FLORIDA POLITICS
Since 2002, daily Florida political news and commentary

 

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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 21, 2010

McCollum needs to get another job ... outa politics

    Aaron Deslatte:
    Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is hoping to step up the heat on the federal government once Congress passes its health-care overhaul -- assuming the final reform still contains a mandate that individuals have insurance or pay penalties.
    And if this ain't an abuse of his office and a waste of taxpayer dollars:
    McCollum also said he was forming a "coalition of state agencies" to examine the impact of whatever plan passes. But the message was meant just as much for home-front political consumption.
    "Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum vows to sue if health-care reform bill is passed".

    Randy Schultz: "All of a sudden, it's 1963, or maybe 1861. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has vowed to sue if President Obama signs legislation containing such a requirement, claiming that it would be unconstitutional. Mr. McCollum, a Republican, is running for governor."
    There are two ironies to this political overreaction.

    One is that mandatory health insurance didn't come from some un-American, leftie fringe group, unless you consider the nation's health insurers part of an un-American, leftie fringe group. It also came from that well-known Republican, Mitt Romney. Since then, attempting to woo far-right voters who matter in Republican primaries, Mr. Romney has been running away from his biggest accomplishment: health care reform as governor of Massachusetts.

    The second irony is that these state politicians are railing against the power of the federal government as they slurp up money from the federal government. That would be money from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which Republicans in state houses criticize right up until the moment they cash the checks. That would be the same federal government states turn to when natural disasters strike.

    It's an election year, and the nation is anxious on good days. Exploitation of this anxiety isn't the response Florida needs from elected officials, but that's what Florida is getting.
    "Florida's faux secessionists: States' rights sentiment bubbles up in Legislature".


    "Seismic changes" for Florida

    "As the health-care debate rages nationally, Florida's Republican legislative leadership is laying the groundwork for seismic changes to how the state pays for the health care of the poor, sick and elderly."

    Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, among other conservatives in the Legislature, think they can save $27 million by expanding a controversial Medicaid reform plan passed in 2005 from Broward County and the Jacksonville region to 19 additional counties, including Metro Orlando.

    The plan basically involved shifting from a fee-for-service method — where doctors are paid for the number of tests, treatments and procedures they perform, not the quality of care — to managed care where patients would choose between HMO-styled plans, earn extra credit for healthy living, and theoretically spend less time in emergency rooms.

    Now lawmakers want to expand the program to pregnant women, the disabled, foster children and low-income seniors left out of the experiment when then-Gov. Jeb Bush pushed the change in the twilight of his tenure.
    Even the Orlando Sentinel concedes that Jebbie's privatization* experiment
    has hit some speed bumps.

    It's not saving the state a huge amount of cash, the plan has not been as successful as it could be using data to adjust patient plans to their specific risks, and the "choice counselors" assigned to helping people pick a plan have been criticized by health-care-advocacy groups.

    "It's confusing for anyone to choose a health plan," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a health-care-advocacy group, "and we're talking about vulnerable populations that already have barriers to health care or who have chronic conditions."

    The University of Florida, which has evaluated the project since its start, has found the program was holding down some costs when compared with two outside counties: Orange and Hillsborough.
    And then there's this:
    Researchers also didn't look at patents with costlier diseases to treat such as HIV/AIDS.

    But its impact on patients with chronic conditions and mental disorders is still unknown, researchers concede, along with whether the extra benefits for adopting more-healthful lifestyles such as quitting smoking is changing any behavior.

    Even though the reform was envisioned as way to introduce competitive market forces into a bureaucratic, single-payer system, the dire economic times have caused some of the companies that jumped into Medicaid reform to pull out.
    Much more here: "Florida lawmakers prepare colossal Medicaid change".

    - - - - - - - - - -
    *Mr. Bush's privatization schemes are familiar to Floridians: "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."


    "Inconceivable"

    The Saint Petersburg Times editors: "Drilling off Florida's coast won't increase America's independence from foreign oil, lower gasoline prices or raise billions of dollars annually for the state."

    It is inconceivable that any responsible state lawmaker still would consider leveraging the state's pristine shoreline — and the tourism customers it draws — for such little return. Yet Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, who is in line to be the next House speaker, is doggedly pushing a plan that could put drilling platforms within 10 miles of the west coast.
    "Fla. should forget about drilling in gulf".


    "Insurers would not have to pass the savings"

    "A stimulus plan that Florida lawmakers are considering for state ports would be paid for with a tax break for insurance companies, but insurers would not have to pass the savings to policyholders under a provision in the bill." "Ports bill would aid insurers but not policyholders".


    Condo bills

    "Condo bills have flooded the state Capitol."

    More than five dozen have been filed during the legislative session, as Florida grapples with its real estate crisis. But boil down the language of lawmakers' proposals to help cash-strapped condo dwellers, and there are only a handful of ideas:

    Make it easier for investors to buy multiple units in empty buildings. Delay costly state-mandated upgrades. Discover ways to punish owners who don't pay skyrocketing association dues.
    "Many condo bills are similar".


    "Not exactly the big incentive Florida needs"

    The Sun-Sentinel editorial board observes that "No one should mistake the measure linking teacher salaries to student performance on annual tests for a serious effort to reform education." Rather,

    A pointed jab at teacher unions and school districts is more like it. Unfortunately, the goal of improving classroom teaching, and rewarding the many solid educators in Florida, gets lost in the jabbing.

    The bill requires school districts to stop using advanced degrees, contract negotiations and seniority to establish pay. Tenured positions would be eliminated, and salaries and job security instead would be based on annual student test scores and performance reviews. If school districts don't comply, they risk losing state funding and could be forced to raise property taxes to make up the difference.

    So imagine the hordes of eager teachers rushing to work in a state where annual contracts are the norm, academic qualifications and experience count for little, and any pay raises, not to mention job security, depend on how well students perform on that year's standardized tests. We can't, and it's not exactly the big incentive Florida needs in its ongoing attempts to attract or keep quality teachers.
    "Senate bill: Tough on teachers, short on reform".

    The Tampa Tribune editorial board nevertheless continues to drags its RPOFer knuckles, baldly arguing that "Florida Sen. John Thrasher rightly wants to jettison public school tenure and make it easier to get rid of lousy teachers." "Eliminate tenure, but don't trample teachers". College professors are eligible to earn "tenure", school teachers aren't. The editors need to get their facts straight.


    "Undone or unfinished"

    "After the Florida Legislature gets through this session, and does whatever it must to fill a $3 billion budget gap, what then? Lawmakers may congratulate themselves on not raising taxes, but several big initiatives will be left undone or unrealized." "Unfinished Business".


    "Poisoning Florida politics"

    Fred Grimm: "Once upon a time, 'leadership funds' were denigrated as the very mechanisms that were poisoning Florida politics."

    Stashes of donations, barely regulated, were controlled by Florida's legislative leaders, who doled out money like 19th century ward bosses to the reelection campaigns of certain minions in the House and Senate.

    Such favors, of course, came heavily encumbered with political IOUs. Finally, in 1989, the nefarious funds were outlawed (not very outlawed, as it turned out).

    It says something about how far our influence-for-sale political culture has devolved in the past two decades that leadership funds have been revived as a way to reform Tallahassee. Legislators seem downright nostalgic for 1986, when Senate President Ken Jenne accumulated a $640,000 slush fund to lavish on the campaigns of those who would do his bidding.

    The latest leadership fund incarnation has been packaged as an instrument of "transparency and accountability,'' though it offers only a piddling of either. The enthusiasm for actual transparency was evident in the House of Representatives on Thursday when nine amendments that would require more disclosure or put limits on the funds' campaign contributions were all rejected.
    Leadership funds give "future Senate president Mike Haridopolos and his counterpart in the House, Dean Cannon ... the mechanism to wrest control of the political slush funds from Republican party headquarters, which seems to have misunderstood the definition of 'party.'"
    Party Chairman Jim Greer has been ousted for his lavish spending. Rubio ran up questionable charges on his party credit card. Another party leader, Rep. Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary, has been trying to explain $2,000 charged to the party at a Vegas casino.
    Nefarious leadership funds revived".


    "BINO"

    "The battle over political boundaries is heating up, with Democratic-leaning labor unions and trial attorneys helping to stoke the fire. Fair Districts Florida, which collected enough signatures to place Amendment 5 on the Nov. 2 ballot, wants to re-engineer how legislative and congressional districts are drawn in the state. ... while campaign chairwoman Ellen Freidin maintains that her group is strictly non-partisan, others see a political agenda."

    "There's a term, 'BINO,' meaning Bipartisan In Name Only," said Sen. Mike Haridopolos, chairman of the Legislature's Reapportionment Committee.

    "Ninety-five percent of their money comes from Democratic groups or groups that support Democratic Party causes," the Merritt Island Republican said.

    In fact, the list of donors to Fair Districts reads like a list of Big Labor. Contributors include more than a dozen unions ranging from the Florida Education Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to various AFL-CIO and Teamsters locals.

    Back in 2007, the group received $25,000 in seed money from ACORN, which has come under fire for its partisan, and questionable, campaign tactics.
    ""Fair" Districts Funding Questioned".


    Desperate wingnuts jump Boyd

    "After hearing from constituents and interest groups for months, U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd said he decided to vote for national health care because 'good policy equals good politics.'"

    But Republicans hoping to take over Congress think Boyd's decision may end his 14-year career in Washington. And even his opponent in the Democratic primary, while taking credit for swinging Boyd into the "aye" column, believes he can't redeem his vote against House health-care package last November.

    "I think Allen has probably sealed his fate with the people in District 2," Dianne Berryhill of Tallahassee, one of the Republicans running against him, said Saturday. "As I travel around the district, I find that people were already unhappy with Mr. Boyd."

    Campaigning at an Eastpoint rib cookoff, she said "he has not listened to the people of his district," despite a series of 16 town-hall meetings last summer and constant contact through Facebook and e-mail.

    Eddie Hendry of Tallahassee, another GOP hopeful, predicted Boyd would "pull out of the race after April. I think Obama is going to take care of him with some job in the federal government." Hendry admitted he had no evidence of that, but thinks voting for the health-care package is a career killer in conservative North Florida.
    "Boyd is taking a risk on health care".


    "Down to the wire"

    "Rep. Kendrick Meek is in the home stretch of what he hopes will be a history-making signature drive for a ballot spot in Florida's U.S. Senate race this summer." "Meek's signature drive down to the wire".


    Daily Rothstein

    "The mafia has a long history in South Florida. The latest reminder turned up in a report that a federal sting enlisted the help of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein." "Mafia has had long history in South Florida, and latest Rothstein revelations show no different".


    "Florida Republicans are foaming-at-the-mouth attack dogs"

    The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Thomas is humping for a big merit raise this year, with his usual Jeb-lite union bashing: "Merit pay rewards good teachers, punishes bad ones"

    To his great credit, Scott Maxwell makes a point rarely seen in a Tribune Company media outlet: "Florida Republicans are the foaming-at-the-mouth attack dog. They are so obsessed with union-busting that educating children barely enters their minds."

    Maxwell continues:

    As a result, Florida has one of the worst-funded school systems in America.

    Compounding the problem is the contempt Republican legislators have for teachers. That's right — teachers.

    Sure, they'll try to tell you they just hate the unions. But who do you think comprises the union? It's your son's math instructor, your daughter's music teacher — and their soccer coach.

    Underpaid educators have become the enemy.
    Maxwell then points out something that has been well known since, you know ... the 1920s, but is nevertheless a courageous thing to hear from a newspaper company employee:
    the overall demonization of the working class is one of corporate America's most successful coups within the GOP — a party that once championed[*] the rights of the common man.

    Nowadays, union-bashing isn't simply a plank in the GOP platform; it's the foundation.

    So the legislators (and some pundits) try to wreak havoc by convincing the public that unions lead to fat, lazy and ineffective teachers.
    Unfortunately, he then goes sideways by suggesting that the solution to the teacher pay issue is to have the bosses unilaterally determine the pay of individual teachers:
    One common-sense solution would put principals in charge of setting pay, perhaps with assistance from other teachers or staffers.

    Unions don't like this, saying it would bring favoritism into play. To that I say: Too bad. That is the way the world works. Bosses make decisions.
    "For teacher pay, unions and union-haters should compromise".

    Maxwell is off base when he asserts that it is "too bad" if employees don't like "favoritism", because "that is the way the world works". That may be - and indeed is - the way it works in for journalists that work for non-union newspaper companies**, but it isn't the way it has worked for unionized teachers throughout the nation for many decades, to wit: unionized teachers are generally paid by years of service and teacher discipline must comply with contractual principles of "just cause".

    Indeed, it has primarily been in our nation's former Confederate states - which largely prohibit public employees from unionizing and bargaining collectively - that the recent claimed crises in teacher pay and competence have arisen.

    - - - - - - - - - -
    *Maxwell's AP U.S. History teacher would be disappointed is his sloppy assertion that the GOP "once" championed the rights of the common man. The GOP has actually been out of the "championing the rights of the common man" business since the Nineteenth Century.

    **Maxwell like all other Florida journalists work for nonunion employers; decisions about their compensation, as Maxwell must concede, are influenced by, if not entirely governed by, "favoritism". However, a workplace governed by "favoritism" is not "the way of the world", but rather the "way" it is for compliant employees who choose to work in an environment dependent upon the "favoritism" of the "bosses". Other employees, including some journalists, have chosen a different "world", and shown the courage to unionize - indeed, that is why unions exist: to establish, and if necessary force, fairness in the workplace.

    Unions - including unions representing journalists - exist, as a matter of U.S. law and policy, to counterbalance the "inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association [which] substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry and by preventing the stabilization of competitive wage rates and working conditions within and between industries." 29 U.S.C. Sec. 151.


    Lean budget

    "School budget preview of more lean times".


    Hometown Democracy

    Howard Troxler: "A bunch of Greek guys started a political debate 2,500 years ago that we're still fighting about."

    Can people govern themselves wisely by a direct vote?

    Or should they put their trust in leaders to make wise decisions?

    Here in Florida, we're smack in the middle of that age-old fight. This November we'll vote on the idea called "Hometown Democracy."

    Hometown Democracy (Amendment 4 on the ballot) would require a local election for major local growth decisions, rather than trusting the County Commission or City Council to make them.

    Hometown Democracy was put on the ballot by a citizen petition. The basic argument is that local governments in Florida are simply incapable of saying no to developers, profit and sprawl.

    There are many arguments against Amendment 4, and some of them are valid.
    Troxler outlines both sides of the argument here: "Truth and hysteria about Hometown Democracy".


    What's wrong with Hillsborough?

    "Some commissioners who have voiced reluctance to fire internal auditor Jim Barnes, County Administrator Pat Bean, center, and County Attorney Renee Lee have mentioned their generous severance packages as one reason to be cautious. " "Hillsborough’s contracts hinder firings".


    Ozone

    "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing to adopt more-stringent standards for ozone, a major component of smog and a health hazard, especially for children, the elderly and people with breathing ailments. Primary generators of the pollutant in Florida are cars, trucks and electric-power plants." "Will Florida get tailpipe tests, 55 mph speed limit to cut air pollution?".


    The Orlando editors are at it yet again

    Newspaper companies - worried that their employees might get all uppity on them and make crazy demands like defined benefit retirement plans - have made a statewide habit of slamming police and firefighter pensions. Here's the latest scare tactic from the Orlando Sentinel: "In the parade of horribles confronting Florida legislators this year — including a huge budget gap, double-digit unemployment and cash-starved schools — it's easy to overlook the rising cost of municipal pension plans for police and firefighters."

    Here's why: State law forces cities to offer their cops and firefighters traditional pension plans. Cities contribute to a fund, which pays checks to retirees.

    Businesses began switching years ago from these plans to more affordable 401(k)-style defined contribution plans.

    But over the past decade or so, legislators have gone in the opposite direction. They've passed laws to sweeten retirement benefits for police and firefighters. But local governments, not Tallahassee, are on the hook for bankrolling those pensions. ...

    But spending on police and fire pensions for cities also has been driven higher by state laws — especially one passed in 1999. That noxious law, approved under heavy lobbying from police and fire unions, requires cities to set aside any increase in insurance tax collections to jack up pension checks, rather than cover existing costs.
    "Defuse pension bombs".

    As usual, the editors are merely re-channeling the latest League of Cities propaganda, and who can blame them: newspaper companies are just businesses trying to make a buck. Legitimate news and editorial comment apparently take a back seat to balanced coverage. For the rest of the story, you may want to check this out.

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