Sunday, August 10, 2014

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

"Politically-wounded governor will have his power shift to the Legislature"

"The race for governor of Florida features two leading candidates voters increasingly see as deeply flawed with campaign strategies virtually alike: Tear down the other guy at every turn."

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his likely challenger, Democrat and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom expected to win their party primaries later this month, have spent more time criticizing each other than laying out a future vision on major issues such as water, climate change, gaming, property insurance, economic policy or taxes.

The candidates, their operatives and third-party groups relentlessly drive a message that their opponent is untrustworthy, unethical or incompetent. Their campaigns eagerly amplify the mud-slinging in news releases, social media messaging and television ads, and their policy papers lack details on a host of deadlines facing the next governor will face.

Political scientists, consultants and even former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who served two terms as governor, warn that the lack of vision in the governor’s race spells trouble for Florida.

"The campagin’s negative tone is likely to alienate the state’s rapidly growing pool of unaffiliated, no-party voters, they say. If turnout is suppressed, and the third-party candidate on the November ballot gets a significant slice of the vote, the winner could be elected by less than a majority — seriously impeding the next governor’s ability to lead the state for the next four years."
“What frankly concerns me is it is going to be a very nasty election in which a lot of people will go to the polls asking which of these two bad choices is least bad,’’ said Graham, a Democrat who was elected governor in 1978 and 1982 and served three terms in the U.S. Senate. “Nobody is going to be elected with anything that could be described as a mandate to do something.”

Graham warned that if there are tough decisions before the Legislature on education, taxes, health or the environment, “neither candidate will be able to say, ‘I ran in order to accomplish these goals; the people elected me. Now, Legislature, let’s put our shoulder to the wheel and get it done.’” . . .

A politically-wounded governor will have his power shift to the Legislature, experts say.

"Nasty governor’s race spells trouble for Florida’s future."

Rich "tugging at their heartstrings"

Anthony Man: "Between now and Aug. 26, Florida Democrats need to decide if they'll go with their hearts or their minds in the race for their party's nomination for governor. Tugging at their heartstrings is Nan Rich, a lifelong Democrat and champion of just about every issue important to party members — even when it wasn't politically advantageous or popular." "Crist appears poised to win Democratic nomination, but Rich perseveres."

Start your golf carts

Kevin Derby: "Crist's running mate, Annette Taddeo, to speak to Villages Democrats."

"Worker issues dominate House race"

"A veteran state worker is challenging state Rep. Alan Williams for the chance to serve Leon and Gadsden counties in House District 8. . . . Williams, 39, is the House Democratic Whip and the head of the Legislative Black Caucus and is banking on his years of experience and his efforts in 2013 to see the Legislature pass raises for state workers for the first time in seven years. He’s also fought multiple efforts to revamp the Florida Retirement System." "State worker issues dominate House race."

Snapshot of key primary races in SoFla

"For a handful of candidates eying the state House and Senate, it’s August 26 — not November 4 — that matters most."

The August primary will determine the outcome of two South Florida races: House District 94 in central Broward County and House District 107 in northern Miami-Dade County. Because no other candidates are running in November, the winner of the Democratic primary in each race will win the seat.

In the Senate, the District 36 primary winner is all but certain to join elected colleagues in Tallahassee because only a long-shot write-in candidate is on the ballot in November.

"Here is a snapshot of key primary races in South Florida:" "Campaign cash flows in legislative races with competitive primaries."

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Farewell Summer, We Hardly Knew Ye." More: "Political Bits and Pieces." See also "Arrivals and Departures, Aug. 8, 2014."

"No respect"

Bill Cotterell: "Tallahassee lawmakers get no respect."

FlaGOP's "sheer lameness"

Adam Smith writes that, with respect to the Florida GOP's latest attack on Crist, he "can't decide whether this line of attack is more interesting for its sheer lameness or because it reflects how closely the GOP is tracking everything Crist does." "Keeping eye on Crist."

"Bought by Big Sugar"

Carl Hiaasen reminds us that, "back when he first ran for governor of Florida as a self-styled outsider, Rick Scott lambasted his opponent in the Republican primary for taking campaign money from U.S. Sugar, one of the worst corporate polluters of the Everglades."

Scott indignantly squeaked that Bill McCollum had been “bought and paid for” by U.S. Sugar. He said the company’s support of McCollum was “disgusting.”

“I can’t be bought,” Scott declared. Seriously, that’s what the man said. Stop gagging and read on.

Four years later, the governor’s re-election campaign is hungrily raking in money from U.S. Sugar, more than $534,000 so far.

"Exactly when Scott overcame his disgust isn’t clear, but in February 2013 he and undisclosed others jetted to the King Ranch in Texas for a hog- and deer-hunting junket on U.S. Sugar’s 30,000-acre lease."
Apparently this has become a secret tribal rite for some top Florida Republicans. Exposed last week by reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times, the politicians ran like jackrabbits for the hills.
"The inner circle, you see, goes unbroken."
Buying off politicians with hunting and fishing trips is an old tradition in Tallahassee, interrupted by the occasional embarrassing headline followed by flaccid stabs at reform.

Nobody believes the absurd GOP party line saying that the King Ranch hunting jaunts are “fundraisers.” They’re just free (or heavily discounted) vacations.

You really can’t blame Big Sugar or its lobbyists. They know who and what they’re dealing with; the only issue is the price.

The company has given more than $2.2 million to Republican candidates in the 2014 election cycle, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t get its money’s worth.

Taxpayers, not the sugar tycoons, remain stuck with most of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades. Every time someone tries to make the polluters pay a larger share, the idea gets snuffed in Tallahassee.

Meanwhile the politicians who could make it happen are partying in Texas with the polluters — shootin’ at critters, smokin’ cigars, sippin’ bourbon around the fire. Hell, maybe there’s even a steam bath.

These are the people controlling the fate of the Everglades. They’ve been bought and paid for, just like Rick Scott said four years ago. Now he’s one of them. His staff won’t say why he changed his mind about taking Big Sugar’s money.

Much more here: "Bought by Big Sugar in Texas."

Bondi tries to sidestep a political issue

"Florida Lawmakers’ Personal Wealth Keeps Growing."

Bondi seeks to "shelve" gay marriage as a political issue

"Attorney General Pam Bondi is asking an appeals court to put on hold two challenges to Florida's ban on same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court can rule on similar cases from other states."

But Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said Bondi, who is running for re-election this fall, is seeking to "shelve the issue of the freedom to marry because it is increasingly inconvenient for electoral politics." Bondi has drawn heavy criticism from Democrats and gay-rights supporters for defending the same-sex marriage ban.
"AG Pam Bondi wants to put the brakes on gay marriage appeals."

"The last thing Crist can afford is alienating anyone else"

Michael Mayo writes that, "given the way he's changed stripes — and positions — so frequently, you'd think Crist would be a little more humble and ingratiating when it came to the primary."

Would a token one-hour debate against Rich really have been such a burden? After all, it would have gotten Crist some free airtime in the dead summer months, a way to counteract the blitz of negative ads the Republicans are already throwing at him. And it would have sharpened his debate skills before the November main event.
"Crist should realize he's going to need every vote he can get come November, especially among hardcore liberals/progressives in Rich's backyard — Broward and Palm Beach counties — and women throughout the state. Being this dismissive of Rich can't help."
Crist is counting on Democrats forgiving and forgetting by the general election, especially when they are confronted with the specter of a second Scott term. And Crist will likely trot out some heavyweights on the campaign trail before Nov. 4, including President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. (Given the president's rising unpopularity, I don't know how wise this strategy will be, particularly among Florida's large voting bloc of independents).

The Scott-Crist race is shaping up to be a hold-your-nose election, with both candidates sporting unfavorable ratings that are high and quite stinky. Nate Silver's influential website did an analysis last week calling Scott-Crist "the least-liked pair of candidates in a governor's race [nationally] in the last 10 years."

Crist knows the general election is going to be all about the turnout. But in a strange race like this, voters might be more motivated to go to the polls to defeat the other party's candidate than to support their own.

Against this backdrop, the last thing Crist can afford is alienating anyone else.

The man who fancies himself "The People's Governor" should be working harder to win over his new party. Instead, Crist keeps giving off more reasons to doubt him.

" Crist flirts with arrogance in debut as Democrat."

Grubbing for FlaBaggers

"This should have been the best week for Jorge Bonilla’s campaign as he runs for the Republican nomination to take on Alan Grayson in November, but he was hobbled by bringing out -- and then walking back -- conservative endorsements that clashed with the leadership of the Florida GOP. "

Bonilla scored a big endorsement from conservative pundit Michelle Malkin this week. In her endorsement, Malkin talked up Bonilla, painting him in far different colors than she did Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Malkin also called out Carol Platt, Bonilla’s main primary rival, who has been endorsed by Bush. . . .

At first the Bonilla camp heralded the endorsements, sending out a fundraising email on Wednesday quoting them. But then Platt fired back, calling for Bonilla to repudiate Malkin’s and Loesch’s comments about Bush and Rubio.

"Endorsements an Issue in GOP Primary to Challenge Alan Grayson."

New Florida elections law

"A new Florida elections law [giving SOE's flexibility regarding early voting], and changes adopted by Miami-Dade and Broward, are intended to make things go more smoothly than two years ago." "Retooled early voting begins Monday in Miami-Dade."

"Mrs. Scott has mastered the arcane art of the vacant death stare"

Daniel Ruth: "Here's a tidbit about Florida first lady Ann Scott you might not know. She has a glare that could reduce Vladimir Putin to a whimpering puppy."

Mrs. Scott seemed somewhat taken aback when asked if is true she and her husband are vegetarians. "We eat a plant-based diet," she revealed.

This seemed odd. After all, if the governor is a vegetarian why in heaven's name would he accept an invitation to King Ranch in Texas for a secret event paid for with money from U.S. Sugar laundered through the Republican Party of Florida, all the while blasting away at unsuspecting animals he had no intention of eating?

Like her husband, Mrs. Scott has mastered the arcane art of the vacant death stare when asked a question she would rather not answer.

"Okie-dokie then. How about this? "
Could the first lady provide any more detail about which U.S. Sugar officials her husband palled around with while on his King Ranch reverie and what issues relevant to Florida agriculture and the environment they discussed?

Surely it was possible the big lug returned from Texas to regale his wife with hysterical stories about what cut-ups all those U.S. Sugar chaps can be. Again, a muted curtain descended as the first lady's flack tried to deflect questions about the King Ranch lobbyist-palooza to the governor's famously unresponsive campaign bunker.

This seemed odder still since the suddenly reticent Mrs. Scott was the closest thing to the Governor's Mansion and her husband's campaign in the room. She may be the spouse of the governor, but she is also Florida's First Campaign Operative, too. You would have had an easier time getting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to start yammering away from the bench.

One more? Since Rick Scott had eviscerated his Republican primary opponent, Bill McCollum, four years ago as a Florida sugar industry pawn for accepting hefty campaign contributions, wasn't it just a pinch hypocritical for her husband to accept more than $500,000 from those very same special interests in 2014?

By now Mrs. Scott was in full scornful gaze mode. Elizabeth Taylor wasn't this ticked off in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, as the first lady's flack quickly ended the all too brief press availability and hustled her away.

"Such a pity. There was so much more she could have revealed about her notoriously transparency averse husband."
For example, in the morning does the governor prefer orange juice or some 3-In-One Oil to keep all the internal gear-wheels properly lubricated?

After slashing environmental funding the past three years, now months before the November election the governor has pledged $1 billion for Everglades restoration and springs renewal but won't say where the money is coming from or provide any details of his plan. Is that something he discussed with the sugar industry during his clandestine King Ranch conga party?

At Scott family reunions, does the bloodline include Robby the Robot, 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL, Ian Holm's automaton from Alien, IBM's Watson and Michael Jackson's hologram?

Although the governor says he paid his own way to the King Ranch safari to shoot all those critters just for the fun of it, who picked up the tab for his Florida Department of Law Enforcement security detail?

"Florida's first lady answers with a glare."

Scott "sees no contradiction in the positions he has taken"

"Rick Scott swept into the Governor's Mansion fueled by his scorn for President Barack Obama's health reform law. So, when Scott announced last year that he supported expanding Medicaid — a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act — the nation was amazed."

In an interview with the Times/Herald Friday, Scott reaffirmed his support for Florida taking $51 billion in federal money to provide health insurance for up to 1 million poor Floridians. And he said he sees no contradiction in the positions he has taken.
"Scott affirms support for Medicaid expansion but sticks to pro-business principles on health policy."

"Corruption breeds more easily in isolated state capitals"

"A compelling new argument comes from a couple of academics, Filipe Campante of Harvard University and Quoc-Anh Do of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris: Corruption breeds more easily in isolated state capitals." "Tallahassee no longer fits as Florida's capital."

As long as the candidate is a GOPer

"Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters was endorsed this week by the antiabortion group Florida Right to Life, which doesn't sound surprising on the surface. Except for one thing: Less than a year ago, National Right to Life labeled her a 'pro-abortion state Rep.' and claimed she had a '100% pro-abortion voting record.'" "Florida Right to Life endorses Pinellas House member once labeled 'pro-abortion'."

"Scott's campaign still can't sync up his schedule for climatologists"

Aaron Deslatte: "There is yet another policy arena in which neither of Florida's leading gubernatorial candidates seems to keep his hands clean: the environment."

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has been touring the state to promote a new environmental plan for more spending on conservation and heftier fines for polluters. This is the same man who in 2010 campaigned on deregulating development and gutting water-management districts.

Democratic rival Charlie Crist has been touting sunshine and solar power, while — the GOP has been giddy to point out — traveling with developers on planes cited for causing pollution.

"There's a distinction between the two of us running for governor," Crist told reporters last month after meeting with climate scientists in Tallahassee. "I believe in science."

The political science suggests environmentalism can be a successful wedge issue in places where climate risk is particularly acute, such as Miami, where climatologists fear sea-level rise could risk catastrophic damage during the next century. . . .

Scott has taken a beating on environmental issues this summer, from his one-time investment in a company with ties to oil drilling in the Everglades to his refusal to meet with climatologists about global warming. Despite a weeklong tour on the environment, Scott's campaign said he still couldn't sync up his schedule for climatologists who have extended him an open invitation to brief him on global warming.

"Scott, Crist also squabble over environmental issues."

Rubio dancing as fast as he can

"Buried amid widespread calls that the young migrants fleeing to the southern U.S. border be returned home is a question of fairness with a strong Florida connection: If Cubans who flee their country are welcomed, why aren't those escaping gang violence and drug trafficking? Sen. Marco Rubio says that's a valid question, even as he thinks that most of the border children should not stay."

Cubans gets privileged status under the decades-old Cuban Adjustment Act. It has caused resentment among other immigrant groups and led to abuses. Some Cubans obtain legal residency in the United States but then travel back and forth to their homeland. And there is a growing trend of Cubans' avoiding the traditional entry via water (under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, those who are apprehended before stepping onto U.S. soil are returned) and going through Mexico.

Reuters recently reported that "more than 13,500 Cubans without the proper papers had tried to cross the southwestern U.S. border since Oct. 1, 2013, more than during all of the previous 12 months. The 12-month total was about 5,500 four years ago." They have a name: dusty-foot Cubans.

"Sen. Marco Rubio addresses U.S. policies on Cuba, migration."