Saturday, May 02, 2015

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider becoming a site fan on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Gaetz doubles down on allegedly "racist" tweet

Update: Gaetz, an attorney, originally tweeted that, "'This lawsuit [which the FlaDems won] reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen. Joyner and spell-checked by Sen. Bullard.' When a firestorm erupted on both Twitter and Facebook, with fellow Republicans joining in criticizing Gaetz’s remarks, he doubled down with a comment that 'liberal members of the Senate would rather talk about a Tweet than about forcing Obamacare on Florida.'" "Joyner criticizes Gaetz’s ‘racist’ tweet."

The original story: "Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is under fire for what some view as a racist Twitter taunt against two black lawmakers, a sign the House and Senate standoff over health care funding has devolved into personal attacks."

In his Thursday afternoon tweet, Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, singled out Sens. Arthenia Joyner and Dwight Bullard, both of whom are black, out of the 13 Democratic senators who filed an emergency lawsuit challenging the House for ending its session early.

"This lawsuit reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen Joyner......and spell checked by Sen Bullard," Gaetz wrote.

Almost immediately, and through the night, tweets both supportive and angry flew at Gaetz. By Friday morning, he had been chided by fellow Republicans Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, who called for a public apology.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli apologized on his own Twitter account and defended Gaetz as "an agitator, yes, but not a racist." . . .

Gaetz has a reputation in the Capitol for his firebrand personality, put on full display on both the House floor and Twitter. In 2012, he told the Times/Herald that he has fired off a few tweets that he might have reconsidered.

"There might have been a few I wouldn't have sent if I waited 10 to 20 seconds," he said.

But Bullard, who's also chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, said he thinks Gaetz's tweet was deliberate.

"Republican lawmaker's tweet stirs accusations of racism." See also "Republican lawmaker’s tweet stirs accusations of racism" and "Rep. Matt Gaetz tweet about black lawmakers widely criticized."

"Shameful week in Tallahassee"

John Romano: "Scott has been pathetically absent as a leader. Presumably the top Republican in the state, he has been unable to get his own party to agree on a direction for more than two years. And perhaps that is fitting, since he has twice changed his own mind, conveniently veering toward moderation in the months before an election and then swinging back toward the tea party afterward."

House Republicans have been revealed as political hucksters, more interested in defeating anything associated with the president than actually serving voters.

And Democrats have too often ceded the high road by launching partisan attacks instead of taking advantage of Republican dysfunction to forge a deal.

You often hear that our leaders in Washington are inept, and the policies of the federal government are bad.

Yeah, well, I say Florida is worse.

"A shameful week in Tallahassee." There's more:

From the Tampa Tribune editors: "The regular session of the 2015 Legislature ended in chaos Friday because House leaders had quit on the session and the people of Florida. It was an ugly meltdown that was completely avoidable." "A shameful display in Tallahassee." The Gainesvile Sun editors: "Cheers and Jeers."See also The Orlando Sentinel editors: "Fla. lawmakers shouldn't drop other priorities."

House violated state constitution

"The decision by House leaders to end their legislative session more than three days early violated the state Constitution, a majority of the Florida Supreme Court said today, while ruling that it was too late to order lawmakers to return to Tallahassee."

The ruling effectively ended the 2015 regular session, which was notable for an unresolved budget controversy that caused widespread dysfunction and sharp exchanges between Republican leaders.

Justices unanimously agreed to reject an effort by Senate Democrats to force the House back into session Friday, which was scheduled to be the last day of the annual session. In their lawsuit, Democrats argued that the House’s unilateral decision to adjourn Tuesday afternoon violated a part of the Florida Constitution that reads: “Neither house shall adjourn for more than seventy-two consecutive hours except pursuant to concurrent resolution.”

But in a concurring opinion joined by four other members of the court, Justice Barbara Pariente rejected House Republicans’ argument that the 72-hour provision does not apply to adjourning “sine die” --- from the Latin phrase for “without day” --- which marks the end of a legislative session.

“That constitutional provision clearly does not permit one house to adjourn in any fashion for more than seventy-two consecutive hours without the consent of the other house,” Pariente wrote.

"Justices: House adjournment violated Fla. constitution." See also "Florida Supreme Court says House violated state constitution, but will not force them to return to Tallahassee." See also "Florida Senate president proposes special session in June to end historic budget stalemate."

Rubio strides world stage, flops

The man who can't pay his mortgage, and was once "employed by three separate law firms" from which he drew paychecks, now lectures the rest of us on international affairs: "Rubio says lifting sanctions on Iran would threaten Israel."

The Dean's List

Ed Dean: "Welcome to The Dean's List, an Ed Dean-style look at who Florida's political achievers were (and weren't) in the last seven days. What you see here is strictly my opinion, not necessarily the editor's or the rest of the staff at Sunshine State News." "Jeb Bush, Steve Crisafulli, You 'Done Good'; Ken Hagan, Buddy Dyer -- Not So."

"The governor's audacity is impressive"

Tim Nickens: "The governor's audacity is impressive, his shamelessness is without limits and his disregard for public perception remains strong."

This is the guy who helped build the nation's largest hospital chain, Columbia/HCA. He was the CEO whose empire made $1.5 billion in profit in 1996, awarded big bonuses to top executives and ruthlessly pressured low-performing hospitals to generate more revenue.

And now in the midst of a political stalemate over health care for low-income Floridians, the governor wants to create a commission to investigate hospital profits and health care costs.

This is the former hospital executive who resigned as the Justice Department investigated his company. That company later pleaded guilty to felony charges and paid a record fine for Medicare fraud.

And now the governor says Medicaid is a flawed program and the federal government cannot be trusted.

This is the wealthy lawyer who moved to Florida just seven years before he ran for the state's highest office. He financed his hostile takeover of the state in 2010 with more than $70 million from his tainted health care fortune, and he threw in millions more at the last minute in 2014 when it appeared he might not win re-election.

And now the governor does not want to provide 800,000 low-income Floridians health coverage and is going after hospitals that support accepting federal Medicaid expansion dollars.

So give Scott credit.

As my mother used to say in a certain tone of voice, that takes some nerve.

"Nickens: Give Gov. Rick Scott credit; he has some nerve."

Payday lending creeps

"President Obama has called for new regulations on the payday lending industry, which consumer advocates call predatory, but Congressional leaders from Florida say the state’s existing laws are working well." "Florida Congressional delegation criticizes proposed rules on payday lending."

The four governors who preceded Bush had better or comparable job creation numbers

Adam C. Smith writes that Jeb Bush would have voters overlook that the

four governors who preceded Bush — Lawton Chiles, Bob Martinez, Bob Graham and Reubin Askew — could boast of better or comparable job creation numbers.

We can only speculate whether President George W. Bush would have been able to so easily oversee an 80 percent increase in federal spending were the tea party a political force during his eight years. Or whether criticism of some of Jeb Bush's budget priorities would have been a lot louder at the time.

But there's no question Jeb Bush is vulnerable to attacks on his record as a fiscal conservative. Here are four reasons: . . . .

Read them here: "What you don't know about Jeb Bush's economic record."

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Everybody's Working for the Wednesday."

Grubbing for dollars

"With a billion-dollar battle forcing the legislative session off the rails, lawmakers are in the unique position of being able to hold political fundraisers just before they meet in a special session to approve the state’s nearly $80 billion budget."

Legislative rules don’t allow lawmakers to raise political money during the state’s two-month legislative session. House members officially ended their session on Tuesday, while the Senate formally adjourned Friday.

As long as the chambers are not in, members can raise money for their campaigns and political committees, which can accept unlimited contributions, up until the point a special session begins. A health care funding fight prevented lawmakers from passing a state budget during regular session. They will return this summer to hammer out a deal before the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

Some lawmakers have urged caution over holding fundraisers leading into a budget vote because it looks bad — some who helped them raise money may return during the special session to ask them to support legislation. But with the rising cost of campaigns and expanding election cycles, many lawmakers are not likely to wait to raise campaign money.

"Special session raises fundraising questions."

"Clock running down for blackjack"

"Time could be running out to play blackjack in Tampa, Immokalee and at other casinos run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida." "Clock running down for blackjack at state’s Seminole casinos."

Scott likes this federal "handout"

Nancy Smith: "The massive Energy and Water Appropriations bill for the next fiscal year, which passed the U.S. House 240-177 Friday, makes a big winner of the Florida Everglades. It earmarks $123 million for repair and restoration efforts within this national treasure, one of the largest wetlands in the world." "Everglades Scores Big in House Appropriations Bill -- But, Cross Your Fingers."

"Bush's actions are allowing him to effectively flout all campaign laws"

Only when and if Jeb Bush becomes an official candidate will he be able to raise $2,700 "from each donor in 'hard money' for his campaign committee. His super PAC can continue to rake in record sums, but that will be sans Bush, who legally won't be allowed to coordinate with the super PAC (though it is expected to be run by advisers clued into the official campaign's thinking.)"

Even if Bush admitted he was "testing the waters" -- a Federal Elections Commission term for candidates who are gauging support for a future run -- he would still be subject to that $2,700 cap.

But campaign-finance critics and Democrats eager to charge impropriety are shouting that Bush's actions are allowing him to effectively flout all campaign laws. After all, they say, Bush has hired top-level staff, locked down influential donors and volunteer fundraisers, and traveled around the country to deliver policy speeches that surely will resemble the rhetoric spoken when he sheds his coyness.

"If Jeb walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, he should raise money like a duck," said David Donnelly, the president of the pro-reform group Every Voice. "Jeb Bush is remaking campaign finance law before our eyes."

On Monday, the liberal American Democracy Legal Fund asked the FEC to investigate Bush for violating existing law. In March, leading campaign finance groups filed their own complaints against Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland likely to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nod.

Yet with the FEC stalled by a 3-3 partisan split, few expect it to reach the consensus needed to penalize any candidate.

"Why Jeb Bush isn't running for president."