Saturday, January 25, 2014

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

Was 2013 the year Scott "put his comeback on layaway"?

Aaron Deslatte writes that Rick Scott appears to have staged an impressive turnaround in the polls.

One poll, in particular, the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shop out of North Carolina, reported last week that the two gubernatorial contenders were in a statistical tie among probable voters, with 43 percent supporting Crist and 41 percent for Scott.

The same firm 10 months ago found Crist with an edge of 52 percent to 40 percent. So in that time, Scott has managed to engineer a 10-point swing. Crist's fall is largely among GOP voters, who are returning to their party's incumbent candidate. Scott was capturing only 65 percent of Republicans last year but is drawing support from 80 percent of them now.

"The movement since the fall has come largely as a result of Republican voters rallying around Scott and continuing to decline in their affection for Crist," said PPP pollster Tom Jensen. "That shift with Republicans accounts for almost the entire 10-point movement in Scott's direction over the last few months."

"Now, it's debatable whether the spending by candidates and political parties is a primary causal mechanism for the movement in the numbers, or simply the natural migration of loyal GOP voters away from the former Republican governor and to their 2014 standard-bearer."
Scott and Republicans have spent heavily to get to where they are now — and efficiently, when you consider he's within striking distance of re-election.

Scott and Florida Republicans raised $43.2 million last year, while Crist and the Democrats raised $8.6 million, state campaign-finance reports show.

Scott and those GOP operatives spent $14.8 million — a majority of it on ads and other efforts to portray Crist as a flip-flopper before the Democratic newbie could start defining himself. Crist's campaign actually didn't commence spending money until November, and combined with the Florida Democratic Party, spent only $2.9 million during the same period.

So Scott's total political operation has spent roughly $1.5 million for every percentage point of progress in the PPP poll. That's actually not too shabby.

If you assume Scott's campaign operation has grossed one-third its target of $100 million and Crist's side can raise $50 million, both campaigns could likely fight to a standstill in the fall — when more and more TV saturation produces diminishing returns in terms of influencing persuadable voters.

Critics have lamented for years how Scott "bought" the office. But they might look back on 2013 as the year he put his comeback on layaway.

Read it all here: "Poll suggests Gov. Scott's comeback is well underway" (subscription required).

More: "A new poll from Hamilton Campaigns confirms what other recent polls have found: that a race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist looks close right now, with Crist just ahead."

The commissioned poll has Crist ahead by five points, 49-44. That's similar to other recent polls -- one recent poll had the race as close as two points -- yet tighter than polls taken in late 2013 when Crist's lead was in double digits.

Hamilton Campaigns is a Washington-based Democratic campaign polling consultant. Political Pulse obtained the new poll from a Tallahasse operative with ties to the Legislature. The new telephone survey poll, taken Jan 14-20 of 700 registered voters in Florida, has a margin of error of 3.8 points.

A year ago, Scott was doing a little better and Crist a little worse in Hamilton's surveys.

"New Hamilton poll: Guv's race close, but Scott's negatives rise"

Runnin' gub'mint like a bidness

"It took Florida officials more than three months to decide to pay overdue jobless benefits to about 10,000 unemployed workers, many of whom went without checks since October because of a defective online registration system." "Why did Florida take three months to pay overdue unemployment claims?".

Florida's "a Scrooge-like mindset riddled with suspicion and skepticism"

The Miami Herald editors: "It’s no fun to be poor under any circumstances, but it’s especially tough in Florida. The state takes umbrage at helping the poor, doling out aid with a Scrooge-like mindset riddled with suspicion and skepticism."

Take Gov. Rick Scott’s 2010 campaign promise to give drug tests to Floridians on welfare. The Legislature approved the drug testing in 2011 and even made sure welfare beneficiaries paid the $35 cost for urine tests. After a federal judge ruled the tests unconstitutional, citing the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures, Gov. Scott vowed to fight the ruling, spending tax dollars to press the state’s case.

Next, the Legislature refused to expand the state’s Medicaid program, even though, under the Affordable Care Act, the feds would pay for several years’ coverage for about a million Floridians not eligible under current Medicaid rules.

Now comes officials’ response to the state’s glitch-ridden new online unemployment-claim website, CONNECT. The site, like one recently launched in California, had a defective registration system, stopping unemployment checks in October because claimants’ eligibility couldn’t be verified. California took the humane route. It cut the checks first, then dealt with the online problems to determine eligibility later.

"Scrooge in Tallahassee".

"The incredible, shrinking Charlie Crist campaign"

Adam Smith writes, "here's the reality: There is no real Crist campaign for governor."

Crist Campaign headquarters? Coming soon. Campaign manager? Coming soon. Halfway decent Web site? Coming soon. Press operation? Coming soon. Grass roots organizing? Who knows. Weekly announcements of Florida County leadership teams? Dream on.

It seems Team Crist, which largely consists of Charlie and Carole Crist, John Morgan, and a maybe a few Obama campaign alums, pressed the re-set button soon after his so-so campaign kickoff in downtown St Petersburg.

The fellow who had been more or less leading the campaign, veteran Democratic strategist Steve Schale, has significantly scaled back his involvement in the campaign though he insists he never wanted a big, daily role in the campaign and is still helping Crist on "special projects" such as his book roll out.

Team Crist jetissoned their campaign manager, Bill Hyers, just before he formally started, as well as Crist's "body man" and deputy fundraising chief, Michael Hoffman. Crist has long been known to rely mainly on his own political gut and a skeleton crew of paid staff. But that political gut has been suspect at best since he decided to give up the governor's mansion in 2010 and run for U.S. Senate in the 2010 tea party wave.

Now, Charlie Crist is a Democrat, and his state party shows nearly as little pulse as his own campaign. State Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, who campaigned for the post promising to be a terrific money-raiser, so far appears to be a lousy fundraiser. If she and the state party are effective at much else, such as registering voters or an effectove communications shop, we haven't seen it yet.

Much more here: "The incredible, shrinking Charlie Crist campaign".

Boehner - "Jeb!" laff riot

"Boehner plugs Jeb Bush for president".

Hey Beth, try reading a book

Poor Beth Kassab, she wants to "hear some solutions from anti-testing crowd" (subscription required). Umm . . . Ms. Kassab . . . try reading a book, may we recommend this one.

Kassab and her ilk might wanna stop watching reruns of the nutty "Waiting for 'Superman'", and take a gander at this: "Florida lawmaker championing charter school bill has ties to industry". More: "The Myth of Charter Schools".

"Nan Has Her Own Campaign Sluggers"

Nancy Smith: "Look Over Your Shoulder, Charlie, Nan Has Her Own Campaign Sluggers".

Week in Review

"Week in Review for Jan. 24, 2014". See also "Weekly Roundup: Weddings, Water and Maybe Weed".

Is Bondi challenging the MJ initiative for political reasons?

William March: "Some Florida Republicans fear, and some Democrats hope, that a November referendum on legalizing medical marijuana in Florida will drive young and liberal voters to the polls, helping Democratic candidates including gubernatorial challenger Charlie Crist."

The initiative, still not certified for the November ballot, is generating charges of political motives from both sides.

Some Republicans call it an expensive ploy by Crist's backers to help him win.

“It is no coincidence that Charlie Crist's law partner and biggest supporter, John Morgan, is financing medical marijuana,” said Gainesville-based GOP consultant Alex Patton. “It's a plan.”

Some Democrats, meanwhile, say Republicans are trying to keep the measure off the ballot because they fear the voters it would draw to the polls.

In a political forum in Tampa last week, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston — Democrats running against Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi — accused Bondi of challenging the initiative in court for that reason.

"Pot ballot called 'plan' to help Crist beat Scott".

Lobbyists and incumbents call for longer terms

Scott Maxwell remarks that no one wants "politicians to stay in office longer."

Yet that is precisely what Florida legislators are once again proposing — longer terms.

House Resolution 613 would ask Floridians to extend the eight-year cap that voters overwhelmingly approved in 1992 to 12 years.

Now, there are legitimate debates to be had about term limits and longer terms. (For instance, two-year terms mean the money chase is pretty much nonstop.)

But not in Florida — not until legislators stop gerrymandering the districts.

Right now, districts are rigged so precisely to favor certain candidates and parties that it's essentially an incumbent-protection act. Incumbents rarely lose. One year, none did ... in the entire state.

That's why the people who most often call for longer terms are the lobbyists who cozy up to the incumbents — and the politicians themselves.

"Florida politicians seek secrecy, longer terms".

Undocumented students may have "a formidable new champion"

Fabiola Santiago: "Young people in college who’ve lived all their lives in Florida, graduated from Florida high schools — often times at the top of their class — yet are denied in-state tuition rates because of their uncertain immigration status have found a formidable new champion: Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford." "Will Weatherford revives hope for Florida’s undocumented students".

Medical MJ gets enough signatures

"Supreme Court remains the only obstacle to November ballot. The Attorney General has argued that the ballot summary will mislead voters into allowing more widespread used of marijuana than the summary indicates and has asked the court to block it from the November ballot." "Medical marijuana drive tops signature goal".

"A lot of people have their eye on this race"

"As U.S. Sen. John McCain’s endorsement of David Jolly in Florida’s Congressional District 13 special election might suggest, a lot of people have their eye on this race. And, in many cases, their money." "District 13 hopefuls gain support".

Scott takes credit for merely "being there"

"Florida's unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent in December and in Metro Orlando it dropped to 5.5 percent as the state added 14,100 new jobs, officials said Friday."

With an election looming in the fall, Gov. Rick Scott and his supporters have cited the tumbling unemployment rate as evidence that Scott's business-friendly leadership has helped heal the labor market. In a statement Friday, Scott said since he took office in 2011, Florida has created more than 462,000 private-sector jobs.

"It's clear that our economic policies are working," he said.

But while the first-term governor has been a tireless promoter of Florida, his progress on unemployment is not as dramatic as it first appears, experts say.

Florida's labor-force participation – the share of people working or looking for work – has fallen 4 percentage points from five years ago, and is now just less than 60 percent. When that number contracts, it is easier to post steep drops in the jobless rate.

Economists have estimated that more than half of the decline in Florida unemployment is attributable to the shrinking labor force, not new job creation. The national jobless rate and President Barack Obama have benefited from the same phenomenon.

And then there's this:
Analysts have also pointed out that a broader measure of the labor market remains frustratingly high. Known by economists as the "U-6" rate, it includes the unemployed, people forced into part-time jobs and people who want to work but who have stopped looking.

In Florida, the U-6 rate has been running 6 to 7 percentage points higher than the more narrowly defined unemployment rate.

Through the third quarter of 2013, the most recent data available at the state level, the rate was 14.6 percent. Nationally, the U-6 rate in December was 13.1 percent.

"Florida unemployment dips to 6.2 percent for December". See also "Unemployment Rate Drops to 6.2 Percent" and "Florida adds 14,100 jobs in December, jobless rate down to 6.2 percent".

Say it ain't so, another realtor on the hustings

"After two terms in the Florida House, Brad Drake stepped aside after redistricting in 2012 so fellow Republican Marti Coley could finish her last term. Drake has been running to return to Tallahassee ever since but now he has a major Republican opponent. Earlier this month, Realtor Jan Hooks filed to run for the seat which covers all of Holmes, Jackson, Walton, Washington counties and part of Bay County. Hooks has been a leading Realtor around the Emerald Coast and Northwest Florida for well over a decade and has dabbled in public service, sitting on the Freeport Zoning and Planning Board." "Brad Drake Draws Major Primary Opponent in Florida House Fight".

"Leaders ignore path to a sustainable South Florida at our peril"

The Miami Herald editors: "In the next 50 years some 3 million people will move to Southeast Florida, joining the 6 million already here. So what will the region look like in 2060?"

Will there be a 24/7 traffic jam on I-95? Will coastal cities see a big decline in tourism because their beaches disappeared under water from the rising sea level? Will one of the region’s economic drivers — agriculture — shrink as open land is converted to more suburbs to accommodate population growth?

Not if a forward-thinking consortium of public officials, urban planners and civic and business leaders called Seven/50 has anything to say about it. The consortium started asking the relevant questions three years ago to determine how best to guide the region’s growth through 2060.

Seven/50 stands for seven counties — Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie — making up a super region. Guided by the South Florida and Treasure Coast regional planning councils and with a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the group developed an intriguing blueprint to shape the region’s future, moving it toward economic prosperity while maintaining residents’ quality of life.

"Mapping the future".