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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Make Oil the Issue

It is hard to believe how close Florida was to approving near-shore drilling before the BP disaster in the Gulf. Barely more than a year ago, the House passed a measure that would have allowed the Cabinet to lease out areas to drill as close as three miles from the beach. Lawmakers as recently as March seemed poised to pass such a measure next year.

So in the wake of the spill, it was no surprise to me when Scott Maddox, the lead Dem in the Agriculture Commissioner race, began challenging Republican Adam Putnam to sign a pledge not to allow drilling in state waters. At this point, this is pretty much the entire Maddox platform. That makes sense. This is undoubtedly the top issue on the mind of every Florida voter right now, and candidates for this less-than-sexy job have a lot of trouble getting press. I don't know how well this is polling because nobody polls the agriculture race five months out, but it has certainly changed the conversation.

So I was disappointed reading the site for Dave Aronberg, one of the Dems seeking the nod for Attorney General. There is no mention of his stance on drilling on the page, other than links to stories demanding BP pay more to clean the mess and get Florida a larger share. All that is fine, but a real concern for voters when they choose a new Attorney General should be how they might vote on the Cabinet regarding drilling off our beaches. Aronberg's positions appear no different than Jeff Kottkamp, the likely GOP nominee, which is that they don't state a firm position at all.

In contrast, Democrat Den Gelber is taking an aggressive stance when it comes to drilling, challenging legislative leaders to ban it outright through a statewide referendum. But he acknowledged that eventually, the Legislature will allow drilling and toss this to the Cabinet From his blog:

The legislature should be involved, but it is too political, too partisan, too cumbersome and too prone to regional favoritism to lead.

This should be a winning issue for Democrats. None of the significant Republicans running for statewide office have come out in favor of a drilling ban. To be fair, Bill McCollum and Jeff Atwater have both fought offshore drilling here for years, so this won't be as stronge a wedge in the Governor's race, though there are other issues, and the Chief Financial Officer race, which despite behind the only Cabinet post held by Dems now seems all but lost this year.

But in the AG race, where Kottkamp has kept a disturbing distance from statements on near-shore drilling, I don't know why every Dem hasn't made this a central issue to the campaign. And that makes me worry about Aronberg's strength as a candidate compared to Gelber.

The primary is still a couple months away, and things could change. I have always liked Dave Aronberg and I don't want to write him off yet. But if he continues to stay mum on how he would handle oil drilling as a member of the Cabinet, then my decision who to vote for in August gets a lot easier.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Obama's BP

Sen. Bill Nelson took a bold step today demanding the government step in and take over clean-up of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This comes on the heels of gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink sending a strongly-worded letter to President Obama crying out for help. Partisan politics delayed these calls to action far too long.

The Obama administration has tragically fallen far short of expectations on this whole affair. The White House has been too trusting of BP's own estimates of the spill. The Coast Guard is startlingly defensive of CEO Tony Hayward, with Commandant Thad Allen stating absurdly he was "satisfied with the coordination that's going on." Interior Secretary Ken Salazar backs further drilling, despite stark evidence companies don't have the necessary technology to deal with this sort of devestation. And Obama himself has yet to rescind a poorly-timed announcement of support for drilling.

For too long, nuts on the right were the only loud voices being on the spill. When conservative blogs aren't completely minimizing the oil spill's devestation, they have dubbied this Obama's Katrina. I find such labels laughable and futile, as they both remind people of a screw-up by your guy and juxtapose events so specific and devastating that the comparison is at best imperfect. This is very different from Katrina other than geographic proximity. The spill is a man-made disaster. The response was deemed the responsibility of a private company, so the federal government was not just slow but absent. The impact of this will be economic and environmental, with no direct consequence as bad as the loss of life in a major American city but with effects which will linger for years.

This is not Obama's Katrina. This is Obama's BP. And unless there is a major turnaround, people for years will reference it as one of the major screw-ups by the White House.

The problem has been that BP was allowed to dictate remediation efforts, and they have different interests in mind than the public good. Even now, the company is trying to find alternatives to a top kill. I don't know why such a maneuver wasn't the first thing done, but I have my suspicions. The company would prefer a way to contain the oil, to keep a flow going while stopping the spillage. From a corporate point-of-view, this makes sense. Why destroy this resource if you don't have to completely kill flow? But we are far, far beyond the point where that mindset is acceptable.

Obama reportedly said today that BP should "plug the damn hole." It seems so obvious. So why hasn't he said anything until now? The interests of America are not being met by this company. It is like hiring convicts to install security systems because they no more about theft, and hoping they have the interests of your bank at heart. BP intrinsically can't be trusted, and their own actions have confirmed that if anyone had a doubt.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is Meek even running?

How is Kendrick Meek cratering this badly? I am beginning to wonder whether he has any strategy, or even an ambition to win. Nearly a month after Charlie Crist bolted the GOP primary, I expected Kendrick Meek at least to have put up a fight. And since I want a candidate who will caucus with Dems when he gets to Washington, I hoped Meek could upset my prediction of a Crist win.

Right now, that doesn't seem likely. A new Times/Herald poll shows Crist winning the race, though not by much. He is statistically tied with Marco Rubio, with a 30-27 edge. Considering more than a quarter of voters are undecided or support also-rans sure to be eliminated by November, this means the race is far from won for the Golden Governor.

But Meek is polling at a pathetic 15 percent. Worse, Crist leads Meek 38-33 AMONG DEMOCRATS. Maurice Ferre is pulling in 10 percent of Dems, for Christ's sake. The way things are trending, it wouldn't surprise me if Crist has a majority of Democrats on his side in a month. If that happens, I don't know if there is any return for Meek's flailing bid for the Senate.

The real problem for Meek is the growing sense among pragmatic and moderate Democrats that he can't win this race under any circumstance. The teabagger presence around Marco Rubio frightens many voters, and the feeling he must be stopped at all cost is gripping otherwise sensible people. Additionally, the Florida Democratic Party has been in such shambles for most of the past decade, many don't trust the organization to put up a strong enough fight.

Of course, I might say Crist can't be trusted. I do not believe he will caucus with the Democrats, or he would have just switched parties when many on the left were wooing. And I would note this man changes political positions like an oily tide. But it doesn't matter for me to say those things. The Meek campaign has yet to do a sufficient job of stopping Crist's momentum. He isn't on TV and is spending more time watching NASCAR than igniting his base.

The teachers' union this weekend split its endorsement between Meek and Crist. This was likely fueled by Crist's veto of the teacher pay bill, but it was also a sign that many traditional Democratic support groups are hedging bets. Meek was the force behind the class-size amendment and has relied more heavily on educators than any other political force, yet he can't even get the full-throated support of the FEA.

Ultimately, it appears Marco Rubio has not been substantially hurt by the news events in recent weeks, but Meek has. That was during the spread of an oil spill when Meek is the only candidate who consistently opposed drilling. That was as polls turned around on Health Care and as Crist, Rubio and Republicans backed a lawsuit to stop improvements in care.

Considering nobody even knew who Meek was in March, it is amazing he has found a way to go down further in the polls. Something needs to change very quickly, or Democrats effectively won't have a man in this race at all.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Paula Dockery Out of Governor's Race

I suspected this after seeing a media poll with Paula Dockery at 3 percent, but this is still disappointing to me. I have told people across the political spectrum that if Dockery was the nominee, she would be the first Republican I ever voted for in a statewide election. But this wasn't the right year for a bipartisan candidate.

From her statement:
"I'm also a realist and understand the costs of effectively competing statewide. At this point in the election cycle, I see no financial path to victory. And so today, with both resignation that the resources are not there and appreciation for the journey we shared, I am ending my campaign to be governor of the great state of Florida.

The problems for her campaign were numerous. She started with a name recognition deficit, a state Senator up against a sitting Attorney General race who previously ran two Senate campaigns. Bill McCollum has stronger donor support and a reliable voter base. Dockery is popular enough in Lakeland, so much so she initially won her Senate seat unopposed, but has no Dockery Army waiting for her command.

Her hope was to be the outsider candidate, but she was the wrong flavor for this political environment. As Senate candidate Marco Rubio whipped up conservatives anxious to "take back" the Republican Party in Florida, Dockery challenged her opponent from the left. She was an environmentalist, and fought numerous efforts to pay for tax cuts by raiding trusts and issuing unfunded mandates. She was wooing those Republicans who are leaving the party. While she said nice words about Tea Party enthusiasm, she was never one of them.

Then Rick Scott came and claimed the usurper mantel. After dropping $6 million on the race, the upstart has established himself as the McCollum alternative. He is completely unqualified, dangerous fringe, but his message resonates right now with anti-establishment voters in his party. I realize it is unwise to compare figures from two polls, but judging the new media poll against a Mason-Dixon published in early May, Scott is pulling voters from Dockery.

According to the Ledger, she is taking time to decide whether to stay in her seat. That shows a dignity and class rare among ambitious politicians. She won this seat in 2008 and is entitled to another two terms, but since a couple Republicans were already organizing campaigns, she may resign anyway. But that would be a loss for Central Florida. I don't think it is what should happen, and I don't think it will.

The first time I ever met Dockery, she spoke with sincerity about becoming state Senate President someday, but term limits and a tendency to name leadership years in advance have doomed that possibility. Still, Dockery is an impressive lawmaker, and one who still has a lot to offer Florida.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Double-Dare them to vote 'No!'

Those who expected a special session on oil drilling in Florida may have to wait. Gov. Charlie Crist tells the Sun-Sentinel today that he still lacks the votes to get a ban on offshore rigs in Florida waters. But I say he should call a session and see if legislators truly have the guts to vote 'No' right now.

Just as a reminder, barely a third of voters in Florida support offshore drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, according to the most recent Mason-Dixon. And that was before the oil got into the Loop Current and started its crawl for our coasts. A state of emergency has been extended to Keys and to counties whose coasts don't even touch the Gulf of Mexico, which should remind voters there that this spill is a real threat to the entire state.

I think now may be a good time to remind people that state lawmakers and the Florida constitution have a jurisdiction that reaches only 10 miles from the coast. That means any action by members of the Florida Legislature would involve rigs getting built much closer to the shoreline than BP's rig. Deepwater Horizon was roughly 400 miles away from Florida when it blew, yet threatens our top industry. Also of note, the majority of the members in the state Senate and House have districts that either touch the coast or are close enough that much of the economy is dependent on beach tourism.

So call the session, Charlie. The chance of passing a drilling ban will never be better than they are now. You need to do it by August or it won't make it onto the ballot this year. And if a majority of lawmakers are foolish enough to shoot this one down in special session, you can say you tried, and they will suffer before their constituencies this Fall.

And who better is there to show the need for this in our state constitution? You have changed your position on this so readily as to demonstrate how dangerous it is to trust our coastline to the whims of ambitious politicians.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rentboy May Be Major Blow for McCollum

It seems like the Rentboy scandal may be the first great news event of the governor's race this year, and it will be telling how both McCollum and Sink camp handle the touchy subject. So far, I don't think either side quite grasps the potential long-term consequences as it relates to evolving perceptions about homosexuality, but it will be interesting to see if anyone catches on.

At first, the revelation by the Miami New Times that celebrity homophobe George Rekers enjoys traveling overseas with Rentboy 'escorts' seemed a fairly self-contained scandal. It was bad publicity for the Family Research Council for sure, but it was a Ted Haggard-type scandal, the type late night comics love, but one whose direct reach into politics seemed to be limited to adding another name to a list of anti-gay hypocrites. It ruins Rekers, but he isn't an elected official, even a well-known name to those who casually follow politics.

But since the revelation Bill McCollum fought to hire Rekers as a state expert to defend a gay adoption ban, Alex Sink and the Florida Democratic Party have used this issue to direct conversation in the gubernatorial race. Sink has trailed McCollum in polls and clearly sees an opportunity to exploit this case.

She is probably right to do so, but I worry about the underlying message of this attack. At its heart, I suppose, is that McCollum hired a hypocrite with tax payer money to defend the state, and that now leaves us with a bit of a black eye. But I think all parties need to be careful not to turn into hypocritical homophobes themselves.

McCollum wants to distance himself from Rekers now, but he hasn't handled the affair artfully thus far. But the deeper question I want asked of the AG is why he felt the need to fight gays adopting in the first place in a state bereft of horror stories from the foster system. Obviously, the office needs to defend the laws of the state of Florida, just as the White House has defended the constitutionality of DODA despite a difference in statutory opinion. But to bring in experts so closely affiliated with anti-gay political movements seemed a poor choice from the get-go. In my opinion, it is far more troubling to think McCollum hired an expert who has historically demeaned homosexuality as an ailment than to think McCollum hired a closeted homosexual. But then, nobody expects Republicans to suddenly be gay-friendly, and McCollum has to prove he isn't a "darling of the homosexual extremists."

For Sink, things are more delicate. One has to raise the question, 'Why is Sink suddenly interested in Rekers?' On the Bubba the Love Sponge show, she accused McCollum of trying to sweep Rekers under the rug. But what exactly is there to sweep? She needs to be careful not to suggest that Rekers is not a credible person because he may be gay. The focus needs to be on why McCollum would go out of his way to bring such hateful testimony forward on the part of the state. I think that means Sink must be prepared to come forward firmly in support of gay adoption, and she needs to firmly fight any other infringements on gay rights.

My fear is that she will go after the cheap points on Rekers and risk damaging and alienating homosexuals short term, and that will hurt her with all progressives. This banker-turned-pol still needs to convince people she can clean up government for the good, and I am not sure taking swipes at this easy target will help.

That said, McCollum seems to have screwed up so badly on this, it can only hurt him. I just hope gay rights don't suffer, especially considering this is rooted in an attack on gay rights for which McCollum is responsible.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's coming for us.

Meteorologists are now saying that crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is in the Loop Current and coming for the Florida Keys. At least in the Sunshine state, this has been the great fear the entire time. It also is a pretty sure sign that there is far more oil here than any of the official estimates have calculated, but anyone following this disaster already knew that.

So what does this mean? The Florida Keys are the part of the state that should be the most concerned, and if I understand meteorologists correctly, then Southeast Florida is actually facing more danger than Southwest. Because the Loop flows well to the west of the state, then loops around the tip north of Cuba and flows into the Gulf Stream. Yes, that is a link to Wikipedia. This is a political site, and if you really want to know more about the science, I am sure there are better sources. What I can tell you is that behind Louisiana (the state with the closest proximity to the spill), Florida has always been the state most endangered by this incident because water in the Gulf of Mexico flows straight for us.

And in the Florida Keys, this is especially bad news. The delicate islands have a tourism economy, and also have little infrastructure for staging any type of massive cleanup. If this comes to Miami, the ability to respond is probably stronger, but there could also be a lot more money lost in canceled reservations. And God forbid if anything closes down one of Florida's major ports.

But we should all be concerned about this. The Huffington Post headline on the splash page now says "Flowing Toward Florida" in big type. I'm afraid anybody planning a vacation to Sanibel or Daytona will be reticent based on this news, even if those areas are less likely to be hit with large amounts of oil. Of course, most everywhere can still be affected. The panhandle is already dealing with reports of tar balls beaching, though reports last week seemed to have been exaggerated. That doesn't erase the bad publicity, though, and in the sale of paradise, bad publicity is not good publicity. If oil is coming down the west coast from east of the Loop, that could be bad along the Gulf Coast even as the bulk rushes toward the Keys and Miami.

I think it is time soon to start compiling the positions of Florida's major elected officials on drilling. Voters should beat the heck out of all of them for this.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chiles vs. Sink?

The buzz right now is that Bud Chiles will jump into the governor's race in Florida. Amazingly, that may make the Democratic primary for the mansion the most interest race in August. But I'm not sure Chiles has what it takes to successfully challenge Alex Sink.

Now I admit that since Sink married to a guy who graduated high school from my alma mater, I have somewhat of a bias. But several other matters give her a serious front-runner edge. Most obviously, Sink has run and won statewide, and is the only Democrat on a statewide ballot this year to have done so. She has also been running for a little over a year, and raised about $6.2 million as of the end of March. And while self-financing candidates can shake up a race, I am not sure Bud Chiles has millions stuffed in the couch cushions that could be risked on a vanity run.

I won't sell Chiles short though, or discount Sink's negatives.

On the plus for Chiles is his name. His father Lawton Chiles ran two successful campaigns for governor and served in the U.S. Senate for 20 years. Between 1970 and 1998, he was a powerhouse in Florida that not even Jen Bush could stop. And when he died in office days before retirement, his legacy became all the more difficult to taint. Bud bears his father's legal name, as well as a nice nickname, which has become a requirement to run a serious campaign for governor in Florida. He has taken on the "Walkin' Lawton" mantel as well, and is leading a walking campaign across Florida for the "Worst to First" education effort. Among other things, that will give him credibility with the teachers' unions, a pivotal voting bloc in Democratic politics here.

As for Sink, it is no secret incumbency has become a bit of a burden. As the state's Chief Financial Officer, she will be held responsible by some for the economic recession and lack of recovery in this state. She has been going after banks recently, but won't erase the fact her private sector background is in banking. Remember, when she ran four years ago it was her time at NationsBank/Bank of America which served as her major selling point. Now that background isn't the best "Tallahassee outsider" resume to pitch.

But if nothing else, maybe having interesting contests for both the Democratic party with a Sink-Chiles fight and the Republicans with a McCollum-Scott battle will get voters to pay attention to something besides the Senate race. That can't hurt anyone.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Boycott BP!

This is too much.

Tony Hayward's description of the Deepwater Horizon Spill as "relatively tiny" is simply appalling. How anybody can stick up for BP now is beyond me. Apparently Hayward believes that since this oil slick is small compared to the entire Gulf of Mexico, it isn't that big a deal. Kind of like if we cut a one-inch slit in Hayward's jugular, the bleeding gash would be "relatively tiny" compared his entire circulation system, so it isn't worth calling a paramedic.

At the beginning of this, I think some Americans saw BP as victims to a certain degree. Executives did have to call 11 families, after all, to say their loved ones had accidentally been burned to death by boiling oil set aflame in the middle of the sea. Not that I felt sorry for Tony Hayward right then, but I am sure someone did.

Hayward said his company wasresponsible for the oil but not at fault for the explosion. Then we learned the company didn't even file a "scenario for potential blowout." And they had leaky safety valves. And they were fighting regulations to prevent this. And the back-up plan for having no back-up plan was a stupid dome that didn't work. But now they feel bad. But they won't pay more than the $75 million liability cap.

Certainly there is blame to go around. Halliburton and Transocean more than likely bear some. And never mind the lack of regulation. President Obama admitted as much today, and reemphasized the need to separate oil regulators and those collecting the leases for drilling. "For a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill," Obama said.

The more time passes, the more clear it is the the major culprit in all of this is BP. So stop protecting them, Sen. Lisa Murkowski. And please, Gov. Rick Perry, stop calling this an "Act of God." Officials who at this point are apologizing, and even advocating, for BP spit in the eye of justice. You want a free market? This is it. BP screws up the Gulf of Mexico, and nobody helps them until they have spent every last bit of capital they have making this right. If the company goes bankrupt before then, screw them. Get every last drop out of that slippery rock, and then we'll spend taxpayer dollars to finish the job, if necessary. Drain this company dry.

There is no public good served by helping BP. Oil companies, including BP, enjoyed record profits in the past decade. They reaped enormous benefits from drilling oil, and now must shoulder the cost to fix this disaster. Caps shouldn't apply because BP didn't make good on their end of the bargain by maintaining proper safety protocols. If there was any decency in Hayward's soul, he wouldn't even try and have that cap enforced.

But obviously, BP doesn't feel the need to take care of this themselves. The company makes billions in profits every quarter, and can't muster as much as $100 million for this problem. I think it is time we take action.

When you need gas and are coming up on a BP, keep driving. Go to the next station. If you live in the Southeast United States, recognize you may be paying for this disaster your entire life because BP will not. Don't give them another cent at the pump. Go to 7-Eleven. Go to Shell. Just don't go to BP. If the gas station next door charges four more cents a gallon, pay the extra pennies and know that BP is losing the cost of the whole tank.

If Hayward feels no great need to clean up a beautiful part of the world damaged by his company's carelessness, then I have no need for his company's fuel.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Indy Crist is keeping his stash. Now what?

On Wednesday, Charlie Crist officially changed his party registration to no affiliation. Not much to see. I guess it will stop people (like me) from repeating ad nauseam that he truly isn't an independent, that he is still secretly a Republican. Well now he is genuinely a man without a party.

Probably the bigger news this week is that he won't return any donations, but that doesn't surprise me so much. I know it will piss off many of those donors who only supported Crist knowing he would caucus with the GOP. Such outrage occurs every time someone switches parties, or in this instance, simply leaves the party. But if you step back and consider it from a political science viewpoint, candidates can't start giving back money every time supporters get angry at a particular action or stance. Yes, leaving the Republican primary was a big deal, but I know Florida politicians who have done worse things to upset supporters.

Remember Mark Foley? How about Willie Logan? These were men once beloved by their supporters, then despised overnight. After sex scandals hit the papers, you can understand how people who once were proud advocates of these men suddenly wanted to be disassociated with them. But it would have been impractical to refund money. Heck, in the case of Foley, the scandal broke a couple weeks before the election, so most of him money was spent already. And people forget that when campaigns spend cash, they don't mark every dollar to knowSusie's money went for radio time and and Bobby's went for a mailer last week. It gets spent from the same pot. And refund or not, nothing changes that money given to Crist has been spent to reserve airtime in October.

If I were a Republican and a supporter of Crist - and I am neither, so take this with a grain of salt - I would be more focused on ensuring he caucuses with Republicans should he be elected to the Senate. It struck me in the beginning, and I think Crist has been forthright about this, that his decision to run absent a primary was a strategic move. Crist believes himself the best general election candidate, good enough to win even with a designated Republican on the same ballot. But his entire career, he has been a Republican. He was elected to the Florida Senate in 1992 as a Republican, after all, and was in the minority there the majority of his years as a legislator. If he wanted to be in the Democratic caucus, he could have switched parties earlier this year and run against Kendrick Meek for that nomination. It seems half of Florida Democrats are supporting Crist right now, so he likely would have won that race easier than the primary against Rubio. But he didn't go Dem, and I think that means something.

For all of these reasons, I believed from the outset Crist would caucus with the Republicans regardless of how he won the race, but that seems less conclusive each passing day. As donors who were prepared to support a failing primary campaign say they want no part in a winning general election campaign, it gives the governor more reasons to go another way once he arrives in Washington.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We're Still a Swing State

Politico reports Tampa won the bid to host the Republican National Convention in 2012. It has been clear for months that we would probably get one of the big shows. If Republicans passed on Florida, then Democrats would surely have come here instead. It is somewhat a courtesy that the party out of power picks their venue and holds their convention first.

Of special interest to me, this shows Florida is still a swing state in many minds. That should be no great surprise. Barack Obama won this state in 2008 by less than 3 points, under 250,000 votes in an election when more than 8 million were cast. George W. Bush, of course, won the state in the previous two cycles, including a rather close contest in 2000 you might have heard about.

But while everyone recognizes Florida as a state in play, few recognize the tendency voters here have to prop up incumbents. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all won Florida in re-election bids, and greatly improved on their shares of the vote as incumbent presidents compared to their initial runs. Even George H.W. Bush eeked out a win in this state in 1992 while losing to Clinton nationwide. We haven't tossed a sitting Senator since 1986, when Bob Graham ousted Paula Hawkins. More than Democrats or Republicans, we really like winners.

That isn't to say Florida will be an easy go for the sitting president. Indeed, Mel Martinez seemed to back out of the Senate race this year in part because he feared a primary challenge from the right. Seeing what happened with Gov. Charlie Crist, that decision was based on more than paranoia. So maybe this is changing.

But I bet a number of state Republican leaders reminded the RNC of our incumbent love in Florida when they lobbied for Tampa to host. If the GOP is to be competitive in Florida come 2012, they need the base here energized and enthusiastic. And in a state where tourism pays the bills more than any other industry, the gratitude for the spike in visitors in the Fall of 2012 may mean a great deal to a broad swath of voters.

I don't know much about voter trends in Arizona, where I expect the Democrats will end up now that Tampa Bay is off the table. But I expect Republicans knew Salt Lake City offered little in term of electoral strategy. And I know this was a wise and shrewd move on the part of Republicans to ensure Florida remains in play.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Ever-Changing Fifth

While everyone was focused on the Senate race at Florida's filing deadline, a somewhat crafty retirement trick in Florida's Fifth Congressional District was conducted by Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville. With no warning and with the filing deadline minutes past, Brown-Waite announced her retirement and endorsed Sheriff Rich Nugent to fill her seat. The Cook Political Report reported the news with disdain for the diabolic nature with which Ginny froze out both Republican contenders and Democratic challengers. But I can't help but just chuckle. To understand why, I must take us in a time machine to 2002.

I actually covered Brown-Waite's first run for Congress, so this news was especially interesting to me. Back then, I was head political reporter at The Daily Commercial and started the year watching the curious process of re-apportionment. Florida, it seemed, was due for a couple new Congressional districts, and the Florida Legislature was determined those would go to Republicans. That would happen, but national Republicans wanted more. The late Senate President Jim King said they demanded four more seats for Republicans, the two new ones and two which belonged to sitting Democrats. King said that was impossible, but that maybe they could meet halfway and pick off one Democratic incumbent.

Then-state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite happened to live in Florida's Fifth, and was put in charge of the redistricting process. The Fifth, at the time, was held by Democrat Karen Thurman, who incidentally had drawn that district herself 10 years prior in the last reapportionment process. Things got a little nasty, some rhetoric was tossed around Tallahassee, but in the end, the district got redrawn to include all of Brown-Waite's Senate district, and Democratic strongholds like Gainesville got shifted into the neighboring Sixth. Skip to November and Brown-Waite narrowly defeats Thurman.

So it is nothing surprising that Ginny made sure the seat is going to a hand-picked replacement. It was always her customized district, after all. And thanks to how she played the game, this seat is out of contention either for Republican challenger Jason Sager or Democrat Jim Piccillo, doomed also-rans butthe only guys who got in this race when Brown-Waite looked like she was planning a re-election campaign.

But this race never was top-tier for 2010. The real action on this seat has to be in 2012, and will likely hinge once again on the reapportionment process.

I am sure the Florida Democratic Party knows this. As it happens, the state party today is chaired by none other than Karen Thurman. I suspect she has an interest in retaking this seat. Honestly, I was surprised in 2004 when she didn't run herself and try to take it back immediately. But with most of the growth in this seat centered around The Villages, the seat is more conservative than when she originally lost it.

Of course, since her election as party chair, we have certainly seen a savvy in Thurman's campaigning ability that wasn't completely evident during her last Congressional run.
Then, she was wishy washy on issues like the War in Iraq, and looked like politics was guiding her votes. Ironically, it is in a purely political capacity that she has appeared the most principled.

Thurman is the first Democratic chair to win a net pickup of seats in the state House and Senate. She also managed to pick off such seemingly safe Republican congressmen in Central Florida as Ric Keller and Tom Feeney. The latter, as it happens, was in one of those new districts drawn the same year Thurman was screwed by the reapportionment process. So what now?

I think Thurman is more interested this year is winning seats in the Legislature. That way, when districts are redrawn in 2012, there will be a fighting chance for the Dems to take back seats like the Fifth. In fact, I expect she may want another shot at that one herself.

So if the Dems ever want to take back the Fifth, the key is probably taking back the state Senate. That will be hard, but probably much easier than beating Brown-Waite's handpicked successor in her own handdrawn district.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Scott Spooking McCollum

One never knows what self-funded candidates can mean to a race, especially someplace like Florida. But Bill McCollum is trying to figure it out. He may have a problem on his hands named of Rick Scott, a healthcare tycoon who just spent millions boosting name recognition. A poll released this weekend surprised many by demonstrating how effective that cash was spent. But to me, it shows how indiscriminating the tea party rebellion can be.

The poll shows McCollum would still win the Republican primary if it were held today, but that he only leads with 38 percent compared to 24 percent for Scott. State Sen. Paula Dockery, probably my favorite candidate in this race, gets 7 percent of the vote. Shows how much Republic voters in Florida care what I think.

What is shocking about the poll, though, is that McCollum, long considered the front runner, was at 64 percent in March. Then Scott jumped in and spent $4.7 million on an ad campaign including television spots, internet banners on major social networking sites and a variety of stuff I didn't notice. So what does this mean? Are conservatives grossly unhappy with the sitting Attorney General?

Actually, I just think this demonstrates how anti-everything the Tea Party movement has become. We talk aabout how the movement is anti-tax, or anti-government, or, when we're cynical, anti-black president. But before all else, this is probably the most energized throw-the-bums-out movement ever, and anyone holding office today will be tarred somehow.

I don't know how effective all this will be for Scott. I am sure he wants to pull a Marco Rubio here and capture the zeitgeist to throw Bill off his game. But this is a different race. Bill McCollum is no moderate. He was one of the Congressmen in 1998 to deliver the impeachment papers. He was a hawk on terrorism before it was cool. As AG, he filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state of Florida against Obamacare.

None of this stopped Mel Martinez six years ago from calling McCollum a darling of the homosexual movement for voting in favor of hate crime legislation, but even then, that was considered a low, ridiculous blow, and considering how Martinez fairs with the right today, it should be no big issue now.

And unlike Crist, McCollum has a reputation for sincerity. I say this as someone really bothered by his role in the impeachment and in his grandstanding on health care, but I have interviewed him numerous times and I can't help but respect McCollum. Scott, on the other hand, is a total blank slate. His recent ads he got his name out but little to distinguish himself. Indeed, his biography isn't that compelling. He is a Columbia HCA executive who left the company with some pretty big stock options, and whose billing records have come under fire by the McCollum campaign.

But I think the far right hates the establishment pretty blindly right now. Look what happened to Bob Bennett in Utah. That was a far-right conservative who cast a smattering of votes hated by the right. His big sin was actually passing bipartisan legislation. Gasp! McCollum, of course, is also guilty of the crime of effectiveness, so who knows what can happen.

I can tell you I was struck a few months ago by this post on RedState where Erick Erickson said Paula Dockery was challenging McCollum from the right. Dockery is not a wingnut, and is arguably coming from left. It struck me then that McCollum's biggest sin for the right may be the fact he was a front-runner at all. As the tea readers found out she was actually pretty close to center, I am sure it hurt her.

But if this unknown Scott can convince the teabaggers he is both an outsider and a conservative, his lack of resume may provide exactly what they are looking for in moonie-land.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Changing Tide

A new Mason-Dixon poll shows a mere 35 percent of Florida voters now support offshore drilling. These are the "We'll Never Learn" voting bloc that Marco Rubio is trying to woo. The new poll numbers are impressive considering a Palm Beach Post poll right before the Deepwater Horizon disaster showed 64 percent in support. Granted, comparing different polls is like checking your weight on different scales, but this drastic a drop is something well outside margins of error.

The question now is how this will translate at the polls. At this point, I'm a bit stunned every statewide politician hasn't run from the oil at high speed.

There is other curious stuff about this poll. Somehow, in the conservative Panhandle, drilling still has a plurality of support even though it is the area closest to the spill right now. I keep wondering if Alabama is running low on idiots, but I know better.

Some are already suggesting this is just a blip, but I think it is worth remembering this oil will be with us for a long time. I'm still mad at Obama for throwing his support to drilling, but that isn't happening in the Gulf of Mexico anytime soon thanks to this spill. Even if the White House hadn't changed posture a tiny bit, you simply can't get out and drill right now when a change in wind could move the slick right onto your drilling site.

And I promise when the Legislature meets next year (the soonest when leadership shows any willingness to discuss drilling), they will deal with opposition like never seen before. I doubt any coastal representatives or senators will consider drilling, and without them, nothing will go through.

We've won this one. Too bad it happened the hard way.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crist getting half of Democrats

Some really interesting numbers in a new Mason-Dixon poll show exactly how the Senate race breaks down and just how badly the media battle of the last few months has aided Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio while hurting Meek. This shows why I feel Crist has theedge in this race and think Meek probably has too much work to do.

Unsurprisingly to most, the poll has Crist leading with Crist at 38 percent. It pegs Rubio at 33 and Meek at a disgraceful 19. That means 71 percent of voters favor a registered Republican in this race (Crist is still a registered Republican according to the Division of Elections, folks). The secret, of course, is name recognition. Crist is essentially at 100 percent, an amazing feat even for a sitting governor, accomplished by running in all but two of the statewide elections in the last 12 years.

Rubio and Meek, however, have never run statewide. But Rubio is at about 90 percent recognition right now. Serving as state Speaker got Rubio press statewide, but that has typically meant more to reporters than the public at large. Rather, the tea party enthusiasm and high-energy primary probably did a lot more for the guy.

Compare the figures to Meek, who remains an unknown name to 40 percent of Florida voters. That means only one in five voters plat to vote for Meek, and two in five believe he is an adjective that means quiet and shy. Of note, I was talking about this race with my mother today and she believed Kendrick Meek was a woman. And how many of you are Googling now just to check? Well he's a guy. And he hasn't ever dated Hugh Hefner. I think. But who knows. Not voters.

Now the flip side of this poll for Charlie is that he can probably only go down from here. Nineteen percent of black supporters favor Crist, but as Meek is the first serious African American candidate to seek a Senate seat in Florida, I suspect that share goes down as more voters learn he is in this race. Rubio already pulls in 64 percent of Hispanic voters, and while that may go up as well, he will likely pull from both Crist and Meek.

But of note, Crist beats Meek even in liberal Southeast Florida, where the Congressman has served for most of the decade and where his greatest name recognition of his ideological base reside. There, the governor gets 37 percent of the vote, barely less than his share statewide to Meek's 31. In comparison Rubio clocks both candidates in the most conservative portions of Florida, Southwest and the Panhandle.

Also of note, this poll had Democrats outnumbering Republicans 43 percent to 38 percent. That is probably based on the 2008 election, when Obama fever attracted a high number of Dems to the polls, and I suspect Republican voters just might outnumber Democrats who vote this November. But even with this poll's tilt to the left, a moderate Republican wins, a conservative Republican places second and a Democrat withers in the teens.

And that is the situation of the Senate race in a purple state in 2010. Wow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Extremists targeting Grayson

There has been much interest in candidates coming out in the District 8 race to challenge Alan Grayson. Not because they seem threatening, but because they seem like such extremists. I wish I could join the 'Look how crazy they are' party, but I find these guys genuinely scary.

For those who don't know, I grew up in Lake County and know Alan Grayson's district quite well. I covered it for the Daily Commercial back when Republican Ric Keller held the seat. I must say I have been stunned as a Congressman attributed as D-Eustis has become the liberal superstar of the class of '08. I wasn't following this race, and was surprised when Keller lost so badly, but figured the whole time we'd get a moderate Democrat from this relatively conservative district.

And that is why these guys scare me. See this video, featured on the front page of Daily Kos today.

That's Dan Fanelli, one of the Republicans looking to take Grayson out. This ad would probably shake up most sensible independent voters, and certainly liberals. I honestly can't recall the last time I saw a video so blatantly racist. Maybe Willie Horton, but this is more overt in so many ways. Really shocking to me is that Fanelli paid to have this produced, and paid for time on TV. Also, whose the Arabic guy and why doesn't he have problems with this?

But I have a feeling this will play well to many voters in the rural portions of this district. When I would bring up racial profiling in Lake County and the problems I had with it, it wasn't uncommon for people to call my thoughts treasonous to my face. Even before 9-11, when I was growing up in the area, people would openly support profiling for blogs. That was in the 1990s.

Now let's talk George Metcalfe, who got the attention of the Rainbow Democratic Club. His issue is with the gays. His Liberty Counsel has fought hard against gay adoption even in some cases where the foster children faced grim alternatives. But what was really notable was when Metcalfe pulled ads in Florida Bar publications that used the word gay as a moderately offensive slur. When moderate right columnist Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel tried to talk to him about this a year ago, Metcalfe wouldn't comment. We'll see how that works moving forward.

He also hails from Leesburg, my home town. MOST of the people I know there never had a problem using the word 'hate' to describe their feelings about homosexuals. I promise gay adoption isn't something that polls well there.

I truly enjoy hearing Grayson do spots on the Bill Maher show and get all this attention from the liberal blogs, but have always worried it would blow up in his face. My family still lives in the Leesburg-Eustis area and tells me he has more support than I realize. I hope that's true, not just because I enjoy him, but because the Republicans seem to have no problem putting up openly bigoted people as the only alternative.

I really hope my remaining colleagues at The Daily Commercial don't shy away from these characters, and from exploring whether these issues are about social conservatism or simple hatred. But I have a sinking feeling these folks will largely get a pass from the local press. Truth is, though, the angry resentment is so strong and vocal in that area, it not only scares reporters from certain subjects, it convinces them that these issues are a legitimate part of public discourse.

How soon we stop caring

Speculation has run rampant in the past year as to whether Jeb Bush would ever make a formal endorsement in the Senate campaign. Today he did so, and I wonder if anyone still cares? Bush, still the standard bearer for the Republican Party in Florida, threw his name behind Marco Rubio in what has become an uncontested Republican primary.

"Washington is broken, and Marco Rubio is the only candidate in this race that I trust to fix it," said Bush.

Well, the only one who won't bolt parties any second the political wind shifts.

To tell the truth, I'm a little surprised Bush didn't do this a bit sooner. His sons came out for Rubio months ago, and there has long been suspicion the last governor was giving tips to the conservative upstart. Maybe Jeb didn't want to publicly undermine a sitting Republican governor. But frankly, Charlie Crist is still governor, and still a Republican.

So what effect will this have? As influential as Bush is, I doubt it will have any. Sure, Bush will probably be standing behind Rubio at a number of televised rallies, but by Novemeber, he would have been behind the nominee regardless. Doing this after Crist announces his independent run takes out the influence he might have had with Republican voters still on the fence about who to support. At this point, anyone toying with the idea of sticking with Crist won't be moved by the decision of Jeb Bush to back the only serious contender still seeking the Republican nomination.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A short, dynamic history of drilling and Florida opinion

While doing a bit of research about offshore oil drilling, I ran across a stunning poll from just a few weeks ago which I hope shows politicians the dangers of acting purely on public opinion. This Palm Beach Post poll came out of days before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It shows rather stunning support for offshore oil drilling - around 64 percent.

Now this was startling news at the time to anyone who watched the drilling question change in the past two years. Until 2008, this was the third rail of Florida politics (and we don't even have subways). Check this AP timeline. Democratic Gov. Bob Graham as governor in 1983 put a moratorium on any drilling in Florida waters, and Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in 1988 worked overtime to get Reagan's interior department to leave the Straits of Florida out of a drilling program. Interest wained after the Valdez disaster in 89, but not for long. The Congressional delegation in the 1990s, led by then-Sen. Graham and Republican Sen. Connie Mack, had to lock arms during the Clinton years to stop that administration from opening the gulf.

Then in the early '00s, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush fought his own brother's administration to stop it in the early '00s, and managed to convince the Interior to only lease out new land on the gulf as far from Florida as possible. Of note, that was when Deepwater Horizon was installed, so I must give Bush due credit here. If not for his fight regarding the Area 181 lease, this disaster may well have happened by Florida's panhandle.

And there was good reason for Florida to fight like hell in a unified, bipartisan way. This was the good bipartisanship, not seeking compromises but having people across a political spectrum stand up together to fight terrible proposals which offend regardless of ideology. In Florida's tourism economy, a spill could be devastating. We may learn that all too well very soon.

But gas prices went up in past decade, and global warming deniers found bigger soap boxes. Then John McCain, on the trail for president, put out an energy plan in 2008 calling for drilling. A dramatic shift occurred. Many Floridians, perhaps moderate Republicans trusting in their maverick nominee, suddenly felt more comfortable with oil. Mel Martinez, who a few years ago argued his support for drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve was based solely on the chance to distract from oil opportunities in the gulf, changed his tune on offshore. So did many Congressmen. And of course, so did Charlie Crist, then on a short list for McCain's VP slot. The polls started to shift and 2008 became the first year when any polls showed a plurality of Florida voters supporting drilling.

Earlier this year, some bizarre bug got in President Obama's head and he too announced he would favor drilling. Even Jeb Bush, fortunately out of office by then, changed his position. And somehow, this all brought us to where we were one short month ago, when more than six in 10 Floridians favored the drill.

They were always wrong. The evidence was always plainly there that drilling could still have devastating consequences, that technology to clean spills was still lousy and ineffective, and that plans announced by oil companies to drill safely from underneath the waterline was probably an outright lie. Still, the organized nonsense was enough to convince the Florida House last year to pass a bill allowing drills within a few miles of Florida's coast. Fortunately the Senate opted not to buy that logic bridge, and this year, no such a bill came to the floor in either chamber.

But with this black monster beaching in Louisiana and slowly extending its reach toward Florida's shores, you are suddenly seeing an enormous number of people reversing positions. Crist left oil island before announcing his independent candidacy last month. Incoming state House speaker Dean Cannon also sounded new skepticism.

This suddenly makes all those officials who held steadfast against oil drilling look really good. Even if 64 percent of the state, the governor, the president and a crazy percentage of state leaders were against them two weeks ago. I can't find any new polls yet on drilling, but I promise those numbers have shifted.

Unfortunately, a big black bob of environmental devastation makes it difficult to be too happy about this gloating opportunity. But every politician who gets to rub an opponent's past support of drilling in their nose will get their chance before November, and that chance will be well-deserved.