"With approval ratings scraping bottom and his name a virtual laugh line for Democrats, Gov. Rick Scott is retooling his leadership team, with a pair of top aides departing and a veteran government insider expected to join the administration."
Scott Chief-of-Staff Mike Prendergast, a retired Army colonel, was officially moved Wednesday to executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs, taking with him his $150,000 salary and becoming one of the governor's best-paid agency heads."Scott, who will reach his six-month mark in office July 4, may feel some urgency to re-pivot because of recent polls."
The move came a day after Mary Anne Carter, a top Scott adviser, announced she will leave at the end of the month. Carter guided Scott's campaign last summer, helping the former health care executive win his first run for elected office -- powered by spending $73 million of his own cash.
Meanwhile, Senate President Mike Haridopolos' chief-of-staff, Steve MacNamara, is considered a likely successor to Prendergast. ...
While high-profile staff changes are not unusual, Scott's recent predecessors, former Govs. Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, managed to get through at least the first year without an overhaul.
Liberal commentator Rachel Maddow devoted a sizeable segment of her MSNBC program this week to Scott - saying he "has been digging a new basement at the bottom of 'my constituents hate me' list.""Shake-up at top follows Scott's plummeting approval ratings".
Sensing trouble, the Florida Republican Party has sent out three rounds of automated phone calls to voters, touting Scott's budget-signing, demand for drug testing of welfare recipients and the state's declining unemployment numbers.
The party also is managing an online letters-to-the-editor campaign, urging supporters to write their local papers to "spread the word of the governor's accomplishments." The party's Rick Scott for Governor website features a suggested form letter and addresses for the editorial pages of seven major newspapers, excluding The Palm Beach Post and St. Petersburg Times.
"Bleak, and increasingly scary, SunRail financials "
"A 'no-bailout tour' by the head of the state Department of Transportation next week is expected to highlight the bleak, and increasingly scary, financials of the planned SunRail project." "FDOT's 'No-Bailout Tour' No Comfort to SunRail Foes".
Hasner establishes wingnut bona fides
"Former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner continues to garner support from nationally prominent figures affiliated with the conservative movement in his bid to win the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in the 2012 U.S. Senate race. The latest conservative to bestow his blessing on Hasner is radio host and longtime media figure Hugh Hewitt." "Adam Hasner Wins Backing of Prominent Conservative Hugh Hewitt".
Funerals scheduled for firemen killed battling blaze
"Funerals to be held this weekend for firefighters killed battling fires in N. Fla." See also "".
"Sniping" in Hawkes case
"The attorney who led the investigation into Judge Paul Hawkes fires back at attempts to have him thrown off the ethics case. A hearing has been scheduled on July 15 to consider motions to dismiss the case and disqualify the lead prosecutor." "More sniping in case involving Taj Mahal judge".
"According to a conservative group ..."
"A congressional ethics panel is looking into allegations that Rep. Alcee Hastings sexually harassed a former staffer, according to a conservative group that first aired the accusations."
Hastings' attorney, Tonya Robinson, said Wednesday that Hastings was "deeply disturbed" by the allegations and "in the strongest terms denies the charges. Mr. Hastings has stated unequivocally that the plaintiff's claims are untruthful and without merit.""Office of Congressional Ethics investigating Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings".
Robinson said Packer's charges "already have been the subject of extensive counseling and mediation, as the plaintiff acknowledges in her complaint. In that context, the plaintiff's allegations were fully aired and found to be meritless, and will be shown to be meritless in court as well."
Federal judge strikes down Florida's death penalty
"U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez ruled that juries, not judges, should be the ones to determine ‘aggravating factors’ in sentencing criminals to die." "Miami federal judge rules Florida’s death penalty unconstitutional". "In a decision hailed by defense attorneys and civil libertarians, a federal judge in Miami has struck down Florida's death penalty saying the way it is applied flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution."
The decision shouldn't spark a pro- or anti-death penalty debate, he said. "The issue is that before we give a person the ultimate penalty, unless you're absolutely certain beyond a reasonable doubt that they deserve it, we shouldn't be doing it."Jurisprudential giant,
Further, Florida is an outlier. Alabama is the only other state that doesn't require jurors to agree on the aggravating factors that prompted their death penalty recommendation, said retired 18th Judicial Circuit Judge O.H. "Bill" Eaton, a capital punishment expert. But even Alabama requires a jury to reach a decision by a super majority vote. In Florida, if six of the 12 jurors agree, they may recommend death. A judge uses the recommendation to make the final decision.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi disagreed with the ruling and said she will ask Martinez to reconsider it. That is the first step in an appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Most agree the case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court."Federal judge strikes down Florida's death penalty". See also "Florida death sentences unconstitutional, U.S. judge rules".
"Chance that wells will become contaminated"
"This year’s drought has parched the water conservation areas south of Lake Okeechobee, raising the chance that wells near South Florida’s coast will become contaminated." "With wetlands drying up, saltwater threatens wells".
"Scott adviser is now head of Veterans Affairs".
GOP Medicaid plan slams Florida
"Republican-proposed cuts to Medicaid would deprive Florida of $566 million of health-care funds for the poor in fiscal year 2013 and lead to lost jobs, according to a report compiled by Families USA." "Report says Medicaid cuts would pinch Florida".
Don't expect much ... Scott handpicked Robinson
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Five months after Gov. Rick Scott took office, the Board of Education has hired a new education commissioner of his choosing, Virginia Education Secretary Gerard Robinson."
Robinson clearly shares Scott's support for school vouchers, charter schools and basing teacher pay on students' performance. But he acknowledges that his new job involves overseeing education for the vast majority of students who deserve to be taught in well-run public schools. He now needs to deliver that pragmatism on the job in the face of an education system constantly buffeted by political tides. ..."Pragmatic signals on school reform".
This week, with the education board's acquiescence, Scott handpicked Robinson for a job far larger than his current one [of merely] advising Virginia's governor on education policy. ...
Robinson will assume the helm at a moment of dramatic change, with more on the horizon. By this fall, state law requires school districts to begin implementing a system to evaluate teachers based on students' performance on standardized tests — many of which have yet to be developed or tested. The system is supposed to lay the groundwork for a merit-based teacher pay system by 2014. ...
It will be up to Robinson to speak truthfully to Scott and legislative leaders about what is and isn't working — not just what the latest reform movement claims is the answer. It will also be his job, as legislators push once again for private school vouchers and more charter schools, to ensure such efforts don't drain resources from the greater number of students in traditional public schools.
June 30 hearing on FRS lawsuit
"The Florida Education Association’s request for a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of a new law requiring public employees to contribute 3 percent of salaries to their retirement has been set for 7:30 a.m. on June 30, the day before the bill be comes law." "Hearing on FEA pension contribution challenge set for June 30".
"How to carve up the panhandle?"
"From the redistricting hearings: How to carve up the panhandle?".
Mica "turns back the clock on clean water safeguards"
"The 'Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011' sponsored by Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today in a 35-20 vote. Environmental law firm Earthjustice argues that the bill is misleading in name, and would do little more than 'turn back the clock on existing clean water safeguards.'" "Mica-sponsored water bill passes House Committee".
Florida independents don't like Teabaggers
"An internal Republican poll shows that the tea party, while popular among the GOP faithful, is a turnoff to many other Florida voters."
Beware, Florida Republicans: The tea party movement that swept you into office in 2010 could cost you the next election."GOP poll: Tea party movement could cost Republicans in 2012".
That’s the takeaway message from Republican pollster and consultant Alex Patton, who conducted a recent survey showing that, by a 2:1 ratio, registered Florida voters said the tea party movement did not represent their views.
The sentiment against the tea party is significantly higher among self-described independent voters, who swing elections in Florida and who looked unfavorably on the tea party by 3-to-1, the poll showed. Only Republican voters favored the tea party movement, with 68 percent in support and less than 20 percent opposed.
Scott takes private plane to celebrate firings and 50 cent tax cut
"Scott was harshly criticized for being insensitive Wednesday after he traveled to the South Florida Water Management District to sign a bill that will cut $128 million from the district budget and cost many of its workers their jobs."
"We can agree to disagree on the merits of the bill the governor signed, but to come to Palm Beach County and rub salt in the wounds of people who will soon go home to their families unemployed is insulting and unnecessarily cruel," said State Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. "Can you imagine the governor showing up to celebrate your unemployment?""Scott touts property tax cut bill at South Florida water district where public job cuts anticipated".
Speaking before a sparse crowd, the Republican governor said the bill fulfilled his campaign promise to cut taxes, streamline government and hold agencies responsible for spending. ...
Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, questioned whether the tax cuts, which he estimates to be $25 a year per household, are worth the resulting cuts to Everglades restoration and water supply projects.
"It is a bit of an insult to the people of South Florida for the governor to fly down on his private plane to offer the average homeowner a tax cut that amounts to less than 50 cents a week," Fordham said. "I'm not certain that gutting the agency in the midst of a massive water crisis is either smart politics or very good policy."
GOP hopefuls head to Florida
"GOP presidential hopefuls gearing up in Florida for grueling race". See also "Huntsman to open presidential campaign headquarters in Orlando" and "Jon Huntsman, Florida candidate?"
Speaking of "dips---s"
"Brian Burgess, the man charged with shaping Gov. Rick Scott's image and message, got his start working with reporters on behalf of a Kansas district attorney best known for prosecuting an abortion provider."
"I really don't miss some of you dips---s at all," Burgess e-mailed a Kansas reporter in 2008, after he left to work with a conservative public relations firm in Virginia. "Have fun in your world of make-believe.""Polls show Scott may be the least popular governor in America. Clearly, Florida's economy has a lot to do with that, but Scott's communications team appears to have done little to help."
The line is vintage Burgess, the most combative communications director for a Florida governor in many years.
By its nature, the job stirs tension between reporters hunting for news and press staffers concerned about the governor's image. But Burgess' public hostility toward the traditional press corps reaches a level rarely seen.
Burgess, a father of three who earns $110,000 annually, is not operating on an island. The testy, us-versus-them mentality is part of a culture instilled by Scott and his top advisers. They tend to view most reporters as liberal, biased enemies to be avoided."Gov. Rick Scott spokesman brings edge to job".
Scott, a political rookie, says he does not read Florida newspapers and became the first governor who refused to meet with editorial boards while campaigning. Scott narrowly won after spending more than $70 million of his own money on TV commercials.
"Florida lawmakers react to President Obama's speech on Afghanistan". See also "South Florida congressmen split on Afghanistan withdrawal".
Florida Teabaggers merely a GOP front group
"When South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson slammed a GOP Medicare overhaul plan as a 'public policy nightmare,' Democrats gleefully circulated his remarks while many Florida tea party activists shook their heads at Wilkinson's latest clash with others in the fiscally conservative movement." "South Florida Tea Party Chairman takes heat for views GOP Medicare plan".
The best medical care in the world?
Some "hospitals are protesting — not just the publication of their return rates, but data that they say don't match their internal numbers." "Orlando-area hospitals among worst in state for hospital readmissions, Medicare says".
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "The last shuttle launch does not mean the aerospace industry is a lost industry for Volusia and Brevard counties. Skilled space workers will adapt to the change, and we must help ensure they do not have to leave Florida to do so." "As shuttle program ends, new opportunities emerge".