Monday, December 16, 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.

"Was Crist the first? Not really"

Amy Sherman: "As former Gov. Charlie Crist tries to gain supporters in his quest to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott, he wants to portray himself as the hero of voter access and Scott as a leader who restricted voting."

Dan Gelber, a former state senator from Miami Beach and a Crist supporter, recently praised Crist for helping felons restore their civil rights, which includes the right to vote.

Gelber wrote that Crist, as governor, "sought for and got approved the automatic restoration of felon rights for nonviolent offenders for the first time in Florida history (since reversed by Governor Scott)."

Was Crist the first? Not really.

Restoring felons' civil rights can include the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for office.

In the 1970s, there was pressure from the Legislature on Gov. Reubin Askew, a Democrat, to make it easier to restore civil rights. Legislators passed a bill in 1974 that included automatic reinstatement, but the Florida Supreme Court declared that unconstitutional because it bypassed the governor's clemency power.

Askew then persuaded the Cabinet to amend the clemency rules to make restoration easier.

Randall Berg, a civil rights attorney at the Florida Justice Institute, told PolitiFact that Askew was motivated by a personal belief that "after one had served their time, they had paid their debt and ought to start with a clean slate so they might become productive members of society."

Askew also wanted to speed up the process. The Cabinet restored rights in its role as the Executive Clemency Review Board, but meetings were only held quarterly, and the process was slow.

"PolitiFact Florida: Easing restoration of felons' rights predates Crist".

Kerry Claims to be Involved' With Freeing Gross from Cuba

"On Sunday night, CNN ran an interview with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in which he talked about Latin American affairs, including efforts to release American relief worker Alan Gross from Cuba. Kerry said he has 'personally been involved' with efforts to release Gross." "John Kerry Says He Has 'Personally Been Involved' With Freeing Alan Gross From Cuba".

Dream Defenders branching out, form nine Florida chapters

"As Florida lawmakers were preparing to defeat a bill last month that would repeal the "stand your ground" self-defense law, the leader of the fledgling Dream Defenders pledged his group would "remember, remember" the vote next November."

"We are here because we are very, very serious and we do not feel safe," Philip Agnew told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee shortly before Democrats and Republicans joined in killing the bill. "We ask you to not allow Disney World to be the only place in this state where dreams come true for young people."

Initially helped out by Democratic-aligned organizations and civil-rights groups such as the Advancement Project, the Dream Defenders are making good on that pledge. They are branching out, forming nine chapters on state university campuses from Tallahassee to Orlando to Miami and targeting the 2014 elections.

"After Zimmerman verdict, Dream Defenders gear up for more activism".

"Low-wage work swamp"

Joan Walsh: "2013 is the year many Americans discovered the crisis of the working poor. It turns out it’s also the crisis of the welfare poor. That’s tough for us: Americans notoriously hate welfare, unless it’s called something else and/or benefits us personally. We think it’s for slackers and moochers and people who won’t pull their weight."

So we’re not sure how to handle the fact that a quarter of people who have jobs today make so little money that they also receive some form of public assistance, or welfare – a proportion that’s much higher in some of the fastest growing sectors of the workforce. Or that 60 percent of able-bodied adult food-stamp recipients are employed.

McDonald’s workers alone receive $1.2 billion in public aid, the study found. This is an industry, by the way, that last year earned $7.44 billion in profits, paid their top execs $52.7 million and distributed $7.7 billion in dividends and stock buyback. Still, “public benefits receipt is the rule, rather than the exception, for this workforce,” the study concluded.

Then there’s Wal-Mart, which as Salon’s Josh Eidelson recently reported, boasted to a Goldman Sachs conference that “over 475K” of its 1.3 million workers make more than $25,000 a year – which lets us infer that almost 60 percent make less.

Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimated that the giant low-cost retail chain benefits from many billions in public-assistance funding; one Wisconsin “superstore” costs taxpayers at least $1 million a year in public assistance to workers’ families. Remember, too, that six members of the Walton family own as much wealth as 48 million Americans combined.

"The U.S. now has the highest proportion of low-wage workers in the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. One in four make less than two-thirds of the median wage, which is the same proportion that rely on public aid. It’s becoming more widely accepted that the spread and persistence of low-wage work is behind rising income inequality and reduced social mobility. What’s less well known is the role Democrats have played in creating this trap."
Republicans demanded work from welfare recipients; (most) Democrats went along, but demanded new support for low-wage workers: an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, wider Medicaid and food stamp eligibility, new (though not nearly sufficient) child care subsidies. (As an Illinois state senator, Obama was critical, but later endorsed the deal.) The new support programs also helped millions of low-wage workers who never relied on welfare; as wages continued to stagnate and even decline, more people became eligible.

But as labor advocates began to realize and protest the extent to which employers were relying on taxpayers to support their workforce a decade ago, some liberals told them not to worry about it. Responding to an earlier wave of organizing against Wal-Mart’s labor practices, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors chair, Jason Furman, wrote a hugely influential 2005 paper, “Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story.” (Eight years later, it sounds like he was trolling us.) The former Clinton economic advisor argued that the big box chain’s low prices helped poor people, and that its employees’ reliance on public assistance wasn’t a bug but a feature of progressive social policy.

Furman credited President Clinton with presiding over “the transformation of our social safety net from a support for the indigent to a system that makes work pay… expansions in support for low-income workers, including a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and efforts to ensure that children did not lose their Medicaid if their parents took a low-paid job.” Essentially, Wal-Mart employees’ reliance on such programs represented good social democratic policy, Furman argued. And in a memorable exchange with Barbara Ehrenreich in Slate, he chided Wal-Mart’s progressive critics for “playing on the atavistic anti-welfare, anti-government, anti-tax instincts of some conservatives.” (Leave it to a Clinton-era Democrat to blame progressives for the well-established “atavistic anti-welfare instincts” of the right.)

Although Furman’s Wal-Mart paper is eight years old, it was widely cited as a reason for progressives to question his appointment as CEA chair earlier this year (though progressive economists from Jared Bernstein to Paul Krugman endorsed his selection). Just a few months ago, when the Washington, D.C., City Council passed a bill requiring non-union big-box retailers to pay a $12.50 minimum wage, Wal-Mart emailed reporters Furman’s piece in defense.

Interestingly, I’ve never seen Furman defend or qualify or update the paper, even in the face of a new wave of anti-Wal-Mart organizing. I wasn’t entirely comfortable using an eight-year-old paper to stand in for his views, so I asked White House communications officials if he would talk to me about it. I got no reply.

Read it all here: "Poverty nation: How America created a low-wage work swamp".

GOP Primary Complicates Danish-Harrison Rematch

"Shawn Harrison wants a rematch with Mark Danish for a Florida House seat representing parts of Hillsborough County but a new Republican candidate could complicate things." "New Candidate Complicates Mark Danish-Shawn Harrison Rematch in Hillsborough County".

Florida grads drowning in debt

"More Florida college graduates are drowning in debt".

Effort to sell conservation lands off to rocky start

"Florida's effort to sell off unneeded conservation lands is off to such a rocky start that it is unlikely to produce anything close to the $50 million envisioned by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott."

Trying to kick-start the state's stalled land-conservation program, Scott and legislators agreed last spring to spend $70 million on environmental land-buying. Most of that amount — $50 million — would have to come from selling other lands "no longer necessary for conservation."

But since Florida's Department of Environmental Protection released a list of potential sales parcels totaling 5,300 acres in August, resistance from local politicians and environmental activists has been a steady drumbeat. More than 2,500 individuals and organizations have written letters and emails, the vast majority opposed to selling off various tracts.

"Florida's conservation-land sale likely to fall well short of goal".