Context Archives - Florida Politics

Corporate media leaves the Republic in the lurch

Between the lingering ethical stench of Brian Williams and the high hysteria quotient of the rest of the “talent” at NBC, it’s easy to forget that the network still has some working journalists on the payroll, producing some remarkable work.

Eight of them joined forces to create this thoughtful piece of multimedia reporting that goes a long way toward explaining why, on this Inauguration Day, Democrats are “left in the lurch.”

You need to turn off all your devices — especially the TV — to slog through the dense mix of history, statistics, demographics, and trends identified and analyzed. Like all real journalism, this project asks far more of its audience than the consultants, commentators, contributors, and Friends of the Show that Corporate Broadcast Media fawns over on Inauguration Day, and every day.

American broadcast news has devolved to almost nothing but “political analysis” delivered by men and women who can emote for the camera while babbling a fluent stream of Word Salad. The Political-Media Codependent Complex is a death spiral for democracy, but a cash cow for corporate media, and for those who have mastered the art of “messaging” their way into The Conversation. The men and women who dig for facts and keep their “quite frank” opinions to themselves are, like Democrats, left in the lurch.

The election of President Are You Not Entertained? has not made a dent in the “journalism” that spends too much time telling people what to think and too little time giving them the facts they need to think for themselves. Real reporters get a vastly smaller portion of airtime than they used to.  But they’re still around, even at NBC, and that’s cause for hope that the People on TV will one day educate themselves. Or stop talking.

 

Christian Ulvert: A presidency remembered for tearing down walls of injustice

As I traveled back from Thailand to the United States earlier this month, I watched “Southside With You” and was once again in awe on the deep-rooted bond between our now former President, Barack Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama. The movie also depicts the devoted love President Obama has for his community and his sense of urgency to move strategically on solving problems.

The movie was as a reminder of why so many of us feel a deep connection to this president. I never worked on his campaigns, but was moved to volunteer often. Every one has a personal story on how President Obama has marked their life in a positive way. In Miami-Dade, you hear stories of families reunited with their Cuban relatives, residents who have insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, Dreamers who feel their government is on their side and couples like Carlos and I who were able to marry because this President believed in us.

You see, this President looked to his heart every day to find ways to make this country better and stronger. President Obama governed with a bold agenda that was guided by his belief that government should tear down the injustices in our country that held back so many from achieving their full potential.

In many ways, my ability to live by our nation’s credo, “in the pursuit of happiness,” was fully realized when President Obama declared that marriage equality was going to be his fight and one that he was not going to back down from, regardless of who stood in his way. I am able to live a life full of love, joy and complete happiness because our government didn’t stop me from marrying the person I love.

Like so many, I have watched the final days of President Obama’s presidency with hope and sadness. He encourages us to remain hopeful while our hearts weep because we know he accomplished so much and stayed true to his campaign motto of Hope and Change. We don’t know what President Donald Trump’s administration will bring to our nation, but I have to believe in President Obama’s words that our nation will be OK.

For me, one thing is certain, President Obama has shifted my view on how to stay engaged. On this Jan. 20, I will reflect on President Obama’s legacy and use it as a call to action. Let us live by the hope to fight injustices, the will to change them and the freedom to marry the one you love.

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Christian Ulvert is a Florida Democratic political and public affairs consultant based in Miami.

 

A Donald Trump administration; Too late America, we’re doing this

You ever talk yourself into trying one of those amusement park thrill rides, the kind that turns you upside down and inside out?

You told yourself a million times you would never ride that thing, but here you are, strapped into your seat as your car reaches the top of that terrifying first drop.

Just before you slip over the edge, you think, “What have I done?”

Too late now. You’re doing this.

And so, America, welcome to the Trump administration.

Polls show considerable buyer’s regret since the election in November, as his approval ratings are at historic lows for an incoming president. Once he puts his hand on the Bible and repeats the 35-word presidential oath, Donald J. Trump will officially be the leader of the free world.

Too late now, America. We’re all doing this.

Let’s see if what he promised matches the reality of his term. Here are a few of the biggies, in order of the likelihood of the promises being kept.

REPEAL AND REPLACE OBAMACARE: That will happen. That process is well underway. But replacing it with “something great” that accomplishes Trump’s stated goal of insuring everyone? That will be President Trump’s first and maybe biggest test of leadership against a hawkish Congress controlled by his own Republican Party.

Probability of repeal and replace: 100 percent.

Probability that a majority of Americans will accept it when they realize their favorite part of Obamacare no longer exists: 10 percent.

APPOINT A CONSERVATIVE JUDGE TO THE SUPREME COURT: Book it. Probability: 100 percent.

DEPORT 11 MILLION ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: That was a promise that helped Trump skyrocket with voters who blame illegal immigrants for everything except global warming (because that’s a hoax, right?). Since the cost of fulfilling that promise has been estimated at $600 billion minimum, there zero probability of that happening. But … there are reports that the new administration is ready to immediately implement what surely will be a selective high-profile sweep of illegals. Maybe that will be enough for Trump to declare victory.

OVERHAUL THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION: I think if that could be done, President Obama would have accomplished it. The disasters at Veterans Affairs were one of Obama’s greatest failings. Trump will take a swing. Heads will roll. Heads should roll, and we know how good he is at saying “You’re fired.” So, yeah: Probability he will try: 100 percent. Probability he will succeed: 30 percent.

THE WALL: Yes, that wall he promised along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico can be built. He can back up his vow to make Mexico pay for it by deductions in foreign aid, tariffs on Mexican imports, and so on. But governing is different from campaigning. I don’t think this is a sure thing. Probability: 80 percent.

OVERHAUL TRADE AGREEMENTS TO PUT AMERICA FIRST: Trump’s tough talk on this issue probably won him the election by appealing to disenfranchised Midwestern voters. But every action triggers a reaction, and just ditching things like NAFTA and imposing massive tariffs on imports could send the economy over the edge of our mythical thrill ride. This likely will be one where Trump gets a couple of treaties rewritten and declares victory. But for the kind of impact he envisions and promised? Probability: 40 percent.

ALSO, THESE: Prosecute Hillary Clinton (zero percent) … Allow waterboarding and other means of torture slipped to 2 percent after incoming defense secretary James Mattis told Trump it doesn’t work … Leave Social Security and Medicare alone (95 percent). … Cut taxes (100 percent) … Reduce the national debt (zero percent; can’t cut taxes, increase infrastructure and other spending, leave social safety nets alone, and expect to reduce the national debt).

And finally …

BE UNPREDICTABLE: Even Vegas wouldn’t offer book on this one. Probability: Infinity to the 10-millionth power.

J.P. Sasser: Environmental activists rewriting history, fraudulently manipulating data to sell land plan

J.P. Sasser

It’s incredible how foggy some people’s memories are when it comes to past efforts to restore the Everglades, buy farmland and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Time and again, environmental extremists are quick to blame the sugar industry for every ill in the region, past, present and future, without any regard to science or the truth.

And speaking of the truth and science, recently, they were caught by the South Florida Water Management District manipulating data to show a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is preferable to one to the north. The real science shows it is not.

For starters, no one is arguing that the discharges do not create problems for coastal communities due to the infusion of fresh water (up to 80 percent of which is later filled with nutrients in the local basins) to the estuaries.

The simplest way to capture and clean this excess water is to put it in a reservoir where it originates: north of the lake. This is the thinking behind the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that — combined with the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) — is scientifically designed to reduce the discharges plaguing the area.

No part of CERP or CEPP calls for buying additional land. The land for a southern reservoir was already purchased before both plans were developed.

Would-be land grabbers label the sugar industry as an opponent of storage south of Lake Okeechobee, but it was the sugar industry that gave up 120,000 acres of farmland over the last 20 years for Stormwater Treatement Areas (STAs), flow equalization basins (FEBs) and other projects.

The first of two reservoirs, the A1, has already been constructed. Additional reservoir construction was halted not by the sugar industry, but by environmental special interests, including the Everglades Trust. Following a ruling in 2010 by U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno forcing the completion of the reservoir, Everglades Foundation attorney Thom Rumberger wrote this in his opposition to the reservoir: “The reservoir is unnecessary and expensive … It is our opinion and that of the scientists … that it’s more advantageous to have the property.”

The gamesmanship involved in the construction of this reservoir shows that the motives of the groups funded by Paul Tudor Jones II, including the Everglades Foundation, Sierra Club and Audubon Florida, are less about fixing water quality problems and more about taking land from sugar farmers. Because buying land is their answer to everything.

Want to solve local water quality problems in communities 60 miles north of the Glades? Buy the land. Want to stop red tide? Buy the land. Want to fix Florida Bay? Buy the land.

All of these claims are made without science or any regard for the people living in these communities.

Clearly, the people of the Glades communities have done their part. In addition to cleaning water every year by an average of 55 percent, they gave up 60,000 acres of the Talisman sugar-cane property in 1999, which shut down at least one sugar cane processing mill. They’ve also spent more than $250 million through an agricultural privilege tax and another $200 million or so that is a combination of the $5 per acre to fund research on BMPs and restoration efforts and the estimated cost of performing on-farm BMP. All of this despite the fact that the communities north of Lake Okeechobee are contributing more than 95 percent of the nutrient load and water flows to the lake. What have these communities given us other than dirty water and the headache of calling for the purchase of our land?

The Glades communities are more united against current proposals in the Legislature to buy their land than at any point in recent memory. Predictably, environmental groups such as the Everglades Trust are rallying behind this plan as if it’s Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Floridians should be skeptical of this plan for a variety of reasons. Why is more land needed when plenty of land has already been taken? Recent revelations about the Everglades Foundation’s fraudulent manipulation of the modeling used to calculate their reservoir is another cause for concern.

The Everglades Foundation’s fraud was called into question by a South Florida Water Management District scientist in a recent journal article where they were peddling more lies.

The sales job involved in pushing this misguided policy tells you everything you need to know: It stinks to high hell. When the history of Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee has to be rewritten, and numbers have to be made up to sell it, it’s clear those pushing for it are becoming more and more desperate by the day.

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J.P. Sasser is the former mayor of Pahokee, Florida.

Obama’s electoral legacy: After 8 years, we get a Donald Trump

(Part 2 of the Obama legacy)

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, it is a good time to review the electoral impact of eight years of the Obama White House. One of the impacts is the election of Trump which surprised the entire political universe.

Whatever Obama may have achieved in public policy, it is that policy which is in great part responsible for setting “the post-World War II record for losses by the White House party,” according to Larry Sabato. Democrats lost over 1,000 seats at the state and national level.

However important the Obama policies may have been, it is fair to argue that those policies contained the seeds of Democratic losses. The Wall Street and big bank bailouts led to the creation of the Tea Party. The Tea Party became a primary vehicle to organize disaffected Republicans against bailouts for Wall Street and not Main Street. Combined with opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mobilized Republicans took over control of both the House and Senate, and effectively denying Obama the needed votes to carry out the rest of his agenda.

After the 2016 election, Democrats held 11 fewer Senate seats than they did Jan. 20, 2009, a 16 percent decrease. Democrats hold 62 fewer House seats than in 2009, a drop of 24 percent. They also lost control of the White House giving Republicans complete control of the national government.

At the state level, the number of Democrat governors fell from 28 to 16, a 43 percent decline. In 2009, Democrats controlled both houses in 27 states; after 2016, the number dropped to dual control of only 14 states, a 48 percent drop. On top of this, Democrats lost 959 seats in the state legislatures, weakening them for years to come.

These losses mean that Democrats will have a difficult time in passing their agenda at the state and national level. It also means that the Democratic bench of future leaders has been wiped out, making it difficult for them to find and finance competitive candidates. Finally, since Democrats foolishly changed the filibuster rules in 2013, cabinet nominees and most court appointees will need only 51 votes to be confirmed. This creates the possibility for more extreme nominees to win confirmation.

One of the few positive thing for Democrats is that it is difficult to imagine them losing many more seats. The out-party normally makes gains in midterm elections. Unfortunately for Democrats, they must defend 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2018, and Trump won 10 of the 25 states that Democrats must defend.

If the Democrats could pick up only two Senate seats in 2016 when Republicans had to defend 24 of the 34 seats, it is hard to imagine them doing better in 2018 when they must defend two out of every three Senate seats up for election.

Without Obama on the ballot in 2016 and 2018, fewer young and minority voters will turn out at the polls. Although Democrats have dominated among young voters, few of them turn out, especially in off-year elections.

Democrats have complicated their problem with young voters by having an array of senior citizen leaders. Nancy Pelosi has been the ranking Democratic leader for 6 terms, as has second-ranking Democrat Steny Hoyer. Third-ranking Democrat James Clyburn has served five terms as leader. Pelosi is 76, and Hoyer and Clyburn are 77.

Although Democrats have been devastated during Obama’s tenure, he is not solely responsible. Obama is only the third Democratic president to twice win a popular vote majority, along with Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt.

Democratic National Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Congresswomen from Florida, was widely viewed as an ineffective spokesperson for the party and was eventually ousted for what many Democrats viewed as her favoritism for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Obama appointed Wasserman Schultz to become chair of the Democratic Party and, critics contend, for standing by her for far too long.

Politics is a strange beast. Six months ago, almost everyone believed the Republican Party was on its last legs, and the Trump nomination would doom them forever. Today the Republicans control all three branches of the federal government, and it appears that the Democrats are on life support.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Commissioners get two fat salaries; public gets half their time, all the bill

In Leon County, the median household income is $47,000, and people who are lucky enough to have a full-time job are generally expected to work that job, you know, full-time.

At $75,829, plus benefits, Leon County Commissioners’ compensation is well above what most of their constituents earn, but it’s less than what Commissioners Nick Maddox and Jimbo Jackson collect at their other full-time job.

Maddox was just hired to head the Foundation for Leon County Schools at a salary of $78,000. Jackson makes $90,875 as principal of Ft. Braden School.

Maddox modestly assured the Tallahassee Democrat that he’s going to do a “great” job in both of his positions and if Jackson’s staff at Ft. Braden has any complaints about picking up their principal’s slack, it’s a safe bet they won’t be griping to reporters.

Maddox and Jackson did not invent the fiction that public officials can serve two masters.  And the public didn’t especially mind in times and places when a public official’s salary was little more than gas money.  In modern times, Maddox and Jackson are just a tiny tip of an iceberg of public officials who serve two, three, four and more masters at great cost to taxpayers. We’ve all gotten used to it, but that does not make it right.

 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could mean more Florida charter schools, a lot more

Betsy DeVos, whose children never attended public schools, may soon lead the nation’s Department of Education. Assuming she is confirmed, care to take a guess what Florida public education will look like four years from now?

Perhaps former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is DeVos’ biggest cheerleader, can provide some insight. He wrote a stirring endorsement of her in Tuesday’s USA Today, coinciding with her hearing before a U.S. Senate confirmation panel.

“Instead of defending and increasing Washington’s power, Betsy will cut federal red tape and be a passionate advocate for state and local control of schools. More importantly, she will empower parents with greater choices and a stronger voice over their children’s education,” Bush wrote.

“In the two decades that I have been actively involved in education reform, I have worked side-by-side with Betsy to promote school choice and put the interests of students first. I know her commitment to children, especially at-risk kids, is genuine and deep.”

Let’s dissect those words.

First, the biggest federal overreach in education was the No Child Left Behind program signed into law in 2002 by Jeb’s brother, President George W. Bush. It had strong bipartisan support in Congress and from the business community, which argued that U.S. public school students were falling behind those from other nations in math and science.

In the name of “accountability” for schools, NCLB mandated a battery of standardized tests for students. It also allowed students from poor-performing schools to transfer to ones with better overall test results.

There were other federal demands on local school districts, including offering free tutoring to students in need. Of course, the money that was supposed to pay for that never quite materialized in the federal budget, and many schools still struggle to provide that service today.

“Accountability” testing has become a raw spot for teachers, who can face reprisals if low-performing don’t improve.

By not “defending and increasing Washington’s power” we would assume DeVos would defer more education power to Florida. That may not be much help. Besides the federal mandates, Florida tacked on many other tests, leading to teacher burnout and complaints they were only “teaching the test” to bored students while Republicans touted charter schools as the answer.

In the next four years, Florida undoubtedly will have many more than the 652 charter schools currently serving more than 270,000 students. That is an increase of 134 charters and about 90,000 more students since Rick Scott took over as governor in 2011.

Public school teachers and administrators complain loudly that some of those charters don’t have to meet the same standards they do and don’t have to accept problem students.

Charter advocates counter that many financially secure people already can (and do) opt out of public education by sending their kids to expensive private schools.

Tampa’s highly regarded Jesuit High School, for instance, charges nearly $15,000 in tuition, plus other fees. Tampa Prep High School charges more than $22,000 a year in tuition, although it also offers needs-based financial help for those who can’t afford to pay full freight.

Offering charter alternatives to students who couldn’t think about getting into schools like that is only fair, advocates say.

It’s a bedrock Republican ideal: private business is better than government programs, and private education (or charter schools) can be a good alternative to public schools in many cases.

Class, let’s review: School “choice” means less money for public education. Hillsborough County, the nation’s ninth-largest school district, already is grappling with severe budget problems. That presumably will get worse.

We will see more private charter schools – probably a lot more.

That will be done over the wailing and teeth-gnashing of Florida Democrats (like that matters, given their general impotency these days) and the state teachers’ union.

Florida Republicans will celebrate that victory with particular vigor.

 

A look at Obama’s legacy, foolish hope of ‘post-racial’ America

(Part 1 of two. Part two will deal with Obama’s political legacy)

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama focused on the theme of change. Obama promised to “restore our moral standing” and “focus on nation-building here at home.”

Obama, as a candidate, told audiences that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” “Yes, we can” and “change you can believe in” became the campaign themes.

Obama promised to “make government cool again.” This would be achieved by an activist, expanding federal government. Obama seemed to be contradicting the message of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who argued that “the era of big government is over.”

Although Obama viewed himself as a transformative president, much of his first year in office was spent stabilizing America’s collapsing economy and avoiding another Great Depression.

America was losing 700,000 to 800,000 a month with no let up in sight. Major banks and Wall Street brokers were declaring bankruptcy, and the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse.

If nothing else, Obama deserves credit for stabilizing the economy. His action plan included an unpopular stimulus program, a bailout of the auto industry that some described as socialism, and shoring up the big banks that were responsible for much of the economic instability with their risky loans.

As a result of President Obama’s efforts, an economic catastrophe was avoided. We have had eight consecutive years of economic growth, although critics pointed out the less than 3 percent growth rate was low. The economic programs, in part, lead to an 88 percent increase in the national debt and the loss of the United States AAA bond rating.

“Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was the primary domestic accomplishment of the Obama presidency. Young individuals could remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, preexisting conditions would not disqualify you from coverage and 20 million more Americans received health care coverage.

The ACA was not without its critics. The plan did not control health care costs as promised, and Obama’s promise to Americans that “if you like your doctors, you can keep them” and “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” proved not to be true. In fact, Politics-Fact labeled those promises the “lie of the year.”

The ACA was narrowly passed without a single Republican vote. That does not bode well for its long-term success. Major public policy change in the United States, to succeed, needs to be comfortably passed with bipartisan support. Civil rights legislation and Medicare are just two examples of that.

Democrats contend that Republicans were not going to vote for the ACA and give Obama a major political victory. Republicans argued that the president made no attempt to reach out to them and find common ground. The president has many tools available to curry support, most importantly, the power of persuasion. For whatever reason, the goal seemed to pass the ACA with or without Republican votes.

The election of Donald Trump now jeopardizes the ACA. Republicans must realize that if they attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare without Democratic support, their plan will fail just as Obama’s plan is likely to fail.

Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was supposed to lead to a “post-racial America.” That was a foolish and unrealistic expectation.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia in an attempt to counter the negative public reaction to statements from Jeremiah Wright, the president’s longtime friend and minister. Wright attacked racism in America in many of his talks. The most explosive comment found Wright stating: “Not God bless America. God damn America!”

In his address on race, Obama said Wright was correct in talking about racism but wrong in speaking “as if no progress had been made.”

Almost as soon as he assumed the presidency, Obama dealt with one racial issue after another. In 2009, Obama said a police officer “acted stupidly” when he arrested Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black Harvard professor when Gates entered his home through a window after forgetting his house key. Obama quickly held a “beer summit,” inviting both Gates and the police officer to talk through their dispute.

In 2012, the nation was divided when a white neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a young black male named Trayvon Martin. Obama told reporters that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” The white shooter was found not guilty.

A police shooting of another black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 led to criticism of Obama by both whites and blacks. Whites attacked the president for criticizing the police in “using excessive force” against protestors who were “lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.” Blacks criticized the president for stating that there is “no excuse for violence against the police” or “those who would use this tragedy to cover for vandalism or looting.”

 In 2015, the nation was shocked by the brutal murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a young white male who had been invited to join the Bible study. The nation saw the moving acts of forgiveness as one relative after another of the victims said they forgave him. This act of grace led President Obama to conclude his remarks at the church by singing Amazing Grace.

Obama was widely criticized for his foreign policy actions or inactions. Critics blamed the early exit if American forces from Iraq as creating a vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge. His nuclear pact with Iran was criticized by Republicans, the military, Israel and others who saw the act as creating a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East. The president’s failure to enforce his “red line” in Syria if chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad, created an inroad for both ISIS and the Soviets to expand their role.

Like all presidents, Obama has a mixed bag of successes and failures as president. In his own analysis of his presidency, Obama praised his administration for stopping the economic crisis, saving the auto industry, creating the longest stretch of job creation, opening relations with Cuba, shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, passing national health insurance and securing marriage equality. “America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

During the 2016 campaign, Obama stated: “My legacy is on the line.” By that standard, the public decided they wanted to move in another direction.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Steve Bahmer: Nursing home care in Florida has come a long way in the last 30 years

Steve Bahmer

Since the early 1980s, when the state Agency for Health Care Administration conducted its last major overhaul of the Medicaid payment system for nursing homes, the quality of care in Florida nursing homes has vastly improved.

Although there are still exceptions, Florida is no longer home to the flood of nursing home horror stories that Sunshine State residents heard so frequently, and from so many homes, in the early ‘80s.

Improved regulatory oversight at AHCA and a payment system that rewarded nursing homes for providing high-quality care, among other factors, combined to slowly move Florida into the top tier of states in terms of nursing home quality.

In 2014, the organization Families for Better Care gave Florida nursing homes an ‘A’ grade, one of only 10 states to receive that grade, and it rated Florida fifth overall in the country in terms of care quality. In its 2015 rankings of the nation’s best nursing homes, US News & World Report listed Florida behind only California and Ohio for the number of 5-Star nursing homes in the state.

This may all be about to change.

Earlier this month, AHCA submitted a plan to the Governor and the Legislature for a new approach to nursing home Medicaid payments. The plan was intended to establish an equitable payment system that includes incentives for high-quality care, that simplifies the payment process, and that ultimately controls costs and makes legislators’ budgeting for Medicaid spending on nursing homes more predictable.

What the plan will actually do is penalize the nursing homes that for the last three decades have invested in delivering the highest quality of care possible, while rewarding homes that have remained at the bottom of the quality barrel.

Under AHCA’s proposal, 143 nursing homes that are rated as 4 or 5-star homes would lose significant funding. Meanwhile, 86 nursing homes that received a 1 or 2-star rating would receive additional funding. In fact, a single nursing home chain would reap $16.5 million of that unearned windfall.

Clearly, this is neither equitable nor fair. Moreover, the proposal does nothing to control Medicaid spending on long-term care, or even to make budgeting meaningfully more predictable. The Legislature decides when to fund a rate increase for nursing homes, something it has not done since 2011, and the current payment system includes caps and limits on payments.

Quality care costs money, and those costs are largely driven by staffing levels – the number of nurses and nursing assistants who are available at any given time to care for a frail senior in a nursing home. The best way to ensure that nursing home residents receive quick, consistent, quality care is to ensure a sufficient number of skilled, caring, long-tenured staff to provide that care.

Under the AHCA proposal, however, nursing homes with the highest staffing levels would lose funding, while those with the lowest staffing would gain dollars.

Nursing home care is not improved, or even sustained, by stripping funding from those that have invested in delivering high quality and shifting it to those that, for whatever reason, have not chosen to make that investment. Despite claims in earlier news reports, the plan does not require that the low performers spend any of their new money on care, nor is there any mechanism in the plan to ensure that quality improves.

AHCA’s proposal is not likely to achieve any of the agency’s stated goals.

It is likely, however, to reverse 30 years of progress in improving quality in the homes that care for Florida’s most vulnerable seniors, and the Legislature simply must reject it.

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Steve Bahmer is president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, a nonprofit organization that advocates for quality senior care and services.

Stephen Bittel for Florida Democrats, what do you have to lose?

Over the weekend, Florida Democrats elected Miami rich guy Stephen Bittel to lead their party. The choice was controversial and left many members screaming that Bittel is the wrong man at the wrong time.

They have their reasons, I guess.

But, let me ask a simple question:  Whom would be the right person?

The political cosmos has been trying to send a message for years to Florida Democrats. They haven’t been listening.

They have lost five consecutive races for governor (or, put another way, they haven’t been in control of the governor’s mansion in this century). Republicans also control both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans pass whatever laws they want, many of which trample on Democratic ideals. All the Dems have been able to say is, “May I have another?”

This has happened despite the fact Democrats have long held the lead in the number of registered voters in Florida (that number, by the way, is shrinking).

It takes a special something to have turned such an advantage into what is essentially political irrelevance in Tallahassee. Democrats used to console themselves because they delivered the state’s electoral votes to Barack Obama during his presidential campaigns, but they couldn’t even keep that trend going last November against Donald Trump.

So, to borrow Trump’s own slogan and apply it to Bittel: What have you got to lose? At least the guy seems to have some energy a willingness to engage in the fight.

“Contentious elections are reflective that there are Democrats all over Florida that are passionate, committed to coming together, moving forward together to win elections. So contentious is good. It means you care,” Bittel said after beating four other candidates with more established track records.

He has a point there. Florida Democrats have “contentious” down to a science. What they haven’t shown is any evidence that they have a realistic game plan for returning some political balance to the state.

Bittel made his mark by donating and raising large amounts of money for Democratic candidates. While he told reporters Saturday at the Democratic gathering in Orlando that he is not a billionaire, as was reported, he obviously is a person of substantial wealth and energy.

Democrats? Listen up: You need energy. You need passion. You need a sense of purpose. And most of all you need to explain, in clear words, why you’re better for the state than Republicans.

Democrats deluded themselves into believing voters would never elect Rick Scott, but they didn’t understand the beautiful simplicity of his “Let’s Get To Work” message. They talked themselves again into believing that surely voters wouldn’t re-elect Scott.

Now, Scott likely is coming for Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in a couple of years, and in Adam Putnam Republicans appear to have a strong gubernatorial candidate ready to make his run. This kind of ballot box domination should send a message that doing things the same ol’ way is a losing strategy for Democrats.

So when Bittel talks about greatly expanding the staff at the state Democratic headquarters in Tallahassee and, as reported in FloridaPolitics.com, promising to “ …  grow this party to a size and strength that has never been seen before,” Democrats should be at least a little invigorated.

That is, assuming they still remember what that feels like.

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