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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Astronaut v. The Juggernaut

A new PPP poll is amping up the speculation on whether Jeb Bush runs for Senate in 2012. The poll shows that a whopping 72 percent of Republican voters in Florida would vote for Jeb as the nominee should he run. This comes on the heels of another PPP poll which shows Bush leading incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson 49-44 in a general election matchup.

Of course, it is utterly surprising that Bush should lead the pack. Not only is he consistently popular among conservative Republicans, many of whom long for pre-Crist leadership in Tallahassee, but he is by far the best candidate. The next most popular candidate in the new PPP poll is Bill McCollum, who lost to Bill Nelson in 2000, and more recently to Rick Scott for governor this year.

But the big question remains the same as it ever was. Does Jeb want the job? I have said here before that I don't believe Jeb will be that interested in a job in the Senate. Frankly, I think that still holds true.

Why? Because Jeb Bush, in his his heart of hearts, is an executive. He has little patience for the legislative process, and as governor tended to leave that sort of thing to his lackeys in the state House and Senate. He loves politics, but has a heavy distaste for legislating. In his role today, he gets to engage whenever he wishes in king-making and politicking. Since Marco Rubio, his favored Senate candidate, emerged a star of this election cycle, he maintains a tremendous amount of credibility within conservative ranks despite squishy feelings on immigration and the inescapable problem of having the last name Bush.

What could change his mind? If Jeb Bush is truly the only candidate in the field who can compete with Nelson, that could mean something, but a poll two years out frankly does little to indicate that. All of the politicians currently considering a run will spend the next year raising their profile, and given the right mix of political environment and luck, could beat Nelson. It would be easier for Jeb, no question, but it is not impossible for anyone.

But the flip side is that Jeb could also lose to Nelson. The earlier PPP poll shows Nelson in pretty good shape, able to beat anyone in the field besides Jeb, and only pegged him a few points below the former governor. Add in the mix an incumbent president who will probably spend a lot of time in Florida that year with Nelson by his side, and it becomes hard to underestimate the incumbent. The great backstory for Nelson, a seasoned politician who has been to space and Tallahassee alike, along with a Bob Graham-like record for pleasing everybody some of the time, makes Nelson as good a candidate as ever as he embarks on a third Senate campaign.

The area where Bill Nelson is hurting the most is actually with his Democratic base, and there is already a lot of chatter online about a primary challenge from the left. Should Nelson get booted in the primary, it could change everything, but right now there is no reason to think he would lose such a fight. And having a hard-lefty with less name recognition on the ballot is about the only thing that would make a cakewalk for Jeb.

None of this means Jeb won't run, of course. He would raise more money than anyone else, including the incumbent. I suspect if speculation reaches too high a volume, he will make his intentions known early if only to let the rest of the GOP field campaign in earnest.

But keep in mind that in 2010, Jeb would have run the boards. There would have been no Charlie Crist-Marco Rubio drama because neither would have stayed in that race. Kendrick Meek might still be in the House, knowing a run against Jeb was impossible for a South Florida liberal. That race was really Jeb's to lose, and instead he decided to sit it out.

I seriously doubt that he would take on as big a fight as ousting Bill Nelson to take a job he probably doesn't really want when he passed on a much easier fight for the same trophy just two years prior. This is fun speculating, but until Jeb says different, there is no reason to believe he will enter this race.

Does Any State Stick Out to You?

This is one heck of a graphic from the Washington Post.

foreclosure map

This data prompted the folks at Daily Kos today to call on the White House to consider a foreclosure moratorium. I would like to know if the Governor could institute a statewide moratorium. If any reader knows if that is legal or not, do tell. Clearly, the problem is much worse here than anywhere else in the United States. Consider we are the fourth most populous state, with 18.8 million living here, and you realize just how severe the problem is in the Sunshine State compared to elsewhere.

So how about a bold, lasting executive order from Charlie Crist during his last week? Or maybe a first order of business from Rick Scott to get on our good side?

Monday, December 27, 2010

As Transparent as Corporate America

Government in the Sunshine. The concept is at the core of Florida government perhaps more than any other single philosophy, and something which has historically made us the pride of the nation among open records advocates. Not only are our government records among the most accessible in the nation, but out meetings are in the open. And outstanding groups like the First Amendment Foundation found our elected officials to make sure we live up to all we intend to be.

That is why a recent article on Rick Scott in Time demonstrates exactly how hard a time the new governor is going to have when it comes time to move into the governor's mansion. He is a man who has never felt any need to tell you what he is doing, much less explain himself. Let's for a moment take his pressman Brian Burgess' word when he tells us Scott has a "very analytical mind," "sucks up information" and has "incredible problem-solving skills." We really have to, because Scott thus far has been unwilling to share much of a glimpse of his management style.

Truly, this is why the press this year has focused so much on things like Scott pleading the fifth 75 times during depositions, or with him refusing to discuss a pending legal case because it is a private matter. His political opponents point out those instances as signs he is not an ethical businessman. Perhaps, but the greater concern to those of us who watch politicians for a living are most concerned that Scott doesn't feel the public, or even in many cases those who work with him, need to know how he manages his affairs or runs a business.

This is especially depressing as Scott's "success" running a business is what he touts as the top part of his resume. (I put quotes around success because getting ousted from your job for a record fine isn't necessarily the best definition)

This approach is also impractical, which I expect Scott will learn in the very near future. That is because when the business you run is the state of Florida, everyone living here is a stakeholder, and the law not only discourages the keeping of secrets, it forbids it.

We do not need a WikiLeaks to gain access to the governor's communications. His emails, memos and phone records are all public record. All we need to do is make a public records request. And you don't need a Capital press badge to do that. Anybody, even if they don't live in Florida, need only place a phone call and officials are compelled to provide this information in a rapid and timely fashion.

Now, anybody who has made a significant number of requests knows the government can be less-than-forthcoming. They have even been known to fight requests until a judge settles the dispute. But if Scott decides to do that too often, he is going to find himself wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars on losing litigation, something which won't help his fiscal conservative street cred very much. Calling record request lawsuits frivolous may work once or twice, but will soon become a stale excuse.

The last governor to hail from the corporate world was Jeb Bush, though he probably was far better schooled on the workings of public life as the son of a president and brother of a then-governor. Even that didn't complete prepare Jeb, who in 2002 was famously caught on tape asking guards to "throw their asses out" when some lawmakers conducted a sit-in and his office. Jeb said he wanted the press thrown out, not the lawmakers, but that really doesn't matter. He learned quickly that working in public office sometimes meant your office was public.

Over the years, we have also seen the communication lines between the governor and others become increasingly accessible. The press can easily get anything sent on gubernatorial email accounts, and if Scott tried to send anything related to state business on a private account, they can get that too. If the press make a request and it isn't met, a judge can force the governor to turn over his personal computer to have it scoured for private emails related to public business.

Most people who live in public life understand this. It is why when Charlie Crist would go have a roundtable with business leaders, he would typically invite the press to sit in. I have personally attended some of those.

That isn't to say there will never be any private meetings. I recall a time in Leesburg when the governor had a private meeting with community college presidents. Some of the press had a hissy-fit about it, but the law allowed him to the group to close the meeting.

Those sorts of get-togethers, though, are more rare than the ones where a governor is expected to make his remarks in public. And even when such meetings are held, there is no expectation that those in attendance will keep their mouth shut about what transpires, and unlike a corporate CEO with the ability to fire leakers, the governor will be able to do nothing to dissuade people privy to information on public business from making that information public.

For a million reasons, Florida is called the Sunshine State, but for those of us who believe in transparency, the greatest reason we keep that moniker has little to do with the weather. And if Rick Scott can't get somewhere near the same page on that account, he is going to find himself under a storm cloud real quick.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Will Scott Run Florida Health Like HCA?

Perhaps it isn't surprising that Rick Scott would hold so much animosity toward the Department of Health, what with all that meddling and fining the government did based on the way he managed his private hospital chain. Based on that, I guess it is no surprise that his most scathing assessments of current state leaders has been of Ana Viamonte Ros.

She seems to be the first head to roll with this transition, although Scott certainly has no obligation to keep any department secretaries. But I want to know how a man with a record Medicare fraud fine is going to install anyone into that position without it looking like an injection of chronyism?

This is where we will begin regretting the election of a new governor who really ought to be pounding license plates for the State of Florida, not occupying the governor's mansion.

The question now is not what he will do to screw up health care in Florida, but whether the citizens of this fine state can take any of his so-called reforms seriously. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Happens With Two New Seats?

Since I have harped non-stop on how important redistricting is going to be this year, I can't ignore the revelation Florida will pick up two new Congressional seats based on the census numbers.

The big focus has been on how this affects the Presidential election, but as far as Florida is concerned, we were the biggest swing state before and we're the biggest swing state now. The big change is we are now effectively the same size as New York in the electoral college with 29 votes.

I actually think the impact on our Congressional delegation has gotten short shrift. The fact that Florida will have as many House members as New York is hugely important. And when the Legislature convenes to debate redistricting, it will be the all-consuming news story.

What to watch for? Who wants to go to Congress. In 2002, then state Sen. Pro Tempore Ginny Brown-Waite wanted to go to Congress, so the Legislature redrew Karen Thurman's district to force a turnover. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris also wanted a trip to D.C., so an open seat was redrawn around her home base so that she was guaranteed a ticket.

Perhaps most germaine to this conversation, though, is that state House Speaker Tom Feeney and state Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart had two brand new seats drawn for them in districts where no Democrat could beat them.

A decade later, I suppose it is quite ironic none of these lawmakers still hold those seats. But only Feeney lost re-election, and that only lasted one cycle. When the new Congress convenes and Sandy Adams gets sworn in, each of these tinkered seats will have a Republican representative.

Now Fair Districts or not, I do not personally think there is any way to stop the two new seats being drawn by the Legislature from becoming Republican seats. But I do hope the new amendment prevents tinkering with any of our seats. We have so few seats at this point, the GOP may really have to go out of its way to find a pickup. But our Democratic lawmakers do need to be vigilant on this.

I think the think to watch in the next year is who expresses interest in Washington. I have mentioned before that while state Senate President Mike Haridopolos wants to run for Senate, he may decide it is easier to create a custom seat. Lots of term-limited lawmakers are likely dreaming of Washington at this point in their careers.

The other thing to watch, of course, is the half dozen freshman GOP lawmakers who will have to run for re-election. How important will it be to lawmakers to keep these seats? I suspect in a less Republican-friendly environment that several, notably Dan Webster, Dennis Ross and David Rivera, would not have been elected.

How badly does the Legislature want to protect these new lawmakers? I suspect with Webster, quite a bit. They don't want this seat slipping from their hands again, and it is a seat that Obama won as it drawn right now. I don't know where Ross and Rivera fall on their priority list, but I believe Rivera has the potential to be the biggest embarrassment for the Republican caucus in Washington because his financial disclosure issues.

Anyhow, I believe we need to write the two new seats off, but it will be vitally important we make sure no shenanigans go on beyond that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

WikiLeaks Offers Info on Cuba

All the WikiLeaks attention so far has been on Afghanistan, but apparently there is some serious information about Cuba in the dump as well. The Miami Herald, relying heavily on Spain's El Pais, reports that Raul Castro apparently wanted to open secret talks in 2009, but that the administration seems more interested in waiting the Castro regime out and dealing with the next generation of Cubans.

Sadly, this likely means the administration is satisfied with the status quo regardless of any actions Raul Castro is willing to take, but it also shows an envisioned future of open relations with Cuba.

But the most important part of the glimpse at the cables is understanding the realistic philosophies regarding Cuban relations. As I have noted before, the political posturing around Cuba has always been far to catered for extremists within a politically-active population of Castro-haters in South Florida.

The cables seem to show the biggest motivation for limiting communication channels between the White House and the Castros is that the ruling family is becoming increasingly irrelevant within Cuba. That is valuable information, apparently based on ground assessments and revelations that the younger blogger class on the island is increasing filled with dissent. While I personally wish the State department would more earnestly begin good faith talks about ending the embargo, there does seem to be interest in changing the status quo. That seemed to be upheld by further reporting beyond the WikiLeaks dump.

From the Herald:
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday that U.S. and Cuban diplomats are in touch routinely, but ``a broader, higher-level dialogue . . . will only be feasible once we see real change in Cuba. . . . We have not seen anything approaching fundamental change.''

Read more:

Crowley, by the end of his statement, falls back onto the stick-in-the-mud rhetoric that every White House since Kennedy has chosen to adopt, but his words are not inconsistent with cables which suggest that "real change" may be on its way within the population of regular Cubans rather than the ruling class.

The documents seem to indicate an irritation on the part of the administration that rulers in Cuba only want to open U.S. talks so that U.S. aid can start coming to the island. This is the first time such a frank assessment has come to public light, and while it seems a bit petty, it also offers a genuine justification for the diplomatic recalcitrance that the administration has held onto.

The cables also indicate that the message mostly likely to spur change within Cuba is not a promise of improvements on the human rights front, the main focus of Cuban dissidents in the U.S., but on the opportunities for personal prosperity which come with open travel and communication with the outside world. Turns out they aren't that different from normal Americans, and are most easily wooed with a chance to get rich quick.

I would like to see what Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera and Bill Nelson have to say about these cables. I hope this leads to something constructive. It may lead to more brutish political statements intended to appease our own older generation Cuban critics. But I hope the revelations made public in these cables encourages a more honest conversation on how to move forward with Cuba.

Florida's Health Care Challenge

I wrote about the ongoing litigation nationwide a few days ago, but there is a much better write-up specific to Bill McCollum's wrong-headed challenge of ObamaCare up at the Florida Progressive Coalition.

The post does a great job of showing the special issues which are unique to McCollum's suit and which threaten the health coverage of millions in Florida.

Written by dantilson:

What he’s referring to is the fact that roughly half of the 32 million uninsured Americans to be covered by the new law will be covered by the federal-state Medicaid program, through very moderate expansion in its eligibility requirements. Regarding poverty issues in Florida, note that 2.7-million citizens, or roughly 1 in 7 people, are living under the poverty level. Florida has had the largest increase in that statistic of any state in the country since 2007. Ron Pollack, Executive Director of the national advocacy organization, Families USA, had a few other interesting facts to share with reporters in today’s conference call:

  • To qualify for Medicaid coverage currently in FL, a 3-person family (which must include at least one dependant child) cannot have a combined annual income of more than $9,700.
  • An individual with no dependant children cannot currently qualify for FL Medicaid coverage, regardless of income.
  • For years 2014, 2015, and 2016, the federal government will pick up 100% of the cost of every one of the state’s newly eligible Medicaid recipients who quallify as a result of the new rules. In following years, Florida will never have to pick up more than a dime out of every dollar in those costs, and there will be a gradual rise to that cap.
There is much more if you follow the link, which you should.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vouchers, the Republican's Public Option

As people in the last year tried to label the public option as a socialist plot, it struck me that the system the plan was most comparable too was not British health care, Canadian health care or Nazi health care, but Jeb Bush's plan for educational vouchers. Now that Rick Scott is planning to double-down on the education policy, I think it might be worth asking why the GOP is fine with using tax dollars for private education, but considers doing the same to fund health care for sick people is some type of Bolshevik plot.

First, a short primer on Bush vouchers. The A-plus plan never went all-in on vouchers, but said that children at consistently underperforming schools should be eligible to take government vouchers and attend private schools. As the link above notes, this ran into some church-state issues, though frankly, I think there were much bigger problems with the plan.

Now, the public option. As imagined by Obama and company, the government would require everyone to get insurance, the same way all children are mandated to go to school. If there was no insurance available through work or other reasonable means, then a citizen could enroll in a public insurance program. There was never anything imagined in the legislation about health providers working for the government, as they do in the UK, so the money for health care would be directed to private doctors and other providers.

(I realize these are very simplified explanations of both A-plus vouchers and the public option. Please don't throw minutia at me. I am talking about the basic political philosophies here.)

Now, does anyone see the similarities? For those who are underserved by the current status quo, the government will step in and empower a citizen with the funding to go seek a private alternative to solve their problems. The biggest difference I see is that Bush's education plan actually sought to take money away from schools to pay for vouchers, and nobody important in Washington has to backbone to push a system which takes anything away from private insurance companies.

I can tell you reasons why I think the public option is a reasonable policy in lieu of universal healthcare (guaranteeing all citizens have coverage without letting the insurance giants screw us over) and reasons why I don't think much of vouchers (the inequity of using tax dollars to send some children to private school where other children pay and the problems with not holding private schools to the same standards even though they begin receiving public funds).

But at a time when the right is calling insurance mandates "unconstitutional" and the public option "socialism," I wonder why requiring all children to go to school is not viewed as some kind of tyranny, and why setting up a program that diverts tax money into the hands of private sector education providers isn't viewed as some sort of bailout.

According to Mother Jones, Rick Scott is upping the ante and suggesting vouchers be available to a broader range of people. Call is universal education care.

The publication says he plans to give $5,500 vouchers for people to use for public, private, charter or virtual outlets, and even if parents can afford to send their kids to private school anyway, they can just use that money to buy a new printer at their house. I guess this is how Republicans deal with inequity issues.

There are so many reasons I see why this is bad policy from a liberal progressive perspective. But given the absolute derangement about the public option, I don't understand how the modern conservative can stand for this type of "reform" in education without being lambasted as some hind of Soviet operative breaking into their ranks. I mean, why not just have the government pay people for going to school? Why not force teachers at private institutions to get their checks signed by the state?

But I guess this is the socialist public option that Republicans can get behind.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In Defense of Sink

I find it curious that Chuck Todd would focus so much on Florida this year, but take serious exception to his naming Alex Sink the worst candidate of the 2010 election cycle.

Certainly, Sink made some missteps, most notably in trying to force Bud Chiles out of the primary. That contest could have raised her profile and aired all dirty laundry early rather than fighting off attacks from Rick Scott in October.

But in general, I think Sink ran an outstanding campaign. Her biggest problem was a GOP tide that seemed to sweep the nation, something which led to Democratic losses in every statewide contest and in every Congressional race which was at all competitive. Why should Sink take all the heat for that loss?

Todd's explanation, via the Palm Beach Post:
"You lost to a guy who defrauded Medicare, in Florida! Okay? More people on Medicare in Florida than maybe any other state."

But Todd's criticisms seem aimed exclusively at Scott's weaknesses as a candidate, not in the way in which Sink ran her campaign, or in her own qualifications for governor. Why wasn't Bill McCollum also included on the list today, then? He, after all, couldn't even convince party regulars to get him through the Republican primary against Scott.

The reason Rick Scott won is because of money. Plain and simple. Those senior voters Todd seems to allude to, many of whom retired her with amazing pensions and who have no need for Medicare, are more affected by television advertising. They don't sift through the blogs all day. They don't spend all their time personally researching candidate's backgrounds. They allow the war to be waged during commercial breaks during golf tourneys and soap operas.

Sink certainly devoted an enormous amount of advertising to exposing that record. I think few voters were left unaware come November that Rick Scott has pled the fifth 75 times.

The race was up and down all cycle. In early October, Scott was riding momentum from a primary win pretty strong. But in the following weeks, Sink pulled ahead. It wasn't until the GOP machine, focused on retaking the House of representatives, started to get into gear that a wave took the nation, and the state.

That seemed to swallow campaigns which otherwise had the upper-hand. Ron Klein was leading in most polls until the last few weeks. Joe Garcia once held a strong edge over David Rivera. Yet they both got trounced on Election Day.

Remember, Alex Sink's loss was the closest of any contested race in Florida that held any national significance. She fought off the impending GOP wave better than any other politician in Florida. It just wasn't enough. She was no Harry Reid, but she didn't run a poor campaign either.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bring Back the Public Option

A judge in Virginia has ruled ObamaCare, or rather the insurance mandate, unconstitutional.

Now, I'm no constitutional law expert, so I will leave the fine print to other bloggers on the left and right. But from what I gather, the biggest problem with the provision, according to this Bush-appointed federal judge, is that the mandate serves as a punishment for failing to buy health insurance.

To me, the solution seems pretty clear: Bring back the public option. It was really a travesty when the Obama administration was willing to negotiate that out, and a telling sign of what the GOP's real agenda was that eliminating a provision guaranteeing access to health care for poor people while doing so little to knock the mandate out.

But having a government-provided alternative to private insurance would, it seems to me, remove the punitive nature of a mandate for inactivity.

Even better idea? Universal health care available to all citizens, not just veterans and seniors.

Anyhow, I guess this ruling will fuel Pam Bondi's efforts to continue Bill McCollum's wrong-headed Florida lawsuit. But none of this matters until the Supremes rule, and even then, these provisions don't go into effect until 2014. That gives the right some extra time to argue why, proponents of personal responsibility that they are, people shouldn't have to have health insurance at all, and that people can already take their kids to the emergency room.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Alex Sink and Progress on Sexism

Something struck me the other day as I was contemplating the governor's race this year. So many reasons have been brought up to suggest exactly why we lost, but the absence of one reason shows me there is at least one culture war we won. I have heard nobody, not one person, suggest the reason Alex Sink lost is that she was a woman.

Is sexism dead? I think it's a little too soon for that conclusion. But consider that just two years ago, it was totally acceptable to attack Hillary Clinton on totally sexist grounds.

Rick Scott called Sink a debate cheater, an SBA screw-up, and an Obama clone. But not once can I recall him using gender-derogatory language, and I can't find it on Google either.

This seems to me a pretty big accomplishment after such a sexism-tinged election just two-and-a-half years ago. And sure, our candidate kind of had a guy's name, but this was a very high-profile race, and one that was a real squeaker.

So the fact it was not considered fair game to attack her based on gender, and as far as I can tell no one in the Scott camp even considered doing it, I think some pretty good stuff was accomplished this year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Private Spaceflight is the Future

Even as the fight for more shuttle flights continues in genuine bipartisan fashion, something truly important for the future of exploration occurred yesterday. The SpaceX Dragon launched from Cape Canaveral and landed.

As I have noted before, many of those politicians fighting so hard for socialized space exploration are completely hypocritical as they preach about the need to cut government spending. Yes, the government should have a role in space exploration, but after losing two shuttles and dragging our feet on significant advancements for the past four decades, it is clear to me that private spaceflight is the way of the future.

The only bright side I saw to the extension of shuttle flights was that it could bolster Suzanne Kosmas' chances of re-election. That didn't pan out. But with a new Congresswoman, one who hails from a movement all about the free market, I would like to ask now that the focus of Space Coast politics shift a little bit more toward assisting companies interested in exploration.

I hope Rep.-elect Sandy Adams, who comes into office weeks after SpaceX made it in and out of orbit safely, sees this shift as a positive one. The same the death of Disney's Orlando animation offices gave birth to a thousand locally-owned animation companies, so could the loss of the shuttle program create enormous private sector opportunities in the Cap Canaveral area.

If I were a benevolent dictator, I would maintain government operation of space ports like the Kennedy Space Center but completely privatize space exploration. If the government still kept a small fleet of space-capable vessels, or if the military ever had a genuine national interest to promote separate from exploration, the facilities of course would remain available the same way Air Force One can land in any airport in America. But the bulk of space exploration in the future needs to be done by private interests, not public ones.

The only reason this approach lacks political popularity is that it is marked with fear of the unknown. Until now, there hasn't been a lot of faith that SpaceX and other companies could pull off successful missions outside of Earth's atmosphere. Perhaps that will change after today. We will see.

But there is every reason to believe that the end of the shuttle program will bring with is more job opportunities than it costs. Private launches open the possibility of space tourism, and allow for more flights and more research being done by far more companies that currently can save space in the cargo bay.

Private companies will create more vessels than the handful of shuttles launched since the 1980s. Will there be crashes and tragedies? Of course. There are airplane crashes and automobile crashes now that cost us many lives every year, far more than the 24 astronauts who died serving as part of an elite but far-too-small force. But those tragedies will be met with swift responses, not the 30-month stop after the Columbia disaster or the 32-month delay after the Challenger explosion.

My point is not that space should become to frontier of careless profiteers. This new industry must be regulated heavily from the start, the same way airlines have to abide by strict protocols and regulations. But this is a new and exciting industry, one that should bring enormous economic growth to Florida, Texas and California.

And what an exciting industry at that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Bad Deal

Never has a primary challenge for Barack Obama seemed as viable as it has this week.

Larry Summers is daring suggest that failing to extend unemployment along with giving more tax cuts to the rich would bring on a double-dip recession. I say giving the tax cuts to the rich in the first place were why we had the first dip, and doing it again would be absolute folly.

All of this is fueled, of course, by the fact that the Obama White House cut a deal with the GOP at a time when the Democrats in Congress were doing just fine dealing with the problems of the day. As noted here last week, the Democrats passed a tax-cut for the middle class without the tax cut for the rich. The machinations of the Senate may have made such a feat harder there. But the fact is, no deal was necessary.

So let's figure what would happen if votes were held to extend unemployment and tax cuts for the rich, but through the use of the filibuster and other legislative shenanigans, nothing became law? Then the GOP would get the credit for blocking any stimulus effort.

Then come January, the House would turn red, the GOP Senate minority would grow, and the public would know full-well that any problems legislatively would be coming from the right, not the left.

Instead, with a lame-duck session in which Barack Obama will enjoy majority control of both chambers for the last time in his first term if not his entire presidency, he has capitulated when no such action was warranted. Want the GOP agenda forwarded so badly? Wait until Congress convenes next year. They will screw this economy good then. Just wait.

My point is, any double-dip in the recession which results from poor decisions in Washington will be on the shoulders of the GOP. Frankly, I don't think an economic recovery is nearly as dependent on Washington right now as many in the Beltway would have us think. So I don't think the political risk that comes with good policy, especially a risk taken two years before the next federal election, is too great.

But an extension of such deplorable policy as zeroing the estate tax even while tax increases take place for the poorest taxpayers would do tremendous structural damage long-term for an already broken American economy.

Obama came in with a plan to fundamentally change the financial system in America so it longer punished the middle-class to benefit the rich. But since taking office, he has moved closer to Wall Street and further from America.

Democrats should save the White House from its own madness. Our House members and Senators need to reject this deal. If that means unemployment extensions have to wait until January, so be it. Let's see how serious Republicans are then about saving this economy once they have to govern instead of choosing to obstruct.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Listen to Jeb on Immigration

It truly is a shame when a Republican speaking sense is a clear sign he isn't running for president. But Jeb Bush joked this week that his opposition of irrational immigration reforms were a sign he was not running for office.

His prospect-ending position? That Hispanic people not be required to carry proof of citizenship to the grocery store.

Via the Denver Post:

While (Bush) is sympathetic to the plight of Arizona officials forced to deal with all the problems linked to a porous frontier, he believes there are solutions other than a law criminalizing illegal immigrants, he said.

"It's the wrong approach," he said. "The net result is not much has been done."

Read more:In visit to Denver, Jeb Bush says he doesn't agree with Arizona's immigration law - The Denver Post
Read The Denver Post's Terms of Use of its content:

That's the problem with Jeb Bush in the eyes of the ideological right. He looks at results. The Arizona law is a racist in its generation and impractical in its execution. Certain elements in the law allowing citizens to sue if cops aren't being racist enough make it morally, and probably legally, detestable.

Of course, when Bill McCollum said "We don't need that law in Florida" it won only suspicion and scorn from the tea party-dominated Republican primary electorate. Full-throated support of the law won Scott attention on the right, and ultimately got him into the governor's mansion. All indications are that a new law will be passed by the Legislature this year that looks more like the Arizona law than anything else.

But it would be nice if the Republicans in the Legislature paid some heat to Jeb Bush. He worries such a law would be so broad his own children couldn't walk around without being deemed suspicious. In a state where so much of the Hispanic population hails from Cuba, and who are therefore legal by right of standing on dry land, shows why this law makes even less sense in Florida than it does out West.

We will see if one of the leading conservative thinkers in Republican policy still has enough pull in a state where he served as governor for eight years to stop this so-called reform.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Omission of Oversight

The future of government is Florida is pretty bleak right now, and I think some readers are correct to anticipate legislation like the teacher pay bill will be coming back in the coming session. Now, I don't know that everything will return in exactly the same form, but the bigger problem we face as citizens in Florida is that this go-round there will be virtually no scrutiny on lawmakers as they play with our government.

I think the teacher pay bill will come back, but it is telling the Legislature did not simply override Charlie Crist's veto last month when they were in special session. Other high-profile legislation, such as the abortion bill, also were passed over, but I think the Legislature this year will simply do something even more Draconian.

This is a Legislature where right-wingers have unprecedented control over the lawmaking process, and one where leadership is already spitting in the eye of dissent. See, for instance, the early remarks of Speaker Dean Cannon. He attacked both the courts and Congress as he boldly stated Republicans the Florida House were new kings of the universe.

Via the Miami Herald:

Cannon criticized ``government run amok'' in Washington and blasted Congress for ``taking over banks and financial institutions . . . socializing medicine . . . and trampling the property rights of citizens and the sovereignty of states.''

He criticized the Florida Supreme Court for striking three constitutional amendments crafted by the Legislature from the November ballot, saying the work of lawmakers was ``demolished by five unelected justices on the Supreme Court.''

Cannon, a lawyer who personally defended the Legislature's substitute amendment for two redistricting referendums backed by Democrats, called the court decisions to strike down the proposals and congressional actions ``just a few examples of threats to freedom,'' but added ``there are many others.''

Read more:
Notice, this isn't just judicial activism anymore, but apparently legislative activism but higher legislative bodies. No branch of government dare trounce on the will of the House representatives.

To describe a Legislature-generated constitutional amendment intended to undermine the voter approved Fair Districts referenda as a "freedom" under threat is the ultimate in hubris.

But why focus on all of this. 'The elections are over, Jake,' you say. 'Now we need to focus on issues.'

Sadly, politics is the biggest issue facing the state right now. We have no minority party with any standing to act as even a speed bump in the legislative process. We have a governor with no interest in moderating legislation, and no power to do so even if he wanted. And we have lawmakers already planning to challenge Roe v. Wade, gut teacher pay and block federal healthcare reform. Those hated courts are the only left to stop legislation, and judges will only stand in the way of the most heinous over-reaches.

That means the top priority of progressives in Florida right now is not trying to block legislation passed this session. It is to convince voters throughout the state that we need to reverse some of these acts. Our biggest legislative focus on the next two years has to be on getting a fair shake in the redistricting process, and sadly, our best options there may also be within the courts. While I doubt Fair Districts will have an enormous effect on the process, it at least offers a judicial release valve. We need to fight for decent redistricting both in Legislature and in the state and federal courts.

But most of all, we need to prep for 2012. A president will be on the ballot then who will do what he can to activate the Democratic base statewide, and we need to make sure local parties and Democratic candidates all the way down the ballot are prepared to fight for votes. We need to be able to take back seats in the state House and Senate which were lost this year, and take a few back that never managed to get into play.

Florida is a state where Democratic voters far outnumber Republican ones, but where Democratic lawmakers are a dying species. And every year, those Dem voters become a little more liberal. WE must convince those voters that what is happening in Tallahassee is just as important as what takes place in Washington, D.C., if not more so.

We face tremendous challenges as progressives in Florida, but we also are faced with an opportunity. We will learn in the next two years what one-party rule truly means in the Sunshine State. We will see what happens when one extreme end of the political spectrum is allowed to run amok in the halls of the state Capital. And we need to seize the change to bring about change.

This cannot be done by Barack Obama. It cannot be done by the few Democratic lawmakers allowed to step foot on the floor of the state House and Senate. It must be done by us. It must be done by grassroots, netroots and the average Democratic voter.

And that is why I continue to focus on politics. All we have left is ourselves.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

At Last, I Hate Allen Boyd (and now Ron Klein)

Update: To be fair, Boyd did end up voting for the Middle-Class tax cuts when they hit the floor for a final vote. The test vote I refer to below was held in advance, which is when Boyd and others tried to stop this vote from even happening. He was among 13 Democrats who voted against this in the test vote, but then switched his vote.

BTW, does it seem strange that Ginny Brown-Waite and Adam Putnam missed this vote entirely? Maybe Putnam is in transition mode for Agriculture Commissioner. But has Brown-Waite just completely checked out already?

Update 2: Omigod, Ron Klein ended up voting Nea? Even when Boyd flipped? Perhaps I need to send some vitriol toward the East Coast as well.

Right after the elections were done, I noted that I wished I hated Allen Boyd as much as many liberal bloggers hated the Blue Dogs. If so, perhaps it would have softened the blow of losing every single competitive Congressional race in Florida.

Today, I say happily that Boyd has given me enough reason to spew venom his way. Boyd was among 33 Democrats who crossed party lines to vote against a test vote on the tax cut for the middle class. Combined with his recent railings against Nancy Pelosi, I have lost all respect for the outgoing Democratic congressman.

It is one thing to be conservative on gun rights and other social issues which simply don't play well with Panhandle voters. Heck, I can even believe Boyd holds those views sincerely. But today, he voted against the interests of his constituents. And if he really cares about keeping taxes low, he missed the chance to reduce them for 98-99 percent of those living in his district.

Of note, other Democrats who supported extending all the Bush tax cuts still ended up voting for this legislation. For example, Suzanne Kosmas supported all of the Bush cuts. But she wasn't about to vote against extending them just for those making up to $250,000 so she could hold out for the top 2 percent of Americans. She is in exactly the same situation as Boyd now, having cast very centrist votes but still getting punished by Republicans on Election Day.

Of course, Kosmas will likely have a chance later to vote in favor of the tax cuts for the rich. Fine. So will Boyd. But today, he said he wouldn't help the middle class unless he was certain the rich got theirs.

Congressman Boyd, you will not be missed by many Democrats in Florida. Don't believe for one second that you can come back in two years and run as a Democrat. Your plan to be a Republican in Blue Dog clothing finally backfired in November, and as your legacy, you have dropped all pretense of being a Democrat at all. The middle-class tax cuts passed despite your objection, so all you earned with your 'no' vote was a helping of shame.

But at least you have made otherwise difficult-to-stomach election results a little easier to swallow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Drilling Ban Extended for Seven Years

This is very promising.

Ken Salazar today announced the White House is supporting a ban on drilling in the Gulf for the next seven years. It's about time.

Via CNN:
Obama's decision effectively reverses White House plans announced at the end of March to open the Gulf region -- along with other large swaths of U.S. coastal waters -- to oil and natural gas drilling.

Under the plan, roughly two-thirds of available oil and gas resources in the eastern Gulf would have been opened to drilling. Areas located within 125 miles of the Florida coast would have remained off limits.

Salazar said the seven-year ban is being imposed as a result of lessons learned from the April 20 explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf, which killed 11 people and triggered one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

I hope this ban is serious, not like when the White House post-BP announced a moratorium but continued to issue drilling permits. I have been irritated by Obama's squishiness on drilling for a while. Considering most Republican leaders don't care to touch this issue, regardless of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, I think it is a wise political move as well.

But only if Obama is serious and sticks to his guns.

Is Florida a Priority for Scott?

Perhaps I shouldn't harp too much upon it as 14 other GOP governors are doing the same thing today, but I find it a bit discouraging that before even taking office, Rick Scott is in Washington, D.C., pushing a right-wing federal agenda with John Boehner. Politico reports the governor-elect is one of the power players which Boehner wants advancing his agenda from outside the Beltway.

Politico also refers to Scott as a GOP "star," which makes me cringe, but I digress.

What saddens me, even if it doesn't surprise me, is that Scott's obsession with Obama's policies still seems to be driving his public actions. Discussions today apparently will touch upon repealing ObamaCare, something Scott openly advocated on the campaign trail, even though that discussion should not involve governors at all.

Floridians, myself included, should be trying right now to put aside the heated campaign rhetoric that accompanied a super-tight election this year. But I am concerned Scott sees his role not as chief executive for the state of Florida but as the primary campaign leader in Florida against the Obama White House entering the 2012 elections.

If riling Obama is the top priority for Scott, then I fear he will squash high-speed rail Kasich-style just out of spite. I suspect federal stimulus funding, programs which whether he agrees with them or not do not burden state government one iota, will be rejected at the cost of state jobs.

Rick Scott this fall rode a wave of discontent with the status quo to a narrow election victory. While I didn't care for his rhetoric, I cannot blame him politically for keeping the discussion focused on forces outside of Florida. In a perfect scenario, Alex Sink and state Dems would have been able to focus the conversation onto the specifics of the governor's race rather than on the state of Democrats' unpopularity nationwide. But keeping the right angry and the left depressed made sense for Scott.

Now though, he has a real job. He cannot keep campaigning against the Obama and the Democrats in Washington if he expects Florida to "get to work." He better get to work himself on some real governing, and that probably means spending a little more time in Tallahassee and a bit less in D.C.