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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Greene, Scott Winning. Wake up, Florida!

The political specter many of us feared for some time may yet get the best of Florida Democrats this August. Following a multi-million ad blitz, vanity candidate Jeff Greene is posting a lead of 33-23 over Kendrick Meek in the most recent Quinnipiac poll. The same poll shows Rick Scott is beating Bill McCollum in the governor's race.

I pray the Greene poll is an outlier, but since I first balked at a Q poll about Rick Scott outperforming McCollum, the trend has born out. The Attorney General, I fear, has lost the nomination to a sham candidate. Now I worry the same will happen to Meek. I have devoted a great amount of energy to blasting Charlie Crist and promoting Meek, so I feel a need to be clear how I will respond to a Meek loss in August. I will leave the Senate bubble blank on my ballot. I will not support any candidate running for that post, and do not make that choice lightly. And I acknowledge here, in writing, that Greene is worse news for Florida Democrats than Charlie Crist regardless of where the newly-independent governor caucuses in the Senate.

Megabucks madmen Scott and Greene are from different parties but share more in common than any other candidates for statewide office. They boast no experience holding public office, and show no decent understanding of how government works. Both believe their proven ability to amass millions in personal wealth proves qualification for high office, but each balks at scrutiny on how those fortunes were made. Scott's company defrauded the federal government for billions, but wants us to believe the fact he never served time proves he holds no moral responsibility. Greene got rich betting against homeowners and crushing banks who had to pay increasing amounts to default swappers just as homeowners stopped making payments. The money-making tactics of these so-called self-made millionaires were at best amoral, though craven and greedy are more appropriate terms.

I don't want to go into my problems with Impeachment Bill McCollum here. Should he defy the odds and make it to the general, there are many issues the left can and should exploit. But Republicans are fools to believe Scott is a more qualified candidate for the governor's mansion. You have an experienced member of the Cabinet and the Congress with influence in Tallahassee and Washington, as opposed to someone whose most notable interaction with the federal government involved bilking them for billions.

But at this point, I say let the Republicans hang themselves. Scott offers us a plethora of weaknesses to exploit in November when independents and moderates, not partisans and super-voters, go to the polls.

My greater concern now is with Jeff Greene. Should he win, my hope of a rebirth of the successful Democratic party in Florida will be severely hampered. For Florida progressives to side with such a greasy figure because he sends more glossy fliers and puts up more television ads would demonstrate a pure unwillingness on the part of Sunshine State Democrats to educate themselves about the most important election this year.

Kendrick Meek is a proven progressive. He has stood up for minorities, the middle class and the poor. Derided as a child of privilege, he didn't use his mother's connections in Congress to become a lobbyist, but instead spent his days as a Florida Highway Patrolman. He was among the most pronounced liberal voices during his time in the Florida Senate, and has been a reliable progressive since becoming a member of the U.S. House. Yes, he can be a loudmouth. But while that makes him part of the obnoxious rabble that fills the House, it could be a defining characteristic for creating influence in the Senate. He could be a Russ Feingold or a Paul Wellstone there. Not since the days of Claude Pepper have Florida Democrats had such a chance to send a genuine liberal to the Senate. Don't blow this!

I realize the enormous number of Democrats who have already been woo'd by Charlie Crist. That is November. I am sure I will enumerate my problems with the governor on another day, but at the very least, Democratic voters should not shirk their duty in August to vote for the most qualified candidate in our party primary. I read posters who say Meek doesn't have a shot in November. If he loses in August, that is undoubtedly true, but at the very least, Democrats should support him in the primary and allow him to take a shot at the general.

Greene does not deserve a shot, and I cannot watch this man buy the party nomination and then cast a vote for him in November. I will not support a march toward New Jersey logic and help prop up an unqualified candidate simply because he is rich.

Meek certainly has a lot to do to win over voters who question his resilience and ability to run a winning campaign. But don't vote him down early in protest. Don't deny him a chance to win you over before November. The Q poll shows 35 percent of Democratic voters remain undecided in the primary, and 54 percent of those who do have a preference are willing to change their minds. At the least, give Meek the opportunity to change your mind.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jeb Out in 2012?

Not exactly a Shermanesque statement, but Jeb Bush told Kentucky TV station WHAS yesterday that he is "not running for president." This isn't earth-shaking, but provides a great opportunity to play "Let's parse his words" to figure out what he really means.

"I Am Not Running For President."

That is present tense. I am not sure Barack Obama is technically running for president right this moment. While Politico reported that Jeb "Says No to 2012 Run," a review of the tape shows he did no such thing, and simply told the WHAS reporter that he was in town for education reform and to stump for Rand Paul in the Kentucky Senate race. The number 2012 wasn't mentioned by Bush or the reporter, although WHAS pretty clearly implied in the question that Bush might be running for president in the very near future.

But what may have been more enlightening was a statement he made about the president, and even the casual moments caught on film of Jeb Bush after the formal interview was over. Bush makes his bucks these days pushing education reform around the country, and the priority he places on that was notable when he said the following statement:

"This is one place where President Obama deserves some credit."

Afterward, he boasted to a waiting colleague about the nice thing he said about "our president." These are NOT the remarks of a man getting ready to challenge the re-election of an incumbent. It doesn't close the door. Indeed, if Obama ever moved toward education reform at the federal level as a major part of his platform, this could open the door for Jeb to "reconsider." But it shows Bush isn't gunning for Obama yet.

His quotes, of course, were peppered with the standard talk of the "incredible expansion of government in our lives" and the extremely hypothetical "Republican majority in the Senate." Bush wants to play a major role in Republican politics on a regional, if not national, level. He has offered endorsements and made appearances for candidates in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and, of course, Florida, Florida, Florida.

Someday, Jeb Bush will probably run for president. But as I have said before, I suspect 2012 is not the right year to do it. The Bush brand is still a tattered one, beaten down by eight years of imperialism, chronyism and basic bad government by the W White House. And while that was not Jeb's doing, he gave his full-throated endorsement to his brother's poor policies every step of the way.

Al Gore resisted running for president in 2004 because, as he told 60 Minutes, "the focus on that race would inevitably have been more on the past than it should have been when all races should be focused on the future." A vote for Jeb Bush in 2012 would inevitably be a vote to return to the Bush years pre-2008, even more so than W's candidacy in 2000 was viewed as return to his father's administration.

Besides the fact I don't think many are anxious to return to those failed policies, I doubt that is the race Jeb Bush wants to run. He has always billed himself as a bringer of innovative reform. He built his national brand on the A-Plus education reforms in Florida. And when his name comes up in political circles, he is always touted as an "idea guy" within the GOP.

The Republican party today is running on a message of obstruction. In many ways, the mechanisms of the House and Senate leave legislative candidates for federal office little choice about that. They cannot drive their own agenda forward, and therefore are relying upon scare tactics and a promise to stop whatever socialist tea-hating anti-Americanism which the racist rank-and-file believes is emanating from the White House.

We will see how well that works in the Congressional races this fall, but a message of destruction won't engender support for a White House run. And I will reiterate again that if the candidates Jeb Bush has endorsed this do not win, that won't help him much either if we wants the Republican nomination in two years. Jeb Bush knows that, and unless the political atmosphere changes significantly before 2012, he is smart enough not to run this time. He will have a better chance at winning in 2016 or 2020. That demands a lot of patience, but President is one job where you don't get a second chance. When you run, you win or you're done.

I don't think Jeb Bush is done.

Monday, July 26, 2010

TV Time At Last!

Kendrick Meek is on TV. Sort of.

The Democrat finally put up an advertisement that airs on real televisions all over Florida. It is an attack piece on Jeff Greene, but it's something. Check it out below.

Of course, I would like to see a nice biographical piece on Meek that touts his own accomplishments and positions, but this is something. It finally gets his name in front of the casual primary voter, and it lays out a very good case for why the nominee for the Democratic Party this year cannot be Jeff Greene.

I'd like something more like this 11-minute opus:

But, alas, I know that is too much to ask. Meek is clearly concerned right now that uninformed voters will be hypnotized by a glossy multi-million campaign by misery mogul Greene. And polls show there is reason to be concerned. This won't help Meek's positives all that much, but his biggest problem isn't that people don't like him. It's that people don't know him. This ad features the Congressman looking very incumbent-like just before he rolls that beautiful Greene footage.

I am just glad he is finally on the air. I'm sick of talking to people who don't know anything about him at all, including gender. I am tired of telling people there is no 's' at the end of his name. I can't even bring myself to interrupt the people and say, 'Not Carrie. Kendrick.'

I have asked again and again and again for him to get on TV. So today, I celebrate. Hopefully this is the first step toward victory in November, or at least insurance he gets that far.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

PPP Tests My Faith in Humanity

Kendrick Meek is winning the Democratic primary, according to a new poll from Public Policy Polling, but just barely. And without the support of African-American voters, it appears he wouldn't be winning at all. The poll also concludes: "Democratic voters seem uninterested in this election. Most Democrats have rallied behind Charlie Crist." The poll release, if you follow the link, leads with news of gubernatorial hopeful Rick Scott leading Bill McCollum handily in the GOP primary, but I want to dissect the latter half of the release, which to me carries far more important information for Florida progressives. Democrats in Florida need to get behind Meek now, or they may regret a lack of choices later.

After delivering some very good news about the governor's race yesterday, PPP breaks my heart today. But I also think some facts need to be taken into account before people write off this race, and I hope the conclusion quoted above proves to be incorrect. Frankly, I think if PPP wants to throw that type of strong statement out, it needs to be backed up with numbers. At least in the statistics publicly released today, there is no available information about Crist support among Democrats. Maybe PPP is about to release a general election poll that offers more data, but it isn't here now.

This race pegs Meek with a 28-25 lead over billionaire Jeff Greene, with 37 percent undecided. Also-rans Glenn Burkett and Maurice Ferre pull in the remaining 10 percent of voters.

Blacks, who make up about 19 percent of the voting sample, support Meek over Green 44-19, with 22 percent undecided. That provides Meek a good enough base to hold a lead in this poll, and also brings more promising news as a significant number of undecided voters in this demographic will likely back a candidate with the promise of being Florida's first African-American U.S. Senator. In contrast, white voters, who make up 66 percent of the sample, break almost evenly with 28 percent backing Meek and 27 percent supporting Greene.

Interestingly, Hispanic voters are as likely to support one of the minor candidates as they are to back Meek. Greene wins 25 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to 15 percent for Ferre and 10 percent for Burkett or Meek. Ferre's South Florida presence in the Cuban community likely accounts for his strong support here, but I don't know why Greene is polling so well with the group. Hispanics make up 13 percent of the sample.

I certainly hope, though, that bigger principles than racial identity determine this race. Unless a voter happens to be a real estate tycoon who got rich enough on default swaps to fund a vanity campaign, then they have little in common with Jeff Greene even if their skin tone is relatively close. I am white, but that doesn't make me relate well to this cream-skinned weasel. Granted, Meek comes from his own station of privilege being the son of a Congresswoman, but the former Florida Highway Patrolman has a lot more in common with the middle-class voter than a mega-millionaire mogul who build his fortune on the backs of people too poor to make house payments.

Another conclusion reached by this poll is that both the Democratic primary in the Senate and the Republican primary for Governor are hurting the candidates in general election match-ups. This is an indisputable truth today, but I have always firmly believed tough primaries produce better candidates in the end. Yesterday I noted that Alex Sink shouldn't take things easy now that she is outpolling Scott. Between the primary and general election, the full force of the Republican Party will be focused behind their nominee and everything possible will be done to erode the Democrat's lead, and Scott will benefit from high recognition created today.

The same goes in the Senate race. While most polls have shown Meek polling in the teens come the general election, Meek isn't truly fighting Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio just yet. He is engaged in a bruising primary, and most people who are just learning of him today and hearing the Jeff Greene version. But should he win the nomination, the Democratic party will work overtime to get things going for their candidate. He is bound to go up in the polls. Mailers will go out which trump up the entire Democratic slate, and Crist will not be part of that slate.

The Buzz made the slight today that "you wonder if it even matters who the nominee is." It does. Whoever bears the stamp of the party automatically takes in a certain number of votes by virtue of winning the Democratic nomination. Crist is the rare independent candidate with even a hope of overcoming that partisan strength. But if we put up a compelling candidate who offers voters the choice of a genuine progressive, it should not be different to pull in the 35-40 percent of the vote required to move this Senate seat back into Democratic hands.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't Get Excited Yet, Alex

It's old news now, but Alex Sink has pulled ahead in the governor's race, according to a new poll released today by Public Policy Polling. She beats McCollum 37-23 and Scott 36-30. There are no trend lines worth noting, as the last time PPP took a look at this race was in March. Furthermore, no other poll shows Sink leading on both Bill McCollum and Rick Scott, though a poll released earlier this month showed her ahead of McCollum.

But for a million reasons, there should be no breaking out of champaign. This poll has plenty of bad news for Sink. For 54 percent of voters, Sink in unknown, a bad thing considering she has served as Chief Financial Officer now for four years. She even remains unknown by 49 percent of Democrats. This isn't surprising to me. One thing I'd like to see polled, just for curiosity, is how many people think Alex Sink is a man. I, for one, find myself correcting her gender virtually every time her name comes up in conversation. Meanwhile, only 36 percent view Rick Scott as an unknown, and just 33 percent have no opinion of McCollum.

One curiosity, independent son-of-someone-famous Bud Chiles is only viewed positively by 12 percent of those polled, yet comes in at 13 percent in a matchup with Sink and McCollum and pulls 14 percent in a race with Sink and Scott. While he can't be called a spoiler if Sink wins, that likely shows there are some people willing to vote for Chiles based purely on his late father's good name.

What distresses me most about the poll, though, is the continued trend of Sink performing worse against Scott than McCollum. Scott is so slimy, I can't imagine why anyone would be more inclined to vote for him than any alternative. That shows more about the crooks-over-politicians mentality that poisons the tea conservatives are drinking. I've complained about this before, but there really is no core value that should drive conservatives to support Rick Scott. It is a disgrace to the philosophy that this man gains any support at all.

At this point, though, Scott is the nominee. He has extraordinary problems, and fortunately, Bill McCollum is matching Scott dollar-for-dollar in advertisements explaining everything wrong with the disgraced hospital executive as a gubernatorial prospect. Scott's negatives rise every day, and the PPP poll shows 41 percent of voters already realize he is bad news.

But since they have no opinion of Sink whatsoever, Scott can still beat Sink in the general election. That leaves the Democrat a window from now until the Aug. 24 primary election to make sure everybody in Florida knows who she is, and thinks good things about her going into November.

Don't believe Rick Scott is going to run out of money before the general. The man is sitting on more ill-gotten loot than you'll find on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He will spend every day between Aug. 25 and Nov. 2 beating the heck out of her on the air. Sink's negatives are now at 22, but Scott will make sure they go up. Sink's positives sit at 24 today. It is her job to make those rise. While Scott and McCollum are arguing about how much taxpayer money should be wasted in their mudslinging contest, Sink needs to get on TV and convince voters she is the real deal before an utter fake starts telling them otherwise.

Great Scott Takedown

I realize DailyKos doesn't hurt for traffic and that this tiny blog lives chiefly on redirection from that site, but I wanted to draw attention to Laurence Lewis' takedown of Rick Scott today.

My favorite part:
Yes, Rick Scott was health care reform's number one enemy. To the degree that health care reform fell short of its potential, Rick Scott is significantly to blame. And, of course, his tactics in opposing health care reform were those tried and true Republican favorites: lies. And worse. Or better, once again depending on your taste for slime and sleaze.

It's a must-read. Shocking, but this man looks to be the Republican nominee for governor in the very near future. It is imminently important we do all it takes to inform Florida voters of the type of thug that wants to move into the governor's mansion.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Special Session Lasts Less Than Three Hours

So much for saving our coasts. Both chambers of the Florida Legislature adjourned within hours of lawmakers arriving in Tallahassee.

Roughly 43 minutes after convening the special session of the Florida Legislature today, House Speaker Larry Cretul adjourned, spitting in the eye of Gov. Charlie Crist and pissing all over the chance to put a question before voters this year on banning oil drills in state waters.

“The Florida Constitution authorizes the governor to call the Legislature into special session for any legislative purpose,” said Cretul. “When the call is issued, we are compelled to assemble.

“But from the moment a quorum assembled here, the agenda in this House is and always will be set by its membership.

“The governor has no direct authority to propose constitutional amendments to voters. The governor has no veto power over proposed constitutional amendments. The fact remains that he has called us here at the last possible moment to consider a constitutional amendment for which he never proposed language and permitted far too little time for reflection and review. That is a terrible way to propose constitutional changes.”

I was hoping Senate President Jeff Atwater would go ahead and follow through with a vote in his chamber because he has been such a champion in the fight against offshore drilling. Alas, no. Instead, he closed up the Senate and blamed both Crist and Cretul for putting politics ahead of state interests. And in the state capitol no less. Also, he is shocked, shocked!, that there is gambling at the Hard Rock.

At least he left the door open for coming back to Tallahassee to tackle this, suggesting a broader call by the governor could lead to a longer, perhaps even multi-day, session.

Via TBO:
"I firmly believe there is much more meaningful work that can be done,'' he (Atwater) added. "It is quite likely we will find ourselves here again in the near future.''

So what does this mean politically?

Clearly, there is little love among Florida GOP leaders for the recently independent governor. But Cretul is surely not so inept as to think this hurts Crist with voters. This furthers the narrative Crist is the true independent voice in the Senate race. In Charlie's world, Marco Rubio represents the wingnut fringe and Kendrick Meek doesn't exist. Sigh.

For Atwater, this gets him out of a political pinch short-term. He is running for CFO and enjoys being the anti-drilling Republican on the state ballot. By letting this break down into a process question, it avoids the risk of Atwater leading an unsuccessful charge to get a referendum on a drilling ban before voters. That said, he is now on record against discussing a drilling ban, and Democratic opponent Lorrane Ausley is on record in support. This, in many ways, is the opening she needs to take the high ground on an important statewide issue where Atwater has always enjoyed good standing.

This also opens up the door to criticism of lawmakers around the state that they place politics ahead of saving the state from the black doom in the Gulf of Mexico. Who sees the upside to this? Some inland lawmakers, who likely weren't at risk over drilling anyway, won't be badly hurt by a vote quashing a drilling debate, but a vote to end the session by coastal Republicans seems to me an easy thing for opponents to prey on. Of course, that assumes lawmakers have opponents in elections.

Sadly, this really shows how broken the Tallahassee political system remains. When there is no accountability for our leaders, then they will not react to crisis in a way the first benefits the voters. We have seen special sessions called to discuss property taxes and insurance rates, to discuss education reforms and other highly politicized topics. The argument a vote on oil isn't necessary right now, even as sludge creeps to our shores, is ludicrous when compared to previous calls.

But it is what it is. Now it is up to environmentally-minded voters in Florida to use this against opponents of clean beaches.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Finance Shows Blue Tide

The new campaign finance figures for Florida Congressional races leave me more optimistic than ever about the prospects of Sunshine State Democrats in November. Call my glasses rose-collared, but I think it seems increasingly likely that if a Republican wave truly strikes the country, it won't have a great effect here. That obviously makes me far more upbeat about Democratic performance than most, but let me explain.

For starters, just look at the statewide summary released by the Federal Elections Commission. Now recall that Republicans already hold the majority of House seats in Florida15-10. So the fact Republican House candidates raised $20 million to Democrats $18 million isn't indicative of greater statewide support as much as it is the number of incumbents with strong support. To really figure where things stand takes a closer look at the numbers.

Now let's look at the House races in play. I am only going to opine on the seats which pundits list as toss-ups, leans and likelys. Don't try and convince me we have a really good shot at taking out Cliff Stearns this year.

Because this post took me much longer to write than I expected, I am trying something new here. I am making every race I analyze its own post, and providing here a sort of table of contents. And this is more than a shameful, shameful way of drumming up my traffic (feel free to click the ads). It also will allow any commenters to post directly to the post on the race they care most about. So disagree with me on FL-02 but agree on FL-25? Just tear me apart on one post, and then feel free to shower with praise on the other.

The short story is I think we will at worst hold our current number of Democratic seats in Florida, but see a way to pick up one seat in FL-25 while defending all other ground in the sunshine State.

FL-02: Incumbent Allen Boyd (D)

Swing State Project surprised me a month ago when they pegged this race as one Dems would lose in November. I don't see it, not that many others do. Cook Political Report still marks this as a Lean Democrat despite an R+6 make-up. This is one the Republican Party of Florida lists every year as a possible pick-up, but always ends up staying Boyd country. SSP cites his vote for Health Care as a sinker, but if anything, that vote simply helps him in what could have been a tough primary battle this year.

The financial reports show Boyd is in very good shape. He has more than $1 million in cash on hand, compared to just under $195,000 for Republican front-runner William Southerland. Grant it Boyd will spend some of that on a Democratic challenge by state Sen. Al Lawson, but these campaign filings show Boyd may be taking the challenge too seriously. A spat over a Boyd tracker being harassed by Lawson drew a lot of attention, but most of it ended up being negative for Lawson (check this Classic Liberal post, which labels Lawson's actions as assault). Right now, Lawson has a little more than $34,000 cash on hand. The primary is Aug. 24, and I think this race is over.

Should Boyd ever retire, this race will show a lot of promise for the GOP. But right now Southerland is being outspent and isn't enjoying any significant presence in the press. And since Boyd really is playing like he's 10 points down, I expect he will do what it takes to emerge victorious. Unless Larson wins, which is unlikely, I don't think the seat is at all in danger.

FL-08: Incumbent Alan Grayson (D)

Growing up in this area of Florida, I never expected to see a Democrat represent the 8th, so it isn't surprising to me that the Republicans, upset at Ric Keller's defeat in '08, would want this seat back. They seem to have a good line-up of candidates vying for the race, but Grayson in two short years has set himself up as the newest star of the liberal movement. He has embarked on massive promotional and fund-raising efforts which have turned him into a national figure, and as such, he will be difficult to beat.

Bottom line? Grayson is sitting on $1.4 million in cash on hand. That could fund a Senate race. Of course, the right would love to pick him off too, and plenty of dough has been split among the Republican challengers. But a late primary benefits Grayson tremendously. It remains unclear who the GOP challenger will be in this race, and whether the party will be able to coalesce around that candidate in two short months.

The best choice is probably retired state Sen. Dan Webster, a former state Speaker and an historically-celebrated leader among Florida conservatives. But thanks to a late entry and divided loyalties, Webster has only about $165,000 in the bank. Businessman Bruce O'Donoghue, in contrast, has almost $300,000. Two other Republicans - Kurt Kelly and William Todd Long - have more than $100,000 cash on hand, which likely won't make them top-tier but will be enough to muddle the race more.

In short, Grayson should be a favorite for re-election as things stand today. The ultimate GOP nominee will have a lot of work in front of them to make this competitive, but that is far from impossible.

FL-12: Open Seat (R)

Update: The original version of this post said Dennis Ross was a sitting state representative. He left office in 2008.

Hunger for some old-fashioned Democratic missed opportunities? Look to the 12th, where retiring Congressman Adam Putnam offered the left a chance for a pickup but where things just don't seem to be going right unless you are on the right. Polk County elections supervisor Lori Edwards, the likely Democratic nominee, has just over $103,000 cash on hand in a district that crosses multiple television markets. Former State Rep. Dennis Ross, now the most likely Republican candidate, has $440,000.

Meet Dennis Ross, future distinguished gentleman from Florida.

It looked at one point like he might have a tea party challenge by John Lindsay, but Lindsay's money has dried up, and he barely has $1,200 in the bank now. Meanwhile, Edwards must deal with a challenge by Douglas David Tutor, who has more than $25,000 to blow. Will that help upset Edwards? Of course not, but he could damage her a bit leading into the general. Normally, I don't mind the publicity generated by a primary, but Ross has enjoyed years of free media as a lawmaker and can now build up his positives through largely biographical marketing. Expect him to run away with this and keep the seat in Republican hands.

FL-22: Incumbent Ron Klein (D)

Well, here is one that may be more excited than many expected. Republican Allen West had a phenomenal quarter, raising $1.3 million. He now has nearly $2.2 million cash on hand, challenging incumbent Ron Klein's $2.9 million. If there is any devastating surprise waiting for Democrats on election day in Florida, it will happen in Fort Lauderdale. West is trying to be the tea party's answer to Alan Grayson, a tech-savvy national figure who can bottle national conservative outrage and direct it into electoral success.

Of course, that is Grayson's strategy for re-election. The Orlando congressman got into office with a self-funded campaign against a right-wing ideologue. I don't know if it will work as well for West, who has to unseat an incumbent. It didn't go well two years ago, when Klein cleaned West's clock and beat him by more than 10 points. But what all is different this year? Klein is a fighter, and so far has never been delivered an easy campaign in the House. He unseated incumbent Rep. Clay Shaw in 2006, then fought off West in 2008 triumphantly but expensively.

Still, most pundits list this one as a Likely Dem hold, and there is good reason. The district skews D+1, and Klein is an up-and-comer in the House. Democrats see a future here. He is running in southeast Florida, where you either have to be liberal or Jewish to win, and Klein is both. If Republicans catch a major wave this Fall, Klein is out, but as the tea party brand becomes more lodestone than lucky charm, I expect Klein will fend off this challenge. If he can nail another 10-point win, maybe he can even scare off a serious challenge in 2012.

FL-24: Incumbent Suzanne Kosmas (D)

Infighting may save the day for freshman Suzanne Kosmas, as a five way primary divides the right in this R+6 district. The link is to a Florida Today story on an internal poll touted by Ruth Chris Steakhouse flunkie Craig Miller to show he had a plurality lead among Republicans, but that 65 percent remain undecided. FEC reports don't show any more certainty, with Miller again leading with $326,000 cash on hand but Karen Diebel creeping up with about $255,000 and Sandy Adams close behind with just under $182,000.

Every one of those guys has enough money to win this if more than half of Republicans are truly uncommitted. That shows either hubris or anxiety on behalf of the GOP going into this race. Kosmas beat out incumbent Tom Feeney in this district in 2008, but had the perfect opponent. Despite the fact Feeney hand-drew this district for himself in 2002, he was plagued by Abramoff scandals and marred by all sorts of e-voting contract issues. The man was a poster child for what is wrong with career politicians.

But is Miller any better? He is wealthy, but his resume is ripe for attack. He is the classic failed business leader, just the sort of corporate villain the Democrats would like to see this year. And without Miller? While the other two major candidates could secure a spot on the November ballot, they have big strides to make in name recognition in order to beat Kosmas. The incumbent has more than $1.2 million cash on hand herself, and has nothing to spend it on but boosting her own positives until after the August primary.

While this race is one of only two marked toss-up by Cook Political Report, I don't believe it will stay that way forever. With no organized opposition, Kosmas may get an easier re-election bid than anyone could or should expect. This feels like a seat we will successfully defend.

FL-25: Open Seat (R)

Want to know our biggest chance at surprising the world? Look south to Joe Garcia's campaign to take the 25th. The presumptive Democratic nominee gave Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart enough of a scare in 2008 that Mario is running to his big brother's district next door to seek re-election in friendlier territory. In an anti-incumbent year and an R+5 district, we'd probably be better off fighting Diaz-Balart than Republican hopeful David Rivera, but lucky for us, Rivera has been a terrible candidate.

The biggest issue is probably his foreclosure connection to Marco Rubio. That story has statewide legs and has brought negative publicity for a supposed fiscal conservative. He is facing domestic violence accusations, always fun. He has also been using some questionable techniques to raise money at FIU, which were unsound enough to draw a rebuke from the university president.

As for money, Rivera still leads but not by an impressive amount. The Republican has $1.1 million cash on hand, while Garcia has just over $623,000. But Garcia doesn't need money as much. Rivera is a state lawmaker and has appeared on the ballot in part of this district, but Garcia has run district-wide. There were 115,820 people who voted for him in 2008, and that was during a presidential election. Hopefully he can mobilize those forces again and take this open seat from Republican hands. He is a proven vote-getter and a potential winner for the blue team.

Is it likely? I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say we have an uphill battle here. But it seems more likely Garcia will win this race than that West will beat Klein. Heck, I think this race is more likely to end up changing hands than Kosmas' seat. And without an incumbent, this one really is ours to win.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is it Over?

BP says the well is capped. They make no promises, and still refer to this as a test. But I think the caution is a welcome addition to the company's approach.

Seeing as the most attention this site ever got was when I called for a boycott of BP, it seems only fair I release the whole statement below. But I will also make clear I have no intention to stop by a station with the green and yellow logo on my way home to work today. This is not the end of our national nightmare. It is more like waking up the first time Freddie Kreuger showed up in a dream. You've gotten away from the frightening demon for now, but you know you will have to face the nightmare again. We still have millions of gallons on oil off our West Coast. It is still coming this way. And while this may help Tony get his life back, those of us living on the Gulf Coast will have trouble sleeping for a long time.

Here is the statement from BP:

Following installation of the capping stack and in line with the procedure approved by the National Incident Commander and Unified Area Command, the well integrity test on the MC252 well commenced today.
The well integrity test will last at least 6 hours and could last up to 48 hours. During the test, the three ram capping stack is closed, effectively shutting in the well and all sub-sea containment systems (namely, the Q4000 and Helix Producer systems) have been temporarily stopped. Although it cannot be assured, it is expected that no oil will be released to the ocean during the test. Even if no oil is released during the test, this will not be an indication that oil and gas flow from the wellbore has been permanently stopped.
Information gathered during the test will be reviewed with the relevant government agencies, including the federal science team, to determine next steps.
The sealing cap system never before has been deployed at these depths or under these conditions, and its efficiency and ability to contain the oil and gas cannot be assured.
During the well integrity test, operations on the first relief well have been temporarily stopped while the well was at 17,840 ft as a precaution. Operations on the second relief well have been temporarily suspended at 15,874 feet to ensure that there is no interference with the first relief well. The relief wells remain the sole means to permanently seal and isolate the well.

Prospects of Jeb! 2012

The splash on Huffington Post's homepage at lunchtime teases a prospect that frightens Florida progressives and tantalizes conservatives. That is, of course, the possibility of a Jeb Bush candidacy for president in 2012. Sam Stein writes a thorough exploration of the rising prominence of the younger Bush bro, and I must concede it is frightening for anyone who wants Florida to be a blue state two years from now. Of course, any speculation about when Jeb Bush runs for the White House is worthless until the conclusion of this election cycle, but it does now appear to be a question of when.

I won't pretend to know Jeb Bush is any deep way. Through a decade covering the Sunshine State, I interviewed him at least a dozen times, but my guess is if he saw me today, he would wonder from where he knew me, and after three seconds move on to another thought. But the casual familiarity is enough that family and friends often asked through the years what Jeb's ambitions might be in terms of higher office.

There was major speculation a year ago that the ex-governor would run for the Senate, but I knew then he had no interest in such an opportunity. Would he win? Sure. His presence would be enough to scare Rubio, Crist, and maybe even Meek off the ballot. Not only would he have been a favorite, he might have been the only credible candidate in the race. But a legislative body is no dream job to a retired executive. In Florida circles, it was well-known Bob Graham was never as happy in the Senate as he had been in the Governor's Mansion. For Jeb, the Senate would likely be even more frustrating. In Tallahassee he was boss, and during Bush's tenure, he ran the town when the Republicans held greater majorities in both houses of the Legislature than had been seen generations. Bush enjoyed that he could call a press conference and it would prompt immediate action from government officials around the state. While Jeb Bush is certainly charismatic in his own ways, he has never been collegial, and he had little patience for deliberating details of policy with peers.

A run for President, though, is another story. The White House would provide Jeb a greater bully pulpit than the governor's mansion, not a lesser one. He could once again call for legislation and know a Republican lawmaker would have something drafted by week's end. And he would have more minions answering to his whims. The Pentagon. The Treasury. Even international leaders. Every politician dreams of what it would be like to run the White House. As the son and brother of two presidents, Bush knows exactly what it would be like.

That said, I was present once when then-Gov. Bush was asked directly if he would ever run for President. Sitting officials are always guarded when asked about higher office, lest they suggest discontent with the job to which they have already been elected. But Bush seemed then to be genuinely grateful to have his job and let big brother handle the antics of D.C. There was more contention in Washington, he said. It has harder to make things happen, even things he felt should be easy to accomplish. It wasn't especially alluring, he said then. But like any seasoned politician, Jeb Bush would never say never.

Now the man is out of office, and has been playing a greater role in electing Republicans around the country than any expected him to play. While nobody was surprised to see Florida's most popular conservative backing Bill McCollum and Marco Rubio, he has been willing to share his influence outside the Sunshine State. He tossed an endorsement to Bradley Byrne, a Republican hopeful for governor of Alabama, and even tossed backing to David Casas in a state House race in Georgia. Part of his reason for supporting candidates in other states is to further his reputation as a voice in education reform, where brings certain financial benefits. But these endorsements make him friends in other states, something which could be important whenever he does run for president.

That said, I don't know that 2012 is the time to do it. Jeb Bush won't run unless he can win. He knows that, unlike governor, there are no second chances at the White House. He also understands the risks he takes through endorsements that will either help or hurt him in the near-term. Need a clear example? Both Rubio and McCollum as of today are losing their respective races for Senate and Governor. If that doesn't change, Bush's odds in 2012 are greatly diminished from the go. One of the best things Jeb has going for him in a presidential race is a perceived lock on the Florida vote, but if his support isn't enough to get prodigies elected in his home state, with a political landscape so favorable to Republicans, then he will have to sit 2012 out.

And of course, there is W. Even ignoring the monumental unpopularity which the last President Bush enjoys today, America likely suffers a good bit of Bush fatigue anyhow. I always felt the biggest liability facing Hillary Clinton in '08 was the sad prospect of the White House being occupied by only two families for 24 to 28 years. After one Obama term, would America be anymore willing to bring in another Bush? Won't national Republicans want to find someone outside the Bush dynasty who can win a presidential election?

Let me share a story from 2000 about when Dick Cheney came to Central Florida to campaign. I found myself on a local press bus that traveled 100 miles that day, and at the end I needed a ride from the campaign to get me back to my car, and on the way we talked about the governor. Jeb had traveled with Cheney all day, sharing his personal popularity in Florida at every stop. The adoration for the governor at rallies impressed the Cheney people, who by that point were already wondering what the younger Bush's future might be. They knew the governor at that point could win any office in Florida, even though his older brother was in a tight race there.

One wondered out loud if the younger Bush would run in 2004 should W. fail to win election. He wouldn't discuss that much further, though, as a lengthy hypothesis like that would be sacrilege during the late stage of the campaign. So I asked instead if Jeb seemed a good choice once his brother hypothetically finished his White House term. That elicited a laugh. "For Jeb, the best thing to happen would be for his brother to lose," the campaign aide said. "Otherwise, I think America is going to get sick of the Bushes."

Surely he never imagined then how unpopular Bush 43 would be, but his words are important today. If people in 2012 are genuinely seeking change and want an alternative to Obama, that doesn't mean they will be pining for another Bush.

Now if Jeb does run, Florida Democrats are in trouble. The national party may even decide early to kiss our electoral votes goodbye. Moreover, the coattails of a Bush candidacy would be incredible. Republicans statewide would be so energized in a very partisan way, and would come out in droved to vote a straight ticket. No Democratic Congressman in a tight re-election would want to run in that environment.

But it Democrats want that star power diminished at any point in history, they better find ways to beat Jeb Bush's slate of candidates today. If the Jeb! roster wins today, you better believe the man's reach will be longer tomorrow.

Money Still Matters Most

Bill McCollum's welfare campaign and Rick Scott's election purchase have taken the Republican primary into the courthouse, a great irony for the party which so fervently fights placing any power in the hands of the Florida judiciary. McCollum won round one of his court battle Wednesday, a surprise noted by Steve Singiser at Daily Kos, but getting stuck on the courtroom drama misses the greater point demonstrated in this war of riches.

If this decision stands, which is far from certain, it doesn't change that McCollum is being outspent by $25 million and has only $800,000 on hand six weeks before the primary. It also doesn't change the fact Rick Scott has no experience in public service, and his greatest private sector accomplishment was chairing a health care company that defrauded the federal government for billions. This is the worst viable candidate in the modern era with a real chance to move into the governor's mansion. No amount of ill-gotten loot buys this man credentials or erases his failures.

And yet he is winning. A Chamber of Commerce poll released last month showed Scott, a failed HCA executive, with a five-point edge over McCollum, a sitting attorney general who is running his fourth statewide campaign. On Monday, Reuters released a poll which shows Scott beating Alex Sink, Florida's Chief Financial Officer, by four points but shows McCollum barely losing to the certain Democratic nominee.

I know a lot of people are getting excited because this is the first poll in forever which shows Sink ahead of McCollum, but at this point I find it highly unlikely McCollum will make it through the primary. The amateurishness he demonstrated in dealing with Scott's upstart campaign has doomed him to another victory party where the balloons never drop. More disturbing to me is the now plentiful amount of polling data which shows Scott beating both McCollum and Sink. Often the differences are statistical ties, as is the case with the Reuters poll, but Scott clearly has the momentum.

Does anyone expect public financing to turn the tide? This strange and constitutionally-shaky law basically provides a dollar to McCollum for every dollar Scott spends beyond a public financing cap. But McCollum hasn't effectively used the money he has, and I doubt that will change when he gets his hands on taxpayer finances. Republicans complain about government waste? How about spending $6 million in state revenue trying to save Impeachment Bill's political hide?

That's a snarky comment, but I bet many of the conservatives voting in this primary will be upset by that irony. These same voters have shown no reluctance to embrace Scott's get-rich-by-any-means shenanagins. McCollum tried going negative on Scott, but it didn't work. Scott put out the "Unfortunately That's True" ad, which just may go down in Florida Politics history as the most brazen mea culpa to ever be featured in a multi-million TV blitz. I didn't think this sort of "I'm a Crook, So What!" message could resonate outside of Louisiana, but it did.

Clearly, McCollum didn't anticipate Scott surviving a storm of bad press. We know that because it seems to be all the Attorney General has talked about for the past two months. There are no ads touting McCollum's specific accomplishments as AG or as a member of Congress. He is running a losing campaign, and we are suffering the consequence. Indeed this is where the political incompetence of a failing former frontrunner has potential to doom us all. Scott will walk away from the August primary smelling like a winner, and he still leads Alex Sink in all polls.

So if McCollum gets his public financing, fine. It won't matter, but maybe he can use it to tarnish Scott's bad name a little more before moderate and liberal voters get a swing. But don't think Scott will stop campaigning just because he lost this court battle. Remember McCollum only gets money when Scott spends it, and Scott has shown a willingness to spend whatever it takes to governor. It just may work.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George LeWho?

Seriously, who gives a crap about this guy?

No really. His entire career has been as a lodestone around someone else's neck. He was never elected, and never ran for any office of any significance. He is a Charlie Crist chrony who just may face charges for all the crap at the Republican Party of Florida.

Now he has endorsed Marco Rubio for Senate. So he is also disloyal. Or maybe he is trying to help Charlie by slapping some of his slime on the Republican nominee. If Rubio actually wants this guys support, he deserves the baggage.

I wish I thought this would help Kendrick Meek, but this guy is so sleazy I don't think he can positively or negatively impact any campaign. He is a hack who served in the Senate just long enough to earn a line on his tombstone.

What a creep. Screw this guy.

P.S. When you slap your website across a web video, get the address right?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stop the King-Making

The invulnerability of incumbents in Florida was explored and verified by Politifact today, a day after a judge tossed a proposal by the Legislature intended to protect lawmakers' ability to craft an even stronger suit of armor. For those who witnessed the reapportionment process in 2002, all of this confirms just what a mess was made of the last redistricting process. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced that a better system will exist in two years, but forces of good are at work on the issue, and I wish them the best.

As I have written before, the over-exertion of political desires has always hurt reapportionment. Historically, those lawmakers who chair the committees in the Legislature tasked with reapportionment have ended up with Congressional seats of their own. Karen Thurman. Mario Diaz-Balart. Ginny Brown-Waite. Peter Deutsch. What do all of these current and former U.S. Representatives have in common? If you said they all ran away from their own voters to run in their brother's district, well, you only got one out of four.

But more than likely, you correctly guessed that each one as redistricting chair made sure districts were drawn which made their own promotion to the U.S. House much easier. This isn't about party. This is all about power, and very personal power at that.

Of course, there was something particularly disturbing about the way the process went down in 2002. It reached beyond a few specific districts, and was more important than the GOP's determination to get two to four more seats in Congress. While we in the press were focused on the upcoming Thurman v. Brown-Waite contest that would inevitably come, most of the lawmakers in Tallahassee were doing something more selfish. The GOP at the time had three-to-one control of the state House and near that in the state Senate. But the partisan domination was not the biggest thing that really happened that year.

The first wind I got of it came when all the state Senate districts got renumbered. Why would that happen, I asked? Soon it was pointed out to me that in most cases, even-numbered districts became odd-numbered. The reason was a complicated loophole in Florida's term limit rules, limits which had just gone into effect shortly before the redistricting process. Florida voters had decided "Eight is Enough" when it came to years of service for lawmakers. For those in the House, "Eight" meant eight. State representatives run every two years, and there was no way around that. But the state Senators found a fix. Because the even-numbered districts run staggered from the odd-numbered, changing the numerology offered the chance for incumbents to cheat an extra two years, presuming they had not already served their eight years and were not already planning to retire.

Too much techno-babble? Let me use this Central Florida example. I lived in District 11, and my state Senator had been elected to a four-year term in 1996, then re-elected in 2000. Every seat had to go up for re-election after redistricting, but theoretically,my Senator in 2002 should only have run for a two-year term, then been forced to retire. Instead, I suddenly found myself in District 20. That meant my Senator, after serving a four-year term and a two-year term, was running for another four-year term. If she had served out her term, she would have gotten 10 years before being term-limited. The same situation benefited nearly every Senator, regardless of party.

Incidentally, I was told then that state Sen. Dan Webster engineered this trick. He is now challenging Alan Grayson for a seat in the House.

But that was only the beginning. Even more discreet things were being done by the lackies drawing the lines. Computer technology offered lawmakers tools and skills unheard of in the prior 1992 redistricting process. Racial gerrymandering? Kid stuff. With new demographic software and precision election records, lawmakers could cut neighborhoods where they had performed poorly clear out of their districts. Democrats and Republicans could literally swap constituent strongholds. Sure, Democrats made a fuss about the GOP protecting its majority, but somehow lawmakers in hotly contested districts in 2000 suddenly had districts so one-sided challengers could not be found for them by November 2002.

Indeed, lawmakers suddenly found themselves better protected than ever before, enough so that the Legislature in 2004, which polls showed as the most unpopular in the nation, had every single member seeking re-election emerge victorious. This doesn't even discuss the number of districts where no re-election battle need be waged at all. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, more than half the state House districts in the state this year only have one of the two major parties competing for the seat, and many of those saw lawmakers elected with no opposition.

Fair Districts Florida wants the next process to go better. I have my doubts over how effective their ballot language will be. Promises to eliminate any "intent" not to favor a political party seem to me rather hard to enforce. But it's a start. Should they end up on the ballot, I will vote for Amendments 5 and 6. The intent is good, even if the proposals lack sharp enough teeth.

Of course, the amendments are being challenged in court as well, and by none other than Reps. Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. At least the two can each offer some humor to this saga. After getting elected in a new, custom-fit district in 2002, Diaz-Balart is running for his life away from his own voters and running for his retiring brother Lincoln's seat instead. (Get the joke now?) Brown represents one of the worst gerrymandered districts in Florida, one that actually had to be redrawn by a judge more than a decade ago but still looks crooked. These two are bipartisan poster children what is wrong with redistricting the way it works in Florida today.

With any luck, things will be better in the near future, but in the meantime I would rather not trust my political opponents with the redistricting process come 2012. If one party has 3-to-one margin control of either Chamber at that point, we are in for another decade of very ugly politics in the Sunshine State.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Insight on Grandmama's Politics

This week I buried my grandmother in Fort Lauderdale. In a beautiful Greek Orthodox ceremony, she was laid beside my grandfather on their wedding anniversary, and I said goodbye to the last of my grandparents.

But lest I stray too far from this blog's purpose, I am writing this not to grieve but to share some insight I gained into her world view in recent days. My grandmother, for as long as she was an American citizen, was always a Republican. But for most of my own life, the reasons for that have remained a mystery to me. I always credited a connection to the military, as she came to America after wedding a decorated Navy man. I am sure that was a part of it, but there was clearly more. I can't say growing up that I ever questioned it much. Mostly, for me, it was a source of frustration, and as I grew older I felt further confused by her devotion to the party, but powerless to change her mind.

My grandmother was an immigrant, and that alone, I believed, should disqualify her from GOP sympathies. Indeed while she never favored any instant path to citizenship, whether through amnesty or the no-strings 'wet foot dry foot' policy enjoyed by Cuban refugees, she was distressed by the xenophobic isolationism which drove modern conservative thought.

Beyond that, her great distress over the Iraq war left her angry and tearful. Growing up in Greece and raising my mother in Turkey, my grandmother felt great empathy for the people of the Middle East. The idea of American tanks rolling into Baghdad disgusted her in ways most in the U.S. could never understand. She lived in Greece when the Third Reich invaded. The Nazis killed her father, a civilian who had refused to flee to the caves with other members of his family. A military invasion wasn't something she knew only through cable news reports, and this part of the world wasn't somewhere she recognized only from magazines. I reminded her of that angst in 2004, but still she filled in the bubble on her swing state ballot that year to re-elect George W. Bush. I regret that my anger at her decision left me incapable of ever asking exactly how she could reward an administration that caused this destruction. I would like to understand that particular choice more.

But at a wake for her on Monday night, I got a peak into the Greek community of South Florida where she established her American identity. The event was a small affair. Sadly, many of her compatriots have already passed themselves, but some of the congregation members from St. Demetrius made sure to attend the blessing. My mother made sure to introduce me to a childhood friend of hers and an older colleague of my grandmother's. As happens when my mother identifies me as a journalist, the subject of politics inevitably came up. I learned that, like my grandmother, these women were all Republicans, and with an election so close, I quickly gathered whom everyone was supporting in the Senate race this year. South Florida may be a Democratic stronghold, but the couch in this funeral home was Crist country.

Now I know better than to start badmouthing Charlie Crist is room filled with Greek Republicans. Everybody there, my mother included, will almost certainly vote for the great tan hope this Fall. So I sat back and listened to the women discuss the state of politics today.

The discussion revealed to me the great discomfort many Republicans today feel about the extremists who dominate the media landscape. One woman had a daughter who worked for the Crist campaign until he left the party. The daughter, fearful for her own professional future, parted ways with the governor and is now working at a Republican Party of Florida office in South Florida. But there was no love for Marco Rubio, the disrupter who had ejected the governor from Republican politics.

Here in the most liberal part of the Sunshine State, the Republicans at the wake were not rightwingers. They had always viewed the GOP as a big tent. They saw room for conservation in conservatism. Social wedge issues weren't the prime motivator for going to the polls. Nobody discussed their views on abortion or gun rights, but it was clear wherever they stood on those topics that those issues were not the main reason they were registered with the GOP.

My own mother remains a registered Republican even though I don't think she has supported a GOP nominee in a presidential election during my lifetime. Her days of conservative activism were all part of an amusing past when I grew up. In college, she was secretary of a statewide Young Republicans group in the south, but insisted back then she was a Rockefeller Republican. I have teased her since that the Republicans she identifies with - the Jack Kemps and John Heinzes - are all long dead.

But it was clear this week that I was wrong, at least right now. Those conservatives who value fiscal principles over corporate welfare, who care deeply for the rule of law but don't care to use it as a tool for retribution, are not all dead and gone. They still exist, but they are out of power. And while I was never so concerned for their presence before, after laying my grandmother to rest I fear they are a dying breed.

It is worth noting that my grandmother, who was as Greek and Republican as they come, was not herself a big fan of Charlie Crist. She thought he was, to borrow her words, a bit too "sissy." I think I know what she meant, and have consciously chosen to stay away from that particular line of attack on this blog. I don't know how she ultimately may have voted in the election this year, but I am certain she would never have voted for a Democrat like Kendrick Meek. But based on the frustrations I saw in the social circle who felt close enough to attend her wake, I doubt she would be enthusiastic about Marco Rubio either. But that isn't important now. And I miss her so much I'd happily help her fill her absentee ballot out for anyone she so chose if I could have her back for a few months more.

But I do understand now why it was that she felt her loyalty. I got a glimpse into the Republican Party of the past, in a time when hatred, division and domination were not the only thing that attracted supporters to the polls on behalf of the GOP. And I can't help but think that if the same were true today, and that we were busy fighting a loyal opposition instead of a lunatic fringe, the state of the nation would be better for it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Special Session Called on Drilling

This news is long overdue, but quite welcome. Gov. Charlie Crist, according to the St. Petersburg Times, has called a special session of the Florida Legislature to debate placing a drilling ban on the ballot this year. If passed by voters, that would make a prohibition against oil drilling part of the Florida Constitution.

Of note, state waters extend 10 miles from the Florida coastline, so this wouldn't affect deepwater drilling. That is the perview of the federal government. And as we know too well now, our coasts can be threatened by an oil disaster hundreds of miles away from the coast. But this ban remains vitally important to protecting Florida's economy and ecology. Recall it was less than two years ago when the Florida House voted to give the Cabinet power to allow drilling as close as three miles from shore. That measure died in the Senate, thanks to Senate President Jeff Atwater, but was a significant demonstration of how much power big oil had harnessed in Tallahassee.

I lamented some time ago about the shift in Florida politics from a point when nearly every major political leader, from Jeb Bush down, was committed to saving our shores to a point where most state leaders, including Charlie Crist, favored oil exploration. Public opinion, sadly, also shifted rightward on this topic through the years. But the Deepwater Horizon disaster changed that. And I believe politicians recognize that. The most obvious sign, of course, is Crist, whose positions are historically less consistent than gelatin. Almost instantly after the BP explosion, Charlie changed his tune on oil, and within days touted opposition to drilling as a platform leg in his Senate run, leaving the impression to the ignorant that he fought offshore drilling for years.

But perhaps his chameleon-like change of mind can serve as leadership for our state lawmakers. Many who supported drilling in 2009 left voters back home aghast and confused. And that support for drilling was granted when most people in Florida supported drilling, and when re-election runs were more than a year away. That is not true today.

This session will run from July 20-23. Even if it runs long, a vote will have to be taken before Aug. 4 for a referendum to appear on the ballot this year. The next important date to consider is Aug. 24, when many lawmakers face voters in primary elections. The general election is Nov. 2.

Obviously, there will be politicians who confidently cast votes against a referendum regardless of statewide polls or the impending doom in the Gulf. Some represent inland counties, or extremely conservative areas. Amazingly, polls have shown the Panhandle to have the most enduring support for drilling, despite the fact tar is on those shores today. But my guess is most lawmakers will not want to vote in favor of oil company interests ahead of the needs and desires of most Floridians.

And everybody who does cast a vote against the ban will be on record doing so. The press will skewer them. The public will scorn them. And they will get a battering at the polls that has never been more deserved.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Oil Driving the Races

Some infighting among the Democrats running for Attorney General shows how much the oil spill in the Gulf will drive every Cabinet race in Florida this year. And it renews a bit of my faith in AG hopeful Dave Aronberg, even if it raises the prospect of the primary getting ugly. Indeed, the episode shows exactly why good primary races can make for better general election candidates regardless who wins.

The matter began earlier this month when it was revealed Attorney General candidate Dan Gelber's law firm took on BP as a client. Gelber told the Daily Business Review in mid-June that any connection between Akerman Senterfitt and BP was a non-issue in the campaign, but by the end of the month he had resigned from the firm over the whole affair.

The timing of the resignation, though, appears tricky. Aronberg on June 28 called for Gelber to resign from the firm. Then Gelber said he already had, and had done it because the firm took BP as a client, but just forget to tell everybody about that. But Aronberg continued to hammer Gelber, noting the North Miami Democrat wasn't exactly high-tailing it out of the office. "The Republican attack machine would have a field day with this," Aronberg notes. I tend to agree.

So finally the AG race gets interesting.

More than a month ago I was expressing some disappointment in Aronberg for not making oil a bigger issue in the campaign this year. As I said then, it is quite possible the next AG will sit on a Cabinet with the power to allow drilling in state waters, 3 to 10 miles from shore, and Gelber at that time was making far more noise about the matter. Since that time, Aronberg has joined Gelber is calling for a special session bannning such drilling, but was woefully late to the party. Now, he is here and fighting hard.

Of course, I am pretty sure Aronberg is wrong about there being any chance Gelber could be disqualified from representing the state as AG because of a connection to Akerman. Even if Gelber could not represent the case in person, he could put one of many attorneys working within the Attorney General's Office on it.

But raising this issue is good for Aronberg, and it is good for Gelber. Already, Aronberg has applied pressure that makes Gelber a better candidate by forcing the state Senator to disassociate himself from BP and Akerman in any way. And it also raises the profile of the race substantially. While nobody in this race is exactly a household name in Florida, Republican Jeff Kottkamp has a higher profile as Lt. Governor than either Gelber has as a state Senator or Aronberg does as a state Representative. And since Aronberg is best known in Southwest Florida, where Kottkamp also lives, upping the profile of the Democrats in this race is vitally important for him.

I think oil will be the most important factor in this race come fall. After all, Kottmamp's great contribution to the oil effort has been to organize a prayer. The Democrats, meanwhile, are engaged in a fiesty debate over who is best prepared to hold BP to task for threatening our coastline with the worth environmental screw-up in American history. You tell me who sounds more serious about serving the public? The AG office serves as the ultimate prosecutor working on behalf of the state, and holding companies accountable who threaten the public welfare is what its lead official should care about more than prayer circles.

Oil is already hitting Florida shores. Once our sands are infected with sludge, we should expect the mudslinging to have more sticking power.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Can't spell Nauseate with NASA

The increasingly partisan fight about the funding of human space flight has become more irritating in the months since President Obama first announced he would let the shuttle program end. While I initially met this news with a certain amount of anxiety, the complete hypocracy demonstrated by Republican leadership on this issue has done nothing but convince me a privatization of space exploration will have to happen.

For what it is worth I, as benevolent dictator, would institute a hybrid privatization where space ports like Kennedy Space Center remained government operations, but the actual space travel was done by commercial operations. As soon as I organize my Dungeons and Dragons group to lead an armed insurrection, you can expect this change on the Space Coast soon.

The irony, of course, is that I consider this a fairly conservative view. End socialist space flight. I can't even think of a different phrasing that would make this seem like a liberal pinko idea. Yet Republican politicians are so interested in saving the government jobs tied to NASA, you would think this a crazy communist plot. Read this post on The Daily Caller from Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt. He says Obama's plans will "forfeit America's leadership in space and unneccesarily cut thousands of jobs across the nation." Anyone wonder how Mr. Aderholt voted on the stimulus? Anyone surprised?

Of course, here is Florida, congressmen of all political striped are angry about NASA cuts. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, a Democrat facing a tough re-election bid this year, says Obama's plans to scale back programs like Orion will be "leaving NASA with no detailed plan or timeline for exploring beyond Earth's orbit" and will "cede our international leadership in space." While I disagree, I at least think Kosmas makes an argument consistent with what she stands for. The same can't be said for folks like Rep. Bill Posey.

The Space Coast congressman fought against a Constellation program cut, and in a statement afterward declared "House Democrats" had shot that down by closing the amendment process in the budget. Wonder how Kosmas feels about that. "The United States will soon yield its preeminence in space to Russia," Posey pleaded to Nancy Pelosi. So there you have it. Posey wants America to be more like Russia.

Obviously, members of Congress on either side are not really upset about a plan that loses "thousands of jobs across the nation." They are upset because it cuts jobs in their districts. Heck, if the jobs were spread more they likely wouldn't care. But especially irritating about folks like Aderholt and Posey is how fiercely they fight against the creation of any other government jobs. Republicans like to say government jobs don't count the same as private sector jobs, unless the jobs are at military bases or rocket launch pads.

And that is where the nauseating NASA defense sways me even more firmly into the commercial space flight camp. Maybe it took an inspiring message from Jack Kennedy to ever get a man on the moon, but today Richard Branson makes a lot prettier pitch. It seems to me the go-get-em entrepreneurial spirit of America which Republicans seem so willing to hang our economic hat upon may actually show more promise in the space program than in any other arena.

And if I'm wrong, then Richard Branson can always ask Congress for a bailout. And wouldn't the thrill of watching that vote go down be worth it?