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Abortion bills proof GOP wants to “turn the clock back” on women, Dems say

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A pair of abortion bills approved by the Republican-led Legislature and expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott are more evidence the party wants to “turn the clock back,” on women’s rights, three Democratic leaders said Tuesday.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was joined by Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana and Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief now running for Orange County mayor, in condemning the legislation (HB 59 and HB 1047).

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Wasserman Schultz called the measures “extremist” and examples of “tea party-infused legislation.”

Berman said the legislation was unnecessary. “Women make decisions to terminate pregnancies for a variety of reasons, and never are these decisions done lightly,” she said.

The Democrats, though, said they held little hope that Scott would veto the legislation, which passed the Legislature on mostly party-line votes.

One bill (HB 59) would allow separate criminal charges for the death of a fetus no matter what its stage of development was when a crime was committed against its mother. The other measure (CS/HB 1047) could effectively reduce the time period that a woman could legally have a late-term abortion by several weeks.

Rep. Lori Berman

Republican lawmakers during debate this spring called the bills “common sense” measures.

The legislation setting tougher penalties for harming a fetus was dubbed the “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” and stems from a Tampa case where a young woman six weeks pregnant, Remi Lee, was given pills by a former boyfriend, causing her to abort.

The bill would expand a law that already allows a separate manslaughter charge for a fetus that could survive outside the womb.

It also would toughen penalties for anyone convicted of a crime resulting in the death of a fetus, allowing murder charges to be leveled in cases where a fetus was considered viable, and lesser criminal charges in other cases.

The other bill would require a doctor to examine a woman wanting an abortion and refuse to perform the procedure if fetal viability was determined. Supporters of the bill have said that could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy, whereas Florida law currently bars most abortions following the 24th week.

House Republicans turn back Dem attempts to scuttle charter school bill

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by John Kennedy

House Republicans beat back efforts Monday by Democrats looking to scuttle a proposal that would further fuel the already explosive growth of charter schools in Florida.

The legislation (CS/HB 7083) is opposed by Palm Beach County and other school districts. It would make it easier for “high-performing” charter school companies operating out-of-state to enter Florida.

The measure also would require school districts statewide to use a standard contract, which districts say will hurt their ability to negotiate with charter school boards.  It likely faces a final House vote today.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, earlier promised a “massive expansion” of school choice options this spring. But so far, fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate have proved a hurdle, rejecting key provisions of the
charter school bill and another to expand private-school vouchers.

“I do understand that we have two chambers in this building,” said Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, sponsor of both efforts. “Our bill is going to be a little different than theirs.”

With the Legislature opening its final scheduled two weeks, the fate of the charter bill, voucher effort and another House-backed, but Senate-rejected proposal to grant in-state college and university tuition to children of undocumented immigrants, will all be likely tied to wide-ranging negotiations between the two sides.

Scott Facebook townhall features unfriend-ly swipes at Crist

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott takes part in a Facebook townhall from Jacksonville.

Gov. Rick Scott hosted a Facebook townhall Thursday evening from Jacksonville, fielding one question about Charlie Crist while also managing to take a couple swipes at his Democratic rival.

Asked about Crist’s “Gimme Scott” comment this week at a Forum Club meeting in West Palm Beach, Scott shrugged off the challenge. Instead, Scott hinted that Crist shouldn’t look too far past his likely Democratic primary opponent, Nan Rich.

“That’s laughable,” Scott posted. “He has a primary and I’m sure it’s going to be enjoyable watching his debates with Nan Rich.”

But Scott also kept his focus on Crist when another Facebook friend asked if Floridians could face higher taxes if they failed to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare.

“Charlie Crist thinks Obamacare is ‘great,’” Scott responded. “I don’t because people are losing their insurance, their doctors and their jobs because of this failed law.

Scott also vowed to hold the line on college and university tuition this year. Unlike, he pointed out, Crist, who as Republican governor from 2007-11, endorsed a law which allowed tuition to climb 15 percent annually.

“We are working to stop the 15% annual increase in tuition plus inflationary increase in tuition passed by Charlie Crist. Call your state legislators and let them know this is important,” Scott told his online audience.

But just as in previous Facebook townhalls, Scott chose to avoid a few questions, too. Several questions went unanswered about why he hasn’t pushed to expand Medicaid to cover some of Florida’s 4 million without health insurance.

Another question challenging Florida for still planning to implement Common Core Standards in classrooms got a less than direct answer from Scott.

“There are two things important to me, one, high standards for Florida students are not negotiable; and two we must prevent the federal government’s overreach into our education system,” he said.



Third week of session brings third round of anti-GOP protests

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Sara Hutchinson of Catholics for Choice and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, at Monday's rally.

The opening of the third week of the legislative session brought its third wave of protests Monday, this time featuring organizations attacking what speakers call a continuing attack on women’s health issues by the state’s Republican leaders.

Led by Planned Parenthood and Catholics for Choice, about 50 demonstrators crowded the Capitol Rotunda to condemn the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and also for advancing a half-dozen bills which they say undermine abortion rights in Florida.

The abortion bills, which include an outright ban and other measures aimed at raising the standard for fetal viability, have been around for a few years in Florida. Republican leaders have not made the legislation a priority, and it seems unlikely they will become a flashpoint this session.

But the bills remain a rallying point for Democrats looking to ignite voters this fall.

Monday’s rally followed similar events by organized by the NAACP of Florida and other groups the first two weeks of the session, which attacked Republican policies in general and specifically called for repeal of the state’s stand your ground self-defense law.

“We keep seeing the same bills filed and we keep seeing the same bills move,” said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, among those speaking at Monday’s rally. “The public outside this building is not aware of where Republicans stand when it comes to women’s health care. I think they need a wake-up call.

“We have one more election this year where people might finally get that wake-up call,” he added.


Congressional Democrats say Scott’s conscience should guide on Medicaid

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida congressional Democrats attempted to turn up the heat Wednesday on Gov. Rick Scott over his walking away from his earlier bid to expand Medicaid coverage for more than 1 million Floridians.

Almost exactly one year ago, Scott held a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion to announce his support for expanding Medicaid coverage, an option given states under the Affordable Care Act. The federal government was poised to fully pay for the first three years of the expansion, and carry the bulk of the financing going forward.

“No mother or father should despair over whether or not they can afford — or access — the health care their child needs,” Scott said at the mansion.

House Speaker Will Weatheford, R-Wesley Chapel, refused to go along with Scott’s idea. And an alternate plan proposed by the Florida Senate also failed, with the House raising concerns about relying on federal financing and fears that Florida taxpayers could wind up owing more than promised.

In his latest budget proposal, Scott doesn’t mention Medicaid expansion. Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, have already declared expansion dead for the legislative session beginning March 4.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Florida Democrats want to know why.

“Governor, last year you said your conscience wouldn’t allow you to stand in the way of an expansion,” the lawmakers wrote Scott in a letter today. “We hope your conscience now will compel you to at least ask legislators to find a way to get this done.”


Fla Dem chief says Scott “tone deaf” on jobless website woes

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats lashed out Thursday at Rick Scott over continuing problems with the state’s website for unemployment benefits, saying the governor has ducked responsibility for getting needed dollars to out-of-work Floridians.

The U.S. Labor Department interceded last weekend, ordering the state to pay benefits to anyone whose case has been under review for more than a week. But Democrats said it was a shame that it took federal action to ease problems that have occurred since the CONNECT website was launched in mid-October.

“Gov. Scott is tone deaf to the needs of Floridians,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant in a conference call with reporters.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said, “If these were people writing $3,000 campaign checks, I’m sure their needs would not go unmet.”

The Scott administration has blamed web designer, Deloitte Consulting LLP for most of the problems with the $63 million system. Deloitte has crafted similar systems in Massachusetts and California that were plagued by similar foul-ups and delays.

Another vendor, Capgemini, has been brought in to help resolve Florida’s problems. Last week, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity executive director Jesse Panuccio told a Senate panel that as many as 60,000 Floridians may be in the “adjudication” status now subject to the longest delays but who could now get relief following the federal action.

“We are encouraged by this progress,’ Panuccio said late Wednesday of the go-ahead for payments. “However, DEO remains committed to holding Deloitte accountable and needs the vendor to deliver the technical fixes.”


Democrats mock Scott with end of year report card — mostly ‘Fs’

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democratic activists and union representatives gathered outside Rick Scott’s Capitol office Wednesday to deliver an end-of-year report card to the Republican governor.

He failed. But Scott did get an A-plus for what Barbara DeVane of the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans called helping special interests.

“He gets an ‘F’ on helping the middle class this year,” DeVane said.

Despite back-to-back years of $1 billion increases in funding for education — not mentioned by Monday’s gathering — Scott “has not supported our schools,” Devane said. She cited Palm Beach County, where aging infrastructure led to some kids being held out of schools because of air-conditioning failures this fall, as an example of the governor’s lack of commitment.

The county’s school superintendent, Wayne Gent, has warned the school board the county could be $80 million short next year in meeting basic maintenance costs.

Scott wasn’t in his office Wednesday — with an appearance planned in Miami. But the shoddy report card, which included other ‘F’ grades in public health, employee management and job creation, was delivered to a receptionist in the governor’s office.

The dozen activists who gathered Monday had to make their way to the governor’s office through a Capitol rotunda growing increasingly crowded with holiday displays put up by atheists, others marking the winter solstice, and the latest, a ‘flying spaghetti monster’ created by those mocking the arrival earlier this month of a nativity scene.

The Florida Republican Party swung back, defending Scott’s record.

“These extreme liberals can continue throwing out false attacks like spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, but the fact is that under Rick Scott nearly 441,000 private-sector jobs have been created, state-based education funding is at the highest level in Florida history, schools are improving, and the unemployment rate is dropping,” said Florida GOP spokeswoman Susan Hepworth.


Gaetz likes Scott’s fee reductions, but defends enacting them

Thursday, December 12th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott today goes to Tampa to tout his plan to eliminate a 2009 increase in motorist fees that was approved when his Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, sat in the executive office as a Republican.

The $401 million fee reduction is part of Scott’s pledge to cut $500 million in taxes-and-fees next election year. But if Scott is both looking to help Floridians while hurting Crist with the move, he didn’t get much help a few hours earlier from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Meeting with reporters, Gaetz recalled being in the Senate when the increase was approved as the state economy cratered in the recession.

” It was the right vote, it was a hard vote,” Gaetz acknowledged. “None of us liked it….But it was the least worst alternative at the time.”

The Florida Republican Party has centered its scorched earth campaign against Crist on reminding voters about the lousy economy that consumed the state when he was governor from 2007-11. The message effectively warns that electing Crist would bring a return to the bad old days of skyrocketing job losses, budget cuts and federal bailouts.

Gaetz on Thursday didn’t mention Crist. But as someone who, like the former governor, was struggling to keep state government afloat amid a cascade of bad news, Gaetz wasn’t ready to condemn the decision to hike fees.

“It was certainly meant to be temporary,” Gaetz said of the motorist increases. “And the hope was that it could be rolled back at some point.

“But it was hard at that time to see around the corner as to when things would get better, because every month seemed to be getting worse and worse,” he said.

Florida Democratic battle for Attorney General — may not happen

Sunday, October 27th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats attempting to gain a seat on the state Cabinet face a possible slugfest for one — the race for Attorney General.

George Sheldon, an ex-deputy to former longtime Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth, delivered his campaign speech Sunday morning to party activists gathered at Disney World, a day after new rival, Perry Thurston, introduced himself to the crowd. Sheldon directed his fire at Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Sheldon said she was “not just right-wing, she’s wrongheaded.”

He went on to blister Bondi over leading the legal challenge by two dozen states opposing the Affordable Care Act. But his harshest assessment came of Bondi’s push last month to reschedule an execution because it conflicted with her planned campaign kick-off fundraiser.

“She should’ve resigned,” Sheldon said, drawing cheers from those gathered at the Democratic conference.

Thurston announced his candidacy Saturday. His speech later to conference delegates was mostly pegged to his role as state House Democratic leader, although he, too, managed to plug his new candidacy.

Florida’s three Cabinet posts are held by Republicans who, with Gov. Rick Scott, give the GOP command of the state’s executive branch. The Legislature also is led by Republicans, with Thurston topping the outnumbered ranks of House Democrats.

Bondi has already raised more than $400,000 for her campaign and has received another $220,000 from the Florida Republican Party for rent, staff, travel and other costs, state records show. And the prospect of a Democratic primary for attorney general is not something party leaders are seeking.

Christian Ulvert, the Florida Democratic Party’s political director, said Sunday that “something might be worked out.” Sheldon also told the Post that talks may soon be underway that look intended to get Thurston to drop his candidacy to avoid a costly intraparty clash.

“I hate that this comes down to money,” Sheldon said. “But it’s expensive to run these Cabinet races.”

Nelson sticking to statement, still “no intention of running” for gov

Saturday, October 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stayed on script Saturday when asked whether he was satisfied with a Democratic field for governor headed by former Republican Charlie Crist and longshot hopeful Nan Rich.

“I have no plans to run for governor and I have no intention of running for governor,” Nelson said, repeating the oblique statement he’s been making for months.

But he added, “The state’s going into a ditch. The state is going in the wrong direction.”

Nelson, elected last fall to a third term, insisted that he has plenty to do in the U.S. Senate.

But he was quick to show off a familiarity with state issues still hot for Democrats: The Republican Legislature’s rejection of Medicaid expansion, Gov. Rick Scott’s turnback of high-speed rail, and even a recent Public Service Commission ruling that will have customers pay millions for the failures of Duke Energy’s Crystal River nuclear plant.

“Where’s the leadership?” an exasperated Nelson said.

Nelson ran for governor in 1990, losing the Democratic primary that year to Lawton Chiles, the former senator who went on to serve two terms as governor. Chiles, who died in 1998, is the last Florida Democrat elected governor.

Nelson is clearly keeping an eye on the state candidate qualifying period, which he accurately said was June 16-20. But he told reporters he was wary of saying anything that would breathe life into talk of him as a candidate for governor.

“If I say anything, you guys are going to run with it,” Nelson said. “And I’m not going to let you guys run with it.”

Crist, the not-yet candidate, works crowd arriving at Democratic convention

Friday, October 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Crist works the crowd at Dem conference

Former Gov. Charlie Crist,  a Republican turned Democrat, worked the arriving crowd Friday night at the state’s Democratic conference at Disney World, telling reporters, “I feel at home.”

Crist is expected to announce as a Democratic challenger against Republican Gov. Rick Scott early next month. But Friday, he stayed cagey on his soon-t0-be candidacy, saying only he had a lot to weigh.

“But it’s not my father’s Republican Party anymore,” Crist said, adding, “Democrats are great. I love them. Particularly Florida Democrats…they are special to us.”

He also went at Scott’s central campaign claim — that he has turned around a Florida economy that tanked while Crist was in the governor’s office.

“If anybody thinks that one governor created the global economic meltdown, that’s ridiculous,” Crist said.

And of Florida’s current economy, he added, “It has gotten better, but it could be even better, and that’s the point. We have to reach higher…it’s got to get better than it is now. It’s still not great.”

Asked how a Democratic Crist would differ from Republican Crist as governor, the expected contender said, “Not much…I had a lot of Democrats in our administration…not much, I’m the same guy. Some tweaks here and there.”

Pafford wins Dem leadership contest; pledges of unity (again)

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach was elected Wednesday night as incoming House Democratic leader, pledging to stabilize a caucus still rattled by the sudden ouster of his predecessor.

Pafford overcame a challenge from Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, in securing the Democrats’ top spot for 2014-16.

Pafford won the election over Williams, 29-12, with one abstention, positioning him to become the Legislature’s first Democratic leader from Palm Beach County in more than a decade.

“We have hit the reset button,” Pafford said following the vote. “We are one.”

Williams also vowed to rally behind Pafford’s leadership.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Williams said. “We are both better for going through this.”

Pafford-Williams contest may hinge on who is the money magnet

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Like many things in life – but especially events taking place inside the Florida Capitol — tonight’s contest for House Democratic leader comes down to money.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who was positioned as the likely successor to deposed incoming leader, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, is spending Wednesday afternoon huddling with fellow Democrats, providing assurances that fund-raising will be his priority.

Pafford has never been a potent fund-raiser. And concerns about his ability to fulfill that side of the leadership post has paved the way for Rep. Alan Williams’ rival candidacy.

House Democrats don’t want to talk on the record. But Williams, D-Tallahassee, is seen by many as a bridge-builder with the state’s lobbying corps, giving him more access to campaign cash. Pafford, in some views, is more of a partisan bomb-thrower, who could alienate those with dough.

House Democrats, eager to raise a few million dollars from lobbyists, corporations and business associations, still have a few hours to make up their minds before tonight’s caucus vote, which is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m..

But as part of his one-on-one sales-pitch to lawmakers, Pafford is hinting that he’ll bring in a second-in-command who is committed to pulling in big bucks. Speculation is that even Rouson may be on the shortlist for Pafford’s leadership team.

While he’s helped by representing a solidly Democratic Palm Beach County district, state records show Pafford has raised a total of just slighly more than $225,000 for his own races over the last four election cycles. While hardly a scientific analysis, Williams has collected more than double that total during those elections.



Williams, Pafford contest shaping up for top House Dem post

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, joined the contest Tuesday for incoming House Democratic Leader, adding his name to that of West Palm Beach Rep. Mark Pafford in seeking the 2014-16 post.

The 44-member Democratic caucus is set to meet beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Williams, like Pafford, were both elected in 2008 and are positioned to replace Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who was tossed out as incoming leader on a 24-17 vote Monday night.

Rouson had run afoul of party leaders and most of the caucus for establishing a fund-raising committee outside the Florida Democratic Party.

Pafford initially looked like he might be the only contender. The Democrat who lost earlier this year to Rouson, Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, said Tuesday that she would not run and endorsed Pafford saying, “he will right this ship.”

Williams entry, however, is seen as a sign that some in the caucus are wary about Pafford, seeing him as too far to the political left. The leader’s job involves candidate recruiting and fund-raising, and some Democrats view Williams as having a stronger bond with the Capitol’s lobbying corps.

Dexter Douglass, lawyer for Gore, Chiles, dead at 83

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Dexter Douglass, the Tallahassee lawyer who represented Democrat Al Gore in his courtroom fight to win Florida in the 2000 presidential election, died late Monday. He was 83, and had been treated for cancer.

Douglass gave the Gore campaign some key local grounding in the 36-day struggle that followed Election Day 2000. Douglass knew Florida, the state’s politics, and the Leon County Courthouse, where much of the legal wrangling between Gore and the George W. Bush campaign played out.

Douglass, a North Florida native, had gone to the University of Florida, where he met Lawton Chiles. The two became decades-long friends and Douglass went on to become general counsel under Chiles and served as his closest adviser during the Democrat’s eight years in office.

Douglass argued cases before the state Supreme Court involving school vouchers, redistricting and the state’s landmark lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

Justices to decide whether lawmakers must talk about redistricting

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s ruling Republican legislators should be required to testify about whether they violated state law by secretly getting advice from party consultants before drawing new political boundaries, the Supreme Court was told Monday.

Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, attorney for the League of Women Voters of Florida, said that there is no “legislative privilege” which shields lawmakers from giving depositions in lawsuits looking to overturn at least portions of the state’s congressional and state Senate maps approved during last year’s redistricting.

“We have great pride in being an open government state,” D’Alemberte told reporters after an almost hourlong argument before the high court. “If you now can’t get to what the Legislature did…what does that do to the core of our principles about open government. I see this as important on several different levels.”

But Raoul Cantero, a former state Supreme Court justice now representing the Legislature in the case, said that Florida, like all states across the country, protect lawmakers from being forced to testify about the subjective thought process that went into passing legislation.

While Republican leaders have surrendered more than 30,000 documents as public records in the lawsuits underway, the court should not now demand that legislators testify about their actions, Cantero said.

“No court in the country has ever ordered that a legislator testify about the legislative process,” Cantero said following arguments. “If the court were to order depositions in this case, they’d be the first court in this country to do so. We just want (justices) to do what every other state has done.”


Democrats say Bondi owes apology for execution change

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Democratic Party demanded a public apology Tuesday from Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi for asking to reschedule a convicted killer’s execution so she could attend a campaign kick-off fund-raiser.

Bondi late Monday acknowledged that she was wrong to request that Gov. Rick Scott change tonight’s scheduled execution of Miami double murderer Marshall Lee Gore so she could attend the political event at a Tampa waterfront home.

Scott this week said he went along with Bondi’s request, but didn’t know the reason she sought the change.

Gore is now scheduled to die Oct. 1.

But Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said Bondi owes an apology to Floridians for shirking her duty as a state official.

“Everyone can agree that this is disgusting and wrong,” Tant said.  “The people of Florida expect their public officials to place their job before their own re-election fundraising. Pam Bondi’s decision to prioritize political fundraising over Florida’s criminal justice system represents a breach of the public trust and shows callous disregard for the families of Marshall Lee Gore’s victims.”


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.


Documents show more map exchanges between GOP and consultants

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Documents released Thursday in a wide-ranging lawsuit over last year’s redistricting effort raise more questions about communication between Florida Republicans and party consultants over proposed maps, possibly in violation of the state constitution.

In a deposition given last month, campaign consultant Marc Reichelderfer acknowledged having received draft versions of proposed congressional redistricting plans from Kirk Pepper, a top aide to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

Reichelderfer received seven proposed maps in a Dropbox account, two weeks before they were made public.

In his deposition, Reichelderfer was asked, “You got them for a reason, isn’t that right?”

The consultant responded, “I assume it was for a reason.”

Asked if it was to determine how the maps performed, politically, Reichelderfer said, “I could have done that, yes, sir.”

Democratic-allied voter groups want congressional and legislative maps thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

The Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and individual voters organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

Court documents filed earlier with Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state  party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.


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