"Florida hurtling back to the age of poll taxes"
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Last year, after lawmakers crafted cynical legislation masquerading as election reform, critics predicted Gov. Rick Scott's pending signature would send Florida hurtling back to the age of poll taxes."
Indeed, a recent New York Times analysis of registration data — while not providing undeniable connection — suggests Florida's regressive "reforms" have left behind many voters. Since May, when the law kicked in, nearly 82,000 fewer voters have registered, compared with the same stretch during the 2008 presidential campaign."Good ol' days voting law undermines democracy".
Lest cynics solely pin the erosion on withered political enthusiasm or shifting demographics and the void of a viable Democratic primary this year, the Times cited appreciable dips in areas enjoying upticks in citizens of voting-age. In Orange County, registrations dropped more than 20 percent; Miami's tally plunged 39 percent.
Casual link or not, Ann McFall, supervisor of elections in Volusia, where new registrations fell nearly 20 percent, fingered the law: "The drop-off is our League of Women Voters, our five universities in Volusia County, none of which are making a concentrated effort this year," she told the Times.
In fact, the League of Women Voters, cowed by the oppressive fines, bailed out early. And Rock the Vote opted to skip the Sunshine State on its national barnstorming to sign up young voters.
That the GOP-backed law has delivered the desired effect is bad enough. But the law gives the disenfranchised an extra poke in the eye. Research by Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist, suggests that the law purportedly needed to stem voter fraud has created more. In December 2007, he found, nearly 91 percent of the 77,299 applications the Division of Elections processed were valid. Last December, only 89.6 percent of the 45,026 applications were deemed valid.
The League of Women Voters and other civic groups have challenged the law in court. And rightfully so. Any law that mocks democracy and makes a problem worse should be scrapped.
Rivera, "how did he do it?"
The Miami Herald's Scott Hiaasen and Patricia Mazzei try to unravel "the financial maze the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office encountered in their 18-month investigation of the congressman's finances. The agencies closed their investigation of Rivera last week without filing criminal charges against him."
In a memo wrapping up their case, Miami-Dade prosecutors said Rivera "essentially live(d) off" campaign contributions for almost a decade while serving as a part-time state lawmaker, paying mortgages on four different properties and jetting around the globe though he never held a full-time job or earned more than $28,000 a year."So how did he do it?"
Newly released FDLE investigative reports show that Rivera used back-dated campaign records, a web of bank accounts and undisclosed loans, a batch of credit cards and misleading disclosure forms to disguise his finances from the public eye during much of his eight-year tenure in the Florida Legislature."Unraveling Miami Rep. David Rivera's maze of campaign finances".
Rivera, once the powerful budget chief in the state House of Representatives, also collected at least $175,000 in undisclosed donations for a perpetual campaign as a Miami-Dade committeeman with the state Republican Party — money Rivera frequently used to pay for meals and travel, including plane tickets for his then-girlfriend, the records show.
Other expenses Rivera called "campaign related," the records show, included $105 for show tickets at a medieval-themed casino in Las Vegas, and $360 for tickets to an off-Broadway show in New York. The title: Perfect Crime.
The FDLE also suspected that Rivera billed both his campaign account and his legislative travel account for the same expense — an accusation of double-billing that Rivera strongly denies. Rivera and his attorney, Michael Band, gave investigators records they said showed that Rivera did not double-bill.
Rivera received another $132,000 from a company he asked his mother and her partner to set up as part of a consulting deal with a Miami-Dade dog track — money Rivera never disclosed until after he left state office, records show. Rivera has described these payments as loans — and he borrowed money from his mother and her partner to repay the debts to the very company they ran, investigators found.
Miami-Dade prosecutors concluded that they could not file criminal charges against Rivera, citing a truncated statute of limitations for misspent travel expenses — preventing prosecution for any activities after two years — and holes and ambiguities in the state's campaign-finance laws.
In a statement issued through his campaign, Rivera lambasted the FDLE probe as "fabricated lies."
"Nelson the luckiest man in Washington"
"For years, Florida Republicans have called Sen. Bill Nelson 'vulnerable,' as the only Democrat holding a statewide elected office in Florida."
They said it again at the outset of this election cycle, based largely on Nelson's comparatively low public profile for a two-term senator and less-than-overwhelming job approval numbers."GOP scrambles in bid to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson". See also "CFO Jeff Atwater announces he will not run for U.S. Senate".
But in a parallel to the presidential race, a scrambled, drawn-out Republican primary and questions about the quality of GOP candidates have left Nelson in what looks — for the moment — like a comfortable position.
"We've experienced a smaller but similar flavor-of-the-month, like in the presidential primary," said Republican political consultant Chris Ingram of Tampa. "Nelson remains the luckiest man in Washington, and we'll probably be calling him 'Senator Nelson' for another six years."
Republicans contend Nelson has been lucky in facing weak GOP opponents — an uncharismatic Bill McCollum in 2000 and the erratic Katherine Harris in 2006.
"Transportation projects could inject $4 billion into Metro Orlando's slowly recovering economy"
The Teabaggers are sure to hate this, but "SunRail is one of three massive transportation projects that could inject $4 billion into Metro Orlando's slowly recovering economy in the years ahead. Officials say the projects could create as many as 100,000 jobs for an industry and region that desperately needs them." "SunRail, road work could create 100,000 jobs over time".
"Babes on his arm were legitimate campaign expenditures"
Fred Grimm urges readers to "consider David Rivera’s dilemma. As he explained to investigators, he was only a hapless bachelor trying to burnish his right-wing political image down here in an alligator swamp of sexual innuendo. So, you see, the babes on his arm were legitimate campaign expenditures."
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office paraphrased Rivera’s novel rationalization for the use of campaign funds to cover his girlfriends’ travel costs. “That as a single man running as a political conservative, it was necessary for him to appear at campaign-related events with a female escort.”"Rivera apparently felt that given his existence was no more than a perpetual campaign, any niggling living expense could be covered by political contributions."
Otherwise . . . well . . . you know. South Florida’s free-spending bachelor would have faced the same discomfiting rumors that dogged Jerry Seinfeld in one of the old sitcom’s most quoted episodes. Perhaps Congressman Rivera could adopt Jerry’s refrain as a motto in his 2012 re-election campaign. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“According to the subject’s broad interpretation of the law, it was appropriate and permissible to pay for his female companion’s expenditures, as well, as they were essential to his election campaigns,” the State Attorney’s Office noted.
“Broad interpretation,” was a monumental understatement.
“Essentially, the subject’s position is that he was for a period of almost a decade, continuously and simultaneously engaging in official business, campaigning for public office, as well as campaigning for committeeman; moving from one task to another seamlessly on a daily basis.”"Not that Rep. David Rivera did anything wrong".
Rivera apparently concluded, in his rather self-serving interpretation of state law, that “virtually every travel-related expenditure: airfare, automobile costs, lodging, meals and related miscellaneous expenses for personal items and entertainment were indeed permissible campaign-related expenditures.” ...
Rivera’s various shenanigans seemed to be at odds with both state financial disclosure requirements and laws governing use of campaign fund. But — lucky him — the Florida Legislature had enacted a very convenient two-year statute of limitations for transgressions involving the misuse of political funds. Such legislation made the looting of campaign funds the perfect crime. ...
But look at the bright side. What’s important here is that David Rivera, at last, has an actual full-time job, making $174,000 a year as a U.S. congressman, and no longer needs to pay the bills via way of surreptitious fees routed through his momma’s shell company. And he can stop dipping into campaign funds to buy theater tickets.
Best of all, Rivera finally earns enough of his own money to pay the travel expenses of that very essential campaign fixture, a girlfriend, so that voters won’t come up with the wrong idea about their bachelor congressman. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Your tax dollars at work: Florida has filed a Supreme Court brief in support of Arizona
"On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the state of Arizona argue that it has a right to enforce its own immigration laws."
While Florida has not passed its own immigration legislation, such bills have bounced around the state legislature the past two years and the Arizona ruling could affect future Florida law. Florida and 15 other states filed a brief with the court in support of Arizona."Florida watches as Supreme Court set to hear state of Arizona argue immigration laws".
"Housing discrimination may be distressingly common in Sarasota County"
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board: "A new report's conclusion that illegal housing discrimination may be distressingly common in Sarasota County should spur local governments to take action." "A history of housing discrimination".
Florida is super PAC territory
"Florida's swing-state voters have already had a taste of the changing campaign landscape. Come this summer, the airwaves will be jammed in a way never seen before with a presidential election on the horizon and a new kind of political action committee that can dump unlimited sums into influencing voters." "Critics say super PACs 'drowning out everyday Americans'".
"Norquist's mindless anti-tax pledge"
Beth Kassab: "Look no further than state Rep. Steve Precourt of Orlando to see just how fickle politicians can be."
Precourt was a big supporter of SunRail when it passed the Legislature in 2009, but now has a Republican primary opponent who loathes rail."Politicians, step up and help SunRail succeed".
Precourt's response? He's ready to throw SunRail under the bus. ...
Local leaders have always understood that the state would be off the hook on SunRail after the first seven years.
But where is the leadership from the lawmakers who fought tooth and nail to get SunRail rolling in the first place?
They can't just make a $1.2 billion investment and then wash their hands of it.
Precourt, who has signed Grover Norquist's mindless anti-tax pledge, said, "There are any number of ways the locals could fund SunRail if they feel it is necessary, and I believe they already have the tools and funds in their control as needed."
If they feel it is necessary?
What happened to the unified community resolve to see this thing through?
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The South Florida Water Management District correctly revised its policy to require competitive bidding and public notice before leasing district land, but the policy change doesn't go far enough." "Keep the public dealt in".
"This is the Florida Lottery scam all over again"
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board writes that "Florida's retreat on investing in public higher education is now crystal clear:"
For the first time, students at the University of South Florida and other public universities are expected to pay more than half the cost of their education due to shrinking state support. A carte blanche tuition bill sitting on Gov. Rick Scott's desk that would grant the University of Florida and Florida State University — and eventually more universities — the autonomy to raise tuition undercuts even the pretense of an accessible, coordinated higher education system. It's understandable why universities tired of lawmakers' broken promises would seek more autonomy to raise money, but that would only let the Legislature off the hook and unfairly burden families. Florida's students deserve better, and the governor should veto HB 7129."Giant tuition hike isn’t the answer".
Entrepreneurs in action
"Tampa strip clubs preparing for GOP convention bonanza". Related, from The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Tampa's zone for safety".
"No shortage of gasbags"
Carl Hiaasen thinks "It will be astonishing if George Zimmerman is convicted of second-degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin."
Long before the trial begins, the media fibrillation is underway, with no shortage of gasbags on both sides. Predictably, some gun nuts and racist droolers are trying to make a hero of Zimmerman and a street thug of Martin (who had no criminal record)."Zimmerman charge will be hard to prove".
"Florida Supreme Court has gone too far"
The Tampa Bay Times editors: "In an effort to avoid another situation where a renegade judge lobbies the Legislature for an opulent new courthouse or other special treatment, the Florida Supreme Court has gone too far in limiting the ability of state judges to talk with lawmakers and the governor."
It's understandable that a court system stung by the misdeeds of former appellate Judge Paul Hawkes in securing a lavish $50 million courthouse would look for ways to prevent another embarrassment. But the Supreme Court has imposed a rule so stringent that it will cut off valuable conversations between local judges and area legislators, and the rule should be rescinded or modified to keep lines of communication with the judicial branch open."Limits on judicial speech go too far".
"Economy is swinging the pendulum in Obama's favor"
"The improving economy is swinging the pendulum in President Barack Obama's favor in the 14 states where the presidential election will likely be decided."
Recent polls have shown Obama gaining an edge over his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in several so-called swing states - those that are considered up for grabs."After an agonizingly slow recovery, several swing-state economies are finally accelerating:"
What's made the difference is that unemployment has dropped more sharply in several swing states than in the nation as a whole. A resurgence in manufacturing is helping the economy - and Obama's chances - in the industrial Midwestern states of Ohio and Michigan.
And Arizona, Nevada and Florida, where unemployment remains high, are getting some relief from an uptick in tourism.
"The biggest reason for the president's improving prospects probably is the economy," says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The Great Recession of 2007-2009 hit several swing states particularly hard. Unemployment peaked at 14.2 percent in Michigan, where the auto industry faced ruin. It also hit double digits in Arizona, Nevada and Florida, which were at the center of the housing bust, and in North Carolina, which lost jobs in textile and furniture plants.
In 2010, the economic misery helped Republicans retake control of the House and gain seats in the Senate. But the GOP can't count on a repeat when voters return to the polls - with much more at stake - on Nov. 6.
In Florida, unemployment tumbled to 9 percent in March from 10.7 percent a year earlier. That was more than twice the nationwide drop of 0.7 percentage point (from 8.9 percent to 8.2 percent) over the same period. A rise in tourism is helping. "People who put off vacations or a trip to Disney World for two or three years got to the point where they feel safe in terms of financial security to finally take those trips," says Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.However,
In February, foreclosures surged more in Florida's two biggest cities - Miami and Tampa - from February 2011 than anywhere else, according to RealtyTrac. Foreclosures are up partly because they were delayed last year by a legal fight over lenders that processed foreclosures without verifying documents."Swing-state unemployment down, Obama's chances up". See also "Unemployment trends in swing states, at a glance".
Now, foreclosures are rising again in places like Florida where the housing bust did the most damage. That is worrisome for Obama, whose housing policies haven't made much of a dent in the crisis, says Susan MacManus, a government professor at the University of South Florida.
"Jeb!" now say's he won't "consider" VP
"Jeb Bush: I won't be the vice presidential nominee". Background: "Jebbie sniffs around VP slot, though he wouldn't help Romney much in Florida".
"What's next? Naming Polk Sen. JD Alexander chancellor?"
The Tampa Tribune editors "can't imagine any recent governor, Republican or Democrat, who would be so reckless."
None would have allowed the creation of a university that has never undergone a cost-benefit analysis, and at a time when the existing 11 universities are being forced to slash their budgets."Scott's Poly folly".
Yet Scott Friday announced he would allow the Florida Polytechnic travesty to proceed.
What's next? Naming Polk Sen. JD Alexander chancellor?
Spotlight on Baxley
"Dennis Baxley, the state representative who championed the self-defense law at the heart of the Trayvon Martin case, is back in the national spotlight." "A ‘committed conservative’ back in spotlight over Stand Your Ground". Meanwhile, "Controversial pastor weighs in on Trayvon Martin case".