FLORIDA POLITICS
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Welcome To Florida Politics

Thanks for visiting. On a daily basis we scan Florida's major daily newspapers for significant Florida political news and punditry. We also review the editorial pages and political columnists/pundits for Florida political commentary. The papers we review include: the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Naples News, Sarasota Herald Tribune, St Pete Times, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, and, occasionally, the Florida Times Union; we also review the political news blogs associated with these newspapers.

For each story, column, article or editorial we deem significant, we post at least the headline and link to the piece; the linked headline always appears in quotes. We quote the headline for two reasons: first, to allow researchers looking for the cited piece to find it (if the link has expired) by searching for the original title/headline via a commercial research service. Second, quotation of the original headline permits readers to appreciate the spin from the original piece, as opposed to our spin.

Not that we don't provide spin; we do, and plenty of it. Our perspective appears in post headlines, the subtitles within the post (in bold), and the excerpts from the linked stories we select to quote; we also occasionally provide other links and commentary about certain stories. While our bias should be immediately apparent to any reader, we nevertheless attempt to link to every article, column or editorial about Florida politics in every major online Florida newspaper.

 

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The Blog for Sunday, March 28, 2010

The gloves come off

    Update: debate highlights here - "Crist, Rubio face off in 1st Fla. Senate debate", "Crist goes after Rubio quick and often in first debate on Fox News Sunday", "Post-debate spin from Rubio and Crist" and " Charlie Crist says he won't run as Independent; Marco Rubio says he's not familiar with Tea Party vetting"

    "The leading GOP candidates for Florida's open Senate seat [debated] for the first time at 9 a.m. Sunday on cable's FOX News Channel." "Crist, Rubio will face off in first debate on Sunday". Related: "Going into Sunday debate, Rubio 11 points ahead of Crist, poll says". Related: "West Miami records show Rubio voted for tax hikes despite his claim he never has".


    Meek

    "Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek has traveled around Florida, collecting the 112,476 signatures needed to qualify for the U.S. Senate race without paying the $10,000 filing fee. His campaign says he would be the first statewide candidate to qualify for the ballot by petition." "Meek tries to make history".


    Crist's numbers continue to drop

    "Gov. Charlie Crist's popularity among Republicans has dropped 'significantly' over the past year, leaving him 11 points behind Marco Rubio among Republican primary voters, a new poll shows. The former House speaker holds a 48-37 percentage point lead over Crist among likely GOP primary voters, while 15 percent remain undecided, according to the poll released [by the reliably conservative] Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc." "New poll shows Crist falling further behind Rubio". See also "Rubio takes 11-point lead on Crist in Senate primary race, new poll shows".


    "Sentence first -- verdict afterwards"

    "Florida is poised to become the first state in the nation to completely overhaul the way public-school teachers are paid. The dramatic merit-pay plan, designed to weed out bad teachers and reward good ones, has also panicked many of them. Will they lose their pay? Their jobs? Even their careers? Is the plan even legal? Here are answers to those and other questions [according to the bill's supporters care of The Orlando Sentinel]". "Florida's teacher-merit-pay plan sparks furor -- and many questions".

    Notice the confluence of the views of the RPOF and the editorial board: "GOP pushing merit pay for teachers".

    Fred Grimm: "Damn those school kids anyhow. The governor wants the Florida Legislature to fritter away another $22 billion, K-12, just to keep the little varmints in their classrooms."

    The children of the unwashed masses suck up a third of the state budget. That's serious money, better spent on football coaches or building baseball stadiums or funding obscure academic projects on college campuses to provide lucrative but undemanding employment opportunities for term-limited ex-pols. (Everyone understands that the more money the state invests in think tanks, the prettier the secretaries.)

    But the Senate has devised a clever strategy to reduce this unseemly drain on precious state tax dollars that could otherwise be lavished on favored contractors represented by very generous lobbyists who like to give legislators large campaign contributions and free rides in and out of Tallahassee on shiny private airplanes.

    The plan: Get rid of teachers. Run the suckers off. Send them to bartenders' school. Let them go teach in highfalutin states like Mississippi or Alabama."
    "Once Florida's Legislature runs off teachers, we'll all learn hard lesson".

    Mark Lane: "The teacher tenure bill now romping through the Senate is a 61-page teacher crackdown."
    It would put all newly hired teachers on probation in their first year and keep them as insecure, year-to-year employees for the next five years. They'd be fired or retained according to student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, and other tests.

    And when setting teacher pay for everyone, teaching experience won't decide things. What parents say won't matter. What principals think will be a side issue. Having advanced degrees or successful professional training will be beside the point. Ed degrees? Humbug!

    It will boil down to this: If your kids don't test at the right level, you're out of a job or you're paid less. Other input is secondary. If that.

    Want to keep your job? Want to go to the next pay level? Word to the wise: Keep far away from teaching kids who aren't good at tests. Kids with disabilities. Dyslexics. Poor kids. Kids still learning English. Avoid them or you could be working a cash register come fall.

    And here's another cool twist: The FCAT doesn't cover many subjects taught in school, so subject-by-subject tests will need to be developed and fast. Developed by, well, somebody. These tests don't exist.

    So the state of Florida is ready to punish teachers hard on the basis of tests that not only aren't proven but are little more than interesting concepts.

    "Sentence first -- verdict afterwards,'' as the Queen of Hearts shouted to Alice.
    "Legislators versus teachers". See also "GOP pushing merit pay for teachers" and "".


    Wingnut-fest

    "Nearly 8,000 roaring fans attended Glenn Beck's American Revival on Saturday at the University of Central Florida Arena." "Glenn Beck in Orlando: Glenn Beck calls on his army to restore America". See also "Mitt Romney cheered at The Villages as he promotes new book".


    Florida's latest constitutional law scholar

    First we had constitutional law expert Tom Feeney, and now Bill McCollum ...

    "Constitutional scholars differ on whether there is a legal basis for McCollum's charge that it's unconstitutional for the government to require citizens to buy insurance. Many say, however, that the Constitution's 'commerce clause,' giving Congress the ability to regulate interstate trade, gives it greater power than most laymen realize." "McCollum's legal foray into health care mired in debate".

    By the way, "Obama health insurance requirement taken from GOP".


    RPOFers turn tail

    The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Refusing to acknowledge the obvious need for more revenue and a fairer state tax system, the Republican-led Florida Legislature is once again cobbling together a roughly $68 billion state budget with duct tape, bailing wire — and considerable help from the feds. ... Consider:"

    • After spending weeks bashing Congress over the growing federal deficit, Senate Republicans were only too happy last week to embrace an additional $880 million in Medicaid stimulus money Congress is expected to approve .

    • Both chambers are poised to pass millions in new tax breaks for businesses and yacht buyers while they struggle to find money for education and social services.

    • At 12.2 percent, the state's unemployment rate is the highest in at least 40 years. Yet the House wants to raid $466 million from a road-building fund that could be used to stimulate the economy and create more jobs.

    • The Senate, which quietly raised some staffers' pay last year after voting for a state employee pay cut, is now contemplating cuts to public libraries and requiring state employees to contribute to pension and health care plans.

    • The House wants to turn the Lawton Chiles Endowment, established with tobacco settlement proceeds as a long-term way to fund child and health care programs, into nothing more than another checkbook that can be drained whenever the budget appears headed for a deficit.

    And in what can only be considered election-year gimmicks, both chambers are ready to restore back-to-school sales tax holidays. The Senate also wants to rescind last year's higher fees for driver's licenses and auto tags, worsening the bottom line.

    The lack of foresight now means 2011-12 will be even worse, after this year's more than $3 billion in federal stimulus funds are spent and Florida faces at least a $5 billion budget hole.
    "Florida lawmakers aren't facing up the state's budget crisis".


    Imagine that

    "As Florida legislators hit the halfway mark in their 60-day session, they are following a simple election year recipe: sprinkle in a little policy, then pour on plenty of politics." "More politics than usual dominate Florida legislative session".


    "Push to drill off the state's coast misstates benefits "

    The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "If large oil deposits lay in the seabed near Florida's shores, drilling might be worth the remote risk of environmental damage to the coastline."

    But government analysts estimate no more than 100 million barrels could be pumped from the state's waters (up to 10 miles out in the Gulf, 3 miles on the Atlantic coast) -- not enough to supply U.S. gasoline demand for six days. It isn't worth the risk of a major spill to a state dependent on beach-loving tourists.

    If extracting oil and gas in Florida waters would significantly contain or reduce consumer fuel prices, an argument to drill in spite of risks might also seem plausible. But analysts say the impact on prices would be inconsequential.

    If drilling would reward recession-weary Florida billions in oil royalties, as predicted by its supporters, the risk of a spill's damage to beach tourism and fisheries might seem acceptable. But it won't.
    "Black gold, Florida snake oil". Related: "Could oil-spill disaster happen in Florida? Aussie rig debacle offers lessons".


    Budget blues

    "A Senate committee has approved a $68.6 billion state budget bill that includes a contingency plan if Congress sends more Medicaid dollars Florida's way." "Florida’s $68.6 billion budget headed for Senate floor vote next week".


    10th amendment nuttery

    The Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "It would have been good had Obama read that 10th Amendment before pushing through his health care package. That's because the Bill of Rights not only describes our most cherished values, but it also offers practical guidelines for how we should run our country. Given its due respect, the 10th Amendment helps assure that, unlike so many centralized democracies, the United States has 50 united but distinct laboratories where ideas can be tested, refined, and, if need be, discarded. Some of the best ideas that enjoy broad support can then be adopted on a national level, while others can vary from state to state." "States right to challenge health care reform’s constitutionality".


    "Political repair work"

    "Floridians strongly oppose the new national health-care plan — so U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who voted for it, has some political repair work to do before 2012, according to a statewide survey released Saturday." "Poll: Health-care plan, Nelson under fire in Florida".


    "Well, yeah. It is"

    Randy Schultz: "Last August, in the summer of health care hysteria, former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey referred to Medicare as 'tyranny.'"

    Last October, Mr. Armey told a rally in Palm Beach Gardens that "we've got the bad guys on the run," referring not to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan but to Democrats in Washington. Mr. Armey, a Republican, is chairman of FreedomWorks, the group that has provided help to the so-called tea party and other organizations that oppose the Democrats' version of health care reform.

    Last November, Mr. Armey called the Obama administration's effort to change health care "tyrannical." The legislation, he said, is "the greatest threat to individual liberty I've seen in my time."

    Then last weekend, as Congress debated and passed health care reform, some of the protesters in Washington used racial and homophobic slurs to describe Democratic lawmakers. Mr. Armey said this: "Such behavior is deplorable. We don't tolerate it. … It's not the character of the tea party movement."

    Well, yeah. It is. It may not be the dominant part, but if you've listened to the comments and seen the signs, you have seen how any movement that begins as one of anger can move to one of hatred. And Mr. Armey — who was the sort of insider Washington lobbyist tea partiers claim to dislike — can't run from his own role.

    Just this month, for example, Mr. Armey said in a speech at the National Press Club that Democrats and others "do not cherish America the way we do." From there, it's a short trip to the comments this week by Dale Robertson, an ex-Marine and the self-proclaimed founder and president of the "Tea Party of 1776."

    Mr. Robertson referred to "the Obama putsch," an obvious comparison of the president to Adolf Hitler, whose first, failed attempt to take power in Germany was the 1923 "beer-hall putsch." If the nation doesn't rise up to "halt the bleeding of our freedom," the next move of the "national socialists" — an obvious comparison of the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party — will be to "come for our sovereignty, and our beloved nation will be flooded with millions of illegal aliens converting America into a socialist state."
    Much more here: "Schultz: Mad haters at the tea party".


    'Glades

    The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Buying U.S. Sugar's land is more important to Everglades restoration than lesser projects under way." "Find money for sugar deal: Projects may have to wait; taxes may have to rise".


    We don' need no stinkin health insurance

    "Florida voters dislike the new health reform law so much that President Obama and the state's top Democrat, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, are paying a hefty political price, according to a new survey. Just 34 percent of Florida voters support the new law while 54 percent are opposed -- well outside of the 4 percent margin of error." "Florida poll: Obama, Democrats to pay political price for health care reform".


    Privatization slime

    "After repeatedly emphasizing his commitment to "open and transparent" government during a committee meeting Thursday evening, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander attached a last-minute prison-privatization amendment to the state's spending bill without any warning to anyone it would affect, including the Department of Corrections."

    Alexander's proposal to open a privately run prison near the Blackwater River in the Panhandle would shutter at least two state-run prisons and put 639 prison guards out of work, the Lakeland Republican told the committee.

    His plan also would privatize an unidentified existing 1,350-bed prison, bringing the number of guards who would get pink slips up to 1,400, according to the amendment.
    "Prison plan assailed as 'sneaky'".


    "Roadmap to the Governor's Mansion"

    Aaron Deslatte: Which is the better roadmap to the Governor's Mansion next November: running against Washington, or Tallahassee?

    Gubernatorial rivals Bill McCollum and Alex Sink are miles apart on a lot of issues.

    But strip away the partisan labels and pretenses, and the message strategies they are crafting for voters sound a lot alike. McCollum is a 20-year congressman taking on Washington and its latest creation, ObamaCare. And Sink wants to run as a Tallahassee outsider, despite three years on the job as Florida's chief financial officer.
    "McCollum and Sink have similar campaign strategies".


    "A muezzin's call to prayers"

    The Daytona Beach News Journal editors: "Florida legislators are at it again, taking cross-encrusted sledgehammers to the wall separating church and state. The angle this time:"

    A proposed law that would let students lead "inspirational" prayers at school-sponsored events such as graduations, ballgames and other after-school activities -- and let teachers pray with their students. The proposal masquerades as a guarantee of constitutional freedoms even as it flouts them.

    Students, teachers and anyone else in schools, during school hours or not, are free to pray already. They're free to pray on their own or in groups as long as prayers don't interfere with the school day or school-sponsored activities, and as long as school officials aren't, in any capacity, encouraging or instigating student prayers. The notion that praying was thrown out of public schools when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against school-sponsored prayers in 1962 is preposterous. What the court threw out was the presumption that a school could impose one religion over another on its student body and coerce all students to go along. No school should, not directly, and not indirectly.

    Yet the complaint among proponents of untrammeled worship in public places like schools or government events still blares with the frequency of a muezzin's call to prayers: Why pick on religion?
    "Prayer as subterfuge".


    Never mind

    "Democrat Craft drops challenge to Congressman Rooney".


    "Contentious debate is shifting to a broader forum"

    "Just before signing the health care bill, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the 'historic leadership and uncommon courage of the men and women of the United States Congress, who've taken their lumps during this difficult debate.'"

    "Yes, we did," someone shouted, the jam-packed White House East Room breaking into laughter.

    With the legislation now law, the contentious debate is shifting to a broader forum: cities and towns across America, where Republicans and their allies are hoping voters are ready to deliver more lumps in the congressional midterm elections.

    "This fight is far from over," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., vowed Wednesday.

    But with the public divided over the plan's merits and generally distrustful of the federal government, the ultimate decider may be who can best pitch their message.

    The battle will inject tens of millions of dollars into campaigns, and Florida is one of the principal battlegrounds. Every Democrat from the state voted for the bill; every Republican voted against. Only a few may pay the price, but it could add to a national swing diminishing Democrats' lock on power.
    "Health care in voters' hands".


    Yee haw!

    The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Republican Party officials should relax and have a good time this weekend as they explore Tampa. Evaluating the local bid to host the 2012 national convention is important, but it won't be a difficult job in this town. Bid Committee Chairman Al Austin, former Gov. Bob Martinez and others welcoming the delegation will be able to answer any question. They've been through this before, when Tampa almost convinced the party to convene here in 2004 and 2008.
    The suitability of the central meeting space at the St. Pete Times Forum and the nearby Tampa Convention Center will be readily apparent, as will the proximity of many top-quality hotel rooms and a diverse selection of fine restaurants." "Welcome GOP: Let's party!".


    Tax returns

    "Crist released his tax returns and urged his Senate rival, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, to follow suit." "Charlie Crist releases tax returns, calls on Marco Rubio to do same".


    Mythbuster

    The chattering class - typified in this case by one Scott Maxwell - continue to propagate the myth that

    Jeb Bush actually knew policy and, for the most part, respected the role of government and its elected officials.
    "Scott Maxwell: These bills are just plain foolish". The assertion that Jeb Bush "actually knew policy and, for the most part, respected the role of government" is plain silly. Consider:

    According to The Washington Post, Jebbie "reduced taxes by $12.2 billion over his eight years, with more than half of that going to the wealthiest 4.5 percent of the population. That saved the average risk taker [sic] more than $1,500 a year by the time Jeb left office. ... Jeb Bush says that his tax cuts created jobs in Florida and gave us the best economy in the country. (In reality, Jeb had the lowest job-creation rate of any Florida governor dating to 1971.)"

    "Jeb!" left Florida "first in the nation in mortgage fraud, second in foreclosures, last in high school graduation rates." Post-Jeb Bush, Florida is facing the "worst real estate meltdown since the Depression. We've got a water crisis, insurance crisis, environmental crisis and budget crisis to go with our housing crisis."

    Indeed, under "Jeb!", "the bulk of the state's tax cuts have gone toward businesses and investors. Lawmakers joined a federal phase out of the estate tax in 2002, resulting in a net $2 billion plus tax cut thus far. And Bush has led the charge against the state's intangibles tax on investments. Since 1999, the tax (on individuals with at least $250,000 of investments) has been reduced four times with a total cumulative cut of nearly $4 billion."

    In "Where was Jeb?", Forbes Magazine points out that the "government money market debacle unfolding in Florida is raising questions about former governor and presidential brother Jeb Bush's possible involvement in the mess."

    Palm Beach Post political writer S.V. Date described "Bush as a arrogant, power-hungry ruler who acted as if he had been elected king, rather than governor." As for separation of powers and all that, one columnist explained that explained that Jebbie's "executive branch's firm belief in the Jebian Supremacy remain[ed] even in the face of the Supreme Court. Gov. Bush said he will 'calmly' decide what to do next. Following the constitution as definitively interpreted by the court does not seem to be an option."

    Jebbie "Bush's back-to-back terms were marred by frequent ethics scandals, official bungling and the inability of the government he downsized to meet growing demands for state services, including education and aid for the infirm and the elderly." Indeed, "basic competence has been an issue for Bush." When all is said and done, "when Jeb Bush speaks, people cringe"

    And then there's the signature event of Jebbie's reign, when "Florida officials planned to seize Terri Schiavo on Thursday from her hospice bed. But local police got in the way ... Participants in the high stakes test of wills, who spoke with The Herald on the condition of anonymity, said they believed the standoff could ultimately have led to a constitutional crisis and a confrontation between dueling lawmen." This was not really surprising: In a June 16, 2004 column, "former FDLE spokeswoman Elizabeth Wimberley Bernbaum wrote that "during his first term, Gov. Jeb Bush regularly inserted himself into ongoing investigations of political or particularly sensitive natures while I worked with FDLE by requesting continuous updates and tacitly pressuring the agency at every level."

    As for terrorism, before becoming Governor, "Jeb Bush, [was] instrumental in securing the release from prison of militant Cuban exiles convicted of terrorist offenses, according to a new book." And, upon becoming Governaor"Jeb Bush nominated Raoul Cantero, the grandson of Batista, as a Florida supreme court judge despite his lack of experience. Mr Cantero had previously represented [Orlando] Bosch [whom Attorney General Dick Thornburgh called an 'unrepentant terrorist'] and acted as his spokesman, once describing Bosch on Miami radio as a 'great Cuban patriot'".

    Jebbie engaged in regressive cultural politics "nominee to head the state's troubled child welfare agency signed onto a treatise calling for more corporal punishment of children and the consignment of women to the home." Jebbie's appointee, "Cheri Pierson Yecke began her job as one of the most powerful educators in the state ... she wrote articles blaming childhood obesity on the 'liberal media' and said 'liberal criminal sentencing laws' make streets unsafe for kids."

    "Jeb!" was "an aggressive privatizer, and as The Miami Herald put it after a careful study of state records, his bold experiment has been a success, at least for him and the Republican Party, records show. The policy has spawned a network of contractors who have given him, other Republican politicians and the Florida G.O.P. millions of dollars in campaign donations." "Jeb!" seemed addicted to selling off government in the form of privatization, yet "undermining the privatization push is a stunning lack of information about how well it has performed in the past eight years. Audit after audit, including some from Bush's own inspector general, concluded that the savings or other benefits of such private deals were often impossible to deduce because the contracts written early in Bush's administration lacked clear parameters."

    Jebbie's privatization schemes included these gems: "Two state agency heads resigned in disgrace over having too-close relationships with their vendors ... Corrections Secretary Jim Crosby pled guilty to felony charges for accepting kickbacks in exchange for getting a friend hired by the commissary vendor. ... Bush's social services secretary, Jerry Regier, and two of his subordinates resigned after acknowledging they took favors from lobbyists. In another case, state investigators found it reasonable to believe that a contract employee working at the State Technology Office might have used insider information to help her company win a $126-million contract for technology services." And "years of troubles tied to Convergys $350 million contract ... to computerize and centralize Florida's human resources system since 2002. One former Convergys worker is doing prison time for stealing state worker identities."

    Jeb Bush issued an executive order "directing state agencies 'to voluntarily comply' with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act's standards, and leaving cities and counties to decide for themselves what they needed to do. But no state resources were devoted to ensuring compliance or guiding safety efforts. The move was a wink and a nod toward protecting employees, and little more. Then in 2006 a tragic explosion of methanol occurred at a wastewater treatment plant in Daytona Beach."

    Self-proclaimed "deep thinker" Jeb Bush was a 1997 signatory to the Project for the New American Century, the neoconservative blueprint for a more 'Reaganite' foreign policy", the very "thinking" that resulted in the Georgie Bush's foreign policy catastrophes.

    During the 2000 election imbroligio, which occurred on Jebbie's watch, it seems his "office in Tallahassee made 95 telephone calls to the George W. Bush presidential campaign, its advisors, lawyers and staffers during the 36-day recount period, records show. At least 10 calls came from an office number used primarily by Jeb Bush ...".

    This of course is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Jeb Bush "knew policy and, for the most part, respected the role of government"? Surely you jest.

    Although Maxwell misses his Jebbie, the man in fact has never left. Jebbie's spawn people the Legislature, and his dead hand governs virtually everything done in the Legislature. Steve Bousquet explains:
    Floridians may have voted for a Democratic president in 2008, but their state Legislature is becoming more conservative.

    If the trend continues, it could cause major changes in public policy.

    What's taking place underscores the shift that occurs when a Senate seat or two changes hands, and a conservative replaces a moderate.

    The best example is in greater Jacksonville.

    The death last year of Jim King, a moderate Republican who had little interest in wedge issues, hastened the election of John Thrasher, a conservative firebrand and former House speaker who's making a big splash, defying conventional wisdom that freshman senators should know their place.

    Thrasher is pushing laws to lessen the threats of lawsuits on businesses, relax limits on class sizes and virtually abolish tenure for teachers in the name of more accountability.

    "I talked to Jeb this morning," Thrasher said Thursday, still celebrating passage of the tenure bill, albeit on a close 21-17 vote. "He was very pleased with what we did. Very pleased."
    "Tracking the Senate's rightward shift".

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