January 27, 2012

In Tampa, strong criticism of Florida voting laws

Election experts and Democratic voting advocates told U.S. senators Friday that a Republican-backed overhaul of Florida election laws will suppress Democratic turnout in the nation's biggest battleground state next fall.

Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Dick Durbin of Illinois held a field hearing at the Hillsborough County Courthouse that drew a racially diverse crowd and at times resembled an orchestrated Democratic rally. In packed pews in a sixth-floor courtroom, people wore yellow stickers that read "Our voice, our vote" and hissed a witness who defended the law.
Testimony centered on the most controversial changes: reducing early voting from 14 days to eight, from 96 hours to a minimum of 48, and ending it on the Saturday before the election; requiring third-party groups to register and face fines if they turn in voter registration forms after 48 hours; and requiring voters to cast provisional ballots if they moved from another county since they last voted if they did not update their addresses.
The crowd erupted into loud applause when Durbin said: "There are people literally fighting and dying for the right to vote in countries like Syria, and we are finding ways to restrict the right to vote?"
Two county election supervisors, both Republicans, gave sharply contrasting views of the law.
Ann McFall of Volusia County criticized the law for not allowing more variety in early voting sites such as churches and she complained of being forced to "turn in" long-time friends and neighbors for turning in voter registration forms after 48 hours, including New Smyrna Beach teacher Jill Cicciarelli, who got a warning letter from the state.
"This is a bad law," said McFall, who predicted students at historically black Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach would be caught by the provisional ballot rule because of its traditionally high number of address changes on Election Day.
-- Steve Bousquet

November 29, 2011

11 lawmakers get subpoenas in elections case

Eleven state legislators -- six senators and five House members -- have been issued subpoenas in the ongoing lawsuit over federal review of controversial sections of a new election law. The subpoenas were issued by a Washington, D.C. law firm that represents the League of Women Voters of Florida and the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic voter advocacy group.

The two organizations intervened in the case of State of Florida vs. United States of America and Eric H. Holder Jr., the U.S. attorney general. The state-initated lawsuit asks a three-judge panel to "pre-clear" or approve four specific sections of the new election law to ensure that they do not violate the civil rights of minority voters in five counties: Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe. 

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the legislation (HB 1355), said he received a copy of the subpoena electronically while he was talking with a reporter Tuesday. "What we'll do is look to the House counsel for guidance and conduct ourselves accordingly," Baxley said. A fifth House subpoena was issued to the State Affairs Committee, which approved the bill following a heated committee debate last spring. 

Among many other demands, the subpoena tells Baxley and the others to produce "all documents concerning your, or any other legislator's, reasons, justifications, rationales, interests and/or purposes in enacting any of the four sets of voting changes." The law firm's representative declined to discuss why specific legislators were issued subpoenas. 

The other House members whose records were demanded are Reps. Keith Perry, R-Ocala; Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach; Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City; and Trudy Williams, R-Fort Myers. Senators who were subpoenaed include Sens. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton; Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale; Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; and John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. (Dockery and Fasano were the only Senate Republicans who voted against the bill; all of the others voted for it). 

-- Steve Bousquet

September 12, 2011

At pre-debate panel, a celebration of conservatism

In advance of Monday night's CNN/Tea Party Express presidential debate in Tampa, the Heritage Foundation sponsored a lunchtime panel discussion on issues that matter to conservatives. About 200 people, many of them energetic Tea Party activists, attended at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

CNN political correspondent John King moderated a discussion that included Al Cardenas, a leading Florida Republican who is chairman of the American Conservative Union; Mike Franc of the Heritage Foundation; Bob McClure, president and CEO of the James Madison Institute and Billie Tucker, leader of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville.

In remarks, Cardenas and Franc focused on their views of the state of the country: high taxes, high debt, high foreclosures and high unemployment and declining home ownership. "There's a growing sense that the American dream is slowly slipping away," Franc said.

"And don't tell me I have to buy health insurance!" Cardenas said to loud cheers.

McClure welcomed out-of-state visitors to Florida, "the most important bellwether state in the union, the land of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Allen West and the land of Gov. Rick Scott." Big applause followed. The only Democrat who got even passing praise at the luncheon was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, praised by McClure for cutting the state budget and taxes in the Empire State.  

Tucker got the most resounding applause for her speech describing the American way as "personal liberty, individual responsibility, and less government," and she said the debate itself is proof of the Tea Party movement's strength. "Here we are in Tampa, having our own debate on CNN," Tucker said, as many in the audience stood and cheered.

-- Steve Bousquet

August 03, 2011

Florida Together to Diana Cardenas: 'Retract and apologize for your public comments regarding the LGBT community'

An open letter from Florida Together Executive Director Michael Kenny to Diana Cardenas, wife of American Conservative Union board chairman Al Cardenas:

Diana Cardenas,

On behalf of Florida Together which represents more than 80 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) organizations in Florida, I call on you to immediately retract and apologize for your public comments regarding the GLBT community.

Read the complete letter at Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida blog.

August 02, 2011

Al Cardenas' wife, Diana: Gays 'are in our faces with public display of affection, gay parades, gay rallies, non-stop bombardment!!!'

The American Conservative Union -- now led by Miami attorney Al Cardenas -- has barred the conservative gay Republican group, GOProud, from sponsoring and fully participating at its next national convention.

Cardenas This week, Cardenas' wife Diana (Chief Operating Officer (COO) at The Cardenas Household," according to her Facebook profile) engaged in an interesting public exchange on the social network about gays and lesbians after GOP activist Ana Navarro posted comments concerning Texas Gov. Rick Perry's flip-flop last week on gay marriage:

 "I want a candidate w/strong informed opinions & beliefs & courage to stick by them even when not politically convenient. Is that too much to ask these days?" Navarro posted.

Here's Diana Cardenas' initial response to Navarro:

I would be very disappointed if Perry did not favor amending the Const to ban gay marriage. These gay marriage laws are destructive .... Marriage is a vital social institution between two members of the OPPOSITE sex. It goes way beyond just an emotional relationship---it serves a vital role in the stability and continuity of our society, something which homosexual marriages cannot provide. Unfortunately, the biggest victory of the gay movement has been to shift the debate from a 'behavior' to identity, whereby those that oppose homosexuality are considered bigoted or hateful. They have equated it to the Civil Rights Movement, seeking to obtain the rights granted under the constitution to all races or religions. Sexual behavior does not fall into either category!!!!It is not about homosexuals wanting to enter into a 'marriage' so much as it is about them wanting to gain acceptance into mainstream society by redefining the traditional definition of the institution. Because a few liberal judges decide to sign it into law, does not mean the public is in favor of it. Whenever it has been put on the ballot (as in California), it has failed.

Read and download the complete exchange at Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida blog.

May 18, 2010

Rentboy scandal: Florida Democrats demand McCollum return $120,000 paid to George Rekers

Just received from the Florida Democratic Party:

In light of Attorney General Bill McCollum's role in spending over $120,000 in taxpayer money on hiring discredited witness George Rekers, today Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman demanded McCollum pay back the State of Florida for the full cost of the funds he steered towards the so-called 'expert' embroiled in the "Rentboy scandal."

Click here to read Thurman's letter to McCollum

March 16, 2010

State revamps troubled housing program

TALLAHASSEE — The state Department of Community Affairs announced a series of sweeping changes Friday to a widely criticized housing program, including the dismissal of a senior staffer and a streamlined grant approval process.

The announcement was celebrated by local governments that had complained state workers were dodging questions about how to use the grant and dragging out the application process for nearly a year. At stake is $91 million in federal housing dollars that must be earmarked by September.

More here.

January 20, 2010

Hispanic caucus donates $5k to Haiti relief

On Wednesday, the Hispanic Legislative Caucus announced a $5,000 donation to the Legislative Black Caucus for Haiti relief efforts.

“When a segment of my community, our community, hurts, we all hurt,” Rep. Esteban Bovo, R-Hialeah, said at a Capitol press conference.

Sen. Gary Siplin, whose wife is Haitian an lost both of her parents when she was a child, said the money will go toward an ongoing fundraising effort by black lawmakers.

“Right now we can help best …by donating money,” said Siplin, D-Orlando. He added: “It’s going to take years before we can get Haiti to be the viable country that it once was.”

Lawmakers also promoted the two-day Haiti Muzik Relief Concert this weekend at Bayfront Park in Miami. The concert will be held from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 8 p.m. on Sunday. All of the proceeds will go toward the American Red Cross’ efforts in Haiti.

January 12, 2010

Crist RE flu: Do as I say, not as I do

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At a press conference this morning, Gov. Charlie Crist and State Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros urged all Floridians to get their H1N1 "swine" flu and seasonal flu shots.

But has the governor? Not yet: "I have to consult with my physician first," he said. (Crist's personal physician is his father) Viamonte Ros broke in and said she has received her shots, as have her kids.

Crist stressed that the shots are available for free at county health clinics. Most flu cases right now are of the swine variety, but seasonal flu season will peak in mid-February.

January 08, 2010

Care for a campign rumor in your Morning Joe?

On his "Morning Joe" show this morning, former Congressman Joe Scarborough floated the idea that Gov. Charlie Crist might abandon his run for the Senate and switch to a re-election bid.

Said who Scarborough, who grew up in Pensacola:"I think we may have like a Jay Leno issue here, where Charlie Crist may quit his new gig -- running for Senate -- and may actually go back and run for governor again."

It's not a perfect analogy, of course. Leno actually has a new gig and Crist still has his old one. And a Crist/McCollum/Dockery race for governor, while highly interesting, could be a harder slog for Crist.

Mark Liebovich, who just wrote a good article on the Crist/Marco Rubio matchup in the New York Times magazine, said he hasn't heard anything "tangible" about the rumor: "That's something people are talking about, and I wonder if it's something Charlie Crist himself is not having some regret about."