Saturday, February 08, 2014

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

Americans for Prosperity pollutes Florida elections

"Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is throwing its weight around in three Florida congressional elections this week. The conservative group is running new television ads in two of the closest battles in Florida but also taking a long-shot gamble in a race that doesn’t appear too competitive."

[1.] Democrats will be more focused on keeping the Senate in their hands than trying to take the House from Republicans. But they do have some opportunities to pick up congressional seats and they think they have a chance of taking out Steve Southerland in North Florida. Unlike 2010 and 2012, Southerland won’t have the luxury of Democrats diving in close and ugly primaries. Democrats are high on Gwen Graham, who is trying to identify herself with her father Bob Graham, while Republicans try their best to paint her as a liberal.

AFP is running ads thanking Southerland for taking a tough line with Obamacare, hoping these early efforts will pay off for him in November. It’s not a bad bet, especially as the district is easily the most divided one in the northern part of the state. Graham should be able to count on Tallahassee where state employees will be coming out to vote against Rick Scott in November. She’ll also do fine in Gadsen County which traditionally backs Democrats.

[2.] AFP is also running ads trashing Joe Garcia for backing Obamacare. Democrats are making inroads with Cubans in Miami and South Florida, to be sure, but Garcia hasn’t had much luck taking advantage of it. While he beat scandal-plagued David Rivera in 2012, Garcia had no luck in running for Congress in 2008 and 2010. Without Obama’s and Bill Nelson’s coattails, Garcia should be in for a tough fight in November, especially with scandals of his own making news last year.

[3.] AFP is also running ads against Alan Grayson concerning Obamacare. While Grayson might be the Democrat Republicans love to hate (and the feeling from the congressman certainly seems mutual), he is not exactly a prime target. Sure, Grayson lost to Dan Webster in a blowout in 2010, but he came roaring back with a big win in a new district in 2012. Nor are political experts calling the likes of Jorge Bonilla, Carol Platt and Peter Vivaldi, his Republican opponents, major threats to Grayson.

"AFP Looks to Make an Impact in Florida Congressional Races".

Rick Scott tiptoes

"With new Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera at his side, Gov. Rick Scott tiptoed around the subject of in-state tuition in a meeting with the Legislature’s Hispanic caucus." "Gov. Rick Scott 'considers’ backing in-state tuition for undocumented students".

Crist calls for lifting Cuba embargo

"Crist calls for lifting of Cuban trade embargo".

Detzner's move to impede voting on UF campus is challenged

"The Democratic member of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee said it is 'inconceivable' that the Division of Elections used a committee bill to justify rejecting a university student union as an early-voting site." "Clemens calls on Detzner to 're-evaluate unlawful decision'".

Rubio's "fact-free zone"

Dana Milbank: "Sen. Marco Rubio was a day late and $8 billion short."

As part of his political comeback since his lenient position on immigration antagonized the conservative base, the Florida Republican introduced the "Obamacare Taxpayer Bailout Prevention Act."

The idea, a back-door way to repeal the health care law, was to get rid of the "risk corridors" and reinsurance that protect health insurers from big losses. The idea caught on: House Republican leaders floated the possibility of linking it to this month's debt-limit talks (which means they would again threaten a U.S. debt default if Obamacare isn't dismantled), and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee made Rubio the featured witness at a hearing on the matter Wednesday.

But the day before Rubio's star turn, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the "bailout" actually would be a bonanza for the government. In a report that was otherwise unhelpful to the health care law, it said risk corridors would bring the Treasury net proceeds of $8 billion over the three years they are in existence.

Meanwhile, health insurers warned that Rubio's legislation would lead to the government-run health care system that most alarms conservatives. And there was the awkward fact that the risk corridors were the same mechanism Republicans used in the 2006 prescription-drug legislation.

"Truth is one thing; GOP's fact-free zone is another".

"The most-accomplished liar in South Florida history"

Marc Caputo: "A convicted Ponzi schemer’s court claims that Charlie Crist engaged in a contributions-for-favors 'quid pro quo' has come at a damaging time for the former governor who wants his old job back."

Crist’s campaign and defenders vociferously denied Scott Rothstein’s testimony Wednesday and Thursday as the desperate act of a fraudster seeking to shave time off a 50-year prison sentence for the $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme he masterminded.

But Rothstein’s veracity aside, the political damage is tolling on Crist, who’s also in the midst of a national book tour.

"The allegations reverberated in the news media, highlighted past political scandals tied to former Crist donors and put the Democratic candidate on the defensive over making ethics a centerpiece of his campaign against Gov. Rick Scott, who [famously 'gave a deposition in which he invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times' and] once ran a hospital company socked with a mammoth $1.7 billion fraud fine" and
The allegations reverberated in the news media, highlighted past political scandals tied to former Crist donors and put the Democratic candidate on the defensive over making ethics a centerpiece of his campaign against Gov. Rick Scott, who once ran a hospital company socked with a mammoth $1.7 billion fraud fine. . . .

Rothstein rendered his two days of testimony in another unrelated case tied to an associate in his former Fort Lauderdale law firm, which sold bogus legal settlements to investors as part of his mammoth Ponzi scheme.

Under oath, Rothstein portrayed the former Republican governor, Crist, as someone who essentially sold “a few” unspecified Broward County circuit court judicial appointments in return for political contributions. . . .

Asked if he put any of this in writing at the time, Rothstein said he did “to one of his [Crist’s] assistants,” but he didn’t specify who that was.

"Rothstein testified earlier that a major return on investment for his contributions to Crist and others was that it made him look powerful and trustworthy, which enabled him to perpetuate his fraud. He also said he was 'able to convince him [Crist] to do a lot of things' as part of their relationship."
On Tuesday, Crist sat down with FOX’s Bill O’Reilly to talk about the book and said he was going to make “ethics” a centerpiece of the campaign. The next day, Rothstein appeared in court.

On Thursday, The Republican Party of Florida issued a press release pointing out Crist’s ties to Rothstein, including a photo of the time the two blew out candles on the then-governor’s 52nd birthday cake for which Rothstein donated $52,000 at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.

The press release made no mention of Rothstein’s past support for Republicans.

"Ponzi schemer's 'Quid pro quo' claims dog Charlie Crist campaign".

"Choices have consequences"

"Choices have consequences. The Miami-Dade County Commission chose to override — again — Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s veto of a plan to restore 5 percent of some county employees’ base pay. The consequences didn’t look pretty when they overrode the mayor’s veto in September, and they don’t look any better now." "Expedient decision, hard choices".

Outcry over the Common Core is not subsiding.

Lloyd Dunkelberger: "Later this month, the Florida Board of Education will take up a revised set of education standards for public schools, eliminating the use of the phrase “Common Core” in the document."

State lawmakers are moving ahead with legislation to increase privacy standards and protect student personal information.

Those moves are designed to quiet the political controversy that broke out when conservative groups attacked the Common Core standards as a sign of federal intrusion into local schools.

But it became clear this week that the outcry over the Common Core standards — which have been adopted in 45 states — is not subsiding.

"Common Core remains a hot topic".

Gettin' nasty

The Sunshine State News trumpets the GOP claim that "Crist's Assertion That 6 Floridians Die a Day Because of Rick Scott Is Absurd". Meanwhile, "Business, Union Groups Rally Behind Pinellas County Special Election Candidates".

"That smirky grin . . . this time to say she isn’t going to lose"

Steve Otto: "Don’t you wonder what the good folks in Pinellas County who will be voting in the District 13 congressional race next month must be thinking?"

Wasn’t the race supposed to be about them and the person they want to send to Washington to represent them?

If you happened to catch the debate earlier this week, you might have thought the only issue is whether or not Democratic candidate Alex Sink will stay in Pinellas if she loses the election. Her only defense was that smirky grin she uses, this time to say she isn’t going to lose.

"District 13 race becoming its own game show". See also: "Biden to raise money for Alex Sink campaign".

Week In Review

"Weekly Roundup: Starting Guns for CLC, the Legislature"; "The Week In Review for Friday, Feb. 7, 2014". See also "Arrivals and Departures for Feb. 7, 2014".

Lopez-Cantera sworn in, pandering begins

"Lopez-Cantera sworn in as Florida lieutenant governor". Meanwhile, "Gov. Rick Scott 'considers’ backing in-state tuition for undocumented students".

Bits and Pieces

Kevin Derby's "Political Bits and Pieces".

"Charlie Crist has suddenly emerged from stealth mode"

"After months of running a largely invisible campaign to regain his old job, former Gov. Charlie Crist has suddenly emerged from stealth mode." "Charlie Crist all over Web and TV as campaign steps up".

"Sink will benefit from the trend to obliterate Election Day"

It is sad to see elderly columnists like George Will slide into obscurity; today he whines about the loss of "election day", which he complains will assist Alex Sink beat David Jolly:

Sink will benefit from the national trend allowing early voting to obliterate Election Day. Any Floridian who has ever requested an absentee ballot henceforth gets one automatically. Seventy-seven percent of the Republican primary votes here were cast by mail in the Jan. 14 primary, and absentee ballots will be mailed on Feb. 7. Furthermore, early voting at polling places begins March 1, so many -- perhaps most -- votes will be cast before Jolly has raised much of the money necessary to communicate his message. Instead of a community deliberation culminating in a shared day of decision, an election like the one here is diffuse and inferior. If Sink wins, Republicans nationally can shrug; if Jolly wins, Democrats should tremble. But no matter who wins, the district loses because it has lost Election Day.
"Focusing on Sink vs. Jolly".

Who writes these headlines?

Who writes these headlines? . . . "Report: Health care law likely to cut labor force" . . . the Tampa Trib, of course.

The reality is quite different than suggested by the headline: "CBO director: Obamacare will reduce unemployment". Sorry Trib, better luck next time.

"Suck It Up, Charlie"

Nancy Smith: "Suck It Up, Charlie: It's Answer Time".

"Another year. Another stadium request. Same Tallahassee"

Aaron Deslatte: "Expect Florida's Major League Soccer dreams to run full-speed into the election-year entanglements of the Legislature."

Last year, it was the Miami Dolphins and their hotheaded billionaire owner. On deck this spring: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and former soccer superstar David Beckham. Lawmakers this spring are drafting legislation that attempts to reform the sports-incentive process used to award hundreds of millions in sales-tax rebates to NFL, baseball and NBA franchise owners.

The idea was floated last year by future Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. This year, it's being steered by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and will likely engulf current efforts to win tax incentives for Major League Soccer in Orlando and Miami.

Weatherford killed a package last year that would have created a competition for sports-stadium subsidies. The move drew a vitriolic blast from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who threatened to get more involved in "fixing the dysfunction in Tallahassee" by defeating incumbents.

Another year. Another stadium request. Same Tallahassee.

"Soccer-stadium deals could be headed for big battle".

Weatherford can't get over it

"Florida’s A-F grading system for schools"

should be simplified, but not suspended, House Speaker Will Weatherford said Thursday.As lawmakers consider wading into the controversy that has ensnared Florida’s system for grading schools, Weatherford is among those saying the formula used to calculate the grades has become unnecessarily complicated.
"Leaders want to simplify school grades".

Killing them softly

"Update: Hearing ordered on state's use of execution drugs".

Poll has Crist lead at 7

A University of Florida poll shows Charlie Crist leading Rick Scott 47-40 percent in the Florida governor’s race. (Survey results are based on data collected from 1,006 telephone surveys of registered voters conducted between Jan. 27 and Feb. 1, with a 3 percent margin of error.)