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157 posts from May 2007

May 24, 2007

All the vetoes

Here's the list: Download Veto.xls

Crist vetos record $459m from budget

Gov. Charlie Crist's office just announced he's striking $459 million from the $72 billion budget. The cuts cover every aspect of the state, from tuition increases for colleges and universities to $2.5 million for the University of Miami's Sylvester Cancer Center to $5.3 million for a Hialeah water-treatment plant to $1.3 million for the Las Olas Boulevard streetscape project.

Taking it on the chin

Miami Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meek went on C-Span's Washington Journal this morning, defending his decision to vote today for the Iraq spending bill amid a barrage of callers saying they were disappointed with the Democrats.

Anti-war groups are threatening to run candidates against Democrats who vote for the spending bill, but Meek said the party is left without a choice - the troops in the field need the money.

"I voted to be out of Iraq by January of 08, I'm on the record for that," Meek said. "It's not an issue that I'm hugging and being soft on Bush...The issue is, the last thing we need is for troop commanders in the field to be saying 'We don't have what we need."

Meek suggested the Democrats have made a difference: "Benchmarks, troop readiness, all the things we've been talking about as Democrats, will be happening," he said.

"It has nothing to do with weakness or being soft," he said, with one caller suggesting Democrats were caving in to President Bush. "It has to do with carrying out the duty of the Congress.'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested she'll vote against the measure and Meek's South Florida colleague, Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, has said he'll vote against it.

"This war must end, and Congress must end it," Wexler said Wednesday. "I will not support any legislation that funds this war without mandating that our troops are swiftly deployed from Iraq."

"This isn’t the greatest job I’ve had"

The Hill newspaper reports that Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney, who narrowly won the seat to succeed the disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley, "has had a shaky transition to life in Congress."

So much so that he had a "quiet tête-à-tête with Democratic caucus chair Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the paper reports.

Mahoney denied that a Democratic leader had confronted him, but told the Hill, "I think there was a concern that I wasn’t happy in Congress. Very candidly, this isn’t the greatest job I’ve had."

Mahoney is widely considered the party's most vulnerable member. More on his transition to Congress - and his relationship with Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, here

May 23, 2007

Nelson claims victory

President Bush's choice for consumer czar withdrew his name from consideration - two days after meeting with Sen. Bill Nelson, who had opposed the appointment.

A statement from the Florida Democrat's office noted Michael Baroody dropped out of the running Wednesday - the day before he was to appear before the Senate commerce committee.

Nelson said Baroody - nominated to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission - had a history of putting industry interests before consumers as head lobbyist for a manufacturing association.

"Mr. Baroody is a consummate professional, but his ties to the industries he would have had to regulate were just too strong, creating at least the appearance of a conflict of interest," Nelson said.

The Associated Press reported that the White House had reluctantly accepted Baroody's decision after "some members in the Senate rushed to judgment."

Voting change has supervisors worried

Despite giving Secretary of State Kurt Browning a standing ovation the day earlier, many election supervisors expressed misgivings, and some outright opposition with the changes ordered in a new elections bill signed into law this week by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The main part of the legislation sets aside nearly $28 million to replace touchscreen machines with ones that use paper ballots _ a top priority of Crist. Part of the money can also be used to replace touchscreen machines used in early voting sites in 29 counties with a "ballot on demand" system. Supervisors expressed concerns about whether these new systems, which are being used in Arizona, will actually work. Other supervisors are unhappy about having to cope with all these changes at a time that state legislators are also pushing to roll back local property taxes, a move that could force counties to cut the funding of election offices.

When Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson told Browning that "we appreciate the courage the governor has shown" in pushing for paper ballots, Indian River Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem shouted out: "I don't."

Clem explained later that she finds the switch to optical scan machines a "waste of money" and said it was a step back in technology.

Johnson, however, opened the door for a potential end-around the new law: He asked if the new law specifies how many touchscreen machines must be used for disabled voters. It does not. And state officials verified that polling place workers cannot bar someone from using the touchscreen machines if they want to.

Browning did tell supervisors that several parts of the bill went against his own objections to bill sponsor Sen. Lee Constantine, the Altamonte Springs Republican and chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections committee. He said, for example, that he "despised" the requirement that the state be responsible for disposing of unwanted touchscreen machines.

New anti "sausage-making" group campaigns for tax reform

A new Miami-based group calling itself Citizens for Property Tax Reform has stepped on the scene and announced it will launch a citizens' petition drive to change the constitution to lower property taxes.

The group, not to be confused with Floridians for Property Tax Reform, sent out an email announcing its plans, but didn't include the petition itself. More details will come out tomorrow at Versailles Restaurant press conference.

Bernie Navarro, Chairman of Citizens for Property Tax Reform, said in a press release:

“It appears that the special session may not provide meaningful,comprehensive property tax reform. This is too critical an issue for us to sit back and watch it get diluted through Tallahassee’s ‘sausage-making’ legislative process, where what comes out at the end is unrecognizable from what went in at the beginning. We have come together as private citizens and are prepared to rally other citizens to place meaningful, comprehensive property tax reform on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.”

Arza back in Tallahassee

Former state Rep. Ralph Arza, who resigned amid an investigation into whether he and a cousin threatened another state lawmaker in expletive-laced rants, is back in the state Capitol today, meeting with legislators from Georgia as they consider ways to strengthen the charter-school movement there.

The meeting was organized by former Florida education commissioner-turned lobbyist Jim Horne on behalf of the Washington-based Center for Education Reform. Horne credited Arza for his leadership in the school-choice movement.

Also in attendance from Florida: Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, and former Coconut Creek Democratic Rep. Ron Greenstein, who now works for House Democrats.

May 22, 2007

Secretary of State gets standing ovation

Secretary of State Kurt Browning got a standing ovation this afternoon from his former peers: The Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections. Browning, who was first elected Pasco County Supervisor of Elections in 1980 and held that job until December, gave a lunchtime speech at the summer annual conference of election supervisors being held at the Sandestin resort just outside of Destin.

Browning's main job since becoming secretary of state was shepherding an elections bill through the Florida Legislature that set aside nearly $28 million to replace touchscreen machines with ones that use paper ballots. Instead of talking about the legislation today, however, Browning talked about his time as supervisor. Browning noted how he joined with other supervisors to block proposals they didn't like, including the 2005 proposal pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush that would allowed the state to issue "binding directives" to locally elected supervisors and how they finally convinced lawmakers to repeal the second primary.

Embattled supervisor to lead group

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent will officially be chosen tonight as the next president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. The move comes just months after her county became ground zero in the latest battle over touchscreen machines. Some 18,000 voters in Sarasota County did not vote in the heated Congressional race between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings. Buchanan won the race by fewer than 400 votes.

Despite state reviews that have contended there is nothing wrong with the machines used in Sarasota, Jennings has refused to concede her contest and says the machines are to blame. The controversy over the touchscreen machines in Sarasota was another reason why Gov. Charlie Crist pushed to eliminate them and replace them with ones that rely on paper ballots.

Dent will be officially "installed" at a banquet being held tonight at the Baytowne Conference Center at the Sandestin resort. She was not in line to become president this year, but Clay County Supervisor of Elections Barbara Kirkman decided for personal reasons that she could not take the post.

"I am honored that I have the support of my peers,'' said Dent about her selection as president.