Archive for October, 2007

Legislative Lovefests Lost
October 31, 2007

Just back from Tallahassee where, once again, Gov. Charlie Crist got to proclaim victory at the close of another special session, saying his throat was raw from phone calls to lawmakers in support of a tax-cutting Constitutional Amendment. Not surprising that a Gov with approval ratings tickling 80% has some pull with other politicians, but this special session ended without one of the Crist-led lovefests of sessions past.
When lawmakers “cured” insurance and tackled prop tax reform (unsuccessfully) in June, the Gov gathered leaders from both chambers and both parties and praised their can-do spirit and cooperation. Muted strains of “Kumbaya” were only in my imagination, I think, but that was the tone Crist took.
This time, the Governor’s tone was the same, but it was jarringly out of sync with the mood of the day. He strode into his briefing room to meet the press and deliver hugs and backslaps with a small group of lawmakers– all Republicans, and all Senators, save for one Rep.
The Lauder-in-Chief did make sure to compliment Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller of Cooper City for casting a vote in support of the tax-cut plan.
But his remarks about House leaders were more restrained. Crist acknowledged the “passion” House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami brought to the issue of tax cuts, neglecting to mention that Rubio had spent the day blasting the tax-cut plan as a “missed opportunity” to jump-start Florida’s economy with real and meaningful tax cuts. Rubio wound up supporting the tax amendment the Governor was celebrating, and did not criticize him directly.
The ever-effusive Governor even came close to actually saying something negative about House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, questioning some of Gelber’s claims in floor debate. The Gov quickly added, “but I love him”.
And Crist couldn’t help but try to hug the House of Representatives a little, though its leaders were absent and most of its members had blasted the tax-cut plan as weak tea, passed it while holding their noses, and left the capitol quickly and in disgust. The Gov called a startled freshman Rep. who’d wandered in, Hialeah’s Eddy Gonzalez, to the mike.
Gonzalez mumbled something about the amendment being a “great start for Florida”, though when I’d talked to him in Tally’s airport that morning, he’d said pretty clearly he wasn’t wild about what the Senate was forcing him to vote on.
The big question for the future– is the Legislature done with tax-cutting now? Leaders in the House certainly hope not, but there are indications that Senate leaders have no stomach for further hand-to-hand combat over tax cuts.
And the Governor who recently said, as a former college football QB he understood the value of moving down the field 10 yards at a time, implied he might be ready to punt.
A reporter asked whether the Gov felt property taxes had “dropped like a rock”, as he’d pledged they would. Crist said, taxes had been cut $15 billion (over 5 years) in June, with voters able to deliver another $12-billion cut in January. “$27-billion sounds like a rock to me”, said the Gov.
A lot of House members complain– it still feels pretty much like a pebble. The strains of “Kumbaya” may be fading on this subject.


Crist’s BSO Pick
October 16, 2007

Gov. Charlie Crist will soon fill the vacant Broward Sheriff’s Office job, and his choice may offer some insight on how far off the Republican reservation this maverick Governor is willing to roam.
Crist, of course, is already outraging many in his party by his consistent “governing from the middle”. I grabbed a few quotes about the Gov off the St. Pete Times political blog just this evening:

“I knew he wouldn’t be as conservative as Jeb. I just didn’t think he would be more liberal than Debbie Wasserman Schulz (sic).”
“Crist is a joke.”
“Don’t blame me I voted for Tom.” (Gallagher, Crist’s more conservative primary opponent last year).

These critiques are fairly typical of what conservative Republicans have been blogging for months now. They see Crist as a turncoat, championing “liberal” subjects like global warming and restoration of felons’ civil rights, but all-too-ready to compromise his tough talk on tax cuts in this rubber-meets-the-road special session.
So will Crist cross party lines in filling the top elected job in Florida’s most Democratic county?
By my count, he’s interviewed 7 Democrats and just 3 Republicans, so far.
His first choice may well have been a Democrat who wasn’t interested– St. Rep. Jack Seiler of Wilton Manors, who says Crist sounded him out about the job, early on. Seiler, however, wants to run for Ft. Lauderdale mayor next year, and shot down the idea of taking the sheriff’s job as anything but a temp gig.
Seiler has offered advice to Crist about his Broward choices, and another prominent South Fla Dem is also weighing in. House (D) leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach has reportedly put an old friend and colleague from the U.S. Attorney’s Office into the running for the Sheriff’s job.
Jeff Sloman’s quoted in the Herald as saying: “I never thought of applying for the position until Gelber came up to me…” He applied Saturday, and was interviewed by the Gov Monday, according to the Herald.
There seems to be a lot of Democratic input in this Republican Gov’s choice, though I don’t pretend to know the whole roster of pols that Crist or his Chief of Staff, George Lemieux (a former Broward GOP Chair) are contacting on this pick.
The 3 Republicans reportedly interviewed so far– acting Sheriff Al Lamberti, former Sheriff Nick Navarro, and the Chief Legal Counsel at the Miami-Dade Police, Glenn Theobald.
One Crist confidante told me– keeping Lamberti in the job in an interim capacity (until the elections in November ’08) is the most likely option if the Gov wants to pick someone from his own party, though this assessment preceded Crist’s interviews with the candidates. Crist has said Lamberti’s doing a good job so far. The 29-year BSO vet clearly knows the department. If appointed Interim Sheriff, Lamberti might run again next year, on the GOP line.
Why would Crist choose a Democrat? The reading I get from both parties is, it would be a recognition that Republicans, now down to just 26% of Broward’s registered voters, have no shot at winning a countywide election, even with a relatively apolitical police pro like Lamberti as their standard-bearer.
It was 15 years ago that Republican Navarro occupied the post. Back then, Democrats actually had a bigger chunk of the Broward electorate (over 55%, as opposed to 51% now), but Republicans were in the game, with a little better than a third of the electorate. Now, Broward may be “Mission Impossible” for the GOP in a Sheriff’s election.
So Crist may want to install a Democrat he has some relationship with, perhaps someone who would ward off a bid by a more partisan Dem (ex-State Sen. Skip Campbell’s interested in running for the job next year, but did not apply to be considered for appointment by Crist).
This week, the tax-cutting agenda of the special session may dominate the Governor’s attention, but he was saying last week he was ready to act “soon” on the Broward vacancy. It will be a fascinating choice that will shed light on the relative weight this Gov gives political vs. personal vs. professional factors.

Special Session– Day 1
October 3, 2007

Just a minute after the gavel banged down to open this session, St. Sen. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens made it clear, in prayer, that the Democratic minority wouldn’t go along quietly with the budget deal legislative leaders have worked out.

After blessing those leaders and asking for divine wisdom in dealing with a “complex and devastating” budget crisis, she implored her fellow lawmakers to “remember the children” and “people on waiting lists”… a not-so-veiled slap at reductions in education and social programs.
Republicans– including the Governor– point out that whatever reductions are on table are merely the scaling-back of hefty increases that passed back at the regular session last spring, when tax dollars looked more plentiful.

The Gov says he’s still keeping an open mind about the 5% tuition increase lawmakers are proposing for students at state colleges and universities. But he vetoed it once last spring, and sure sounded like he might do it again, talking of residents hurt by soaring taxes and insurance costs, and saying “I don’t want to burden them more.”

The Democrats complain– the Republicans in charge of the process won’t even consider ways to raise more revenue, like repealing some of the tax cuts for better-off citizens that have been enacted in the last few years.

House and Senate met for only minutes. They’ll work in committees for a few days, with each chamber re-convening Friday to pass some version of spending cuts. Then they return home for the weekend, since Parents Weekend at FSU will fill most every hotel room in the area.
Next week, House and Senate negotiators will work on resolving differences between their plans, with the aim of having a final vote next Friday.

Back to Tally Again
October 2, 2007

Another special session begins 9AM Wednesday, as lawmakers try to cut a billion-dollar hole in the state budget, created by Floridians like you and me spending less than expected. That’s cut into sales tax receipts.
A billion sounds like a lot, but no one here in Tallahassee seems to think it’s a big deal. Speaker Marco Rubio points out, last year’s budget was $72-billion. Lawmakers bumped it up to $74-billion, and now must cut back a billion. Bottom line, he says, is that even a trimmed-back budet represents an increase over last year.
St. Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera says– he’s heard virtually nothing from nervous constituents about imoending cuts, save for a few inquiries from senior citizens, concerned that their subsidized meal money might be cut (it won’t be, according to Lopez-Cantera).
The Miami Republican also says– his constituents aren’t weighing in on the session’s other big item— reviving no-fault insurance. Special interest groups, though, are all over this subject. Insurance companies are lobbying furiously against any revival of no-fault, saying it breeds huge fraud. Clinic owners and lawyers want no-fault to be resuscitated.
Even negotiators who crafted the compromise no-fault plan that will be considered don’t seem very confident it’ll pass. Sen. Bill Posey says– until the final vote’s taken– he won’t feel confident that whatg he calls a “completely consumer-friendly” bill wikll pass.
Most south Florida lawmakers will probably support reviving no-fault. Our part of the state has the most uninsured drivers. Without no-fault, public hospitals are likely to get hit with the costs of treating their accident-related injuries– meaning local taxpayers would pay.
One final lighter note– Florida’s Governor, having been to two Jewish services in South FL in the last few weeks, has apparently picked up some Yiddish at temple. Today, he called Broward St. Sen. Steve Geller a “mensch” (loosely, a nice guy).
While the Gov. is always quick with to stroke lawmakers, it’s the first time I’ve heard it in Yiddish.

Obama’s FL Visit– Pt 2
October 2, 2007

A follow–up on yesterday’s post on Obama’s phantom campaign visit– even his modest and not very content-filled interaction with FL reporters may get him into hot water with voters in early-primary states who resent Florida’s attempt to leap-frog ahead in the process.
Check out the article in the Las Vegas paper this morning…..

Barack’s Here– Who Knew?
October 1, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama is in town today. His schedule says only “No Public Events”, but you can be sure that means the Senator is raising money for his bid to be the Democratic Presidential nominee.
A month ago– heck, even a week ago– the Obama campaign would have combined a behind-closed-doors fund-raiser with a public event or two, to get the Senator on the 6 PM news, expressing his concern about immigration or hurricane insurance or the Everglades. But that was then, and this is now.
The national Democrats’ ban on Florida campaigning took effect Saturday, and Obama signed the pledge that he won’t do any campaigning here.
So I’m not expecting my calls to the local Obama folks to be returned any time soon, especially after reading the St. Pete Times comical account of their attempt to ask the Senator questions aoutside his fundraiser in Tampa last night. Their very able Political Editor, Adam Smith, recounted his conversation this way:

Me: “Senator, what’s your position on a national cat fund!” (No Response) Senator, can we talk to you about the Everglades!. (No response, only uncomfortable silence from everyone in shouting distance) Senator! If you’ll only talk to people writing $1,000 checks, why should Florida Democrats support you?! (More silence) Will you take any questions!?”
Obama (shouting back): “Why are you yelling?”
Me: “Because you won’t let me talk to you! Will you talk about a national cat fund!?”
Obama: “I’m not allowed to talk to the press, guys!”
Me: “Isn’t it up to you?!”
Obama: “Nope!”
Me: “Aren’t you the guy trying to lead the country?!”
Obama: “I signed a pledge!”
Me: “Why?! (Silence) Why!?”
And then Barack Obama hopped in his SUV and departed…

Since fundraising is one area specifically exempted from the DNC’s Florida campaigning ban, I’m still expecting that some Democrats are going to hold low-dollar “fundraisers” open to media coverage. But it looks like actual Q & A on issues most vital to Floridians is out.