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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Is Grayson Propping the Tea Party?

Update: The Orlando Tea Party informs me Guetzloe was appointed to a Small Business Regulatory Council.

Connections between Florida Tea Party co-founder Doug Guetzloe and liberal behemoth Alan Grayson make the question an enticing one, but ultimately I think conservatives are wasting their efforts making aconnection. Though if they want this election to be about political process, fine by me.

Just so liberals aren't frightened by this, there is no philosophical connection between Rep. Grayson, D-Orlando, and the official Florida Tea Party. Rather, this is a question of whether he engages in what Richard Nixon called "ratfucking." That is, is Grayson meddling in opposition campaigning to ease his own path to re-election? TPM did some research after connections between Grayson and the Tea Party made news last week.

To tell the truth, most of this seems innocuous. Grayson hired conservative pollster Victoria Torres early this year, and she has since filed as a Tea Party candidate. But considering Grayson spent a good portion of his time in the first quarter trying to demonstrate his across-the-aisle popularity, that isn't surprising. Check out this March press release where Grayson touts he is more popular that Charlie Crist among GOP voters. Demonstrating this sort of broad appeal is important for Grayson, who beat out incumbent Ric Keller two years ago in a seat drawn for conservatives to win. Cook Political Report still lists the race as a toss-up, and while Grayson can raise a lot of money raging as a Congressman with Guts, he also needs to prove to party leaders he can win re-election and take a good share of moderate voters.

The biggest issue I see with Grayson, though, was reported by the Orlando Sentinel. Excerpt below:
Grayson appointed Guetzloe to a small-business advisory council, advertised on his conservative radio show and gave his son an internship in his congressional office.

The advertising doesn't bother me at all. Democrats frequently buy ad time on conservative shows and stations, and Republicans do the same on liberal radio. Truth is that politically engaged voters are worth reaching out to regardless of persuasion. Indeed, there is as likely as not an ad for Marco Rubio on this website right now.

But I can't figure why Grayson would be taking business regulation advice from a guy who put his own weight behind making an official Tea Party political party in Florida. And I don't know why he would want the son of a conservative political operative working in his office, even as an intern. Now, the term 'intern' can include a lot of things. It wouldn't be unusual for a aspiring young Republican to have an internship in a Democratic congressman's office. Elected officials typically like getting young people engaged. An internship wouldn't shape policy, but could do a lot of clerical work while observing the nuts and bolts of operating a Congressional office. What is unusual here is that this intern was the son of a conservative radio host, not just a kid from the Eustis High School Republican Club. I would like to know more about this.

Of course, no one has made a connection to date between Grayson and Peg Dunmire, the Tea Party candidate challenging Grayson in the race for District 8. The only benefit Grayson gets directly from the existence of an official Tea Party is an opponent who will help split the conservative vote in November. Unless he did something which directly got her on the ballot, I don't think he could be fingered in any real meddling.

Certainly, though, any right-winger who wants to unseat Grayson is wiser running as a Republican, even if the Republican field is already so full. Dan Webster and Bruce O'Donoghue are duking it out in the Republican primary, with Dan Fanelli has won some attention for zany racist ads as well. But while the GOP has a crowded field, there can be only one Republican nominee, and whoever that is will have an easier time ousting Grayson without a Tea Party candidate on the November ballot as well.

But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter whether Grayson is really propping up the Tea Party so he can coast to re-election. Nothing about that is illegal, just a little shady. The real question is whether it will all work. And right now, Grayson seems poised for re-election in what should be among the toughest races in the nation. That doesn't make him guilty of an evil plot. It makes him the beneficiary of one.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Sorta United Front

As the Florida Democratic Party rallies behind its candidates for Agriculture Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer, party chair Karen Thurman is trying to show a united front, sending out emails to supporters which tout the value of both candidates. A strong show of force, except, why isn't she touting these peole individually?

It is still early, so I am probably reading too much into this, but it seems to me the partisan line of attack shows a bit more about these candidates problems. And the message for voters in November is that everyone should vote the party line, I don't think that is a wise strategy, or a fair one to either candidate.

Scott Maddox, the Democrat running for Agriculture Commissioner, is a former Tallahassee mayor, a previous party chairman and a near-successful candidate for Attorney General. In addition to a great record of public service, Maddox also has statewide name recognition and voters in every part of Florida who have cast votes for him in the past. He runs against U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, a bright-faced leader popular mostly among Republican politicos and who has never run statewide. While a formidable opponent, Putnam is certainly beatable.

Loranne Ausley, a state representative from Tallahassee seeking the CFO post, is in a very different situation. A candidate unknown outside the Panhandle, where she probably won't win anyway, Ausley is going to have a very uphill battle against Jeff Atwater, the Republican Senate leader most notable statewide for single-handedly ending the debate last year to allow offshore drilling.

Both Maddox and Ausley are underdogs, fo sure, but the line of attack each of them should take is starkly different, and tying the two closely may not be a wise move by the Florida Democratic Party. Now I am not sure the "anti-Democrat wave" that keeps being discussed in the media will be anything memorable. I actually think Democrats have the chance to pick up seats in Florida's Congressional delegation. But I certainly don't think at a time when voters across the spectrum are so frustrated with business as usual is a moment when many people will vote a straight ticket.

Maddox, I believe, has been running an effective strategy of nailing Putnam on drilling. The Congressman's stance on this issue is the wrong one for a state threatened by the biggest oil spill in American history, and should the Cabinet ever be given the power to give offshore leases, there need to be Cabinet candidates who understand why drilling is a bad idea.

But for Ausley, that is a bad line of attack. Atwater's record is outstanding on oil. She needs to focus on financial issues and tax matters, places where Atwater's positions are more debatable. She needs to focus on matters like Amendment 1, a disastrous property tax measure which has destroyed state revenues. And she needs to spend more time building her name against a candidate with statewide reputation.

So please, let Maddox and Ausley run seperate campaigns. That is the only way they will ever egt to work together on the Cabinet.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Please Nominate Me!

I am very new to blogging, so new I just learned of the Florida Netroots Awards today, the very last day when nominations can be accepted. But somehow in just a couple months this blog has won some notice. I am no good at this sort of thing, but I know getting recognition for my work in this award competition will help get more positive attention on what I am doing here.

Among many categories in this competition is Best New Blogger. There are also categories for Best State Blog, Best Writer and Best Post, but I don't pretend to be familiar enough with the Florida blogosphere to know if my effort has or deserves a chance at those. I certainly would appreciate somebody tossing Rantings From Florida into the mix as a new blog, though.

I am not trying to start a campaign, and multiple nominations mean nothing. This is not votes, just nominations. But if you think this site deserves consideration, please follow the link and nominate Rantings From Florida.

Of course, I expect many of you read other blogs, and support various progressive movements and candidates. I encourage you to nominate anything and anyone you find deserving of these awards.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Absence of Democracy

Qualification deadlines in Florida tend to incite in me a temporary depression. Potential and hope for a resurgence is often dashed that day. Particularly upsetting to me this year was the failure of Bud Chiles to do the right thing and run as a Democrat. But the biggest problem for me each year is the scant number of Democrats willing to run at all. Nowhere is that more apparent each cycle than in the races for state House seats each year.

Check out the slate. When you look closely, you realize that in 35 of the 120 state House seats, there is no Democrat in the race. Of those, eight are for open seats.

In the arena of personal disgust, I must note the district where I live, District 74, Republican Rep. Gary Aubuchon is running unopposed in a district where he has never had to stand up for election one time. Aubuchon was selected by Republican Party officials in 2006 to take this seat after Charlie Crist chose former Rep. Jeff Kottkamp as his running mate in the governor's race. Since then, Aubuchon has skated through unopposed, without ever having to print a single campaign sign.

We will never take control of the House is we refuse to even compete in nearly a third of the races for state House seats, but there is more at stake than that. By not fielding candidates to run for office, the Democratic Party of Florida is not only denying progressives in Florida the opportunity to govern, but every voter the chance to even make a choice regarding who should manage the Sunshine State.

Thanks to a write-in candidate loophole, discussed with precision by Norwood last week, many voters are also being disenfranchised. In 10 races, a state Representative will effectively be selected in the Republican or Democratic primary, and anyone registered as an independent or with another party will be denied the right to vote. This is a loophole just as abused by Democrats as Republicans, and half of these write-in candidates are closing primaries in seats the Democrats will hold.

But at least voters within the majority party get a vote in those races. In 31 different races, a candidate is either running unopposed or only has write-in opposition. In many more, only one major-party candidate is running, and facing a third-party or nonpartisan opponent in November. I suppose a case can be made the Republican Party of Florida is also failing its members. There are 26 House seats where no Republican is running. But I am sure they care less because they have controlled the House by overwhelming numbers for more than a decade.

All of this is especially important for Democrats because the next House will handle the once-a-decade redistricting process. By not fielding a solid slate of House candidates, the party has doomed itself to another decade in the minority. Of course, the rigged map approved in 2002 is part of why so few districts in Florida are battlegrounds. Democrats and Republicans alike have been drawn into isolated boxes.

I am especially angry as a progressive, but voters of all political persuasions are being cheated of the Democratic process. Consider this. If we assume every independent, third-party and write-in candidate loses, which history shows is a safe bet, then more than half of the state House races have already been won by one party or the other. Only 59 races have both a Democrat and a Republican in the race.

We are a closed primary state, and that assumes legislatively that a two-party system offers the best choice for voters. Too bad neither members of the Legislature nor leaders of the two parties feel the same way.

Gotta admit, this is pretty cool

I was pleasantly surprised today to see Rantings From Florida cited in a press release from the Meek campaign. Of course, I hope they read the whole post, not just where I said Meek won the debate. I'll be ecstatic if they just take me advice and start getting Meek's name out with the general public.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'You ARE a Special Interest,' but So What?

Kendrick Meek clearly outperformed Jeff Greene at a debate today hosted by the Palm Beach Post. The Democratic congressman demonstrated the acquaintance with issues necessary to represent Florida in the Senate and appropriately hammered Greene on his sketchy background.

My favorite moment as documented by the host paper is excerpted below:

"I'm the only person running who's a proven job creator, been creating jobs, running businesses and been successful," Greene said.

"Jeff Greene, you ARE special interest," Meek retorted.

But the question remains, so what? Greene is creeping up on Meek in the polls at an infuriating rate. That isn't because of Greene's unwavering philosophy. He has been a Democrat just two years and gave money to a California Republican just last year. It isn't because of Greene's business savvy. He made his money betting on real estate failures, not creating jobs as he suggested today. It isn't because of Greene's rhetorical skills. The man drips of swarmy, and seems to have developed no great speech flourishes hanging out with Mike Tyson. No, Greene has bought his way into the polls by plastering the airwaves. I don't believe people supporting Greene is polls do so because they admire him. They have just seen him on television, and know he is running as a Democrat.

Now I have not worried much about Greene winning this race. Many of the Democrats supporting him in the polls will not be moved to vote in the August primary. The race for the party nomination tends to be decided by a more educated population, people who care about putting up a good nominee with the capacity to win. Greene doesn't fall into that category, and Meek does. I expect even if voters do a Google search on candidates the day before the election, the majority of Democrats voting in the primary will cast their lot with Meek and pass on Greene.

But I do think the polls show something important, which is that Meek remains an unknown quantity for most people in Florida. How many times have we seen Meek's name spelled Meeks? Or heard people mistake him for a woman? They know nothing about Meek, and responsibility for that broad ignorance rests squarely on the candidate's shoulders.

If you care enough to read a blog dedicated to progressive Florida politics, you likely know the story here. Meek planned to sit back until the general election and let Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist cut each other into ribbons before a Republican nominee was selected to challenge Meek in November. The Charlie went Indy, and Meek was unprepared to start campaigning in earnest. But that was nearly two months ago and Meek still has abysmal name recognition, even among members of his own party.

The national blogs are getting impatient with Meek. About half of Democrats in the state right now plan to cast their lot in November with Crist, figuring he is better than Rubio and the only candidate who can beat the tea party favorite. I think they are wrong, but as Meek continues his campaign from an undisclosed location, it gets harder to make that case.

Meek has to get on TV. He cannot continue to fight this battle in executive committee meetings and editorial board offices. He needs to speak directly to voters.

Greene's presence in the race ought to help Meek. The tycoon is the perfect foil for a progressive whose career was spent empowering the little guy. And with the cancellation of a serious Republican primary, this is the only game in town that matters until the end of August. The Meek-Greene race should be the new Rubio-Crist race. It should be what everyone is talking about.

They are starting to, but not for the reasons Meek would prefer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Joe Garcia and hope for Florida Democrats

A new poll showing a lead for Democrat Joe Garcia in Florida's 25th is already garnering significant attention in the blogosphere, but it also makes me wonder if Florida, in an astonishing twist of fate, could be a significant bright light for Democrats nationwide in a year when the punditocracy predicts losses for the party. Indeed, I think some of the top prognosticators in Washington should probably take a closer look at their Sunshine State predictions right now because I think Democrats almost surely will grow its share of the state delegation.

The poll getting attention shows a 38-35 race between Garcia and Republican David Rivera. Admittedly this is an internal DCCC poll and has a lot of voters still in the undecided column. But there is no question this race is at worst a toss-up, and one where things are trending toward blue. This has potential to be a significant pickup for the Dems in 2010.

As background, this seat is held now by Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who is fleeing east to run for his brother Lincoln's open seat. This alone should show the direction the district is trending. The incumbent held onto this seat with 53 percent of the vote in 2008 despite a serious challenge from Garcia and a strong tide in favor of Democrats during a year when Barack Obama won Florida's electoral votes. The fact a sitting Congressman, who hand-drew this seat in 2002 as chairman of the House redistricting committee, would rather flee than face re-election should be a sign the seat is up for grabs. Some things were working in Diaz-Balart's favor two years ago, most notably a close relationship with Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, a Democrat heading up the national push for Democrats to win seats who was reluctant to attack a South Florida colleague. Mario obviously fears Garcia will go after him more aggressively this year, and that he stands a better chance of keeping his job if voters in the 21st mistake him for Lincoln.

But the shady seat shuffling leaves a bad taste in the mouths of 25th District voters. And bad news about Rivera, the GOP frontrunner, had been about the only news in the race. A Tallahassee home he co-owned with Marco Rubio was in foreclosure proceedings this week until Rubio settled with the bank, and thanks to Rubio's high-profile in the Senate race, the story got billing in every political news outlet around. Rivera has also been flopping around on the Arizona immigration law, and his campaign filings have drawn fire. And like so many foolish Republican politicians, he adopted an unfortunate position in favor of offshore drilling a couple years before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. If Garcia is winning the race today, the headlines only have the potential of boosting his lead. Yet Cook Political Report still has this as a "Likely Republican" hold, as does CQ Politics, but I think that demands further review.

Honestly, I think both of those maps have statewide problems. They list Rep. Alan Grayson's seat as a toss-up, which early in the season was understandable but is questionable now. I was stunned two years ago when the Democrat upset Ric Keller, and it seemed voters in such conservative areas as Lake County would want blood. But the presence of a Tea Party candidate in the general and a battle for the Republican nomination seem to be fracturing opposition and paving the way for a Grayson victory party.

The other race in Florida that the nationals are watching is Rep. Suzanne Kosmas in the 24th. Like Diaz-Balart's district, this was hand-drawn by Republicans in 2002, but it has already been lost by the GOP. Kosmas, a Democrat, defeated ex-state House Speaker Tom Feeney there in 2008. And while a Democratic wave and Feeney's own issues surely helped, she won 57 percent of the vote. That is a bigger margin than Bill Posey won during in his inaugural bid in the 15th, just to the South, yet CQ lists Posey's seat as a "Safe Republican" hold. Challenging Kosmas for the Republicans are running Craig Miller, the ousted former CEO of Ruth's Steak House. Unless Kosmas gets embroiled in an unexpected scandal, I expect this to go our way.

Every other incumbent Congressman in Florida is probably safe for re-election, but the only one of them Cook even lists as a leaner is the 2nd, where Democrat Allen Boyd won re-election in a Republican leaning district in 2008 with 62 percent of the vote, even as McCain took the district by 9 points. Should Boyd retire or get hit by a truck, we may have problems with the Panhandle district, but he has held that seat for 14 years, and will continue to do so until he is ready to go.

By my math, that means the Democrats will pick up a seat in the Congressional delegation. And we probably will have a Senator who caucuses with the Dems as well. That should make this a fantastic year for Democrats, in a swing state no less, and that should significantly disrupt a narrative about Democrats facing hard times this year.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yes, McCollum is awful, but...

It has been brought to my attention that I may too gentle and respectful of Bill McCollum on this blog. Many of those closest to me suggest that I am ignoring many of the deplorable acts, past and present, for which the gubernatorial candidate is responsible. It made me ask myself, have I been too kind to this Republican ideologue? Has his mild-mannered demeanor made me forget the reactionary inside? Most importantly, am I being too nice?

The answer is... Yes, but there is a better reason than those listed above.

That reason is Rick Scott, who so far has shown himself to be a Tea Party corporatist's fantasy candidate. Between his anti-immigrant rhetoric and unapologetic record of fraud, Scott has shown zero qualifications and boasts a bio which indicates more reasons not to vote for him than to cast support his way. Yet, a Florida Chamber poll released this weekend indicates he leads McCollum in the Republican primary for governor by five points, outside the poll's margin of error. The same poll shows both Scott and McCollum beating Democrat Alex Sink in the general election, and Chiles pulling in just enough as an independent to ruin Sink's chance at catching up.

So what is a good citizen to do? Route for the crooked billionaire? I have trouble doing that. For all his flaws, McCollum also has a record of public service fighting for federal dollars to come to Florida, especially in his old House district. Right now, it is also hard to forget his consistent opposition to oil drilling.

But I admit Scott's record of deception and failure within the private sector would make him a great opponent in the general election as far as our side is concerned. The Democrats ought to be able to tear him apart with ads reminding of Scott's poor judgment at HCA. Does anyone recall the way Sen. Mel Martinez made the entire 2004 Senate race about Democrat Betty Castor's handling of a single professor while President of USF? We should be able to play the same game with Scott, and do it more effectively. After all, his work in charge of HCA is the only real background he has that would qualify him for office, and he was such a failure there he was driven out by the board of directors after paying more than a billion in fines.

So part of me doesn't want to risk a Scott gubernatorial term at all. But will it be harder work to beat McCollum in the general election? Perhaps, but let me submit this clearly overdue laundry list of his flaws.

Remember that highly unpopular impeachment of a sitting President because of a sex scandal. Bill McCollum walked the impeachment papers to the Senate and was among 13 Congressman acting as prosecutors in the Senate trial. Because he was so incompetent and completely wrong, he lost despite a Republican majority in the Senate.

Looking forward to the benefits of health care reform? Well sit tight because pending litigation may delay the effects of the landmark legislation. Who would file suit against improvements to the system? Bill McCollum, and he is doing it with Florida state money. If this was just some tea party quack filing a frivolous suit, it would get dismissed, but McCollum will use the power of the AG office to push this to the Supreme Court. And guess what he thinks of regular people filing frivolous lawsuits, like those filed when health care screws people. Yeah. he doesn't like those so much.

And did you notice the Republican Party of Florida was in shambles? He didn't.

So maybe I have been too nice to Bill. Maybe he deserves to lose in August and be denied a November defeat. Maybe he is no worse than Scott. Maybe for a candidate so intent on limiting government, it is embarrassing to have a resume with nothing besides government jobs and temporary lobbying work.

But hopefully we won't need to be that mean. It seems Scott and McCollum are interested in destroying one another before the end of August. If Alex Sink can stay above the fray and develop a positive reputation among voters while those two sling mud, it may not matter who gets the Republican nomination. But until then, I concede it is important liberals in Florida know exactly what is at stake. And they shouldn't get so distracted by the polls. Scott remains untested electorally, and McCollum has lost more statewide races than he has won. With luck, these guys will marginalize themselves, but if they can't get the job done, we should be ready to finish it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Greene attacking Meek in DC

Jeff Greene is running attack ads against Kendrick Meek in the Washington, D.C., market, according The Hill, and is apparently trying to stoke the possibility of an ethics investigation on the Democratic Congressman. I think it is highly unlikely this will have any effect on an investigation, but the fact Greene is going negative on Meek could have a devastating effect on the chances of electing a Democrat to the Senate this year.

I think Greene is aware that Floridians will see this ad regardless of the market where it gets broadcast, and he will probably run the ad in the state before Aug. 24. In this Internet age, though, he doesn't need to reserve ad time to get it into the blogosphere. (I will not link to it because Greene is sleeze) But I think running the advertisements in the D.C. market will subtly suggest to voters something is genuinely wrong with Meek as a candidate, and that the chance of a Congressional investigation is real.

Voters will need to question if this is real mud, and if it is something that will stick to Meek in the general election should Meek become the nominee. The scandal, uncovered by the Miami Herald, involves Meek securing federal funding for a project connected to developer Dennis Stackhouse, who paid Meek's mother as a consultant and who never followed through with the project. It seems Stackhouse is the one who should be in serious criminal trouble for the matter, but it will undoubtedly pose problems for Meek through this campaign.

Then again, virtually every experienced candidate for office has some connection to a shady deal. I seriously doubt Congress will investigate Meek for this, and that no member will even suggest it before the primary is settles. This just isn't a cash-in-the-freezer scandal. At best, you can expect some politically-motivated Republican on the Hill to make noise about this in October, but nobody really wants a tertiary relationship with a crooked businessman to became the threshold for an ethics investigation. There isn't a member in the House without the same sort of grime hanging around them somewhere.

The question is whether voters, who seem very tired this year of "business as usual," will buy this as a deal-killer with Meek. When this ad starts running in Florida markets, it could make uninformed voters weary of Meek if they know nothing else about him. And right now, they don't. I still think Meek will win the primary, mostly because Greene has so much baggage of his own as an unapologetic default swap mogul. Meek has made known again and again the issues with Greene's biography, including a former run for Congress as a Republican and the support of a GOP candidate for governor in Florida earlier this year.

But Meek needs to get on TV in Florida now, and he needs to tell voters more about himself. A former Highway Patrol trooper and an experienced lawmaker with genuine progressive chops, who served in the state Senate as well as the US House, Meek absolutely has the better biography in this campaign. Nobody has heard it though. And if the primary devolves into nothing but mudslinging between Meek and Greene, the eventual nominee comes out with net negative favorability, then faces two candidates with loyal supporters and wide name recognition.

This is getting depressing.

Meek has the opportunity to win this race. The primary should be a cakewalk. But he continues to hoard his money for the general. That is wrong-headed. Even if Meek spends every dollar in his coffer on the primary, coming out victorious, with broad name recognition and a positive reputation among voters, would mean that money gets replenished in a heartbeat. But if Meek looks weak at the end of a fight with a political unknown, win or lose in August he gets no support for the November race. And make no mistake, a loss for Meek is a loss for Democrats.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Time to End the Cuba Embargo

Much is being made today of Charlie Crist's supposed reversal of his stance on Cuban travel restrictions. While I am never one miss a chance to beat up the governor for a flip-flop, the shift reported by the Miami Herald seems but a mild softening of position. But however gradual, I think it is telling a Senate candidate in Florida would consider liberalizing his stance on Cuba, and perhaps is a sign the nation may finally move past an antiquated foreign policy.

Now is the time to discuss ending the embargo on Cuba. But it may come slower than I and many other would like. It is a stance Crist has yet to entertain. His shift yesterday put him in line with Democrat Kendrick Meek. The two only support allowing Cuban-Americans greater ability to visit loved ones in Cuba, backing the Obama Administration's position to allow annual visits as opposed to the Bush policy of visits every three years. Republican Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, maintains a harder line on travel policy, telling Human Events last year he thinks lighter restrictions threaten the exile status of Cubans. Obviously, there are very academic parts of this debate, but the fact these minor differences among the candidates constitute major foreign policy debate in Florida, and a minor shift in the position of an independent candidate makes headlines statewide, shows something about how extreme this issue has played out in Florida.

But I have never believed Floridians as a whole care so much about keeping an embargo on Cuba, much less limiting the amount of time native Cubans spend there. Indeed, living through the Elian Gonzalez fiasco a decade ago, it seemed most conservatives in the state dislike the policies we have regarding the refugee status granted to Cubans who flee the country and reach dry land. Nearly every conservative I knew at the time was frustrated at national Republican leadership for fighting Juan Miguel Gonzalez Quintana's attempts to have his child returned to Cuba, both because it seemed a family matter undeserving of government interference and because the treatment was entirely different from the stance taken by conservatives regarding immigrants coming into the country illegally from Haiti or Mexico.

On any given Sunday, most Floridians are not thinking about Cuba. If asked, they probably have an opinion of "wet foot-dry foot," but it won't dictate how they vote. The only population where it matters a great deal is within the Cuban-American community, and while they typically make up around 2 percent of the vote statewide, the bloc is critical enough to affect the policies of politicians in both parties. Remember that most of the liberal Democrats Florida sends to Congress are from South Florida. And if you represent Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Cubanos make up a much larger section of the electorate. For the same reason these pols are very supportive of Israel, they usually hold a hard line on Cuba. And since Florida is typically a swing state in presidential elections, the President, regardless of party, also holds this small bloc of Florida voters in disproportionate regard.

And on the issue of Cuban relations, the community acts fairly unilaterally, regardless of other positions. While the Cubans who grew up in the wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster became reliably Republican, those coming up in Florida's ranks today are more politically diverse. For every bright Rubio on the right, there is an Alex Penelas rising within the Democratic ranks.

But while Penelas is a strong liberal, his Cuban policies are to the far right. Going back to the Elian affair, Penelas felt so strongly Gonzalez should be kept in the United States that he openly criticized the Clinton White House, possibly costing Al Gore the election that year. He wouldn't back off his positions five years later when he was running for the Senate himself, and it quite possibly cost him the Democratic nomination. After Al Gore laid out frustrations regarding the Miami Mayor, it pretty much ended Penelas' once-hopeful run in 2004. That would not have happened had most Florida Democrats supported a hard-line stance on Cuba.

So most Florida conservatives dislike the refugee policies regarding Cuban exiles. And many liberals dislike the notion of an Embargo. Will some politician of high regard please stand up and show the courage to call for change?

The American embargo on Cuba, initiated in 1962, is a relic from the missile crisis during the Kennedy administration is out-dated and absurd. It was originally built on Cuba's connections to the now-defunct Soviet Union, but has now outlived the USSR by decades. It has probably done more economic devastation to Cuba than Fidel Castro and communist rule ever could. Restrictions have eased in some ways, as American companies can at least sell food and medical supplies to Cuba now, but a report by Amnesty International shows the embargo is still severely damaging the access of Cuban citizens to proper pharmaceutical goods and medical technology, and is hampering access to clean water and reliable electricity. In 2007, more than a third of children in the country suffered from iron deficiencies, a direct result to poor access to nutrition.

Cuba is an island nation, one which must rely on international trade if it is ever to prosper regardless of the government in place. The U.S. policy has always worked on the assumption the Cuban people would eventually lead an uprising against the tyrannical Castro regime, but the result of the embargo has been more Cubans fleeing the country. The have no power to rebel, no ability to stay and fight. Combined with almost nonsensical positions on the rights of Cubans who arrive on our shore (wet-foot dry-foot is as arbitrary a foreign policy we have regarding most any issue), we have a situation which neither benefits the American people nor encourages change in Cuba.

Fidel Castro will spend the rest of his days in withering away in an undisclosed location, having given up his seat of power to brother Raul nearly four years ago. That should have prompted change, but pundits immediately began the chant that Raul is as bad as Fidel. Regardless, no change in economic conditions or political empowerment will ever come from a policy that places a political bubble over the island of Cuba and effectively freezes the island in time in the year 1962. State-run media continues to dominate the forming of public opinion within Cuba, and that will not change as long as limitations on contact with the outside world are enforced by the United States.

And the reason this continues is because politicians refuse to flour the will of a small section of voters in Florida. If a Senate candidate decided to take a truly bold stand on modernizing relations with Cuba, it could mean both an economic surge for businesses within the state of Florida and a human rights improvement for the people of Cuba. If anyone had the courage to take such a stance, I believe the broader population of the state of Florida, regardless of party loyalty or general political persuasion, would applaud.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Power of the Map

Florida seems the perennial swing state in every presidential election. Yet the Legislature is dominated by GOP lawmakers, and Republicans far outnumber Democrats within the Congressional delegation. The reason? The GOP drew the map for all state House and Senate districts, as well as every Congressional seat in the Sunshine state. How did that happen? And why is it important this year? Because the once-a-decade reapportionment season is upon us, and whoever wins the gubernatorial race will likely determine whether there are 10 more years of GOP domination in Florida or if the Democrats have a fighting chance at fair representation.

While most people are aware of the Census conducted by the federal government at the beginning of each decade, few realize the political ramifications once people get counted. Among other things, the legislatures of every state get to work drawing districts of roughly the same population for whatever offices for which that in necessary. In Florida, that means redrawing 120 state House districts, 40 state Senate districts and however many Congressional districts the Feds say are appropriate. After the 1990 and 2000 censuses (censi?), Florida picked up a total of six Congressional seats, substantially raising both Florida's electoral influence and the political stakes of redistricting.

In 1990, the Democrats controlled the Legislature under Gov. Lawton Chiles, and of course drew a map that was favorable to the left. But before the decade was out, Republicans joined forces with the NAACP and filed a lawsuit demanding the courts gerrymander districts and increase minority representation.

I'm sorry, I don't know if that sunk in with everybody out there. Let me say it again. Republicans joined forces with the NAACP and filed a lawsuit demanding the courts gerrymander districts to increase minority representation.

That makes no sense, you say? But it does. Blacks were historically under-represented in Florida, so the NAACP saw an opportunity challenging the maps in Florida to get seats drawn with majority-minority constituencies. The result of such gerrymandering, though, is that reliable Democratic voters get siphoned into specific districts. This gave us Congressmen like Alcee Hastings and Corrine Brown, and it cost us dearly in terms of Congressional possibilities. Here is an NYT article on the subject from 1990 as suits in a number of states were being prepared, in case you don't believe me.

Over the course of the decade in Florida, Republicans gradually took a majority of seats in the state House and Senate. In 1998, they finally won majorities of both chambers. Then in 2000, just as term limits were for the first time forcing many entrenched incumbents into retirement, the margins for the GOP rose to astonishing levels. Jeb Bush also happened to have taken the Governor's Mansion, so the GOP was free for the first time in decades to draw a legislative map to their liking with no fear of a veto. Seats previously drawn for Democratic lawmakers, such as the one held by now-Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman, were redrawn so Republicans could win them. Other seats were custom fit for lawmakers, such as a Central Florida seat which happened to be stretched in a way to contain then-House Speaker Tom Feeney's home.

Technology also allowed micro-reapportionment like never before seen. Senators offered amendments presented on floppy disk, and electioneers got into chambers to engineer nearly perfect districts for all lawmakers. Sometimes the Democrats who were in the Legislature seemed complicit in deals, going along with redistricting so long as their own seats were mapped in ways that favored the incumbents. Did the effort go perfectly for the GOP? Of course not. In the Democratic wave two years ago, Rep. Feeney was ousted from his hand-drawn seat by Democrat Suzanne Kosmas. Rep. Ric Keller, a Republican who barely won election into the House in 2000, had a safer seat drawn to protect him, but lost it two years ago to super-liberal Alan Grayson. But it should be noted those two Congressional seats are the only ones Cook Political Report lists as toss-ups in Florida right now, so victory may be fletting.

And for the most part, the map has done good by the GOP, better than they likely deserve. Consider Barack Obama won this state in 2008, and George W. Bush skated by infamously close races in 2000 and 2004 (and yes, that is a very generous assessment of the 2000 election for Dubya). Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson coasted to statewide victory four years ago. Republicans win most statewide offices here, but it is hardly a Republican-only electorate.

And because of this, it is extremely important Alex Sink win the governor's race if Florida Democrats want hope in a plethora of other contests. We can't win the state House or Senate this year, for precisely the map-rigging detailed in this post. Think the Congressional map is skewed? Check out the state House map. The best option we have for oversight on the process is having a Democrat in the Governor's Mansion. It would be the first time in decades that different parties controlled the veto pen and the mapper's quill. The threat of veto hopefully would lead to fair districts, and if not, Sink could override a crooked map as the governor and force lawmakers to give a second go in a special session. If necessary, courts could step in.

Bill McCollum or Rick Scott would let the lawmakers draw out their own fantasy maps, as Jeb Bush did in 2000 and, frankly, as Lawton Chiles did in 1990. If a GOP governor is elected, get used to another decade of minority rule.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Please Bud, Run as a Democrat

Time is running out for Bud Chiles to do the right thing and run for governor as a Democrat. I would like to make an impassioned plea for this FLorida native son to stop his hopeless independent bid. I am not asking him not to run, just to run the appropriate campaign within the system that exists in Florida today. He has until noon Friday to do the right thing, a move that will benefit both his own campaign and the future of the state.

Why would this be wise for Bud Chiles? It seems Chiles was scared out of the Democratic primary by Alex Sink's war chest. But running to the general is the wrong approach to that obstacle. In a primary, Sink will be guarded about how much to spend, as there must be money left to challenge the Republican machine in the general election. The same does not hold true if Chiles rushes straight to the general election ballot. There will be no runoff, and every candidate in this race will spend the last dollar they have before Nov. 2. Sink's huge bank account is more dangerous in a general election fight. And of course, the GOP will also spend what they have on a November showdown. Chiles is worried about funding a competitive August campaign, but has no shot in November. Plus, if he can't beat Sink a two-person primary, why will it be easier to beat Sink and the Republican nominee in a three-person campaign?

Plus, Chiles would be more competitive in the Democratic primary. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows Chiles does not hold the same sway with independent voters as higher-profile nonpartisan candidates. In a match-up between Chiles, Sink and Republican Bill McCollum, Chiles gets only 24 percent of the independent vote, more than Sink but less than McCollum. If Rick Scott is the GOP nominee, Chiles actually does worse with independent voters, grabbing only 20 percent. Compare these numbers to the Senate race, where the same poll shows Charlie Crist supported by 51 percent of independent voters. If Chiles is expecting an uprising among Florida independents because of this year's climate, this data shows he won't enjoy any fruit from it.

And of course, the poll shows Chiles coming in third place no matter what. He gets 19 percent of the vote in a Sink-McCollum-Chiles battle, and 13 percent in a Sink-Scott-Chiles race. After coming in third, what will Chiles have wrought? He is running a campaign built primarily on a message of boosting education. But his entry into the race will most likely keep the Republicans in the governor's mansion, and this state GOP is as hostile toward public education as any in America.

If Chiles believes he is a superior candidate to Sink, he should take her on in a one-on-one race for the Democratic nomination. He probably has a better chance at beating her there. That name he is counting on to win votes? That will matter more with the party regulars who vote in August. Florida is a state where a significant number of general election voters have moved here in the past 10 years, and therefore have no memory of Lawton Chiles' time as governor or senator. That isn't so true of Democratic primary voters. And it would take less money to win in August, with mailers going onto to registered Democrats, and probably only the supervoters within that set. Winning a primary means winning the hearts and minds of educated voters, and depends upon a solid GOTV effort more than a glossy television campaign. The Walkin' Lawton style, which the younger Chiles seems bent upon duplicating, will have far more effect with the smaller voter pool.

And should he beat Sink, he will have a ready army who would have already voted for him once. He will have the attention of the Democratic establishment, who would very much like to hold the Governor's Mansion for the first time in a dozen years. Money would flow in nationwide, replenishing the funds spent in a primary campaign. And he has the chance to win over Sink supporters by the general, the same way Barack Obama won back Hillary voters before November 2008. Indeed, if there were a competitive Democratic primary right now, voters would hear about someone in this race besides Scott and McCollum, who are flooding the airwaves now because of the impending Republican primary.

Understand, Florida is a closed primary state. The system works on the assumption that the two-party system is the best approach to elections. There are problems with that approach, but open primaries have problems as well. Ask South Carolina. Regardless, our system punishes those candidates that refuse to work within the confines of the parties. Perhaps a candidate like Charlie Crist, who has been the Republican nominee in a statewide election four times, can overcome that, but only after he has risen to the highest executive office in the state playing within the party system. Even for Crist, this election is a huge experiment and a venture where he runs a high risk of failure. For Chiles, this race is unwinnable without the nomination of a major party.

And if Chiles lost the Democratic primary, so what? He is going to lose anyway. If Sink loses in the general, Chiles comes back in four years and says 'I told you so' as he kicks off a new campaign. He would get more time to build his own name up in the meanwhile. If Sink wins, he can run for other offices, and build up his own reputation until the chance for a gubernatorial bid rises again.

But if he loses as an independent and siphons enough votes from Sink to make Ralph Nader blush, then we get Gov. Bill McCollum, or worse, Gov. Rick Scott. And we will all hate his guts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Abortion, Politics and Charlie Crist

The look-at-your-baby-before-you-kill-it bill was vetoed today by Gov. Charlie Crist, another clear move to the left by the newly independent Senate candidate. Not coincidentally, the Republican Party of Florida released an advertisement this morning which rakes Charlie over the coals for 12 years of shifting views on abortion. And once again, all of Florida politics is centered momentarily on the principles of Florida's most principally-challenged leader.

Pro-choice groups, of course, are throwing a party, but I think this was an extremely empty gesture to the left. This entire abortion bill was a terrible attempt by the Florida Legislature to chip at Crist's right-wing support, and is going to blow up in their face. This bill would never have been passed if not for Crist's flee from the party and the desire of Republican lawmakers to stick it to the usurped ruler.

A pity, because the RPOF really nails Crist in an accurate and focused way. Watch below:

I was genuinely surprised to realize Crist called himself pro-choice during the Senate race against Bob Graham. I recalled his platform at the time as pretty right-wing, but issues like vouchers, tax cuts and tort reform were the topics of the day. That campaign was always hopeless, and had no purpose beyond expanding Crist's name recognition statewide. It is delightful to see his most progressive views of that campaign cycle come to bite him.

Unfortunately, this whole affair will likely boost Crist's support instead of erode it. Those right-wingers who hate Crist for vetoing this bill would never have supported him anyway. They were already in Camp Rubio before Crist had his April hissy-fit, and if not, were certainly going to support the Republican nominee once Crist left the primary. Perhaps lawmakers were blinded by spite, but it was obvious to most observers that passing a vicious anti-abortion bill, which went so far as to put financial onus on the mother for a pre-procedure ultrasound, would only give Crist a free chance to appeal to moderate and liberal voters. And by being so rabidly anti-mother, the bill lets Crist hide behind a "personally pro-life" shield while waving the sword of veto.

The RPOF ad, though, seems to recognize this situation better than Larry Cretul. Check the last line: "Can you trust he won't change again?" That is a message to pro-choice voters, not to the Republican base. I hope we hear it loud and clear.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scott and Greene Could Win! Really?

If this poll is true, then my faith in the intelligence of the electorate will be rattled forever. Disgraced health care executive Rick Scott is leading sitting Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary for Governor, according to a new Quinnipaic poll. It also shows the Democratic Senate primary between Rep. Kenrick Meek and credit swap pioneer Jef Greene tightening at a rapid pace. Quinnipaic put out a poll yesterday which had some jarring results, but nothing like this. Frankly, I am wondering if we are seeing an outlier, but we won't know until other poll data comes out.

This poll pegs Scott at 44 and McCollum at 31. If true, that is devastating for McCollum, who a month ago was the presumptive favorite for governor. This poll simply shows a blind and unwarranted desperation on the part of Republicans that simply makes no sense at all. Less than a month ago, a media poll showed Scott making inroads, but still had McCollum at 38 over Scott's 24. Can a multi-million-dollar television blitz make that much difference? Can a flood of negative press truly matter so little?

I am certain the George Rekers controversy hurt McCollum in the eyes of many voters. But the real surprise here isn't a loss of support for McCollum, but a surge in support for Scott. Judging from this poll, Scott has been able to tap the same anti-establishment sentiment among Florida conservatives which drove Charlie Crist out of the primary. But there are major differences between Scott and Rubio.

Scott has never held elected office, whereas Rubio served in the Florida House and built up statewide name recognition during a two-year term as Speaker. Rubio is the darling of ideological conservatives, but spent months upon months culminating support through meetings with local Republican groups throughout the state, while Scott has just blitzed the airwaves with some nasty words on immigration, and more recently, a response to HCA criticism that is best described as a remorseless confession.

My wife and I were discussing the recent ad just the other night. Both of us agreed it was entertaining, but galling at the same time. In it, Scott says his opponents keep bringing up that $1.7 billion fine for fraud. "Unfortunately, that's true," he says, before stating boldly that it wasn't his fault, then saying he learns from his mistakes, and never mentioning he pretty much lost his job over the whole affair.

Is this how you win support in a Republican primary today?

Compare this to McCollum, who has not handled the Rekers issue well but has been a conservative's conservative since the Mesozoic era. He hand-delivered impeachment papers to the Senate, brought a lawsuit against ObamaCare on behalf of all of Florida, and was a hawk on foreign policy long before 9-11. He is certainly no Charlie Crist, and has done nothing that should directly piss off conservatives. Even with Rekers, his sin was applying too much zeal in castigating the gay rights movement. Many of these things could be liabilities in a general election, but usually wouldn't move the needle in a primary, and certainly should not push voters to Scott, who has promised to be more right-wing than McCollum.

The same poll also shows Jeff Greene closing in on Kendrick Meek, with Meek holding a narrow 29-27 lead. All the same issues apply to that race. Greene hasn't gotten a smidge of good press. In the past week we learned he donated $5,000 to Republican Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign in California. We already knew he was a California carpet-bagger, and that he never registered as a Democrat until 2008. His last run for Congress was as a Republican, back when he was still in California. But he has a lot of money and is hitting the airwaves hard. I don't even think he appears charismatic in these ads. If anything, his appeal to Democratic primary voters makes far less sense to me than Scott's appeal to Republican voters. But it certainly shows the time is now for Meek to get serious about this Senate campaign.

And it also shows the power of television, which I truly figured would diminish this election cycle. Scott, of course, has a major Internet presence as well, but it has been broadcast advertisements that put his name in front of voters more than anything else. The same applies to Greene. Without money, these guys would be nothing. They are not driven upstarts who spent a year or more building a reputation with party regulars. And that may mean this poll doesn't matter as much as one would think. How many respondents are likely voters? I certainly hope this is no indication of how the races will turn out Aug. 24.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Crist Favorables See an Uptick

He shouldn't celebrate unless the trend continues, but Gov. Charlie Crist sees more good news than just the Senate polling numbers in the new Quinnipiac poll. His favorable ratings are at 52/33 right now, the best showing for Crist since January. Ultimately, that is the number that may best reflect the long-term outcomes of the race.

Looking at the trend lines, the governor seemed to be on an eternal slide in polls for some time. His highest favorables still date back to August 2009 when he clocked in at 68/21. But the constant assault from Marco Rubio and the tea party movement took its toll, to the point where Crist was polling at 48/35 in mid-April. His job approval rating as governor run very closely along the same trend lines. It seems his switch to no-party status, both as a candidate and in his voter registration, seem to be paying off politically though. The governor has created a maverick glow around himself and is bouncing upward in the minds of voters.

In contrast, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek are seeing net losses in their favorables. Indeed, Meek is still an unknown quantity to 69 percent of voters, and it seems the more people learn of him they less they like him, with his numbers slipping from 20/8 last October to 17/13 now. Rubio since April has gone from 36/22 to 36/28, meaning his base is staying pretty loyal but the public-at-large likes him less the better they get to know him.

Most amusing in the poll, though, are the questions about whether the Senate candidates make decisions based on what is popular or what is right. Maybe changing his stance on Arizona's immigration law stung Rubio, but a whopping 42 percent of voters consider him a slave to polls while just 33 percent see him as a principled politician. From a candidate thriving on ideologically-rigid tea party support, these numbers are rather high. Meek fairs even worse, for no real good reason, with 36 saying he bases choices on what's popular and 20 percent believing he acts on what he feels is right.

And Charlie? The man who made the most public and politically pragmatic move since Arlen Specter pinned on a donkey tail? Some 48 percent feel he bases decisions on what is popular, and 43 say he does what he feels is right. Was that switch to being an independent a political move? 60 percent of voters think so.

They just don't care. If the Senate race were today, the poll says, the governor wins with 37 percent to Rubio's 33 and Meek's 17. This one is still Crist's to lose.

Quinnipiac: Sink behind Scott, Chiles at 19

Sometimes a poll rattles your senses and makes you question everything happening around you. That happened to me today when I saw a new Quinnipiac University poll presenting stunning figures about the governor's race in Florida and very bad news for Democrat Alex Sink. The poll has her losing to Republican frontrunner Bill McCollum 42-34, a bigger gap than she might hope but not too divergent from past performance. Worse news, though, is how she polls against Republican insurgent Rick Scott, who Quinnipiac figures would beat her 42-32, and what effect independent Bud Chiles has on the race, with this poll suggesting he could get as much as 19 percent of the vote.

The poll also provides an update on the Senate race, but nothing too different from other polls. I may come back to it at a later post but won't get into it right now. The short of it: Crist at 37, Rubio at 33, Meek at 15.

First, a look at what this poll says about Rick Scott, the uber-monied ex-HCA chief who has been spooking McCollum. This poll doesn't bother matching up Scott and McCollum, which is curious, but does a general election matchup of Scott and Sink. Scott's performance against Sink is certainly not as good as McCollum's, but he does beat the Democrat soundly. In this hypothetical matchup, he would roughly the same support of independents as Sink, and he cleans her clock in every region of the state except liberal Southeast Florida. Scott has a favorable rating of 31/22, compared to Sink's 28/14. Especially troubling, 56 percent of voters haven't heard enough about Sink to form an opinion, compared with 46 percent of voters who say the same about Scott. This is amazing considering Sink won statewide office before and served as Chief Financial Officer the past four years, whereas nobody knew who Rick Scott was two months ago. And since Scott hit the scene, every news report about him makes mention of HCA's $1.7-billion in fines, something one would expect to drive up his negatives.

Now for Chiles. The poll notes a higher margin of error on all Chiles numbers because of his recent entry into the race. But taking the numbers at face value, he could have a much bigger effect on this race than I anticipated. Despite the fact 81 percent of voters haven't formed an opinion on Chiles, the progeny of the late governor would get 19 percent of the vote in a matchup against McCollum, who would win with 33 percent, and Sink, who would get 25 percent. That places Sink closer to Chiles in the poll than to McCollum, and she doesn't want to be fighting for second.

Interestingly, this poll shows Scott as the candidate most resistant to Chiles. In a three-way matchup between himself, Sink and Chiles, he wins with 35 percent, more than McCollum would get, while Sink gets 26 percent and Chiles gets 13. An interesting note, this poll shows Scott's Republican support is actual more loyal and partisan than McCollum's, despite McCollum being the establishment candidate. Another curiosity, Sink's Republican support seems to go up when Chiles enters the race, though that matters little as he syphons a huge portion of the independent vote away.

So what lessons can be gleaned from all this?

Scott needs to be taken very seriously be everybody in this race. Alex Sink should not think a run against Scott will be a cakewalk, but I think she knows that. I was a bit surprised in the last week when she started making critical comments about Scott in the media, but that makes sense now. I would guess she has internal polling that shows he poses as much of a threat to her as Bill McCollum does.

Another lesson is that Bud Chiles will be a much greater threat than anticipated if he sticks in this race. Many predicted last week that he could take 5 percent of the vote and spoil Sink's chance of winning. Now it is clear he can do far more damage, and he has barely started his campaign. I previously called for Chiles to challenge Sink in the Democratic primary instead of spoiling the general election for Democrats. I hope this poll shows him both that he can wage a competitive primary run and that he has no chance in the general election to do anything but hand this race to the GOP.

But for Sink, I think the poll shows why getting her name in front of voters is critical right now. With full television advertising pushes already underway from McCollum and Scott, not to mention all the chatter in the Senate race, the campaign season has officially begun in the minds of Florida voters, and she can't let people make up their minds before learning more about her.

Sink has reportedly told Chiles she would spend $30 million to win this race. She needs to start right now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Natural Gas? Not So Fast!

I am seeing growing discussions online about how the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf would have been prevented if only energy companies focused on natural gas. It has been frustrating to me as I closely watched the drilling debate in the last couple years within the Florida Legislature, and everyone at all close to the debate was aware natural gas deposits were a big part of why people wanted submerged lands open for drilling.

As background, the Florida House in 2009 actually passed a bill which would have allowed to Cabinet to issue drilling permits within three to 10 miles of Florida's coastline. The Florida Senate refused to take the issue up without further research. At the request of Senate President Jeff Atwater, the Collins Center did an outstanding and thorough study of the matter which extended into this year's session. Lawmakers this Spring decided the drilling debate should wait until at least 2011, but the issue is pretty much off the table now for obvious reasons. I must take a moment to commend Atwater, a Republican, for single-handedly saving our coastlines from this greedy wager of our environment and economy.

Everyone should read this report if they have the time. The Collins report was issued well before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, so parts that describe the low probability of an accident can make you wince a bit. But it reveals a great deal about how the search for natural gas was truly at the heart of the drilling debate. And it also shows how that "cleaner" resource bears many of the same flaws and inherent dangers that oil drilling presents.

I want to draw attention to several key pieces of the report. For example, few realize the amount of waste materials discharged into the water just through the drilling process itself.

Liquid muds are pumped down the hole to lubricate the drill bit and help bring the debris to the surface. The muds typically contain the metal barium as a weighting agent and are considered toxic.
In addition, the materials used to make the mud are taken from onshore sites and can contain minerals and impurities not commonly found on the ocean floor. While generally water-based, the muds can be oil- or synthetic-based, depending on the well depth and the type of drilling activity, such as that used on horizontal wells. The drilling also produces tons of what are called "cuttings,” the ground pieces of rock and other material the drill bit cuts. Life on the rigs produces its share of wastes, too, such as treated sanitary water, trash and debris. Bilge water, ballast water, waste oil, contaminated drainage from the rig decks and excess cement are also produced during offshore operations.
The muds and rock cuttings represent a significant portion of drilling wastes. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 1993 that for each exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico, companies discharged nearly 336,000 gallons of drilling fluids and nearly 113,000 gallons of cuttings into the water around the rigs. For development wells, the estimates were nearly 252,000 gallons of drilling fluids and 67,000 gallons of cuttings.


That means just the lubrication and rock cuttings create a threat to the ecosystem when nothing goes wrong. In addition, we have substantial amounts of human waste that gets dumped into the waters. This latter part is probably a greater concern with deepwater drilling, as it is less convenient to dispose of bilge when you are hundreds of mile from the shore. But those cuttings offer a greater threat to our beaches and to shallow-water wildlife the closer drills are to shore. The report says the worst pollution is in the localized area immediately around the drill, again creating a greater problem with shallow-water drilling.

The seismic processes associated with drilling can also affect the marine mammals living in areas that are getting drilled.

Seismic guns and other acoustic disturbances associated with oil and gas exploration and development can have significant impacts on marine life. Each species of marine mammal and each marine fishery varies in its sensitivity to sound frequencies. Acoustic disturbances that affect one species may not affect another. Impacts are possible over large spatial areas. Incidents of direct injury or mortality are possible but much less likely than more subtle behavioral effects associated with masking communications between animals. Protocols exist that attempt to limit these impacts.
Data presented at IESES suggested that whales and fish (especially grouper) may be more susceptible to the acoustic disturbances associated with oil and gas activities than small cetaceans like dolphins and manatees.
Mitigating measures are practiced in most parts of the world, including the Gulf of Mexico. The MMS requires certain measures, such as lookouts posted on vessels to warn operators to cease testing when mammals are spotted. Companies can also be required to begin the testing with low-volume air blasts that cause marine life to scatter before the blasts build to maximum volumes.


And why do oil companies want to do all of this? We know there is plenty of oil in the Gulf, since we are watching it gush live and have seen it wash ashore in Louisiana. But the Gulf boasts just as much natural gas, something described by this report as an "oil equivalent."


Government assessments suggest that estimates of oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico are moderate. Estimates for this region are much larger than those for Florida’s state waters, but much smaller than those for the Western and Central regions of the Gulf of Mexico. The mean estimate of 7.71 billion barrels of oil equivalents (oil plus natural gas converted into an "equivalent” amount of oil) includes 3.88 billion barrels of oil and 21.51 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These amounts are likely to be more than 10 times that of Florida state waters, pending a new round of assessments for areas covering the Florida Panhandle. However, as a comparison, this amounts to approximately one third of the estimated undiscovered reserves in the Western Gulf of Mexico and less than one seventh of the estimated undiscovered reserves in the Central Gulf of Mexico. Across the Gulf, drilling and production activities have steadily moved into deeper water, where assessments show greater resources.

Government assessments suggest that estimates of oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico are moderate. Estimates for this region are much larger than those for Florida’s state waters, but much smaller than those for the Western and Central regions of the Gulf of Mexico. The mean estimate of 7.71 billion barrels of oil equivalents (oil plus natural gas converted into an "equivalent” amount of oil) includes 3.88 billion barrels of oil and 21.51 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These amounts are likely to be more than 10 times that of Florida state waters, pending a new round of assessments for areas covering the Florida Panhandle. However, as a comparison, this amounts to approximately one third of the estimated undiscovered reserves in the Western Gulf of Mexico and less than one seventh of the estimated undiscovered reserves in the Central Gulf of Mexico. Across the Gulf, drilling and production activities have steadily moved into deeper water, where assessments show greater resources.
Of the roughly 7,300 active leases in the Gulf, 58 percent are in water 1,000 feet or deeper. That compares to 27 percent in those depths in 1992.


So there is slightly more gas than oil in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which is of course where this report focuses its energies. Of note, the report also points out that job opportunities from shallow-water drilling are likely small for Florida compared to the possibilities in deepwater, simply because energy companies want to go where the larger reservoirs lay. The report seems to indicate that the reason energy companies go toward deeper drilling areas is not because of a lack of access for near-shore drilling, but because there is just more stuff to suck up further out in the sea. But we are all painfully aware now of the risks associated with deepwater drilling, where pressure makes it hard to plug a hole.

From my point of view, the answer isn't for companies to invest more in natural gas. This report shows many of the environmental problems associated with drilling are just as present with gas exploration. I would rather see companies exploring alternatives like wind, solar, biomass, heat-to-energy and other low-risk sources. There should also be a much greater emphasis in out consumer regulations on energy saving, which is clearly the best way to cut down on the use of fossil fuels in this country.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rubio in 2012? Doubtful...

Steven Moore lays out a decent assessment of the Florida Senate race in a Wall Street Journal column today, but makes a suggestion that can only be considered a tea party fantasy. Moore reveals that many on the right have become so enamored with Marco Rubio they envision him as a presidential candidate in 2012. If that is what Rubio wants to do, his righter-than-right campaign strategy this year will not help.

Don't get me wrong. While I find little appeal to Rubio's platform, he is taking the right road politically. In a three-man race, playing to his base is smart. And he already tapped the anti-establishment vote within the Republican Party successfully enough to drive Charlie Crist from the primary. But in a normal year, Rubio would have the chance to moderate his views with voters heading into the general election. Thanks to a Crist of fate, that ain't happening this year. Rubio has already learned with the Arizona flap that the tea party will demand he stay in the right lane. In this type of race, he can't afford to upset them as Crist and Kendrick Meek fight for moderates.

Beyond that, a hypothetical Sen. Rubio would only be two years into his term come presidential election. He would have to start campaigning on Day One after the election this year. Barack Obama was twice as far into his Senate term when he won the White House. That means he had both the aura of the outsider and a record to run on, but undoubtedly Obama's inexperience was his biggest drawback as a candidate. Now Republicans are considering running someone with less time in the Senate that Obama served, but who wouldn't have the time to pass any significant legislation, especially when working in the minority party.

But the truth is Rubio wouldn't make it as far as Obama. More experienced, better defined candidates like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee would eat him alive. Sarah Palin would make mince of him. Rubio is talented, and indeed could win this Senate race, but no way can he get to the White House in the type of meteoric rise that could make Obama look like a man of humble ambitions.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Aimless Tea Party

A News-Press profile of Rick Scott published today tells a great deal about the gubernatorial candidate, but most interesting to me was insight into how aimless the tea party movement can be this far into a campaign. I have noted this before, but the final portion of this article offers a great taste of the indiscriminating nature of these so-called conservatives.

Check out this quote from Naples tea partier Barry Willoughby had to say:

"I have never met him, but on the surface I absolutely agree with what he has said about accountability in government, limited government and following the law... I'm very torn, that's for sure. I don't see how the tea party could go against what he has said."

So a guy with a boatload of money rushes in from the right and a group of people supposedly driven by populism and ideals falls in love. Virtually no press account of Scott's entry into the race has ignored the $1.7 billion in fines that HCA earned during his tenure as CEO, nor has it ignored that Scott was pushed out of that private sector job by angry shareholders. None of that matters, though, because he is an outsider and he leans toward Ghengis Khan when it comes to rhetoric. As Stephen Colbert would note, facts have a well-known liberal bias. Media counts of Scott's flaws must be part of a left-wing media plot, right?

Why is this tea party enthusiasm for Scott amazing to me? Because Bill McCollum for 30 years has been the conservative's conservative in Florida. He is pro-life, anti-tax, anti-regulation and pro-defense. Not pugnacious enough? Well if the guy who walked impeachment papers from the House to the Senate and who hates health care reform so much he is suing on behalf of Florida using tax dollars isn't hostile enough to government, I don't know what to say. Ironically, that long tenure of conservative rhetoric is a vulnerability within today's Republican Party. Undoubtedly, McCollum is every bit the insider his critics make him out to be, but his entire time in office, he has been as far to the right as just about anyone could get. Scott has tried to make McCollum out as a lefty, airing soundbites of the Attorney General criticizes an Arizona immigration law which earned rebuke from across the nation, even earning the temporary ire of Tea Party prophet Marco Rubio. Yet Scott is chipping away at McCollum in the polls.

The funny thing is that Scott does not consider himself part of the tea party, yet is finding all of his support within those ranks. To rely openly on a movement yet deny a direct association should insult such ideological purists, but these activists are so driven by hate of the system that they don't care. There is no way Scott could appeal to independent and moderate voters, but all the better in the eyes of tea. The partiers deserve this guy. When you stand for nothing and against everything, yet preach from the pulpit of principled ideals, don't be surprised when your anger is exploited by opportunists.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What did the Governor Know...

and when did he know it?

That is the question on many minds as more details surface on the Jim Greer arrest. Attorneys for the ousted and indicted Republican Party of Florida chairman are now saying a deal for his company to do party work was legal, and that Gov. Charlie Crist knew about it from the get-go. Additionally, they claim sitting Sen. George LeMieux was in on it too. The Miami Herald, linked above, broke the story today.

If true, the news could be explosive, but that is still a big if. Also, it is likely a mistake to focus too much on the statements because they may be no big deal. Greer faces six felony counts here, including four counts of grand theft. Greer may be making noise about something that is not germain to his indictment. But this is certainly embarrassing for Crist and LeMieux, if nothing else. It may well mean subpoenas get these men making the wrong kind of headlines in coming months as they get dragged into court as witnesses.

If this isn't true, as both Crist and LeMieux claim, one wonders why Greer would make it up. Of course, it is damaging to Crist, and perhaps the governor's defection from the party made Greer vindictive. Honestly, Greer's support of Crist in the GOP primary cost him his job at RPOF as much as any shady dealings with party money. But going after a sitting Republican senator, one appointed by Crist but supportive of Marco Rubio in the Senate race, is a step further down the road to vengence, and could wound the party going forward. Of course, that is likely of little concern to Greer these days.

Legal uncertainties make it hard to say how this will affect the political races. Unless Crist or LeMieux is found criminally responsible for any of this mess, then this too shall pass. We need to know whether prosuctors care about how the Victory Strategies deal constructed from the start, or just about how Greer spent the money once he got his grubby GOP hands on it. If the latter is the case, then AmEx users like Marco Rubio and Bill McCollum could be as hurt as Crist, if not more so. But if prosecutors pursue this on the grounds Greer's company should never have gotten party money in the first place, then Crist is probably toast.

The newly independent governor so far has successfully created the sense among Florida voters that he is the innocent being screwed over by extemist party politics. But Rubio will sieze an any opportunity to remind voters Crist was part of the machine until a couple months ago. Kendrick, should he ever begin campaigning seriously for this seat, also has the opportunity to remind voters that 12 years of GOP domination in state politics has wrought some ugly things for the Sunshine State.

And as it becomes clear that the RPOF during Crist's tenure as governor was among the most corrupt organizations ever involved in state politics, this newfound outsider glow will be harder to come by for the man with the golden tan.

Friday, June 4, 2010

McCollum Bent Over Backward for Rekers

This Rentboy scandal gets more interesting as we learn how hard Bill McCollum fought to ensure George Rekers was hired as an anti-gay expert by the State of Florida. Apparently, the prosecutors working for McCollum advised against bringing Rekers on board because other legal officials viewed his 'expertise' as suspect.

Rekers, of course, was since disgraced for taking a European vacation with a gay escort on hand to carry his baggage. Of course, Attorney General McCollum didn't know Rekers might be a self-loathing closeted homosexual when he demanded Rekers speak on behalf of the state in favor of a ban on gay adoptions. A judge wasn't convinced of Rekers' credibility, though, and threw out the law, a ruling now under appeal.

From the Herald-Tribune article linked above, Assistant AG Valerie Martin warned McCollum that Rekers was a bad choice. Arkansas officials advised against him. She also had doubts about the man's resume. To be fair to McCollum, Martin never said 'Rekers likes to get sexual massages with young Hispanic prostitutes,' which is the only thing which seems to have convinced McCollum giving Rekers $120,000 to speak on Florida's behalf was a bad idea.

But what I like about this revelation is that is stresses Rekers' lack of qualifications regardless of whether he sleeps with men. Rekers is a hateful bigot with no expertise in this matter. He is just some quack who tries to convince homosexuals they can be ungayified with enough therapy. His work has no basis in science. His testimony has proven worthless again and again. What relevance does any of this have on a gay adoption ban? I realize the Attorney General's Office is obligated to defend state statute when it is contested in court, but the means McCollum sought to use in this case were onerous. Rekers made his living for years arguing that homosexuals are unfit to exist in society. This reaches far beyond their ability to raise children. It goes well beyond any argument whether the state should have the power to disqualify potential adoptive parents because of sexuality. To use Rekers on behalf of the state is rest the public case on a message of hate.

I hope Alex Sink drills this message home as she takes McCollum to task for this in the governor's race. As I've said before, we cannot say McCollum is dumb for associating with closeted homos. The message is more important than that. It shouldn't matter whether Rekers is gay. It should matter whether homophobia should guide state policy, and McCollum's knee-jerk distancing from Rekers demonstrations that as well as his poor judgment hiring the self-hating bigot in the first place.