Alabama Senate race heads back into uncertainty
Heading into the weekend, conventional wisdom seemed to lean toward a Roy Moore victory in Tuesday’s special election for an Alabama Senate seat. Even Democratic pundits were starting to go with “Roy Moore is going to win, but the GOP will be the big loser” line.
Or words to that effect.
President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee seemed to feel safe in endorsing Moore by words (Trump) and campaign aid (RNC).
In the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Moore had settled in with a lead of between two to three points. After the initial shock and outrage from the accusations of lurid behavior directed toward Moore settled in, his polling numbers stopped falling.
When prominent members of Congress and the U.S. Senate were also accused of misbehavior, Moore slowly began a comeback. His opponent, Doug Jones, has been irrelevant.
Which brings us to today. As people cast their votes in Alabama, uncertainty has returned. On the eve of the election, two polls revealed wildly different findings.
The Emerson College tracking poll had Moore ahead by 9 points.
At the same time, Fox News released a survey showing Jones with a 10-point lead. Who’s right?
Both are consistent. The last two polls from Fox show Jones averaging a 9-point lead. Two of the past three Emerson surveys show double-digit leads for Moore.
Sine the accusations against Moore surfaced, 11 polls show him with leads of various sizes, while 6 show Jones with an advantage.
Heading into the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, conventional wisdom held that Hillary Clinton would cruise to victory. Trump supporters said there was a hidden, silent majority out there.
Only one poll, the one commissioned by the Los Angeles Times, consistently showed Trump in the game. In the Senate race, the Fox polls stand alone in showing broad support for Jones.
Who could have imagined Democrats would be rooting for a product put out by Fox News?
In 2016, a Republican won in true blue Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Could a Democrat really win a statewide race in crimson red Alabama?
If Moore wins, those supporting Jones should stay off Twitter if they want to avoid the spectacle of Trump doing a verbal touchdown celebration. If Jones pulls the upset, Fox can reveal how their pollster found the hidden, silent majority.
Then, the conversation turns to what it all means for the next 11 months.
Nelson seeks answers from VA on housing program
After the Veterans Affairs announced it was ending a $460 million housing program benefiting chronically homeless veterans, a large outcry quickly began. The VA said the funds would be shifted to VA hospitals, who would then decide how to use it.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin about the move. Nelson said some “clarification” was in order.
“I find your announcement to move over $460 million in funding for this program to be deeply concerning,” he wrote. “This program assists veterans that are in most need of help.”
Nelson was not the only one complaining. Veterans advocates were leading a charge to reverse the decision.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who partners with the VA on the program, was not consulted, nor were key veterans’ groups. Late last week, Shulkin reversed course.
“There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless program,” Shulkin said in a news release on December 6.
Nelson said that was still not enough.
“Further, while I appreciate your statement from December 6 when you announced that ‘there will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs,’ I believe this does not go far enough and clarification is needed. I look forward to hearing from you or your assigned designee on this critical matter.”
Rubio: Tax bill will determine if GOP is “country club party”
Florida’s junior senator has a warning for his party. What they do with the final version of the tax reform bill was show whether the GOP is a “country club party” or whether they have something to offer lower-income Americans.
As House and Senate negotiators shape the final bill to be brought to both chambers for a vote, Rubio is warning there “are going to be problems” if negotiators only worry about the corporate tax rate at the expense of those who depend on the Child Tax Credit (CTC).
As the Senate was voting on its’ version of the bill on December 2, Rubio and Utah Republican Mike Lee asked for the corporate tax rate be cut from 35 percent to 20.94 percent instead of 20 percent. This would allow lower income Americans to enjoy the full benefits of the CTC according to Rubio.
Their proposal as voted down.
On Friday, he tweeted some Ronald Reagan from 1977 to make a point. “The new Republican Party is going to have room for the man and woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat,” he said.
GOP leaders still believe they can have a final bill to the president’s desk by year’s end. With Tennessee Republican Bob Corker saying he will not be voting for the Republican bill, they can afford only one more defector.
“The New Republican Party…is going to have room for the man & the woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat” 4/6
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 8, 2017
House votes to end “pay for slay”
While Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital met with favor among members of the delegation, the House took another bipartisan step in Middle East relations last week. The House’s passage of the Taylor Force Act sends a moral and financial message to the Palestinian Authority.
Sponsored by Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn, the bill earned numerous delegation co-sponsors from both parties. It targets the practice of the Palestinian Authority that rewards terrorists or their families for acts of violence.
The bill is named after Taylor Force, an American veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist. It passed the House on a voice vote.
“While the Palestinian Authority continues to incentivize violence and aggression against Israeli and U.S. citizens, the House of Representatives has made it clear it will not tolerate these activities,” said Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. “Israel continues to be the best partner for peace, freedom, and democracy in the Middle East, and I am a proud ally of Israel.”
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch took to the House floor in support.
“We need trusted partners for peace in the Palestinian Authority,” Deutch said. “That starts by ending the subsidy program for acts of terrorism. I’m proud that Congress came together to produce a strong bipartisan bill to finally pressure the Palestinian Authority to stop their ‘pay for slay’ practice.”
Among the delegation co-sponsors in addition to Deutch and Diaz-Balart are Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel. Republicans include Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Dennis Ross, Dan Webster, and Ted Yoho.
A matching Senate bill, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, is under consideration.
Two Floridians hitch ride with Trump to Pensacola rally
President Trump had a boisterous rally in Pensacola on Friday. He arrived at the Naval Air Station with two delegation members along for the ride.
Both Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis flew to the rally aboard Air Force One with the president. DeSantis and Gaetz both offered remarks before Trump’s appearance.
“He cannot wait to say thank you to all of the great folks in Northwest Florida who delivered the Sunshine State to President Donald Trump,” Gaetz told the crowd. “The stock market is up and unemployment is down. We are draining the swamp and rebuilding our military.”
DeSantis hit on themes popular with the crowd.
“We haven’t been living up to our potential as a country,” DeSantis said. “We have the best opportunity in my lifetime to do it right now, and that’s thanks to President Donald Trump.”
Trump spoke for nearly 90 minutes about Washington, the media and eventually, Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore just four days before Tuesday’s special election.
“We can’t afford to have a liberal Democrat (Doug Jones), who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Trump said. “We can’t.”
Lawson welcomes Perdue to Tallahassee
The first-term Democrat from Tallahassee joined Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to Tallahassee for a visit to Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU). They were joined by university President Larry Robinson, who was recently named president of the university.
Lawson tweeted about the visit, saying he “was pleased to have an opportunity to welcome U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue … where we held a roundtable discussion on youth in agriculture.”
Perdue heard from students on ways to increase interest in studying agriculture and the career possibilities it contains. The three men were part of a roundtable of students, representatives from 4-H, National FFA Organization and extension officers.
Perdue told the roundtable he supports a bill in Congress that would more funding for recruitment and scholarships for land-grant universities.
“We believe we have money in USDA to support this,” Perdue said. “We think it will be a great investment in the future of agriculture.”
Bilirakis proposes improvements to airport safety
After a congressional delegation trip to Europe, the Palm Harbor Republican came away with some thoughts on safety measures he would like to see in major U.S. airports. Last week, he introduced the SAFE TECH Act, which would improve screening procedures at those facilities.
Bilirakis points to technical standards for safety and operating procedures at international airports being set by international agreements. The standards set are generally broad; leaving vulnerabilities through inconsistencies with international partners.
He believes this legislation would address those concerns and improve the safety of all passengers.
“I have contended that if we are not safe, then nothing else matters,” he said in a news release.
Specifically, this legislation will provide an avenue for 3rd party testing of innovative technology screening capabilities to enhance airport security. It will also assess the feasibility of linking compatible security technology utilized by the United States and international allies in order to augment screening checkpoints.
“During my recent fact-finding mission, I was startled by lack of consistency in international standards and gaps in technology that support precautionary measures to ensure passenger safety,” he said. “I am convinced this is something that needs to be immediately rectified, and I urge my colleagues’ support of this important bill with expedited passage,” he said.
Diaz-Balart, Crist slated to speak at Florida Defense Expo
Top officials and thought leaders from the U.S. defense and aerospace industries and the Florida companies that serve them will gather this winter when the Florida Defense Contractors Association (FDCA) hosts the sixth annual Florida Defense Expo. Providing attendees with educational sessions, industry networking and business development opportunities, the Expo will take place Feb. 20 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando.
Among the confirmed Expo speakers is Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist. The Expo also will include a trade show representing small and emerging companies as well as global top-100 firms and the organizations that help support them.
“FDCA is uniquely positioned to lead a statewide business network on behalf of Florida defense contractors,” said FDCA Chair Noel McCormick, President of McCormick Stevenson.
The event will kick off at 9 a.m. on Feb. 20 at the Orlando Rosen Plaza Hotel.
Crist, Castor urge health care sign-ups as deadline looms
With just a few days left before Friday’s deadline to sign up for health care through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Tampa Bay area’s two Democrats met Monday at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Tampa to get the word out before they head back to Washington.
“Time is short,” said Castor, repeating her frustration that the sign-up period for Obamacare this year was cut in half, from 12 weeks to six.
The administration also cut the advertising budget for Healthcare.gov by 90 percent, eliminated 40 percent of federal grant money to enrollment assistance groups and advised regional health officials to not participate in sign-up events sponsored by outside groups, all of which led to complaints by Democrats that the president was trying to “sabotage” the program.
Yet those moves were barely mentioned at Monday’s press event, though Crist did call the reduced sign up period “a shame, and unfortunate.” Instead, the lawmakers concentrated on the positive aspects of getting signed up to the ACA.
“Do not listen to the folks in Washington who say the ACA is dead. It’s not true,” said Castor.
Over 800,000 Floridians have signed up for the program since Nov. 1, again leading the nation in new enrollees.
While attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed in Congress this year, the program is still under threat from the recently passed GOP tax reform plan that is about to go through conference.
Buchanan wants Lois Lerner’s secret testimony unsealed
The Sarasota Republican has become the first member of Congress to call for a federal court to unseal secret testimony from former IRS senior executive Lois Lerner.
Lerner and her immediate subordinate, Holly Paz, emerged as two key figures after it was discovered in 2013 that the IRS had given extra scrutiny to hundreds of conservative groups seeking nonprofit status leading up to the 2012 presidential campaign.
Lerner and Paz filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett last month asking that tapes and transcripts of their depositions be forever kept secret from the public, saying that they feared for their safety.
But an attorney representing Tea Party groups says that any instances of harassment took place nearly four years ago, and is arguing that the courts who’ll deny their request and open the docket for public inspection. The secrecy issues are among those remaining in a class-action lawsuit covering hundreds of Tea Party groups that faced illegal scrutiny in their nonprofit status applications.
“Lois Lerner betrayed the nation’s trust yet managed to avoid accountability and criminal charges,” says Buchanan, who chairs the oversight subcommittee responsible for the IRS. “Now she wants to keep her role in the illegal targeting scheme secret, free from public scrutiny. What is she hiding? The public deserves answers.”
The Justice Department, class action plaintiffs, and multiple news organizations including The Wall Street Journal and Cincinnati Enquirer have all since requested unsealing documents in the case.
According to a three-year investigation by the House Ways and Means committee, Lerner used her position to improperly influence agency action against conservative organizations, denying these groups due process and equal protection rights under the law.
She impeded official investigations by providing misleading statements in response to questions from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and may have disclosed confidential taxpayer information.
After the Justice Department told the House Ways & Means Committee in September they would not prosecute Lerner, Buchanan strongly objected.
Buchanan signs onto bill studying link between painkillers and veteran suicides
Suicide and drug overdoses are two of the biggest killers of veterans in America.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Suicide Prevention, an average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day in 2014. In fact, 18 percent of all American adult suicides that year were committed by veterans, even though veterans made up just 8.5% of the population.
Accidental overdoses, in particular, have hit veterans harder than the broader American populace, as Reuters reports, in part because veterans are more likely to be prescribed painkillers to treat injuries maintained during combat.
New legislation being co-sponsored by Sarasota area Rep. Buchanan would study the link between those two disturbing trends.
“The Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act“ would require the Veterans Affairs Department to review the deaths of all veterans treated by the VA who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years.
“The high rates of suicide and drug overdose deaths in the veteran community are unacceptable,” Buchanan said. “This legislation is critical to learning if prescription drugs, specifically opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths among veterans.”
Introduced by Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, the bill specifically calls for a listing of “any medications that carried a black box warning, were prescribed for off-label use, were psychotropic, or carried warnings that include suicidal ideation.” The new information will be used to better treat veterans suffering from mental and physical injuries sustained as a result of their service.
Taxpayers funded $225,000 settlement to Hastings accuser
With growing numbers of new sexual harassment cases coming out of Washington, an older one resurfaced involving the Democratic Congressman from Delray Beach. In a story broken by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication, taxpayers funded a payoff to a former staffer who had accused him of harassment.
Winsome Packer, a staff member on a commission Hastings’ chaired, filed a complaint in 2011. The ultimate settlement in 2014 included a payout of $225,000 to Packer, which Hastings said was news to him.
“Until (Friday) evening, I had not seen the settlement agreement between the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Ms. Packer,” Hastings said in a statement to the Palm Beach Post. “This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made. I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needless paid to Ms. Packer.”
Packer had accused Hastings of “unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments and unwanted touching.” A judge dismissed the individual claims against Hastings — but not the commission — in 2012. The House ethics committee cleared Hastings in 2014, but said in their report Hastings “admitted to certain conduct that is less than professional.”
Hastings is the co-chairman of the Florida delegation along with Sarasota Republican Buchanan.
Aronberg to testify before Congress
The State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit, Dave Aronberg, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday. The Committee is discussing the opioid addiction crisis and the growing fraud in the area of addiction treatment.
“Sadly, recent reports indicate that individuals known as ‘patient brokers’ are treating individuals seeking treatment for their opioid addiction as a commodity, rather than helping them receive legitimate treatment and ultimately achieve recovery,” the committee said in an announcement.
Both Aronberg and Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson will discuss their successful Sober Home Task Force that is aggressively targeting patient brokers.
“Our office has led the fight against fraud and abuse in the drug treatment industry, and I am honored to have the opportunity to testify before Congress on our strategy and recommendations to combat the opioid epidemic on a national level,” Aronberg said in a release.
Paulson’s Politics: Unforeseen factors that could impact the 2018 Florida Congressional elections
There are always several unanticipated factors that influence electoral outcomes. The candidates and parties that anticipate and try to counter these factors are likely to do best.
Among the unanticipated factors are:
Voter Purges: Voter purges have been around for a long time. Some removals are mere attempts to diminish the likely success of certain groups or parties. For example, voter purges were commonly used in the South to weaken the ability of minorities to influence the political process. Once removed, it was often difficult to be restored to the voter lists.
Many states, including Florida, have legislation requiring purges to eliminate voters who have died, voters who have moved and voters who simply do not vote. Most everyone agrees that removing those who have died or moved is justified.
There is less agreement about removing those who have not voted for several elections. Florida law states that registered voters may be removed if they have not voted in two consecutive elections. The United States Supreme Court will hear a challenge to an Ohio law that allows purges of voters who have not voted, arguing that not voting is just as much a choice as voting.
In Florida, voter purges have hurt Democrats more than Republicans. From Jan. 1 until Aug. 31 of 2017, 114,000 inactive voters were removed. 55,000 more Democrats were removed then Republicans. Hillsborough County had twice as many inactive voters removed than any other county, and two Democrats were removed for every Republican.
Immigration. After the devastation of Puerto Rico due to hurricane Maria, Florida has experienced the influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the Orlando area. The Hispanic population of Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties has grown by 145,000 since Maria, with another 100,000 expected to arrive. The Hispanic population of the Orlando area has grown from 18 percent in 2000 to one-third of the population today. For every new Republican voter among the Puerto Rican immigrants, there are four new Democratic voters.
As much as Puerto Rican’s have transformed the Orlando area, senior citizens moving into the Villages in the Ocala area have changed politics there as well as statewide. The Villages have been the fastest growing metro area in the United States for four consecutive years. Overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly Republican, no statewide Republican can afford to ignore the Villages.
Reappointment and Gerrymandering. The United States Supreme Court just heard the case of Gill v. Whitford, a case directly challenging the legality of partisan gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative districts. The Court will hand down its decision in spring 2018 and, if they strike down partisan gerrymanders, the decision will require the redrawing of state legislative and congressional districts in over one-third of the state’s, including Florida. Such a decision would transform American politics more than any other decision of the court.
Party Organization. Normally, the Republicans have been advantaged by a stronger party organization structure that resulted in recruiting better candidates, raising more money and doing a better job of turning out the vote.
The defeat of Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked candidate, Leslie Dougher, to lead the party by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia has helped decimate what used to be one of the strongest state party organizations in America. Scott urged supporters to no longer contribute to the party, but to his Let’s Get to Work Political Action Committee. Republican fundraising has slowed down so much that the Democrats have raised more than the Republicans in 2017.
The election of Stephan Bittel in January 2017 as head of the Florida Democrats bolstered the optimism of Democrats. That confidence was short-lived, as Bittel was ousted in November due to multiple charges of sexual harassment.
Gender and Race. We have long known that the parties have a gender bias. Males tend to vote Republican and females vote Democrat. The assumption was that gender differences between the parties canceled each other out. Is this the case?
Not really. While males in Florida vote 52 percent for Republicans, females vote 53 percent for Democrats. However, women make up 55 percent of the Florida electorate, so that slight difference actually amounts to several hundred thousand voters statewide.
A quick look at Florida’s congressional delegation shows the gender impact more clearly. Of the current 16 members of the Republican congressional delegation, only one is held by a female and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring at the end of this current session of Congress. Of the 11 Democrats in the Florida delegation, six are women.
Going into 2018, the Republicans will be without any females in their delegation, while the Democrats will add anywhere between one to three female members. Mary Barzee Flores is favored to pick up the seat of the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Nancy Soderberg in District 6 and Lauren Baer in District 18 could win seats in a wave election.
Finally, there are currently three Hispanics, all Cuban American, in the Republican delegation. One of these will retire. On the Democratic side, in addition to having six women in their 11-member delegation, they have four blacks, one Hispanic and one Vietnamese.
Will race and gender play a role in deciding the makeup of the Florida congressional delegation? Republicans must hope that voters prefer white males. It has worked for them so far.