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Atwater’s FAU candidacy gets dominoes tilting

Monday, January 6th, 2014 by John Kennedy

With Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater named Monday to the list of 10 finalists for the presidency of Florida Atlantic University, talk swirled about who might be positioned to replace the Republican Cabinet member.

“Premature.” “Too early to speculate.” And “if” were the key words used by some of Atwater’s more prominent possible replacements, who include House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House budget chief Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, who has already talked openly about running for CFO in 2018.

“If it were to happen, I think everyone knows that I ran for CFO before and clearly have a passion for the job,” added Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who lost in 2006 to Democrat Alex Sink.

“But CFO is not really a place for a politician. You really want an effective manager there,” Lee said.

Lee has already been approached as a possible lieutenant governor candidate by Gov. Rick Scott. If Atwater were to be chosen for the FAU post, Scott would appoint his replacement — who presumably would immediately vault to frontrunner status in the November election.

FAU’s Board of Trustees will interview the finalists Jan. 17 and could make its selection then.

“A lot of things still have to happen,” Lee cautioned. “And certainly sitting down and talking with my family about this would be one of them.”

Weatherford and Gaetz both said it was too early to talk. But neither attempted to take themselves out of the conversation.

Gaetz said “there are a lot of links in the chain,” before getting around to a CFO vacancy. Ryan Duffy, a Weatherford spokesman, said the speaker hasn’t given thought to his next step beyond preparing for the spring legislative session.



Democrat Alex Sink to run for St. Pete-area congressional seat; test of shutdown fallout

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 by George Bennett

Alex Sink

Democrat Alex Sink, the former chief financial officer of Florida who narrowly lost the 2010 governor’s race to Republican Rick Scott, announced this morning that she’ll run in a special congressional election to fill the St. Petersburg-area seat of the late Republican Rep. Bill Young.

The district, where Republicans have a 37.5-to-35.2 percent registration edge, is expected to be competitive. It will be an early test of Democratic efforts to capitalize on anti-GOP fallout from the recent federal government shutdown.

“Everywhere I go in Pinellas County, there’s a deep frustration with the dysfunctional and reckless politics of Washington that was responsible for the painful, irresponsible shutdown of our nation’s government,” Sink said in a statement released this morning. “From cutting wasteful government spending as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer to working in the private sector helping families buy their first home and sending their children to college, I never let politics, finger-pointing or name-calling stand in the way of getting results for the people I represent, and it’s these results-oriented values that I want to bring to Washington. For the sake of our economy, our businesses and our families, we have to restore problem-solving leadership.”

Sink recently ruled out a 2014 run for governor.

A special election date has not been set, but is expected in early 2014.

Democrat Jessica Ehrlich, who lost to Young in 2012, is running for the seat. Potential Republican candidates, according to The Tampa Bay Times, include Young’s widow, Beverly Young, and son Bill Young II.

Alex Sink won’t run for governor in 2014; wants to ‘spend some hours’ with Dems Rich, Crist

Friday, September 20th, 2013 by George Bennett


Democrat Alex Sink announced today that she won’t run for governor in 2014.

That makes it increasingly likely that the battle for the Democratic nomination will be a two-person contest between liberal former state Sen. Nan Rich and former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sink, the state’s former chief financial officer, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 and narrowly lost to Republican Rick Scott. She’s been part of 2014 speculation for some time, but put politics on hold for several months after her husband, Bill McBride, died suddenly in December. McBride was the 2002 Democratic nominee, losing to Gov. Jeb Bush.

Sink said she wants to focus on her foundation, Florida Next, which promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in Florida. She said she also hopes to help other Democratic candidates.

Sink earlier this year said she’d like to see Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson run for governor, but in an interview today she said she thinks that’s unlikely.

Sink has been publicly skeptical of Crist’s credentials as a Democrat after his long career as a Republican, his switch to no party affiliation in 2010 and his registration as a Democrat in December.

“I’m going to be like most other Democratic voters that I know,” Sink said today. “He’s new to us as a Democrat. I spoke to Nan Rich a little bit earlier and told her that what I want to do is take an opportunity to spend some hours with both of them and whoever else might announce as a candidate and delve deep into what their values are….what their vision is for Florida and how they can defeat Rick Scott.”

Scott’s 61,550-vote victory margin now a target for Capitol protesters

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 by John Kennedy

On their 24th day of a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott’s Capitol office, the Dream Defenders seeking repeal of Florida’s “stand your ground” law said Thursday they have no plans to end their protest.

In fact, executive director Phillip Agnew said the organization is adding a new dimension to its effort to get state lawmakers to approve what they dub Trayvon’s Law, in honor slain teenager Trayvon Martin.

“We value love, we value peace, we value unity, and more than anything, we value the power of our vote,” Agnew said, during a news conference in a Capitol hallway lined with portraits of former Florida governors.

Agnew said Dream Defenders is launching a campaign to register 61,550 voters in Florida by next election. The number represents Scott’s margin of victory in 2010 over Democrat Alex Sink.

“We intend to register the people that are forgotten,” Agnew said. “The black, the brown, the indigent, the poor, the LGBT community. We will meet them where they are…and encourage them to vote in the name of their issues, not in the name of any candidate.”

Democratic-allied activists have been looking to carry the controvery stemming from neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of the teen into next year’s elections as a sign of Republican leadership working to oppress minorities.

Like 2011 changes made to the state’s voting laws by Scott and the GOP-led Legislature, organizations say the self-defense law mostly threatens poor, black and young Floridians.

Florida groups that used the voting measure as a rallying point to drive supporters of President Barack Obama and state Democratic candidates to the polls last fall have been organizing behind the call for repeal of stand your ground.

Republicans, however, say the push to change the law, which remains popular with voters in most polls,  misrepresents the legal strategies used in Zimmerman’s case.

Agnew said the Dream Defenders’ voter work will parallel that of other organizations. But he emphasized that it should not be seen as a partisan effort. Instead, it’s aimed at raising the political relevancy of such issues as ending racial profiling and what protesters have called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“At the end of the day, we’re not blue or red,” Agnew said.

Democrat Rich pledges to repeal same-sex marriage ban

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich sent out a fund-raising appeal Tuesday pledging to erase Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.

Rich, who badly trails potential Democratic rivals Charlie Crist and Alex Sink in polls, targets Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s defense of the marriage ban in a blast email to supporters.

“The ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s decision before Gov. Scott announced he supports continuing Florida’s ban of same-sex marriage,” Rich said. “Well…I do not.

“As governor, I will work to pass a new constitutional amendment that will allow Florida to join the rapidly growing ranks of marriage equality states,” she said.

Equal Marriage Florida last week began work on gathering the more than 680,000 petition signatures needed for a proposed constitutional amendment erasing the gay marriage ban approved by voters only five years ago.

The effort was launched just days before U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for California to become the 13th state in the nation where same-sex couples can legally marry.

Florida’s iniative faces enormous odds in even making it to the ballot. But if it did share space with the governor’s race on the November 2014 ballot, the proposed constitutional amendment is seen by many experts as likely driving Democratic turnout.

Another gay advocacy organization, Equality Florida, has warned against moving too quickly with a ballot proposal. Instead, Equality Florida has begun seeking same-sex couples willing to lend their name to a legal effort challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2008 ban.

Crist, the former Republican governor now a Democrat emerging as the front-runner to challenge Scott, lin May endorsed gay marriage – despite signing the 2006 petition for a constitutional ban and reaffirming his opposition in 2008.


More dismal numbers for Rick Scott in Quinnipiac poll; Crist leads by 16 points

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 by George Bennett

Scott: 36 % approval, 49% disapproval

Florida voters like Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposals to boost teacher pay by $2,500 and expand the state’s Medicaid rolls.

But they don’t like Scott.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning is full of bleak numbers for the governor. Only 36 percent of Florida voters approve of Scott’s job performance, with 49 percent disapproving. Only 32 percent say he deserves a second term in office. He’d lose to Democrat Charlie Crist by a 50-to-34 percent margin if the 2014 election were held today. He’d lose to 2010 opponent Alex Sink by a 45-to-34 percent margin.


Crist tops Scott 52-40 in Democratic firm’s poll; Scott approval remains deep under water

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by George Bennett

The Medicaid-expanding, teacher-pay-boosting version of Republican Gov. Rick Scott isn’t any more popular with voters than the tea party version, according to a new survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

Only 33 percent of Florida voters approve of the job Scott is doing, compared to 57 percent who disapprove in PPP’s latest poll. That’s the same underwater score Scott had in PPP’s January poll.

Democrats and independents have a decidedly unfavorable view of Scott. Republicans approve by only a narrow margin: 46 percent to 42 percent.

Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist has a 46 percent approval rating and 43 percent disapproval score in the poll. He’s the clear favorite among Dems to be the party’s nominee, with 50 percent preferring him and 21 percent favoring 2010 nominee Alex Sink.

Crist would win a hypothetical 2014 general election match-up against Scott by a 52-40 margin in PPP’s poll. Sink would beat Scott 45-40 and former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio would defeat Scott 44-37. Scott would beat former Democratic state Sen. Nan Rich, according to PPP, by a 42-36 margin.

Dem poll: Crist would thump Scott in 2014 governor’s race

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 by George Bennett

Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist would easily defeat Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a hypothetical 2014 general election race, a new survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling says.

Crist would get 53 percent to 39 percent for Scott, according to a PPP survey of 501 Florida voters that has a 4.4 percent margin of error.

Crist left the GOP in 2010 to pursue a losing no-party Senate bid and endorsed President Barack Obama and spoke at the Democratic National Convention last year. He officially became a Democrat in December.

Crist’s standing among Democrats has steadily improved since last year, with the new PPP poll finding 58 percent of Dems name Crist as their first choice to run for governor next year. The 2010 Democratic nominee, Alex Sink, was a distant second, with 18 percent of Florida Democrats saying Sink was their preferred 2014 candidate for governor.

Crist is viewed favorably by 73 percent of Democrats and unfavorably by 17 percent in the new poll. Last July, Crist’s favorable/unfavorable score among Democrats was 50/31.

Scott remains plagued by dismal approval ratings. In the new PPP poll, only 37 percent of Florida voters approve of Scott’s job performance, with 57 percent disapproving. PPP says Scott would lose 47-40 to Sink, 43-39 to former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio and 44-42 to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but the Republican governor would edge Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and former state Sen. Nan Rich.

Endorsement battle heats up in Florida Democratic chairman’s race

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 by George Bennett

The two announced candidates for Florida Democratic Party chairman — Hillsborough County Committeeman Alan Clendenin and Leon County Committeewoman Allison Tant — are rolling out big-name endorsements as the Jan. 26 election approaches.

Clendenin and Tant both announced key labor endorsements Tuesday, with Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams announcing his support for Clendenin while the Service Employees International Union declared its backing of Tant.

Today, Tant announced the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and nine U.S. House Democrats, including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and all four members of Palm Beach County’s House delegation — Reps. Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Patrick Murphy.

Clendenin this afternoon unveiled the endorsement of Alex Sink, the party’s 2010 nominee for governor and a potential 2014 candidate. He also has the support of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

Tant and Clendenin are vying to replace Rod Smith, who isn’t seeking reelection as party chairman.

Remembrances pour in following McBride’s death

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Remembrances continued through Sunday evening following the death of 2002 Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride, a longtime managing partner at the law firm, Holland & Knight, and husband of the Democrats’ 2010 nominee for governor, Alex Sink.

“Bill McBride was a great lawyer, a devoted public servant, a veteran and a talented leader,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who narrowly defeated Sink .  “Our family’s thoughts and prayers are with the McBride family, and especially his wife Alex, at this time of great loss.

“Florida is no doubt a better place because people like Bill McBride commit themselves to making a difference in the lives of others,” Scott said.

McBride suffered a heart attack Saturday while visiting with family in Mount Airy, N.C.  McBride had suffered from heart problems for many years but, Sink said, “this was very sudden and unexpected.”

A year after his defeat by Gov. Jeb Bush, McBride collapsed while exercising at a health club near his Tampa office. McBride needed to be resuscitated, but at the time, tests apparently showed the episode was not a heart attack and he suffered no lasting damage.

Bush sent a message from his Twitter account that, “Thoughts and prayers are with Alex and Bill’s entire family.”

Steven Sonberg, managing partner at Holland & Knight, said, “Bill believed strongly that all lawyers have an obligation to help those in need, especially those who cannot afford access to the legal system. His lasting contributions will serve
as a legacy for years to come.”

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith also honored McBride for his years of devotion to the party.

“All those who knew Bill knew he was not only a tireless advocate for the Democratic Party, but a leader and true public servant to the people of Florida,” Smith said.


New Q-poll: More than half of Floridians want a new guv, GOP primary could hurt Scott

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

More than half of Floridians say Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t deserve another term, according to a new poll released by Quinnipiac University this morning.

And the poll showed that Scott, who is planning to run for reelection, could have problems with a primary challenge. More than half of GOP voters – 52 percent – said they would prefer another candidate instead of the incumbent, the poll found.

And Scott’s approval rating among Florida voters remains dismal, the latest poll found.

Florida voters disapprove 45–36 percent of the job Scott is doing, and more than half of the voters surveyed – 52 percent – said he does not deserve a second term, compared to 30 percent who say he should be reelected in 2014.

Scott’s ratings “are just plain awful,” pollster Peter A. Brown said in a press release.

“The numbers cannot be sugar-coated,” Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said. “When voters in a politician’s own party want him to be challenged in a primary by another candidate, it’s difficult to see it as anything but outright rejection.”

By a 55-29 percent margin, voters said they wanted another candidate to challenge Scott in two years. And GOP voters felt the same way, with 53 percent saying they wanted another candidate compared to 30 percent who supported Scott. Republican voters did give Scott a 63-19 percent job approval rating and 55-26 percent said he deserves a second term.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who recently made a high-profile party change and became a Democrat and is considering a run for governor, has a 47-33 percent favorability rating. Not surprisingly, he’s got a negative rating – 28–56 percent – among Republicans, the poll found.

That’s compared to Scott’s a 31-43 favorability rating among voters. Democrats and independent voters view Scott unfavorably while slightly more than half of Republicans view him favorably. Democrats view him unfavorably by a 60-16 percent margin, independents by a 25-48 percent margin while Republicans give him a 55-18 percent favorable rating.

Alex Sink appears to have faded in voters’ memory since her 2010 loss to Scott. More than half – 57 percent – of voters haven’t heard enough about her to form an opinion, compared to 27 percent who view her favorably and 14 percent who view her unfavorably.

The poll of 1,261 voters using land lines and cell phones was conducted from Dec. 11-17 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.

With almost $500,000 settlement, Scott and Atwater achieve dubious victory

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Tuesday that state offficials have agreed to an almost $500,000 settlement with a Tallahassee art gallery and a construction firm ensnared in a controversy stemming from the new First District Court of Appeal building.

The settlement still must be approved by the Legislative Budget Commission. And even though the state is paying not only the full amount owed Signature Art Gallery and Peter Brown Construction — plus the private companies’ legal fees — Republican leaders cast the settlement as a victory for taxpayers.

The companies will be paid the $392,658.56 owed them, along with $122,224.14 for litigation and other costs, according to the settlement.

“Our most important goal is to protect taxpayer dollars to best meet the needs of Florida families,” Scott said. “It was right to ask for a rigorous and thorough review of the tax dollars
committed to this project.”

Atwater, a former North Palm Beach legislator, said, “With this settlement, the parties now agree that it is appropriate for the Legislature to determine the legitimacy of the payment request.”

The stand-off with the contractors began in 2010, when Atwater’s predecessor, Democrat Alex Sink, completed an audit of the First DCA project a month before her defeat by Scott in the governor’s race. She  said a “perfect storm” of wrongdoing helped run cost of the project – which she dubbed the Taj Mahal – to $48.8 million, about $17 million more than initial estimates.

The courthouse, she said includes 20 miles worth of imported African mahogany, granite countertops and other luxury fixtures.

It had become a “travesty,”  Sink said, because of a lack of oversight by the state Department of Management Services and bullying by appeals court judges – particularly Chief Judge Paul Hawkes. Hawkes has since stepped down from the court.

Sink froze payments to Signature Gallery for 369 framed, historic photos for for the courthouse. The hardline stance was continued by Atwater after he was elected that fall. The construction company included in the settlement had contracted with Signature Gallery to provide the art work.

According to the settlement announced Tuesday, the photos don’t sound destined for the First DCA building. Instead, the artwork involved in the settlement will go to the Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs.


Scott and teachers union meet over grouper dinner — with a little history on the side

Friday, September 14th, 2012 by John Kennedy

History was the garnish to plates of grouper served Friday night at the Governor’s Mansion, when Republican Gov. Rick Scott had dinner with a half-dozen representatives of the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Both sides said the closed-door dinner meeting went well, being the first of its kind since Scott took office in January 2011. Florida Education Association President Andy Ford is expected to return for a meeting with Scott next week — this time a more traditional business huddle likely slated for Wednesday in the governor’s office, both sides said.

“I think we can always find opportunity to improve what’s on the books — especially with merit pay,” Ford said, adding, “Tonight was a good first step toward having some dialogue that probably should have happened a long time ago.”  

Scott railed against the teachers’ union during his election campaign two years ago, when the FEA was a heavy backer of Scott’s rival, vanquished Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink.

 The relationship didn’t get any warmer.

The first bill Scott signed into law as governor recast the way teachers were evaluated — making reviews more dependent on student performance. The legislation has been challenged by the union. The same session, Scott approved a measure that extracted 3 percent payments from public employees in the Florida Retirement System, the bulk of them teachers and other school board employees.

The first state budget Scott signed cut public school funding by $1.3 billion. The second spending plan restored $1 billion — but most school districts have eliminated scores of jobs.

Much of the discussion Friday pivoted around how the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is deployed both for gauging students and teachers, along with Scott and the Republican-ruled Legislature’s push to expand virtual education. The possibility of private school vouchers returning — after they were ruled unconstitutional in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court — wasn’t on the table, Scott said.

“I’m working on this job,” Scott said, when asked why it’s taken so long to meet with FEA representatives. “Remember, as a lawyer, you’re always practicing.”

The Friday night dinner capped a week in which Scott traveled the state on a “listening tour,” meeting with parents, teachers, school superintendents and principals to discuss how Florida can improve its education system.  He was in Boca Raton on Tuesday and plans to complete his tour next week in Fort Walton Beach.

“I believe parents ought to have choice, I believe that’s good for them,” Scott said. “I believe in the public school system. I grew up in the public school system. It was good for me. The teachers had a dramatic, positive impact on the my life….Is choice good? Yeah. But let’s make sure we do it the right way. Is competition good? Sure, but let’s make sure we do it the right way.”

After bidding goodnight to Scott at the mansion door, Ford acknowledged he was “shocked” by the reachout from the governor. But he said he welcomed the dialogue. Still, he told reporters, some issues are not up for discussion.

Vouchers? “Not for us. End of story,” Ford said.

Democratic 2014 poll: Crist, Sink have solid favorable ratings among Dem voters

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 by George Bennett

A poll of Florida Democrats commissioned by Democratic consultant Christian Ulvert shows former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist enjoyed strong favorable ratings among Florida Dems before he endorsed President Obama and spoke at the Democratic convention.

Taken Aug. 5-7 by Democratic firm SE&A Research, the poll shows 59 percent of Florida Democrats had a somewhat or very favorable opinion of Crist and 52 percent had a somewhat or very favorable view of Alex Sink, the former Florida chief financial officer who lost the 2010 governor’s race to Republican Rick Scott.

In a hypothetical head-to-head Democratic governor’s primary matchup, Sink got 31 percent to 29 percent for Crist. That’s within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error.

Crist, who ditched his Republican registration for no party affiliation during a failed 2010 Senate campaign, endorsed Obama Aug. 26 and spoke at the Democratic convention the following week. Crist is widely rumored to be mulling a 2014 run for governor as a Democrat.

Ulvert is advising Palm Beach County Democratic state attorney candidate Dave Aronberg and the Florida Democratic Party on state legislative races. He’s close to former Democratic state Sen. and 2010 attorney general candidate Dan Gelber, but said he didn’t commission the poll on behalf of anyone.


Alex Sink defends Mack Bernard against ‘ridiculous’ attacks in state Senate primary

Friday, August 10th, 2012 by George Bennett

In a Democratic state Senate primary where Gov. Rick Scott is a figure of scorn, 2010 Scott foe Alex Sink says it’s “ridiculous” to try to link state Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, to the Republican governor.

Bernard’s primary rival, state Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and outside PACs have painted Bernard as a Scott ally.

“I have been told that some out of town groups want you to believe that Mack Bernard is somehow joined at the hip with Rick Scott. That’s ridiculous. Nothing could be further from the truth. How do I Know? I was Rick Scott’s Democratic opponent for Governor. And it was Mack Bernard who worked tirelessly by my side in our effort to defeat Rick Scott in 2010,” Sink said in a statement released by Bernard’s campaign.

Teachers’ union, state in skirmish over merit pay bill

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A preliminary round in a larger fight over legislation that rewrote how teachers are paid and retained across Florida was waged Wednesday — with the state’s largest teachers’ union seeking to block a proposed Education Department rule  on evaluating educators.

The Florida Education Association argued before Administrative Law Judge John Vanlaningham that the state agency has exceeded its authority with how it wants school districts to evaluate teachers for merit pay.

In the complaint, the FEA and two teachers, Karen Peek and Beth Weatherstone, say the proposed “unlawfully sets a few DOE bureaucrats up to interpret, interpolate, and extrapolate the meaning of the extensive jargon it includes.”

State education officials defend the proposal as “not arbitrary or capricious.” They also say the proposed rule is written in the common language of the education community. It does not violate the statute created by the 2011 legislation, SB 736, they add.

The measure eliminating longtern contracts for new hires and linking teacher salaries to student performance was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor, who had been opposed by the FEA in his 2010 campaign against Democrat Alex Sink, said the new law would help improve student and teacher performance, and help create jobs by making Florida more attractive to businesses.

Democrats condemned the legislation for tying teachers’ pay increases to how students do on standardized tests.

They warned it will require county school boards to divert dwindling school dollars to more testing in elective fields where such tests often are not currently administered.

Along with challenging the proposed rule for evaluating teachers, the FEA last September sued to have the new law thrown out as an unconstitutional restriction on the union’s right to collective bargaining.

The case possibly could go to trial this summer before Leon County Circuit Judge James Shelfer.


Florida political committees among nation’s top spenders, report shows

Thursday, March 15th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Political committees that helped drive the election of Florida Gov. Rick Scott two years ago were among the biggest independent spenders in the nation, according to a report Thursday by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Scott’s own Let’s Get to Work committee, heavily financed by his wife, Ann‘s, cash, spent $17.5 million in 2010, second only to the Republican Governors’ Association’s $26.5 million that cycle. While Let’s Get to Work confined its spending to Florida, the RGA cash was scattered across key battlegrounds.

Two other Florida committees also were included in the institute’s national top 10 of spenders.

Both formerly opposed Scott with fierce television spots and mailers.  But once Scott defeated rival Bill McCollum in state’s GOP primary that year, the cash and attack ads from these committees were aimed at Democratic rival Alex Sink.

The Florida First Initiative spent $6 million in 2010. The committee, led by Alachua County Republican Chairman Stafford Jones, ran television spots accusing Scott of profiting from the “largest Medicare fraud in American history,” before becoming friendly toward the GOP nominee.

During the free-swinging Republican primary, the Florida First Initiative had received $1.1 million from the Florida Liberty Fund, a committee associated with House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. That money helped sustain the scorched-earth campaign against Scott — who ultimately spent more than $70 million of his own cash to win the governor’s race.

Like the Florida First Initiative, the Cannon-allied Liberty Fund adjusted its aim after the primary, raising money from Florida corporations now intent on defeating Sink.

The third Florida big-spending committee cited in the institute’s findings, the Freedom First Committee, was tied to Senate President Mike Haridopolos and raised $3.6 million in 2010.  It, too, was a Scott enemy, turned ally.

These kinds of shadowy committees have mushroomed in recent years and their spending has climbed double that of conventional campaign donations, the institute reported. Independent spending on candidates increased 69 percent from 2006 through 2010, while the amount of campaign contributions rose by 25 percent, the study found..

In Florida, the spate of spending by these committees prompted one, short-term candidate for governor in 2010, to decry it as “legal money laundering.”

Lawton “Bud” Chiles, III, son of the late Democratic governor, who ran briefly as an no-party candidate, wanted political spending committees dubbed 527s to be required to disclose their $500-plus donors on every television ad or mailer they distribute, or when they give money to another group to use for or against a candidate.

Florida law currently requires 527s, named for the IRS code section that governs them, to report their contributions and spending on a website within five days of the activity.

But Chiles and many elections experts say most voters are unlikely to spend time tracking donations to groups with such names as Floridians for a Better Tomorrow, Floridians for Strong Leadership, or even Citizens for Transparency in Government – all 527s that he cited in his condemnation of the spending.

Martin County Sheriff Crowder weighs GOP primary challenge of Allen West

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by George Bennett


Miffed at the lack of hometown candidates for the newly drawn Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional District 18, retiring Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder says he’s considering a GOP primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation.

“It looks like at the present time all the interest in running for that seat is coming out of Broward County with people relocating. First, I found that strange because I think we’ve got some good people up here who would be capable of representing their neighbors,” Crowder said this morning.

Crowder, 66, has been elected sheriff five times in Martin County and has a history of ruffling feathers in his own party, including his 2010 endorsement of and TV ad for Democrat Alex Sink in the governor’s race against GOP nominee Rick Scott.

His interest in the congressional seat was first reported by Treasure Coast political columnist Eve Samples on Saturday.

West announced Jan. 31 that he would leave his Palm Beach-Broward district to run in the newly drawn district. Democrat Patrick Murphy of Fort Lauderdale has also announced he’s following West to run for the seat. U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, lives in the district, but is running for a newly drawn seat to the west that includes many of his current constituents.

The Florida legislature approved the new districts last week. The map is already the subject of legal challenges.


Teachers union says new merit pay law violates constitution

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Florida Education Association sued Wednesday to overturn the new state law that ends teacher tenure and introduces merit pay based in large part on how students perform on standardized tests.

The state’s largest teachers’ union said the measure — approved by the Republican-ruled Legislature and the first bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott — violates constitutional collective bargaining guarantees. Employment terms are to be decided by negotiations between teachers and school districts — not by state lawmakers, said Ron Meyer, attorney for the FEA, which filed the suit on behalf of six school teachers.

“It strains credulity that people in Tallahassee,  over in the Capitol, know better than the people on the ground,”  Meyer said.

Andy Ford, FEA president, said the new standard — approved in a mostly party-line vote, with legislative Democrats opposed — “totally changed the teaching profession in Florida.”

“It denies teachers the constitutional right to collective bargaining,” Ford said.

The merit pay legislation requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student achievement on tests — including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and other standardized exams, most of which must still be developed by state and local educators.

Under the bill, current teachers would retain existing pay schedules and contracts — even those spanning multi-years. They could lose their jobs, though, if they drew two subpar annual evaluations within three years.

Teachers hired after July 1, however, are limited to one-year contracts and would draw raises only if rated “effective” or “highly effective.”

Former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a similar bill last year. But during last fall’s governor’s race, Scott made ending teacher tenure and enacting merit pay a central portion of his campaign, with the FEA throwing in heavily behind Democrat Alex Sink.

Scott would lose to Sink, Crist in hypothetical match-ups, Democratic pollster says

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 by George Bennett

Gov. Rick Scott has a 59 percent disapproval rating and would lose a do-over election to Democrat Alex Sink by a 57-to-35 percent margin, Democratic firm Public Policy Polling says in a new survey.

If the 2014 gubernatorial election were held today, and if Republican-turned-independent former Gov. Charlie Crist were running as a Democrat, Crist would thump Scott by a 56-to-34 percent margin, the poll finds.

Asked if the Republican governor’s actions have made them more or less likely to vote Republican in the 2012 presidential race, 40 percent of all voters — and 45 percent of independents — said they were less likely to vote Republican next year because of Scott.

The June 16-19 poll of 848 Florida voters has a 3.4 percent margin of error.

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