November 06, 2012

In battleground Osceola, voters arrive in a steady stream

Edison Rosendo arrived at the Kissimmee polling place across the street from his apartment complex with a thick book in hand, ready for the long wait.

Instead, the Barry University law school graduate was in and out of the Robert Guevara Community Center in 15 minutes as a steady stream of voters cast their ballots with barely a wait. 

"I voted for Barack Obama, even though I'm unemployed,'' said Rosendo, 27, who is registered with no party affiliation. He has been looking for work since he passed the bar in June, he said, but he voted for Obama because, after researching Romney's agenda, he concluded "he wants to block everything Obama has done and I feel that is not a good way to govern."

Osceola County is the heart of the state's swing region, where the burgeoning Puerto Rican population has converted cow pastures into subdivisions and a one-time stronghold for conservative Republicans into new terrain for conservative Democrats.

Romney, however, has been competitive here as the region's struggles like the rest of the state with stifled employment, even in the backyard of Disney.

"I voted for Romney because Obama has his chance,'' said Denise Calero, 44, an unemployed single mom who was laid off as an inspector at the nearby Lockheed Martin plant a year and a half ago. She and her extended family, all from Puerto Rico, feel the same she said. "The same chance Obama had, Romney should have."

Vilma Figueroa, 54, was voting for the first time in Florida since she moved to Kissimmee a year ago. She arrived at the polls with her father, Conception Figueroa, 81, who has been voting in this country since he moved to New York in 1952. 

"For me, Obama looks more human,'' Figueroa said. "I like him better."


November 05, 2012

Conservative group files last ditch lawsuit to oust justices from the ballot

The conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation has filed a last minute lawsuit on behalf of a Destin man that seeks to remove from Tuesday’s ballot the three justices seeking retention to the Supreme Court.

The claims are similar to one offered up earlier this summer when the same group asked a state court to remove the justices from the ballot, arguing that Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince failed to properly file their qualification papers. The justices are on the ballot as part of the requirement that they come before voters every six years on a retention vote.

Judge Terry Lewis dimissed the case in August, but now the group is back, this time bringing a petition for a writ of quo warranto -- demanding that Secretary of State Ken Detzner remove them from the ballot and accusing him of failing in his duties. They filed the petition with the state Supreme Court, the same on court which the three justices sit.

“The Secretary of State has violated his duty to uphold the Florida Constitution and enforce Florida Law, specifically the Florida Election Code, with regard to whether Justices’ Lewis, Pariente, and Quince qualified for the 2012 general election ballot for merit retention,’’ the 48-page brief filed late Monday says. “Under the Florida Election Code, it was the duty of the Secretary to determine that each of the three Justices had failed to meet the mandatory constitutional and statutory qualification requirements...”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Denny Jones of Destin. Download Filed_11-05-2012_Petition

Q and A with Florida's justices up for retention

Three of Florida’s seven supreme court justices are up for a retention vote in what has become the highest spending judicial election in state history.

The justices, Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barabara Pariente and Peggy Quince,  collectively raised $1.5 million for their campaigns, a decision, they said, was provoked when the conservative Americans For Prosperity announced they will oppose their retention.

When the Republican Party of Florida announced it was also opposed to retaining the justices in September, an electioneering and communications organization formed on the justices’ behalf -- named Defend Justice from Politics -- raised another $4 million.

The Herald/Times sat down with the three justices in early October to discuss the effects of the unprecedented political push on their race. Here’s the transcript of our conversation:

Q: Until this year, a retention race in Florida never cost more than $300,000. Why has your race become so expensive?

Lewis: Because a there is an attempt to push it into a partisan political battle.

Quince: And it’s never been that way before. We have always had non-partisan elections here and merit retention has always been non-partisan. This would take us back to what we had 40 years ago when we had the scandals on the Supreme Court.

Pariente: This is unprecedented. It is a complete attack on the system of merit selection and retention in the state and, whether it was the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, it would be equally destructive.

Continue reading "Q and A with Florida's justices up for retention" »

Who is behind the spending on the ballot amendments? You'd be surprised

When people look at the Florida ballot, their eyes glaze over as they come to the constitutional amendments. That’s understandable. The ballot is laughably long.

But the Florida amendments matter — at least they do to the people who are spending millions trying to sway your vote.

Take Amendment 8. It’s titled “Religious Freedom” and it would bar the government from denying funds to organizations or institutions based on “religious identity or belief.” The proposal also strikes the current state ban on using state money “directly or indirectly in aid of any church sect or religious denomination, or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

The Archdiocese of Miami is all in on this one. It has donated $84,195 in support of the amendment, according to an analysis by the Florida Center for Investigative Journalism, which looked at the money lining up for and against each of the 11 amendments. The archdiocese’s sister dioceses in St. Pete, Orlando and Palm Beach have each also kicked in tens of thousands of dollars. Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization, forked over $100,000.

And yet, that’s tip-jar money compared to what opponents of the measure are pushing into the pot. The ACLU of South Florida dug deep, anteing up more than $180,000 to fight Amendment 8. Something called The Public Education Defense Fund (an arm of the Florida Education Association, says FCIR) has outdone the ACLU, throwing in a cool $1 million.

More from the Herald's Issues and Ideas and Casey Frank here. 


Bill Nelson returns to old-fashioned sign-waving on closing day


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is an old school guy, so he stuck to an old school method of campaigning Monday in Orlando, waving signs at Bumby Avenue and Colonial Drive. He's been working the corner since 1972, he said, and says it still works.

"Just listen, and you'll be able to tell," the 70-year-old Democrat said, his face beaming at when cars honked their approval. At his side was his wife, Grace. Nelson was scheduled to appear later in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, his Republican rival Connie Mack IV joined Mitt Romney at a rally at the Sanford airport Monday morning and then had plans to travel to Tampa and finishe the day in Naples. 

Photo by Scott Keeler | Times

-- Alex Leary

November 04, 2012

Crist says Scott's refusal to extend early voting is 'unconscionable'

Crist on CBSBefore former Gov. Charlie Crist rallied the crowd at President Barack Obama’s final Florida rally on Sunday, he made a guest appearance on CBS4’s Facing South Florida with Jim Defede and did some politicking of his own.

Crist covered the famous hug that first got him in trouble with Republicans, the “unconscionable” decision by Gov. Rick Scott not to extend early voting hours, and his future political plans.

Crist laughed when Defede said his first encounter with Obama was a “hug heard around the world” and recalled how he also
“got a lot of grief from Republicans” when he extended early voting hours in 2008.

“But when you’re governor, you don’t just work for one party or the other you work for the people of the state,’’ Crist said. “I saw the long lines. I saw it was still hot in South Florida, that a lot of senior citizens were waiting in those lines, and I realized it was an emergency situation and people needed to have the opportunity to vote.

“The same thing happened under Gov. Jeb Bush and he extended early voting as well,’’ he said.

Continue reading "Crist says Scott's refusal to extend early voting is 'unconscionable'" »

Crist rallies a packed stadium in pro-Obama chant 'this guy's got our back'

Crist and ObamaFormer Gov. Charlie Crist, president Barack Obama’s most unexpected cheerleader in Florida this election cycle, rallied a crowd of 23,000 at the McArthur High School Football Field in Hollywood with a verbal hug that mirrored the physical one that got him in trouble with his former party. 

“Hello Broward!,’’ Crist exclaimed. “Are you fired up? Ready to go? I love Barack Obama.”

Crist, who left the Republican Party in the midst of the primary for U.S. Senate in 2010, was excoriated by Republicans for welcoming the president at an event in Fort Myers in 2009, symbolically embracing the federal stimulus money coming to Florida.  

Crist recalled the moment in his speech to the crowd before Obama arrived and used the message to revive some classic Crist themes: bi-partisan cooperation.

“The president came here to help us,’’ he said. “One man got it done. President Barack Obama.”

Continue reading "Crist rallies a packed stadium in pro-Obama chant 'this guy's got our back'" »

November 03, 2012

Herald poll: Nelson holds 6-point lead; 49-43 over Mack

UPDATE: Republican Mitt Romney’s coattails do not appear to be long enough to carry U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV into the U.S. Senate, according to a new Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll.

Democrat Bill Nelson, 70, a two-term senator from Orlando, retains a six-point lead in the high profile match-up, as Republican ticket-splitters and independent voters continue to provide the crucial margin Nelson needs to return to Washington.

According to the survey of voters taken Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, Nelson leads Mack 49-43 percent and gets one out of every nine Romney voters — a sign that voters are looking for “someone who can work across the aisle’’ in the closely-divided Senate, said Brad Coker, director of the non-partisan Mason Dixon Polling and Research, which conducted the poll.

“Independents aren’t sold that Republicans have the answers, and they aren’t sold that Democrats have the answers,’’ he said.

The breakdown on the Romney voters: 80 percent vote for Mack, 12 percent vote for Nelson, 4 percent vote for the other Senate candidates and 4 percent are still undecided. Story here.

David James, deputy campaign manager released this statement: 

“The problem with the poll is that it has 5% more Democrats than Republicans. That wasn't even true in 2008 when the cult of Obama was at its height. In a normal election like 2004, Republican turnout was plus 4% which is why this result may be as much as 10% off of the mark.

“Democrats are voting 70% less in early voting to date compared to turnout in 2008.  In the 2008 election, Democrats were only plus 3% in the final returns.

“We expect this election to be more like 2004, and our analysis is based on the eventual turnout being at least plus 3% for Republicans.  If the voting trends seen in the Mason-Dixon poll continue, when based on accurate modeling, Connie Mack will be elected and Mitt Romney will thrash Barack Obama."


Nelson joins call to Scott to extend early voting hours, amid four-hour wait

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has asked Florida Gov. Rick Scott to extend early voting hours as voters line up in four-hour waits in Miami Dade, Broward and Orange counties.

Nelson, a Democrat, said that Scott's refusal to extend the polling hours threatened to jeopardize "the credibility of Florida's election." 

He and others have asked Scott to use his exective powers to issue an emergency order extending early voting hours at least through Sunday. The governor has rejected earlier calls to extend early voting to help alleviate long lines at the polls. His predecessors, Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist used their executive authority to extend voting hours during their terms.

Meanwhile, voters are spending hours in line Saturday — the last day for early voting. Some sites are reporting a wait time of about four hours in Miami Dade and Broward counties, while locations in Hillsborough and Duval counties are reporting between 15 minutes to an hour.

Continue reading "Nelson joins call to Scott to extend early voting hours, amid four-hour wait" »

November 02, 2012

Campaign for justices shatters $5 million mark as opposition ads barely materialized

When the Republican Party of Florida launched its “grassroots” offensive against the three justices of the Florida Supreme Court, it unleashed a sleeping giant.

The state’s legal community galvanized in defense of the justices and opened its wallets. According to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections and the IRS, lawyers are on track to raise $4 million to defend the justices in their bid to remain on the court in the November retention campaign.

The list of campaign contributions is a Who’s Who of elite law firms in Florida, including top lawyers who are politically connected with both parties. The three justices, R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, also will have collectively raised another $1.5 million in their individual campaign accounts.

The $5.5 million war chest shatters any previous records for a judicial campaign in Florida.

In just three weeks, dozens of law firms ponied up checks as large as $100,000 to an electioneering and communications organization set up to defend the justices. The organization, called Defend Justice from Politics, used the cash to pay for mailers, robo-calls, ads on social media and four to six weeks of television ads in the state’s largest media markets.

Supporters are predicting victory. “It’s over,” said Neil Roth, a Miami trial lawyer who has quietly coordinated the campaign to defend the justices. He predicts the justices are going to win the 50 percent plus one margin to be retained on the bench another six years. More here.

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