Back to the future
Beth Reinhard: "In the days after the Florida GOP chairman resigned under mounting criticism of his spending, nearly $1 million in donations was quietly stashed into two little-known committees tied to legislative leaders."
A party spokeswoman said Tuesday that Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer approved the money transfers and one of the lawmakers, incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, called them "common practice.'' ...So, will it be back to the future?
But the size of the money transfers and their timing are the latest signs of disorder in the traditionally united Florida GOP.
The turmoil is prompting some state legislators to reconsider a decades-old law that bans them from earmarking pots of party money they raised for their own use. With the party in disarray, so-called "leadership funds'' would allow top legislators to keep tabs on the donations they collect -- and steer them to their political allies."Florida GOP money transfers raise questions".
Legalizing leadership funds "would legitimize the process by which a few members of the Legislature consolidate power and hold their members in line,'' said Ben Wilcox, a board member of Common Cause Florida.
Outlawed more than 20 years ago, leadership funds are now being cast as campaign finance reform. Instead of legislators quietly tracking the money they raise for the party, proponents say, leadership funds would allow legislators to identify the party donations they collected and direct how they are spent. ...
But Atwater and other Republican leaders are only willing to go so far in the name of transparency. Few are taking up the call from some grass-roots activists for the party to release credit card statements that would expose itemized spending by top staffers and legislators.
Sansom's about to get a pass
"Attorneys have begun settlement negotiations in the House inquiry into former Speaker Ray Sansom to avoid a full trial-like hearing late this month." "'Initial discussions' held in possible Sansom settlement of House inquiry".
"Exhibit "A" for the FlaDems
Adam C Smith: "The former executive director of the Florida GOP was known as a charmer, but his generous salary has become an example of state party excesses."
A giant beach ball of a man, Delmar Woodrow Johnson III is boisterous, always gushing with enthusiasm, and treats everybody as a best buddy. It makes perfect sense that such a friendly, outsized personality would be elected president of the student government association at Florida State University."Delmar Johnson: Exhibit A for Republican Party of Florida mess".
Or that he would cheerfully don a goofy duck costume to mock Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride in 2002. Or that a few years later Johnson would charm Crist and get hired as one of Crist's first gubernatorial campaign staffers.
It made a lot less sense in January 2009 when state party chairman Jim Greer promoted Johnson, 30, to be executive director of the Florida Republican Party. And it was downright outrageous for party leaders to learn that Greer and Johnson entered into a secret contract that brought Johnson's overall pay from the cash-strapped party to more than $400,000.
Today, fairly or not, Johnson is Exhibit A for how a state Republican Party once widely seen as the strongest in the country could turn into a nearly insolvent mass of dysfunction punctuated by excess spending and misplaced values.
"When he was working in Governor Bush's operation he was a young man with a bright future. I think he's gone astray,'' said Kathleen Shanahan, Bush's former chief of staff who knew Johnson as an enthusiastic junior staffer in his legislative affairs office. "This is where the leadership of the party led a whole group of young people astray with a complete disregard for the value of every donor's hard-earned dollar.''
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Sunshine is a powerful disinfectant, and the Republican Party of Florida should use some to clear the air on an embarrassing era of lavish spending. Delmar Johnson, the party's former executive director, is just the latest leader exposed as living large on the party's purse. Many party insiders are pushing to keep the sordid details quiet. But disclosure will go much further to restore donors' faith and voters' perception that the party that preaches fiscal discipline actually practices it."
The Palm Beach Post's Michael Bender reports that Crist is trying to make a political issue out of this with Rubio: "Republican Gov. Charlie Crist today joined GOP gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery in calling for the next party chairman to publish party credit card statements. ... Crist said he’s never had a party credit card, but his U.S Sentate primary opponent, Marco Rubio, did." "Gov. Crist, Paula Dockery call for GOP to release credit card statements". See also "Crist calls for full disclosure of GOP finances", sorta.
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "The party has a big, unattractive problem, and standing firm against airing it allows gossip, speculation and solid facts to leak out bit by bit during this election year."
It hands opponents fodder that has nothing to do with the mission of the GOP; it cedes to its critics the moral high ground."Just do it".
Cutting up credit cards, as Mr. Greer flamboyantly did last year when the first hints of these excesses were leaked, or even vowing to clean house internally now, will not stop the bleeding or the speculation.
Yes, the credit card bills and party expenses may be "internal matters," but knowledge of their inappropriate use has spread externally to become a major embarrassment and huge contradiction of the conservative fiscal stance.
Fess up. Reform. Move on. Floridians have bigger problems to solve.
Florida's attorney-general ain't interested in just doing it: "Republican Gov. Charlie Crist said today that the state GOP should release records of credit cards used by party leaders amid complaints of lavish spending, but Attorney General Bill McCollum, who wants Crist's job, said that's party — not public — business." "Crist, McCollum split on release of GOP credit card spending".
We're with Billy - you know: keep it secret, keep it safe - and we'll all have a laff when, as The Tallahassee Democrat editors put it, the RPOF continues to allow "gossip, speculation and solid facts to leak out bit by bit during this election year".
Background: "Florida GOP: Follow the story of ex-chair Jim Greer and fundraiser Delmar Johnson", "GOP fundraiser charged huge sums to AmEx card", "Lawmakers pulled nearly $1 million from Republican Party of Florida", "Florida GOP fundraiser's hefty pay riles donors", "Records suggest expense, salary padding by Florida GOP leaders", "Payments to GOP official irk state Republican leaders", "Crist: Fla. GOP should open credit card records", "Under fire, Florida GOP chief Jim Greer quits" and "Florida GOP seethes over more word of uncontrolled spending".
"Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros, Florida's top health official, has spent nearly $130,000 on taxpayer-funded travel in her first three years on the job and has spent at least a third of her weekends in her hometown of Miami." "Florida surgeon general's travel questioned". See also "Florida's top health official averages $3,600 monthly travel tab".
"With opposition mounting to a proposed 1 cent sales tax for transit projects, Hillsborough County commissioners have yet to establish clear guidelines on how the tax money will be administered." "Commissioners to consider transit tax revenue oversight".
Sink's "public scolding of Thomas Cardwell"
"Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink lambasted the state's top financial regulator at the Cabinet meeting Tuesday for not aggressively pursing litigation against Bank of America — her former employer — for its deal with Merrill Lynch."
"I'm not really impressed with the comments you made," Sink said bluntly. "The last commissioner lost his job because he hid behind not having the powers or not having the resources. My main frustration … is the sense of do-nothingness and inaction in the face of all sorts of scams in our state.""Sink takes on state's top financial regulator at contentious Cabinet meeting". See also "" and "".
The public scolding of Thomas Cardwell, the commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, stood in stark contrast to the typical decorum in the Cabinet room, where the state's top four officials meet twice a month. And for another reason: Cardwell was Sink's pick for the job.
And the sponsors are ...
Scott Maxwell writes that "the concept of political sponsorships is an interesting idea. So allow me to suggest a few more advertising deals for the rest of the major players in the two top races."
The candidate: Charlie Crist, Republican for U.S. SenateThe answers and much more here: "Just for kicks, let's pair politicians with sponsors".
His problem: Florida's economy has transformed from robust to apocalyptic under his watch as governor
He should sponsor: ...
The candidate: Marco Rubio, Republican for U.S. Senate
His problem: Although the former state House speaker has the conservative talking points down pat, he doesn't have a track record to back it up.
He should sponsor: ...
The candidate: Alex Sink, Democrat for governor
Her problem: She looks weak — dodging punches from rival Bill McCollum, rather than delivering them. Even some of her supporters have been troubled by her reluctance to answer basic questions about her beliefs.
She should sponsor: ...
The candidate: Bill McCollum, Republican for governor
His problem: He's a two-time loser in statewide elections whose current campaign consists of little more than Republican Party talking points.
He should sponsor: ...
Race to the bottom
"Broward schools brace for possible layoffs, furloughs, fewer electives".
"Atwater...in a sticky spot"
"The bank-backed move to speed up foreclosures has agitated Democrats fighting back in the Legislature."
State Sen. Dave Aronberg and Rep. Darren Soto are proposing a "Foreclosure Bill of Rights" in opposition to a yet-to-be filed measure that would let mortgage lenders get their properties back without giving homeowners their day in court."Sen. Aronberg, other lawmakers fire back at bank-backed foreclosure proposal".
And the battle puts Senate President Jeff Atwater, a North Palm Beach banker, and other lawmakers in a sticky spot with more than 500,000 Florida homes now in the foreclosure process.
Mike Thomas argues that "there is a good case to be made for a law like this". "Clueless bankers: I'm here to help".
"Rubio's dilemma" - he's a "darling of the tea-party set"
"Marco Rubio has become a darling of the tea-party set."
With their help he has transformed his insurgent campaign, which once seemed like a fool's errand, into a serious conservative challenge to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.Newsweek asks, "why does Rubio himself seem wary of the tea-party label?"
When CNBC's Larry Kudlow referred to him as a "tea-party senator" in a recent interview, Rubio responded, "Let me back you up on that for just a second. When you talk about the tea party, remember, I'm a Republican." ...Much more here: "Rubio's dilemma: How much Tea Party is too much?".
So far, Rubio has pulled off a neat political trick by capitalizing on the enthusiasm of the tea partiers while also managing to keep some distance. He has attended eight tea parties throughout Florida, hoping to harness the mixture of antigovernment anger and red-blooded patriotism that prevails at such gatherings. ...
Yet when asked directly about his ties to the tea party, Rubio strives to cast the anti-establishment movement as very mainstream. "The tea party is widely misunderstood by the media," he insists, choosing his words as carefully as any standard politician would. It's "an important part of a bigger movement in America united behind the idea that you don't have to get rid of everything that's right about America to fix what is wrong about our country." (Is there anyone who would not unite behind that idea?)
"Definition of 'disingenuous', Tallahassee dialect edition"
A must read editorial from the Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board today: "Here's the Florida definition of disingenuous, Tallahassee dialect edition: Don Gaetz; Will Weatherford."
Sen. Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Rep. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, introduced the proposed "right size class size" amendment to the Florida Constitution last week. The lawmakers say the amendment won't change what voters approved in 2002 -- an amendment to gradually reduce class sizes at all levels in public schools. If Gaetz and Weatherford are right, there'd be no need for another amendment. But they're flat wrong. They're proposing to stop the implementation of the 2002 amendment in its tracks and scrap its third and, to parents and students, most meaningful requirement: classroom-level limits.The editors continue, reminding of of Jebbie's legacy of failure:
A decade of reckless tax cuts and unregulated private sector speculation in the housing market left Florida's budget facing a $2.8 billion deficit last year. That was offset by $5 billion in federal stimulus funds. This year's deficit is projected to be larger, and stimulus money will fall to $4 billion. The state can't count on stimulus money next year, and lawmakers continue to reflexively reject tax increases to pay for voters' mandates and other government services. Stopping the class-size amendment is not wise policy. It's a cop-out."'Right size' deceit".
Instead of couching their proposals in fears and falsehoods, Gaetz and Weatherford should at least be up front with voters: The new amendment is necessary because the state doesn't have the political guts to pay for the original class-size amendment. Instead, the new amendment's advocates are playing up fears and fabrications
Tea-baggers in a dither
"Florida's embattled ban on adoption by gay people suffered another setback Tuesday, when state child welfare administrators agreed to provide health insurance, college tuition and other benefits to the adopted son of a gay Key West man. For more than a year, the Department of Children & Families had refused to provide the adoption subsidy to the adoptive son of Wayne LaRue Smith, a Key West lawyer whose request to adopt a boy he was raising in foster care was approved by a Monroe County judge in the fall of 2008. On Tuesday, DCF lawyers did an about-face". "Adopted son of gay Key West man gets state subsidy".
Entrepreneurs in action
"The shredding reportedly took place last year as Stanford's financial empire was collapsing in what authorities call a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Stanford is jailed in Houston awaiting trial." "Closes arguments expected in shredding case".
Big of him
"Republican Party of Florida assistant treasurer says he's not resigning".
Sink takes Billy on
"Things got a bit testy at a Florida Cabinet meeting Tuesday as potential gubernatorial rivals Alex Sink and Bill McCollum sparred over whether the state should sue the Bank of America, where Sink was once a top executive."
Moments before the meeting began, Sink responded sharply to a McCollum campaign statement saying that her call last week to sue her old bosses was a public relations stunt."Politics dominates Florida Cabinet meeting".
"That's a bunch of bull," said Sink, the state's chief financial officer.
Chain gang Charlie
"Crist made a lunchtime appearance to address lawmen at the Florida Sheriffs Association 2010 Mid-Winter Conference." "Crist visits Florida sheriffs’ conference".
Chamber of Commerce
"Palin to autograph books Saturday".
Crist's "juvenile references"
The Palm Beach Post editorial board writes this morning that "to please far-right primary voters, Gov. Crist's campaign statements have begun including juvenile references to the "Democrat Party" that are standard on talk radio."
"15 years after Plantation blast, Joe Alu in spotlight as Rothstein bodyguard".
Expect a "Jeb!" endorsement at any moment
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "If Marco Rubio is willing to make his election a higher priority than his state, he isn't qualified to represent Florida in the Senate."
In his attempt to run far to the right of Gov. Crist in the Republican primary, the former Florida House speaker's campaign wheels have left the pavement when it comes to immigration. Last week, Mr. Rubio abandoned his earlier, sensible attitude by shrieking that the census count for Florida should include only those immigrants here legally. The comment may get Mr. Rubio votes from some anti-illegal immigrant conservatives, but his position is irresponsible."Count legals and illegals: Crist responsible on census; Rubio just the opposite".
"Fla. justices refuse to halt execution".
"A bidding process infested with political influence and lobbyist money"
Fred Grimm: "A year or so back, a cash-strapped school board saying no to $34 million in federal funds would have been only perplexing. Now, with one board member facing trial and a couple of others under investigation, and with the public trust pummeled by scandal, the Broward School Board's rejection of the Race to the Top funds looks more like pathology than sound fiscal policy. Like Broward's race to the bottom."
But this board's credibility has been shattered by scandal and its stubborn reluctance to clean up a bidding process infested with political influence and lobbyist money."Turn down $34 million? Are they crazy?".
Stop the madness
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Florida is crying out for such reforms, particularly in early-childhood education where state quality-control for day-care workers is less than stellar. With all we know today about the research-based importance of a child's first three years, the move toward more training of childcare workers in an effort to close the achievement gap between rich and poor kids is all the more urgent. Of course, this makes so much sense that it's now imperiled in the U.S. Senate. The banking lobby and Sallie Mae are crying, Job losses! Government takeover! And senators are buying this red herring?" "Remove middle man from college loans".
To replace Wexler
"Three congressional candidates vying to replace Robert Wexler differed on terrorist trials, tax cuts and immigration reform during a debate west of Boca Raton this morning." "Congressional hopefuls differ on terror trials, taxes, immigration at debate".
"After failing for two years, proponents of a state texting-while-driving ban are optimistic a measure will pass this year." "Florida slow to halt texting drivers". See also "State lawmakers propose fine for texting while driving".