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187 posts from August 2007

August 29, 2007

No special session?

Rep. Joe Pickens, chairman of the House Schools and Learning Council, created a buzz throughout the Capitol on Wednesday when he told fellow lawmakers "if we have a special session...."

The comment immediately had people wondering whether or not the House was trying to send a message about the September special session _ which still has not been officially called by either legislative leaders or Gov. Charlie Crist. There is some speculation that lawmakers may be a bit peeved that Crist has yet to come up with his own recommendations on what should be cut in the state budget, yet has already said he would like to see certain things held harmless.

When asked about it Pickens insisted he wasn't trying to send any kind of message: "You're reading way too much into it."

But it's important to note: The Legislature does not have to cut the state budget right now. There's enough money in reserves to cover the projected shortfall for this year. Of course, if nothing is done now there will be a need to cut as much as $2.5 billion in the spring of 2008.

Maybe that class size amendment won't block out the sun

Going over potential cuts to education, Rep. David Simmons asserted Wednesday that the GOP-controlled Legislature has been too rigid in how it has interpreted the class size amendment passed by voters in 2002. Simmons, a Maitland Republican and attorney, disagreed with the reading of the amendment that it mandates that each individual classroom in Florida must meet class caps by 2010.

Simmons argued that ensuring that the average class size in Florida meets the amendment requirements would be enough to satisfy the constitutional requirement. He said that by doing that lawmakers would not have to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in the next few years in order to meet the amendment requirement.

"I think maybe the constitution did provide for more flexibility than we initially thought,'' said Simmons, who said looking at the amendment this way could save school districts and the Legislature "angst" over where to get the money for class size.

If lawmakers were to adopt this viewpoint, it would be quite a turn-around for Republicans. Gov. Jeb Bush famously declared that the amendment would "block" and "blot out the sun" due to its initial huge cost estimates.

GOP debate on Univision called off

Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language television network, proposed doing back-to-back presidential debates at the University of Miami on Sept. 9 and 16. After some hemming and hawing, the major Democratic candidates agreed. But the only Republican candidate who RSVPd was John McCain, forcing organizers to cancel the Sept. 16 faceoff.

"That date is off the table,'' said university spokeswoman Barbara Gutierrez.

She said a GOP debate hasn't been entirely ruled out and that it could happen later in the fall. "We're thinking that everyone wants to see how the Democratic one goes before they commit,'' she said.

It will be the first debate conducted in Spanish, with the questions translated simultaneously. The Republican field also blew off invitations to attend Hispanic-oriented conferences organized by the National Association of Latin Elected Officials and the National Council of La Raza.

Larry Craig and Cuba

Could the disclosure of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's arrest in an airport bathroom affect efforts to lift the embargo against Cuba?

Craig is, after all, one of the Senate's leading Republican advocates for relaxing the embargo, calling it a "failed policy." He's also co-sponsored a bill that would permit U.S. companies to look for oil in Cuba - some 45 miles off the Florida coastline.

The arrest, the guilty plea and 11 weeks of silence about it all have political observers suggesting that his political clout has been seriously compromised - if not destroyed.

Craig Tuesday declared he's done nothing wrong, isn't gay and still has plenty of legislating left to do for his Idaho constituents.

UPDATE: Craig late Wednesday agreed to give up his leading Republican spot on his committees, including the energy and national resources subcommittee on public lands and forests - which would handle the drilling legislation. That move came as Craig's fellow senators, GOP prez contender John McCain and Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman - facing a tough reelection challenge - suggested Craig should resign.

Naugle gets the boot

Broward County commissioners have unanimously tossed Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle off a tourism board, saying his recent comments on gays are driving away visitors.

Read more here

Elections chief wants political parties to pay up

In scouring his already-thin budget for places to cut, Secretary of State Kurt Browning has hit on an idea to make the well-oiled political parties give the state $300,000 they receive yearly from candidate qualifying fees.

"Our governor suggested we be creative, think outside the box. That's exactly what we're doing," Browning said, in response to a reporter's question over whether the Legislature, which often does the bidding of the parties, will go along.

Browning said he hit on the idea to raise more money without raising fees so that he could offset cuts to cultural programs that his office also oversees.

"For those of us who live here, for those of us who plan on coming here, there needs to be a quality of life. And you're not going to find that quality of life if we keep cutting libraries, we keep cutting cultural arts, we keep cutting historical preservation," he said.

The Diaz-Balarts tour Prague, Budapest, Poland, talk Cuba

Radio Free Europe interviews three Cuban American legislators visiting Central Europe "to meet former dissidents and thank them for supporting the anti-communist opposition movement in Cuba."

"Across the political spectrum in these countries that suffered communism directly and personally, across the political spectrum and with very few exceptions, there is a realization that it is important to continue pressing for freedom and assisting the opposition in countries where freedom does not yet exist," Lincoln Diaz-Balart told the interviewer.

The Miami Republican was accompanied by his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami and the U.S.'s newest Cuban American legislator, Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat.

August 28, 2007

What in the world is Howard Dean thinking?

That's the first sentence of a Time magazine column that raises tough questions about the Democratic National Committee chairman's hardline stance against Florida's Jan. 29 primary. Read it here.

A more sympathetic analysis of Dean's position by Real Clear Politics is here.

Castro hears Clinton-Obama is the ticket

"The word today is that an apparently unbeatable ticket could be Hillary for president and Obama as her running mate," Fidel Castro wrote in an editorial column on U.S. presidents published today by Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

The Reuters story, being circulated by the national Republican party, is here.


Poll: Dem voters displeased with DNC's vote rules, think it hurts Hillary

A new InsiderAdvantage poll of 500 Florida Democratic voters shows that 53 percent disapprove of the Democratic National Committee's plans to award no delegates to a nominee who wins Florida's Jan. 29 primary because its early date violates DNC rules. Those who approve: 34 percent.

Also, 34 percent say the loss of the delegates would hurt Hillary Clinton the most, 20 percent say Barack Obama and 13 percent say John Edwards.

Another tidbit: When asked if what party ticket they plan to vote on, 22 percent said they would consider voting Republican. Though the voters weren't told whether they would have to switch parties to do that, pollster Matt Towery said the numbers are valid in this regard: It shows Democratic voters are less inclined to be Democratic voters.

"The Democrats are probably going to carry Florida," Towery said. "But what doesn't make sense to people is that the DNC, in trying to enforce these rules, is toying with one of the three critical states they have to win. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee and Rudy Giuliani doesn't make it on the Republican side, she carries New York, she carries California and that makes Florida a determining state. Why would you alienate any Democrat in this state?''