused of Using Mexican Governor to Push Bribes".

"Pimping out public resources for political support"

Aaron Deslatte: "Politicians hatch deals, trade favors and occasionally get caught enriching themselves or pimping out public resources for political support. Former Brevard County clerk Mitch Needelman's arrest this week on bribery and bid-tampering charges would be encouraging if alleged favoritism-for-political-support exchange wasn't so common." "Florida's political system is neck-deep in cronyism".

"Scott has questions"

"Scott has questions about health care 'navigators'". See also "Scott wants "navigator" briefing".

"Environmental protection was put on the chopping block"

The Tampa Trib editors write that, when "the Great Recession hit, younger lawmakers who didn’t properly value Florida’s environment took office after others were term-limited, and Gov. Rick Scott, a relative newcomer to the state, was elected. Environmental protection was put on the chopping block. Growth management laws were gutted. Funding for the state’s model land preservation program — Florida Forever, previously known as Preservation 2000 — was cut more than 95 percent."

This is why voters need to enthusiastically back Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Campaign — a drive to place a proposed amendment to Florida’s constitution on the November 2014 ballot. If adopted, the amendment would, for the first time, guarantee a state source of funding for land preservation and other environmental programs in Florida.
"Up to voters to protect Florida’s treasures".

"Week in Review"

"Week in Review for August 16, 2013".

YRs to get "uncomfortable"

"Go to places you find uncomfortable and brag about being a Republican, Gov. Rick Scott told a gathering of young Republicans . . . ." "Scott fires up young Republicans in Orlando speech".

The residency thing

"Where do elected officials live?".

"There was no study, and Maroño knew that"

"Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño picked up the phone on May 10, 2012. It was a federal auditor asking about a $200,000 grant that was supposed to pay for an economic development study in his small West Miami-Dade city. There was no study, and Maroño knew that. But he lied to the auditor, planning to share $40,000 of the money in a sweetheart deal for him and his closest lobbyist pal, according to federal prosecutors"

Maroño’s downfall came at the peak of a political career that has spanned nearly two decades. He controlled a fiercely loyal city. He basked in statewide exposure as president of the Florida League of Cities. He had the ear of Gov. Rick Scott.
"Embattled Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño has deep ties to Sweetwater".

"A political football causing a rift among Republicans"

"The new Common Core State Standards are more than just a roadmap for teachers and students."

They’re a political football causing a rift among Republicans.

In Florida, conservative moms and tea party groups have mounted fierce opposition to the national standards, saying decisions about teaching and learning should be made by state governments and local school boards — not the federal government. Their efforts attracted significant attention this summer, thanks to well-attended rallies, social media blitzes and the support of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"Common Core debate highlights rifts among Florida Republicans, tea party groups".