Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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.

FlaDems allege Scott Campaign Broke Campaign Finance Law

"The chair of the Florida Democratic Party filed a complaint last week claiming that Gov. Rick Scott's (R) campaign broke campaign finance laws by shifting funds between two accounts . . . Allison Tant, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, wrote in the complaint that Scott and his political committee, Let's Get To Work, transferred $27.4 million from one type of account to a different one." "Florida Democrats Claim Gov. Scott Campaign Broke Campaign Finance Law".

"Raising questions about what role, if any, Democrats play in Tallahassee"

Update: "Panuccio confirmation stays on track as Senate digs into budget". "These past few months have been a rough stretch for Jesse Panuccio, the embattled executive director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity."

Since mid-October, Panuccio has had to explain to state lawmakers what went wrong with the launch of CONNECT, a $63 million website plagued with glitches that prevented thousands of Floridians from getting unemployment benefits on time.

But that didn’t stop last week’s preliminary confirmation of Panuccio by a Senate appropriations committee that not only overlooked the disaster, but rewrote some of the history surrounding it, as well.

By a 10-0 vote, the Senate’s appropriations subcommittee on transportation, tourism and economic development confirmed Panuccio, 33, to the $141,000 job overseeing 1,621 employees and an $872.7 million budget. He took the post 15 months ago after a stint as Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel. He has two more committees and a floor vote in the Senate before he’s fully confirmed.

If Wednesday is any indication, however, Panuccio will easily survive a crisis that required federal intervention to unite desperate Floridians with the money they were owed.

“I’m not just going to support you, I’m going to do everything I can in the process to make sure you get to the end,” said the committee chairman, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who will become Senate president later this year. “I think what helps me is when this issue happened with the website, unlike some other areas in the state and Washington that just pointed fingers . . . we took ownership of it and we fixed it. And we addressed it. And I think that that, in my opinion, is leadership.”

Gardiner can say what he wants, but facts should still matter in the Senate. In his justification for supporting Panuccio, they clearly don’t.

"Gardiner’s swipe at those in Washington who “just pointed fingers’’ apparently refers to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson, who was elected to the Florida Legislature in 1972, and has since served in the U.S. House, as state treasurer and in the U.S. Senate, has somewhat of a claim to Florida affairs."
In October, Nelson was the first public official (and still one of the few) to demand a federal investigation into why the website was failing claimants. Nelson persisted, and federal officials intervened in mid-January. After several meetings, they persuaded Panuccio to pay all claims that had been dragging on for more than a week, exactly what California didn’t hesitate to do in a similar situation.

Thanks to the prodding of Nelson and federal officials, thousands of Floridians got the money they needed for food, rent and bills.

Yet Gardiner credits Panuccio with “addressing the issue.” It was only in January than Panuccio concluded that things were serious enough that he needed 330 extra employees, at a cost of $165,000 a week. A week later, he hired another consultant.

Compare that 11-week reaction time to the much-maligned federal health insurance site, healthcare.gov. Launched on Oct. 1, a new technical team was working on it three weeks later, and had the site up and running by Nov. 30.

Perhaps most startling is Gardiner’s statement that CONNECT is now fixed. Not even Panuccio is saying that. . . .

Gardiner’s most galling omission in his revised DEO history is how officials have underplayed their incredible good luck.

Because Congress failed to renew federal long-term unemployment benefits, they ran out at the end of December, and 88,000 fewer Floridians were eligible for unemployment, significantly lightening the load on the hobbled CONNECT.

Yet in its public statements, the DEO continually credits CONNECT and management decisions for the decline in unprocessed claims.

Meanwhile, DEO hasn’t been able to release any numbers that show how CONNECT is performing.

That makes Gardiner’s statement that the system is fixed all the more extraordinary. . . .

Though graciously acknowledging the plight of the unemployed, Panuccio replied in a way that suggests contrition is not part of his road to confirmation.

“I’ve learned a lot about leadership, about managing large organizations,” he said. “It was a hard few months, much harder for the people being affected by delayed claims than it was for any of us, but I also feel proud of the team for working really tirelessly and countless hours to get this thing working.”

Panuccio didn’t say what exactly he learned about leadership, nor did the committee ask.

Instead, he won bipartisan praise, raising questions about what role, if any, Democrats play in Tallahassee.

"Top state official faces little scrutiny from lawmakers in wake of unemployment website fiasco".

Ethics reforms

The Tampa Trib editors: "The state’s legislative leaders are putting ethics reform front and center this legislative session by backing a number of proposals that will make lawmakers and government officials more accountable." "Ethics reforms deserve support".

Sally Bradshaw "couldn’t cite a lot of tangible results"

"The authors of last year’s post-2012 election “autopsy report” for the Republican Party said Monday they see progress implementing the recommendations of the report, including expanding the party’s appeal to minorities. But they said change will be gradual, and couldn’t cite a lot of tangible results so far. 'I think we’ve made substantial progress,' said one of the authors, veteran Florida GOP strategist Sally Bradshaw. 'The report did not sit on a shelf.'" "GOP officials see progress after 2012 defeat".

The new ACORN

"It might be nonpartisan and have 'voters' in its name, but the League of Women Voters of Florida also increasingly tackles politically charged issues outside of elections."

Recently, the 75-year-old organization has advocated for Medicaid expansion, organized visits to Cuba and opposed private school voucher expansion.

It’s a progressive agenda at first blush, though league president Deirdre Macnab is quick to note that Medicaid expansion, for example, has the support of Sen. Rene Garcia, a conservative Hialeah Republican.

The group’s website says the organization’s work is “strictly nonpartisan; we neither support nor oppose candidates for office at any level of government.”

At the same time, the site says, “the League is wholeheartedly political and works to influence policy through advocacy.”

Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor and Florida politics expert, noted the group has been active on a number of traditionally liberal causes.

"League of Women Voters draws critics for nonvoting work".

"Skewed system is a travesty to all involved"

Paula Dockery wonders if we are "witnessing the death of local determination of elections?"

Sure, the registered voters of the community are the only ones who can actually cast a ballot, but are they getting local representation or a nationalized, prepackaged product that is being marketed by others with little to no regard for their well-being?

Call me a Pollyanna, but I liked the good old days when candidates decided to run because they wanted to be the voice for the best interests of their community. Candidates knew the issues, knew the community and knew many of the voters. A campaign was a local event and a two-way conversation between voters and a person earning their trust to represent them.

Campaigning involved mixing with voters at events, forums, fairs and public spaces. It involved letting voters see you, talk to you, question you, get to know you. Some of that still occurs today, but what is missing is the candidate serving as master of his or her own campaign.

For those living in the Tampa Bay media market, my condolences for what you had to endure over the past three months. With very little other political action taking place nationally, last week’s special election in congressional district 13 to fill the seat of long-time U.S. Rep. Bill Young attracted a massive amount of national attention and interference in a race that should have been a local matter.

When did we go from local communities picking an individual to a nationalized media campaign to influence and deceive us into buying what they’re trying to sell?

And why do we allow these outsiders to take our fundamental right and responsibility away from us? The answer is two-fold: ignorance and money.

There’s not much we can do about the obscene amount of money that pours into these races. The Citizens’ United ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court allows the almost unfettered expenditure of money to corrupt and corrode the ability of candidates to control their campaigns. Conversely, candidates are limited in the amount of money they can collect from a contributor.

How on God’s green earth does it make sense that outside groups could have more court-protected influence to affect the outcome of an election than a resident of the area to be represented or the candidate himself?

This skewed system is a travesty to all involved. It vastly undermines the candidate’s ability to control his or her message, strategy, actions and timing. Instead, the candidate has to react, explain, apologize and put out fires.

"Outsiders corroding our local elections".

Fracking away in Tally

"Last year, a bill aimed at creating hydraulic fracturing requirements was well on its way to the state House floor — sailing through all of its committee stops within the first month of the 2013 legislative session. A year later, the bill’s sponsor said the mood in Tallahassee has changed, making the likelihood of the proposal passing much less likely." "Legislator doubts fracking bill will pass this year".

Egg on Emily's (List's) Face?

Nancy Smith: "EMILY Has Egg on Her Face".

Stand 'yer stupid

Bill Cotterell: "Bill would not repeal the law, but clarifies questions arising from controversial cases. It passed unanimously and the NRA supported the changes. " "Senate Panel Approves "Stand Your Ground" Changes".

CD 19

Kevin Derby: "CD 19 Candidates' Animosity Grows Fiercer".

Wastewater - 'ya got a problem wit dat?

Lloyd Brown can't help himself: his latest whine about - get this - "big environment" is that, "Liberals never can get it through their skulls that people are part of the environment." "Making Minnows Happy Is Important to Special Interests".

"Florida loses 2,600 jobs in January"

Update: "Florida loses 2,600 jobs in January, but unemployment rate falls to 6.1 percent".

Meanwhile, "The economy was front-and-center Monday in the increasingly contentious Florida gubernatorial race as Gov. Rick Scott announced Florida's unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent in January, the lowest it's been since June 2008."

But Crist’s team fired back with campaign spokesman Kevin Cate insisting Scott had promised to make 1.7 million jobs. Scott’s team insisted their policies would create 700,000 jobs over seven years during the 2010 campaign.

"Rick Scott’s 1.7 million jobs promise is failing because he handed a billion dollars in corporate tax breaks to his buddies for almost no jobs, while cutting education and training," Cate said on Monday. "He is still desperately attempting to take credit for a recovery that’s more anemic than what the economy was already predicted to do on its own."

The Florida Democratic Party also hit Scott on Monday, with Chairwoman Allison Tant attacking the governor for not supporting raising the minimum wage.

“Helping Florida working families succeed should be something we are all on board with ... right?” Tant asked supporters on Monday. “Rick Scott doesn't think so. In fact, talking about raising the minimum wage makes him ‘cringe!’

"Gubernatorial Contenders Clash on the Economy".

More: "UNF Poll: Rick Scott and Charlie Crist Almost Even".

"Senator lobbed a political grenade"

Scott Maxwell: "As more than 100 Planned Parenthood supporters rallied Monday outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office for increased access to health care, Tampa’s state senator lobbed a political grenade." "Sen. Joyner lashes out at Medicaid expansion foes".