Context Archives - Page 6 of 216 - Florida Politics

Jackie Pons to taxpayers: DROP dead

Jackie Pons is the kind of public official who gave Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) a very bad name.

After 30 years with the Leon County school system, ten of them as Superintendent, and a DROP-enrollee since 2014, Pons jumped several sharks and was kicked to the curb on election night. The blow to Pons’ ego is cushioned by his vested retirement rights to a $6778 monthly pension check and a one time payment of just under $200,000.

Most folks would take that money and run with what’s left of their dignity. But if Pons can get somebody — anybody — to give him a place at the public trough ’til 2019, over $400K DROPs into his goody bag, and his monthly pension rises to $7151.

Pons doesn’t place much of a premium on dignity, so he’s lawyered-up and “weighing options” if he “cannot become re-employed timely.” In his case, that’s December 31. With Santa back at the North Pole and Baby New Year in the birth canal, time’s running out for Pons.

But stranger Christmas miracles have happened. Consider the case of Department of Corrections Inspector General Jeffery Beasley. For months, the Miami Herald doggedly documented human rights abuses on his watch and under his nose in the state prison system. Continued employment at DOC was untenable, or at least no fun. Quicker than you can say “bailouts for Bubbas” Beasley surfaced as “chief of investigations” for newly-elected Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil.

It’s been ten years since Lucy Morgan double-dipped her Pulitzer Prize winning plumb line into the murky waters of DROP and its myriad opportunities for mischief. Her reporting resulted in reforms that closed off the dark alleys of the Florida Retirement System, where the most extreme examples of taxpayer abuse occurred.

For most state workers, the system operates to provide a modest return on investment in a lifetime of exemplary public service.  For others, it’s a game of musical chairs, where the public always loses, and always picks up the tab.

Politicians can learn lesson from LeRoy Collins balance of public, private speech

Thanks to Vladimir Putin‘s hackers and his outlets in the American press, we know that Hillary Clinton said different things in public and in private.

Imagine that.

But I suspect that you couldn’t find very many politicians (or other people, for that matter) who don’t speak differently depending on who’s listening. Money could safely be wagered that what legislators say to their spouses about guns, abortion and the death penalty does not necessarily reflect how they vote.

Some politicians are two-faced by nature, but with most, it’s more often a wise choice to not get so far out in front of the people that they can no longer see or follow.

Florida Governor LeRoy Collins (1955-61) often cautioned his staff in those words.

Had he spoken of some things in public as he did to some close friends, spiritual advisers and trusted aides, he would be remembered not as Florida’s greatest governor but as a failure who was voted out after serving only the last two years of a deceased predecessor’s term.

Sometime in 1956, most likely during his difficult campaign for a four-year term, Collins or someone on his staff put to paper words that could guarantee his defeat.

“I do not contend,” the document said, “that segregation in public schools or at public meetings or on public conveyances is consistent as a matter of principle with Christianity or the basic American belief in equality before the law…

“But the end of segregation, if and when it comes . . . can only come when its acceptance is developed in the hearts and minds of the people.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s “great power,” it said, “those hearts and minds are beyond its reach and control.”

Collins, or perhaps an aide who drafted it at his request, also wrote that the South should be “ashamed” of neglecting the health, education, and opportunity of its black citizens.”

The document eventually went to the state archives with a penciled notation, doubly underlined “not issued.”

Florida then was as firmly segregationist as Alabama, Georgia or Mississippi. Unlike their bombastic governors, Collins refused to resort to demagoguery. He pledged to maintain school segregation only by peaceful means and could boast that the strategy was working.

But he had three serious challengers for the Democratic nomination, including a former governor, who accused him of being soft on segregation if not actually against it. The most strident was Sumter Lowry, a retired National Guard general who talked about nothing else and came very close to forcing Collins into a runoff he likely would have lost.

A close friend who had been traveling through North Florida warned him that he could lose the election if he did not throw more red meat to the racists.

“I don’t have to be re-elected,” he replied, “but I do have to live with myself.”

The political establishment was in a panic over a U.S. Supreme Court decree ordering — ineffectively, as it turned out — the long-delayed admission of a black applicant to the University of Florida law school. Although it pertained only to graduate study, it prompted Collins to call a post-primary special session to pass a set of laws, including a pupil assignment scheme, that were intended to keep grades K-12 firmly segregated.

Collins was deeply conflicted. Like most Southerners of his day, he had been raised with faith in segregation that was as implicit and unquestioning as his religion. He was, however, a fundamentally decent man. As a state senator, he had passed a bill to unmask the Ku Klux Klan. As the times were changing, so was he.

His second inauguration, in January 1957, took place during a contentious bus boycott in Tallahassee. He told the audience that Florida would maintain school segregation “for the foreseeable future.” But he also made it plain that Florida would eventually have to yield to the U.S. Supreme Court. To defy it would be “little short of rebellion and anarchy.” He also said he didn’t think that most whites objected to non-segregated seating in buses.

In March 1960, there were lunch counter sit-ins across the state and threats of violence against the demonstrators. Collins went on statewide television to denounce segregation, in effect, as un-Christian, un-democratic and unrealistic. Few white Floridians had heard even their clergy say such things.

By then, of course, Collins was a lame duck, barred by the Constitution from running again. After a short tenure as president of the National Association of Broadcasters, where he wore out his welcome denouncing cigarette advertising to children, he accepted President Lyndon Johnson‘s offer to head the Community Relations Service, a conciliation agency established by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

That duty took him to Selma, where his successful peacemaking between Alabama forces and civil rights demonstrators contributed to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and put an effective end to his political career. He was defeated in his last race, for the U.S. Senate, in 1968.

His career would have ended 12 years earlier had he made public how his views on segregation were changing.

History abounds with other examples. President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that the United States would eventually be at war with the German and Japanese tyrannies, but he had to speak and act cautiously because the Congress and public were isolationist.

Lyndon Johnson became the great champion of civil rights after participating in Senate filibusters against them.

As for Clinton, there wasn’t anything terribly startling in the hacked emails that seemed to suggest a softer line on regulation than she was saying to the public. Did she promise Wall Street a veto? No. Did she retract what she was saying in public? No. She simply threw the insiders some flattery: “the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.” She promised only to hear them. The Associated Press report that hyped the remark belonged on the editorial pages rather than in the news sections.

Let’s just hope the press will be as tough on Donald Trump‘s apparent inconsistencies as they were on hers. Those income tax returns are a good place to start.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. This column is based in part on his book, “Floridian of his Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins,” published by the University Press of Florida in 2006.

For your holiday enjoyment: Adam Putnam’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

With apologies to Band Aid…

[Paul Young]
In Legoland … there’s no need to cry
Adam Putnam’s watching over our food supply
[Boy George]
And in our State of Sunshine, we give thanks for this Wonder Boy
Raise your glass of Martini flavored with a big Key lime!
[Phil Collins on drums]
[George Michael]
But say a prayer … pray for the school children
At school lunch time
[Simon Le Bon]
Kids are forced to eat that mystery meat
There’s a world of fruits and veggies
[Sting and Simon Le Bon]
Putnam’s bringing it to you
Fruits and vegetables will be coming out of their ears…
And when he’s Governor the menus will improve.
[Bono}
Well tonight thank God you’re not eating school lunch food!
And there won’t be crap on the lunch tray now that Putnam’s here
Polk County produce will be coming their way
Citrus juice replaces Coke
Hope he’s not just blowin’ smoke
He’s promising a salad bar for all!
Here’s to him
Raise your wine glass, everyone!
Here’s to him
Lakeland’s very favorite son
On the web at “freshfromflorida”  dot com!
Feed school kids….
Citrus fruit from Florida!
Feed our kids….
Cattle from the Putnam Ranch!
Feed school kids…
Tomatoes on their pizza pie!

Push is on to decriminalize minor youth offenses

Let’s say you’re a teenager and you do something stupid. I know, hard to believe, right?

Maybe you get caught with a small amount of pot, or you’re in the wrong place when a fight breaks out. Maybe you’re out with the guys and ended up someplace you shouldn’t, or you committed a petty theft.

You’ve never broken the law before, but someone called the cops and soon you’re handcuffed in the back of a squad car with a record that will stick to you like gum on the bottom of your shoe. Potential employers, college admissions officers and just everyone else will want to know what happened the night you went stupid.

That’s why it’s encouraging that Senate President Joe Negron is aggressively trying to decriminalize these minor transgressions. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, has filed Senate Bill 196 as part of the effort to back up Negron’s plea to “not criminalize adolescence.”

Negron isn’t talking about letting teens who commit serious crimes off the hook. He is talking nickel-and-dime stuff, like the time when George H.W. Bush was running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination for president. Negron slipped over to Bush’s home on Jupiter Island and put Reagan stickers on his mailbox.

Instead of arresting him, the cops told him to go back and clean up the box. But then came the push for zero tolerance for any infraction and things that in the past would have earned the youthful offender a stern talking-to started resulting in the kind of punishment that never really goes away.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2015 that Florida prosecuted more than 10,000 minors in a five-year period – the highest total in the nation. It told how juveniles are often housed with adult inmates, leading to abuse and injuries.

The SPLC’s reported added that the “Justice Policy Institute found that it costs as much as $55,407 a year to lock up a young person in Florida, although the Department of Juvenile Justice’s budget suggests the cost could be twice that amount. These policies also fail to make us safer. An adult court conviction diminishes opportunities for education and future employment. And children become more likely to reoffend, not less.”

That’s why getting someone with Negron’s power behind this push is essential. Turning certain misdemeanors into a citation instead of a police record is smart and overdue. Hopefully, his colleagues in Tallahassee agree.

Will Weatherford’s decision enhances, not removes, future options

I think Will Weatherford’s just-announced decision not to run for governor in 2018 merely delays the inevitable. I believe he will be Florida’s governor eventually, and that will be a good thing.

Weatherford, the Land O’Lakes Republican, is a smart, articulate, center-right conservative in the Jeb Bush tradition. He has a strong legislative resume, including a turn as House Speaker. At age 37, he also is young enough that he can afford to wait eight years, which is another way of saying “Merry Christmas, Adam Putnam.”

The sea certainly does seem to be parting among Republicans for Putnam to make his move on the governor’s mansion. Florida CFO Jeff Atwater has shown no appetite for the job. Attorney General Pam Bondi is more likely targeted for a job in Washington.

Weatherford would have been a formidable challenger, but says his top concern right now is family.

He has four children – the oldest is 8, the youngest is 2. Last year he and his brothers Drew and Sam launched Weatherford Partners, a venture capital group, and serves as managing partner. Tellingly, he did not fall into the Republican conga line in the presidential race. He said he did not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

His decision to sit out the governor’s race this time removes a lot of drama, for sure. Weatherford and Putnam are pals, but so were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and we saw how that went.

If Weatherford had gotten into the race, it could have gotten bloody for Republicans. Having two candidates as strong and well-known as Putnam and Weatherford could have split the party, but what this does is increase the likelihood of a Putnam coronation for the nomination.

It allows Putnam to stay low-key for the next year or so, stockpiling cash and support while waiting for the Democrat slugfest between Gwen Graham (assuming her husband’s prostate cancer doesn’t worsen) and possibly Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Weatherford can campaign now for Putnam, and wouldn’t a photo of the two of them together on a platform make for a mighty fine poster for Republicans?

Weatherford will need to find a way to stay in the public eye. As he saw with Jeb Bush, sitting on the sidelines for too long in politics means someone else is getting all the headlines. A cabinet job or gubernatorial appointment to a public post could both keep him in the news and allow him to tend to family matters.

Deciding for now to wait doesn’t remove Weatherford’s options. If anything, it enhances them. If his aim is to one day sit in the governor’s chair – and, really, why wouldn’t it be – then stepping back now doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.

Darryl Paulson: Selecting party chairs: The Florida experience

(Part 2 of 2)

 In the first part of this series, I discussed the process and candidates used by the Republican and Democratic parties to select their national party chairperson. We will now look at the process and candidates used to choose the Florida Republican and Democratic chairs.

After a disastrous showing by the Florida Democratic Party in the 2016 election, a fate which has become all too common for the party, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party decided not to seek a second term. Like recent Democratic Party chairs, Allison Tant agreed that “one and done” was the proper course of action.

Given Donald Trump‘s Florida victory, as well as a better than expected showing by Republicans in the Congressional and state legislative races, one might have expected incumbent party chair, Blaise Ingoglia, to be a cinch for re-election. That is not the case. Ingoglia faces opposition from Christian Zeigler, a Sarasota County Republican State Committeeman.

The race pits House member Ingoglia versus Senate Republicans who do not want the House and Speaker Richard Corcoran to control the supply of money. It also pits Gov. Rick Scott against party pragmatists.

Scott was incensed in 2015 when his choice to lead the party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by Ingoglia. This rare rebuke of a governor’s prerogative to select the party chair, resulted in Scott telling donors to give money to his political action committee, Let’s Get to Work, instead of to the Republican Party of Florida. Senate Republicans pulled $800,000 out of the GOP account.

Twenty years ago, the Florida Republican Party, under the leadership of Tom Slade, was considered to be the premier state party organization in the nation. Today, after the fiasco of the previous chair Jim Greer and the efforts of Scott to decimate the state Republican Party, it more closely resembles the Keystone Kops.

At the very least, it more closely resembles Democratic Party operations (and that is faint praise).

Although the Florida Republican Party operations have been a mess for a number of years, the Democrats are approaching its third decade as a nonfunctioning party organization. The Democrats, due to their poor showing, have had a difficult time recruiting quality candidates and raising sufficient funds to support their efforts.

The Democrats lack of success at the polls has accelerated party squabbles. Every Democrat is looking for someone to blame for their poor showing, and the party chair is the easiest person to blame. The pettiness of Democrats can be seen in the 2016 election, where several potential Democratic candidates for chair were defeated in internal elections.

Alan Clendenin, Susannah Randolph, and Annette Taddeo were all defeated in races they needed to win to run for chair. The winner of the battle for state committeeman between Stephen Bittel and Dwight Bullard in Dade County will determine which candidate will run for party chairperson.

After losing the race for state committeeman in Hillsborough County after a controversial ruling by the county chair, Clendenin has moved to Bradford County in North Florida and was sworn in as the committeeman for Bradford County, making him once again eligible to run for state party chairperson.

Clendenin lost the election for the Democratic chair four years ago when he lost to outgoing chair Allison Tant by 139 votes.

It appears that Bittel is emerging as the last man standing, although there is still sufficient time for his campaign to be torpedoed. Bittel has been a major Democratic donor, which has led some Democrats to accuse him of trying to buy the position of chair.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat who will be up for election in 2018, says: “I think Stephen Bittel would bring that type of professionalism to the organization. We need a professional to run the organization and raise money.”

Bittel received a surprise endorsement from Keith Ellison, who is running for National Democratic Party chair. Ellison supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary, while Bittel was a backer of Hillary Clinton. One Revolution, an organization of Sanders supporters, has announced its support for Bullard, saying that “An extremely wealthy donor wants to buy his way to lead Florida’s Democratic Party and the only thing between him and control of the party is our political revolution.”

Bittel also won the endorsements of the Florida Educational Association and the Florida Service Employees Union, two important constituency groups within the Democratic Party.

Ingoglia, the incumbent Republican Party chair, is backed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Sen. Marco Rubio and Susie Wiles, who managed Trump’s campaign in Florida. Wiles said that “I can say that the organization built under chairman Ingoglia’s leadership was a critical element in our success.”

With that backing and the Republican success in 2016, Ingoglia should be favored. But, with Scott sitting on the sidelines, he is really encouraging Republicans to back Zeigler.

On the Democratic side, no one should be foolish enough to predict what Florida Democrats will do. After all, they seldom know what they are doing.

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

Ben Pollara: Expansion of medical marijuana business is necessary and prudent

At last week’s Senate Health Policy Committee workshop on medical marijuana, much of the conversation centered on the question of whether the passage of Amendment 2 necessitated an expansion of the number of licenses to cultivate and sell medical marijuana in Florida.

I participated in the workshop at the invitation of Chair Dana Young, and addressed this issue in my opening remarks, arguing that voters approved medical marijuana by a historic, 71 percent margin with the knowledge and expectation that passage of the amendment would mean just such an expansion of the marketplace.

Adjudication of voter intent is tricky business, but consider the context in which this amendment was approved.

Florida passed a limited medical marijuana law in 2014, and expanded it slightly in 2016. That law authorized five marijuana growers across the state (a court later granted a sixth).

Voters were not only aware of the existence of this limited market, but were repeatedly told by the opposition campaign — in 30-second TV ads, direct mail, online ads, emails, OpEd pieces, and news conferences — that a vote for Amendment 2 would mean, “a pot shop on every corner,” or, “more pot shops than Walgreens and CVS’s combined,” among other similarly dire predictions by the opposition.

Voters approved Amendment 2 with the clear expectation that it would result in an expansion of the medical marijuana industry in Florida. But even putting aside the notion of voter intent, the legislature should significantly expand the medical marijuana business in Florida for a variety of reasons practical and philosophical.

The primary reason to do so is at the core of the amendment just approved: to serve the estimated half million or more patients in the state through a competitive free market. The expansion also serves to exert regulatory oversight on the industry and obviate diversion to the black market, and because good public policy and government procurement practices dictate transparency and fairness.

During the workshop, the CEO of Trulieve (one of the five companies licensed under current statute) said they could presently serve over 70,000 medical marijuana patients and, with planned expansion of their operations, nearly 10 times that number. This assertion went unchallenged despite there being only roughly 1,000 total patients under the current law. Are we to believe that the company is currently sitting on 70 times more inventory than the entire consumer base statewide?

Also unchallenged was the consumer data Trulieve cited to offer those numbers.

They based their assertions on a daily dosage per patient of 20 milligrams of cannabis oil and extrapolated from there. This makes Trulieve’s claims more difficult to verify, since marijuana is a plant, not an oil, and we don’t know how much of that plant must be grown to achieve the numbers claimed. Colorado’s Department of Revenue, for example, measures consumption based on the weight of dried plant matter; others on a mean number of plants, harvested and growing, per patient.

So, while we can’t easily determine the veracity of Trulieve’s capacity claims, we are also not living in a vacuum.

We know Florida is large and diverse and that on its face, having six companies serve any sort of statewide market is bad for consumers from a perspective of access, quality, choice, and cost. The only industry that operates in such an oligopolistic manner is power companies, which as utilities must do so, and thus are subject to oversight by the PSC on rate increases, and all aspects of their operations.

If these six businesses can operate in the absence of competition, who ensures patients aren’t being gouged? Will the legislature authorize the Office of Compassionate Use to set prices, establish production quotas and quality controls? Does anyone want or believe that medical marijuana should be administered in Florida in a such a way?

There are no right answers to these questions.

And though the logic behind such a small number of growers may have been an abundance of caution in introducing a legal marijuana market to our state, we must consider the unintended potentiality that the result will be a significant expansion of the already large black market for marijuana. This may seem initially counterintuitive, until you consider the following:

First, the sheer size of these operations (particularly one of the capacity described by Trulieve) makes a diversion of marijuana to the black market easier and more likely.

A pound of marijuana finding its way into the hands of drug dealers is far simpler and less risky if an operation is harvesting hundreds, or thousands, of pounds at a time, versus one harvesting tens of pounds.

The smaller the haystack, the more likely you are to find the needle gone astray.

Second, let us assume that the above scenario doesn’t come to pass, and every ounce of marijuana grown by these six companies is accounted for from seed to sale. Patients are guaranteed to face the burdens of an uncompetitive market: high prices, a dearth of choices, and for some, lack of physical access to retail. If one or all those results come to pass, consumers will flock to the black market.

The economic imperatives of supply and demand clearly dictate this unwanted consequence.

Other states have experienced this predictable phenomenon, with black markets surging as nascent markets grow to accommodate new consumer demands; and then shrink as markets expand and legal products’ pricing falls in closer line with a black market not subject to regulatory compliance and oversight.

Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for medical and adult use, for example, has been shown to have dramatically decreased the seizure of marijuana imported by El Chapo‘s Sinaloa cartel, as well as other Mexican cartel trafficking.

Finally, there is a philosophical argument to be made for the administration of good public policy and fair procurement practices.

While technically a “licensing” by the state, these six companies were granted authorization to grow and sell marijuana through a competitive process that, for all intents and purposes, was conducted like a government procurement.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran regularly inveighs against the government participating in the business of “picking winners and losers,” but that would be the precise result of the maintenance of the current system.

The five licenses awarded (and the sixth won through litigation, with a seventh and possibly more seemingly likely by courts) were done so by an application and selection process designed to choose well-qualified, capitalized and experienced applicants to serve a law, and a market, of an entirely different, and much smaller, size and scope than that anticipated under Amendment 2.

An apt analogy is if a company bid on and won a contract to supply a county government with widgets, and then the State of Florida decided to “piggyback” that county contract to allow the company to sell them much larger state government those same widgets.

Government contracts should be awarded transparently and based on the needs of the procuring agency, not merely expedience and fealty to a previous process that bears little resemblance to the present realities of the agency.

I am glad this discussion has begun already in Young’s Health Policy Committee, and I look forward to making these points to the legislature, the Department of Health, and the people of Florida.

The implementation of a medical marijuana law is a balancing act — and a delicate one.

Serving the intended beneficiaries of the law — sick and suffering patients — is paramount, but must also be weighed against the establishment of an industry and market with which to serve them. There must be a robust system of laws and regulations that take both into account, as well as considerations of public safety, local control, and competitive, free market principles.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of decision points that must be determined in crafting the medical marijuana system authorized under Amendment 2. Most of them are not binary, but the decision to leave as is, or to expand the marketplace.

If six companies, authorized under a three-year-old statute, are to be the sole suppliers of the statewide market for medical marijuana in Florida, we will all suffer the consequences.

Supply will not be able to meet demand, patients will face a choice of high prices versus buying untested, unregulated product from street dealers, and our government will have violated some of the most basic tenets of transparent procurement in the sunshine — and the will of the people will have been thwarted in the process.

___

Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

Pollara honestly has no earthly idea whether John Morgan will run for governor, so please stop asking.

Electoral College vote a non-story unless Donald Trump is involved

Just like that, it was over.

In Tallahassee and around the country, 538 electors cast their ballots to officially elect Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

Of course, they did. There was never going to be a different outcome. Never.

Florida’s 29 electors gathered in the Senate Chamber to do what everyone knew they would do. While protesters gathered in the fourth-floor lobby outside the chamber, all 29 ignored the noise, kept their pledges, and cast their votes for Trump.

I have never felt the desire to attend previous sessions because nothing earth-shattering would occur. Not that anything would be different this time, but I did accept an invitation to sit in the gallery to watch the proceedings.

There was a brief silence when House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues missed the roll call, but he was in the chamber minutes later.

Every four years the Electoral College goes through the same exercise with little fanfare. The only difference between 2016 and every other cycle was the manufactured fake news surrounding a normally routine one-hour ceremony.

This should not have even risen to the level of a story. Ok, maybe the obligatory interviews for a day or two with those who want no part of Trump.

But the every day, every hour, hysteria of the doomed-to-fail pipe dream of getting 37 Republican electors to flip? Should we mention that Trump led by 74 electoral votes going into Monday and officially won by 77?

While two did not vote for Trump, five Democrats decided Hillary Clinton was not for them. Not even Michael Moore’s offer to pay state fines could turn the trick.

Let us not take cheap shots at those who report the news. Instead, many need to be called out for continuing the charade, thereby giving false hope to those reaching for the unreachable.

Most of this falls in the lap of the major networks and national outlets. They were looking for history by fomenting hysteria.

History tells us that a similar attempt failed 16 years ago, when a Republican lost the popular vote, but had more electoral votes. Many might remember political consultant Bob Beckel trying to find two “faithless” electors to flip from George W. Bush to Al Gore in 2000.

If Beckel could not coax or coerce two souls to “vote their conscience,” then finding 37 this year would be comparable to climbing Mt. Everest in Bermuda shorts.

For this exercise in futility, or fake news, good people were subjected to a barrage of intimidating calls and emails. This includes all 29 of Florida’s electors.

Some in other states received death threats. The national media focus was on flipping the electors, not the tactics used by some of the activists.

When the gambit rose to this level, many wonder why President Barack Obama did not issue a statement that might de-escalate the dangerous rhetoric. With electors’ lives being threatened, where is the Justice Department? Federal crimes were being committed.

The media’s conduct surrounding all things Trump faces continuing bipartisan scrutiny. Republicans backing other candidates in the primary, along with the candidates, were frustrated their message could never break through the haze of all Trump, all the time.

Trump opponents were sick of all of the free media he generated. The New York Times estimated Trump earned nearly $2 billion in free media during the primary season. It was off the charts during the general election.

Trump is a ratings magnet. He was responsible for even MSNBC to draw its best numbers during the fall.

This likely explains the hysteria surrounding faithless electors. There will be plenty of opportunities both before and after January 20, 2017, for other Trump-inspired ratings opportunities.

There is a rumor he wants to climb Mt. Everest in Bermuda shorts.

Darryl Paulson: Selecting the national party chairperson

(First of two parts)

The state and national elections are over. At least most of them are over. Still to be decided is the person who will chair the Florida and national party organizations. Is it much ado about nothing, or do party chairs make a difference?

Selecting the party chairperson is normally easier for the victorious party. Whoever wins the governorship or presidency usually can handpick the leader of the party. This was not the case in 2015 when Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to head the Florida Republican Party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by challenger Blaise Ignoglia.

After winning the presidential race against Hillary Clinton, President-Elect Donald Trump selected Ronna Romney McDaniel to head the Republican Party. McDaniel, the niece of Mitt Romney, replaces party chair Reince Priebus who was chosen to be Trump’s chief of staff. McDaniel served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and played a key role in Michigan voting for the Republican presidential nominee for the first time since 1988.

McDaniel will become only the second woman to chair the Republican Party, the other being Mary Louise Smith, who was appointed by President Gerald Ford to head the party in 1974. The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will confirm McDaniel at their January 2017 meeting.

With the surprising loss of Hillary Clinton, the race for party chair is wide open. As the outgoing president, Barack Obama can influence, but not select the incoming party chair. As the losing candidate, Clinton will have no voice in picking the new head of the party.

The last Democratic Party Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, left the position in the midst of widespread controversy. Bernie Sanders supporters accused Wasserman Schultz of blatant favoritism for Clinton. The scarcity of Democratic presidential primary debates and the scheduling of those debates at non-prime viewing times was a major criticism of Wasserman Schultz.

The final straw occurred when WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) showing favoritism for Clinton, led to Schultz’s resignation at the close of the Democratic convention. Her fate was sealed when Schultz was loudly booed after addressing the Florida delegation and agreed not to gavel open the convention.

Donna Brazile was selected as interim chair of the Democratic Party until a permanent chair is elected by the DNC at its February meeting. The selection of a new party chair may help mend divisions within the party, or it may further divide the party and lead to an internal civil war between the establishment and progressive forces. Three months ago, everyone thought this would be a battle that Republicans, and not Democrats would be facing. Brazile warned Democrats that they need to “pick ourselves up” and not “pick each other apart.”

If an establishment candidate wins, the progressives will be angered that their views have been once again neglected by the party and some may seek to form their own political movement. If the progressives win, the Democrats run the risk of moving too far to the left and moving even further away from voters who gravitated to Trump. A similar problem confronted Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s when Republicans effectively branded Democrats as “San Francisco Democrats” who moved too far to the left.

Among the potential Democratic Party Chair candidates are South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire Party Chair Ray Buckley, along with Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison.

On December 15, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy for party chair, and many believe he is the preferred candidate of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Ellison is backed by the progressive wing of the party and has the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He is also supported by the outgoing Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, as well as the incoming leader, Chuck Schumer.

Critics have several concerns about an Ellison candidacy. As the only Muslim member of Congress, some are concerned that Dems will be accused of engaging in identity politics with a group that is not trusted by many American voters. Ellison’s writings have been critical of Israel and supportive of Louis Farrakhan and the Black Muslims. Ellison supported Farrakhan after he was attacked for his racist and anti-Semitic views, as well as his support for a separate state for blacks.

Another problem for Ellison is an issue that faced Wasserman Schultz. Can a sitting member of Congress have the time for both jobs and doesn’t that create conflicts of interest? Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, among others, has said the Democrats need a full-time chair. As a result of this criticism, Ellison has vowed to resign his congressional seat if selected as party chair.

Former presidential candidate and former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean flirted with serving as chair before backing away. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm‘s name was often mentioned for the job, but she has announced that she is supporting Perez, the most recent candidate to enter the field.

Where Romney McDaniel has the race for Republican Party Chair all wrapped-up, the Democratic field is wide open, and some of the announced candidates may drop out before the February vote of the DNC; others may enter the race if they see all of the current candidates unable to attract widespread support.

Also, Democrats have had a dual chair system before, so it is possible that both an establishment and progressive candidate might emerge. Wouldn’t that make things fun?

(Part 2: Selecting the Florida party chairs)

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

 

Mitch Perry Report for 12.20.16 – Our driverless future?

Among the 2017 priorities that the Hillsborough County Regional Transit Authority’s government liaison, Cesar Hernandez told board members on Monday, one would be to continue to push for anything that can push autonomous vehicle technology forward in the new year.

In case you’re not familiar with the whole driverless car concept, you should know that the Sunshine State, led by St. Petersburg Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes enthusiasm and advocacy, is in the vanguard of states when it comes to this new form of transportation.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature unanimously passed a bill making Florida the only state that legalized fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel.

Meanwhile, Uber says it will continue to tests its 11 self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco, despite the threat of legal action from the California Attorney General’s office if the company does not “immediately” remove its test vehicles from public roads.

The Attorney General’s letter, sent late Friday, ordered  Uber to apply for the appropriate permits from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles before continuing to test its cars.  Uber says its self-driving cars don’t require a DMV permit because the systems it is using are no different from current advanced driver-assistance systems that help with parking and collision avoidance, the same systems available in some luxury cars today.

As reported by USA Today, in a Friday afternoon media call, Anthony Levandowski, who runs Uber’s autonomous car programs, said the permitting process doesn’t apply to the company and that “we cannot in good conscience” comply with a regulation that the company doesn’t believe applies to it.

Does that sound familiar to anyone in Tampa?

By the way, have you spoken with an Uber or Lyft driver of late? In Tampa, because there are so many drivers flooding the market, the only way folks can make decent money working for either of these companies is to work for both. And driverless cars could make it even harder for “entrepreneurs” to make money.

But while we’re all moving so fast towards this brave new world of technology, what does the public think?

“In the glorious future, we are assured that driverless cars will save lives, reduce accidents, ease congestion, curb energy consumption and lower harmful emissions. These purported benefits contain elements of truth. But the data is nowhere near complete,” writes Jamie Lincoln Kitman in the op-ed section of Monday’s New York Times. “Even stipulating that all the claimed benefits will one day materialize, the near- and midterm picture from a public-interest perspective is not the same favorable one that industry sees. Legitimate areas of question and concern remain.”

Kidman notes that while the new technology will create some jobs, many others will be lost.

“Millions of truck and taxi drivers will be out of work, and owing to the rise of car-sharing and app-based car services, people may buy fewer vehicles, meaning automakers and their suppliers could be forced to shed jobs,” he writes.

It’s not doom and gloom, and maybe autonomous technology is going to be sensational for all of us going forward. But it’s worth your while to think of some of the possibilities that exist with this technology that may not truly denote progress in our world.

By the way, this will be my last column of 2016. I’m heading out to San Francisco myself tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with friends and family. See you in 2017.

 

 

In other news…

Stephen Bittel may be closer to becoming the next state party chairman 0f the Florida Democratic Party. Of course, he has to win his election for state committeeman in Miami-Dade County tonight against former state legislator Dwight Bullard, but there is precedence for the Democratic party establishment getting who they want in these cases.

At yesterday’s HART meeting, one board member raised strong objections to coming together with PSTA, Pinellas County’s transit agency, in an interlocal agreement.

And our state supervisors of election are hoping for the state legislature to help them with two key issues in 2017, a request made on Friday by Hillsborough County SOE Craig Latimer. 

 

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