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255 posts from April 2012

April 27, 2012

Florida Supreme Court validates redrawn Senate redistricting map

In a major victory for Florida's Republican-led Legislature, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday validated the redrawn map of the Florida Senate, allowing the boundaries to serve as the political borders for the next 10 years.

In its unanimous opinion, the court noted that the opponents to the Senate map, the Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voting groups including the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida, "failed to demonstrate that the revised Senate plan as a whole or with respect to any individual district violates Florida's constitutional requirements."

But in two concurring opinions, Justices E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince, the court's black justices, and Justice Barbara Pariente each focused on the flaws remaining in the redistricting process. Perry and Quince dissented on the portion of the map that includes Volusia County, saying it ''splits the historically black Democratic community in Daytona Beach when it was feasible for it to be kept whole."

Pariente, the author of the March 9 opinion that invalidated the Senate's first map as "rife with indicators of improper intent" concurred with the majority but issued her own opinion pointing out what she considers major flaws in Florida's redistricting process.

Continue reading "Florida Supreme Court validates redrawn Senate redistricting map" »

Mendelsohn loses appeal to reduce sentence on tax fraud

Alan Mendelsohn, the Hollywood physician and ex-GOP fundraiser imprisoned for four years on a tax-related fraud conviction, has lost his federal appeal to reduce his sentence.

Last year, U.S. District Judge William Zloch slapped Mendelsohn with the sentence, saying he corrupted the democratic process in the Florida Legislature by secretly funneling $82,000 through a legislative aide to a former state senator in exchange for political favors.

Zloch rejected the Justice Department’s recommended prison sentence for Mendelsohn, between two and 2½ years, and his defense attorney’s bid for probation with no jail time. The judge said both failed to address the seriousness of his criminal behavior.

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Obama video hints that Romney wouldn't have nabbed Bin Laden. Did Obama 'spike the football?'

Almost four years ago to the day, then-and-now Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." And months before, according to an Aug. 4 2007 Reuters article, "Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary."

Obama went on to win the presidency. He made good on his pledge. Osama Bin Laden was killed. Now Obama's campaign is trying to make this soft-on-Bin Laden charge stick to Romney. Will voters buy it?

*Update: Romney camp responds and some Republicans** note that the president might be making the very type of political hay he wants decried: “The killing of Osama bin Laden was a momentous day for all Americans and the world, and Governor Romney congratulated the military, our intelligence agencies, and the President. It's now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try to distract voters' attention from  the failures of his administration. With 23 million Americans struggling for work, our national debt soaring, and household budgets being squeezed like never before, Mitt Romney is focused on strengthening America at home and abroad.”

**An email from Republicans:

Obama 2011: “We Don’t Need To Spike The Football”… CBS’ Steve Kroft: “Did you see the pictures?” President Barack Obama: “Yes.” Kroft: “What was your reaction when you saw them?” Obama:” It was him.” Kroft: “Why haven't you released them?” Obama: “You know, we discussed this internally. Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain this was him. We've done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden. It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence. As a propaganda tool. You know, that's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think-- Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone. But we don't need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk. And I've discussed this with Bob Gates and Hillary Clinton and my intelligence teams and they all agree.” (CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 5/8/11)

Obama Campaign In 2008 Attacks Hillary Clinton For “Invok[ing] Bin Laden To Score Political Points”…

In 2008, The Obama Campaign Criticized Hillary Clinton For Trying To “Invoke Bin Laden To Score Political Points.” “As the clock ticked down on the state campaign on Monday, Obama's camp accused Clinton of trying to scare Americans, after the release of a dark new campaign ad featuring Al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden. The 30-second broadcast does not mention Obama by name, but the Illinois senator's spokesman Bill Burton fired off a robust response and brought up Clinton's vote in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war, which his boss opposed. ‘It's ironic that she would borrow the president's tactics in her own campaign and invoke bin Laden to score political points,’ Burton said.” (Stephen Collison, “Pennsylvania To Vote In Must-Win For Clinton,” AFP, 4/22/08)

Obama Campaign In 2008: “We Already Have A President Who Plays The Politics Of Fear, And We Don’t Need Another”… http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2008/04/clinton_ad_stre.html

The Obama campaign accused Clinton of fearmongering with the ad. “When Senator Clinton voted with President Bush to authorize the war in Iraq, she made a tragically bad decision that diverted our military from the terrorists who attacked us, and allowed Osama bin Laden to escape and regenerate his terrorist network. It's ironic that she would borrow the President's tactics in her own campaign and invoke bin Laden to score political points. We already have a President who plays the politics of fear, and we don't need another,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. Obama's camp also sent out a 2004 quote from former president Bill Clinton: “Now one of Clinton’s Laws of Politics is this: If one candidate's trying to scare you and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope. That's the best.”

April 26, 2012

Miami-Dade has been stockpiling cars for 5 years -- and commissioners have known for at least 2

Miami-Dade County has been stockpiling vehicles for five years because administrators bought hundreds of vehicles in 2006 — and then decided a year later to drastically reduce the size of the county fleet, leaving scores of new and surplus vehicles gathering dust.

Commissioners have known about some of the extra vehicles for at least two years, records show, when the former county manager told them they had more than 100 unused Toyota Prius hybrids sitting in a county parking garage.

Yet the mayor and many commissioners have expressed shock and anger at a recent report that hundreds of brand-new Priuses and other vehicles — vans, pickup trucks, police patrol cars — remained parked in the county’s Earlington Heights garage for years.

Former County Manager George Burgess sent commissioners a memo on June 23, 2010, stating that 103 Priuses were being kept in the garage. The memo did not address other vehicles in the county’s fleet, which currently comprises some 7,300 vehicles.

Burgess wrote that the county had reduced the size of its fleet and extended the life of vehicles in use, creating a surplus of vehicles being stored and maintained in reserve.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was then a commissioner, came to a similar conclusion Thursday in his own memo explaining why the county has 157 vehicles in the garage. Story here.

More bad news for out-of-work Floridians: Unemployment benefits will run out sooner

The state's 836,000 unemployed workers are in for more bad news: Their unemployment benefits are going to start running out sooner.

State officials said this week that 20 weeks of federal extended unemployment benefits are to start disappearing next month. That's on top of three weeks of state unemployment benefits that evaporated in January for newly unemployed workers.

Bottom line: The meager check for the state's unemployed — $275 a week — is going to have to stretch further.

The change is more the result of policy decisions in Washington and Tallahassee than a reflection of the state's improved economic scenario.

"It's not fair to characterize it as an indicator of an improved economy," said Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project. "It's just an indicator that the economy hasn't gotten worse."

Story here.

Look out, Romney, Obama launches FL voter drive that could help decide presidential race

IMG_0081In a nondescript store front next to a Pembroke Pines gym, Florida Democrats launched a major offensive this week to boost their ranks despite a Republican law that makes the voter-registration push harder than ever.

The President Obama’s re-election campaign has closely studied the registration-crackdown law for months and devised a step-by-step quality-control process and is ready this weekend to train hundreds of volunteers at its 24 offices throughout the state.

The battle for the White House could literally hinge on the effort in a state where President George W. Bush won his first term in 2000 thanks to a margin of 537 votes in Florida.

But long before Election Day, Democrats will gather in meetings much like the one led Wednesday by Organizing for America Florida activist Meghan Hardy. Bearing a chipper attitude and a Power Point presentation, Hardy taught about a dozen volunteers the dos and don’ts of voter registration. She gave a six-question quiz at the end.

“When we just register someone to vote, we don’t just register them and then stop,” Hardy said. “We think about it as the beginning of a conversation that we’re going to be having with voters between now and Election Day.”

Once new voters are registered, campaign will call and mail them to get them to the polls. As a result of their efforts, Hardy says, voters signed up in 2008 by the campaign were up to 20 percent more likely to vote when compared with voters signed up by other registration groups.

The new voter drive comes not a moment too soon for Democrats.

Since 2008, Democrats have lost 172,000 active voters – a roughly 4 percent decline -- while Republicans have quietly launched a modest registration campaign of their own that has increased their ranks by almost 1 percent, or nearly 37,000. Also, the latest Florida poll shows Republican Mitt Romney ahead of Obama, 47 percent to 45 percent -- an inside-the-error-margin lead.

Obama won Florida by less than 3 percentage points four years ago. In 2010, Republicans swept the state.

That makes every new voter count all the more heading into November.

Democrats still lead Republicans overall by a margin of 448,000 active registered voters. And, the Florida Democratic Party notes, they lead by an even greater amount – 540,000 – by including the pool of so-called inactive voters, who cast ballots so infrequently that the state doesn’t post information about them.

The Florida Democratic Party points out the inactive voters can become active. It says that about 100,000 of them showed up in 2008, when president Obama won the state – and the White House in the process – by about 236,000 votes.

There are about 11.2 million active voters (plus 1.1 million more inactive voters). About 41 percent are Democrats, 36 percent Republicans, 20 percent has no party affiliation and fewer than 4 percent belong to a smattering of other parties.

Voter registration statistics aren’t clear predictors of an election’s outcome; just because a new voter registers Democrat, doesn’t mean he’ll cast a ballot or that he’ll vote for a Democrat.

But the numbers are a good barometer of the mood of the electorate and the state of the political parties and campaigns.

For instance, white voters appear to be dropping from the Democratic rolls, with 206,000 of them leaving since the last election. Black voters continue to leave the Republican Party, where African American active voters declined 7 percent to about 59,000.

Continue reading "Look out, Romney, Obama launches FL voter drive that could help decide presidential race" »

Florida senators split votes on Violence Against Women Act

Florida's senators split their votes on the Violence Against Women Act, with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voting to extend it, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voting against it. The bill passed 68-31. The 31 no votes came from Republican men. All of the Republican women in the Senate voted for the legislation.

The 18-year-old federal law created a national strategy to prevent domestic violence against women and pours resources into efforts to help victims of domestic violence. But like everything this year, it's caught up in politics. 

The original act passed in 1994 with bipartisan support, but some opponents are trying to block the legislation because they fear it would broaden American Indian tribal rights and has too many protections for gay and illegal immigrant victims of violence. Conservative Republicans _ already feeling political heat for being insensitive to women _ complain such provisions are unneeded and are reluctant to go along.

Rubio said today he would vote for the act as originally written, and says he hopes he "can vote for it once it comes out of the House-Senate conference committee." Perhaps feeling the heat, he wrote an extensive defense of his votes on Thursday, including the amendments, on his webpage. It can be found here:

Elections officials incensed over Scott's 'rating system'

Florida supervisors of elections are incensed with Gov. Rick Scott and his chief elections official over what they say is a flawed and inaccurate survey that ranks them in eight areas. Elections officials went public with their frustrations on Thursday in hopes of keeping the governor's office from posting survey results online that they say are inaccurate.

"The process was flawed from the start," said Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deb Clark. "Questions and procedures were unclear, obviously written by people who can cite statutes, but have no understanding of what is required to conduct an election."

The survey results appear below.

The idea came from Scott, a firm believer in accountability and measurement. Election supervisors are not political appointees; they are independently-elected constitutional officers, like sheriffs or court clerks. 

The supervisors had a contentious 90-minute conference call on Wednesday with Secretary of State Ken Detzner. During that conference call, the elections officials cited inaccuracies in the survey and asked the state to delay posting the results online. "Our request was denied," Clark said in an email to Pinellas legislators. "So they are posting information they know is incorrect."

The survey rated elections officials in areas such as how quickly they posted their first election night results; when they mailed absentee ballots; and when they notified the public of early voting sites. Supervisors also received extra credit if they mailed in the survey results ahead of the deadline, which Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley called "silly."

"This is completely devoid of any statutory validity," Corley said. "I'm almost embarrassed ... it's sad."

The governor's office and Detzner's office have no immediate reaction to the criticism. Worth noting: One of the lowest-rated supervisors of election in the state is a Scott appointee, Thomas Hardee of Madison County, who was appointed by the governor last year when his predecessor was charged with elections fraud.

-- Steve Bousquet

Three South Florida Democrats bash Gov. Scott over public safety task force

On the same day that the New York Times published an op-ed bashing Gov. Rick Scott over the gun-friendly slant of his public safety task force, three South Florida representatives called on him to overhaul the 19-member group.

Reps. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami and Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, said they want Scott to appoint a more diverse task force to look into Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law.

At a press conference at Church of the Open Door UCC in a predominantly black section of Miami, the three Democrats criticized Scott for his task force appointees, and called out task force chair Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll for mischaracterizing the selection process last week.

Last week, the Herald/Times reported that three of the four lawmakers on the task force voted for Stand Your Ground in 2005, and a fourth joined the Legislature in 2010. The first bill he passed was a gun-friendly measure banning doctors from asking patients about gun ownership.

Continue reading "Three South Florida Democrats bash Gov. Scott over public safety task force" »

Counties sue state over Medicaid billing dispute

The Florida Association of Counties filed an anticipated lawsuit in circuit court today on behalf of 47 counties challenging the state’s new Medicaid billing system. The counties are accusing the state of creating an unfunded mandate by withholding revenue sharing dollars to cover future Medicaid costs, as well as a disputed payment backlog.

“This suit does not challenge whether counties should participate with the State in making its Medicaid payments,” the association said in a statement on its website. “That policy decision was made long ago. Rather, counties want to pay their fair and accurate share of the Medicaid bills on behalf of their residents, which they have been prevented from doing because of a State billing system plagued with rampant errors.”

Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties are among the 47 named in the suit. The Florida Department of Revenue, which collects tax revenue, and the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the Medicaid program, are named as defendants.

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