Scott Maxwell writes that "things don't look good right now for Tom Feeney."
According to court papers released last week, the feds apparently have been referring to the Oviedo Republican as "Representative #3.""High anxiety? The woes of 'Representative #3'".
And that should scare him.
Because the guy previously identified as "Representative #1" is now serving time on corruption charges.
And "Representative #2" had to leave office in disgrace.
And then, last week, a congressional staffer who took the same golfing trip to Scotland in 2003 as Feeney pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.
Are the wheels coming off? The St Petersburg Times reports that he is not a target of the investigation because he never did anything for Black Jack. "Feeney insists he never helped convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but in 2003 Feeney was among several lawmakers who wrote to the Energy Department opposing changes to a federal program that also were being fought by an Abramoff client. ... Five months later, Abramoff treated a small group of people, including Feeney, to a luxury golf trip to Scotland that began with a trans-Atlantic flight on a private jet and featured twice-daily golf at world-famous locales." "Rep. Feeney sought rule change tied to Abramoff".
"The confessions of the latest aide to plead guilty in the Jack Abramoff congressional corruption scandal leave U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, in a vulnerable position. Feeney has repeatedly said he was duped into thinking his 2003 Scotland golfing trip was financed by a nonprofit think tank. But now we know the erroneous name and expense Feeney reported came from Abramoff." Feeney's flack claims
"Representative Feeney is anxious to discuss this matter further when the time is appropriate.""Rep. Feeney owes public answers, now".
If the congressman believes his constituents and a public fed up with scandal can wait until "the time is appropriate," he is mistaken. Eleven people now have been convicted in the Abramoff investigation, and Feeney is being labeled in court records as "Representative #3." He has said he was "duped and lied to, " but these records make his office look complicit.
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board says "U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney has a lot more explaining to do about his 2003 golfing trip to Scotland with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff."
According to federal prosecutors, the Scotland trip cost more than $160,000 for the eight people who went. It included trans-Atlantic travel in a private jet, luxury hotel stays, golf twice a day at St. Andrews and other famous courses, and plenty of wining and dining. If this was a fact-finding mission, we should all be so well educated."Clear the air".
Yet after the House ethics committee concluded in January that the trip had violated the rules against lobbyist-bankrolled travel, Mr. Feeney paid just $5,643 to cover his share. His spokeswoman has said he flew only one way on the trip sponsor's tab, and paid his greens fees and "a number of other personal expenses." But Mr. Feeney's cost figure matches, to the dollar, the figure Mr. Abramoff provided to all those on the trip, according to Senate investigators.
Eleven people have now been convicted in the Justice Department's probe of Mr. Abramoff, including others who took trips to Scotland with him. It's past time for Mr. Feeney to clear the air.
"It's crunch time in Tallahassee as Florida lawmakers enter the final week of the annual 60-day legislative session still needing to resolve the state's biggest issues, such as cutting property taxes and passing a $70-billion-plus budget." "Home stretch may define lawmakers".
Florida's Booming Economy
"Growing number of college graduates in South Florida classified as poor".
Keep in mind that "the property tax crisis has struck hardest with businesses, owners of vacation homes, landlords and those homeowners who want to move but feel they cannot because they will lose their accrued Save Our Homes tax benefit. That's because the Save Our Homes amendment prevents assessments on homesteads — primary residences — from rising more than 3 percent a year."
This political reality has made itself apparent each time Crist and other proponents of slashing property taxes have tried to demonstrate public sentiment."Homesteaders' perk cools public passion for Crist's tax war".
A rally at the Capitol by an anti-tax group, which advertised to draw 1,000, brought only 300, despite free transportation, T-shirts and mass-produced protest signs.
And when Crist went to Valencia Community College's east campus in Orlando last week, barely 100 came to see him. Of those who spoke out on taxes, every person was either a real estate agent, a developer, a vacation-home owner or a landlord.
South Florida Cash
"South Floridians poured more than $4 million into presidential campaign coffers in the first three months of this year, led by affluent enclaves in Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Miami." "South Florida's cash fills presidential campaign coffers".
Tit For Tat
"House-Senate talks on a state budget recessed Saturday afternoon with most major issues settled. But a stumbling block between the chambers is the Senate's desire to spend $500-million on construction-ready road projects to boost the economy. The House has expressed no interest in "Building Florida's Future," the brainchild of Sen. Dan Webster, who has been pointedly critical of the House property tax plan. (Coincidence?)" "On the road to a budget deal".
On The Shelf
"Counties and cities can double an exemption for low-income seniors. But most haven't." "A tax break stays on shelf".
"State budget negotiators reached an agreement on most budget issues Saturday, leaving one issue for the House speaker and Senate president to hash out before the roughly $71-billion spending plan hits lawmakers' desks early next week." "State budget negotiators reach agreement on all issues but one".
A Single Agency
"You can't go two days without hearing how global climate change is threatening national security, endangering Florida, creating more hurricanes, upsetting the delicate balance of Earth, or, if you prefer, a crackpot conspiracy." "Climate may be right for agency devoted to it".
Calm Before The Storm
"The Legislature is entering its final week with its most contentious issue - property tax reform - still unresolved."
The stakes are high in the reform debate. This is no time for showboating."All-Night Rush To Cut Taxes Could Cripple Cities And Counties". See also "Taxing Debate" ("House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate minority leader Steve Geller faced off on a Miami radio show last week, underscoring how intractable the talks over property tax have become.") See also "Helping whom?".
As lawmakers rush to do something before the session ends, they should focus on taxpayers who are hurting the most and do nothing to hurt the state's economy.
Meanwhile, "Negotiators aren't meeting. Homeowners are frustrated. There's one week left." "Gaps in tax plans widen".
Robert Young, associate professor of geosciences and natural resource management at Western Carolina University, and director of the internationally known Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines says "the state of Florida takes the hubris of coastal development to a new level. By tinkering with market-driven property-insurance rates, the state has elected to subsidize irresponsible coastal development and spread the risk to all Floridians. Remember the outrage when the Clinton administration flirted with the possibility of government-sponsored health care for all? Yet, in Florida there is no sense of irony that socialized property insurance to support coastal development is supported while many political leaders still ridicule the idea of socialized medicine. There is little doubt that sometime in the next decade, Floridians will find out why this gamble was fiscally irresponsible." "Business as usual on the shorelines".
The Tampa Trib editorial board: "Given Florida's skyrocketing insurance costs and the top-line taxes charged newcomers, we've developed a reputation as a high-cost, low-income state. And as a result, more people are leaving Florida than moving in."
Notice that our elected officials - aside from episodes of corporate welfare - could care less about the "low-income" part of the problem.
Today, in a piece extolling Steve Schale, political director for the House Democrats, Adam C. Smith observes that
On the surface, it's no huge surprise that Democrat Darren Soto beat Republican Tony Suarez for the state House District 49 seat. Democrat Jim Davis won that district, after all, and only about a quarter of the voters are registered Republicans. George W. Bush isn't exactly helping Republicans win elections."What happened to the circular firing squad?"
But it's also a majority Hispanic district that had been represented by a Republican, John Quinones, and which Republican fought hard to keep. Jeb Bush consistently won it, and Democratic polling showed Gov. Charlie Crist, who campaigned with Suarez, was hugely popular, and even President Bush was more popular than he is most everywhere else in the state.
What's more, Democrats usually lose special elections in large part because Florida Republicans have been so much better at banking early votes through absentee ballots and mobilizing voters. So the Democrats' 52-48 percent win was hardly a foregone conclusion.
The party that had mastered the art of circular firing squads actually worked together this time. State Democratic chairwoman Karen Thurman sent her entire field staff into the area. Another Democratic group, the Florida Mainstream Democrats, did radio spots, and the Soto campaign and state House political team dramatically stepped up its absentee ballot and voter turnout effort.
Citizens "Showdown" Looms
"With Florida lawmakers consumed this spring in debate over how to lower property taxes, talk of the state's other pocketbook crunch – the high cost of hurricane insurance – has been largely muted. But with the 2007 session entering its final week, that's about to change." "Insurance battle to heat up again".
"Florida lawmakers are poised for a last-minute showdown over Citizens Property Insurance Corp. That's the government-run insurance company once considered the state's insurer of last resort, but which now covers more than 1.3 million Floridians, many of whom live along the state's vulnerable coastlines." "Crist's proposal for Citizens draws lawmakers' opposition".
It Could Get "Dire"
"So this is a drought? Some people in South Florida may have a hard time believing it, but state water managers insist that, yes, things really are serious. And they could turn dire if the 17-month dry spell extends into the region's rainy season, normally just a month away." "Why is Florida so dry?".
Hence, "Florida is facing severe dry weather that firefighters fear could lead to the worst fire season in a decade". Yet
Union leaders say the Florida Division of Forestry's poor pay is leading rangers to seek jobs elsewhere, leaving holes to be filled and inexperienced hires in dangerous situations."Democrat: State faces forest ranger shortage".
"As the nation's housing markets continue to slump, the subprime-mortgage business is suffering a meltdown."
In Florida, nearly 93,000 subprime-loan homeowners were in the lurch as of February, according to First American. And during the previous year, the state's subprime-foreclosure rate tripled, while its delinquency rate shot up 72 percent."As 'subprime' rates shoot up, owners despair".
Florida is more exposed to the problem than the U.S. as a whole: Nearly 20 percent of all mortgages in the state were subprime as of the end of January versus 15.3 percent nationwide.
Please, No More
"Bold" "bad" Ideas
Here's to the end, finally, of "bold" ideas in Florida."Here's an idea: Find an idea that will work".
It may have started last week. Gov. Crist released his "plan" for tax reform. It wasn't big news because there was nothing new to it. In typical Crist fashion, the governor tried to please both sides by taking something from both sides. He proposed to cut local government spending by what the Republican House wants, which is more than the Senate wants. But he rejected the Republican House idea, which the full Senate doesn't like, of counties abolishing the property tax on homesteads and replacing some of the money with a higher sales tax.
In rebuffing the House, though, the governor again acted very differently from his predecessor. Jeb Bush would have embraced House Speaker Marco Rubio's sales-tax-for-property-tax swap as "bold." The ex-governor probably would have added some of the adjectives he regularly used to describe his own ideas: historic and unprecedented.
And Jeb Bush would have been right, just incomplete. The adjective he would have left out is bad.
"Florida Atlantic University is more than $20 million richer due to donations made by Barry Kaye, but the philanthropist is now using the school to pitch his business and a new industry in which investors buy life insurance policies of senior citizens." "Big donor capitalizes on FAU label". And get this:
His business is a new industry in which investors buy life insurance policies of senior citizens in hopes that they will die sooner rather than later. He is known by the ads that use the title of his latest book: You Buy You Die It Pays!"Only trustees can halt insider trading at FAU".
The problems include the business symposia the self-made millionaire conducts at FAU. They are marketed in full-page newspaper ads designed by FAU, carrying FAU's logo and Web address. He is not an FAU professor and holds no traditional Ph.D. Yet his brochures list him as an FAU professor and refer to him as "Dr. Barry Kaye."
"Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are still the leading presidential candidates in their respective parties in Florida, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll released last week. Al Gore is second among the Democrats, even though he says he's not running."
Here are all the numbers:"Rudy vs. Hillary?"
Democrats -- Clinton, 36 percent; Gore, 15 percent; Barack Obama, 13 percent; John Edwards, 11 percent
Republicans -- Giuliani, 38 percent; John McCain, 15 percent; Mitt Romney, 7 percent; Newt Gingrich, 6 percent; Fred Thompson, 5 percent.
"Ecosystem restoration projects slow as federal funds lag".
"Deadlocked over how to cut property taxes, Gov. Charlie Crist and House Speaker Marco Rubio spent part of Saturday afternoon together taking part in a male-bonding ritual: watching the NFL draft." "NFL talk lets Crist, Rubio take tax 'break'". See also "Crist drops in on Rubio for friendly visit".
Here's An Idea
Mark Lane: "When a politician -- particularly one who's a successful longtime pro and not overburdened by a lot of free-floating idealism -- recognizes that a political technique has gotten out of hand, attention should be paid." "Extending 'don't call' to politics".
Yesterday, William March reported that Charlie "is planning his first international trip as governor, a trade and diplomatic mission to Israel, for a few weeks after the end of the Florida legislative session."
The trip's purpose is to generate trade and business for Florida."Crist's Visit To Israel Has Much At Stake".
But it will have another political effect for Crist: beginning to establish his credentials not just as a Florida politician but also as a national politician.
Word of the trip comes at the same time as another development that could affect the governor's political future, proposed changes in Florida's "resign-to-run" law.
Those changes would make it possible for a Florida governor or other officeholder to run for federal office, including president or vice president, without having to resign the state office.
"Calling global warming the "defining challenge" of the 21st century, nearly 200 presidents of U.S. colleges and universities -- including five from Florida -- have signed a commitment to explore scientific and technological solutions and to make their campuses models for reducing greenhouse gases." "Campuses going green".
"The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, founded more than a decade ago to propagate a largely antiabortion, antigay message, has closed its doors." "Center propagating antigay, antiabortion message closes".
As Dubya gave a 20-minute commencement address at Miami Dade College, "hundreds of protesters gathered to protest the war in Iraq. Others demonstrated in Palm Beach County." "At Miami-Dade graduation, Bush talks immigration". See also "Immigration system broken, Bush tells grads" ("Just outside the school, an anti-war demonstration drew several hundred opposed to the president's Iraq policies.")