"This one guy did not drink his mint juleps in a vacuum"
Howard Troxler: "There's a little scandal at our state Public Service Commission. It's real, but a bit overblown — a distraction. There is more going on."
The scandal is that a top PSC staffer attended a Kentucky Derby party in May at the home of an executive of Florida Power & Light in Palm Beach Gardens.Troxler writes that "the tut-tutting in Tallahassee about this staffer — including one PSC member calling loudly for his head — is ironic and amusing."
Off and on over the past three decades, since the PSC became an appointed instead of elected body, we've had scandal after scandal. This one guy did not drink his mint juleps in a vacuum.He explains here: "PSC's Ryder Rudd is tip of iceberg".
We've had PSC members going skiing with utility executives. PSC members having romances with utility employees. PSC members reading, word for word, opinions supplied to them by utilities.
Let me stress that none of the current commissioners has been linked to such no-nos. The more interesting issue is what's permitted.
More: "The Times/Herald has learned that three aides to Florida utility regulators repeatedly gave private BlackBerry messaging codes to a power company executive, potentially allowing the utility to communicate directly with them outside of public view and without leaving a paper trail." "PSC staffers, FPL executive had BlackBerry connection".
Getting ready for Labor Day
Long time readers know that each labor day we post something called "The Annual Labor Day Insult" about how Florida's media use Labor Day as the opportunity to either ignore, if not outright slam, Florida's labor movement. Here're the 2007 and 2008 versions.
We will do the same tomorrow morning, but wanted to give a head's up about a - get this - relatively uninsulting editorial scheduled to be in print tomorrow morning, by the overrated The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board, no less. Here's a taste:
The government also needs to protect those hard-won victories that the American workforce, and especially organized labor, brought to society: the 40-hour work week, job site safety rules, child welfare protection, family leave and medical and pension benefits. These compacts that many take for granted not only enabled generations of families to live dignified lives, they also built the civic fabric of communities that made America the hallmark of democracy and opportunity. In that sense, today's holiday is a day to look forward, to recognize that the American worker has always been industrious enough to grow with the changing times."Labor for a new era".
The editors almost ... but not quite ... used the word "union".
Lay down with dogs ...
"When Congress reconvenes Tuesday to consider overhauling the nation's health care system, few states will have more at stake than Florida. And few will have less of a voice."
Despite boasting the nation's fourth-largest population, Florida is suffering a national power failure. While its population has nearly doubled since 1980, Florida's influence in Congress is at a low ebb, ranking beside states such as Nebraska, Idaho and Wyoming.There is a reason for all this - when you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas:
In the House of Representatives, where constant turnover has depleted the state's seniority, not one of the 25-member Florida delegation is in a major leadership position or chairs a single committee from which legislation such as health care reform is being constructed.
In the Senate, the picture is even bleaker. After Mel Martinez became the first Florida senator in 100 years to voluntarily quit in the middle of his first term, the state is shorthanded with just one elected member.
To replace Martinez, Gov. Charlie Crist chose George LeMieux, who has never served in elected office and will enter the 100-member Senate as the least influential.
Overall, Florida ranks 47th out of 50 states, according to a Herald-Tribune analysis combining seniority in the House and Senate with influence rankings assembled by the nonpartisan Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
Florida may have suffered as much as anything by placing its bets on the wrong partisan horse."Florida Lacks Clout in Congress".
Through redistricting, Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature has created Republican districts.
Florida has 15 Republicans in the House to just 10 Democrats, despite the fact there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida.
The state has five Republicans who have been in the House at least 15 years. That paid off when Republicans ruled Washington, but with Democrats now in control the state has far less influence because only two Democrats have more than 15 years of service in Congress.
Related: "Stearns' House seat unassailable" ("The Democratic Party appears to have thrown in the towel in trying to oust U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns in next year's election.")
Let "freedom" ring!
"An analysis of more than 7,000 inspections finds that central Florida's hotels and motels have little to fear from the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants, which largely relies on the honor system to get hoteliers to fix problems ranging from mold to falsified rates." "Fla. officials battle over growing bedbug problems".
Thank goodness Florida's entrepreneurs enjoy "freedom" in the form of little government restraint over their endless can do spirit. No Atlases shrugging here in the Sunshine State
"After all, he is black"
"Lake County School Superintendent Susan Moxley has banned broadcast of President Barack Obama's live nationwide address to schoolchildren on Tuesday."
In an e-mail to principals and School Board members, Moxley said parents can find the video online and watch it at home with their children if they want."Lake, Osceola school superintendents ban Obama address to children". See also "Indian River schools alone on Treasure Coast in not allowing schools to air Obama's live address to students".
In the e-mail, Moxley pointed to a district policy that says cooperation with federal agencies "shall not be at the expense of district level or local school programs." ...
It's the second Central Florida district to ban the president's address to students, in which he is expected to encourage children to stay in school and strive for achievement.
Osceola Superintendent Michael Grego, using almost identical language in a message on the district's Web site, said students will not watch the president's speech live because of "limitations on our bandwith."
"A campaign fueled by deep pockets and simplistic rhetoric"
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "In a campaign fueled by deep pockets and simplistic rhetoric, a shadowy business group tied to Texas oilmen is peddling its push to drill off Florida's beaches as a call for patriotism, energy independence and fiscal prudence. Even more depressing, many politicians in Tallahassee are falling for it." "Don't let this come to Florida's shores".
Meantime, "Bob Graham has watched the politics of offshore drilling flip 180 degrees in recent years. Any hint of easing restrictions on drilling off Florida's coast used to be political suicide, but these days Republican leaders in Tallahassee are clamoring to embrace drilling." "Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham tries to chill state GOP's ardor for oil".
SBA asleep at the wheel (again)
"This is the story of how the Florida board that invests public money bet $250 million on a huge Manhattan real estate deal and lost every last penny of it."
On top of the money lost, Florida paid $16 million in fees to real estate developers, bankers and Wall Street money managers who persuaded the state to make the deal."Ill-fated real estate deal costs Florida $266 million".
State elected leaders with potential influence over the pension funds' investments received campaign contributions from some of those same corporate giants. And state pension managers in the real estate unit got performance bonuses. ...
Last Tuesday, Sink brought up the real estate deal at a public meeting in Tallahassee.
"In the dour, self-serious world of the Florida Capitol, Nancy Argenziano has stood out for more than a decade as a cantankerous rebel willing to call her boss a 'lunatic' and send fertilizer to a lobbyist who crossed her. The former lawmaker is making waves again as one of the five members of the Public Service Commission." "Argenziano still ruffling feathers in Tallahassee".
Game over, man
"Florida Power & Light, embroiled in a controversial hearing to raise electric rates, says part of the 30 percent increase would pay for a new $31 million corporate jet to replace a 10-year-old jet in its three-aircraft fleet."
FPL executives hastened to explain that the bill for the new jet would be offset by trading in the old one for $18 million, leaving customers responsible for $13 million of the tab."FPL would buy a new jet with rate increase".
A handful of FPL executives are allowed to use the corporate jet for personal use, company officials said. Among them is CEO Armando Olivera, who told regulators that he used the plane for the Tallahassee hearing and often uses the company helicopter to travel between his hometown of Miami and his company's headquarters in Juno Beach.
When asked if he used the company helicopter to get to work, he said, "not all the time, but generally.''
Bills" err, fries ... err, fools
Aaron Deslatte: "With state tax revenues stuck in the toilet, the ever more politically charged chore of getting noticed and racking up accomplishments before the next election is set to collide with President Barack Obama's agenda."
Central Florida GOP lawmakers are planning to combine vocal opposition to Obama's health-care initiative with the right's fears that the president is coming after their guns and freedom. They're called the "Freedom Bills.""Can Florida opt out of federal health care?".
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and state Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, have filed a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 37) that aims to let Florida businesses and residents opt out of whatever federal health-care plan Congress passes.
Whether a state can legislatively trump a federal mandate like health care is likely something the courts would have to decide, should three-fifths of the Legislature and then 60 percent of voters approve the amendment.
"The most serious fight either party has had in 40 years"
"Marco Rubio needs 600,000 Republican voters, and he thinks he can find a lot of them at the tea-party tax protests and raucous town-hall meetings on national health care."
For an under-funded underdog, running for the U.S. Senate against a popular governor with a track record of three easy statewide wins, Rubio's task is daunting. But experienced political observers see his challenge to Gov. Charlie Crist as the most serious fight either party has had in 40 years — since Gov. Claude Kirk was forced into a runoff and ultimately defeated in 1970."Rubio seeks support at town hall".
Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "By law, a census is conducted every 10 years, as it will be in 2010. Federal, state and local political districts across the country -- from U.S. Senate and House seats to city councils -- will be redrawn accordingly. Federal and state constitutions, including Florida's, call for electoral districts to be balanced evenly by population and to be contiguous. The directions don't get more specific."
It should be a neutral process. In five states, it is. Independent redistricting commissions draw up boundaries based on population and geography. In a few states, commissions and state legislatures collaborate. In most states, Florida among them, the process is mostly political. The party controlling the state legislature draws up the new map, and usually does so not to reapportion voter populations cohesively but to maximize its electoral advantage for the following 10 years. Gerrymandering by computer models is common. District lines that follow community, city or county contours are not. ..."How Florida can avert lopsided voting districts".
In Florida, FairDistrictsFlorida.org is leading the drive to put two constitutional amendments on the 2010 ballot. One would forbid the drawing of district lines to protect an incumbent or a political party. Another would require districts to follow geographic and community boundaries. Should the amendments pass, lawmakers would be compelled either to appoint a commission to follow the new rules or to follow them themselves, their gerrymandering impulse neutralized.
With almost 1.5 million petitions in hand, FairDistrictsFlorida has more than twice the necessary signatures (and the Florida Supreme Court's approval) to put the proposals on the ballot. The rest will be up to voters -- as redistricting never has been.
Perhaps the worst U.S. Senator in Florida history
Mel's "circumstances and his own mistakes combined to mark his partial term with much frustration and little accomplishment, experts on Congress say. ... Martinez's good intentions went nowhere, or went awry, in other instances:"
•At Bush's request, he took over as national party chairman in an attempt to heal the party's breach with Hispanics, even though he wasn't fond of the job and received public criticism. He quit after less than a year as the president's and the party's poll numbers plummeted."Martinez stumbled on short path".
•He fought to have the government intervene to force life support for brain-damaged Terri Schiavo of Pinellas County. But he embarrassed himself and undercut his principles by passing along a memo - accidentally, he said - that talked about how Republicans could use the case for political gain.
LeMieux could be worse ...
Randy Schultz: "nine days ago, Gov. Crist named his alter ego to baby-sit the U.S. Senate seat that the governor wants to win next year. His official title will be Sen. LeMieux, R-Fla., but it might as well be Sen. LeMieux, R-Crist."
Every three minutes, Gov. Crist declares that he makes decisions based on what's best "for the people." The implication is that even though he raises small fortunes for his campaigns, that money matters less than "the people." With Mr. LeMieux, however, the governor makes an exception."Junior senator from Crist".
The original U.S. Sugar deal was for the South Florida Water Management District to buy the whole company. U.S. Sugar's law firm is Gunster, which represented the company as the deal shrank to buying 73,000 acres of the company's land. The state's top negotiator was Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole. He's a Gulf War vet, but he's not a lawyer or a seasoned negotiator. He reports to Gov. Crist, who wanted the deal very badly, even though an outside consultant estimated that in the second deal, to buy all of U.S. Sugar's land, the state would have been overpaying by about $200 million.
There are other exceptions. Former Crist policy aide Chanta Combs is now a lobbyist. One of her clients is the Seminole Tribe. For a year, the governor has been trying to seal a gambling compact that gives the tribe exclusive rights to lucrative high-stakes games. In 2005, Chris Kise, then solicitor general under Attorney General Crist, negotiated with Florida Power & Light a delay of the company's rate request until after Mr. Crist ran for governor. In 2009, lobbyist Chris Kise is a consultant to FPL as the company seeks that rate request.
And now Mr. LeMieux will start the Crist 2010 Senate campaign immediately. Conservative Republicans who dominate GOP primaries regard the sometimes-centrist Gov. Crist suspiciously. So, after Gov. Crist appointed him, Mr. LeMieux declared himself to be "pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family." That mixed metaphor is catnip for the Republican base. ...
These days, though, the ambitions of Charlie Crist and the ambitions of George LeMieux are the same. When it becomes Sen. LeMieux this week, taxpayers will be subsidizing the relationship. We knows what's in it for them. What's in it for Florida?
Jane Healy: "When Florida Gov. Charlie Crist recently named George LeMieux to replace Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate, he was rightfully criticized for cronyism. LeMieux has been close to Crist for years. But that doesn't mean LeMieux can't make a difference in Washington in the 16 months that Martinez left of his term." "Do's and Don'ts for Florida's new alter-ego senator".
The Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "Welcome as it would be, establishing direct mail service between the United States and Cuba speaks to the time warp that is the diplomatic freeze between the adversarial governments. ... Washington and Havana still have a ways to go to catch up with the 20th century, let alone the present." "Direct mail talks with Cuba would have been great — last century".
"With long-term unemployment reaching record highs, many South Florida workers are taking jobs for survival, often part-time or outside their field. Many have college degrees but can't find jobs that replace the income and lifestyle they once enjoyed. They are the under-employed, a growing contingent in the state and the nation as the lackluster job market lingers. " "Over-qualified and under-paid: More workers stuck in jobs outside their field".
Enough with the witless, fire breathing prosecutors
Fred Grimm: "The kid they tried to execute was just 15. An IQ of 67."
The Broward prosecutor demanded the death penalty. But the jury, queasy about killing a mentally deficient teenager with no more evidence than a questionable confession, voted to spare Anthony Caravella's life."Case is among string of bogus convictions".
Circuit Judge Arthur J. Franza seemed disappointed. "I'll tell you this, Anthony: If the jury had recommended death, I would have had you electrocuted.''
Broward was that close to executing an innocent teenager. ...
Prosecutor Robert Carney, who nailed both Purvis and Carvella, now sits as a Broward circuit judge. William Dimitrouleas, who prosecuted Frank Lee Smith, has a lifetime appointment as a federal judge. Meanwhile, actual killers went free. Eddie Lee Mosley continued his hideous rape and murder spree. Miramar police never bothered to discover who stabbed Ada Jankowski 28 times.
Florida "lawmakers may have a tough time swallowing terms that could harm nontribal racetracks and other gambling businesses in some parts of the state, including the Bay area. Already, some parimutuels are leaning hard on lawmakers to reject the deal." "Gaming deal's approval not set in stone".
"Beet-faced droolers who show up at town-hall meetings"
Carl Hiaasen: "It's easy to get distracted by the vaudevillian aspects of the health-care debate."
My favorites are the few beet-faced droolers who show up at town-hall meetings to rail against government involvement, while simultaneously warning President Obama to "keep your hands off my Medicare'' -- the biggest, costliest, most socialistic government program in U.S. history."We're sick; the system's even sicker".
As LeMieux picks out Crist's curtains ...
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "No plan — apart from happy-go-lucky Charlie Crist optimism — is in place to help citizens recover from an enormous disaster, the likes of which our state has felt before (Andrew, 1992) and, as a state with more miles of coastline than any other, is almost certain to feel again. There is right now no way for the state's underfunded Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — even coupled with private insurers — to cover losses of $50 billion to $100 billion if a major Florida city is hit." "Hurricane reason".
"It's going to get uglier, folks"
Myriam Marquez: "The lines went out the door and around the block -- residents eager to tell their elected leaders they're not doing their jobs."
Frustrated by job losses, by climbing property tax rates even as their home values drop, by hefty pay raises to an elite group of bureaucrats, the people spoke up for eight hours on Thursday. It was like a full-time job -- and it paid off."A $444M crater calls for higher Miami-Dade county pay cuts".
By 4:30 a.m. Friday, Miami-Dade County Commissioners voted 8-5 to keep the tax rate where it is. Not even the small increase that Mayor Carlos Alvarez proposed to help close a $427 million budget hole was granted.
This means the county's hole just grew into a $444 million crater.
Alvarez's proposed 5 percent across-the-board pay cut for the county's 30,000 workers will only close $100 million of that gap. Now that the majority of commissioners said "No!'' to a tax hike, they must say yes to a larger pay cut for employees, starting at the stratospheric top -- at the county manager's job.
It's going to get uglier, folks.
"The special interests and their lackeys"
Scott Maxwell asks, what's the matter with
Kansas Tea Baggers? He posits, "If only the facts mattered."
Instead, emotions and talking points prevail."Medical malpractice reform won't slash health care costs". Maxwell's editorial board doesn't necessarily agree: "Unite over cost control" ("Democrats shouldn't rule out limits just because of squawking by the trial lawyers"). Mike Thomas echos his editors:
And the results are surreal — people screaming in town halls, begging to limit their own rights.
We hear from people who claim to revere this country's founding principles and are willing to fight till their dying breath to protect the Second Amendment or the First ... but who seem eager to abandon the Seventh.
And why? Because some talk-show host told them to? Because their chamber of commerce told them it might be good for business?
Certainly the proposals titillate Corporate America.
After all, virtually every proposal that's out there — from capping damages and making it tougher for poor people to file lawsuits to taking juries out of the equation altogether — means less accountability.
And so the special interests and their lackeys portray "tort reform" as some sort of magical elixir that will instantly drive costs way down.
Except it won't.
Medical malpractice litigation is a broken and corrupt system."Medical malpractice needs an overhaul".
It needs to be overhauled for reasons that go well beyond the cost it adds to health care.
Malpractice attorneys would have you believe they bring justice to the injured and improve medical care by policing the doctors and hospitals.
That is nonsense. ...
This is not to say malpractice lawyers are evil. They simply are business people seeking to maximize profits.
"After delaying it this year, lawmakers will again face the quandary of how to implement the final stage of a class-size reduction law that could cost the state upwards of $1 billion." "Class-size reduction a ticking time bomb on horizon for Collier, Lee schools".
"A 15-minute drive from Tallahassee, and a few miles north of the Georgia line, Florida smokers have been crowding the parking lot at Huds III convenience store and Texaco station in tiny Beachton, where cartons of premium cigarettes are $8 to $12 cheaper." "State cigarette sales plunging with new dollar-a-pack tax".
"Which comes first, football or politics?"
"Florida politicians of both stripes will be using luxury boxes at football games to entice check-writing contributors to pony up for the 2010 elections, beginning Monday at the Miami- Florida State showdown in Tallahassee. Besides that game, House Democrats have three other football cash calls this fall: the Nov. 8 Green Bay Packers-Tampa Bay Bucs game at Raymond James Stadium; the Nov. 28 Seminoles- Gators showdown in Gainesville; and the Dec. 6 Houston Texans- Jacksonville Jaguars game." "Football for fundraising".