Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Please consider giving a newspaper subscription as a gift and/or buying one or more hard copy newspaper subscriptions for delivery to your workplace. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Jeb's education record may come under fiercest attack from his own party

"One of Jeb Bush’s biggest [claimed] accomplishments is his work to improve Florida’s public schools -- and that record may come under fiercest attack from his own party if he enters the Republican 2016 presidential primary." "Jeb Bush Draws Tea Party Ire Touting Education Record."

As explained by Jac Wilder VerSteeg in the Sun Sentinel over the weekend,

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.

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

Desperate in PBC

"Attempting to make inroads with a Democratic-leaning voting bloc, the Palm Beach County Republican Party is reaching out to the gay and lesbian community. Chairwoman Anita Mitchell hopes gays and lesbians will see the Republican Party as something other than an intolerant entity hostile to their interests." "Republican leader seeks support from gays and lesbians."

"Crist trying to change the topic"

Jeff Henderson: "Caught in the polls by Rick Scott and behind in the money chase, Charlie Crist and his supporters in the mainstream media are trying to change the topic from the new Democrat’s underwhelming performance so far in the campaign. In recent days, the media have started playing the guessing game of who will be named as Crist’s running mate." "Charlie Crist Not in Any Rush to Name Running Mate."

"Graham is stressing she is a political outsider"

Kevin Derby: "Democratic congressional candidate Gwen Graham is drawing fire from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) for going after Washington, even as she follows a game plan honed by national Democrats and used by their candidates across the nation."

Graham, the daughter of Bob Graham, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and two terms as governor, is running against U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla. Despite serving as an aide to her father and two Democratic presidential candidates in the 2004 election cycle, then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Gov. Howard Dean, D-Vt.. Graham is stressing she is a political outsider.
"NRCC: Nancy Pelosi's Fingerprints All Over Gwen Graham's Campaign."

The proxy campaign for Governor

"Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan said he has pledges of up to $6 million — not including his own substantial checkbook — to back a proposed constitutional amendment going before voters in November that would allow doctors to order marijuana for patients with debilitating illnesses."

Renewed support from Morgan — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist’s boss and close friend — comes as opponents of the measure, aided by Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate and supporter of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, double down on efforts to kill it.
"Morgan: Backers pledge $6 million for pot campaign."

"Democrats shouldn't get too giddy"

Ledyard King: "Most Democrats are cheering the Florida Circuit Court's judge ruling Thursday throwing out the congressional district map drawn by the GOP-controlled Legislature."

But at least one expert who studies congressional races says Democrats shouldn't get too giddy, even if it helps put the Orlando-area seat — now held by Republican Daniel Webster — back into play.

David Wasserman, who monitors House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said there are several reasons why not much might change in a state where Republicans control 17 of the state's 27 congressional seats.

First, there's little time to take advantage of the ruling in this fall's elections, largely because the filing deadline for candidates has passed. In addition, the Florida Legislature is expected to appeal the ruling, further delaying any remedy.

Second, any changes to the map might affect Webster and Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, but maybe only marginally, and probably no one else.

And third, even redrawing the districts would not tremendously help Democrats whose voters are generally concentrated in the state's urban corridors. The decidedly GOP District 8 seat held by Republican Bill Posey of Rockledge, for example, probably wouldn't change parties even if the boundaries were adjusted.

"New district map may not be a game-changer."

This analysis of the Cook Report piece by King, of Gannett's Washington Bureau, overlooks that Wasserman's analysis, was limited to the 2014 races. This is plain from the headline to Wasserman's piece, "Florida Redistricting Ruling Unlikely to Alter 2014 Math" (subscription required). No one has claimed that the decision - which will no doubt be stayed pending appeal - will have any bearing on 2014, except as a talking point; rather, the impact on the shape of the districts, which could be substantial, obviously pertains only to 2016 and beyond.

Absentee Ballots: New Rules

"Voting by mail has soared in popularity among Floridians in the past decade, but new restrictions are leading some advocates to warn that some people may miss voting this year because of new rules." Two key points:

• College students and snowbirds. People who want their ballots sent to addresses other than what's on file with the county elections office will no longer be able make the request online or over the phone. The request now must be made in writing.

“The group that is going to be most affected by it is, of course, students. There’s no two ways about it,” said Pamela Goodman of Palm Beach Gardens, first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “Down here in southeastern Florida where we have so many snowbirds, they won’t even know. They will expect their ballot to come to them and they won’t even know. It’s going to affect their turnout.” . . .

• Expiration of standing requests. The law governing how long vote-by-mail request remains valid has changed several times. Currently, it lasts for two big general elections. So people who signed up before the 2010 governor's election won't receive absentee ballots for the 2014 primary and general election unless they reapply.

In January, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office sent notices to all voters whose absentee ballot requests were expiring. “We didn’t get a lot of response,” Bucher said.

"There is some risk [if you vote by absentee ballot], however. There's a small chance that an absentee ballot won't be counted."
The signatures of people who send in absentee ballots are scrutinized and compared with the person's voter registration form. If the signature doesn't match, the ballot isn't counted.

It can make a difference. A 2012 state Senate contest in Palm Beach County was decided by 17 votes — and 40 absentee ballots weren't counted because signatures didn't match.

Snipes, who had her staffers trained in handwriting analysis last week, said it's natural that people's signatures change as they age, especially if they develop medical conditions. Bucher said young people change their signatures "very often."

People can – and should – contact the elections office to update their signatures on file if they've changed since they first registered to vote, Snipes said.

Other absentee ballots aren't counted because people forget to sign them entirely. But a new provision of state law, effective for 2014 elections, allows people to get signatures attached to their absentee ballot envelopes if they forget to sign them.

The [new] law requires the elections offices to monitor non-signatures and allow people who forget to sign to mail in an affidavit with a signature that will be attached to the ballot envelope.

In 2012, Bucher said, about 200 Palm Beach County absentee ballots weren’t counted because there were no signatures. She didn’t have figures for the number of ballots that weren’t counted because their signatures didn’t match.

The Palm Beach County elections office will have a feature on its website allowing people to check the status of their absentee ballots. Bucher also said she expects candidates to get in touch with voters whose ballots don’t have signatures because they’ll want potential supporters to have their votes count.

In 2012, Cooney said, 861 Broward ballots were weren't counted because they weren't signed, a number she termed "disappointingly high." Another 33 were rejected because the signatures on the ballots didn't match those on file.

The Broward elections office will send an affidavit form to every voter who submits an absentee ballot without a signature, Cooney said. "It is not automatically rejected anymore."

"Voters love casting ballots by mail, but red tape can prove challenging."