The Orlando Sentinel is starting to put a little heat on the home town Congressman: "When U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney first told Congress about a 2003 golf junket he took with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Oviedo Republican named a conservative think tank called the National Center for Public Policy Research as the trip's sponsor."
In the years since -- and as recently as January -- the think tank's directors said it played no role in the Scotland visit.Poor little wingnut, Amy Ridenour, president of NCPPR,
But congressional records show a direct link between the Washington-based policy group and a foundation identified by Senate investigators as Abramoff's personal "slush fund" that he used to evade taxes and lavish luxuries on his friends on Capitol Hill.
The NCPPR was nothing more than a "front organization" for Abramoff, who was one of its officers until 2004, according to an October minority report from Democrats on the Senate Finance committee.
could not be reached for comment this week after repeated attempts by the Orlando Sentinel. She previously told Congress that Abramoff deceived her about the money transfers.And when will the silk stocking lawyers at Florida's own Greenburg Traurig be called to account for this?
In 2005, Ridenour told Congress that Greenberg Traurig -- Abramoff's former law firm -- sent her center $1.5 million in 2003. Abramoff then gave Ridenour specific instructions to route the money to two organizations he ran, including $250,000 to the Capital Athletic Foundation.Read about it all here: "Paper trail links D.C. think tank to 'slush fund'".
More on the delightful folks at Greenberg here and here.
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Among the latest to claim the 'I was stupid, not corrupt' defense is Florida Congressman Tom Feeney."
Playing dumb is Rep. Feeney's only defense as, after a lull, the feds press the Abramoff case again. Court documents unveiled last week in another branch of the Abramoff scandal describe Rep. Feeney as "Representative No. 3." Representative No. 1 was Bob Ney, R-Ohio, another Abramoff golf buddy and traveling companion who last year pleaded guilty to taking bribes. Representative No. 2 was Tom DeLay, R-Texas, yet another high-flying duffer who resigned from Congress after being indicted in a different scandal."'Representative No. 3'".
Moreover, a congressional aide who accompanied Abramoff and Rep. Feeney on the [Scotland golf] trip just became the 11th person to plead guilty or be convicted in the Abramoff scandal. Rep. Feeney says he didn't know that Abramoff paid for the trip, a violation of House rules, even though Abramoff's firm e-mailed Rep. Feeney's staff instructions to list the trip's cost at $5,643.
And Rep. Feeney says he didn't know that figure was way low - investigators have put the average cost per participant at $20,000 - even though the group flew to Scotland on a private jet and got lavish meals and golf at the exclusive Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
Rep. Feeney has said that he flew just one way on the jet, paid some expenses himself and was "duped and lied to." He also says that he never did anything for Abramoff. But the St. Petersburg Times reported that in 2003, before being invited on the golf trip, Rep. Feeney wrote the Energy Department opposing a rule change that an Abramoff client also sought to kill. Rep. Feeney's office said it would discuss that when the time is "appropriate." Which is something his behavior was not.
"Sent to the governor". See also "Session's end is an 'anticlimax'", "It's over, but incomplete", "Crist notches wins, but tax reform stalls", "Legislature adjourns without property tax reform", "Session ends with key bills but no property-tax deal", "Notable yeas and nays", "Crist gets some items on wish list", "For lawmakers, the hard work lies unfinished", "What got done, and what didn't", "2007 legislative session ends without property tax fix", "Numerous bills die as legislative session ends quietly", "Easy work is done for state", "Session's end more like recess than finale" and "Summing up the session".
Wingers Upset With Charlie
"Crist is continuing to get more and more national attention, but the latest bits may not help his relationship with conservatives, which already is showing initial signs of strain."
First, there’s a Time magazine profile in the magazine’s latest issue that bluntly proclaims, "Crist is no Jeb Bush. In fact, his record so far is undoing much of what the younger Bush son started.""To put some icing on that cake,"
former Pres. Bill Clinton sent Crist a hand-written note recently praising and thanking Crist for his initiative to restore voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences.The knuckle draggers that run the RPOF ain't happy:
"Thanks for your leadership in restoring voting rights to convicted felons once they’ve served their sentences," the former president wrote April 22. Clinton called it the "right ... thing to do" and noted he was speaking as a former Arkansas attorney general.
Conservatives have already started to grumble — mostly on background, not in public — that Crist is acting too moderate, too bipartisan."Crist Gets National Attention But It May Not Please Conservatives".
The Time piece posits that "the presidential candidates from both parties will soon be showing up at Crist's door, where they will find a new power broker both parties can talk to." "Florida Governor Charlie Crist is no Jeb Bush".
Wildfires and Hip Hop
We're sure the "weary" "Division of Forestry firefighters helping with the massive wildfires in southern Georgia [who] were ordered to return to the state Wednesday to help quell the outbreaks in Florida" appreciate the Legislature giving them a zero percent wage increase (and crummy "bonuses" instead). "State works to contain Florida wildfires"
This insult, while Marco Rubio is "dancing to hip-hop and salsa under strobe lights, along with dozens of other lawmakers at a celebration that ran into the wee hours."
Steve Bousquet writes that "politics in Florida may never be the same."
The credit, or blame, rightly belongs to Sen. Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg."What's the real-life impact of Justice's little amendment?"
Some deft maneuvering by the mild-mannered Justice opened a giant loophole in the resign-to-run law. He got it accomplished with six words.
From now on, "persons seeking any federal public office" won't have to resign from one office to run for another.
Justice, a freshman Democrat, reacted to a narrower Republican loophole that would exempt only those running for president or vice president, a move interpreted to let Gov. Charlie Crist run for VP in 2008.
But, Justice reasoned, why limit it to the White House?
"I would say, Congressmen beware, " said Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, the bill's sponsor. "Anyone with a four-year term could run for Congress without having to resign from their current post."See what Bousquet means in "Six words may set off legislative stampede".
The change will embolden politicians who hold four-year terms to run for Congress, secure in the knowledge that even if they lose, they keep their old seats.
The change won't help state House members, who serve two-year terms, because the law still says that no one can run for two public offices at the same time.
Is this good for democracy? Yes and no.
"Tallahassee ticker" See also "Highlights of Legislation" and "Only one issue going to voters: Should 'alien land laws' die?".
"More than 700,000 Florida children lack health insurance of any kind. That's why it was so frustrating to see bickering and bungling kill an attempt to take down barriers in the Florida KidCare program." "Children without net".
"A last-minute deal to add slot machines at about 10 parimutuels around the state is effectively dead this session". "Patent bill goes to gov without slots amendment".
Mark Lane: "You start with tax relief, but somehow end up with casinos".
"House Speaker Marco Rubio ended the 2007 legislative session dancing to hip-hop and salsa under strobe lights, along with dozens of other lawmakers at a celebration that ran into the wee hours." "Session ends in low-key style".
Will They Come?
"Will the Democratic presidential candidates campaign in Florida in spite of a boycott that might be imposed by national Democratic Party?"
When we put that question to the three leading candidates, Hillary Clinton gave what sounded like a yes."If We Hold A Primary, Will They Come?".
But the two men in the race, John Edwards and Barack Obama—well, maybe they’re afraid of commitment.
"Florida’s push to move it’s primary up isn’t sitting well with other states.
South Carolina, Michigan and New Hampshire are all talking about moving their elections up even sooner now. The New York Times reports that William Gardner, New Hampshire's secretary of state, would not rule out moving the state’s primary to sometime in December if need be to get back ahead of Florida and other states moving up. In Iowa, the decision is producing a similar response. Both the Democrats and Republicans say they’ll move there primaries closer to New Year’s if the they have to. Iowa’s state law requires that state to be the first presidential selection contest." "December primaries?"
"Measures that could have required a waiting period for women seeking an abortion and helped judges decide when to let girls have the procedure without telling their parents both failed Friday in the waning hours of the legislative session." "Senate, House give up on abortion measure" See also "Abortion measures die after late debate", "Victory turns into defeat for Storms", and "Lawmakers can't reach a consensus on abortion bill".
"Lawson was unanimously elected to succeed Geller after the 2008 legislative session. He has been in the House and Senate since 1982 and will be the longest-serving legislator in either party in the 2008-10 term. Meanwhile, the House Democrats chose Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, as their leader for the next term." "Big Democrat in Senate chosen as new minority leader"
News Flash: Developers To Fill Campaign Coffers of Local Pols
"The compromise was greatly watered down from an original version that critics say would have stripped the State Department of Community Affairs of much of its power to regulate growth. Instead, the measure creates a pilot program that would make it easier for developers in Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami, Hialeah and Broward and Pinellas counties to avoid state review and meet concurrency regulations that mandate sufficient roads, schools and utilities to matchgrowth. " "State gives urban areas chance to rein in sprawl". See also "Program would speed growth in some areas".
"When Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani came to the home county of Terri Schiavo last month,"
he said he supported the controversial effort by Congress to intervene to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive."Giuliani flips on Schiavo case".
But now it's not so clear where he stands on the Schiavo case.
In a televised presidential debate Thursday night, Giuliani suggested the Schiavo controversy should have been left to the courts.
In the meantime, "Mitt Romney tries to avoid offending Jeb Bush: 'In the case here, the courts decided what they thought was the right thing to do. And then I think Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature did the right thing by saying, We've got a concern." "Schiavo politics". See how the GOPers dance in "Terri Schiavo and presidential politics".
"Now for sale and lease: Certain toll roads and future state roads in Florida. The House on Friday signed off on a sweeping transportation bill that allows private companies to take over control of some existing roads and build planned roads - and charge tolls to pay for them." "House approves toll-road measure".
"The Legislature has quietly overhauled the way attorneys are paid to represent poor people, creating a new system that courthouse regulars say is underfunded and will leave many impoverished defendants and families without competent attorneys." "Legal plan for poor faulted".
The One Job Mel Can't Have Handed To Him
"Change the U.S. Constitution so Cuba-born Mel Martinez can run for president? No, said several of the 10 Republican presidential hopefuls when asked that question during their Thursday night debate in California. Thumbs down, as well, to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who like Florida’s Sen. Martinez is not eligible. " "Sorry, Mel And Ahnuld—Candidates Oppose Amendment".
Now That Jebbie's Gone ...
"The spirit of cooperation between former political opponents and among branches of government that has been fostered by Gov. Charlie Crist is paying dividends."
Thanks largely to the leadership of Bob Butterworth, Crist's secretary of the Department of Children and Families, there is now communication and collaboration in quickly getting these mentally troubled inmates who are incompetent to stand trial into an appropriate placement setting, whether that be in community control or a state hospital."Partners, not rivals".
This intelligent and compassionate approach will ultimately save Florida taxpayers money while maintaining public safety. It is certainly a far cry from the prior DCF administration, which was facing contempt charges and fines for failing to move mentally ill inmates out of local jails and into mental health facilities within the law's 15-day limit. ...
It has been a long time since Florida public officials in various branches and levels of government offered each other goodwill and a desire to work in a partnership toward mutual goals. Everyone will benefit from this attitude adjustment, particularly the state's most vulnerable populations.
"A key provision among the more than 70 in this bill is the expansion of Citizens' operations. No longer is the state-run company the insurer of last resort. It now can compete with private insurers in Florida." "Citizens to freeze rates, can now spread risk upstate". See also "State freezes insurance rates" and "State lets Citizens insurer become more competitive".
Meanwhile, "a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing inland Florida lost a bid on the House floor to strip government-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. of its ability to tax even non-Citizens customers when it needs money to pay claims following a hurricane." "Inland-Coastal Insurance Fight".
No-Fault to Expire; Insurance Companies Thrilled
"Florida's controversial no-fault auto insurance law will expire Oct. 1 with no action by lawmakers who couldn't agree on significant reforms. ... Major insurers including State Farm, Allstate Floridian and Nationwide are happy to see the no-fault law go away. " "Many plans, but no more no-fault law". See also "No-fault insurance set to expire".
"In a session in which frustrated lawmakers delayed for a month their quest for property tax relief, they got a version for those who make renewable energy choices." "Go green, get a property-tax break".
"Amid a sobering mix of environmental, economic and security concerns, Florida lawmakers Thursday signaled loud and clear that the Sunshine State is about to grow greener." "Greener pastures".
"The Last Laugh"
It is becoming di rigeur to have a chuckle or two at Jebbie's expense:
It was just six months ago that then-Gov. Jeb Bush accused Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell of having a "judicial temper tantrum," for fining state officials for not moving mentally ill jail inmates to hospitals."Judge chided by Bush awarded for stand".
But Farnell, whose independence was honored by the Clearwater Bar Association on Friday, may have the last laugh.
"All I've got to say is, eat your heart out, Jeb Bush, " Farnell said after accepting the George W. Greer Judicial Independence Award.
"Before calmer heads prevailed and lawmakers put the brakes on their mad rush to slash property taxes, it was clear that few in the Legislature had carefully thought through the effects of a one-size-fits-all plan to roll back tax rates. Unfortunately, both House and Senate proposals would hurt community redevelopment agencies -- so-called CRAs. These were created to ensure that taxpayers, often businesses, that benefit from specific government services pay for them." "Apply logic".
"The Legislature unanimously approved a proposal to randomly test high school athletes for anabolic steroids -- but only in three sports." "Steroid tests win approval". See also "Steroid testing bill on way to governor's office".
William March reminds us that, notwithstanding the early primary, "it really is early 2007, and the 2008 presidential race is in full swing, especially in Florida." "In Election News, '07 Is The New '08".
"The Florida Marlins stadium bill: Dead again. And as usual, the blame rests on the state Senate, where the plan has died five out of six times." "Marlins strike out on stadium subsidy". See also "Marlins ballpark effort snagged again in Florida Legislature".
The Other Election "Reforms"
Aside from paper trails, resign to run and the early primary, the Legislature "reformed" election law in several other important ways:
- a penalty that would fine outside groups registering voters if they don't promptly return forms to election officials."Paper trail, primary not the only parts of election bill".
- a requirement that write-in candidates live in their district to qualify for office. The provision by state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, is designed target candidates that enter races as write-ins to force a closed primary. For example, last year a write-in candidate prevented Democratic and Independent voters from casting ballots in the heated Republican primary between state Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, and former Miami-Dade school board member Frank Bolanos.
"Students at public elementary schools throughout the state will be required to take 30 minutes a day of physical education." "Daily gym class mandated for elementary students". See also "Lawmakers sign off on more physical education for students".
"Exciting possibilities are on the horizon after the Legislature unanimously approved a bill creating a seven-county transportation authority." "Regional Transport Breakthrough".
Manicure Protection Act
"In an effort to strengthen consumer protections, Florida legislators have approved a bill requiring nail-salon specialists and other cosmetology professionals to undergo hundreds of hours of additional education, training and testing before applying for a license to practice." "Nail salon bill awaits governor's approval".
Poor Little Marco
"100 ideas not done? It's the Senate's fault".
"State water managers want citizens to re-think their relationship with fertilizers and pesticides. They would like you to consider 'Florida Friendly' landscapes with drought-tolerant vegetation, plants grouped according to water demands, a layer of thick mulch, and a limited amount of turf grass. These landscapes dramatically reduce the need for fertilizer and irrigation." "How Green Does A Lawn Need To Be?"