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340 posts from March 2010

March 31, 2010

A positive sign for Kendrick Meek? The Hill says Florida Senate race now a toss-up

The Hill now rates Florida's Senate race as a toss-up -- as Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio slug it out for the GOP primary and Kendrick Meek completes his push to get enough signatures to get his name on the ballot.

The Hill had rated the race as "leaning Republican." But it says "The open seat in Florida, currently held by placeholder Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.), is looking more and more like a potential Democratic pickup opportunity. As the race stands now, Marco Rubio is likely to be the GOP nominee. And Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), unlike in early polls against Gov. Charlie Crist (R), is polling close to Rubio in some cases. Rubio has also begun to take his bumps over some personal financial issues, and it’s hard to see him coming out of the primary against Crist’s $7.6 million bankroll without some bruises.

"Meek has been raising solid money, and he’s also less well-known than Rubio at this point, which could account for his deficit in some polls. Florida is a swing state, and like other swing-state open seats right now, we’re expecting a close race that should start as a toss-up. MOVED FROM 'LEAN REPUBLICAN' TO 'TOSS-UP.' "

Senate passes budget unanimously

The Florida Senate voted unanimously to approve its budget.

A few issues:

Bottom line: about $69.5 billion, about $2 billion more than the House.

Stimulus money: About $3 billion of Congressional Democratic largesse is plowed into the Republican-crafted budget. The spending plan tentatively includes $880 m more in extra Medicaid stimulus money, which Congress has yet to approve. This isn't in the House budget.

Gaming: $435 million for expanding gaming and deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This isn't in the House budget.

Medicaid 16 lines of last-minute proviso lanugage, never before debated or presented in the Legislature, could restructure Medicaid in a "transformative" fashion, according to sponsor Joe Negron.

Prisons: The private Blackwater prison will get more inmates, but two public prisons won't close (as had been previously proposed). Nor will about 2,000 prison guards lose their jobs.

Environment: Florida Forever gets a small $15 million, which is about $15 million more for land purchases than had been previously thought.

Kendrick Meek urges caution on offshore drilling

From Kendrick Meek -- who has distanced himself from President Obama lately on a few issues:

"The bar for drilling off Florida’s coast needs to be raised higher than for other states. Ending our reliance on foreign oil, researching alternative green energy sources, and exploring domestic supplies of oil and natural gas is critical, but the cost for error in Florida is greater than it is for our neighbors. Florida’s economic
well-being is tied into the success of our tourism and fishing industries, and the preservation of our beaches.  Our military’s readiness and training ability cannot be compromised at the expense of drilling for an unknown quantity of reserves. The damage potential to Florida, a hurricane-prone state, of offshore oil drilling could be
immeasurable. Today’s announcement on energy security and independence requires serious consideration and study as questions remain unanswered, but caution must trump expediency."  


Former GOP chairman Greer under criminal investigation

UPDATED: Former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer is the subject of a criminal investigation after an auditor found he funneled party money to a political consulting company he owned.

Attorney General Bill McCollum referred the matter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Mar. 15 after it was discovered during a routine party audit (download here). "This information indicates there may have been criminal activity surrounding a former senior official of the Republican Party of Florida and a company called Victory Strategies, LLC," McCollum said in a statement.

The audit showed that Greer owned 60 percent of the company and Delmar Johnson, the ousted former executive director, owned the remaining 40 percent. Greer authorized the contract to let Johnson take a 10 percent commission on all dollars he raised for the party coffers. The disclosure of the contract earlier this year helped lead to his dethronement. Now party documents indicate his company received $133,005 in 2009 from the fundraising commissions and another $66,250 for other consulting services.

Party Chairman John Thrasher, a state senator, released a statement suggesting this disclosure if part of his effort to clean up party finances. "The Republican Party of Florida may have been the victim of illegal criminal activity on the part of one of its vendors, controlled by a senior-level official," he said in a statement.

Bill Nelson on Obama's oil drilling plan: The administration listened to Florida

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who has vehemently opposed efforts to drill near Florida says:

"I’ve talked many times to [ Interior Department ] Secretary [ Ken ] Salazar and told him if they drilled too close to Florida’s beaches they’d be risking the state’s economy and the environment. I believe this plan shows they heeded that concern. And it ought to derail the scheme in the Florida Legislature to drill three miles offshore. Now I need to hear from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. And I want him to look me in the eye and assure me that this plan will not compromise national security by interfering with the unfettered space we have for training and testing our most sophisticated military weapons systems."

Obama on expanding drilling: "Not a decision that I've made lightly"

President Obama says he didn't come to his decision to open up the coasts to drilling "lightly" and said he expects pushback from both sides: that he's doing too much or that he's not doing enough.

"But the bottom line," he says, "Is this: given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy."

His full remarks after the jump.

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Interior Secretary on oil drilling off Florida's coast

Ken Salazar is introducing President Barack Obama at the big energy event and says "all the things we are doing will help us cut our dependence on foreign oil.

He says the administration will "responsibly expand" drilling in new areas like the Eastern Gulf of Mexico -- 125 miles off Florida's coast, as well as areas in the Atlantic.

"We are listening to the communities that are most affected by development," he promises.

At least one GOP'er not a big fan of Obama drilling policy either

House GOP Leader John Boehner says the Obama administration’s plan to expand drilling doesn't go far enough -- by keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska, "as well as the most promising resources off the Gulf of Mexico, under lock and key."

"Opening up areas off the Virginia coast to offshore production is a positive step, but keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska, as well as the most promising resources off the Gulf of Mexico, under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising and Americans are asking ‘Where are the jobs?’ "Boehner says in a release.

More Senate 'transparency:' Last-minute Medicaid 'privatization,' vouchers

Three top Senate Republicans have decided to introduce a new piece of legislation -- a last-minute amendment -- regarding Medicaid that was given scant attention after weeks of committee meetings where they talked about the nitty-gritty of health policy.

The amendment directs the Agency for Health Care Administration to ask the feds for a new waiver to Medicaid rules to give the state more power over the Medicaid program, which is largely federally funded and controlled. The amendment would also cap total expenditures of the program, allow Medicaid recipients to use vouchers to buy private insurance, and force some recipients to pay more co-pays and deductibles.

The amendment is offered by fure Senate Presidents Mike Haridopolos and Don Gaetz, along with Sen. Joe Negron. They all sit on the Health Appropriations Committee, but never introduced this idea for consideration before the committee, said Sen. Nan Rich, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Rich criticized her colleagues for violating the spirit of Senate President Jeff Atwater's push for more transparency in the budget process.

"This privatizes Medicaid," she said. It also could blow up former Gov. Jeb Bush's Medicaid Reform plan, which sought to create more managed-care companies to handle Medicaid without handing the entire program over to HMOs.

Some of the ideas in the amendment aren't new; Medicaid Reform contemplates some vouchers and Gaetz and Haridopolos last year mentioned the block-grant capping of Medicaid and the demand for more "flexibility." But for some reason, it was never submitted as a bill where it could be vetted by legislative and AHCA staff and the committees themselves.

Enviros bash Obama over oil drilling

Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida has this to say about President Obama's plans to open up more areas to gas and oil drilling:

"Offshore drilling, especially drilling as close as 4 miles from Florida's Atlantic beaches, tastes bad no matter which president from whatever party is serving it. The President's support doesn't change the facts, expanded drilling won't lower gas prices and it represents a dirty and dangerous activity that risks catastrophic damage to our beloved beaches."

And from Environment Florida's Adam Rivera: "Environment Florida is outraged by today's announcement on offshore drilling.  It makes no sense to threaten Florida's coastline with spills and other drilling disasters when the Obama Administration is about to unleash the real solutions to oil dependence -- cleaner cars and cleaner

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