Saturday, February 15, 2014

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

Gambling negotiations on track

"House and Senate leaders are reaching consensus on a plan that would allow stand-alone casinos in South Florida, if voters approve. But the proposal hinges on whether Gov. Rick Scott, who's playing his cards close to his vest, seals a deal with the Seminole Tribe. On Friday, Scott gave the first indication that negotiations with the tribe, critical to success in the House, are on track." "Governor holds the cards on gambling deal".

FlaBaggers in a jam

"A new poll indicating the majority of Floridians favor a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba comes as the issue of isolation of Cuba versus engagement is being hotly debated in the Cuban-American community."

For decades after the Cuban revolution, Cuba and the United States were the most distant of neighbors. Cuba restricted travel by requiring a reviled tarjeta blanca, or exit visa, and the U.S. embargo restricted not only trade but kept nearly all Americans from traveling to the island and spending money.

Now with changes in both U.S. and Cuban policy, travel between the United States and Cuba has hit record levels. An estimated 600,000 Cuban-Americans and other Americans on so-called people-to-people trips visited the island last year, and more Cubans, including dissidents of various political stripes, also have made trips to South Florida since Cuba changed its travel rules a year ago.

For many Cuban-Americans, the question of Cuba has become a balancing act as they weigh how to help the Cuban people against their own desire not to do anything that would prolong the Castro government.

"And politically, the perception has been that maintaining a hard-line on Cuba and keeping the trade embargo against the island in place equals political support and campaign contributions in Florida."
But a poll released by the Atlantic Council late Monday shows that 64 percent of residents in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties favor normalization of relations with Cuba or more direct engagement.

In a smaller sampling, which means there could be a larger percentage of error, those of Cuban descent were more heavily in favor of normalization or engagement: 79-21 percent in Florida and 73-26 percent nationwide.

When it came to removing all prohibitions on travel to Cuba, 67 percent of Floridians were in favor, according to the poll. . . .

In recent days, the question of the embargo has been at the forefront of political debate in Florida with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist saying that after more than five decades, the embargo has not produced the desired effect and should be lifted. Republican Gov. Rick Scott has responded that the embargo should stay in place because keeping it supports the Cuban people.

But Pepe Hernández, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, suggests it might be better to keep the dialogue on the future of Cuba outside Florida political circles. . . .

As more Cuban-Americans make the trip to their homeland, some attitudes are shifting. As a young man, sugar tycoon Alfonso Fanjul saw his family’s Cuban sugar holdings taken over by the Cuban government and he was a major funder of the anti-Castro movement. But he told The Washington Post that he has started to visit the island, talked with top Cuban officials and would consider investing in Cuba — if there are political and diplomatic advances.

"Cuba poll reflects changing political landscape in Florida". See also "Banking deadline raises Cuba question: Still a terrorist state?" and "Crist’s Cuba reversal adds twist to race".

Grubbing for wingnuts

"U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is visiting South Florida to help the Republican Party raise money — and at the same time audition for donors and activists who could prove valuable if he runs for president." "Ted Cruz brings tea party populism to Florida fundraising circuit".

Jolly puffing

"Miscasting Jolly’s Social Security prudence". Meanwhile, "GOP targets Alex Sink's Obamacare Gaffe; David Jolly Hit on Social Security".

Bondi fights Chesapeake Bay cleanup

Jennifer Hecker: "Last week, the state of Florida used your tax dollars to take legal action to try to stop the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay in the mid-Atlantic region."

While dirty water abounds here at home, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a brief against the Bay cleanup plan — along with the polluters (the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Council, The Fertilizer Institute, National Beef Cattleman’s Association, etc.)

These are the same types of polluting industries we’ve been trying to get to capture and treat the pollution that they generate here in Florida. They are also the same polluting interests that joined Bondi in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fight protective enforceable water quality standards for controlling fertilizer, sewage and agricultural runoff into Florida’s waters for drinking, swimming and fishing.

As both Florida’s waters and the Chesapeake are being polluted by nutrient pollution, having an effective nutrient pollution cleanup plan for the Chesapeake means Florida’s polluters could have to do more to treat their own pollution on-site, rather than disposing of it in our waterways. This would save us from having to pay more of the ever-increasing costs of declining tourism and real estate values, as well as for additional publicly funded cleanup projects.

"Why are we siding with the polluters?". More: "Sheldon joins criticism of Bondi as she defends role in Chesapeake Bay challenge".

"Huge Separation Point"

"The Florida gubernatorial race heated up this week as the two leading candidates clashed over President Barack Obama's controversial health care law on the national airwaves. If there is a single polarizing issue for Gov. Rick Scott and his predecessor, it is Obamacare." "Obamacare Huge Separation Point for Rick Scott and Charlie Crist".

It must be those tax cuts

"Scott touts 94.7 million tourists last year". See also "Florida breaks tourism records".

Rick Scott has more "good news" for the minimum wage crowd: "Universal hiring 3,500 for expansions including Diagon Alley, Gov. Rick Scott says".

Could there be a loomin' 'lection?

"The Republican-dominated Legislature has, for years, rejected calls to change the law, but this spring the outcome could be different. Some influential lawmakers, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, are voicing support for in-state tuition for undocumented students." "Florida may allow undocumented students to pay lower college tuition".

"Marijuana and the Legislature"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editors: "Marijuana and the Legislature".

Must be Obama's fault

"Officials say consumer interest in the on-line marketplace is so great they are worried whether the site has the technical capability to handle the expected volume of visitors. FHC officials declined to release any specific visitor numbers to the site but did say they were 10 times more than anticipated. " "Florida Health Choices stuck in delay".

Voucher madness

"If Florida’s controversial school voucher program needed a powerful ally in Tallahassee this year, it found one: House Speaker Will Weatherford."

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is building support for a proposed expansion of the tax credit scholarship program, which provides private-school scholarships to about 60,000 low-income children in Florida.

The proposal would enable corporate donors to earn dollar-for-dollar sales tax credits in exchange for contributions to the scholarship program. (Donors can currently earn credits toward their corporate income taxes, as well as their insurance premium and alcoholic beverage excise taxes.)

It would also create new partial scholarships for participating students whose families suddenly earn too much money to qualify.

"Florida Health Choices stuck in delay".

Meanwhile, Aaron Deslatte reports that "one potentially massive shock to the system could be coming on the school-choice front: not the expansion of Florida's school-voucher program, but the idea of requiring the tens of thousands of students receiving them to take similar assessments as their public-school counterparts. . . . That would be a dramatic swing in Florida's experience with school choice, where critics have complained voucher programs were diluting public schools with no evidence they were improving the outcomes for poor children." "Students in voucher schools could face state testing".

Jebbie, of all people, accuses Crist of "organizing his life around his personal ambition"

"Talking to the Fox Business Network, [John Ellis] Bush went after Crist in very personal terms." In an astounding piece of hypocrisy, Jebbie claims Crist, get this,

“organized his life around his personal ambition . . . .

Back in November, Bush endorsed Scott’s re-election efforts.

When Crist was asked by Larry King if he still admired Bush, he responded,
“I still do, yes sir, that’s right,” Crist replied. “If he was running against Hillary, and you were governor of Florida, who would you support?” King asked.

“Well, if I win, I’m going to be a Democrat,” Crist said. “I think that Jeb would make a good president. I think Hillary would make a great president."

“You would support Hillary?” King asked.

“Yes, correct,” Crist replied.

“As a Democrat?” King asked.

“I like great better than good, as a Democrat, as an American, as a Floridian,” Crist said.

"Jeb Is a Thorn in Any Democrat's Side, Says Nan Rich -- Except Charlie Crist's".

"This is the state of test-obsessed education"

"On Tuesday night, Andrea Rediske looked down at the bed where her 11-year-old son, Ethan, lay motionless. An oxygen machine hummed. Ethan occasionally moaned. They were the sounds of death."

But in the final days of Ethan's life, his parents also spent time on paperwork.

Not for health care, but to try to explain to the state of Florida why Ethan couldn't take the FCAT equivalent of standardized tests for special-needs kids.

A hospice worker actually penned the letter Jan. 28, asking school officials to please forgive Ethan's teacher for not giving him the test ... for he was dying.

This past Thursday, the state granted the waiver.

Ethan died the next morning.

The last-minute exemption provided little solace to a mother whose grief is mixed with fury for the way the education bureaucracy treated Ethan when it came to standardized tests — not just in his dying days, but throughout his whole life.

"There's no word for how awful this is," Andrea said. "No mother should have to go through this."

Andrea has been fighting these tests for years — because there was no way Ethan could ever take them.

He was brain-damaged and legally blind. He had cerebral palsy and couldn't make deliberate movements or even keep his gaze focused.

Yet the rigid rules, which start at the federal level and get further complicated when state and local bureaucrats get involved, say every kid who gets access to public education — something every child is guaranteed — must be tested.

"This is the state of test-obsessed education, where paperwork becomes more important than the kids ... even the dying ones."
Many might wonder why the Rediskes even bothered with paperwork — why they didn't simply tell the bureaucrats to pound sand. Because, they say, they didn't want Ethan's teacher to be penalized in her evaluation or pay.
"Mother of dying, disabled boy continues fight to opt-out of standardized testing".

Related: "After 11-year-old dies, "Ethan Rediske Act" is filed" and "Teachers, parents fret over school-exam overload".

"No new stadium 'checks'"

"House Speaker Will Weatherford expects the House to craft legislation this year that would redefine the process for the owners of the multimillion-dollar facilities to apply for money." "House Speaker Will Weatherford: No new stadium 'checks' this year".

"Political Bits and Pieces"

Kevin Derby: "Political Bits and Pieces".

Scott Maxwell: "Don't look now, but it appears we have a real race for Attorney General."

Two recent polls show Republican Pam Bondi barely ahead of two little-known Democrats in her attempt to hang on to her seat.

This is pretty remarkable, considering most cabinet officers can get re-elected as long as they're not campaigning from prison.

Bondi, however, has been her own worst enemy, making national headlines for, by way of example, postponing an execution so she could host a fundraising party for herself.

Bondi seems to know she's in trouble. Recently, she threw an odd tantrum in response to a solid hit from Democratic opponent George Sheldon a few weeks ago.

Sheldon said he was concerned that Bondi's interest in investigating a controversial get-rich program run by Donald Trump "kind of evaporated after a $25,000 contribution was made." . . .

Bondi was apoplectic in response to Sheldon's remarks. She called them "offensive," "despicable" and "disgusting."

She also said they were "untrue," saying she hadn't dropped an investigation — because she had never actually started one.

And then there's
Charlie Crist — who's making headlines for refusing to debate his Democratic primary opponent, Nan Rich. Crist told the Miami Herald he had no plans to debate Rich. And he used this bit of Alice-in-Wonderland-like logic to explain why, saying: "This is not really a race about candidates. This is a race about the people of our state."

It's not a race about the candidates?

Maybe Charlie's not waiting for weed to be legalized.

Earnest-sounding nonsense aside, it's time to step up, Charlie. Voters deserve to see their options talk about issues side by side.

Those unwilling to debate shouldn't run.

"Lynum shenanigans; Bondi on the run; Crist cowers".

Raw political courage

"The Florida affiliate of the National Rifle Association has a new priority: the right to bear Pop-Tarts." "‘Pop-Tart’ gun bill would not punish children with simulated weapons at school".