Monday, January 27, 2014

Please consider giving hard copy or web newspaper subscription gifts and/or buying one or more subscriptions for delivery to your workplace. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

"Renewed push by Scott to purge voter rolls"

"Florida elections officials predict that a new round of reforms should make voting in November a breeze compared with 2012, when tens of thousands of residents were forced to wait seven hours or longer to cast a ballot."

But the changes, which include more days of early voting, don't signal a truce in the fight over Florida elections. From Congress to the courts, activists of all stripes continue to battle over voting rules. The outcome of those fights could affect how — and which — Floridians go to the polls in 2014 and beyond.

One flash point is voting rights for ex-convicts. Florida is one of just a few states that prohibit felons from voting once their sentences are complete. Instead, they must wait at least five years before they can apply to a state clemency board to have their rights restored.

An estimated 1.3 million Floridians no longer in prison are affected, and civil-rights groups, including the ACLU of Florida, increasingly are pressuring state officials to rescind the restrictions — even rallying this month outside the Tampa office of state Attorney General Pam Bondi.

"After Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, Bondi helped him reverse changes instituted by his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist, who allowed most felons to have their rights restored once they left prison. The ACLU and its allies want the Scott administration to return to the old policy, though Bondi's office isn't budging."
"Attorney General Bondi believes that felons must first prove their rehabilitation through the test of time before having their civil rights restored," her office noted in a press statement.

With Crist likely to face Scott in the governor's race this year, the issue could come down to who wins that contest.

The governor's race also will serve as an indicator of whether reforms instituted after the troubled 2012 election have made a difference. Before that election, Scott helped change how Floridians voted, including a reduction in the number of early-voting days from 14 to eight.

The loss of early-voting days was blamed for the long lines on Election Day. In response, Scott signed into law last year a bill that restored the number of early-voting days to 14 while limiting the length of ballot summaries for constitutional amendments — believed to be another cause of delays at polling sites.

"The changes implemented last year are good signs for 2014," said Lori Edwards, supervisor of elections in Polk County.

But Edwards said other issues remain, including a renewed push by Scott to purge the state's voter rolls of noncitizens.

Scott attempted a similar effort in 2012, but his administration suspended the flawed program after citizens, including two World War II veterans, were caught in the dragnet. A few months ago, Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced that they would restart the effort, though there has been little evidence of progress.

Edwards, who leads a state coalition of elections supervisors, said the administration has yet to forward any names of suspected noncitizens to county election officials, which is fine by her. The previous effort was "slapdash, sloppy and rushed, and they need to be careful," she said.

"Despite reforms, battles over voting rules continue in Florida".

District caught evading Florida's class-size law

"Lake County high-school students were assigned to a 'leadership skills' class that existed on paper only, making it appear the school was obeying Florida's class-size law, according to a complaint by a whistleblower and an investigation by the school district's attorney." "Numerous class-size violations found in Lake County schools".

The Orlando Sentinel issues early endorsement in Orange County Mayoral Race

Although it is only informal - via a drumbeat of biased "news" pieces - it appears the Orlando Sentinel has already (and yet again) picked their candidate in the Orange County mayoral race.

"When Val Demings jumped in this month to challenge Teresa Jacobs for Orange County mayor, the former Orlando police chief was already almost a half-million dollars behind in campaign donations. Even worse for her, the Republican incumbent already has locked up some of the largest Democratic fundraisers around Orlando, the very ones that Demings might hope to lean on to compete in the Aug. 26 primary race." "Demings far behind in Orange mayor's money race".

"Charlie would be shaking in his patent leathers"

Nancy Smith dares "Charlie Crist to debate Nan Rich. No, I double-dare him. Not that I think a debate between these two is ever going to happen. Charlie would be shaking in his patent leathers -- he doesn't have the spine for it. But isn't the thought pure sweetness?" "A Charlie and Nan Debate? See Charlie Run".

"Citizens can take matters into their own hands"

"Florida voters will get to decide in November if funding for land conservation should be cemented into the state Constitution. But don't expect top lawmakers [(read: the Chamber)] to support the proposed constitutional amendment, which will appear as Amendment No. 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot after getting final approval this week from the Florida Department of State." "Don Gaetz: Amendment Shifts Too Much Land to State Control".

Even The Tampa Trib editors argue that "citizens can take matters into their own hands by backing the Water and Land Conservation Amendment to the state constitution, which would ensure Florida Forever received adequate funding and was free of such ill-considered legislative ploys." "Florida’s disaster of a land deal".

Billion-Dollar Florida Transit Plan

"Billion-Dollar Florida Transit Plan Promises Light Rail, but Greenlights Buses".

"The latest iteration of an old game"

The Miami Herald editors: "The more the public knows about the voting process, the better — especially in a state with a serial history of presidential Election Day snafus and in a county — Miami-Dade to be exact — where attempts to commit voter fraud occasionally make headlines."

For instance, if the Miami Herald hadn’t been able to obtain the Internet Protocol addresses for absentee-ballot requests last year, the paper might not have uncovered a local fraudster attempting to unlawfully submit absentee-ballot requests in bulk online.

The Herald article prompted a state investigation resulting in the arrest of the then-chief of staff for Miami Congressman Joe Garcia, a first-term Democrat who was not implicated in the scheme. Another probe uncovered two aides’ hijinks in Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez’s 2012 mayoral campaign when they tried to obtain absentee ballots on behalf of some voters. They pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and, although Mr. Suarez wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, the scandal derailed his mayoral bid.

So Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez made the right call in decreeing public access to IP addresses for absentee-ballot requests submitted online. Last year, Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley sought an opinion from the Florida Division of Elections about whether the IP addresses should be made public. State elections officials ruled that it was up to each election supervisor to keep secret any absentee-ballot information deemed “necessary” beyond, by state statute, allowing access for political candidates, committees and parties. Townsley opted for secrecy.

Next came Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, Francis Suarez’s father, asking Mr. Gimenez to use his executive authority to overrule Ms. Townsley’s decision.

"Most vote-fraud attempts in Miami-Dade have involved absentee ballots. Dead people have voted on occasion. So have voters with dementia. It’s all about collecting and submitting enough absentee ballots to skew a political race’s outcome. Using the Internet to wrongfully obtain absentee ballots is just the latest iteration of an old game involving visits to retirement homes and senior centers." "Fighting fraud".

Crist's 12-point lead over Scott whittled down to 2

"With Charlie Crist's 12-point lead over Florida Gov. Rick Scott whittled down to 2, don't necessarily look at recent poll numbers as a victory for Scott. Look at them as a growing problem for Crist, victimized by national trends, but especially President Barack Obama's unpopular and ineffective health-care baggage."

One of the most prominent pollsters in the nation claims it's premature to look at Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling (PPP) figures of last week and think they predict November. Right now voters' strong dislike of Obama's job performance and his signature health care law could pose future problems for Democratic candidates in Florida.

Sunshine State News spoke with Jim Lee, the president of Voter Survey Service (VSS), about the PPP poll on Thursday. The veteran pollster said Scott’s gains on Crist since a PPP poll taken at the end of September mirror national trends.

"Obamacare Baggage Pounding Charlie Crist Poll Numbers, Says Pollster".

"A blow against the scourge of public corruption"

"A federal judge struck a blow against the scourge of public corruption last week in sentencing former Sweetwater Mayor Manuel 'Manny' Maroño to 40 months behind bars. The former political leader of a proud Miami-Dade municipality meekly accepted his punishment and seemed resigned to his fate after pleading guilty for his role in a corruption conspiracy."

Maroño is only the latest in a very long line of public officials in South Florida who have been snared in corrupt schemes of one kind or another designed to enrich themselves at public expense or increase their political power, or both. . . .

The array of fraudulent schemes and crimes in which some of South Florida’s high and mighty have indulged runs the gamut of public corruption. Vote fraud, cooking the books, favoritism in contracts, pay-to-play politics, nepotism, false billing — no corrupt plot is deemed off limits, no matter how brazen or outlandish. The plague has infected county commissions, school boards, city halls and the arena of public administration, both among uniformed and civilian employees.

"A blow against corruption".

"Mostly False"

"PolitiFact: Group makes mostly false claim that Florida spent "over $100,000" on voter purge".

"It appears Scott is trying to limit voting of those unlikely to support his re-election"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "More than 1 million Floridians convicted of felonies remain second-class citizens long after completing their sentences. They're unable to vote, serve on a jury or hold public office."

Florida is one of just three states that lack a simple, automatic path to civil rights restoration for former offenders. In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet imposed new restrictions making it even more difficult for ex-felons to restore their rights.

The rules force individuals to wait as long as 13 years after completing their sentences to get a hearing on having their rights restored. Even then, based on current patterns, they have a less than 1 percent chance of regaining their rights, according to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. . . .

[Scott has] framed his opposition to automatic rights restoration as helping reduce crime, despite evidence to the contrary. A 2011 Florida Parole Commission report found felons who had their rights restored were about one-third less likely to commit another offense than those who hadn't. Given that Scott has also supported a purge of voting rolls for suspected noncitizens that affected eligible voters as well, it appears he is trying to limit the voting rights of those unlikely to support his re-election bid.

"Restoring civil rights".

Yee Haw!

"Florida Man's Very Own Backyard Gun Range Is Perfectly Legal".

"Jeb!" a moderate . . . oh pleeze

Why does the MSM continue to portray Jebbie Bush as some sort of moderate? Here's his latest in NRO: "We Need School Choice Now".

"Reader beware"

Marc Caputo writes that we're seeing "the same old Crist. Friendly, with a knack for winning a crowd."

But nowadays, he’s trying to move the masses in a far more difficult way — as an author explaining his party-switching in his new book The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.
"Reader beware."
Written as the former governor mounts a comeback for his old job, Crist’s book is a campaign document. It’s not just autobiography.

Starting with the title, the 341-page book reinvents some of Crist’s history. Crist didn’t leave the Republican Party because it was “hijacked.” He bolted because he was going to lose a Republican U.S. Senate primary to Marco Rubio.

It was political survival. For Crist to suggest otherwise plays right into long-standing criticisms of him: that he’ll say anything to get elected.

No matter what Crist said or did in 2010, it didn’t work at the polls. After becoming an independent, he ultimately lost in the three-way Senate race. He registered as a Democrat shortly after helping President Barack Obama win reelection in 2012.

In his book, Crist emphasizes his close ties to Obama. Crist downplays his prior criticisms of the president and his polices, highlights his centrist record and overall portrays himself as a moderate stranger in a strange conservative land.

Crist also pays short shrift to his reversals, zigzags and rhetorical tacks through the years. . . .

Crist recounts how his grandfather once pointed out that a pencil has two functions: “Every pencil has an eraser because everybody makes mistakes.”

But in The Party’s Over, Crist sometimes uses too much eraser and too little pencil.

"Charlie Crist's autobiography doubles as campaign document, rewrites some history".