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15 posts from October 22, 2012

October 22, 2012

Why Romney missed, Obama hit. And why it might not matter much.

The issue was teed up for Mitt Romney from the get-go at Monday night’s foreign-policy debate: What happened when four foreign-service workers were killed in Libya?

“Was it an intelligence failure? Was it a policy failure?” moderator Bob Schieffer asked. “Was there an attempt to mislead people about what really happened?”

The answer to the first two questions is probably “yes.” The last question, about misleading the American people, is being examined on Capitol Hill, where the Benghazi attacks are widely seen as an embarrassment for the Obama Administration.

But Romney didn’t say any of that.

Instead, the Republican challenger rattled of a litany of problems in the Middle East — from the fading hopes of the Arab Spring to the struggle of “women in public life” to the Bashar Assad regime’s killing of an estimated 30,000 civilians in Syria.

Then he mentioned Benghazi. But only briefly.

“We see in Libya, an attack apparently by, I think we know now, by terrorists of some kind against — against our people there, four people dead,” Romney said.

That was it. Opportunity missed.

Continue reading "Why Romney missed, Obama hit. And why it might not matter much." »

Obama's pre-debate fuel: Joe's Stone Crab claws, key lime pie

We're hearing President Obama geared up for tonight's third and final presidential debate in Boca Raton in true South Florida fashion -- with a heaping plate of stone crabs and key lime pie from Joe's Stone Crab.

Joe's owner, Steve Sawitz, personally drove up four orders of the claws and pies from Miami Beach to Marine One while it was stationed in Palm Beach County. You can't get close to Marine One unless the president wants you to. And like anyone not allergic to shellfish, it's safe to say that the president ordered the stone crabs.

Obama's pre-debate fuel: Joe's Stone Crab claws, key lime pie

We're hearing President Obama geared up for tonight's third and final presidential debate in Boca Raton in true South Florida fashion -- with a heaping plate of stone crabs and key lime pie from Joe's Stone Crab.

Joe's owner, Steve Sawitz, personally drove up four orders of the claws and pies from Miami Beach to Marine One while it was stationed in Palm Beach County. You can't get close to Marine One unless the president wants you to. And like anyone not allergic to shellfish, it's safe to say that the president wanted the stone crabs.

Skipping amendments on long ballot? That means activists influence the vote, groups say

Millions of Florida voters will soon face their longest ballot ever, and history shows that some will raise the white flag and stop voting at some point — a decision, or non-decision, that could skew results of crucial down-ballot contests.

Ballot drop-off, or undervoting, is nothing new, and can be relatively harmless in nonpartisan races between two candidates where little is known about either person running.

But this year, voters who throw up their hands and say no more could indirectly help decide 11 state constitutional questions and local charter amendments that can write Florida's future.

Here's why: The law requires that 60 percent of voters must vote yes for a proposed constitutional amendment to pass. That's 60 percent of the voters voting on a question, not 60 percent of the total voters who show up. More from Steve Bousquet here.

Continue reading "Skipping amendments on long ballot? That means activists influence the vote, groups say" »

Write-in candidates: Sham or sincere?

TALLAHASSEE — They are the candidates you don't see. They don't collect signatures or pay fees to run. They almost never raise or spend money. They don't attend campaign forums or knock on doors. Their names never appear on the ballot. And they always lose.

Yet, write-in candidates matter in Florida.

When they run, voters lose.

This year alone, more than 900,000 Floridians were stopped from casting a ballot in 15 competitive state House and Senate races because a write-in candidate signed up to run.

It's a loophole in Florida's quirky election system that can be exploited to prevent Democrats and independents from choosing a representative from among only Republicans, and vice versa.

"It's a sham," said Carl Domino, a Jupiter Republican.

Continue reading "Write-in candidates: Sham or sincere?" »

Gov. Scott outlines education agenda in new policy paper

The Herald/Times has exclusively obtained a draft copy of Gov. Rick Scott's K-12 education agenda, which will be made public Thursday. In the five-page document, Scott unveils his education plan and a list of proposals he will support in the coming year.

The governor will formally present his "College and Careers 1st" proposal at the Market Watch Education Summit in Ft. Myers. Most of the recommendations appear to be in line with what Scott has already said, whether it be opposing school funding cuts or supporting the expansion of charter schools. Still however, this white paper creates the clearest insight to date of his education priorities.

“I think the most important thing here is to get everybody focused on one goal and that is to get our kids ready, whether it’s a career when they finish  high school or to get ready for college," Scott told the Herald/Times in a phone interview. "Every decision we make needs to say, 'Does this move us in that direction or move us away in that direction?'”

Goal #1 references the state's transition to new education standards and measurements. Under this heading, he recommends suspending any new testing changes or requirements that dont' directly correlate to the Common Core State Standards that will be implemented in 2014. It is not clear however, how that will impact schools since most have already started pivoting toward the new standards.

Goal #2 deals with holding teachers accountable and providing new resources for them and their students. Here, Scott reiterates his promise to keep education speading steady in the coming academic year. He later told the Herald/Times that he wants to ensure per-student funding does not decline and, if possible, would like to increase it.

Scott also proposes redirecting funding for "quality mentoring that can help Florida students prepare for college and a career." During the phone interview, Scott said he wants to review all mentoring programs that receive state dollars and reward the ones that have the highest success rate. A similar proposal was floated by the governor during his 2012-2013 budget proposal, but he retreated in the face of opposition from lawmakers and educators.

In Goal #3, Scott says he wants to increase competition by creating more options for schools and students. He is already working on one of his recommendations -- deregulating school districts -- through a committee of superintendents that is coming up with ways to reduce paperwork. Scott is also proposing to give schools increased flexibility when it comes to purchasing textbooks and other instructional materials.

Goal #3 is also where Scott outlines his proposals regarding charter schools. First, he wants to remove enrollment caps for charter schools "so that results and capacity can determine enrollment." He also wants to hold a "Choice and Competition Summit to discuss ways to remove barriers to choice options in low-performing areas." Lastly, Scott is also recommending that school districts be allowed to open and operate their own "district charter innovation schools."

Connie Mack declares war: on United Nations over election monitors

UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, who has called for the U.S. to end funding of the United Nations, today announced that the international peacekeeping organization should be "kicked off U.S. soil" and "defunded."

The incident that sparked his outrage was an announcement by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that it will send 44 observer to polling places around the country on Election Day to monitor potential disputes at polling places. The organization is registered as an NGO with United Nations but the U.N. is not involved in monitoring elections in the U.S.

The request for voting day monitoring came from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP and the ACLU, among other groups. They warned in a letter to the OSCE of “a coordinated political effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans — particularly traditionally disenfranchised groups like minorities.”

Mack, who is chairman of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, said “Every American should be outraged by this news,'' and concluded that "the only ones who should ever oversee American elections are Americans.”

His campaign said in a statement that U.N. monitoring "should be reserved for third-world countries, banana republics and fledgling democracies."

Scott Simpson, of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the organization that brokered the meeting, called Mack's attempt to link the U.N. to the group irresponsible.

Continue reading "Connie Mack declares war: on United Nations over election monitors" »

Citizens Insurance defends ‘integrity’ firings, but backtracks from initial statements

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. attempted to play defense Monday, amid growing calls for a probe into the abrupt disbanding of its Office of Corporate Integrity.

On a call with reporters, Citizens CEO Barry Gilway explained that the firings were actually meant to boost fraud detection within the organization.

The hastily arranged call came briefly after two groups held a conference asking Gov. Rick Scott to look into the firings of the four corporate integrity employees responsible for investigating fraud, sexual harassment and other improprieties at the state-run insurer.

“We set up the Office of Corporate Integrity with the best of intentions,” said Gilway. “Unfortunately, the mission of the office was not adequately designed.”

Gilway said the corporate integrity watchdogs—one a former economic crimes investigator with the attorney general’s office and the other a former official with FDLE—were spending their time looking into minor human relations complaints, rather than serious fraud.

Gilway admitted that it was a mistake to abruptly disband the Office of Corporate Integrity in the middle of an Inspector General’s investigation into Citzens’ lavish corporate spending.

But Citizens has also made several mistakes in its attempts to explain the firings. The company has had to backtrack from several parts of its initial account, causing confusion about what actually happened, and producing growing suspicion among good governance groups and lawmakers.

For example, Citizens initially said that it fired the four corporate watchdogs in order to beef up its fraud investigations unit, but later noted that no forensic accountants have been hired.

Scott noted the discrepancy in his letter to Citizens last week.

“…as of today, new personnel have not been hired to handle the increased workload,” he wrote. “An effective compliance system cannot be achieved without an adequate number of independent, highly trained professionals.

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Chris Dorworth will be new House majority leader

House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, announced Monday that he has chosen his likely successor, Rep. Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary, to be the new House majority leader.

Weatherford also announced that the chairman of the House Rulles Committee for the next two years will be Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, and the largely ceremonial position of speaker pro-term will go to Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna.

-- Steve Bousquet

Sen. John McCain to join Connie Mack in tour of military towns Tuesday

Arizona Sen. John McCain will join MIAMI- Senator John McCain will join Republican Senate nominee, Congressman Connie Mack IV on Tuesday with stops in the military-heavy towns of Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Tampa.

Here's the schedule:

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