September 24, 2014

John Thrasher's next goal at FSU is reconciliation


State Sen. John Thrasher says he knows he faces a tough job winning over Florida State University students and faculty that opposed him becoming the school's next president.

Despite concerns about his politics and his lack of academic credentials, Thrasher won an 11-2 vote of the Board of Trustees Tuesday. In a long speech before casting his no vote, Faculty Senate president Gary Tyson said the campus will need a period of healing and reconciliation after a bruising selection process many believe compromised the integrity of an institution also roiled by the Jameis Winston controversy.

Thrasher said Wednesday that he already had a short conversation with Tyson and planned for more.

"I wanted his advice and counsel on where to go and who to meet with," Thrasher said.

The mood on campus Wednesday seemed to range mostly between apathy and outrage.

Read more here.

Carlos Curbelo, Joe Garcia spar in Key West debate

@CammyClark  Garcia curbelo debate 1

Incumbent U.S. Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia and Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo, who have attacked each other during a nasty congressional campaign, continued Wednesday when they sat side-by-side during their first debate in Key West.

Curbelo blasted Garcia on investigations into his past campaigns and for calling Republicans the Taliban on the House floor. Garcia repeatedly brought up Curbelo’s outside backing by the billionaire Koch brothers, “who don’t believe in climate change” — an issue especially important to South Florida and the Keys.

“Our community has had enough of the fraud and scandal that embarrass us as we travel to Washington, D.C.,” Curbelo told the packed ballroom at the Marriott Key West Beachside Hotel during the debate hosted by the Key West Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve worked every single day — whenever something happens in the Florida Keys or South Florida, I’m there,” Garcia said.

After the feisty 30-minute forum over a lunch of pork, Garcia started to walk off the dais with his back to Curbelo. But Curbelo stuck out his hand and tapped Garcia’s shoulder to get his attention. The two men awkwardly shook hands.

More here.

Photo credit: Cammy Clark, Miami Herald staff 

Dems catch RPOF trackers videotaping license plates at Crist fundraiser

Gotcha campaigning in Florida has moved to a new dimension -- the political fundraiser. As AP reporter Brendan Farrington details below, the Republican Party of Florida and the Rick Scott campaign had trackers videotaping license plates at a Democratic Party fundraiser for Charlie Crist at a private home in Tallahassee Tuesday.

What's next? Governor's Club, home to the Tallahassee fundraiser for candidates of all stripes, beware?

By Brendan Farrington, Associated Press

A nasty contest for governor has become even nastier with accusations that Republican Gov. Rick Scott's supporters tried to intimidate donors at a private home by photographing their licenses plates and videotaping their arrival for a fundraiser benefiting Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist.

About 200 people attended the Tuesday night event at the home of Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant. When they arrived at the home in an upscale, secluded neighborhood, they were met by Republican Party of Florida and Scott campaign staff holding anti-Crist signs and dressed in prisoner costumes.

The guests were then photographed and videotaped getting out of their cars or walking into the event and some license plates were photographed, Tant said.

Continue reading "Dems catch RPOF trackers videotaping license plates at Crist fundraiser" »

Citizens removes emergency insurance assessment a year early


Florida property owners will stop paying a 1 percent emergency assessment on their insurance bills two years earlier than planned under a recommendation approved Wednesday by the board of Citizens Property Insurance.

For the average homeowner, that translates into a total savings of about $40 over two years.

Citizens was allowed to tack the assessment on to Florida property policies after eight storms during the 2004-05 hurricane seasons left the state-run insurer with a deficit of more than $1.7 billion. The assessments, used to pay off a bond, were supposed to last 10 years.

The emergency assessment began at 1.4 percent in 2007 and was reduced to 1 percent in 2011 because of an increase in the number of insured policies. Continued growth has helped Citizens recoup funds even more quickly than anticipated.

Citizens chief financial officer Jennifer Montero told board members at their monthly meeting in Orlando that the company now expects to have enough money by June 2015 to satisfy the bond's balance. The assessments originally were scheduled to be collected through June 2017. Story here. 

Judge: Lee County teacher can't bring school voucher lawsuit

A judge on Wednesday dismissed one of two legal challenges to the state school voucher program.

The lawsuit, filed by the statewide teachers union, targeted a controversial law that both expanded the voucher program and created new scholarships for children with disabilities.

The union said the Florida Legislature had violated the state Constitution by rolling multiple policies into one law.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis dismissed the case on a technicality. He said the social studies teacher who was named as the plaintiff did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall called the ruling "disappointing."

"We wish the judge had taken up the merits of the case, because it's clear that the legislature overstepped its authority in passing this legislation," she said.

Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he was hopeful the union would "take this opportunity to re-evaluate their case and recognize the harm continuing this lawsuit will cause students."

FEA attorney Ron Meyer said he and union leaders was still determining whether to amend the complaint.

The union still has a separate school voucher lawsuit pending. That complaint contends the voucher program conflicts with the state's Constitutional duty to provide a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools."

Candidates for Florida House District 114 take to TV

In a year with only a handful of competitive statehouse races, observers are paying close attention to House District 114.

The incumbent, Republican Rep. Erik Fresen, has drawn two challengers: Democrat Daisy Baez and independent Ross Hancock.

Fresen is a well-known lawmaker with a strong base of support in West Miami and Coral Gables. He has served as chairman of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Still, Democrats believe they can win the seat. They point out that the recently redrawn House district includes left-leaning Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay. What's more, Fresen was elected by a narrow margin in 2012.

Expect to the race to play out on TV.

Fresen has already begun airing a commercial with an endorsement from early childhood education advocate and former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, Jr.

"I don't do political commercials for anybody," Lawrence says. "I've never done it in all the years of my life. I'm doing it because I so believe in Erik Fresen."

The Florida Democratic Party, meanwhile, is launching a new ad that introduces Baez to voters.

"I immigrated at 17 and joined the army to serve the country that gave us freedom and opportunity," Baez says. "I was the first one in my family to go to college. As a state representative, I'll work for good schools, better jobs, access to healthcare, and equal pay for equal work."

Watch the ads below.



John Thrasher steps down from Rick Scott campaign


In his first official action since being named Florida State University's next president, state Sen. John Thrasher fulfilled a promise and stepped down as chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign.

Thrasher said he told Scott about his decision in person Tuesday night just hours after the FSU Board of Trustees voted to make him president.

“I talked to the governor last night and verbally submitted my resignation and told him it would be announced today," Thrasher told us today.

Although he is off the Scott campaign, Thrasher still is running a campaign of his own. Because the state Board of Governors like won't ratify his selection at FSU until Nov. 6, he has decided not to leave the Senate immediately. Because of that, residents in the heavily Republican district that includes all of St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler counties and part of Volusia will decide Thrasher's successor later this year or in early 2015.

If he had stepped down before the Nov. 4 general election, Republican Party leaders in those counties would have decided who the candidate would be.

"I don't think it's fair to voters in my district to have a replacement who would maybe have two or three weeks to try to campaign, my name still being on the ballot," Thrasher said.

Scott released a statement just now praising Thrasher.

"John Thrasher will make a great university president. He's a good friend, a wonderful leader, and a fierce advocate for FSU," Scott said.

Q-poll trend shows how Rick Scott's negative ads have dragged Charlie Crist down


Today's Quinnipiac Poll showing Gov. Rick Scott leading Democrat Charlie Crist for the first time in the survey's history is a testament to the Republican's ads and their go-for-the-throat negative messaging.

But don't just look at Scott's inside-the-error margin lead of 2 percentage points (44-42 percent). Check out the favorability of both men since the summer of 2010 in Quinnipiac's surveys.

Q poll favorabilities

Under a sustained assault from Scott, Crist's favorability index from last summer until now has plummeted 25 points to -8 today (that is, in today's poll 49 percent have a negative impression of Crist while 41 percent have a positive impression). But Scott's favorability index has only notched down 4 points to -6 (42 percent see him favorably, 48 percent unfavorably).

The damage Scott has done to Crist is starkly illustrated when you examine their positions in 2010.

Four years ago, Crist was an embattled incumbent who switched parties from Republican to independent in a failed bid to top Republican Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate race in which the then-governor wound up dividing the liberal vote because Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek of Miami stayed in the race.

Still, even with the party-switching and the bad economy at the time, Florida voters still liked Crist in the Quinnipiac Poll, with 49 percent favoring him and 35 percent disfavoring him in June 2010. That means his favorability index was +14. It inched up to +20 for Crist, even though he lost the election.

Scott, however, was in the midst of a bruising GOP primary where Attorney General Bill McCollum played up the newcomer's history with Columbia/HCA, which was socked with a record $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine.

Only 29 percent favored Scott and 30 percent disfavored him in June 2010, giving him an index of -1. It grew to -12 before the election, where he barely squeaked by. In his first two months in office, Scott earned his only positive index, +4. Then, after proposing mammoth cuts to schools, scuttling high-speed rail and clashing with fellow Republicans in the Legislature, Scott's ratings fell and his index has been negative ever since.

By June of 2013, Scott was in horrible shape. His favorability index was -2 and Crist's was +17. Crist led him by 10 percentage points: 47-37 percent.

There was really only one sure route for Scott to take: Going negative.

Once Crist announced officially in November, Scott greeted him with a $1 million negative ad buy. In total, Scott has spent at least $36 million on TV ads, and the overwhelming number of them has been negative. 

And it has worked.

After holding his fire in spring and then starting to shoot back in July, Crist is now starting to heavily fire on air as well. In one respect, because the race is close to tied, Crist is in relatively good shape after having been savaged for so long on TV. We're $50 million into the spending, and much more is to come.

But it's clear Crist has lost, at least temporarily, his greatest asset: His likability. And by fighting fire with fire, Crist runs the risk of keeping it that way because mudslinging costs the mudslinger as well. It also depresses the electorate. And the smaller the electorate, the more Republican-leaning it generally becomes -- especially in a midterm.

Crist has campaigned recently with the man from Hope, Bill Clinton, and his campaign is loaded with loyalists of the self-styled Hope-and-Change president, Barack Obama. But right now, there's not much hope coming from Crist. 

Libertarian Wyllie launches 'third choice' TV ad

Libertarian candidate for governor Adrian Wyllie is about to start running his first TV ad of the campaign on stations in Tampa Bay.  His low-budget campaign relies on advertisers who support him, such as a Tampa dry cleaning company, to donate TV ad time as in-kind contributions on cable channels. In the 30-second spot, Wyllie tells voters they have an alternative to Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist. The video is not yet available, but here's the script:

"You have been inundated with attack ads about Rick Scott and Charlie Crist. Sadly, they are mostly true. The good news is, you have a third choice. I'm Adrian Wyllie, Libertarian candidate for governor of Florida. I am in this race because I'm like you. I'm fed up with the politicians using money and power to benefit themselves while making our lives more difficult. I want you and your family to enjoy freedom and prosperity. Don't let them scare you into voting for more of the same. This time, take a stand."

Wyllie's campaign said the ad will appear in other TV markets as other supporters agree to donate their advertising time. Spokeswoman Danielle Alexandre said the spot is making its debut in Tampa Bay because "this is our home."

Wyllie, 44, of Palm Harbor, is a self-employed IT consultant, who opposes the Common Core teaching standards and the state's REAL ID law and has pledged to cut the state budget by one-third if he's elected. An earlier profile of his candidacy is here.


Curbelo's False claim that Social Security and Medicare are a Ponzi scheme

Congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo sided with Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s depiction of Social Security and Medicare as a "Ponzi scheme" in a talk with college Republicans.

"I speak about both of these programs as one because they both suffer from the same long-term insolvency, meaning that they won't be around for us, meaning that we're paying into a system that, you know, is a Ponzi scheme," he told college students at George Washington University in Washington on Sept. 18 . "Rick Perry said that. That's one of the few things I think Rick Perry contributed when he ran for president last time -- and I worked for him, so I can say that."

The Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog wrote about Curbelo’s comments captured by a tracker when he was in Washington fundraising. (Many of the students who heard Curbelo speak are from Florida.)

Curbelo faces U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, in a district that includes many seniors from Miami to Key West so his comments drew a lot of attention.

PolitiFact has rated several claims about whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme including two we rated False by Perry leading up to the 2012 presidential election. We found some similar problems with Curbelo’s claim about Medicare. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read our fact-check.