Friday, July 04, 2014

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

Bondi bashes gays in "tortured court filings"

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "Florida continues to defend the state's same-sex marriage ban in tortured court filings that attempt to justify discrimination without offending its considerable number of gay residents. It is time for the state to stop defending the indefensible, or Attorney General Pam Bondi eventually will be on the losing end in court and on the wrong side of history."

Bondi has mounted a vigorous defense on Florida's behalf, saying that her job is "not to write the law, but to defend it." In response to a federal lawsuit aimed at forcing the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states, Bondi's office delivered an awkwardly worded brief that claimed "disrupting Florida's existing marriage laws would impose significant public harm."

"Florida's marriage laws, then, have a close, direct, and rational relationship to society's legitimate interest in increasing the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by the mothers and fathers who produced them in stable and enduring family units," Bondi's office said in court documents.

That sounds like the attorney general questions whether gay couples can raise children as well as heterosexual couples, even though the courts earlier struck down Florida's ban on gay adoptions. . . .

Bondi should follow her counterparts in Nevada, Virginia and Pennsylvania who have refused to defend their states' same-sex marriage bans. The law once upheld slavery, denied women and blacks the right to vote, segregated schools and banned interracial marriage. In time, the courts will continue to act as they did in those situations and overturn all discriminatory same-sex marriage bans. It makes no sense to defend them, and Florida should abandon a fight it cannot win legally or morally.

"Florida should stop defending ban on same-sex marriage."

Meanwhile, back in Dade County Circuit Court, the FlaBaggers are in a dither: "Opening arguments began this week at a state courthouse in Miami as a judge ponders a challenge to the Florida Constitution’s recognition of only traditional marriage in the Sunshine State."

Attorney and social conservative leader John Stemberger of Florida Family Action and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel looked to defend the law.

“Overall, the legal arguments presented for same-sex marriage were surprisingly weak,” Stemberger insisted on Thursday. “After the first short legal argument, the other lawyers arguing spent a lot of time reading stories, citing antidotal evidence, misrepresenting the impact of multiple cases, and generally dispensing an assortment of inappropriate political rhetoric before the court. In contrast, Mat Staver had a command of the law, the Constitution, legal procedure and the social science research. His case was compelling and clear. Not surprisingly, none of the plaintiffs' gay-rights lawyers ever cited, let alone mentioned. the only clear and controlling legal precedent before the court -- Florida's Constitution and its marriage definition.”

[Apparently dissatisfied with how his "compelling and clear" argument was received by the court,] Stemberger gave Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel low marks for her handling of Wednesday’s proceedings.

"Conservative Leader Warns About Challenge to Florida's Marriage Law."

Scott and Crist "spit-balling allegations of improper conduct at each other"

Aaron Deslatte: "Emissaries and critics of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist have been busy spit-balling allegations of improper conduct at each other like it's summer school."

It's among the oldest of American political traditions: trash your opponents under the veneer of news media credence. . . .

Here are some of the claims so far: Crist improperly benefited from his close ties to Orlando super-lawyer John Morgan. Scott reaped investment gains from a French oil company involved in drilling in Collier County, which presents a supposed conflict of interest.

Democrats have filed ethics and elections complaints over Scott's use of a private airplane owned by his wife's holding company. The Republican Party of Florida has lodged a complaint with television stations that a Florida Democratic Party ad put up last month "contains intentionally false and misleading statements," by manipulating headlines to play up Scott's refusal to answer questions in a lawsuit related to the $1.7 billion Medicare fraud settlement at his old company, HCA/Columbia.

Deslatte explains the process:
Florida polices ethics and elections violations through two commissions empowered only to investigate complaints lodged from the public. In other words, they can't self-start investigations, and they are at the mercy of clever campaigns that manipulate this process.

Before any compliant becomes the political equivalent to being "charged with a crime," the commissions have to establish the legal sufficiency of the complaint and then an early investigation must find there is "probable cause" that a law was broken. That determination can take months and usually isn't made until well after the campaign season is over. So, it makes for good strategy to fire off complaints and use them to disparage opponents, even when evidence is paltry. The substance is almost universally paper-thin. Most get dismissed without any finding of "probable cause."

Some news organizations generally try to avoid being manipulated into writing about complaints until probable cause has been found. In today's ever-compressed news cycle, many go reported but under-investigated by journalists.

"Ethics complaints fly like spitballs in governor's race." See "GOP files complaint over Charlie Crist's Coke Zero 400 NASCAR gift."

He probably thinks he's entitled to a disability pension

"Officer hospitalized after shooting in parking lot."

Entrepreneurs in action

"Four Floridians convicted in N.C. mortgage fraud."

All dressed up . . .

"Thanks to a new push by local Democrats, every single sitting Republican faces a challenger this year. The question is whether that really matters when none of those challengers has any cash to spend." "Miami-Dade Democrats Get on the Ballot But Trail Big in Fundraising."

Dancing as fast as she can

Nancy Smith, in the wake of the right wing's Hobby Lobby disaster, tries to change the subject as fast as she can, writing that "the issue with Alan Grayson is a matter of character. It's a need to see leaders behave with basic decency. Grayson has failed on both counts. He offends women deeply -- this woman at least. With Grayson in tow, the Democratic Party -- so often calling itself the Party of Women and Children -- fails too." "What Alan Grayson's Divorce Antics Say about Him."

"The nation's most costly statehouse slugfest"

"Florida's gubernatorial race is already living up to predictions it will be the nation's most costly statehouse slugfest this year. So far, Gov. Rick Scott and challenger Charlie Crist have amassed a combined $54 million, with Scott holding a 3-to-1 advantage."

And the race is taking on a familiar theme of businesses vs. lawyers.

U.S. Sugar Corp., Florida Power & Light, Florida Blue, the developers of The Villages and Walt Disney World, among others, are steering millions of dollars into incumbent Republican Scott's coffers to try to defeat Democratic rival Crist.

Scott's biggest contributors belong to the industry that made him a millionaire many times over. Health-care companies, executives and employees have pumped $3.75 million into his campaign and ad-buying funds, led by Miami managed-care executive Mike Fernandez; Florida Blue; and prison health-contracting and oncology companies.

"Scott, Crist scramble to raise piles of campaign cash."