October 02, 2015

Analysis: 1 in 3 Florida legislators were elected without a single vote

@ByKristenMClark @MaryEllenKlas

When Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee for another redistricting special session on Oct. 19, they will talk a lot about how to comply with court guidelines when redrawing state Senate districts, but they’ll say much less about how competitive to make them.

That’s because in 2012, lawmakers redrew the House and Senate maps to adjust for population changes in the decennial census and to comply with the new anti-gerrymandering amendments to the state constitution. The result: a third of all legislators were elected in their last election without a single vote. They got here by default.

Legislators wield tremendous power in Florida — from crafting the state’s annual budget and determining how much taxes people pay to deciding whether to implement environmental preservation spelled out in Amendment 1.

Drawing the political boundaries for the next decade through redistricting is like creating the rulebook for who calls the shots.

With that as the backdrop, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times examined how many votes each legislator received in their last election, and assessed the intensity of competition and voter support for all 160 of them.

December 04, 2014

David Rivera still hasn't reported how he paid for campaign robocalls


Another financial reporting deadline has come and gone for this year's political candidates -- which means another deadline has come and gone in which David Rivera has yet to report how much he paid for automated telephone calls to voters.

The robocalls, featuring Rivera himself speaking in Spanish, were the only politicking Rivera did this summer after placing his short-lived campaign on hold. The Miami Republican briefly ran for his old congressional seat.

At the time, Rivera hadn't reported raising any money. That hasn't changed since. His Dec. 1 report continues to list $0 contributions.

Carlos Curbelo campaign explains financial reporting errors to Federal Election Commission


U.S. Rep.-elect Carlos Curbelo's campaign responded this week to questions from the Federal Election Commission over more than $93,000 in omitted or mislabeled political contributions.

The FEC had sent the Miami Republican a pair notices last month identifying the problems in a two of his financial reports. The issues had first came to light when Curbelo amended one of them a few days before the Nov. 4 election.

In the response Curbelo filed Tuesday, the campaign explained that some contributions questioned by the FEC for being duplicates actually belonged to different individuals with the same name or address. The campaign also listed $52,875 in "corrupted data" initially misreported due to what the campaign called a "software issue" from switching accounting programs near Election Day. Some $42,000 from political organizations was mislabeled as coming from individuals.

Curbelo had laid out most of those changes in the Oct. 28 amendment to his Oct. 15 quarterly financial report, so the total amount of money he raised remains the same as on Oct. 28. That amendment raised eyebrows because so many political action committees had been omitted or mislabeled -- in a race where Rep. Joe Garcia, the incumbent Democrat, had made an issue out of the influx of outside dollars.

According to the Dec. 2 response, Curbelo's campaign corrected the labeling and totals from $51,000 from PACs and other groups, and $21,000 from individuals.

December 03, 2014

Florida Senate's new power lineup has a familiar look

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, announced the complete lineup of new Senate committee chairs and members Wednesday, and it has a very familiar look.

Like his predecessor, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Gardiner gave chairmanships to three Democrats: Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, at Agriculture; Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, at Governmental Oversight and Accountability; and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, at Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. The three Democrats chaired those committees for the past two years.

Gardiner handed three of the most coveted appropriations subcommittee chairmanships to Gaetz, a former school superintendent, at Education, and to the two senators locked in a competition to succeed Gardiner as president in 2016. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will chair the budget subcommittee on transportation and economic development and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairs the subcommittee for criminal and civil justice appropriations.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, will chair the budget panel for health and human services and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, stays put as chairman of the budget subcommittee for general government.

Several others are also staying put: Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg (transportation); Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach (Health Policy); Thad Altman, R-Melbourne (Military & Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security); Wilton Simpson (Community Affairs); Greg Evers (Criminal Justice); Charlie Dean (Environmental Preservation and Conservation); Nancy Detert (Commerce and Tourism). Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, remains chair of Finance & Tax, which is now a full-fledged committee again.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, is the new chair of the Banking & Insurance Committee, perennially a focal point of business lobbying, as is the Communications, Utilities and Public Utilities committee, now chaired by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring. Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, chairs Education Pre-K-12, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, chairs Higher Education.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is the new chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee, overseeing gambling, alcohol, tobacco and other assorted vices. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, now chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, heads the Ethics & Elections Committee, which figures to be a quieter place for the next two years.


December 02, 2014

Nelson, Demings on Democrats' search for answers

A task force searching for ways to improve the fortunes of the Florida Democratic Party held its first meeting Tuesday. The 45-minute teleconference included about 20 people and was led by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and retired Orlando police chief Val Demings.

"We do have to look at everything," Demings said, including messaging, staffing, policies, voter turnout and the party's leadership. "We've got to throw everything on the table if we're going to come out more strategically with a winning message that resonates with the voters." Demings said she feels Democrats have failed to effectively communicate what they stand for to the Florida electorate.

Nelson, the longest-serving officeholder in either political party in Florida, said what happened to Democrats on Nov. 4 is part of a historical trend: The party in power always loses ground in the election in the midway point of a two-term president's second term.

"That's a historical fact. It goes way back. It applies to both Republican and Democratic presidents," Nelson said. He said Florida actually defied that trend in 2014 because Democrats didn't lose any seats in Congress: Although Miami Democrat Joe Garcia lost his seat to Republican Carlos Curbelo, Democrat Gwen Graham unseated Republican incumbent Steve Southerland in North Florida.

Nelson said the Democrats' failure to keep pace with Republicans at fund-raising has worsened because of unrestricted spending by third-party groups.

Nelson said he liked the idea of Democrats mounting a petition drive to ask voters to shift Florida's midterm elections for governor and Cabinet seats to the same cycle as presidential elections -- when turnout is usually 15 to 20 percentage points higher and Democrats have a better chance of victory. But he said it would be difficult to convince 60 percent of voters to support it.

For Florida Democrats, this cycle of soul-searching is nothing new. After the party absorbed heavy losses in 1998, the year Jeb Bush defeated Buddy MacKay in the governor's race, MacKay's running mate, former Sen. Rick Dantzler of Winter Haven, uttered this memorable line: "I don't have many friends that are Democrats. That's very telling to me."

December 01, 2014

Rick Scott campaign: post-election survey shows why exit polls on Cubans, Hispanics were wrong


Though exit polls indicated Gov. Rick Scott lost Hispanics by a 20 percentage-point margin, the Republican’s campaign conducted its own post-election survey that showed he might have almost tied Democrat Charlie Crist with these voters.

Scott’s survey, conducted by OnMessage Inc., shows Scott earned 47 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Crist’s 49 percent, unlike the exit polls that had the Democrat leading the Republican 58-38 percent. The 2010 exit polls had Scott winning 50 percent of the Hispanic vote to Democrat Alex Sink’s 48 percent.

“While an array of news articles point to a Rick Scott victory ‘despite losing ground with Hispanics,’ that’s simply not true,” wrote OnMessage’s Wes Anderson and Kayla Dunlap in a polling memo.

One potential problem with the surveys from OnMessage and Edison Research (which conducts the exit polls for media groups): Their Hispanic samples were relatively low. OnMessage’s sample was 304 and Edison’s was 367. So the error-margins of the results will vary widely. (UPDATE/aside: A few readers have pointed out it's important to note that some voters in post-election surveys have a tendency to say they backed the winner).

A third survey, conducted on the eve of the election by the premier Hispanic polling firm of Latino Decisions, had 400 Florida respondents and found Crist leading Scott 52-45 percent -- results that fall somewhere in between the OnMessage and Edison surveys.

OnMessage’s polling also took issue with Edison’s results for Cuban-American voters. It’s always a contested topic because Cubans (especially those in Miami-Dade) tend to vote Republican and are the most-reliable of Hispanic voters. Also, because Cuban-Americans are a subset of Hispanic voters, the margin of error in surveying this demographic group is even greater.

OnMessage said Scott won Cubans over Crist 65-30 percent. Edison showed Crist ahead of Scott, 50-46 percent. Unfortunately, Latino Decisions didn’t report Cuban-voter results.

So who’s right? Who knows? When the Florida voter file is finally updated next month, we can examine voting patterns of heavily Cuban-American precincts to get a better idea of how the vote broke.

My guess is OnMessage is more right on Cuban voters. It’s tough to believe that Crist, who made little outreach with Spanish-speaking voters and who called for an end to the Cuban embargo, would have attracted majority support from Cubans. Yes, it’s true that younger Cuban Americans tend to vote more Democrat or independently and aren’t as hardline about Cuba policy, but most election data indicated this was an older electorate.

Scott, meanwhile, had a Cuban-American running mate in Carlos Lopez-Cantera and the support of Miami-Dade’s Cuban-American legislative delegation. Scott got just 39 percent of Miami-Dade’s vote in 2014 and, considering 72 percent of the county’s registered Republicans are Cuban-Americans, it’s reasonable to guess that an outsized portion of the Scott vote was among Cuban Americans.

“When the Hispanic vote is broken down by county of origin, we find that Governor Scott won a sizable majority of Cuban voters as well as more Puerto Rican voters than many expected,” Anderson and Dunlap wrote. “In the end, most Hispanic voters were focused on the economy, and they decided that under Governor Scott’s leadership, the state’s real estate and job markets are headed in the right direction.”

Download Scott poll

November 26, 2014

Unusual election could lead to longer term

It has been an unusually long and complicated election cycle for state Rep. Jamie Grant. A primary election scheduled for August didn’t happen until November, and even then, the results were thrown out.

But the strange circumstances could benefit the Tampa Republican.

Some elections experts say Grant, whose election is now set for Feb. 10, could be eligible to serve 14 years in the Florida House, despite a state law limiting lawmakers to eight years per chamber. And an elongated tenure could position Grant to become House speaker in 2022.

Grant told the Herald/Times he was not sure how many years he would be able to serve — or if he would want to stay in the Florida House any longer than eight years.

"My focus is on getting re-elected," he said Wednesday. "Anything else is a distraction."

Continue reading "Unusual election could lead to longer term" »

November 25, 2014

Scott reshuffles press shop, hires new Cabinet aide

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced Monica Russell as his new director of Cabinet affairs and made more changes to his communications shop in advance of his second term in January.

Russell, 31, is a University of Florida graduate who was communications director at the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) before leaving to work as surrogates director for the Scott re-election campaign. John Tupps, 30, will be deputy communications director. A University of Tennessee communications grad, Tupps joined the Scott administration in 2011 and had been serving as press secretary.

That post will be held by Jeri Bustamante, 29, who was campaign press secretary for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. She's a former associate producer for WSVN, the Fox TV station in Miami. The press secretary is the person who most frequently travels with Scott to events around Florida and the U.S. 

Scott earlier announced that Jackie Schutz, 28, his campaign press secretary, will be director of communications.

Other staff changes in the governor's office include the promotion of Frank Collins, 29, from communications director to deputy chief of staff; Dr. Kim McDougal from policy director to deputy chief of staff and legislative affairs director; Brad Piepenbrink, 28, from campaign political director to deputy chief of staff and external affairs director; Karl Rasmussen, 33, from chief Cabinet aide to deputy chief of staff; and Jeff Woodburn, 33, from deputy secretary at DBPR to policy director. 

All staff changes take effect Dec. 1.

November 24, 2014

FEC asks Carlos Curbelo's campaign to explain finance report errors


Carlos Curbelo was elected to U.S. Congress earlier this month, but his campaign work is not over.

The Federal Election Commission has asked the Miami Republican to respond to a series of questions for omitting or mislabeling more than $93,000 in campaign contributions, which Curbelo has blamed on a computer software problem.

The federal agency issued Curbelo’s campaign two notices last week — one of them 11 pages long — that, if not answered adequately, could result in audits or fines.

Nicole Rapanos, Curbelo’s campaign manager, said Monday that the campaign plans to respond as early as this week with a complete accounting of contributions and donors omitted or mislabeled.

“Once we get everything answered, we should be OK,” she said. “We’re not trying to hide anything.”

More here.

November 20, 2014

John Thrasher's Mostly False claim about Koch donations

Long before John Thrasher became president of Florida State University on Nov. 10, students were expressing opposition to his appointment, many of them charging that Thrasher had ties to "special interests."

As the Republican former state senator begins his presidency, we decided to look back at a comment Thrasher made during a forum with FSU students and faculty on Sept. 15.

Thrasher became defensive when questioned about his ties to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarian brothers who have spent freely on anti-regulation causes. At one point, a graduate student asked Thrasher about campaign contributions he had received from the brothers. The former lawmaker from St. Augustine denied receiving any.

"I don't have a relationship with the Koch brothers," Thrasher said. "You say I've got contributions from them? You go look at my contributions, I've never received any contributions from the Koch brothers."

Did Thrasher get any campaign contributions from the Koch brothers? Here’s the full story from Joshua Gillin at PolitiFact Florida.