Florida is crawling with presidential candidates, but unless you got $1,000 bucks to shell out, your chances of seeing them are slim. Read Beth Reinhard's column here.
Outside a Tallahassee fundraiser for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, dozens of college students came to greet their political rockstar.
They chanted his name, carried camera phones, and a few toted copies of his most recent book.
The outdoor rally even had a college-centric conception: It was organized by Facebook, a social networking website originally aimed at college students.
Inside, lobbyists and even Republicans paid hundreds to get up close.
Obama emerged briefly from the fundraiser to greet his younger fans. In a two-minute speech, he said: "This is an example of the energy that young people are bringing to this campaign.''
"Whether it's been slavery, or women not having the right to vote or unions not having the right to organize, the civil rights movement, or movement against Vietnam, at each juncture it's been young people," Obama said before he was ushered back to his VIP guests.
Just about an hour earlier, Obama had told Florida's Democratic caucus, his campaign goal was to spend more time with the people, and less at fundraisers.
When asked why he was spending such a short time at the rally, he said, before walking back inside: "I didn't spend that much time up there either - and this is just the first time that I've been here."
-- Yudy Pineiro and Breanne Gilpatrick
Hours after shooting down an amendment offered by House Democrats to set aside money to replace touchscreen machines, the House Majority Office said that Rep. Dean Cannon, the Winter Park Republican in charge of the Economic Expansion and Infrastructure Council, has decided to hear HB 213, a bill sponsored by Rep. Dorothy Hukill that requires all voting machines in Florida to have a voter-verified paper trail that can be subject to a manual audit.
The bill was pulled out of the House Ethics and ElectIons Committee at 11:41 a.m., about two hours after Republicans had defeated the amendment proposed by Rep. Ari Porth to set aside $32.9 million to replace touchscreen machines. During the meeting Republicans said it was wrong to consider the money before the legislation had been heard. But privately Democrats say that they have asked for the bill to be heard but that House Republicans kept saying no.
Rep. Tim Mahoney, the Democrat who narrowly won the race to succeed disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley, is using the specter of White House strategist Karl Rove to raise some last-minute campaign donations.
In an e-mail sent to supporters, Mahoney claims that Rove "has been caught red handed trying to take down newly elected representatives, including me, who are dedicated to fiscal responsibility and accountability and ethic."
According to a story in Thursday's Washington post, staffers at the General Services Administration participated in a Jan. 26 videoconference in which J. Scott Jennings, White House deputy director of political affairs, who works for Rove, briefed political appointees about plans to target 20 congressional Democrats in 2008.
"Recent e-mails prove that he was conducting an illegal campaigning scheme designed to influence federal bureaucrats in the workplace," Mahoney wrote in his fundraising pitch. "He has been making the rounds to these federal buildings in a crusade against the GOP's top targeted democrats for the 2008 cycle, like me!"
Mahoney notes in the e-mail that Saturday marks the first quarter fundraising deadline and he needs "to come out of this first quarter with a strong showing."
He already has four opponents, he notes in the e-mail.
House Republicans on the Policy and Budget Council voted down two amendments this morning that would have set aside money to create a paper trail for touchscreen voting machines, including one amendment that would put up $32.9 million for the job, which is enough money to replace touchscreen machines with optical scan ones.
The vote was a straight party line vote, with House Democrats siding with Republican Gov. Charlie Crist on replacing the voting machines, while House Republicans were unified in their opposition. Those Republicans voting against the amendment included those who represent Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Miami-Dade has had problems with its touchscreen machines in recent elections. Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican, said he doesn't trust touchscreen machines and he always votes by absentee. But he and other Republicans said it was unfair to "punish" those counties that bought optical scan machines, while others bought touchscreen machines.
Rep. Ron Saunders, a Key West Democrat, replied that he didn't care about the counties but the voters. "Just because the counties screwed up and got the wrong machines doesn't mean I want to punish voters,'' said Saunders.
Rep. Dennis Baxley said the issue was more about perception than reality, then he suggested those pushing the issue were upset about who has won elections in Florida, a veiled reference to the contested 13th Congressional District race that is still the subject of a challenge by Democrat Christine Jennings.
"The fact is that some people don't like the outcome of elections so they question the integrity of these elections,'' said Baxley.
House and Senate lawyers have continued to weigh requests from lawmakers about the more than year old gift ban and their opinions show that there is still confusion over how far the zero tolerance law is supposed to work. Some of the more interesting items included in recent correspondence:
Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican, was given the green light to accept free public relations work from Sarah Bascom, who was his spokeswoman while he was Senate President and also worked on his re-election campaign. Bascom works for DC Navigators, a firm with offices in Sacramento, Washington and now Tallahassee and whose senior team includes campaign consultant Mike Murphy and Todd Harris, both of whom worked on Gov. Jeb Bush's successful 2002 re-election campaign.
Special Counsel Jason Vail wrote King on March 12 and told the senator that Bascom could do work for him since she was not a lobbyist, nor did DC Navigators have anyone else on staff who lobbies the Florida Legislature. (It is worth noting, however, DC Navigators says on its own website that it does lobbying as part of its business and that its client list include BellSouth, the American Insurance Association, Florida Power & Light, WellCare, and the Florida Justice Reform Partnership.)
But while that situation was deemed okay, Senate lawyers are unsure whether or not legislators could accept a free meal from Gov. Charlie Crist, who does have employees who lobby the Legislature, the night before the start of the session. Paul Huck, general counsel for Crist, argued that the state dinner, as well as a luncheon for the spouses of legislators and a reception for all members were "celebratory and ceremonial" and that is in the public interest for Crist to organize events "to foster a positive spirit of comradery." Senate lawyers, however, aren't sure and they have had all senators pay for their meal with the governor while they mull over the legal opinion from the governor's office. Members of the press who attended the dinner were charged $40.
House and Senate lawyers also had an exchange over whether $5 was the right amount to charge legislators who attend the World Famous RV Encampment Picnic Extravaganza organized each year by Rep. Stan Jordan, a Jacksonville Republican. Steve Kahn asked whether $5 "sounds a little short in the money department" to cover the food and non-alcoholic beverages for the event held at a RV campground five miles west of the Capitol. Jeremiah Hawkes wrote back that it was since those putting on the event were buying hot dogs and hamburgers from Sam's Club and grilling it themselves.
Rep. Adam Hasner, a Delray Beach Republican, was so impressed with the documentary Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West that he has helped arrange a free screening for state legislators on April 16. The controversial film shows an "insider's view' of the hatred the Radicals are teaching, their incitement of global jihad, and their goal of world domination." But the film, parts of which have aired on cable news channels, has drawn protests on some college campuses, and at least two colleges canceled showings.
The screening, being held at the Tallahassee IMAX theater, will also feature a speech by Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, who is the author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World. Lawmakers will also be given a DVD copy of the film.
"Nothing could be more important than educating legislators about the threat that radical Islam poses to us and to the state of Israel,'' said Hasner, who is Jewish and who is co-sponsoring a bill that would block the state from investing in any companies that have ties to nations that are listed on the State Department's list of nations that sponsor terrorism, a list that includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Sudan.
The entire screening event is expected to cost somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, but the cost is being paid by Tom Trento, a Delray Beach businessman who has been organizing screenings in South Florida. Trento said he is getting help from other regular citizens, but he's making sure that none of them are lobbyists or companies that lobby the Legislature.
Amid all the battling property tax plans, a couple of state lawmakers say its time to gamble on relief -- Las Vegas style.
Under one joint proposal by Rep. Julio Robaina and Sen. Larcenia Bullard, each county in the state would vote on whether to add full Las Vegas-style gambling, everything from slots to blackjack.
Half of revenue from the new casinos then would be used to offset property taxes, build affordable housing...and treat compulsive gambling.
"Keep your mind open to this," Robaina told the House Business Regulation Committee. "This is what we owe the people of Florida."
Robaina, a Miami Republican, and Bullard, a Miami Democrat, even brought in David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at University of Nevada Las Vegas, to explain to legislators that "gaming is a rising tide that lifts all boats."
And don't worry, Robaina pointed out, their plan believes in moderation: gambling would only be allowed in parimutuels and large hotels.
"With all respect to Vegas and all those states that put it in grocery stores and on every corner, that's not what we want," he said.
The House committee didn't take a vote Thursday, and the idea hasn't been presented to the Senate. But already some lawmakers are skeptical.
"Are you telling us the people who elected us have the good judgment to decide whether there's gambling in their community?" asked Rep. Franklin Sands, a Weston Democrat and a former casino operator in Clark County, Nevada.
"Absolutely," Robaina replied. "Common sense does exist in the state of Florida."
A final vote on an insurance "glitch" bill, HB 7077, was postponed by the Florida House this afternoon. The move came after several impromptu meetings of lawmakers on the floor of the House where Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the House Republican whip, appeared to be having animated discussions with her colleagues. While the gatherings were going on, Democrats were loudly railing against the legislation, saying it was a retreat from the insurance legislation that was passed during the January special session.
(UPDATE---Bogdanoff said after the session that the bill was postponed so that House leaders could fully explain the bill. The House Majority Office contends press coverage of the legislation, including this story, is "false." "We need time to educate members....Insurance is complex. It's not something I can explain on the floor in 30 seconds,'' said Bogdanoff.)
Gov. Charlie Crist was asked Thursday if he planned to meet with Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, who plans a fundraising swing through Tallahassee Friday. The governor said he was going to be out of town Friday but added, "It would be neat to meet him. He is quite a guy.''