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Florida Dems ask Scott to extend early voting

Thursday, November 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida Democrats are asking Gov. Rick Scott to extend early voting an extra day, blaming the GOP-backed changes to the election law that shrank the number of early voting days for long lines at the polls.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said Scott should take the lead from his predecessor Charlie Crist who extended early voting four years ago in response to long lines around the state and election machine problems in certain counties.

Lawmakers last year cut back on the number of early voting days from 14 to eight and did away with the final Sunday before Election Day. Democrats have historically used early voting in greater numbers than Republicans in Florida.

Although the number of early voters casting ballots was down in Palm Beach County from four years ago, voters are still having to wait in long lines, in part because of the 11 proposed constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by lawmakers. About a third of Florida voters are expected to vote early either by mail or in person before Tuesday’s election.

Voters in Palm Beach County continue to wait as much as two hours to cast ballots at the county’s 14 early polling places. On Wednesday, 14,615 voters cast ballots – down 90 votes from Saturday – the busiest day at the polls with 15,525 county voters casting early ballots.

Smith joined former state and senator Dan Gelber in making the demand on Scott.

Here’s Smith’s statement:

“In 2008, Floridians had 14 days of early voting — and Florida’s then Republican governor still found it necessary to extend early voting. The long lines at the polls show it was clearly a mistake for the GOP controlled Legislature in Tallahassee to cut early voting in half — but it is past time for Governor Scott to show some leadership and fix that mistake. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue: protecting the right of every eligible Floridian to make their voice heard by participating in our democracy is an American responsibility which every elected leader has sworn to uphold and defend. In light of of the record turnout this year, we call on Governor Scott to extend early voting hours in every county across Florida through Sunday, so that Florida citizens can exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right and freedom to participate in this election.

“To all Floridians of whatever persuasion, do not be deterred from casting your vote. It is the sacred duty of every citizen.”

Leading Republicans didn’t seem too interested Thursday in meeting Smith’s demand.

“There’s no unusual circumstances, no weather-related events,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, moments before leaving Tallahassee for a multi-city bus tour promoting presidential contender Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates.

“There’s nothing out there in the state of Florida that would create the basis for an emergency order,” Putnam said.

In 2008, Crist’s decision to extend daily hours of early voting stunned his then-fellow Republicans and was seen as helping President Obama claim Florida over Republican John McCain. Crist, who has abandoned the GOP, has been campaigning for Obama this fall.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll also dismissed the Democrats’ request.

“It’s not the end yet, and we still have Election Day as well, when people certainly can turn out to vote,” Carroll said.

Democrats putting education “front and center” in legislative campaigns

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Florida’s ruling Republicans are undermining their own pledge to boost the state’s economy by shifting millions of dollars away from public education, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and state Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said Wednesday.

Flanked by a dozen university students, Graham and Smith expanded on what has become a steady campaign theme this fall for Democrats in state House and Senate races across the state.

Graham, who also served as Florida governor from 1979-87, said Republicans have come close to reversing the state’s longstanding commitment to universities, which in his time had taxpayers covering 75 percent of college costs and students paying 25 percent.

“We can’t continue down this course if we aspire to be a state where young people want to plant their personal flags,” Graham said.

The Legislature cut university spending $300 million this year, while restoring $1 billion to public schools which had shouldered a $1.3 billion reduction in 2011.  Tuition was increased between 9 percent and 15 percent at the state’s 11 universities, in the latest round of several years of steep hikes.

Florida Republicans have defended the actions. Lawmakers have had to deal with multibillion dollar budget shortfalls since the recession hardened in 2007.  With analysts predicting a slight surplus next year, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has lately joined the chorus calling for more dollars for schools.

But with the federal government also reducing financial aid programs, Graham concluded, “At all levels, higher education is under assault.”

Graham and Smith said the budget cuts, combined with a slow economy, are making it increasingly difficult for Florida students to attend state universities. Meanwhile, students attending Wednesday’s news conference with the Democratic leaders also told of struggling to enroll in the classes they needed, or being forced to attend school for an additional academic year because of budget cuts.

“We have demonstrably devalued education in this state,” Smith said.

Smith said Democratic candidates in legislative races have made the difficulties families face with education a central part of their campaign pitch.

“In almost every one of our House races and in the Senate races we are involved in, you’re hearing about education again,” Smith said. “It is front and center, because families in Florida, when they sit down at the breakfast table, are worried about not only jobs for themselves, but jobs for their children and grandchildren.”

While Graham decried rising student costs, he is expected to be in attendance Thursday at the Florida Supreme Court for a case he started and which critics say could spur tuition rates even higher. Graham is the lead party in a 2007 lawsuit over whether the State University System Board of Governors — or the Legislature — is empowered to set tuition.

Lower courts have ruled against Graham, whose side says a 2002 constitutional amendment makes it clear that it is solely the board’s responsibility to set tuition rates.

Under current law, the Legislature has authority to set tuition increases, and universities can add an additional increase so long as the total tuition increase year-over-year does not exceed 15 percent.


Florida party chairs rough it up before redistricting tour renews

Monday, August 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With the Legislature’s redistricting road show opening tonight in South Florida, Republicans and Democratic party bosses are doing their best to play the warm-up act.

Florida GOP Chairman Dave Bitner wrote his Democratic counterpart, Rod Smith, a stinging letter Monday, ripping him for claiming current legislative and congressional district boundaries make Florida “one of the most malapportioned states in the United States.”

Bitner pointed out in his letter that Smith, then a state senator, largely supported the map-making in 2002 that created the boundaries he’s now ridiculing.

Smith also was a member of a Senate Redistricting Committee that, like this year’s version, has failed to produce any proposed maps during its public hearing tour. Past news accounts produced by Bitner also place Smith – Zelig-like – behind moves that helped him win re-election, pulling Democrats from a fellow Democrat’s district and cutting adrift voters in Marion County who wanted to be included in the Senate district he served.

Instead, these Marion County voters were divided across four Senate districts in 2002. Such fracturing and incumbent favoritism would be outlawed under two new constitutional amendments approved by voters last fall and backed by Democratic allies.

“Chairman Smith, your hypocrisy is especially troubling because you are a former member of the Florida Legislature,” Bitner wrote. “You took an oath to uphold the constitution and the laws of Florida when you were sworn into office. You promised the citizens you represented that you would act in their best interest.”

Bitner concluded, “You can stop your boisterous partisan rhetoric that belies the documented legislative record that you undeniably possess.”

Smith fired back in a letter, noting that Bitner didn’t really refute how out of whack Florida district boundaries are, and that Republican lawmakers last year vigorously fought the constitutional amendment drive aimed at making districts more compact.

“Your letter is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to distract from producing the maps and the transparency Florida voters demanded,” Smith wrote. “Instead of writing letters, your party’s leaders should be opening the backroom door and sharing the maps.

 ”Let’s stop the political games,” the Democrat added. “Let’s make certain the will of the people is implemented by this very unwilling Republican Legislature.”

The Legislature’s current redistricting public hearing tour resumes tonight in Stuart, at the Blake Library, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Lawmakers move to Boca Raton Tuesday morning, for a hearing at Florida Atlantic University, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Smith stops short of booting Ausman from party post

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith suspended Leon County State Committeeman Jon Ausman through next year’s presidential contest, but stopped short Wednesday of following a party panel’s recommendation that he be tossed off the executive committee.

Ausman has been under fire for taking sides in party primary contests in Leon County and also for backing Jeff Greene, who paid for his campaign work, over Kendrick Meek in last summer’s Democratic U.S. Senate contest.

A party disciplinary committee voted 5-1 May 2 to recommend Ausman’s removal for “conduct of such an outrageous nature as to violate the understood professional standards of our party.”

But Smith, in his ruling, seemed to look for a middle ground.

Instead, Smith ordered that Ausman be suspended from party activities until Dec. 1, 2012, although he would “entertain a petition for reinstatement,” after June 1.

“In support of my decision to mitigate, I have considered the best interests of the FDP and I find that a permanent removal should be avoided if a lesser penalty will send a sufficient message to the offender and deter such conduct in the future,” Smith wrote.

 Ausman has been a Democratic activist for more than 30 years, holding a number of leadership posts within the party.

 He also has an encyclopedic understanding of party rules — a skill he has used frequently in past party battles, including the 2008 delegate fight stemming from Florida’s presidential primary that violated national party rules.

Asked whether he would accept the suspension — and a Smith olive branch, Ausman said, “I’m thinking about it. I will probably do a press conference soon.”

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.


Siegel steps aside (again), endorses Rod Smith for Fla. Democratic chairman

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 by George Bennett

Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel is giving up his pursuit of the Florida Democratic Party chairmanship and endorsing former state Sen. Rod Smith, who on Tuesday announced the support of Sen. Bill Nelson and some other big-name Dems.

“Rod Smith has set the stage for our rebirth as a modern, inclusive grassroots party which can fulfill the hopes and dreams of its many dedicated workers and constituencies,” Siegel said in a statement released by Smith.

Smith’s main rival for the job now appears to be Tallahassee City Commissioner and People For the American Way Foundation operative Andrew Gillum, who anticipated Siegel’s endorsement this morning and downplayed its significance.

“This race is about more than doing whatever it takes to seal one or two endorsements, it’s about giving the Florida Democratic Party the fresh start we need to win elections,” Gillum said. “I respect the senior members of our party, but I believe that we are in a new era that demands an open process that will energize our base.”


Nelson, Hastings among big-name Dems backing Rod Smith for chairman

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 by George Bennett


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar and U.S. Rep.-elect Frederica Wilson of Miami are among the big-name Dems who are backing former state Sen. Rod Smith for Florida Democratic Party chairman, Smith announced today.

Smith, Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel, Hillsborough County Democratic Committeeman Alan Clendenin and Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum are running for state chairman. The election is expected in January.

Read Smith’s full press release after the jump…


Rod Smith new Dem chief? ‘I believe I’ll be the appointee’

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Despite grumblings from Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel to the contrary, former state Sen. Rod Smith insists he’ll be the next state party chairman.

“I believe I’ll be the appointee,” said Smith, a Gainesville-area former prosecutor who most recently was Alex Sink’s running-mate in her losing bid for governor.

His bid to replace Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman, who is retiring, got a boost yesterday when an officer of the Alachua County party stepped down to make room for Smith.

Smith would have to be elected the chairman of the county executive committee or state committee man before he can be eligible to run as head of the FDP.

Once that happens, Smith said he’ll continue to build support from activists, donors and other county leaders.

“It’s a process that’s ongoing. It sometimes appears slow and ponderous but it’s an important process that allows people to have input about their concerns,” Smith, 61, said.


Palm Beach County Dem Chair Siegel says he’s back in the mix for state chairman

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 by George Bennett


Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel last week was ready to stand aside for former state Sen. Rod Smith in the race for state Democratic chairman.

But with Smith no longer seen as the slam dunk he appeared to be for a couple days last week, Siegel today says he’s all in.

“I think I’m a very viable candidate,” said Siegel, who must win reelection to his county chairmanship on Dec. 2 to be eligible for the state post.

What’s changed since last week?

“I became convinced that I really have something to offer that’s different than he does. It seems that, regrettably, his candidacy is kind of stalling. That hasn’t diminished my admiration for him at all,” Siegel said.

Rod Smith not a done deal as Fla Dem chief

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Some Democrats are pulling together a serious challenge to former state Sen. Rod Smith’s bid to succeed Karen Thurman as head of the Florida Democratic Party.

A handful of major South Florida donors are pushing Joe Garcia, a Miami lawyer and former Public Service Commissioner who just lost a Congressional race to David Rivera.

Dems backing Garcia want a Hispanic in charge of the party to help corral Latino voters who were so crucial to President Obama’s election two years ago.

Watch to see if Garcia gets added to the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee over the next few weeks.

Garcia would have to join the DEC and get elected the chairman or state committee man before he can run as head of the FDP. That means one of the two Democrats who hold those posts would have to resign to make room for Garcia.

Rod Smith to announce Monday he wants to be new top Dem

Friday, November 12th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former state Sen. Rod Smith will announce Monday he’s ready to take over the helm of the Florida Democratic Party as a replacement for Karen Thurman, who resigned today.

Smith, just off the campaign trail after running as Alex Sink’s running mate in her losing bid for governor, said he’s trying to build a consensus among Democrats smarting from major losses in this month’s elections in Florida and nationally.

Apart from Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s victory, Republicans swept the Florida Cabinet and nailed down a veto-proof super-majority in both the state House and Senate.

“I’m going to try to create a culture of success,” said Smith, a Gainesville lawyer and former prosecutor who earned a reputation as a dynamic orator during his tenure as a state senator.

Smith said he’s trying to get the support of a handful of other Democrats who’ve thrown their hats in the ring to replace Karen Thurman, who resigned today.

“I want to be a unifier. I don’t want to create division,” said Smith, a “This isn’t like a lot of campaigns. This is about trying to make sure that you first do no harm. Right now I’m focusing on trying to convince people that this is the right thing to do for me and for the party but I also remain open to listening to people’s concerns.”

Smith, who’s got behind-the-scenes backing of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, said he’s already won the support of Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel, who said Friday he’ll support Smith’s bid.

Whoever takes over for Thurman has their work cut out for them, said Broward County Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar.

Dem chairwoman Thurman quitting

Friday, November 12th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman is stepping down after the drubbing Democrats received on Election Day in the Sunshine State and throughout the nation.

Democrats have been demanding Thurman’s resignation after Republicans swept the Cabinet, the governor’s race and secured a veto-proof majority in both the state House and Senate.

Only 51 Democrats remain in the 160 seats in the legislature although Democratic voters still outnumber Republicans in Florida.

Former state Sen. Rod Smith, who was losing gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink’s running-mate, is chief among those in line to replace Thurman, a former U.S. Rep. who’s served as chairwoman for six years.

Rod Smith rejects Rick Scott’s Obama-liberal ‘metaphor’

Thursday, October 21st, 2010 by George Bennett

Rod Smith and Alex Sink

Democrat Alex Sink’s running mate says Republican Rick Scott’s repeated invocations of President Obama “as a metaphor for all things liberal” won’t work in Florida governor’s race.

Rod Smith, the former state Senator who is Sink’s lieutenant governor pick, says Scott keeps bringing up Obama — including the term “Obama math” in Wednesday night’s debate — because he’s afraid to discuss the issues and his own past, which includes $1.7 billion in Medicare fraud fines paid by Scott’s former hosptial chain.

Liberal metaphor

“He is trying to link Alex Sink and Rod Smith to everything Obama — that’s his clear strategy. And the fact is that Alex is a fiscal conservative and I’ve probably been considered the most conservative Democrat in elected office in the last several years. So that’s not going to work,” Smith said while campaigning in West Palm Beach this morning with U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton.

“He has to try to nationalize this election. He has no plan for Florida and he has no record to run on,” Smith said.


New Dem running mate Rod Smith: Florida ‘needs to be changed now’

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by George Bennett

Democratic governor candidate Alex Sink formally introduced former state Sen. Rod Smith as her running mate today at a crowded Police Benevolent Association hall in West Palm Beach.

Smith, an attorney, said his oldest son, who’s also an attorney, was busy this morning “explaining to judges why I won’t be there for the next several weeks and months.”

“And years,” added Sink.

Smith pounded hard on the economy and on the fact that Republicans have effectively controlled the legislature since 1996 and the governor’s mansion since 1998 (except for the past four months, when Gov. Charlie Crist shed his GOP affiliation to go independent).

“It’s time Florida changes and it needs to be changed now,” Smith said.


Sheriff-palooza update: Alachua endorsement for Aronberg suggests Rod Smith won’t run for AG

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 by George Bennett

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell is endorsing Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, for attorney general. That’s a strong indication that Darnell’s friend and former hometown state Senator, Rod Smith, will not run for AG in 2010.

Smith is the former state attorney who prosecuted Gainesville serial killer Danny Rolling before becoming a state Senator and losing a 2006 Democratic primary for governor. He has been considering the AG race and would be considered a formidable candidate because of his statewide name-identification.

Smith today stopped short of saying he won’t run for AG, but noted that he talked to Darnell before she endorsed Aronberg.

“I have not made any announcement on this, but certainly when my friends are announcing their support for other people, it can be assumed that most of them don’t think I’m going to be running,” Smith said.


Democratic organizer Joan Joseph, 1945-2009

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 by George Bennett
Democractic activist Joan Joseph poses in her Lake Worth office before the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where she served as a delegate. (Cydney Scott/Palm Beach Post)

Democractic activist Joan Joseph poses in her Lake Worth office before the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where she served as a delegate. (Cydney Scott/Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE: Democratic activist and prolific lensman Rick Neuhoff has posted a large collection of photos of Joan Joseph here. Also, a memorial page has been set up here.

Joan Joseph, a Jupiter resident who was a key political operative for candidates from Barack Obama to West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, died early today of cancer.

Mrs. Joseph, 64, was a go-to figure for Democratic candidates seeking to build a grass-roots organization in Florida. She was a paid staffer in Palm Beach County for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, then was the statewide coordinator of volunteers for John Kerry’s 2004 campaign.

When Barack Obama launched his presidential bid in early 2007 as a decided underdog, Mrs. Joseph was a key early organizer in Florida.

“She was one of the first people that we went to for Obama” in Florida, said Kirk Wagar, who was the Obama campaign’s Florida finance chairman. Obama’s first major Florida event, a March 2007 “low-dollar” fund-raiser that drew about 1,000 people to the Palm Beach County Convention Center, was largely put together by Mrs. Joseph, Wagar said.


Sen. Gelber also nearing AG run

Thursday, June 4th, 2009 by George Bennett

State Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, just issued a statement saying he’s very interested n running for attorney general. Reading between the lines, it seems he’s a tad disappointed by fellow Democratic Sen. Dave Aronberg’s announcement today that he’s running for AG.



Gelber recently dropped his U.S. Senate bid in the name of party unity and said he hoped that he, Aronberg and Rod Smith could avoid a messy Democratic primary for attorney general.

“My hope was that there would be time for all of us to be thoughtful and to unify, but given Senator Aronberg’s decision, I will my announce my plans soon,” Gelber said.

Read Gelber’s full remarks after the jump…..


Rod Smith still eyeing AG despite pal Aronberg’s announcement

Thursday, June 4th, 2009 by George Bennett

State Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, and former Democratic state Sen. Rod Smith are such good friends that some Democrats saw Aronberg’s announcement today that he’s running for attorney general as a sign that Smith has decided not to run for AG.

Not so.

“I’m still very much considering getting into the attorney general’s race,” Smith said this afternoon.


Sen. Dave Aronberg to run for attorney general

Thursday, June 4th, 2009 by George Bennett

Casting himself as a consumer advocate



and a protege of popular former Democratic attorney general Bob Butterworth, state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, announced today he’ll run for attorney general in 2010.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, is running for governor in 2010. Several Democrats and Republicans have been eyeing his job.


Is Democratic primary for attorney general unavoidable?

Monday, June 1st, 2009 by George Bennett

State Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, sidestepped a U.S. Senate primary over the weekend but may be headed into a three-Democrat battle for the party’s attorney general nomination.

Gelber, state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, and former Democratic state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua are all continuing to explore runs for the state’s top legal post in 2010. Incumbent AG Bill McCollum is running for governor.

The three potential Democratic candidates have talked extensively to each other over the last few weeks about avoiding a primary, but so far none has ruled out running.

“When we get into these primaries, it tends to become a circular firing squad,” Gelber said today.


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