Sunday, July 13, 2014

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

"Pillars of Jeb Bush's gubernatorial legacy are crumbling"

Jac Wilder VerSteeg: "Scripps Research Institute is in turmoil, there's talk of fracking in the Everglades and Florida is preparing to adopt Utah's standardized tests to assess our students and teachers. Three pillars of Jeb Bush's gubernatorial legacy are crumbling."

Bush's vision when he lured Scripps in 2003 was to leverage it into a biotech hub with multiple spinoffs and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. The state and Palm Beach County together have invested more than half a billion dollars in that vision.

Hasn't happened. Scripps Florida has met its modest targets for hiring — fewer than 700 employees — but it has not spawned a biotech hub. The now-cancelled merger idea roiled top scientists, triggering resignation threats. . . .

One of Bush's finest moments came in 2002, when he and President George W. Bush pledged a 50-50 state-federal partnership to clean up the Everglades. Gov. Bush did secure state funding. Federal funding, however, lagged. Republican deficit hawks played a part in that. And Gov. Bush significantly undermined his own work when he agreed to delay clean-water standards for a decade.

Now, as the Sun Sentinel reported last week, oil companies are taking advantage of Florida's chronically lax environmental laws to begin a form of fracking — fracturing of underground rock to release oil — in sensitive areas close to the Everglades. Republicans who dominated the Legislature since Jeb's tenure have failed to approve rules to protect the Everglades from fracking and other techniques such as horizontal drilling. Jeb's Everglades pillar is cracked and fracked.

There's more to the Jebacy; much more:
Former Gov. Bush enjoys a national reputation as an education reformer — a neat trick considering the terrible harm he has inflicted on public education. Although the Legislature and succeeding Republican governors share responsibility, Jeb is mostly to blame for the bad things that followed his 1999 arrival in office.

Jeb is a godfather of bogus high-stakes testing. Way back in 1999, he started using the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to assign grades to schools. Nothing about that grading system was valid. Yet then-Gov. Bush claimed it was "accountability."

Things have only gotten worse in subsequent years. Schools and teachers have been labeled as "failing" by a test that was not even administered to large numbers of their students. The Legislature and Gov. Scott decided high-stakes tests should be used to decide if a teacher should be kept or fired. Never mind that there is no formula or algorithm that can reliably tell which teachers are good and which are bad.

The harm to students punished, retained and even denied a diploma because of bad scores on high-stakes tests, is even worse. In a tacit admission that the FCAT was inadequate for the purposes for which it was used, Florida abandoned that test and planned to adopt the Common Core Standards and tests. But Florida's Republican governor and Legislature fretted and dithered because of right-wing opposition to Common Core — which former Gov. Bush supports.

The result is that Florida does not have its own tests to measure progress on Common Core and, as the Sun Sentinel reported, will use a version of Utah's tests.


Any in-depth look at Gov. Bush's education record will confirm his reputation is undeserved.

"Jeb's legacy as governor taking a huge hit."

HD 61

"4 rivals vie for District 61 seat."

Cops "are not campaign props"

Bill Cotterell: Last week "Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign assembled a large crowd of police officers for a big announcement about crime. The announcement was that Scott is against it, and believes his own re-election is a really neat idea."

Veteran political scribe William March of the Tampa Tribune reported that the assembled officers, or a great many of them, were on duty. They didn’t know it was a campaign event. They thought they were there to help with security or possibly to talk about crime. At the very least, their uniformed presence could illustrate city and county support for the state of Florida — in the person of its elected chief executive — as he enunciated some new policy initiative or data about crime and punishment.

It’s illegal to use state employees for campaign purposes and they sure aren’t supposed to be political props for a media event. It’s fair game for a governor, Cabinet officer or legislator to take credit for their good work, as evidence of wise policy and strong leadership. When things don’t go so well, they blame those lazy, incompetent bureaucrats. (Baseball manager Rocky Bridges put it best: “I managed good but, boy, did they play bad.”)

Some of the officers present for Scott’s campaign stop are legally exempt, like an elected sheriff who is technically on duty all the time. But somebody in the governor’s office, or his campaign staff, messed up big time.

Democrat Charlie Crist — who, of course, always made sure no teachers or cops or other public employees were on the clock when they served as wallpaper at various events he held as education commissioner, attorney general or governor — was quick to pounce.

"Public employees are not campaign props."

"Anything but fair for voters"

The Orlando Sentinel editors: "In a ruling Thursday that threw out the state's congressional district map, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found that legislators had violated their 'constitutional duty' to draw districts without gerrymandering them to favor incumbents or their parties. It was the voters who imposed that duty in 2010 when they approved the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution."

The process that Lewis described in his ruling was anything but fair for voters.

The judge concluded that the map legislators redrew and approved in 2012 bore the fingerprints of Republican political operatives. While legislators were holding public hearings on redistricting around the state and trumpeting the most transparent process ever, the operatives were working behind the scenes on the maps "in the shadow of that process," the judge wrote.

"Redistricting: legislators defied voters."

Gelber, Smith, Taddeo-Goldstein, Rundle, Demings, Soto, and Rich in the Crist running mate mix

"The speculation has already begun."

Many observers expect Crist to choose a running mate with ties to South Florida, the most Democratic part of the state.

One potential pick: former state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat. . . .

Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, of Oakland Park, has also been the subject of speculation. But Smith said he had not spoken with the Crist campaign, and was not sure if he was being vetted. . . .

Two names circulating in Democratic circles: Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami-Dade County Democratic Chairwoman Annette Taddeo-Goldstein. Both would appeal to women and help Crist win support in the Hispanic community.

Rundle said she was flattered to be mentioned, “but being Dade’s State Attorney is the greatest job in the state of Florida.” . . .

Elsewhere in the state, Crist may consider former Orlando police chief Val Demings. Demings launched a bid to become Orange County mayor earlier this year, but withdrew in May. Calls to her office were not returned.

Another Orlando resident who could make the short list: state Sen. Darren Soto.

The 36-year-old attorney acknowledged that his home turf would be fertile ground for picking up votes and engaging Hispanic voters. But Soto said he had not been approached by the Crist campaign, and was focused on his reelection to the Senate. . . .

What about Rich, a former Senate minority leader with Democratic bona fides and a strong base of support in Broward County? Could her name appear on the ticket as Crist’s running mate?

“Sen. Rich is not interested,” said her campaign manager, Sterling Clifford.

"Crist under pressure to name running mate."