Sunday, November 23, 2014

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

Disclosed E-Mails Expose GOPer Shenanigans

"More than 500 pages of emails kept secret during an ongoing redistricting legal battle shed light on the behind-the-scene efforts by a handful of GOP political consultants to influence Florida’s political lines, according to documents obtained by the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau."

They highlight, among other things, an early plan that would have drawn the then-longest serving GOP member of Congress out of office, the admission that former state Sen. John Thrasher did not live in his district, and a strategy to use a well-known GOP consultant to recruit people to submit maps as part of the formal process.
"The documents are scheduled to be made public on Dec. 1, but the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau obtained copies of the 538 pages."
The stars of the emails are [Pat Bainter, the founder of Data Targeting], Rich Heffley, a consultant who advised the Republican Party of Florida on redistricting matters, Frank Terraferma, who led the party’s House redistricting efforts, and Anthony Pedicini, a Tampa-based political consultant. . . .

The emails also indicate that Stafford Jones, a political consultant and head of the Alachua County Republican Party, recruited people to submit maps drawn by political consultants as part of the formal state process.

“I can direct Stafford to have his people send these maps via email,” wrote Matt Mitchell, a firm staffer, in an Oct. 17, 2011 email to Bainter.

It was a reference to sending maps to the redistricting email address setup by the state for public submissions. That chatter referred to state Senate maps, but it did follow a pattern that was laid out during the trial focused on congressional districts.

Heffley and Terraferma both testified that maps they drew were identical to those submitted by members of the public. That includes a map submitted by Alex Posada, a former FSU student, who became a star witness during the trial.

"Emails reveal GOP consultants’ plans to redraw voter lines."

A Seminole (and Brevard) County Thing

"The 18th Judicial Circuit is small. It's made up of Seminole and Brevard counties and has just 43 judges, about 4 percent of the state's total, yet there's one area where it leads the state: Judges formally charged with ethics violations." "Small judicial circuit has big problem with judges in Central Florida."

Just Another Day at the Office

Sit back and enjoy your morning coffee, reading about how our courageous lawmakers are "likely to try again on pension reforms; by the way, yesterday morning a "deputy was ambushed and killed by a gunman while responding to [a fire in Tallahassee]. A second deputy was shot and injured before the man was shot and killed by Tallahassee Police Department officers who provided assistance." "Leon County Sheriff's deputies shot in ambush."

Update: "Deputy Chris Smith killed in ambush."


Carl Hiaasen: "Predators follow prey to Florida" (subscription only).

Hypocritical Rubio blasts Obama's support of his bill

"Even before President Barack Obama's speech on immigration Thursday night, GOP voters weren't thrilled that Sen. Marco Rubio, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, had supported legislation calling for comprehensive immigration reform — including a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally."

"Rubio was a co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would grant legal status to some 11 million undocumented immigrants, toughen enforcement of rules against overstaying work and student visas, and double the number of border patrol agents. That's the same bill that Obama castigated House leaders for failing to bring up for a vote."

Yet the hypocritical "Rubio blasted the president's announcement Thursday, saying it will make compromise much harder." "Obama's immigration order could cause problem for Rubio."


The Tampa Tribune editorial board worries that "competing interests are now threatening to either weaken or eliminate the compact as the five-year [gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe] giving the Seminoles exclusivity for those games nears its end. When they meet next year, lawmakers should resist the pressure from out-of-state casino interests and work with Gov. Rick Scott to renew the Seminole Compact." "Lawmakers should respect the Seminole gaming pact."

45 percent of Florida households face "ongoing financial hardship"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board points out that Scott's attention to job growth has been good for both his political career, "yet a recent, thorough report -- a project of United Ways in Florida and five other states -- offers a stark reminder that having a job does not ensure economic survival."

The report is the product of a wide-ranging study by the ALICE Project. The acronym stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained, Employed.

One purpose of the study is to determine how many people who are employed consistently struggle to afford the basic costs of living -- housing, care for family members (children and seniors), food, transportation, health care, taxes and some miscellaneous expenses.

The answers are: a lot and too many, especially in Florida.

In our state, the ALICE Project found, 30 percent of households earn less than what's needed to reach a "household survival budget" -- an average of $47,000 annually for a family of four.

Add in the 15 percent of Florida families with incomes below the federal poverty level -- about $23,000 for a family of four -- and a total of 45 percent of our state's households face ongoing financial hardship.

"The project found that, in 2012 (the latest year for which comparable data was available), 54 percent of the jobs in Florida paid $15 per hour or less. That percentage was the highest of the six states in the study; the others were Indiana, Michigan, California, New Jersey and Connecticut. Furthermore, Florida and Indiana had the highest percentages (69 each) of jobs that paid $20 or less."
Clearly, then, one of the challenges for Florida is to generate not only more jobs, but jobs that pay higher wages.
"Jobs are not enough."

FlaGOP to go after Deputies, Firefighters and Teachers' Retirements

Disappointing to see Bill Cotterell fall into the "pension reform" trap. It ain't "reform" unless the change leads to "an improved form or condition." The Florida Legislature has no intention to "improve" FRS, and Cotterell should know that. Using the word "reform," instead of - say - "deform," falls into the FlaGOP spin-trap.

In any event, Cotterell writes that "we will hear more about the Florida Retirement System in the 2015 legislative session. This time, though, it appears that legislators are not going to let their wishes get in the way of their political capabilities."

Shortly after formally assuming his office, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said last week that he has heard from some members who remain interested in overhauling the FRS. Whether anything happens next March, when the session convenes, will depend on the Senate – where past pension proposals have died.

The situation is this: The FRS has a $22 billion unfunded liability, with assets equal to about 86 percent of its overall liabilities. Legislators put up $500 million a year to keep the system going, and the conservative Republicans who run the House and Senate (and governor) would like to use that money for other things — schools, ports development, environmental restoration or (what really makes their hearts go pitter-patter) more tax breaks for the folks who write campaign contribution checks.

Words like “unfunded liability” sound scary, but the FRS is not in any trouble. Actuaries consider anything above 80 percent to be a healthy funding ratio. It’s a little like your home mortgage — if you had to pay it off tomorrow, you might have a problem, but that’s not going to happen.

"Lawmakers likely to try again on pension reforms."

"Lawmakers refuse to revise idiotic provision"

The Tampa Trib editors write that "lawmakers have no one but themselves to blame for this mess. A measure that allows a write-in candidate to close what should be a universal primary open to all voters is the source of this farce. Yet lawmakers refuse to revise the idiotic provision." "Change stupid write-in law."