Saturday, January 09, 2016

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

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Tallahassee"

Daniel Ruth: "What you may not know is that Tallahassee is an old Seminole word for "Where's my check?" or words to that effect."

As the Florida Legislature begins this year's 60-day session on Tuesday, there will be wonderful speeches delivered by our elected representatives extolling our freedoms, pledges to work together for a better society and great huzzas about what a swell democracy we are blessed to live in.

Then Wednesday will roll around. And once again the Legislature will be transformed into the Best Little Whorehouse in Tallahassee.

"Florida has a silly law. As long as the Legislature is in session, lawmakers are prohibited from accepting campaign contributions — as if for 60 days the public is supposed to believe their elected floozies are as pure as a baby's breath and oblivious to the charms of special interest lobbyists."
So before the two-month delusion of holier-than-thou probity begins, there is the annual Associated Industries of Florida pre-session party. Togas optional. It is at this event legislators mingle with various lobbyists to share a cocktail and collect a last-minute alms. Bonhomie abounds.

There are plenty of other pre-session legalized baksheesh-fests. But the Associated Industries soiree is sort of interesting since the party is also heavily attended by a Tallahassee press corps more than happy to record for posterity which member of the Florida Legislature is in the bag for which special interests.

And then Tuesday dawns and all those Fagins, who only hours before were selling themselves out to the highest bidder, are now reconstructed as high-minded Mr. and Ms. Smiths go to Tallahassee. But not for long.

There's work to be done. And here's what to watch as the Mustang Ranch of legislatures goes about its labors. If you are big business, big sugar, big guns (really big guns), big agriculture, big development, big whatever, then you are in great shape for the 2016 session. And why not? You paid for it.

"Business as usual in Tallahassee." More: "AIF Unveils Agenda for 2016 Legislative Session."

Florida Legislature returns Tuesday

"Fresh off a year spent snared in gridlock over redistricting and the state budget, the Florida Legislature returns Tuesday for its annual 60-day session with fresh optimism that it will restore harmony to the process and put a halt to taxpayer-funded overtime." "Florida Legislature returns seeking unity despite simmering divisions."

Bondi blames her staffers

"Florida’s top law enforcement officials knew by 2012 that Millennium Laboratories, the nation’s largest drug testing company, was defrauding Florida Medicaid of millions."

But that did not stop Attorney General Pam Bondi from urging Medicare to pay for high-priced and unnecessary drug screening tests at the heart of Millennium’s massive scam, even as her own office and federal prosecutors pursued civil charges against the company.

Hours after The Post reported on the letter Friday afternoon, Bondi, who previously declined to be interviewed for this story, wrote in an email that staffers had written the letter, and that, “Knowing what I know now, The Palm Beach Post is correct that the letter should not have been sent.”

"Attorney General Pam Bondi backed testing at center of massive fraud."

The United States' generosity to Cubans has been "systematically abused"

The Sun-Sentinel: "The United States opens its doors and wallets to Cubans like no other immigrant group, but that generosity has been systematically abused." "Special Treatment."

Jeb! insists he is not a robot

"Self-described as a policy nerd and tagged as "low energy" by Donald Trump, Jeb Bush is reaching deeper to show voters the man inside as he fights for his political survival ahead of New Hampshire's Republican presidential primary." "As crunch time nears, the reserved Jeb Bush flashes emotions."

Mario Diaz-Balart to give Spanish GOP Response to SOU

Kevin Derby: "Paul Ryan Picks Mario Diaz-Balart for Spanish GOP Response to State of the Union."

"What's hot, crazy or shady about politics in the Sunshine State"

Marc Caputo: "Cruz crew fights Rubio straw man in DUMB DADE DRAMA – Jeb v. Christie -- Rick Scott’s Trump crush – Cuba did what?" "Florida Playbook."

Pelosi has Wasserman Schultz's Back

Kevin Derby: "While increasingly liberals are urging the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to throw U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., overboard, the Florida congresswoman does have a major ally on Capitol Hill in her corner." "Nancy Pelosi has Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Back at DNC."

Never Mind

"Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano casts doubt on short-term prospects of gambling compact with Seminole Tribe." "Key Florida lawmaker says passage of $3 billion gaming deal unlikely."

Meanwhile, "Seminoles preparing $500K ad buy to push passage of gaming compact."

Weekly Roundup

"Weekly Roundup: Scott Plays Trump Cards."

"Full clip of firearms-related bills"

"Florida lawmakers will enter the annual legislative session Tuesday with a full clip of firearms-related bills. And it appears a Senate committee could play a pivotal role in determining whether two of the more controversial proposals advance this year."

One of the proposals (HB 4001 and SB 68) would allow people with concealed weapons licenses to carry firearms on state college and university campuses, while the other (HB 163 and SB 300) would allow people with the licenses to openly carry guns. Both issues await decisions in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the campus-carry measure died last year.
"Florida Senate panel could hold key to fate of proposed gun laws."

Trump's love-hate relationship with Scott

"Donald Trump's love-hate Twitter relationship with Gov. Rick Scott."

Florida BOE rigs rules "to produce whatever results suit their political desires"

John Romano: "Here's what the state Board of Education did this week:"

Rescued schools, superintendents and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart from a barrage of outrage that would have surely followed had noticeably low school grades been released.

As a bonus, they managed to undermine the entire accountability system.

Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not criticizing board members. Given the hand they were dealt, I think they made the correct decision.

Unfortunately, they were put in this no-win situation by the continued zealotry of our testing-obsessed leaders in Tallahassee.

What the board essentially did was cook the books. When it became clear that the transition from one set of standardized tests to another had not gone well for either students or schools, the board chose a more lax grading standard.

In other words, they arbitrarily decided there would be half as many F-rated schools as there potentially might have been.

"Look at it this way:"
Let's say you bring your car to a mechanic, and he tells you the repair is going to cost $3,000. When you say that's ridiculous, he drops the price to $1,500. You might be much happier at $1,500, but you're never going to trust the mechanic again.

That's akin to what happened here. Education leaders have demonstrated in the past that they could rig rules and formulas to produce whatever results suited their political desires, and now they have proven it again in full view of the public.

So, yes, this is what agenda-driven education reform has wrought.

Suspicion. Confusion. Mistrust.

And an education system that continues to churn out high school students with lower college benchmark scores than most other states.

"This is typical of your state House at work."
Members have created one catastrophe after another in education, but they refuse to accept responsibility for their asinine reforms. In fact, they sometimes double down on ideas widely viewed as idiotic. (I'm looking at you Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.)

That's because they never suffer the consequences.

"State cooks the books on tests. Why ever trust them again?."