May 12, 2010

Voters undecided in statewide 2010 races

A new Ron Sachs/Mason-Dixon poll shows wide open races for statewide offices with few voters confident about which candidate to elect. (Here are the findings.)

Take the race for Attorney General: voters are 73 percent undecided in the Democratic primary (feature Sen. Dan Gelber verse Sen. Dave Aronberg) and 72 percent undecided in the three-way Republican primary (which pits Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp against prosecutor Pam Bondi and former agency head Holly Benson).

The most intriguing figures come in the Agriculture Commissioner election where the poll tested a the match-up between Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam and former Tallahassee mayor Scott Maddox, a Democrat. It's a deadlock with Maddox at 31 percent, Putnam at 30 percent and undecideds at 39 percent. (The margin of error is 4 percent for this question.)

"The huge number of undecided voters is really where this election rests," said PR guru Ron Sachs, whose firm isn't representing any candidates.

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March 17, 2010

State lawmaker wants investigation of insurance companies

State Rep. Alan Hays on Wednesday called for the Legislature to investigate property insurance companies in Florida, citing the millions executives made in bonuses and other perks as the companies threatened to leave Florida and begged the state for higher rates to make them profitable.

"We certainly need to have answers as to whether the practices were appropriate," said Hays, R-Umatilla, a member of the House Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Policy Committee.

Citing a year-long investigation conducted by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune -- "How insurers make millions on the side" -- Hays said he wants to hold hearings to sort out the truth much like they do in Congress. The committee's chairman Republican Pat Patterson, a senior account agent at Allstate, dodged discussion of the issue. (The lawmakers, including Hays, then approved a measure to give insurance companies the ability to offer unregulated rates.)

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March 09, 2010

Crist says 'back waxing' is a 'trust' issue'

Thanks to Gov. Charlie Crist, a new term -- back waxing -- entered the lexicon of the U.S. Senate Republican primary with Marco Rubio. But actually, Crist said, the thanks (or not) belongs to us.

Asked where this back waxing issue came from, Crist said, "I think I read it in Adam Smith's column." In the Buzz column, Smith suggested that for a $135 at the salon would buy "not just a deluxe cut ($25), but also a pedicure, and back and eyebrow waxing."

In his remarks after the Cabinet meeting, Crist appeared animated and excited to talk about the topic. For him, it is a fissure in Rubio's image as a fiscal conservative and straight-talker.

"I don't know what's going on there," Crist said of Rubio's various explanations of the $135 charge. "It's a new answer every day. It's frustrating to you all and to me, this guy can't get his story straight."

So the campaign for U.S. Senate is reduced to this?

"The issue is trust," Crist said. "It puts a fine point on the issue. The issue is whether or not people can trust the speaker to spend their money wisely, I mean, clearly they can't."

February 09, 2010

Sink gets feisty at Cabinet meeting

CFO Alex Sink lambasted the state's top financial regulator at the Cabinet meeting Tuesday for not aggressively pursing litigation against Bank of America -- her former employer -- for its deal with Merrill Lynch.

"I'm not really impressed with the comments you made," Sink started. "The last commissioner lost his job because he hid behind not having the powers or not having the resources. ... My main frustration  ... is the sense of do nothingness and inaction in the face of all sorts of scams in our state."

The public scolding of Thomas Cardwell, the commissioner of the Office of Financial regulation, stood out for two reasons: 1. It deviated from the normally cordial decorum at Cabinet meeting and 2. Cardwell was Sink's pick for the job.

Also because Cardwell fought back. "This is not an excuse," he said, preceding it with the standard "with all due respect."

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January 25, 2010

Democratic AG candidates differ in style, substance

At first glance, they seem alike: Both men are politically ambitious lawyers and state senators from South Florida.

But real differences separate Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, who are fighting for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. The contest is one of three down-ballot statewide races likely to be decided by TV ads and obscured by high-profile free-for-alls for U.S. Senate and governor. Read Steve Bousquet's story.

Sink pressures Citizens to drop no-bid contract

UPDATE 10:40 a.m.: Citizens VP Paul Palumbo announced the state-run insurer would competitively bid the contract for home inspections after the controversy. It's unclear what role Alex Sink's letter played, as pressure came from a number of places.

As the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation meets this morning, CFO Alex Sink is adding more pressure to the state-run insurer about a $60 million no-bid contract for home inspections.

Sink, a Democrat running for governor, wrote a letter to Citizen's Chairman Jim Malone asking to change the contract to a competitive bid process. A Georgia company is already suing to stop the deal, which was first reported by the Times' Kris Hundley. For the full press release, read below.

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January 11, 2010

McCollum pushes for a litigation fee cap

In a letter today to the State Board of Administration, Attorney General Bill McCollum offered a preview of his top legislative priority: putting a $50 million cap on the fees attorneys can earn while litigating cases for the state.

His letter to SBA Executive Director Ash Williams asks for a briefing at tomorrow's cabinet meeting on the progress of the state's to hire outside counsel for the state's pension fund, a plum assignment. Five firms are still in the running. McCollum wants the cap to apply to the attorneys eventually hired by the SBA. 

The Republican gubernatorial candidate is expected to emphasize the point again at a 12:30 p.m. press conference Tuesday with state Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican with a bone to pick against trial lawyers after his recent special election. Similar legislation passed the House last year but failed in the Senate.

December 31, 2009

A look at Charlie Crist's rough year

Charlie Crist's final year as governor begins like no other: with perilous poll numbers, his optimism worn thin and his shell of political Teflon deeply scratched.

After two years of governing Florida by shrewdly gauging the prevailing political winds, Crist strayed off course as the economy spiraled downward in 2009, his nice-guy image no longer effective as a balm for frustrated Floridians.

He miscalculated the danger of his "man hug" with President Barack Obama in support of the Democrats' stimulus package. He signed a no-new taxes pledge only to raise taxes weeks later to balance the state budget. And the biggest contributor in his campaign for U.S. Senate, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein, was charged in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

By year's end, his Republican Senate rival, Marco Rubio, had gained ground as a conservative alternative.

"It's been a rough patch, and certainly some of it's self-inflicted. No question. I mean, that happens. Nobody's perfect," Crist said in an interview with the Times/Herald. "But you learn from that, I think."

Read the full story here.

December 17, 2009

Ausley says she is 'seriously considering' run for CFO

State Rep. Loranne Ausley said Thursday she has received many calls from friends and supporters over the last several weeks "strongly encouraging'' her to run for chief financial officer and, while she is considering it, she will wait until after the holidays to make her decision.

"While these calls are flattering, the only thing that matters to me is serving where I can have a meaningful impact  -- helping real people,'' she wrote in an email to the Herald/Times while taking a break from the Lawton Chiles Foundation board meeting she is attending.

"There is no doubt that we need real leaders who make decisions that make our state stronger for the next generation. CFO is an important office that can have a huge impact on the daily lives of Floridians, especially in these very tough times. So, with all that in mind I'm seriously considering entering the race but I won't make any final or official decision until after the first of the year.

"Meanwhile, I am planning to spend the next few weeks enjoying the holidays with my family, while I continue to reach out to friends and supporters to best determine how I can most effectively serve the public.''

Is Ausley the Dem's answer to Atwater?

UPDATE: Former Tallahassee state Rep. Loranne Ausley said she will decide after the holiday whether she'll seek the Democratic nomination for the chief financial officer, the powerful Cabinet agency being vacated by Democrat Alex Sink, who is running for governor.

Ausley, who was termed limited out of the state house in 2008, is now a candidate for the state Senate seat being vacated by Al Lawson. But she faces a tough three-way primary against former Leon County Schools Superintendent Bill Montford and former state Rep. Curtis Richardson in the heavily Democratic district and is being aggressively recruited by party insiders to switch to the wide-open CFO post.

If Ausley decides to run, she faces state Senate President Jeff Atwater, the North Palm Beach Republican who has amassed $1 million in his campaign coffers since he quietly announced in May. Atwater also comes fortified with $350,000 of cash on hand from his political committee, Preserve the American Dream.

Democratic political consultant Steve Schale said of Ausley: "She's a moderate, incredibly bright and there's no question she'd put together a credible campaign.'' As for Atwater's financial heft, he adds that outside of Tallahassee and Palm Beach County "nobody's heard of Jeff Atwater."

Plus, Atwater -- who beat former Attorney General Bob Butterworth in a state senate race in 2002 -- carries some inherent negatives, Schale says: "He's leading the most unpopular institution in Florida right now. People tend to overstate his electoral prowess. $1 million is a lot of money but $1 million doesn't go very far in Florida.''