Saturday, April 05, 2014

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

"This is how the plutocracy works"

Fred Grimm: "A bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall to allow property-tax exemptions for businesses that install solar panels, or other renewable energy devices, was snuffed out this week by the chair of the Florida House tax committee. Backers of the amendment claim that polls show some 90 percent of the voters support the notion. Voters, however, are an ever diminishing consideration in state government."

Florida’s electric power monopolies hate the amendment. They matter. Because, as you might have suspected after perusing your electric bill, they’ve got money to spend. And they know how to use it to manipulate a plutocracy.

The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas reported that the state’s three largest electric power providers have already invested more than $3 million in campaign contributions in this election cycle. Florida Power & Light fed the piggies $2.5 million, while TECO Energy and Duke Energy slopped the political trough with $754,000 and $390,000 respectively.

That’s what matters.

"Not to pick on the electric companies. Other big-money entities know the formula. "
Back in 2011, the Herald documented more than 70 deaths and a host of injuries over a 10-year period at assisted living facilities. The series prompted lots of public outrage, and legislators responded with bills that would foster a tough, new regulatory regime. But that’s not how the system works. The nursing home industry came up with $3 million in political contributions. The Florida Assisted Living Association hired a bunch of lobbyists. Three years later, ALF reform is hardly more than a fading memory.

Integrity Florida spelled out the new rule of governing. “Increasingly, the Florida Legislature sets its agenda and policy outcomes based on the needs of large political donors.”

The report noted how a large Budweiser distributor, after contributing $300,000 to candidates and political committees aligned with Senate President Don Gaetz, has been able fend off assaults on outdated container laws that are a disadvantage to the state’s craft beer brewers. This stuff about Florida government supporting small businesses is just so much guff. What matters is that craft brewers don’t have the money to compete with the likes of Bud.

"All this is small beer compared to what’s coming."
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court jettisoned the limits on what monied folk and corporations can spend on campaigns. Not that the previous limits did much to inhibit influence peddling — $48,600 on contributions to candidates during a two-year election cycle, plus $74,600 total for political parties and committees. But with no limits, the influence of the merely wealthy will wane before the billionaires.

This follows the court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, that allowed corporations — now granted personhood — to buy up elections. “If Citizens United opened a door,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer read from his dissent on Tuesday, “today’s decision we fear will open a floodgate.”

This is how we’ve come to have Wall Street lobbyists in Washington writing banking reform legislation, and nursing home lobbyists in Florida killing ALF reform. This is how the plutocracy works. They have money. You don’t.

"In Tallahassee, only money talks". See also "Legislators roll over, fetch for big utilities".

Nuns demand retraction from ancient wingnut

"A group of Catholic nuns in Apopka, who for decades have advocated for migrant workers and the city's poor, are demanding that Mayor John Land retract a campaign flier that strongly suggests they are endorsing him in his fiercely contested bid for a 20th term." "Apopka nuns want retraction from Mayor Land's campaign".

Desperate Scott lambastes Crist over $25 fee

"Gov. Rick Scott signed a cut in auto tag fees Wednesday and singled out former Gov. Charlie Crist to blame for the increases, giving a bill-signing ceremony the feel of a partisan campaign rally. The typical Florida motorist will save about $25 a year per vehicle registration when the lower fees take effect Sept. 1." "Gov. Rick Scott signs tag fee rollback into law, takes aim at Charlie Crist".

Scott’s admin violated federal election law

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration violated federal law by trying to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls too close to the 2012 presidential election . . . ."

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta invalidated efforts by the Department of State to identify and remove non-citizens from the voter rolls in advance of an election in which a Florida victory was crucial to President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Federal law prohibits states from “systematic” removals of voters less than 90 days before a federal primary or general election.

Judges said they ruled in a case that might otherwise be moot to prevent Scott’s administration from undertaking a future purge effort.

"The 2-1 decision was written by Judge Beverly Martin and joined by Judge Adalberto Jordan, who was born in Cuba and is a University of Miami law school graduate and a former assistant U.S. attorney in Miami. Judge Richard Suhrheinrich dissented."
Scott’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, issued a terse five-word statement through a spokeswoman: “We are reviewing the decision.”

The state could ask for a rehearing before the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last week, Detzner abandoned efforts to scrub the voter rolls of non-citizens in advance of the 2014 election in the face of overwhelming opposition from elected supervisors of elections. He had labeled the program “Project Integrity.”

The state won a lower-court ruling in U.S. District Court in the case of Arcia v. Detzner, but the plaintiffs appealed.

Elections supervisors and voter advocacy groups were alarmed in June 2012 when Scott’s administration launched an effort to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens in advance of the statewide August primary election by comparing the rolls with other state and federal databases. . . .

Scott has consistently defended the purge efforts as a way to reduce voter fraud. The state has spent more than $500,00Crist says Florida should put high-speed rail back on track0 in legal fees in the case.

"Appeals court: Florida’s voter purge violated federal law".

House panel approves guns in Florida schools

"House panel approves bill to allow guns in Florida schools".

Crist wants to undo Scott's $2.4 billion rail gaffe

"Charlie Crist wants to bring the high-speed rail plan back to the Orlando-Tampa corridor, three years after Gov. Rick Scott canceled it and President Barack Obama redistributed its $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money to other states." "Crist says Florida should put high-speed rail back on track".

Exposing Jebbie's phony education legacy

"Former Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education have launched an advertising campaign to sell Floridians on the wonders of standardized testing and school accountability as his reforms turn 15 years old this spring."

But the Bush foundation's campaign called "Learn More. Go Further" tells only one side of a more complicated story. There have been some successes, but the campaign cherry-picks statistics to make Florida's schools look better than they are. Floridians deserve a more accurate picture of the state of public education.
"Here are some of that foundation's happy assertions, with a more sobering assessment that in each case comes from the same report cited by the foundation."
1 Florida's graduation rates reached an all-time high of 75 percent in 2012-2013. BUT the graduation rate was 58.9 percent for African-American males and 80.5 percent for all white students.

2 For the second straight year, Florida finished among the top five states in the percent of high school graduates who passed an AP exam. BUT of all AP exams taken by the class of 2013 during their high school careers, 55.5 percent failed to earn a passing mark.

3 In eighth-grade math, the academic improvement of Florida students is three times higher than that of students nationwide. BUT . . . Florida still lags behind the national average, and 30 percent of Florida's eighth-graders fall below basic proficiency in math. . . .

5 Florida's low-income fourth- graders ranked first in the nation among their peers, and they performed as well or better than the average student in 15 states on the 2013 Nation's Report Card reading test. BUT the achievement gap for Florida's low-income fourth-graders in reading has not closed much in 15 years. . . .

8 Florida's eighth-grade Hispanic students read as well or better than their peers in 35 states in 2013. But the average score for Florida's Hispanic students was 13 points lower than for white students, and the achievement gap hasn't significantly closed in 15 years.

Read it all here: "Florida's education picture not so rosy".

Reviewing the Legislature at the halfway point

"Florida lawmakers have crossed the midpoint in their 60-day march to craft new laws, amend existing ones and agree on a roughly $75 billion budget for the next fiscal year." "Legislature reviewed at its halfway point".

Haters keep after FRS

"A House committee voted on straight party lines to close the Florida Retirement System to elected officers and top government officials Friday, proposing some financial incentives for future employees to opt into a 401(k)-style investment plan."

Get a load of this genius:

“The fact is that pensions are a dinosaur in a 21st century world,” Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, told the House State Affairs Committee before casting his vote in favor of the proposal by committee Chairman Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. “We may have the strongest dinosaur out there, but it’s still a dinosaur.”
"Panel tweaks Florida Retirement System". See also "House panel approves pension overhaul".

Even the test company is gay

"Common Core foes, who contend the 'Florida standards' differ little from the widely adopted national Common Core academic standards, were again disappointed. With their efforts to derail the initiative itself foundering, one group took aim at the testing company instead."

They noted the American Institutes for Research, called AIR, was tied to Common Core with its work creating tests for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Then they accused the organization of promoting a homosexual lifestyle for children. “This is completely unacceptable. Besides implementing the same deceptive plan discussed at the governor’s summit in August, the state has chosen a company that has a significant history of promoting identification of the GLBT lifestyle for children as young as seven years old,” Florida Eagle Forum lobbyist Randy Osborne said in a Florida Stop Common Core Coalition letter to supporters.
"PolitiFact: Group claims education testing company promotes gay lifestyle to school children".

Senate Gives Scott Court-Packing Power

"With a party-line vote Thursday, the Florida Senate approved a controversial proposal about the power of the governor to appoint replacements for retiring Supreme Court justices. The proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1188) would allow an outgoing governor to replace appellate or Supreme Court justices whose terms expire on the governor’s last day in office." "Senate Approves Proposed Constitutional Amendment Giving Scott Court-Packing Power".

Did Bondi's office destroy records?

"A Tallahassee attorney engaged in a bitter property fight with the state is accusing Attorney General Pam Bondi of destroying emails, failing to retain text messages and violating the state's public records laws."

Bondi, the chief custodian of the state's Sunshine law, has acknowledged some documents were inadvertently missing from the records request of Stephen R. Andrews but vigorously rejects his claims. . . .

In court documents filed this week in Leon County Circuit Court, Andrews portrays a department that allows employees to manually delete emails before they are archived, relies on an outdated email archival system and allows metadata to routinely be destroyed.

He claims at least in 19 instances emails were destroyed and the attorney general's office failed to properly retain text messages after he filed a request for a document hold.

Andrews said he discovered the omissions only after he cross-referenced the emails he received from the attorney general through a public records search with those obtained from other agencies. He is asking a judge for a forensic search of all backup servers and storage devices at the agency.

Ray refused requests to explain what the department's policy is regarding retaining emails and text messages.

"Attorney says missing emails prove Attorney General Pam Bondi's office violated records laws".

Mad as wet hen

Nancy Smith is mad as wet hen: "In case you haven't seen it, the liberal San Francisco-based hatcheteers [Mother Jones] have a story this week that comes straight from the Democrats' playbook -- Rule No. 3: Demonize a conservative by association with a 'public enemy,' real or perceived."

Go ahead. Read the Mother Jones story, "GOP Gov. Rick Scott Raising Big Bucks With Founder of Abusive Teen Boot Camps." It cites a $1,000-a-head fundraiser for Scott's re-election campaign. . . .

The truly absurd part is this: Mother Jones -- with the playbook as its guide -- picked the wrong governor to connect with scary Mel.

Charlie Crist was always the guber in Sembler's heart and in his pocket. Until the day Crist quit the party -- the very day -- he and Sembler were closer than a butterfly on a bluebell.

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you, Mel Sembler would have to throw 20 more Miami Beach fundraisers for Rick Scott to come anywhere near the cash he raised and bundled and outright-donated to Charlie Crist over the years.

"Mother Jones 'Mad Libs' ... No Pun Intended".

Week in Review

Kevin Derby's "Political Bits and Pieces". See also "Week in Review for April 4, 2014", "Arrivals and Departures" and "Weekly Roundup: Winners, Losers and the Waiting Game".

That silly Marbury v. Madison thing

The right wing has a problem with . . . you know . . . that Marbury v. Madison thing*, whining that "In recent years new laws enacted in Florida are being challenged in court and are ending up costing taxpayers a bundle in legal fees. Defending just four laws signed into law in 2011 already has cost taxpayers more than $171,000 in legal fees. And figuring in the new retirement plan law, which requires state employees to contribute a percentage of their salary to their retirement plan, this number could soar even higher." "In Florida, Courts Often Have Final Say in Legislative Process".

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*Wingers especially don't like these passages in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, at least when they're running the legislative show:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Courts must decide on the operation of each."

So, if a law be in opposition to the Constitution, if both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case, so that the Court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution, or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law, the Court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.

If, then, the Courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the Legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177-8 (1803)

Palin a nice fit for SWFla GOP

"Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came down to Southwest Florida Thursday to help Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in the special congressional election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla. Palin was on center stage at a fundraiser for Benacquisto at a private residence in Naples Thursday evening. The former Alaska governor, U.S. Sen. John McCain’s running mate on the 2008 Republican presidential ticket, endorsed Benacquisto last week." "Sarah Palin Takes Center Stage in CD 19 Special Election".

Meanwhile, "A Florida state senator campaigning with former Gov. Sarah Palin caused a bit of a mystery. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was recorded as voting yes Thursday on the state budget, even though she had already left to join Palin at a backyard barbecue in Naples." "Fla. Senate forced to changed official vote record".


"Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush to headline annual Connecticut GOP fundraising dinner". See also "Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush team up in new Super PAC ad" and "Jeb Bush talks 2016 on Fox News".

"Senate Folds on Gambling"

"The chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee turned off the lights on a comprehensive gambling measure that could have allowed resort casinos in South Florida, telling the chamber that he lacked the votes to advance it and is instead deferring to Gov. Rick Scott." "Senate Folds on Gambling Bill".

Killing KidCare Expansion

"Lawmakers Poised to Kill Florida KidCare Expansion for 25,000 Children of Legal Immigrants".

Budget blues

"Fla. House approves nearly $75.3 billion budget".

FlaBaggers in a dither

"Tampa federal Judge Susan Bucklew was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to perform a wedding. The marriage of Mark Anderson and Keith Bucklew isn’t recognized by the state of Florida. But the District of Columbia does allow same-sex weddings. So U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, hosted the ceremony in her congressional office." "Castor hosts same-sex wedding at congressional office".

Scott flip-flops on censoring FSU professor

"Amid a growing online controversy, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration reversed itself Wednesday and will invite a scholar to deliver a talk, days after canceling it without explanation."

Secretary of State Ken Detzner apologized to Florida State University professor Diane Roberts and issued a statement that she can speak “on the topic of her choosing.” Detzner also said he wants to find out “if everything was handled appropriately” after learning that an agency employee resigned in protest over the incident.

Roberts, an author and commentator who also writes opinion articles for the Tampa Bay Times, is a frequent critic of Scott’s policies. She had been invited to speak Thursday at the state-run Mission San Luis on a favorite topic, the deterioration of Florida’s lakes, rivers and springs.

But last week a spokeswoman for Detzner, Brittany Lesser, said that an “internal decision” was made to cancel Roberts’ talk because it did not directly relate to Mission San Luis’ emphasis on historical resources.

Roberts said she was amused by the controversy but appreciated Detzner’s call Wednesday.

"Gov. Rick Scott’s administration backtracks on talk by FSU professor Diane Roberts".

It seems Roberts got more of an "apology" than curmudgeonly Canadian War hero and author Farley Mowat ever got when he was denied entry to the U.S. for a book tour because the Reagan administration deemed Mowat "a threat to the country's national security due to his environmentalist writings."