'Ya gotta problem with that?
"She was a 25-year-old junior staffer when the Florida Republican Party gave her an American Express card."
Over the next 2 ½ years, nearly $1.3 million in charges wound up on Melanie Phister's AmEx -- $40,000 at a London hotel and nearly $20,000 in plane tickets for indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom, his wife and kids, for starters. Statements show thousands spent on jewelry, sporting goods and, in one case, $15,000 for what's listed as a month-long stay at a posh Miami Beach hotel, but which the party says was a forfeited deposit."The credit card records, obtained by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times, offer the latest behind-the-scenes look at extravagant and free-wheeling spending by the party touting fiscal restraint."
Not only did certain elite legislative leaders have their own party credit cards to spend donors' money with little oversight, but Phister's records show these leaders also liberally used an underling's card -- without her knowledge, she says."Fla. Republican Party staffer racks up $1.3M on AmEx card".
"I did not have the sole discretion to initiate credit card spending,'' Phister said in an e-mail statement. "Over that period of time, there were multiple instances when the card was used to make purchases that I had no knowledge of, and I did not regularly review the monthly credit card statements which I understand were sent directly to the Party's accounting office.''
Even after a series of embarrassing revelations over profligate credit card spending by the likes of Republican U.S. Senate front-runner Marco Rubio, Sansom and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon -- and pending state and federal investigations of party finances -- revelations of the huge charges on Phister's card had veteran GOP fundraisers apoplectic.
What will Charlie do next?
"Gov. Charlie Crist's (R-FL) Senate campaign in Florida just announced raising $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2010. This might seem impressive in theory, but in fact was less than a third of the amount that was raised by his rival in the Republican primary, the former underdog and (now frontrunner) Marco Rubio, whose campaign announced two days ago that he took in $3.6 million." "Crist Raises Less Than A Third Of Rubio's Haul In 1st Quarter". See also "Fundraising for quarter: Crist $1.1M, Rubio $3.6M", "Crist trails Rubio in campaign fundraising for Senate race" and "Crist's fundraising totals less than a third of Rubio's for first quarter".
Despite the denials, the word is that Charlie is seriously looking at his non-RPOF U.S. Senate primary options. The key will be whether he vetoes the teachers bill (see below).
"Veto, baby, veto!"
Further Update: The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Crist should veto teacher tenure bill".
Update: "Veto terrible merit pay bill: After one lost school decade, state could lose another.".
"Florida teachers, frustrated and furious by the Florida Legislature's passage of a sweeping merit-pay bill, kicked up their campaign Friday to convince Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the landmark legislation." "Teachers tell Crist on merit pay: 'Veto, baby, veto!'". See also "Teacher tenure bill a test for Crist".
"Crist now is at the center of a political firestorm over a contentious education bill that the Florida House voted to send him for approval."
Whether Crist will sign SB 6, the so-called teacher tenure bill, is anything but certain. Though supportive earlier in the session, the governor said this week that he cannot ignore the loud outcry from teachers and some parents."Gov. Crist wavers on teacher tenure bill". See also "Crist has 1 week to act on merit pay" and "Teachers, parent groups assail merit pay bill".
During an appearance Friday in St. Petersburg, Crist said he has never had an issue put as much political pressure on him since taking office.He said he had gotten "a ton" of pressure. His office has been flooded with calls and e-mails urging a veto.
That sentiment echoes News Channel 8's SurveyUSA poll conducted Friday. Of 428 [Tampa] Bay area people surveyed who were familiar with the bill, 62 percent said Crist should veto it; 33 percent said he should sign it into law. A majority - 67 percent - said the bill would be unfair to teachers, and 47 percent said the bill would harm the quality of education in public schools.
"A hot-potato bill eliminating teacher tenure and tying pay to student test scores landed in Gov. Charlie Crist's hands Friday, tossed by legislators who debated it early into the morning. Now, the waiting — and wheedling — begins." "Teachers and allies keep up the pressure for a veto of education bill". See also "Tenure bill in Crist's hands" and "Crist hints he’ll veto teacher merit pay bill".
Related: "Miami-Dade schools brace for possible teacher sick-out over education bill".
"Sen. John Thrasher said a "glitch" bill might be used to satisfy Gov. Charlie Crist, who says he has issues with the measure." "'Glitch' bill possible for Florida teacher measure".
Shouldn't Jebbie "take some responsibility"?
Tom Nickens: "If Jeb Bush wants to be governor again, the job will be open soon."
If he wants to be a U.S. senator, he should run against Gov. Charlie Crist in the Republican primary instead of sniping at him in the national media.Nickens continues:
Of course, Bush won't enter either race.
Why should he?
Bush is advancing his conservative agenda in the Legislature and influencing the Senate race without coming out of the shadows. He has tremendous clout and no accountability. He makes tons of money, travels the world and answers to no one. ...
Now he's more like Voldemort in the Harry Potter books. You can feel his presence in the room, his surrogates are doing the dirty work and he still finds ways to leave his own mark.
Bush has more influence over the Legislature as the former two-term governor than the guy actually living in the Governor's Mansion."Jeb wields clout without accountability".
But you have to feel for Crist. He is running against both Marco Rubio and Bush's shadow in the Republican primary for Senate. Even the Fox television debate between Rubio and Crist became two against one when Fox aired a video clip of Bush criticizing Crist's support of the federal stimulus package.
"I consider it unforgivable in the sense we're now in a battle for our country's future,'' Bush said.
How would Bush have dealt with the economic crisis in Florida without the federal stimulus money?
How would Bush explain laying off thousands of teachers or denying medical care to Floridians on Medicaid if there were no federal money?
Shouldn't Bush take some responsibility for the state's situation since he cut billions in taxes that could have helped Florida better weather the recession? Shouldn't he take some responsibility for the overdevelopment that contributed to the housing crash?
Bush cannot be bothered with such questions any more. ...
It must be nice to get your way and settle old scores without having to defend your own record.
Deputy editorial page editor of The Palm Beach Post, Jac Wilder VerSteeg reminds us that "politicians who have made life tougher on teachers haven't suffered. In 1999, then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature usurped the FCAT and turned it into a weapon to bludgeon teachers, administrators and students. Did Jeb pay? He did not. Not only was he reelected in 2002, he remains popular, and the Legislature is full of senators and representatives who sing hosannas to his "bold" educational 'reforms.'"
VerSteeg as a suggestion for teachers and their friends, pointing out that
there is one statewide race that lends itself to teacher retribution. Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, is running to replace Ms. Sink as chief financial officer. As president, Sen. Atwater could have blocked merit pay. Instead, he backed it. ..."Teachers' target: Atwater: If they want revenge, he's their candidate.".
Teachers can't get to each individual legislator who arrogantly dictated merit pay. But by knocking off Sen. Atwater, they could let it be known that any legislator who has statewide ambitions can't afford to tick off teachers.
Teachers should go after Sen. Atwater early and hard. If they can't deprive him of office, of course, nobody will take their threats seriously. But that's already the situation. Politicians have decreed that they'll misuse a bunch of tests to gauge teacher effectiveness. Make Sen. Atwater's bid to become CFO a test of teachers' political effectiveness.
"The bill, HB 31, is a response to a 2008 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against Santa Rosa schools. The ACLU challenged teacher-led Bible study and administration-promoted prayer. A federal court-approved consent decree last year prohibits school officials from instigating religious activities in conjunction with school events." "Fla. House panel approves school-prayer measure".
Crist takes on the Legislature
Aaron Deslatte: "Crist is scrambling to balance his teetering U.S. Senate campaign by striking out against one of the only institutions more unpopular with voters than he appears to be: the Florida Legislature."
And as lawmakers head into the final three weeks of the session, that poses some fascinating potential battle-lines for the lame-duck governor and lawmakers outraged to find themselves struggling against an executive from their own party."Crist, lawmakers ready to rumble – with each other".
"I guess like all of America he can change his mind when the political winds change," said Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.
What's driving this animosity?
Alexander was referring to Crist's recent hedging on whether he would sign a contentious bill doing away with tenure and instituting merit pay for teachers. But the list of GOP grievances with their governor is a long one.
Crist and the Republican-led Legislature have quarreled over spending, stimulus funds, Everglades restoration and insurance rates. And they could find themselves at odds over cuts to state workers' pay and pensions, and Crist's call for a corruption-cleanup bill presently going nowhere in the Capitol.
Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos blistered Crist's veto of a campaign-finance bill (HB 1207) that would have brought back "leadership funds" for incoming House and Senate leaders, allowing them to raise unlimited cash and pump up to $50,000 into individual legislative races.
AIF says "Jump!"
The Orlando Sentinel editors board: "Even as they struggle to balance Florida's budget, state lawmakers seem poised to expand a property-tax break that'll make it harder for local governments to pay for basic services such as schools, roads and police."
The reasoning behind this proposal is dubious, and the timing is terrible. It would benefit a large landowner now locked in tax disputes with two counties, and it could serve the business interests of one of its sponsors in the Legislature."Don't widen loophole for developers to exploit".
If enough lawmakers don't come to their senses to stop it, Gov. Charlie Crist should ready his veto pen.
Florida created the tax break at issue, known as the agricultural exemption, decades ago. It was intended to reduce property-tax bills for farmers, and ease the pressure on them to sell out to developers.
The principle is sound, but large and savvy landowners have exploited the break at the expense of local governments and other taxpayers. While waiting for the right market conditions to develop their property, those landowners run a few head of cattle or plant a few trees to cut their tax bills to less than 10 percent of what they would otherwise pay.
Local governments have lost untold millions this way. Those losses have squeezed budgets and shifted more of the property-tax burden to other businesses and homeowners.
"America's first congressional race of 2010 heads into its final days with a flurry of mailings, TV ads and phone calls from the three candidates vying to replace Robert Wexler. Democrat Ted Deutch, Republican Ed Lynch and no-party candidate Jim McCormick are on the ballot in Tuesday's special election in congressional District 19." "Early voting turnout strong as election day nears for Wexler's congressional seat". See also "Early voting under way in special election to replace Robert Wexler".
The Miami Herald editorial board: "It's hard to get a straight answer out of Tallahassee during the legislative session, as Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez knows all too well."
Mr. Martinez was in the capital this week tracking rumors that a failed 2009 provision to privatize part of his office has been resurrected. Will it be added to legislation in conference committee? If so, the proposal was a bad idea last year, and it still is."A stealth plan?".
It would farm out third-degree felony cases for indigent defendants in Miami-Dade's 11th Circuit to a private law firm without first seeking bids.
Phew! ... at least it ain't a tax
"Will Florida take a cut? Red-light cameras make millions -- but may be in peril".
"Florida could become the 24th state to collect sales tax on purchases from Amazon.com and other online and out-of-state vendors if some lawmakers and business advocates get their way." "Lawmakers Call for Tax on Out-of-State Sales".
Nothing better to do?
As Florida crashes and burns, "some in the Legislature want to bar illegal immigrants from claiming a lottery prize."
Noncitizens could still play the lottery, doing their part to pay for Bright Futures scholarships and school classrooms. But they couldn't claim a prize even if they picked all six numbers."Sure you can play, but you just can't win".
The provision is in two bills: Senate Bill 856 by Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and HB 219 by Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Oviedo. The bills also would require that foreign nationals who might get lucky while visiting Florida prove that they were here legally.
Adams' bill is mostly a requirement that businesses holding state contracts verify with the government that they don't employ illegals. She said the lottery language was not her idea and was put in the bill at the request of Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, who chairs a House committee that recently passed her bill.
"We're just saying that if we're really serious about cracking down on illegal immigrants in this state, we're going to put in another level of protection to identify them," Schenck said.
Baker was a little more blunt. "If you're here illegally, you shouldn't reap the benefits," he said. "I have no sympathy for someone here illegally."
Another lazy public employee ...
... whose family probably will get some publicly funded death benefit: "An off-duty Miami firefighter who recently returned from a rescue mission to Haiti died Thursday night after his motorcycle collided with a car" "Miami firefighter, Haiti rescuer, killed in Hollywood motorcycle crash".
"Calling President Barack Obama's NASA budget 'unacceptable,' U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas joined Rep. Bill Posey in demanding a greater commitment for space exploration from the White House. Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, and Posey, R-Rockledge, spoke Friday at a congressional forum in Cocoa in advance of Obama's scheduled visit to Florida on Thursday." "Florida's Space Industry on High Alert".
"The House bill to split the Public Service Commission’s staff from the beleaguered panel was unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Council Friday with minor tweaks that did not address wide disparities between the plan and a measure already approved by the Florida Senate." "PSC Re-org Clears Final Committee, Senate Future in Doubt".