Sunday, April 27, 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.

Gaetz claims Democrats are "communists"

"Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford stood before the conservative James Madison Institute last week and offered up their view of the world."

Gaetz, who at age 66 is nearly twice as old as Weatherford, seeded his talk with quips about the “communists” in the Democratic Party and the untrustworthy ways of the “liberal media.” Weatherford, 34, was a 10-year-old when the Berlin Wall fell and grew up long after the communist threat. He spoke of his hope for the Republican Party, and urged the crowd to be bolder and more compassionate.
"For Gaetz, a self-made millionaire who founded the nation’s first for-profit hospice chain, the proposal, SB 1400 [in-state tuition for children of noncitizens], is too broad, and too dangerous."
The political backdrop to all of this is that Republican strategists believe they must improve the governor’s support among Hispanic voters. President Barack Obama easily carried Hispanic voters in Florida in the last two presidential cycles and a February poll showed Gov. Rick Scott trailed Democrat Charlie Crist among Hispanic voters by a two to one margin.

To that end, Scott has named former Miami state Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera as his running mate and launched an aggressive Hispanic outreach campaign. In the last week, Scott has weighed into the immigration debate, urging the Senate to accept the House proposal. His late entry, supporters of the bill say, is a reflection of his desire to improve his poll numbers among Hispanics more than a reflection of his commitment to the issue. (Both he and Crist have reversed themselves on the issue.)

How Gaetz and Weatherford resolve the issue in the final week of the 60-day session will not only shed light on their leadership, it will mirror the challenges that face the party as it tries to find a unified message to bridge deep divisions.

“The Senate president and the speaker are a proxy for the conversation that is being had in the Republican Party right now,’’ said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president who opposes the in-state tuition bill.

Gaetz represents “the very large contingent within the party that believes that the path to success is to stand on its core principles and the rule of law and the traditions of our nation,’’ he explained. . . .

Voters in the two off-cycle congressional elections, in Tampa and Southwest Florida, chose Republicans candidates Curt Clawson and David Jolly, respectively, who took hard-line stands against immigration amnesty.

Recent polls have shown that a majority of voters, even in GOP-held state Senate districts, support in-state tuition for children of noncitizens.

When Lee was Senate president and Jeb Bush was governor in 2006, the Senate voted down a similar immigrant tuition bill, sponsored by then-Rep. Juan Zapata, R-Miami.

"End of session immigration feud reflects GOP divide".

Aaron Deslatte on how a desperate "Scott pushes for tuition bill in final days of session".

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board writes that, "In voting to allow Jose Godinez-Samperio to qualify as a lawyer, the Florida Senate has taken a stand against the nation's irrational and shortsighted immigration policies. Now the House needs to agree this week, and Gov. Rick Scott needs to sign this fix into law." "A fair way to right immigration wrong".

Budget talks stall

"State lawmakers stalled in their negotiations Saturday to agree on Florida's proposed $75 billion budget, which includes an all-time high of $11 billion for K-12 education and $500 million in tax and fee cuts." "Florida lawmakers' $75 billion spending plan stalls". See also "Budget talks continue; House, Senate remain $285 million apart on PECO".

Rubio in a tizzy

"Miami woman to receive letter from Obama on Venezuela".

"The spring of playing it safe"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "For the Florida Legislature, this is the spring of playing it safe. When lawmakers adjourn the annual legislative session Friday, they will brag about tax cuts, new projects and other short-term accomplishments. But they will leave Tallahassee having ignored the biggest challenges facing the Sunshine State or providing token solutions that lack vision and ambition. Floridians deserve leaders who look further ahead than the next election." "Legislature fails to tackle Florida's biggest issues". More: "Beer, bud and budgets: Florida Legislature taking most of its thorny issues into the final innings" and "Session's end in sight, bills still in motion".

The Tampa Trib and Gainesville Sun editors: "Unfinished business for the Legislature" and "Sticky issues confront legislators in final week".

Scott gets chance to display his anti-choice stripes

"Fla. Legislature sends abortion bill to governor".

"Team Askew"

Robert W. McKnight: "'Team Askew' featured top lobbyists".

The best they could do

"The two leading candidates in the Florida gubernatorial contest -- Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist -- relied on surrogates this week to reinforce their campaign messages. Scott got some help from a longtime ally as Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, took a break from his efforts to lure jobs to the Lone Star State. He went to bat for his fellow Republican governor." "Rick and Crist Rely on Perry and Carole in Governor's Race".

"Like a turtle on Ambien"

Carl Hiaasen: "Just when there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for the Everglades, along comes the lumbering U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to muck up the works."

Last week, a review board of the Corps stunned everybody by delaying the approval of the Central Everglades Planning Project, an essential and widely hailed step in saving what remains of the Everglades.
"Because of the board’s surprising decision not to act (which, naturally, happened on Earth Day), CEPP could be left out of the public water bill pending in Congress. New federal funding wouldn’t be available for years, a potentially crippling setback for cleanup efforts from the Kissimmee River to the Keys."
Every rainy season the Corps opens the floodgates from Lake Okeechobee uncorking millions of gallons of water heavily polluted by farms and ranches. The choking torrent eventually reaches both coasts.
The Atlantic side is stricken by massive algae blooms that suffocate oyster beds and sea grass flats, and turn the water slimy hues of green. On the Gulf, the polluted outflow has been linked to toxic red tides that foul the beaches with dead fish and kill manatees.

While the environmental damage is terrible, the economic impact is also grave. Tourism, the recreational marine industry and real-estate sales suffer during the months of heavy discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

CEPP is actually a collection of engineering projects designed to cleanse the polluted water from mid-Florida agricultural areas and send it south to the Everglades, instead of pumping it out toward the estuaries, inland waterways and oceans.

The concept isn’t hotly disputed. Environmentalists support it, and so does Gov. Rick Scott. That’s because Big Sugar is on board, too.

Last year, President Obama put CEPP on his “We Can’t Wait” list of urgent public works, but evidently the Army Corps has one, too. It’s called the “We Can’t Get Our Act Together” list.

From one administration to the next, the Corps never changes. One of the most turgid and impenetrable bureaucracies in Washington, on a good day it moves like a turtle on Ambien.

"Corps deals death blow to ’Glades plan".

The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Bureaucratic delay threatens Everglades, coastal waters".

Public employee haters look to the Senate

Bill Cotterell: "The plan would try to steer public employees in Florida away from a traditional pension plan It automatically places newly hired workers in an investment plan rather than a traditional defined-benefit pension. However, the Senate views the proposal with skepticism. 'It'll be a struggle to get 21 votes,' said Sen. Jeremy Ring." "House passes pension overhaul".

And then there's those stubborn things, which the FlaBagger crowd always manages to overlook:

“We have the lowest-paid state employees, and the lowest number [of state employees]per-capita, of any state,” Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, told the House. “We have a well-invested plan. To erode the basis of that plan and take members out of it is not good for the plan, not good for the state of Florida.”
"House OKs state pension overhaul, Senate fate uncertain". See also "Florida House poised to ok changes to state pension".

"Seersucker and Shadows"

Kevin Derby's "Political Bits and Pieces". See also "Week in Review for April 25, 2014", "Arrivals and Departures, April 25, 2014" and "Weekly Roundup: Rick Scott, Seersucker and Shadows".

Gambling man

"Lawmakers: Gov. Rick Scott close to deal with Seminole Tribe".

"Districts are out of control"

"There are more than 1,635 such special districts in Florida, and they include hospital districts, mosquito control districts, draining districts and community development districts. SB 1632, which requires special districts to have web sites and amends reporting and ethics requirements, prompted criticism from senators who said the districts are out of control and need to be reviewed." "Bill passes amid calls for review of special districts".

Scott spending up-and-down I-4 corridor

"If you live Florida’s Tampa media market, you’re used to seeing a barrage of political advertisements. So far, during the 2014 election cycle, it’s business as usual."

Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign has spent heavily in the market, which touches 12 counties. By the end of April, Let’s Get to Work, a committee aligned with Scott, will have poured $1.9 million into the Tampa market, according to publicly available media-buy data.

The numbers also underscore the importance of Central Florida more generally. Second on the list is Orlando, where Scott’s campaign has made $1.3 million. Those are the only two markets where Scott has spent more than $1 million.

There is good reason.

The two markets have larger populations than the more densely populated Miami and West Palm Beach media markets. In 2012 presidential race, 3.6 million people voted in the Tampa and Orlando markets, a number that was 2.5 million in the south Florida markets.

In addition, the Central Florida markets have more persuadable voters than Democrat-heavy South Florida. In 2012, President Barack Obama beat GOP challenger Mitt Romney by a total of roughly 7,000 votes in the Orlando media market.

"Tampa market is tops for Scott campaign spending".

Florida's entrepreneurs in action

"Of Medicare’s list of banned providers, nearly 1,500 list Miami addresses. Los Angeles is in second place with 522 names." "Miami, by far, tops list of banned Medicare providers".

"Floridians caught in the coverage gap"

"Now that the period to enroll in health insurance through Obamacare has ended, the focus is turning to the 800,000 uninsured Floridians who make too much money to get Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidies through the Affordable Care Act."

These Floridians — 20 percent of the uninsured — fall in the "coverage gap" created when the state — along with 23 others — opted not to expand Medicaid. In doing so, Florida turned down $51 billion in federal money.

With only a week left in the session, the Florida Legislature is unlikely to reconsider the issue, but plans are on the table that eventually may help break the partisan stalemate.

Meanwhile, Floridians caught in the coverage gap are left hanging. . . .

The best hope for a solution lies in the Legislature, which is divided: Democrats want to reach everyone in the gap. Republicans, concerned about the long-term costs to the state and providing care to people who do not deserve it, want a bigger safety net but more selective of whom it would catch and also less expensive.

"Focus turns to those in insurance-coverage gap".

Target on his back

Adam C. Smith: "There are few Democratic state representatives in Florida with a bigger target on their back this year than state Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor. He beat Republican incumbent Peter Nehr in 2012, and Republicans are determined to win back that seat and confident they will." "Palm Harbor House Democrat has target on his back Palm Harbor House Democrat has target on his back".