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310 posts from October 2009

October 29, 2009

FPL's 'disservice' leads to hiring of Bob Butterworth

Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility embroiled in a controversy over its bid for a major rate increase, has acknowledged for the first time that it mishandled its efforts. The utility has hired Bob Butterworth, a former Democratic attorney general who was regarded as an ally of consumers, in an effort to repair its damaged image.

Butterworth said FPL's handling of the rate case has been "a total disservice" to Floridians. He has been hired to undertake a thorough "fact-finding" as to how the utility "dropped the ball" in its rate petition.

FPL issued a statement on Thursday in which it said "there are some things we would like to have changed about the way in which we approached this case." In an interview, Butterworth said the FPL president was a lot more direct about his company's image problems.

"I was very surprised with the company president said, 'We have botched this completely.' Then he said, 'Can we retain you?'" Butterworth recalled of his meeting in West Palm Beach with FPL President Armando Olivera. "I'd never met him before in my life."

Butterworth said he was with Gov. Charlie Crist's chief of staff, Eric EIkenberg, in a discussion of recent political scandals in Broward County when the subject of FPL came up.Crist has consistently pummeled FPL's rate-hike request and successfully prevailed on the Public Service Commission to delay a vote until his two new appointees take office in January. Butterworth phoned FPL lobbyist Jim Smith, and got a return call from his son-in-law, Brian Ballard, who helped arrange a meeting two Mondays ago.

-- Steve Bousquet 

Marco Rubio won't affirm Obama's citizenship

In a two-day swing by U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio through the Panhandle, the most conservative part of Florida, perhaps it was inevitable that the question would come up. At a Republican club meeting last night in Miramar Beach, a young man asked Rubio whether he thought President Barack Obama has a valid American birth certificate.

"I don't know the answer to that,'' Rubio said. "He's been sworn in already...If someone had evidence they should have presented it a long time ago."

He added that he didn't want to "diminish" people who question Obama's citizenship but that there were much more important issues to focus on.

Pressed after the meeting about whether he has any doubts about Obama's citizenship, Rubio would only say,"I have not seen anything that says he was not born in the U.S."

Click here to read what PolitiFact said on the subject.

Benson loves Florida, Kottkamp thinks she's 'nice and pleasant'

AHCA Secretary Holly Benson just made official her run for attorney general, pitting herself against Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp in the Republican primary next fall.

Benson made her announcement from the steps of the courthouse in her hometown of Pensacola, which she represented in the state House for six years.

"I am running for Florida's Attorney General because I love Florida and because we need people in government who understand and live by the principles that make this state great," said Benson, who was introduced by Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Ken Bell.
"At a time when government needs to be at its most effective and responsible, people are deeply troubled that government is even more out of touch, more out of control and is expanding its power, while abandoning the principles that make Florida a great place to live, work and raise a family. Every elected official has a choice to make and a role to play.  Few positions will be as critical to the future in this state as Attorney General."

The LG's campaign folks managed to undercut Benson's announcement, sending the following statement before Sarah Bascom sent Benson's out: "We served together in the Legislature and I have always found her to be a nice and pleasant individual. I look forward to a positive issue-oriented primary campaign."

Charlie Crist loses -- and that's a win

Well, the Washington Post's very unscientific online poll for 'most overrated governor has tallied the results of the more than 9,000 votes cast over 24 hours, and the winner is (drum roll, please)....Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, with 43 percent giving him the less than desirable label.

That's good news, sort of, for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who at some points during the polling was ahead of Perry -- and in a week that hasn't been his strongest. The bad news is, Crist still got enough votes to come in as the second-most overrated, with 35 percent of the votes.

October 28, 2009

Tom Arnold replaces Holly Benson as AHCA chief

Tom Arnold, a career public servant and Medicaid expert, was named Wednesday as the state's new secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, which manages Florida's massive Medicaid program. Arnold, 60, who has been the agency's chief of staff, replaces Holly Benson.

In appointing Benson, Gov. Charlie Crist said: "Tom's extensive knowledge of managing Florida's Medicaid program is especially important as our nation's discussion of health care moves forward. With 30 years of experience with Florida's health and human services programs, Tom has the expertise we need at this critical time."

Arnold, a former Marine with a take-the-hill sense of determination, was former Gov. Jeb Bush's point man on a major overhaul of Florida's Medicaid program. He was state Medicaid director at AHCA from 2004 to 2007 and was deputy state health officer in 2008, deputy secretary from 2003 to 2004 and director of administration from 1998 to 2003. He has an accounting degree from Florida State.

"I am honored to have the opportunity to put my years of service to work as head of Florida’s Medicaid agency," Arnold said. "I look forward to addressing the challenges and opportunities that lie before us."

-- Steve Bousquet

Is Marco Rubio the new Katherine Harris?

That's the question raised by Katherine Harris' manager for her failed U.S. Senate campaign, Jamie Miller. He writes:    

I've lived through the Marco Rubio campaign when I managed Katherine Harris campaign for U.S. Senate. I can appreciate what they're going through. The ups of having so many grassroots leaders supporting the campaign, the downs of being on the short end of the fundraising race, quarter after quarter. The similarities are too great to ignore.The first and most obvious similarity is not only the lack of fundraising but the similar burn rates for both Rubio and Harris. Rubio has been out-raised by Gov. Crist by about four to one, but the governor holds more than a six to one cash-on-hand advantage. The reason is simple; Rubio is burning through 44 percent of his cash because he is raising more money through the mail which is one of the costliest ways to raise campaign dollars. It is true that many of these donors will be able to repeat their donations several times during the year, but this burn rate is too high for a successful statewide campaign. On the other hand, Crist's burn rate is less than 10 percent...

What Rubio fails to realize with his lack of fundraising and his burn rate is that he simply isn't going to have the voter contact dollars available to him to be successful in a top-of-the-ticket federal race. Most political watchers would agree that by the time the August primary rolls around, Rubio will have about $4-5 million to spend on the campaign (I think this is probably high) versus Gov. Crist's $12 million (which is a conservative guess).  Rubio then has to make a couple of choices, does he spend it all on negative TV to take Crist out, does he spend it all on positive TV to prepare himself for the general, or does he spend $3 million on positive and $2 million on negative. My guess is that, like most candidates, he splits it. That will give Crist the opportunity to spend $6 million in positive TV to offset the $2 million spent against him in negatives and another $6 million to spend on negative TV against Rubio. So, at the end of the election, Crist will have Rubio covered.  For every negative TV commercial you see of Crist, you will see three positive. For every positive commercial you see of Rubio, you will see two negative. Rubio is on a collision course with a failed political campaign...

Full column here.

The talented Mr. Heffley, and the truth about Rubio

So much for the truthaboutrubio website. Launched this morning, it had press clippings that attempted to portray former House Speaker Marco Rubio as a less-than-desirable candidate against Gov. Charlie Crist in the Republican U.S. Senate race.

But then this guy from redstate.com got involved and wondered if lobbyist/GOP campaign-meister Rich Heffley was behind it, noting: "A RedState reader prowled through the source code for the anti-Rubio website and found an interesting file that comes up. Here’s the source code: img src=”///Users/rheffley/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/moz-screenshot.png” alt=”" / "

So we asked Heffley, who played coy but wouldn't confirm or deny his involvement. Five minutes later, the site was shut down. It now says "This blog is protected, to view it you must log in."

Update: the site has returned.

An added point: Heffley (who along with his wife contributed the max $9,600 to Crist) works out of the Republican Party of Florida building and he's an advisor to the party. Assuming he's involved, is this evidence of coordination between the state party and the Crist campaign? Remember, it was chairman Jim Greer who wanted the party to back Crist** and rank-and-filers said no (actually, in county straw polls, they said hell no). So much intrigue. So many months to go.

Asked about the website and whether his campaign were involved, Crist said "not that I'm aware of."

Have you seen it?

"Yeah. Yeah. I saw it on the Sayfiereview. I think it was a Times (Buzz) blog," Crist said, noting that all the press clippings were "all in the public domain."

What about Heffley's potential involvement?

"I don't know that it's verified," Crist said.

**Note: I mistakenly transposed Rubio for Crist

What Jeb Bush said about Charlie Crist

We asked a few folks at this weekends Jeb-a-Thon just what the former guv. said about the current guv. and just what was discussed.

Here's what an attendee sent us:

When conversations involved people's disappointment with Governor Crist (there seemed to be a lot of that - probably a good thing for Gov Crist there wasn't a straw poll, as I don't think his fortunes would have improved with this crowd), Governor Bush would typically deflect the conversation and change the subject.  He seems to have an incredible discipline and respect for the office, regardless of who occupies it, and that seems to come through.  He spoke a lot about policy and the things he was motivated to continue working on.  ALOT of discussion about education reform.  I swear the guy is more committed to that than anything else I've seen from any leader in my life.  He talks of our need to be more competitive in education if we are going to be able to compete with the emergence of global competition for commerce.   He was very energized about that, and it seemed infectious.  The weekend really was nothing more than a reunion of sorts, people catching up, and just being around old friends made over the last ten years. 
Chatter among the masses?  Concern about the drift with the state and Governor Crist's inattention to it (or at least his perceived lack of capability).  Amusement over Gov. Crist taking credit for the improvements in education achievement in Michigan.  Disappointment with how the party has been managed over the last couple years and alot of relief that Alan Bense is now involved.  He brings credibility and a lot of people respect him.  A lot of people happy to see Senator Thrasher returning to Tallahassee. Nothing you haven't already heard from your many sources, I am sure. 

Parsing Charlie Crist's parsing

So. Gov. Charlie Crist doesn't like the "ridiculous" notion of quantifying his hours, as we did in this story that he responded in detail to here. In his response Crist says: "The schedule of a governor... does not reflect the endless hours spent briefing with agency leaders and staff, reading policy briefings and the day's news..."

Huh. The day's news?

Days news like this Oct. 21 story about Barack Obama coming to Florida? Or how about this Oct. 22 story about a poll showing Marco Rubio gaining ground in his race for U.S. Senate against Crist? The story ends thuswise: Just days before President Barack Obama makes his second trip to Florida, the poll pegged his approval at 48 percent. Unlike in February, when a more popular Obama touted his stimulus plan in Florida, Crist isn't planning to join the president next week. This is not to mention the numerous blogs and stories from other media outlets mentioning that Obama was Florida bound this week.

So imagine our surprise when Crist told the press yesterday that he was unaware of Obama's whereabouts when the prez was in his state.

``Where was he yesterday?'' Crist asked reporters. Told he was in Jacksonville, Crist said: ``First I've known of that.'' Asked whether his communications staff might offhandedly mention the president's in town, Crist said: ``If they want to.'' More here on that.

Weird. On Oct. 21, at 7:10 a.m. he had a "communications briefing." Must not have been told about this then, nor during his 8:30 a.m. "work and call time." But then, he was busy that day, according to his schedule.

The next day (date of the Crist-Rubio poll story) Crist had just two meetings, a 7:35 a.m. "communications briefing" and a call with staff chief Erik Eikenberg. Strange they didn't mention Obama was coming. The next morning, again, Crist had just two phone meetings, at 9 and 9:30, where he met respectively with spokeswoman Erin Isaac and Eikenberg. Strange they didn't mention the president was coming to the Sunshine State. Crist wasn't in state at the time, and was at two fundraisers in New York and the Detroit area.

But what do we know? This data (not the fundraiser stuff, which isn't public) comes from the governor's schedule.


Poof! goes state workers' phantom bonuses

Call it the Phantom Halloween Bonus, more trick than treat.

As the holidays approach and the recession continues its vice-like grip on Florida's economy, hundreds of state workers on Wednesday were tantalized with the prospect of a $1,000 bonus -- only to learn it was a major computer glitch from the department that Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink oversees.

Now you see the money, now you don't.

The phantom bonuses appeared in the electronic pay statements that state workers access online. The state pays many employees at the end of each month, transferring the four weeks of pay to workers' bank accounts. So as some of those employees on Wednesday started checking online in anticipation of this week's payout, they were surprised to see what looked like a $1,000 bonus. An estimated 1,600 workers were affected.

Jaryn Emhof, spokeswoman for the Senate, where about 200 staffers' electronic stubs show the bonuses, said the problem appears to have originated from the Department of Financial Services, which falls under Sink.

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