Sunday, April 20, 2014

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

Crist to focus on the "sprawling breadbasket of liberalism"

Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo write that, for "Charlie Crist to beat Gov. Rick Scott, South Florida voters likely need to do something they haven’t done in years: vote in bigger numbers in a governor’s race."

[F]or Crist to win, South Florida voters need to do something they haven’t done in years: vote in bigger numbers in a governor’s race.

About a third of Florida’s 4.6 million Democrats live in the three-county metropolis of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, a sprawling breadbasket of liberalism that proved critical in both of President Barack Obama’s Florida victories.

But off-year or midterm races for governor are a different story.

"Year after year, voters in the Democratic region are among the state’s worst when it comes to showing up at the polls. It was most glaring in 2010 when Scott won office and statewide voter turnout was a meager 49 percent."
The turnout in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties was worse: about 41, 40 and 47 percent, respectively. If those three counties had voted at the state average, Democrat Alex Sink likely would have beaten Scott by nearly 250,000 votes statewide. Instead, Sink lost by 61,550 votes.

Crist vows that won’t happen again.

On Saturday, Crist opened his first field office in Plantation, a Fort Lauderdale suburb in the center of the region.

In a sign of strong enthusiasm, about 300 people came to Crist’s event, where veterans of Obama’s campaign signed up volunteers and gathered emails and cellphones in an effort to reactivate the president’s reelection effort in a gubernatorial race. . . .

The evolving face of South Florida Democrats is increasingly younger, Caribbean, African-American, gay, female, single or Spanish-speaking. Hispanics, who dominate Miami-Dade’s voter rolls, have a higher drop-off rate in midterm elections than black or non-Hispanic whites. . . .

Among Democrats, Crist has overwhelming advantages in two things that are of the most value in a statewide campaign — name recognition and money — and his new converts include people whose first priority is to win.

But Democrats also insist that if they are to win, Crist must keep up a highly visible presence throughout the summer and fall to underscore the importance of voting to blasé Democrats.

"Charlie Crist‘s biggest challenge: motivating Democrats in South Florida to vote".

Some call it "red tape"

"Workers painting at Universal Studios hospitalized".

From the "values" crowd

"With two weeks to go, legislators are poised to spend a surplus on hometown projects rather than on services for vulnerable kids." "Florida budgets put priority on hometown projects over at-risk kids". See also "Innocents lost" and "Legislature makes choices after 'Innocents Lost'".

Scott "batting 0-for-Always"

Bill Cotterell: "The United States Supreme Court is about to do Gov. Rick Scott a big favor."

Actually, it’s already done it. We just won’t know about it until Monday.

That’s when the clerk’s office of the nation’s highest court will announce whether the justices will give the state of Florida a chance to salvage Scott’s plan for drug-testing of state employees. The governor has been batting 0-for-Always on this issue, but he remains cheerfully determined to make sure state agencies may tell employees to submit a urine sample.

Of course, it’s long been the law that government employers can test you if you get caught with illegal drugs, or show signs of impairment. There are “employee assistance” programs designed to help at least first-offenders save their jobs and get sober.

The “drug-free workplace” law negotiated in the Bob Martinez administration nearly a quarter-century ago allows testing for law-enforcement employees and others in “safety sensitive” jobs. Nobody is challenging that.

But in Scott’s first year as governor, he issued an executive order for testing employees and job applicants in departments under his control, roughly 77 percent of the state workforce. Scott said he took tests himself, in the private sector, and that millions of Florida taxpayers work for companies that have such employment mandates.

"Legally, what Scott could do in companies he ran as a big business executive is not the point. Ye Olde Bill o’ Rights deals with what the government can make you do, not what a private employer can require."
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Civil Liberties Union took the state to court. They contend that the Fourth Amendment — the one with all that stuff about being safe in your person, papers, houses and effects — forbids “suspicionless” testing of non-safety-sensitive employees.

They won in a federal district court in Miami and in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta. Although he similarly struck out in another case involving drug testing of welfare recipients, Scott cheerfully fought on to Washington, asking the ultimate arbiters to take the case.

In a secret court conclave Friday, the justices were supposed to vote on whether to accept the appeal, or to let the 11th circuit ruling stand. Their decision is due for release on Monday.

"Politically, Scott wins either way.""
If the court takes the case, there won’t be a ruling until next year. That keeps the issue alive through Scott’s re-election campaign. It won’t be a big issue, but it represents one more stark difference between him and whoever wins the Democratic nomination. . . .

[Or] Scott could get his hearing and then lose his case. But that won’t happen until after the election.

Much more here: "Supreme Court ruling guaranteed to benefit Scott".

"Forgive us for alarming you Florida Democrats"

Adam C. Smith: "For two decades, it's been almost like a ritual after the votes are tallied in nonpresidential elections: Wounded activists and leaders wring their hands and bemoan how the Florida Democratic Party has sunk to its weakest position ever."

Well, forgive us for alarming you Florida Democrats, but if you think 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 were painful election cycles, consider how excruciating 2014 might be.

As things stand, Florida Democrats are pretty much betting the house on former life-long, self-described pro-gun, pro-life, Ronald Reagan Republican Charlie Crist winning back the Governor's Mansion. Imagine the Wednesday morning quarterbacking if Gov. Rick Scott beats Crist and wins a second term. His chances are roughly 50/50.

Meanwhile, it's hard to find any plugged-in Democrat suggesting they have a shot at winning a Cabinet office. Two credible candidates, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston, are spending their scarce resources in a primary to take on lavishly funded Attorney General Pam Bondi, while no serious Democrat has emerged to challenge Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

It's not that Florida Democrats lack a bench of strong statewide candidates. In 2014, they don't even have a stool.

"With weak, or no, candidates, Democratic may face painful defeat".

"Put up or shut up"

The Gainesville Sun editors: "It’s put up or shut up time for the Florida Legislature with regards to springs protection." "Editorial: Side with springs".

Scott tripling Crist's take of unlimited checks from special interests

Aaron Deslatte: "Crist and Scott are in a dead heat for the hard money heading into the summer stretch of the campaign season, a period in which Scott will soon no longer have the implicit threat of his veto pen to hold over would-be donors."

But when you throw in the unlimited checks from special interests, Scott and the Republican Party of Florida have grossed $17.1 million compared with Democrats' $6 million this year. It's a cash advantage made possible by insurers, casinos, utilities, phone companies, professional sports teams and dozens of other groups with financial stakes in influencing state government.
"Big money flows to both sides of governor's race".

Editors claim to "like" pensions, but want to eliminate them anyway

The Tampa Trib editors get a bit tongue tied this morning. They write:

Let’s get one thing clear before we comment again on the emotional topic of pensions. We like them.

A guaranteed stream of income in retirement is good for workers and good for the economy.

But we also understand why private companies have moved away from them. And we strongly support the efforts of House Speaker Will Weatherford to reform Florida’s state pension. He is aware of the growing risk to future taxpayers if no changes are made. . . .

Florida’s pension fund is in excellent shape compared with many public and private plans. So why begin to back away from a good thing? Because of bad things happening elsewhere and the potential for them to happen here.

"Right time for pension reform".

Oh, I understand now: the State of Florida's employees - who by the way haven't seen a wage increase in years - should join the private sector's race to eliminate pensions, and the reason they should to this is, because, that's how they do it in the private sector. What could possibly go wrong?

"Is this governor feckless or merely impotent?"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "Only Gov. Rick Scott can salvage the dreams of thousands of undocumented high school students whose only hope to afford college is being allowed to pay in-state tuition. Only the governor has the stature and political leverage to force the Senate to take up this issue of fundamental fairness that the House already has approved. Only the governor can dictate the outcome of legislation that would help him politically and stop penalizing students who already are succeeding in our local schools and communities."

Scott supports the Senate bill, SB 1400, that would enable illegal immigrants who have graduated from Florida high schools to pay in-state tuition. He sent out a news release Friday that he is joined in support by former Republican Govs. Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush. (He didn't mention former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat and candidate for governor who also supports in-state tuition for these students.) But it is going to take more from Scott than news releases to get this legislation back on track.

Two unenlightened Republicans, Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville and Budget Committee Chairman Joe Negron of Stuart, stand in the way. . . .

Only Scott has the political leverage to make Gaetz and Negron see the light. But it will take more personal attention to legislative maneuvering than the governor previously has shown. Scott supported accepting billions in Medicaid expansion money last year, then failed to lift a finger when the House refused to act. Now he faces the same situation with the Senate on an issue that could help his re-election bid and Republicans in general with Hispanic voters. Is this governor feckless or merely impotent when it comes to working the levers of his office and dealing with the Legislature?

"In-state tuition bill in Scott's hands".