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90 posts from November 2006

November 27, 2006

Republican governors unite

Gov.-elect Charlie Crist is likely to get rock star treatment at this week's conference in Miami of the Republican Governors Association. Crist's victory was one of the bright spots nationwide for the GOP, which lost its majority of governorships in the Nov. 7 election.

Governorships switched parties in six states, giving the Democratic party its first majority since 1994.

The other star attraction at the conference, which begins Wednesday, is the chairman of the association and a potential presidential contender, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

In a written statement the day after the election, Romney said: "Americans spoke last night and Republicans are listening. Americans have not become less conservative, but they believe some Republicans have. As a party, we need to remember who we are, and the principles that have always led our party and our country to success."

New bosses bring new rules

House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt have already put in place significant changes for the upcoming 2007 session: An overhaul of the rules used to govern the two chambers. Looking at the rules approved last week, there's a few things worth contemplating.

In the House, Rubio decreased the number of councils and the number of committees _ meaning that there will be less plum assignments to hand out to his fellow Republicans. And the committees themselves will likely be composed of more members. This was done to accomplish Rubio's goal of tying together the committees that vote on substantive legislation with the ones responsible for drawing up the budget.

But in the Senate, Pruitt actually increased the number of standing committees, creating new committees to deal with education facilities, higher education budget issues and higher education legislation. This is a very interesting decision. Funding for education facilities used to be done behind closed doors by the chairman of the entire budget committee. And spinning off higher education budget issues into a stand-alone committee will reduce the influence of the education appropriations chairman.

The other big change in the Senate: The creation of six new policy and calendar committees that will be responsible for shepherding legislation to the floor instead of having it handled by a single committee. Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster calls this an effort to spread out the power instead of concentrating it in the hands of a few people.

November 22, 2006

Crist names Kise as legal advisor

Incoming Gov. Charlie Crist has created a new post for his former solicitor general, Chris Kise: "Counsellor to the Governor." As the news release states, "Kise will serve as senior advisor to the Governor on legal and policy matters and assist in implementation of the Governor's agenda.''Chris_kise

You know this is a big deal because the administration is giving this haughty title the British spelling, with two "ll''s, rather than traditional "counselor.'' Kise is currently serving as Crist's deputy transition director and is a partner in the Foley & Lardner law firm. As solicitor general under Crist, Kise argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He successfully defended the state against the constitutional challenges to Florida's voting precinct requirements, the Sexual Predator Act and he represented the attorney general's office in the school voucher case.

Senate cancels December meetings, no special session

Senate President Ken Pruitt today cancelled the December meetings previously scheduled for Dec. 4-8 and announced that the special session expected to address Florida's insurance crisis will not occur until January.

Pruitt said he will make committee assignments in mid-December, the same time House Speaker Marco Rubio plans to make his.  Rubio today announced his committee chairmanships.

Rubio announces chairmanships

House Speaker Marco Rubio today announced his list of chairmen who will serve as his closest advisors to lead the 9 policy councils and their committees in the Florida House. These 9 members will have the added clout of serving as the only Republican members on the powerful Rules and Budget committees. Democrats on those committees have been yet to be named.

There are no surprises -- no Democrats made the list and Rubio kept those closest to him in the most crucial jobs.

Rep. Ray Sansom will serve as the chairman of the Policy and Budget Council, the critical committee that will hammer out details to the state's $73 billion budget. The Destin Republican is the next in line to replace Rubio and, along with Rep. Dean Cannon of Orlando, has played a pivotal role in setting the 100 Ideas agenda for Rubio's two years.

The new committee structure under Rubio will have each of the policy committees also decide the budget appropriations for those areas -- giving special interests fewer places to go to tuck in their special projects and requiring legislators to become experts on all facets of an issue. Their final stop will be Sansom's council, giving that group the final say on budget and policy initiatives. Each committee will also have a Democrat serve as a ranking member, creating a go-to person for negotiations and policy.

Check here for the House organizational chart. Download HouseStructure.pdf

The powerful Rules Committee will be steered by Miami Rep. David Rivera, Rubio's right-hand man. Rivera has worked for the last month with Democratic Reps. Jack Seiler of Wilton Manors and Lorann Ausley of Tallahassee to hammer out the Rules. Rivera will be given the final say on all Rules challenges during debate and what bills get heard on the floor. Rivera is the only member of the Miami-Dade delegation to be picked for a top policy job.

Rep. Stan Mayfield, the Vero Beach Republican who lobbied heavily to become head of the Budget Council, will continue in the area of environment and agriculture as Chairman of the Policy and Natural Resources Council. Mayfield's stock may have dropped in recent months, especially after he was at former Rep. Ralph Arza's Miami Lakes home in October when Rubio arrived for a meeting with Arza to discuss the racially-charged phone messages Arza had made. Mayfield has been chairman of the Environmental and Agriculture Appropriations Commitee for the past two years.

Rep. Don Brown of Defuniak Springs, will continue to be the head honco in the House on insurance issues. He will head the Jobs and Entrepreneurship Council, a role similar to the one he recently held as head of the State Administrative Council, and the insurance committee will be under him.

Other appointments include: Rep. Aaron Bean, Healthcare Council; Rep. Holly Benson, Safety and Security Council; Rep. Dean Cannon, Economic Expansion & Infrastructure Council; Rep. Andy Gardiner, Government Efficiency & Accountability Council; and Rep. Joe Pickens, Schools and Learning Council.

Rubio has yet to name his committee chairmen under these council chairmen. Rubio has said committee assignments will then be made in mid-December, after House members go through an application process of sorts with committee chairmen and policy chairs, who will screen them for experience and interest.

November 21, 2006

Party time with Charlie Crist

It's been a busy day for Governor-elect Charlie Crist. First Crist announced his top appointments in the governor's office, then he announced tentative plans to celebrate his inauguration on Jan. 2. The executive director for the inauguration will be Meredith O'Rourke, who was Crist's finance director for his campaign. Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard, his wife, Kathryn Ballard (and daughter of former Attorney General Jim Smith), longtime Crist friend and finance chairman Mel Sembler, and Sembler's wife Debbie, will act as co-chairs of the inaugural committee.

The list of events so far include an inaugural breakfast in Miami on Dec. 13, Florida's Youth Day at Walt Disney World on Dec. 16, a cookout in Tampa on Dec. 17 as well as a mini-baseball camp with the N.Y. Yankees that same day. On Jan. 2 there will be a prayer breakfast at Florida A&M University, the inauguration itself, a street festival outside the mansion and followed by the inaugural ball and concert that night.

This morning Crist did the expected and named George LeMieux as his chief of staff and tapped several other campaign staffers as top officials in the Crist administration. More here.

Judge to Jennings: Slow down

Circuit Judge William J. Gary just told Democrat Christine Jennings that he wouldn't expedite her legal challenge to inspect the voting machines and documents of Sarasota County, where more than 18,380 undervotes were cast in the 13th Congressional District race. The undervotes played a role in Republican Vern Buchanan's certified win by 369 votes.

"Your request for everything to take place tomorrow is totally out of order," Gary said of the Jennings team's request for records from the Secretary of State's Office and Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent.

Gary denied Jenning's request to independently test the touchscreen voting machines before the Secretary of State's office conducts its examination of the machines. He also denied her motion for the source code of the iVotronic voting machines until he hears more from the manufacturer, Election Systems & Software, which was not named in the suit.

The source code is privileged information shielded from public records law, but Jennings lawyer Kendall Coffey, of 2000 recount fame, said her computer experts must review it to make sure there are no bugs in the software.

Rubio and Gelber have more than Miami roots in common

Marco Rubio and Dan Gelber are close -- in a keep-your-enemies close sort of way. Read here.

November 20, 2006

Crist names more transition leaders

Governor-elect Charlie Crist on Monday named five more leaders to head citizen review panels for Crist's transition team: Bob Sparks, Steve Swindal, Paul Peterson, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, and former Rep. Randy Johnson, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for chief financial officer.

Johnson, who was one of the few Republicans who sharply criticized the Legislature's major insurance bill it passed during the spring session, will be in charge of reviewing the Office of Insurance Regulation. Baker will be in charge of the growth and environment review panel, while Sparks, who now works for Crist in the attorney general's office, will in charge of the panel that reviews the Department of Children and Familes, the Department of Elder Affairs and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Swindal, a general partner of the New York Yankees, will lead the economic development review panel while Peterson will lead the education review panel. Peterson is director of the program of education policy and governance at Harvard University.

DLP and Alex side by side?

Well, it may be only temporary, but State Sens. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Alex Villalobos will be sitting side by side when the Florida Senate holds its reorganization session on Tuesday morning. Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, was one of the key senators who helped orchestrate the battle to push aside Villalobos for the 2008 Senate presidency and replace him with Sen. Jeff Atwater. Villalobos was then unsuccessfully targeted for defeat in his 2006 election by other Republicans and by business groups.

A spokeswoman for incoming Senate President Ken Pruitt, however, said the seating arranagements in the Senate chambers are not permanent and will change once Pruitt makes committee assignments.