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After tough retention fight, justices look to make it easier to collect cash

Monday, December 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Three Florida Supreme Court justices raised an unprecedented mountain of cash last year in beating back a bid to unseat them by tea party supporters and the state Republican Party.

Justices and their allies steadily ridiculed their opponents throughout the campaign for politicizing the court.

But this week, the court is poised to advance a provision which the same critics warn will inject even more politics into the judiciary, making it easier for justices to raise money and harness support for future campaigns.

“You could write a book about the hypocrisy of all this,” said Jesse Phillips, a Winter Park computer consultant who led Restore Justice 2012, the unsuccessful campaign to throw out Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis.

“We’re not the ones who raised big money. They did,” he added. “Now they’re looking to take away restrictions limiting them.”

The Supreme Court has proposed changing a judicial canon, or regulation, so that candidates on the same court who face opposition in a merit retention election could campaign together.

It’s designed to avoid the kind of awkward dance the three justices had to engage in last year – when they would try to avoid appearing together when even at the same event or fund-raiser.

Alex Villalobos, a former Miami state senator, now serves as president of Democracy At Stake, an organization formed to combat what leaders call “ongoing threats to the fairness and impartiality of the courts.”

He said justices know they are in a troubling “arms race” when it comes to fund-raising.

“You have to be prepared for a challenge,” Villalobos said. “You don’t know if it’s going to come or how. But it’s like if you put up a burglar alarm. You want to do it before your house is broken into.”

Full story here:   http://bit.ly/1cMnnUt

 

 

‘Nullifers’ revolt creates tea party divide

Thursday, December 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A group of tea party organizations is apologizing for what they called “disrespectful and inappropriate behavior by some conservative activists at a Senate committee meeting earlier this week.

Leaders of more than a dozen Florida-based tea party groups – including Palm Beach County Tea Party’s Pam Wohlschlegel – signed off on a letter sent the apology to senators today while asking lawmakers not to create a state-based health insurance exchange. That was the issue that drove dozens of tea partiers led by lawyer KrisAnne Hall, who later got into it with Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Hall and others were demanding the state “nullify” the federal health care act, upheld this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our compatriots were responding from an over-abundance of passion for freedom. They were spontaneously trying to participate in a process that has been frustrating and opaque for years and their response was not pre-meditated and not intended to interfere in your process,” the leaders wrote today. “However, speaking over a sitting Senator who is using his allotted time to represent his constituents is unacceptable. We cannot allow basic rules of civil conduct to be violated and we will endeavor to ask our fellow patriots to respect the process in ways we ask to be respected as well. We stand ready to assist you in your efforts to protect the natural rights of Floridians protected by the Florida and U.S. constitution to life, liberty and property.”

Some of the tea partiers at the Senate committee’s Monday meeting interrupted and booed Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. Smith pointed out that the U.S. Constitution is an “imperfect document” that had to be amended to do away with slavery.

Gaetz further angered Hall with a history lesson about Andrew Jackson that included a reference about shooting and hanging Civil War-era “nullifiers” that launched an Internet firestorm.

Gaetz’ ‘Shoot and hang the nullifiers’ history lesson riles tea partiers

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has raised the hackles of Florida tea party activists on the warpath about Gaetz and other GOP leaders’ apparent willingness to go along with the once-reviled “Obamacare.”

With more than a dozen supporters backing her up, tea party lawyer KrisAnne Hall heatedly told a Senate committee exploring implementation of the federal health care act they should nullify the law because it is unconstitutional. The raucous crowd repeatedly burst into applaud and even booed one senator who refuted their position.

Hall had a short confrontation with Gaetz after the meeting and apparently sent him an e-mail explaining “the Founders’ position on State Sovereignty and nullification,” according to her blog.

Gaetz, a sharp-tongued history buff who often punctuates his arguments with sarcasm, replied to Hall and others with a history lesson about Andrew Jackson. First, Gaetz reminds Hall that he opposes the law and also believes it’s unconstitutional.

“As to nullification, I tend to favor the approach used by Florida’s first Governor, Andrew Jackson:

It is said that one evening, while he was president, General Jackson was interrupted in his reading in his bedroom by an alarmed military aide who breathlessly reported, “Mr. President, the “nullifiers” are in front of the Executive Mansion with torches and guns. They are screaming that each state has the right to decide for itself which federal laws to follow. They threaten to burn us down if you will not agree with them.”

Without lifting his head from his reading, Andrew Jackson said, “Shoot the first nullifier who touches the Flag. And hang the rest.”

I have sworn an oath on my father’s Bible before Almighty God to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and government of the United States. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. Count me with Andrew Jackson.

Senator Don Gaetz

The e-mail sparked a firestorm in the tea party community, including on Hall’s Facebook page.

“After sending Senator Don Gaetz my letter explaining the positions of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton on State Sovereignty, Mr. Gaetz says that citizens who agree with the writer of the Declaration of Independence should be summarily shot and hanged. Does that means Don Gaetz is in favor of shooting the many Catholic Bishops and other religious leaders who have said that they will not comply with this mandate? Notice the double-speak in his email below. He affirms his support for the Constitution and then demonstrates his utter ignorance of its meaning and purpose,” Hall wrote on her blog.

Caught outside the Senate Democratic suite where Gaetz lunched with Democratic Leader Chris Smith and others, Gaetz downplayed the brewing battle between the “nullifiers” and the president and clarified that he was not advocating shooting tea partiers.

“No. I’d have to shoot my son,” Gaetz said. Rep. Matt Gaetz is an even more conservative Panhandle lawmaker than his father.

Gaetz explained the use of the Jackson anecdote.

“That’s just an old tale of what was said about what Andrew Jackson said. I simply sent it to her as a way to try to let her know that you can still be civil about these issues and you don’t have to be outraged about every single thing. You can disagree without being uncivil,” he said.

Scott pumps up tea partiers, digs in over voter purge

Sunday, June 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott pumped up a conservative crowd at a Tea Party Express event in the Capitol city Sunday afternoon, urging the activists to help him gain support for a controversial non-citizen voter purge now in federal court.

Wearing khakis, a blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his signature custom-made cowboy boots, Scott defended the purge and enlisted their aid getting President Obama’s administration to cooperate by granting access to a federal immigration database.

“Okay so the latest is who should get to vote in our state and in our country. People that are citizens of our country. It’s very simple, right? Who comes up with the idea that you get to vote if you’re not a citizen?” Scott asked near the end of a 15-minute speech at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum.

Scott explained that his administration unsuccessfully tried to get Homeland Security to give Florida access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or “SAVE,” database the states are supposed to be allowed to use to check voter IDs, among other things.

“That database is obligated to be given to us and it says it’s for voter registration. Go look at it. It’s the SAVE database from Homeland Security. It’s our right to get that data. For whatever reason, they decided not to give it to us. Can you imagine why?” Scott said. “So we have to, you have to, demand that Homeland Security does their job. I’m going to continue to stand up for your right. I do not want one person’s vote in this state diluted by somebody that doesn’t have the right to vote.”

Scott’s office on Friday released a document showing that 86 individuals were removed from the voter rolls since Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent a list of about 2,600 potential non-citizen voters to elections supervisors in April. The error-riddled list turned out to include the names of Floridians who were naturalized citizens and one decorated World War II veteran. The state department contends that 46 of those people – about one-third of one percent – voted in previous elections. But a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times review found that only six of those had cast ballots.

The purge has created a national firestorm and partisan split.

Scott remained steadfastly committed to the purge on Sunday.

“Here’s what we know. We know that people are on our voter rolls that don’t have a right to vote. We know that. We know that people have voted that don’t have a right to vote. We know that. How many races should be decided by somebody that doesn’t have the right to vote. Not one. Not one. Not one person should have the right to vote that doesn’t have the right to vote. That is wrong and it is a crime,” he said.

U.S Attorney General Eric Holder’s office last month told Scott to stop the scrub, saying it appeared to violate two federal laws. The federal “motor voter” law prohibits states from doing purges 90 days before an election. That deadline passed May 16 for Florida’s Aug. 14 primary. And Friday the ACLU and others sued Scott’s administration over the purge, asking a federal court to put a stop to it until the Justice Department weighs in.

But a defiant Scott instructed the tea partiers to contact “everybody that’s involved” and demand that the state get access to SAVE, adding that he’s not backing down. The ACLU and others sued Scott’s administration on Friday, asking a federal court to stop the purge until the Justice Department weighs in.

“It’s not going to be easy. I need your support. You need to go out there and let everybody know that this is wrong.”

Scott said later he is considering suing the Obama administration over its refusal to grant permission to use the database.

“I’ll decide over the next few days what we’re going to do. But I’m going to defend our right to vote. I care about every individual’s right to vote. I don’t want it diluted by somebody else’s vote,” he told reporters after the event.

During his speech, Scott repeatedly urged the tea partiers to put their grassroots activism to use over the purge.

“Your job is to make sure those individuals do their job. Call them. Do what you’ve done to me. I think last week I got 5,000 e-mails. E-mail me. Call. And call everybody else…I’m going to do my job. I’m going to make sure that happens,” he said.

In her introduction of Scott, Tea Party Express co-founder Amy Kremer also riled up the anti-Obama administration crowd over the purge, calling it part of an effort by Democrats to “steal” elections.

“If the Democrats cannot win it fair and square, they will steal it. They have done it before. We cannot let them take this away from us,” she said.

The battle over the voter vetting is on hold in Florida as the state’s 67 elections supervisors have said they will not continue the process until the issue is straightened out between Scott and the Obama administration or the courts. The elections supervisors are the only ones who have the ability to actually remove voters from the rolls.

Scott said he’s confident the supervisors will do the right thing.

“They got elected. They know their job. They have an obligation. My job is to enforce the law that I’m responsible for. They have an obligation to enforce their laws. They’re not supposed to allow anybody to vote that doesn’t have a right to vote,” he said Sunday. “They’re going to do the right thing. They’re doing the right thing. Not one person has been kicked off a voter roll that has a right to vote. But we do know people have voted. We do know people are on the voter rolls that don’t have a right to vote.”

Scott, whose popularity among Florida voters remains lackluster, told reporters he appeared at the event to help get voters primed for the November elections.

“Just to energize the vote. Get people out. Let people know this election’s important. Every election’s important. You always hear that this election’s the most important one. But elections are important. They have an impact. If you want to change the direction of the state, the country, you’ve got to show up,” he said.

Jennifer Carroll for vice president?

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Star Parker

Syndicated columnist and conservative talking head Star Parker wowed a group of tea partiers in the Capitol this afternoon on the opening day of session before making a recruiting stop at Lt. Gov Jennifer Carroll’s office.

Parker finished her half-hour informal speech with high praise for Carroll, a former state House member and retired Navy office whom Parker said she’s met once before.

“I’m hoping that she is in agreement with all of the ideas of limited size and scope of government because if she is I wanted to rumble out her name as we’re going around the country thinking that we need to find somebody ethnic to be the vice president – Republicans are going to win and all. She would be a better pick, would be my opinion,” Parker said, who met with Carroll for about five minutes, according to Gov. Rick Scott’s staff. Parker was in town briefly and flew into Tallahassee for a South Georgia meeting, she said.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll

“This is a quality person, decorated military, worked her butt off to get to the state House and now as lieutenant governor is the first in the country. We’ve never in this country had a black, conservative, female lieutenant governor. I think that is worth a couple of news stories,” said Parker, a syndicated columnist and FoxNews pundit.

As an added bonus, Parker said, “she’s from one of our critical states.” Florida, of course, is a key swing state in this year’s presidential election.

Rubio opens new office, hears from disgruntled tea partiers

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is back in the (state) Capitol in a new office more than a dozen floors above his old digs in the Speaker’s office this morning, hours before state lawmakers kick off the 2012 legislative session.

Rubio, a Miami native and former House Speaker who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, said he set up shop in the Capitol to stay close to what’s going on in the state.

“There’s no doubt about it. We don’t want to lose touch with the state. From my experience as the speaker and as a legislator, there are a lot of issues that the state is facing that…overlap with federal issues” including the Everglades and the space program, Rubio said. “I think being here is going to allow us to have a person on the ground especially during the legislative session but throughout the year that’s literally just a few doors away from key decision makers at the state level.”

Rubio shook hands with lobbyists, well-wishers and Capitol staffers but also got an earful from a group of tea partiers unhappy with his votes supporting the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that some critics believe gives the federal government the ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens accused of terrorism.

Rubio – whose tea party support helped clinched his U.S. Senate victory – argued that the law does not do that.

“I would never have voted for a bill that allows them to detain innocent American citizens in military tribunals. It’s just not true. We looked at that issue back and forth, left and right, up and down. It’s just not true. I would never support it if it did,” Rubio insisted.

But Paul Henry, a Monticello tea party activist and former state trooper, disagreed.

“What Sen. Rubio’s not aware of is this exact language that’s in there,” Henry said later.

One section of the law reads: “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.”

“But that does not prohibit them (from doing it),” Henry said. “I’m not required to drive a car. I could walk.”

Rubio’s votes disappointed some members of the dozens of tea party groups gathering in the Capitol for the session’s opening day, but they insisted they’re not giving up.

“We helped get the Republicans in the House and they still voted for the debt ceiling. We helped get so-called conservatives get elected and they vote for the Patriot Act. I think you are seeing a lot of widespread discouragement of all the energy spent to get to this point and we still have to go back and tell them what being a conservative means,” said Henry Kelley, a Tea Party Network leader from Fort Walton Beach.

Gingrich – on the rise and on the defensive – in Jax today

Thursday, November 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

With his popularity on the rise, conservative iconoclast Newt Gingrich will address a tea party crowd at The Landing in Jacksonville this afternoon.

The event takes place as Gingrich is on the defensive for his relationship with Freddie Mac. Bloomberg News reported this week that the former U.S. House Speaker earned at least $1.6 million over nearly a decade as a consultant for the beleaguered government-backed mortgage company. His GOP opponents in the presidential primary have hammered Freddie Mac for its role in the mortgage meltdown and the mortgage giant has symbolized for conservatives government overreach.

Gingrich himself has blamed Freddie Mac for the housing collapse.

Meanwhile, Gingrich’s star is on the rise among GOP voters, according to two recent national polls. One poll found that Gingrich has the best chance among GOP voters to defeat President Barack Obama next year. And another showed Gingrich’s popularity jumped 8 points from last month, trailing Mitt Romney by just two percentage points and making the race a statistical dead heat.

The First Coast Tea Party event in Jacksonville begins at 2 p.m. and was moved to riverfront site because of “the size of the event,” according to the Zamar Conference Center, where the gathering was originally scheduled, website.

Tea party bailout: Trump to pay local group’s disputed $6,000 bill for Boca Raton rally he headlined

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 by George Bennett

South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson is relaying word that Donald Trump will pay more than $6,000 that Boca Raton says it is owed for police officers and barriers that were deployed for an April South Florida Tea Party rally that Trump keynoted.

Wilkinson questioned the charges said his group didn’t have the money in its coffers to cover them.

“We’re working on paying it,” Wilkinson said earlier this month. “We don’t have the money right now, but we’re good at paying our bills.”

Here’s a statement from Trump adviser Michael Cohen as reported in Politico:

“An unexpectedly large number of citizens peaceably assembled at the Boca Tea party event, hosted by Everett Wilkinson, that drew a crowd in excess of 5000 people. Mr. Trump is honored that so many people came to hear him speak on important political and social issues. Mr. Trump does not want any citizen group to be disparaged or burdened for exercising their first amendment right and has agreed to personally cover the full obligation to the City of Boca Raton.”

Scott gets state budget as he worries about red ink

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011 by John Kennedy

On the same day Gov. Rick Scott fretted about the state’s rising tide of red ink, Florida lawmakers Tuesday sent him the $69.7 billion budget they approved earlier this month.

Scott has until June 1 to sign it and issue his vetoes — which he hinted Tuesday he plans to do, maybe with some gusto.

“I can tell you, though, there will be additional savings,” Scott said – hinting at vetoes that pour more money into state reserves, already at the $2.2 billion level.

 “In these economic times, we must ensure that every hard-earned tax collar is used wisely in a way that we get Florida back to work.”

State government debt climbed to $28.2 billion last year – up almost $2 billion from a year earlier and double what it was in 2000, according to the state’s Division of Bond Finance.

While lawmakers struggled to close an almost $3.8 billion budget shortfall – enacting deep cuts to schools and health and social services programs – almost $2.1 billion had to be taken from the budget just to finance the state’s debt.

 Since former Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999, ushering in a dozen years of Republican leadership, Florida’s borrowing has climbed by $12 billion. 

Those who helped write this year’s spending plan know the governor has the ball now.

 

“I suspect there will be some vetoes, but we have a responsible budget,” said House Appropriations Chair Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.

 ”The governor will come in and look at different issues, different items. He’ll bring a fresh eye to it.

Romney no-show in Capitol

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Romney

Gov. Rick Scott was scheduled to meet for half an hour this morning with ormer Massachusetts governor – and almost certain 2012 presidential candidate – Mitt Romney.

But the meeting between GOP governors past and present never took place because, Scott’s staff said, of the weather.

As anyone familiar with springtime in Florida’s hilly capital city, fog frequently makes flying in and out in the morning a crapshoot.

Scott’s a premium stop on the GOP presidential wannabes’ Sunshine State rounds.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty met with fellow tea party fave Scott last month.

Senate prez on protests: ‘Welcome to America’

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Protests planned on tomorrow’s opening day of the 2011 legislative session by unions and tea party activists are “exciting,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos told reporters this morning.

“This is America. People have every right to protest, positively or negatively. I think it’s exciting that people are taking such an interest in their government and they want to be vocal about where they stand,” the Merritt Island Republican, running for U.S. Senate, said. “If there are protests on either side, welcome to America.”

Asked if the protests might reach the heated level as Wisconsin, where union activists have camped out for weeks in the Capitol, Haridopolos shrugged.

“It might happen. If I was a protester and I had the choice of going to Wisconsin or Florida, I’d probably come here too,” he quipped.

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Supremes fast-track oral arguments on high-speed rail lawsuit

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court ordered oral arguments tomorrow at 3 p.m. on a lawsuit filed by two senators against Gov. Rick Scott over his nixing of a high-speed rail project.

The suit, filed by Sens. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accuses Scott of overstepping his authority when he rejected $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for a Tampa-to-Orlando rail project already approved by the legislature and his predecessor Charlie Crist.

Scott argued in his response that it was his privilege to turn down the money and that, at best, the court could order him to spend the $130.8 million already appropriated by the legislature for the project “to build a few miles of railroad for no apparent purpose”

If they did that, the “Court will have created the high-speed railroad to nowhere,” Scott’s response reads.

Scott and GOP’s plans fire Dems for ’12 campaigns

Sunday, February 27th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature’s ruling Republicans have kicked over a political hornet’s nest by promoting budget cuts, pension overhauls and civil justice changes, which are now emerging as targets for statewide rallies by Democratic-allied organizations.

The GOP’s tough medicine for a state pocked by foreclosures and almost 12 percent unemployment may be breathing life into a Florida Democratic Party, virtually left for dead after wholesale election defeats last fall. It also may effectively prove the opening round of the 2012 presidential contest in the nation’s biggest battleground state.

“Democrats last fall were down and outspent,” said Susannah Randolph, campaign manager for defeated Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and now an organizer of the March 8 rallies.

“Now we’re seeing that we have to respond to a threat level like DEFCON 1,” said Randolph, who also is a leader of Florida Watch Action. “And sure, we want to keep this energy going.”

Using a Facebook page, “Awake The State,” organizers are planning events in most major Florida cities on the legislature’s opening day. Although locations are still being determined, teachers and public employees’ unions, including police and firefighters, are forming the core of those protesting expected cuts in education, pensions and government workforces.

Counter-punching, tea party supporters are rallying behind Scott, and looking to converge on the state Capitol for the session’s launch, which coincides with the new governor’s first State of the State address.

Florida’s spring training season goes beyond baseball.  The parties are gearing up for the 2012 campaigns by energizing their political bases around Scott and the Legislature’s plans.

Bondi’s move on rights continues to draw pushback

Friday, February 25th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Sen. Arthenia Joyner of  Tampa and Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston on Friday renewed Democratic call for Attorney General Pam Bondi to drop her push to tighten Florida’s standards for restoring civil rights to felons after they completed their sentences.

 ”With a staggering unemployment rate of 12 percent, I’d think the attorney general would want to support any effort to help Floridians who have fully paid their debts to society, to find work,”  Rich said.

In a shocker for civil rights advocates and Democrats, Attorney General Pam Bondi is looking to undo Florida’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons. Bondi said she was likely to have a proposal to put before Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet next month.

“I don’t believe any felon should have an automatic restoration of rights,” the Republican Cabinet member told reporters Thursday morning. “I believe you should have to ask, and there should be an appropriate waiting period” of three to five years.

Joyner, though, said she felt Bondi’s move was aimed at placating tough-on-crime tea party advocates.

“From fighting Floridians access to family doctors, to withholding civil rights, it seems the Republican politicians are more interestedin hurting Florida than helping her,” Joyner said Friday.

Mica crafts rail run around Scott

Friday, February 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. John Mica has come up with a plan to thwart Gov. Rick Scott’s refusal of $2.4 billion for a high-speed rail project connecting Tampa and Orlando.

Mica, GOP chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is proposing that a “partial project rescue plan” that would substitute Orange and Osceola counties and Orlando for the state and allow the local governments to move forward with the initial 21-mile stretch.

“The first 21-mile section of the proposed corridor from the Orlando Airport to the Convention Center and Disney World holds the potential for not only being a viable project, but one that could turn a profit with a qualified private operator,” Mica said in a statement.

Mica’s plan would work like this:

· The initial operating segment would consist of 21 miles.

· The sub-grantees would consist of Orange, Osceola and the City of Orlando.

· The inter-local agreement would be crafted with these three initial participants, with the potential for additional future partners.

· The federal government would provide financial support for construction of the first segment, up to an agreed upon funding amount.

· The inter-local parties would solicit private sector proposals to finance, design, construct, operate, and maintain the project.

· All parties would agree to proceed only if the project is financially viable and they had unanimous consent regarding the terms of ownership, development and operation of the project.

Earlier this week, tea party-backed Scott stunned fellow Republicans as well as Democrats by refusing highly sought-after federal government’s $2.4 billion in stimulus funds – 90 percent of the project’s total cost. Scott said he did not believe the rail ridership would support the project, potentially putting the state on the hook for future expenses.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave Florida’s Congressional delegation until Thursday to come up with an alternate plan that would alleviate the state’s responsibility for the remaining $280 million and any potential cost overruns.

According to the press release, Mica is awaiting a response from local officials.

“The ridership numbers for this 21-mile corridor would be some of the best in the United States and the world, and I believe could also return revenue to each of the participating partners,” Mica said.

It remains unclear whether Scott ultimately would have to sign off on the plan.

Senate prez joins Scott in rejecting feds’$2.4 billion for rail

Friday, February 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The day after a bipartisan coalition of his members pleaded with the federal government for more time to work an end-run around Gov. Rick Scott’s rejection of $2.4 billion for high-speed rail, Senate President Mike Haridopolos joined the governor in saying “no thanks” for the dough.

“The federal government has earmarked $2.4 billion to finance part of the cost of construction of the proposed Florida high-speed rail project. But to do so, Washington would borrow 100% of that money, which would be financed in large part by foreign, non-democratic governments,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement released this morning.

Haridopolos is running statewide for U.S. Senate in what is expected to be a crowded GOP primary.

High-speed rail projects backed by President Obama’s federal stimulus funds have become a hot-button issue for tea partiers for whom the trains symbolize wasteful government spending.

U.S. Transportation Department Secretary gave Florida another week to come up with a plan for the $2.7 billion Tampa-to-Orlando project.

Read the rest of Haridopolos’ statement after the jump.
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Scott says no thanks to feds’ $2.4 billion for hi-speed rail

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott announced this morning he’s rejecting $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money from President Obama’s administration for a high-speed rail project from Orlando to Tampa.

Scott made the announcement at a hastily-called press conference this morning where he blasted the president’s budget.

“You don’t have to be an economics expert to know when you spend more money than you take in you will fail,” Scott said, saying ridership studies were overstated.

Scott’s move will certainly draw cheers from tea party activists who have railed against the high-speed rail project. Scott, who rolled out his budget at a tea party event earlier this month, met privately with two Tampa tea party activists last week. The pair urged him to say no to the high-speed rail project that had the support of powerful GOP legislative leaders as well as Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“I am deeply disappointed in the decision to not move forward with the Orlando to Tampa passenger rail project,” Mica said in a statement. “This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.”

Scott was also asked about Central Florida’s controversial $1.2 billion SunRail project — which critics have called a worse deal for taxpayers than high-speed rail.

“I’m still reviewing SunRail,” the governor said.

House Speaker Dean Cannon issued an ambiguous statement about Scott’s decision to scrap the project that would have brought jobs to his hometown.

“I have not spoken to the Governor regarding today’s announcement, but I watched the Governor’s press conference. I’m encouraged that he is focusing on the practical realities of government programs, and their long-term impacts. As the Constitutional officer charged with carrying out transportation policy, the Governor seems to have determined that at this time he cannot feasibly implement high-speed rail in Florida. I have confidence that he will bring the same level of scrutiny to other issues,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, said.

Tampa tea party activists tell Scott ‘no’ on hi-speed rail, say he didn’t cut enough from budget

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Tampa tea party activists Karen Jaroch, left, and Sharon Calvert

Tampa tea party activists Sharon Calvert and Karen Jaroch got a 30-minute meeting with Gov. Rick Scott today to tell him about their opposition to the state’s plans for high-speed rail.

The pair, who also attended a tea party rally in Eustis on Monday where Scott rolled out his first-ever budget, said the high-speed rail project is symbolic of wasteful government spending of taxpayers’ money. The federal government has given Florida $2.4 billion for the Tampa-Orlando project, which is expected to cost at least $2.6 billion.

That’s not included cost overruns typical of such projects, the tea partiers pointed out.

“We’ve got to stop the spending,” Calvert told reporters after the meeting with Scott.

As to Scott’s budget, in which he claims to have cut $4.62 billion but in reality reduced spending by closer to $3 billion, the tea partiers were relatively unimpressed.

“We don’t think it went far enough,” Janoch said.

Fla tea partiers push VA-style anti-health insurance law

Monday, December 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Liberty Alliance – a coalition of tea party activists – is pushing Senate President Mike Haridopolos to pass a law similar to Virginia’s that would exempt Floridians from the federal health care law requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

The group wants Haridopolos and the Florida Legislature to pass something similar to Virginia’s “Health Care Freedom Act” and make it one of the first things they do when they convene in March.

Haridopolos has already sponsored a constitutional amendment by the same name that would allow Florida to opt out of the health care law, now under scrutiny by a federal judge in Pensacola.

But the alliance doesn’t want to wait until the 2012 election when the proposal would go on the ballot.

“We respectfully ask that all expeditious measure be taken to introduce legislation to create Florida law, as was crafted so well in Virginia, to secure these protections by statute for Floridians as one of the very first legislative initiatives in the new session,” wrote a group of tea party activists in a letter to Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, released today.

“We believe that if Governor Scott, as one of his first acts on taking office, were to sign such legislation into law, the citizens of Florida would see that our elected Representatives not only take their oath of office to protect the Constitution seriously, but it would send a very strong message to Washington and the entire nation,” the letter goes on.

A federal judge in Virginia last week overturned the “individual mandate” portion of the law requiring that individuals and families have health insurance coverage or pay a fine. That case is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola this week heard oral arguments in a challenge filed by Attorney General Bill McCollum and 19 other states. The Florida case also contends that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the federal government overreached its authority with sweeping changes to the federal-state Medicaid program included in the law.

Tea partiers to lawmakers: We have our eyes on you.

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

More than 100 members of the tea party movement, many of them county leaders, showed up on the day of the special session to learn more about the state legislature and to remind lawmakers that they’re going to hold them paying close attention to how they vote on tax and spending issues.

“We’re here to send a message to the Florida Legislature that we’re serious about holding them accountable,” said Henry Kelley, leader of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party and organizer of Tuesday’s event.

Several powerful GOP leaders, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Sen. John Thrasher, who’s also the head of the Republican Party of Florida, dropped by the group’s meeting in a Senate committee room.

Haridopolos, who pledged Tuesday that lawmakers “will not raise taxes a single dime,” said he had a good talk with the group.

“That’s the kind of energy we need. As a person who strongly believes in the Constitution, I’m glad that they’re leading the fight to make sure we have limited government,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said later.

“We want to have a two-way dialogue with them throughout the year. We want to hear directly from people because sometimes in Tallahassee you get too isolated,” he said.

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