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Kurt Browning’

Former secretary of state calls Senate elections proposal ‘bad public policy’

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Former Secretary of State Kurt Browning called a provision included in the Senate’s election package yesterday allowing the secretary of state to dock election supervisors pay and essentially put them on probation “bad public policy.”

Browning served more than two decades as the Pasco County supervisor of elections before going to work for Gov. Charlie Crist as secretary of state in 2006. Browning stepped down from the post for the second time last year and was elected Pasco County schools superintendent in November.

Browning was in the Capitol on Wednesday for school superintendents’ meeting with his one-time boss, Gov. Rick Scott.

The provision included in the Senate plan on the floor Wednesday would allow Browning’s successor, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, to put supervisors on a minimum one-year “non-compliant status” if they don’t meet certain standards. And he could make them ineligible for yearly $2,000 bonuses available to all constitutional officers who meet certain annual training requirements.

“Show me another constitutional officer that has that kind of penalty. Granted, supervisors need to do their jobs just like superintendents, sheriffs, clerks, tax collectors, property appraisers. But (the state department) need to deal with individuals. They don’t need to be putting sanctions on an entire group. That’s my opinion,” Browning said.

Supervisors had supported the bill (HB 7013) but were livid over the amendment sponsored by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. He said he came up with the plan in response to problems in five counties, including Palm Beach and St. Lucie, deemed “low-performing” by Detzner after the November elections.

Progressive groups decried another provision in the bill limiting voter assistance. Under the measure, someone could only give assistance to voters they know personally before Election Day and caps the number of people they can assist at 10. Advancement Project and other voting rights groups believe the provision is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The restriction would keep ministers and civil rights volunteers from helping out at the polls, Advancement Project spokeswoman Jennifer Farmer said. The left-leaning Florida New Majority scrambled to find Creole interpreters to fill a shortage in Miami-Dade County in November.

“There is no rationale, moral or legitimate argument for this amendment. This amendment hurts some our most vulnerable citizens – the elderly, people with disabilities, people who don’t speak English, and voters who are unable to read or fully understand ballot language,” Farmer said in an e-mail.

Scott hires Ken Detzner as new secretary of state

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott has tapped long-time beer lobbyist and Tallahassee insider Ken Detzner to replace retiring Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

It’s the second time Scott’s hired a former secretary of state to head the department that oversees elections and cultural affairs.

Detzner briefly served as interim secretary of state under former Gov. Jeb Bush as well as chief of staff for former Secretary of State Jim Smith. He also spent six years working for Smith when Smith was the attorney general. Detzner recently helped the attorney general’s office handle claims related to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Detzner spent 13 years lobbying for the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association and for the past decade has worked as a government consultant and lobbyist.

Detzner said he will work with Browning, who will stay on the job to oversee the Jan. 31 GOP presidential primary, until taking over as permanent secretary on Feb. 17.

“It’s very important that we have a smooth transition. Ken will do that. He has experience. Not only do we have to make sure we have a good 2012 election cycle but I know all of us want to make sure we have a good Viva 500,” Scott told reporters this morning after introducing Detzner, a well-known figure in the Capitol. Viva 500 is a year-long celebration of Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida.

Detzner said he was approached by Scott’s staff about the job while he was in the governor’s office representing one of his clients and he asked for 24 hours to consider it.

“It’s a high honor. I made two pledges. One for transparency and openness and fairness to all the parties that are involved with the secretary of state’s office. Very important to be fair and open and honest to every party that’s involved there,” he said.

Detzner called the post “one of the most fun jobs in state government” and said he withdrew as a lobbyist this morning.

“Oh gosh, I’m excited. This is one of the most fun jobs of state government. In addition to the really heavy responsibility, being involved with the elections process, cultural affairs, historic preservation, Viva 500 next year…
All a lot of fun things to do in government but the heavy burden, the responsibility of the elections is something that I’d be very much focused on,” he said.

Some elections supervisors had hoped to have one of their colleagues take over for Browning, who spent more than three decades as Pasco County elections supervisor but Scott said he is confident that Detzner is up to the job.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning resigns for the second time

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Secretary of State Kurt Browning is stepping down – for the second time – but will stay on the job long enough to oversee the Jan. 31 GOP presidential primary election.

Browning, who met briefly with Gov. Rick Scott today before announcing his resignation, has served twice as the state’s chief elections official. He worked for four years for Gov. Charlie Crist but took an early retirement in 2010 because of a new rule dealing with state workers collecting pensions while on the job.

Scott rehired Browning shortly after the governor took office in January. After six months off the state payroll, Browning was again eligible to work and collect retirement pay at the same time. Browning, who earns $139,999.92 a year, will stay until Feb. 17, after which he is considering a run for Pasco County school superintendent.

Browning told reporters Wednesday he did “a lot of soul-searching” over the holidays before deciding to step down, that he was not being forced out and that he hopes his replacement will take over before he leaves.

“I’ve always said the department of state ran well before I got here. It will run well after I’m gone,” Browning said.

Browning’s been involved in a high-profile federal lawsuit over the state’s new elections laws, and has been an outspoken critic of President Obama’s administration.

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Federal court says no to Scott administration on elections law rush-job, blames Florida for delay

Friday, October 28th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A federal court has turned down Gov. Rick Scott’s request for expedited review of four of Florida’s most contentious election law changes, blaming Scott’s administration itself for delays.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning asked the three-judge panel to decide whether the four election law changes violate the federal Voting Rights Act and earlier this month asked the panel to also rule on whether the act is unconstitutional and speed up its review. Browning said a decision is needed before the Florida’s early Jan. 31 presidential preference primary or the state could be in trouble for not having the same set of elections laws in all 67 counties. Five counties – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – require federal preclearance of voting rights laws. The rest of the counties have already implemented the changes, but the five counties cannot until federal officials or a federal court approves.

In a 12-page memo issued today, the judges chastised Florida for dragging out the process by side-stepping Department of Justice review. The court said Browning waited three weeks after Scott signed the law before sending it to the Justice Department for approval, removed four provisions of the law from the department’s review after 50 days and later asked the court to expedite its review.

“Thus, the present state of affairs is, at least to an extent, a matter of Florida’s own choosing,” judges wrote. “The Court is neither willing to rush to judgment on the complex statutory and constitutional issues raised in this case nor inclined to impose unreasonable litigation burdens upon the United States and Defendant-Intervenors simply because Florida chose to schedule its primary election early in the election season.”

Browning’s proposed schedule would have given the parties only 28 days to prepare for arguments and allowed the court just two to three weeks to hold hearings and draft an opinion, the judges wrote.

“The Court finds this extraordinarily abbreviated schedule to be unworkable,” they wrote.
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Federal court tosses elections lawsuit

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A federal judge in Miami has thrown out a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott and his administration over the state’s new elections laws.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled that the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit, lacked standing, that the case was moot and that it’s too early to rule on whether the new law is unconstitutional.

Scott applauded the decision.

“I have always been confident that our elections have been conducted fairly and meet every legal requirement. Today’s decision only confirms that opinion. As we draw nearer to nationally significant elections in 2012, I will continue to ensure the integrity and fairness of Florida elections,” Scott said in a statement.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit after Secretary of State Kurt Browning began statewide implementation of election law changes, approved by lawmakers this spring and signed into law by Scott. The civil rights group accused of Browning of implementing the changes without preclearance from federal officials as required under the 1965 Voting Rights Act for five Florida counties.

But since filing the lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice has signed off on all but four of the most controversial portions of the elections law. Browning is instead seeking approval from a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., on those sections. The changes yet to be approved would reduce the number of early voting days, set new rules for groups conducting voter registration drives, require voters changing out-of-county addresses at the polls to cast provisional ballots and make it more difficult to get citizen initiatives on the ballot. Critics object the changes are intended to keep low-income, minority and college student voters – all of whom helped President Obama sweep into the White House three years ago – from casting ballots next November.

The ACLU had argued that because Florida law requires elections laws to go into effect statewide, the elections law should be put on hold until the preclearance is attained for the five Florida counties – Collier,Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties.

But Moore ruled Tuesday that the ACLU lacked standing because it had not been harmed by the new law. And even though the Florida League of Women Voters has stopped doing voter registration drives, nothing in the law forced them to drop the activity, Moore found.

“The Court cannot locate in the pleadings any harm or any threat of actual or imminent harm as required for constitutional standing,” Moore wrote in his dismissal.
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Browning asks court to scrap federal oversight of Florida election laws

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning today asked a court to do away with federal approval of changes to the state’s elections laws in five counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, alleging that the that part of the Act is unconstitutional.

Browning also asked a three-judge federal court panel in Washington to expedite its review of four election law changes approved by lawmakers this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Browning went to the court in July for approval after initially submitting the new laws to the U.S. Department of Justice for “preclearance,” required for under federal law for five counties – Hendry, Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough and Monroe – with a history of racial discrimination against voters.

The federal law covers the Florida counties as well as six other southern states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia – Alaska, and counties in North Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, and Idaho.

Under changes to the Voting Rights Act approved by Congress in 1972, the preclearance is required for jurisdictions in which at the time less than 50 percent of the voting-age citizens were registered to vote or voted in the presidential election, had a non-English-speaking population of more than five percent, and provided voting materials only in English.

“I am hopeful the federal court will come to a quick resolution and approve the remaining provisions of our preclearance submission as nondiscriminatory,” Browning said in a statement. “However, I am frustrated that the reason we are still waiting to implement Florida law in five counties is because of an arbitrary and irrational coverage formula based on data from 40 years ago that takes no account of current conditions.”

All changes to the state’s new elections laws must be approved by the Justice Department or by a federal court, a rare move according to elections experts.

Browning asked the court to rule on the new elections laws before the end of the year. If not, that could pose problems for Floridians voting in the GOP primary now slated for Jan. 31 because the five counties would not be operating under the same laws as the rest of the state. State law requires that voting laws be uniform statewide.

Instead of getting federal approval for the four most controversial portions of the state’s new elections laws, Browning went to court, making U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a defendant in the case.

Florida is one of more than a dozen states that passed elections laws this spring that critics object are aimed at keeping low-income, minority and college-student voters – who typically vote for Democrats and helped President Obama win the 2008 presidential election – away from the polls.

The ACLU and others are challenging the new elections laws in federal court in Miami.

Florida and other GOP-dominated states’ new elections rules could shut out 5 million voters next year

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida and more than a dozen other states’ new elections laws intended to clamp down on voting fraud could keep 5 million Americans from voting in next year’s presidential election, a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice found.

As in Florida, the laws require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots, cut back on early voting days or impose restrictions on voter registration drives. Florida’s new election law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in May and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott includes all of those elements and more.

The ACLU and other groups filed a federal lawsuit in June against Scott’s administration over the elections laws changes. The groups and the Brennan Center also asked the Justice Department to reject the most controversial provisions of the law. Late in July, Secretary of State Kurt Browning sidestepped the DOJ and instead asked a federal three-judge panel to sign off on those four portions being challenged in the lawsuit. Federal approval is required for five Florida counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Brennan Center analysis found that the new laws, including Florida’s, could have a significant impact on next year’s presidential election because the changes will primarily impact minority and low-income voters who tend to vote for Democrats. Florida’s law could also make it more difficult for college and university students – who played a key role in President Obama’s 2008 victory – to vote.

“This is the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. More voters may be affected than the margin of victory in two out of the past three presidential elections,” Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement released with the new study. “In 2012 we should make it easier for every eligible citizen to vote. Instead, we have made it far harder for too many. Partisans should not try to tilt the electoral playing field in this way.”

Feds sign off on bulk of Florida election overhaul but controversial parts still in limbo

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Federal officials have signed off on the bulk of Florida’s elections overhaul but the most controversial portions remain in limbo.

The U.S. Department of Justice approved 76 measures included in the new law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

But last month, Secretary of State Kurt Browning sidestepped President Obama’s administration and instead asked a federal court to approve the most controversial components of the new law.

“I am appreciative of the work the DOJ has done to approve Florida’s new election laws,” Browning said in statement today. “Their decision confirms what we already know, that Florida’s new election laws are fair and not discriminatory. I expect the federal district court will also agree that the new laws are fair when it reviews the remaining provisions.”

Five counties in Florida – Collier, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – require federal “preclearance” before new election laws can go into effect to make sure the changes do are not discriminatory.

The ACLU and other groups are currently challenging the new law in federal court in Miami, saying it is designed to make registering to vote and casting ballots more difficult for minorities and low-income voters who typically vote Democratic. Scott, who re-appointed Browning, asked the judge in that case to remove him from the lawsuit. Jesse Jackson held rallies in Florida late last month protesting the new law.

The portions of the new law still awaiting approval from the federal three judge panel deal with third party voter registrations, changes of address, early voting hours and petition signature verification. Browning said he expects a court ruling before next year’s presidential primary.

Read more about the four provisions still hanging after the jump.
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Browning sidesteps Obama admin, goes to federal court for approval of Florida election law

Friday, July 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Secretary of State Kurt Browning has asked a federal court to approve Florida’s new election law, sidestepping the U.S. Justice Department on the most controversial portions of the voting overhaul approved by the GOP-dominated legislature in May and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

Critics of the new law say it is designed to make registering to vote and casting ballots more difficult for minorities and low-income voters, who typically vote Democratic. The ACLU and other groups are currently challenging the new law in federal court in Miami. Scott, who re-appointed Browning, last week asked the judge in that case to remove him from the lawsuit. Jesse Jackson held rallies in Florida this week protesting the new law.

On Friday, Browning withdrew four portions of the law – including those currently being challenged in federal court – from the preclearance application. Federal approval is required for five Florida counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In a press release, Browning hinted that the state wouldn’t get a fair evaluation from the Democratic president’s administration.

“The purpose of filing in the federal district court is to ensure that the changes to Florida’s election law are judged on their merits by eliminating the risk of a ruling impacted by outside influence,” Browning said in the release. “Since the passage of HB 1355, we have seen misinformation surrounding the bill increase. By asking a court to rule on certain aspects of the bill, we are assured of a neutral evaluation based on the facts.”

Browning had the option of submitting the new law to the Justice Department, the usual method of getting new election laws approved, or a three-judge panel. He originally asked for federal preclearance from Justice officials in June.
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Groups file suit against governor over halt to redistricting changes

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Supporters of two voter-approved constitutional amendments changing the way Florida lawmakers draw Congressional and legislative districts filed a lawsuit today demanding that Gov. Rick Scott move forward with the federal approval needed to implement the changes.

Shortly after taking office, Scott put the brakes on predecessor Charlie Crist’s request to the U.S. Department of Justice for the “pre-clearance” required whenever Florida makes changes to its elections laws affecting voters’ rights.

Scott reappointed Kurt Browning as Florida’s secretary of state. Browning, originally appointed by Crist, left his post last year to lead the fight against the “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters in November that now bar lawmakers from drawing districts that favor political parties or incumbents.

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UPDATE: Dems outraged over Scott secret withdrawal of redistricting amendments

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott responded to his withdrawal of redistricting amendments for federal approval.

“Consistent with Governor Scott’s effort to assess the rules, regulations and contracts of the previous administration, he has withdrawn the letter requesting a DOJ review of Amendments 5 and 6. Census data has not been transmitted to the state yet and the Legislature will not undertake redistricting for months, so this withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida’s legislative and congressional districts,” Scott spokesman Brian Hughes said in an e-mail.

In his first few days on the job, Gov.Rick Scott quietly withdrew the state’s request for a federal go-ahead to move forward with two redistricting amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters in November.

Scott sent the request to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has to sign off on any changes to Florida elections laws affecting voters’ rights, on Jan. 7, just two days after he announced the reappointment of Department of State Secretary Kurt Browning. After Browning left Gov. Charlie Crist’s administration last year, he headed up a political committee that fought Amendments 5 and 6, aka the “Fair Districts” amendments. Crist’s temporary secretary of the state department submitted the application for “preclearance” to DOJ officials on Dec. 10

Scott’s move, offered with no explanation to the feds and no public announcement, left Democrats and supporters of the amendments hopping mad, and the state’s top Democrat is demanding Scott resubmit the preclearance application.

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Scott puts developer in charge of growth management

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed St. Joe Co. executive Billy Buzzett as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, the agency that oversees growth management.

Buzzett is a lawyer, developer and engineer who helped smooth the way for St. Joe’s massive expansion in the Panhandle.

Buzzett served on Scott’s transition team, which recommended doing away with the agency, something Scott has said he would consider.

Buzzett’s role would be to “better align Department of Community Affairs functions with other functions across state government,” Scott said in a press release.

Scott also reinstated former Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who quit after Gov. Charlie Crist jumped the GOP and became an independent.

And Scott said former Washington DC public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who served on his transition team, would remain as his education advisor. He and Rhee will visit a charter school in Opalocka Thursday morning.

Secretary of State trying to save the libraries

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Lantana Road Branch Library (Palm Beach County Library System)

Lantana Road Branch Library (Palm Beach County Library System)

Secretary of State Kurt Browning pounding the Capitol halls today with one thing on his mind: saving the state’s libraries.

“This is a good government issue. This is motherhood and apple pies, public libraries,” said Browning.

He’s about halfway there.

State lawmakers originally scrubbed all funding – $21.2 million – for public libraries from the budget.

But during negotiations between the House and the Senate, the House has put in about $11 million and the Senate slightly more with $13 million.

That’s still not enough to reach the $21.2 million required to draw down about $9 million in federal aid. The state and federal funds keep the libraries in small counties alive and help purchase new books and other materials in others.

With the state’s economy in the tank, more and more Floridians are turning to libraries for free Internet access to search online for jobs and assistance.

The extra money for the libraries – about $10 million – is a drop in the bucket for the state’s $68 billion budget.

“I know money’s tough and I know money’s tight but you’re talking about some library systems that are so dependent on those state dollars” including the one in rural Hardee County that happens to be in Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander’s district, Browning pointed out.

“We need to have these libraries funded. So yes, we’re working on it.”

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