The Sugar Industry is getting its way again with the Florida Legislature and the losers will be Florida’s taxpayers, tourism related businesses and ecosystem. The bill which is needed to codify the settlement between the state and feds regarding Everglades cleanup requires Sugar to pay far less than what can be considered a fair share towards the effort. The legislation received unanimous bi-partisan support on Thursday in a House Committee. The legislation represents a tax hike for Florida citizens while sugar gets off relatively easy.
Many have noticed that we haven’t posted anything new in a week. It hasn’t been a slow news week at all with the election of Darryl Rouson as House Minority Leader designee, and countless legislative issues, as well continuing fallout from the Greer non-trial. Instead our writers have been focused on new projects while committing to keep TPH relevant.
Our plan is to keep The Political Hurricane going but with more sporadic posts which are long form analytical in nature. In the meantime, our writers are focused on different projects. Kartik Krishnaiyer will continue his daily look at Florida Politics at a new progressive site which debuts today, The Florida Squeeze. Dave Trotter will be analyzing international elections and voting trends at How The World Votes. In recent days Dave has focused on the upcoming Italian Elections.
Steve Bousquet reported in the Tampa Bay Times that we will finally have a House Leadership election on February 20th, more than a month after Darryl Rouson (D-St Petersburg) tried to call for a vote. While both Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) and Rouson claim to have the commitments of be elected leader designee, our sources indicate that Rouson has signed pledges from at least half the caucus and with verbal commitments (which by definition are soft) he has the support of over 2/3 of the 44 member caucus. Jones has the tacit support of current leader Perry Thurston (D-Plantation) and of several party staffers and consultants. It is worth noting once again that for a party that prides itself on being diverse, the Democrats have not had a female House leader in well over a decade.
Rouson is a former Republican whose views on some social issues have “evolved” with time and who has received lots of money from school “choice” advocates. Jones is clearly more liberal, but unlike Rouson who raised money for numerous Democrats running for State House in 2012, even those not targeted by House Victory, Jones own record in helping other Democrats is spotty at best. During the 2012 cycle Rosuon even personally contributed to the recruitment of many Democratic candidates, while Jones may have played a role in the underwhelming Democratic performance. This was a cycle where on a newly drawn map, the party captured only 35% of House seats while President Obama carried the state with 50% of the vote and Senator Nelson was reelected with 55% of the vote.
Since Dave Trotter published this 2005 video the other day much discussion has permeated Florida Democratic circles about Darryl Rouson and LGBT issues. Rouson is considered the runaway front runner to be the next House Democratic leader. I have already editorialized that I feel the next leader should be if possible a woman as the House Democratic Caucus has a woeful record of promoting women into leadership positions over the past decade. However, let me state that it is important to pick the best possible leader and with the discussion of Rouson becoming poisoned recently, I sought out a few reliable sources on this issue.
It appears Rouson has “evolved” on the issue of LGBT rights from advocating outright discrimination in 2005 to being a supporter and some have told me even a champion of these rights in 2013. In fact his “evolution” while perhaps more pronounced than many progressives does mirror to an extent what has happened on the left and in general throughout American society over the past decade.
Much of the attention of Florida Democrats has been rightfully focused on ousting Governor Rick Scott next year. However, little if any time has been spent in discussing the statewide cabinet races, a place where Democrats must take advantage of shifting attitudes and demographics in the state. Democrats have lots 10 of the last 11 cabinet races with the lone victory coming in 2006 when Alex Sink defeated Senate President Tom Lee who had become unpopular among Tallahassee lobbyists and Republican donors/activists throughout the state. This record is worse than any other Democratic Party east of the Mississippi over the same time period (since 2000). While defeating Jeff Atwater (who boasts support of many nominal Democrats in southeast Florida) and Adam Putnam, the former number three Republican in the House leadership appears a clean fit for Agriculture Commissioner. While Democrats should by no means concede these two races, the focus should be on Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Consider that many members of the Florida Bar consider Pam Bondi to be one of the worst Attorney Generals in the country. Bondi has been the hyper-partisan ideological law enforcement office Florida Republicans have long craved. This is no surprise considering Bondi’s prior claim to fame was a conservative hack on FOX News’ Hannity show, which is one hour of pure right wing drivel. Bondi won a competitive three way Republican Primary in 2010 and then benefited from a conservative tide and political attacks bordering on slander towards Dan Gelber, the single state legislator who was most qualified to be Attorney General in the State of Florida in order to win her office. Bondi and her surrogates waged a campaign of fear and demagoguery about “Obamacare,” feminism and “radical environmentalism.”
I think Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) who is a candidate for Minority Leader against the favored Darryl Rouson (D-St Petersburg) and the irrelevant Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) is a solid choice, and I would like to see her win the post. However, I am very troubled to learn that in the dying days of the 2012 campaign as Democrats were struggling to raise last minute cash in extremely close races that the Florida Democratic Party cut two large checks to Jones campaign in a safe African-American dominated Jacksonville district.
For some strange reason Tallahassee establishment Democrats were patting themselves on the back for winning 44 of 120 House seats in this election while the party carried the state at the Presidential and US Senate level. That’s less than 36% of the seats that was won by the Democrats on a completely new legislative map, where almost as many seats should go Democratic as Republican. The FDP choose to not contest seriously many pick-up opportunities, for some inexplicable reason. Incumbency has advantages no doubt, but those advantages are negated to a certain extent when sitting members must run in new terrain. One such example was HD-63 where 2/3 of the district was new to Rep. Shawn Harrison and Mark Danish won despite the indifference of the Tallahassee based FDP leadership.
The closeness of the FDP Chairs race exposed the fault lines on the state party level that exist throughout Florida. They also demonstrated the strong support two excellent candidates had gained through a bruising campaign. Alan Clendenin put many important reform minded ideas on the table, that were embraced by rank in file DEC members across the state. Allison Tant, who has had a key role in formulating and funding a progressive network of advocacy groups that have helped negatively define Rick Scott, also has a background as a strong fundraiser.
The contest could have served as a springboard for ideas and uniting the party going into a tough 2014 election cycle. But what has instead happened is that feuds, both age old and brand new are consuming DEC’s throughout the state.
Large county DECs seem to always be characterized by factions and right now is no exception. But it seems the energy and possible positive momentum generated by a contentious but necessary race for FDP Chair (the closest in election in at least two decades) may be refocused on petty in-fighting at the DEC level.
Since we’ve been so focused on the FDP Chair’s Race the past few months when Palm Beach County comes up, the name John Ramos instantly springs to mind. But the new Palm Beach County State-committeeman has nothing to do with this scandal, which fell squarely during the tenure of Chairman Mark Alan Siegel, Ramos opponent in December for State Committeeman. Ramos vote for Allison Tant, against the wishes of 97% of his DEC has been much talked about (Alan Clendenin was recommended by the DEC in a 97%-3% vote at the January general meeting) and is dominating the local chatter. But it is the disgraceful and possibly criminal scandal of 2012 involving former DEC officer Shahid Freeman that has hit the papers yet again today. Today’s PB Post article is important reading for those of you who did not follow this scandal as it developed last Spring.
Saturday’s FDP Chair’s Election was the closest in decades. Allison Tant’s narrow victory over Alan Clendenin came after a spirited campaign where both candidates brought forward ideas to move a party that has been performing below an acceptable level forward. But as we saw in the campaign, some supporters of both candidates are either acting as sore losers or far from magnanimous victors.
It is time for Democratic activists to move on, accepting the result if you are a Clendenin supporters like myself and accepting the relative closeness of the result means dissatisfaction exists with the party as is if you were a Tant supporter. From this day forward we must all be strong supporters of Allison Tant and her attempts to reform and rebuild the Florida Democratic Party.
I have often been asked what happened on the school voucher issue to create a dynamic where the number of legislative Democrats who supported corporate tax credit vouchers grew from 1 to 24 between 2001 and 2011. Did the Democrats shift ideologically to the middle in mass during that period, despite continuing to lose the vast majority of legislative elections in the state? Why has the pro-voucher group All Children Matter, founded by Betsy and Rich DeVos (the largest family contributors to the National GOP during the 1980s and 1990s) and heavily funded by the estate of Walmart founder Sam Walton, spent over half its money in the state of Florida since 2004? I have also been asked why Florida’s Democrats seem to have accepted school vouchers while their counterparts in other states, some more conservative than Florida, continue to fight tooth and nail against them.
The simple answers are campaign cash, lack of personal convictions by Democratic officeholders and a state party with no moral compass. Also the unwillingness of Democrats to stand strong on principle and desperation for campaign cash plays into this.
When Jeb Bush was elected in 1998, backed by the Republican takeover of the Legislature two years earlier, school vouchers became one of the two biggest priorities for the new Governor. The other major priority of tort reform went along with the national GOP agenda of “defunding the left,” which meant mitigating the amount of influence the trial lawyers and teachers unions could have on political campaigns. Vouchers were a way of breaking the teachers union while echoing common Republican themes about the private sector and capitalism.
Many longtime Republican legislators were dubious about vouchers. These legislators, such as Senator Jim King and Representatives Dennis Jones and Evelyn Lynn, went along with the 1999 “A plus Plan” but voiced concerns about some of the plans’ facets. In time, all three of the aforementioned legislators would become thorns in the side of the school choice movement in Florida. Meanwhile, several other Republicans voted against the school choice plan and a few rural Democratic legislators who had stopped voting with their party on every other issue cast questions over school choice. But as time went on the conversion of Democrats from more liberal areas more than offset the defections of a few wise Republicans on the voucher movement.
The DeVos family who own the Orlando Magic were prominent financial backers of the late Rev. D. James Kennedy a Fort Lauderdale pastor whose Sunday services were beamed via satellite to a national audience. Kennedy’s weekly sermons often contained messages denouncing the separation of church as a myth and state and included frequent gay-baiting. They have also been the single largest contributor to the various groups, advocating school choice legislation in Florida, most notably the group they founded “All Children Matter.”