"Florida cries out for vision and leadership"
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "JD Alexander is the face of what is wrong with Florida."
First the Senate budget chairman demands that the University of South Florida campus in Lakeland immediately become independent and earmarks millions for the new university. Now the Lake Wales Republican stands to get millions for a toll road that would run near the new university and one day benefit his company's ranch."Alexander's self-interest is exceeded only by the cost to taxpayers, destruction of public policy and further erosion of public confidence in state government."
Florida cries out for vision and leadership. Its state universities are overflowing with nearly 330,000 students as the Legislature cuts spending on higher education. Not one public university ranks in the nation's top 50, yet there is no grand consensus on moving forward. Beyond quality higher education, modern transportation and smart growth are other keys to a vibrant quality of life and a strong economy. Yet the Legislature uses money dedicated to roads to patch other holes in the budget, decimates growth management and overturns decades of water policy."What's wrong with Florida".
Florida is floundering because of legislators like Alexander ...
Heated, hastily called Saturday committee meeting pushes for-profit schools
"A controversial 'parent trigger' measure giving parents the ability to determine the fate of chronically failing schools is headed to the Senate floor after a heated, hastily called Senate budget committee meeting Saturday morning."
"The 'parent-trigger' push in an election year is politically motivated, critics also said, pitting teachers' unions against conservative Republican lawmakers and their constituents."
Teachers ... contend that the process opens public school parents to coercion by for-profit charter schools and private management companies, who would be able to take over the schools if the school districts agree to the parents recommendations. If the school board rejects the parents' option, parents could appeal to the state Board of Education, which would make the final decision."Controversial Florida 'parent trigger' bill headed to Senate floor".
"This simply allows a private management company to own your school for a time period," said Jeff Wright, public advocacy director for the Florida Education Association. "Once they get whatever they get out of it, like profit for example, then they leave and the public school is held accountable, again."
The bill is a priority of GOP leaders including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, the founder of the Foundation for Florida's Future, is also backing the measure, and sent out a blast e-mail Friday evening urging recipients to contact senators before the meeting.
Rubio throws a tantrum
"In a move sure to increase speculation he is angling to be the Republican vice presidential running mate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is demanding the Florida Ethics Commission close out a complaint that he misused Republican and campaign money 'to subsidize his lifestyle.'"
Rubio said he repaid personal expenses. Others raised questions, such as the nearly $4,000 he billed the Republican Party of Florida for a rental car in Miami and repairs to his family minivan, which he said was damaged by a valet at a political event."Rubio demands end of ethics case".
Rubio acknowledged double-billing state taxpayers and the party for eight plane fares to Tallahassee, calling it a mistake, and repaid the party.
A rising figure in national Republican politics, Rubio is considered a top candidate as a vice presidential running mate. He insists he's focused on representing Florida but questions about his past are already drawing national media scrutiny. This week, the Wall Street Journal urged him to air out any vetting problems now so he would not become the next Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle.
But there's more, much more. In addition to Rubio's mendacious "'[n]othing against immigrants, but my parents are exiles' narrative"*, Mr. Rubio appears to have an overly-strong sense of entitlement: "Rubio's mortgage mess" ("State House Speaker Marco Rubio abruptly amended his financial disclosure forms Friday after The Miami Herald asked why they lacked a $135,000 home-equity loan he obtained from a bank controlled by his political supporters") and "Rubio pays mortgage debt to avoid foreclosure" ("A bank began the foreclosure process on a Tallahassee home owned by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio after he failed topay his mortgage for five months").
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*Rick Sanchez, whose parents were "real" political refugees, writes that
Rubio says he just, "got a few dates wrong." That's how he excuses his falsehood about when his parents fled Cuba. With that story, he convinced Americans that he was the son of political refugees, implying that it somehow made him different from the other Hispanics who he attacks regularly--the ones in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama that he and others want to detain, arrest and kick out. How dare they come here looking for work and to better their lot in life? Marco Rubio made us believe he is different from them when he's not."Marco Rubio's Memory Problem".
Marco Rubio owes an apology to my parents and the hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans who actually did experience the hardships of being political refugees. Their stories are real. And the dates and times associated with their flight from Cuba are etched in their memories, often to the minute. It's not something they "just get wrong." Ever. Unless they want to get it wrong.
But they are not Rubio's biggest problem. This seemingly likable young man with Tea Party backing will likely be forgiven in Miami. His real problem is that the GOP has national plans for him, and national elections aren't won in Miami. They are won across the country where Mexicans and other immigrants, who make up the vast majority of the Latino vote, may not be as forgiving.
Would you be? Latinos across the country who see themselves as economic exiles, or whose parents came here as economic exiles, say Senator Rubio has continually attacked them. Now, they learn that he is, in many ways, no different from them.
Justice Department suit could impact August primary
"The Justice Department is opposing changes in Florida voting procedures and says it wants a trial in the dispute, a move that could impact the state's August primary elections." "Justice Dept wants trial on Florida voting changes".
Scott flip-flops, praises Obama
"it was remarkable last weekend when, during a National Governors Association dinner at the White House, Scott released a letter thanking Obama for proposing to cut the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. Scott praised Obama for 'taking this step in the right direction.'"
For Scott, the move marks another softening in the tough-toned rhetoric that left his own corporate tax-cut proposal languishing last year until the legislature's final hours, when it was dramatically scaled back."Gov. Scott lowers tax-cut goal, wins support".
Aiming lower this year, Scott looks likely to easily land another round of Florida corporate income tax cuts. They're part of a $205 million economic incentive package that legislators are expected to wrap up before the legislature's scheduled finish Friday.
Same-sex custody battle
"A custody battle between two lesbians could redefine the notion of who is a mother and perhaps force Florida lawmakers to reconsider a 19-year-old state law. One partner donated an egg that was fertilized and implanted in the other partner, who gave birth. The Brevard County couple separated two years later. Their fight over the now 8-year-old girl is before the Florida Supreme Court." "Same-sex custody battle could change Florida law".
Gaetz leads GOP's regressive flip-flop on energy policy
Zac Anderson: "Few states had a more aggressive Republican-backed effort to address global warming and promote renewable energy than Florida in 2007 and 2008. But the political mood has changed so dramatically that lawmakers today are close to repealing the period’s signature energy initiative."
The turnaround was evident in the state House last week as lawmakers voted 82-34 along party lines to repeal a key “cap-and-trade” provision in the Florida Climate Protection Act — legislation that passed the House and Senate unanimously in 2008."Lawmakers close to rolling back 2008 energy reform".
The law was supposed to move the state away from electricity produced by burning fossil fuels like coal and oil that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases. It authorized the state to develop a cap-and-trade system — which sets a limit on fossil fuel burning emissions and penalizes electric companies that exceed the limit — to be approved by the Legislature.
“This was something that passed with bipartisan support back in 2008,” acknowledged Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, on the House floor last week. “However, we ought to be mature enough and reasonable enough as a Legislature to admit when we’ve made a mistake and we made a mistake then by passing this job-killing legislation.”
But renewable-energy supporters say technologies are still advancing rapidly throughout the world and that Florida is losing the opportunity to develop a major new industry that could diversify the state’s economy.
"One of Florida's greatest shames"
Scott Maxwell: "Wrongful convictions: One of Florida's greatest shames".
"Two and a Half Macks"
"The Republican race for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida has produced ugly exchanges between George LeMieux and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV over financial struggles and fighting issues in Mack's past — some more than 20 years old — that LeMieux has characterized as reflecting bad character. Playing on the stories of bar and road-rage incidents raised in a 1990s lawsuit, and on other reports of financial issues Mack faced during his 2005 divorce, LeMieux recently released a video called 'Two and a Half Macks' comparing Mack to Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen." "Connie Mack's finances, past fighting become campaign issues".
"Florida Legislature's brazen vindictiveness"
"The Florida House gave tentative approval to a transportation bill Friday that would remove Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs from Metro Orlando's main road-building agency. ... Jacobs maintains the drive to get her off the board is retribution for stands she has taken that are unpopular with powerful Republicans, including future House Speaker Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary and prominent fundraiser and Apopka developer Jim Palmer. Dorworth disputes that claim. Palmer could not be reached for comment." "House votes for bill to dump Jacobs from expressway board".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Trying to boot Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs from Metro Orlando's expressway authority is just the latest example of the Florida Legislature's brazen vindictiveness. Rep. Mike Horner, a Kissimmee Republican, made the move last week in an 11th-hour amendment to a spending bill." "Attack on Teresa Jacobs is new normal in Tallahassee".
"The state of Democratic politics in Florida is so incongruous it borders on surreal"
Adam C. Smith: "The state of Democratic politics in Florida is so incongruous it borders on surreal."
On any given week, thousands of Barack Obama volunteers in every corner of America's biggest battleground state are working phone banks, attending training sessions and reaching out to deliver Florida's 29 electoral votes to the president. In Tampa, Mitt Romney's Florida campaign headquarters is shuttered."How far has the Democratic Party fallen in Florida?"
But step inside Florida's Capitol, where the levers of power are housed to shape statewide policies. There, Democrats are more invisible and irrelevant than ever: Not a single statewide office-holder and such small minorities in both chambers that Democrats can't even use procedural moves to slow the Republican agenda.
So far that it's hard to name strong prospects to challenge Gov. Rick Scott, the country's most unpopular governor, in 2014."What happened to Florida Democrats?"
And when you ask veteran Florida political observers to name the state's most influential Democrats, they're apt to mention Bob Graham, who is 75 and has been out of office for seven years. Or Charlie Crist, who isn't even a Democrat but could run for governor in 2014 as a lifelong Republican-turned independent-turned-Democrat.
The lack of Democratic influence in Tallahassee is all the more striking because the state remains as much a competitive battleground as ever. In the past five presidential elections Democrats won twice, Republicans twice, and one election ended in a virtual tie.
This year, Obama appears to have an even chance of winning Florida (the average of recent Florida polls shows Obama leading Romney by less than half a percentage point), Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is well-positioned to win a third term, and Democrats won two big prizes in 2011: mayoral offices in Jacksonville and Tampa.
"Prayer by any other name"
Myriam Marquez asks, "Dear Lord, why is the Florida Legislature calling prayer by any other name? Inspirational messages?" "On ‘inspirational messages’ in public schools what’s the point?".
Legislature rolls for Ricky
"Florida lawmakers are giving Gov. Rick Scott more say over money used to bring jobs to the Sunshine State." "Fla. lawmakers give Scott more say over jobs money".
"Jeb 'would just be embarrassing'"
"Looks like conservative author Ann Coulter is not among those Republicans pining for a contested convention in Tampa that would prompt former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to step in as the nominee."
"Jeb Bush would be the worst of all candidates to run," she said last week on Fox News. "For one thing, we don't need another Bush. That would just be embarrassing to the Republican Party. But also he's more pro-amnesty for illegals than his brother was, more than Rick Perry was — and it certainly didn't help Rick Perry.""Coulter calls out Bush".
State GOP seeks to avoid responsibility for violating rules
"Florida GOP chairman Lenny Curry says he is trying to minimize the punishments for Florida's delegation to the Republican National Convention in Tampa because the state violated the officially sanctioned primary schedule." "Go easy on us, please".
A very short list
"Ranking Florida's most influential Democrats".
Haridopolos open to returning in a special session
"Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said Friday he’s open to returning in a special session if the state’s low-cost auto coverage isn’t resolved by the end of next week, when the regular session is scheduled to end." "Haridopolos Fine with Special Session to Reform PIP Auto Insurance Coverage".
Money well spent
"Chamber, AIF Upbeat about Session's Outcome".
Charter school madness
The Tampa Bay Times editors: "The Life Force Arts and Technology Academy in Dunedin, a charter elementary school serving low-income children, has sold area parents a bill of goods. It promised an enriching arts and technology program and delivered a school stripped of resources by its management company and laden with Church of Scientology teaching methodology. The school's actions raise serious questions about fiscal control and church-state separation." "Charter school dangers on display in Scientology case".
No budget compromise on education and health and human services
"State lawmakers made significant headway on the budget Saturday, reaching consensus on economic incentives and spending on transportation, prisons and law enforcement. But they had yet to find a compromise in the two most controversial parts of the spending plan: education and health and human services." "State budget talks move forward".
Nancy Smith on "whining"
Nancy Smith "Kirk Fordham's column in the Tallahassee Democrat on Friday, "Restoration is about more than just the Everglades," is a superb example of how environmentalists in this country overreach, blow it, and end up preaching to the choir. " "Everglades Proponents: Whining Is a Major Turn-Off".
"Once cohesive congressional delegation breaking apart"
William Gibson: "The once cohesive Florida congressional delegation is breaking apart. South Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings on Thursday told fellow Democrats that Republicans have abandoned the bipartisan tradition of working together across party lines for the interests of Florida." "Florida congressional delegation breaking apart".
Legislators dance to lobbyists' "non-verbal cues"
"Two years ago, a powerful business trade group filed a lawsuit against the state’s largest county, Miami-Dade, arguing that its program to help workers recover unpaid wages was unconstitutional."
But with the case still being fought in court, the Florida Retail Federation also launched a campaign to pass HB 609, which would change state law to outlaw the county’s program."Consider the FRF’s experience."
“We think the Dade County ordinance violates Article 5, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution, where it says ‘No municipality, no county can establish a court or a tribunal,’” the FRF’s senior vice president John Rogers told lawmakers during a recent hearing in this year’s legislative session.
It’s an argument the FRF has tried to make before a Miami-Dade judge for the last two years — so far without success.
The Legislature appears to be friendlier than the courts. The House of Representatives passed HB 609 last week, and the bill could effectively quash the court battle and kill Miami-Dade’s program.
The FRF’s strategy is not isolated. Some well-connected litigants struggling to make their case before a Florida judge are choosing what they see as a far better option: Hire high-priced lobbyists and change the law before the judge can rule.
During this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee, litigants from large corporations to local governments are pushing changes to state laws that would give them an automatic trump card in pending lawsuits.
Florida’s Constitution, which mandates a separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches, frowns upon using the lawmaking process to preempt active legal cases. But lawmakers have ignored several warnings from state analysts pointing out unconstitutional proposals, and the litigation-tinged measures have sailed through the chambers with little debate.
During a crucial committee vote on the wage theft bill, the FRF’s Rogers made several non-verbal cues to a representative on the committee and pulled him to the side in the middle of the meeting."Legislature proves friendlier than fights in court".
In hushed voices, Rogers and the representative, Michael Weinstein, R-Jacksonville, conferred. Weinstein then returned to the committee table, whispered in the ear of another representative, and then both cast votes in favor of HB 609.
To privatize Tri-Rail?
"South Florida’s Tri-Rail board would be reshuffled, the rail line could expand to Monroe County, and its administration could be privatized under a provision ready for a House vote next week." "Legislature in brief: Tri-Rail board faces reorganization".
Publix drags its feet and its knuckles
Bill Maxwell reminds us
that for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, a worker gets on average 50 cents, a rate unchanged since 1980. Most workers earn roughly $10,000 a year. Besides low wages, they have no right to overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid vacation and no right to organize to change these conditions."Still fighting for penny a pound".
To raise workers' pay, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants, has been trying to persuade the $25 billion Publix chain to join the organization's Campaign for Fair Food. Publix has flatly refused to join.
Beginning Monday, the CIW and its supporters will begin a hunger strike at Publix headquarters in Lakeland in another attempt to get company to come aboard. The fast will end March 10.
The purpose of the Campaign for Fair Food, which began in 2001, is to get the nation's food retailers that sell tomatoes to pay an extra penny per pound for each bucket of tomatoes picked. Growers pass the penny on to farmworkers. A major reason for farmworkers' low wages is that companies such as Publix do high-volume, low-cost purchasing.
To initiate the campaign more than 10 years ago, the CIW asked Taco Bell to pay the extra penny. When the company balked, the CIW called a nationwide boycott of the chain. In March 2005, Taco Bell, a division of Yum! Brands, which includes Pizza Hut and KFC, agreed to pay the extra penny to its suppliers of Florida tomatoes.
Since then, other companies have joined the campaign, including McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's and food service providers Compass Group, Bon Appetit, Aramark and Sodexo. Many Florida growers are now supporters.
CIW leaders said the extra penny is making a positive impact. Still, Publix continues to hold out.