Jeb Bush Archives - Florida Politics

Jeb Bush: Bill Nelson ‘will always vote for more taxes’

Former Gov. Jeb Bush hit the campaign trail this weekend and leveled heavy criticism at U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, saying the Democrat voted “for every liberal idea” when party leadership asked.

Bush stumped Saturday on behalf of one of his successors, Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican nominee challenging Nelson’s re-election this year. And while Bush’s governorship overlapped with Nelson’s first term, Bush did not express much nostalgia from the podium.

“With all due respect to the current incumbent, the United States senator, what has he done?” Bush asked. “I’ve been waiting. I can’t think of anything. He must have done something.”

Then he answered his own question.

“Yes he has,” Bush said. “He has voted for every liberal idea that has made it harder for us to progress as a nation.”

Bush said Nelson sometimes would hedge and “dance” on hard or unpopular decisions during his three terms in the Senate but always buckled when pressured from the left.

“When he is forced to by the leadership of his party, he will always vote for more taxes, more regulation, more government, a weaker national defense.”

That led into a full-throated endorsement for Scott.

Bush rode on Scott’s bus tour, making stops along the way in Miami and optimistically referencing the South Florida region as Scott country on Twitter.

He also showed himself on Scott’s campaign bus with Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, members of another South Florida political family.

The event came a day after former President George W. Bush, Jeb’s older brother, appeared at a Tampa fundraiser supporting Scott, according to News Channel 8 WFLA.

Of note, Jeb Bush did not originally back Scott’s ambitions when the Naples executive first ran for governor, instead preferring then-Attorney General Bill McCollum. Of course, the governor quickly backed Scott after his surprise primary win in 2010.

Scott has remained a figure with an outsider mythos, becoming an ally of President Donald Trump, while the Bushes remain the mascots of the establishment (and not such allies of Trump).

But Bush’s arrival on the campaign trail for Scott shows that in the Senate race the sometimes disparate factions of the GOP share an enthusiasm for the current governor’s Senate ambitions.

Incidentally, Bush himself rebuffed efforts to recruit him to a Senate race after his time in Tallahassee drew to a close. He rebuffed calls to run in 2010.

Jeb Bush gets post at University of Pennsylvania

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will be spending time with students at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Ivy League school in Philadelphia announced that Bush has been named a non-resident Presidential Professor of Practice for the 2018-2019 academic year.

“At a time when our politics and culture can be polarizing and coarse, there is a tremendous need to foster civil discourse on the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing our country,” Bush said in a statement released by the university.

His affiliation will be with the university’s Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy in the School of Arts and Sciences. The position requires Bush to participate in classes, lectures and campus events. He will be on campus about one to two days a month, the university said.

University President Amy Gutmann highlighted Bush’s efforts to “stimulate economic growth and create jobs, lower government spending, transform education, and dramatically expand conservation of the Everglades.”

After Bush’s unsuccessful run for president in 2016, he served a semester as a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and taught a short course at Texas A&M University’s school of public affairs in early 2017.

George P. Bush raising campaign cash in Tampa this month

Though he won’t be on a Florida ballot — at least not for the foreseeable future — George P. Bush will be raising money in the Sunshine State this month for his campaign for another term as Texas Land Commissioner.

The fundraising reception will get underway at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 25 at the American Social. 601 S Harbour Island, in Tampa. The invitation lists a minimum contribution of $100 to attend, though those looking to provide more help to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s son can chip in $500 to become a co-chair for the event or $1,000 to become a chair.

Those who RSVP with Ally Schmeiser, either with an email to Ally@SentinelStrategic.com or by calling 202-748-7600, will get to rub elbows with a number of Florida politicians who are marked down as event hosts, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, former House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Weatherford’s brother, business partner and former FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford will also attend, as will lobbyist Slayter Bayliss of the Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners, Franklin Sreet COO Tyler Cathey and attorney Andy Gazitua.

George P. Bush, the grandson of President George H. W. Bush and nephew of President George W. Bush, recently scored a resounding victory in the Republican primary. Per Claire Allbright of the Texas Tribune, he earned over 58 percent of the vote in the four-way race, with the second-place finisher, former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, earning just under 30 percent.

Bush will face Democrat Miguel Suazo, an energy and natural resources attorney, in the November general election. In the 2014 cycle, Bush defeated Democratic nominee John Cook 61-35 percent with Libertarian Justin Knight and Green Party candidate Valerie Alessi splitting the remainder.

The fundraising invitation is below.

 

Florida Supreme Court

Apply within: Panel starts process to replace Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission on Wednesday announced it would start accepting applications to fill three upcoming vacancies.

Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince face mandatory retirement on the same day that term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott will leave office.

Under the state constitution, judges and justices face mandatory retirement at age 70. In Florida, judicial vacancies are filled by appointment by the Governor, from a list of applicants vetted and submitted by judicial nominating panels.

“Based on the Supreme Court’s current composition, one seat must be filled by a qualified applicant who resides in the Third Appellate District (based in Miami); the other two seats are at-large,” a press release said.

The next justices will likely determine the ideological balance of the state’s highest court: Pariente, Lewis, and Quince are regarded as the court’s liberal-leaning contingent; Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson are the conservatives. Justice Jorge Labarga is often a swing vote.

On Tuesday evening, Scott said he would agree to confer with the next governor-elect on the three justices. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is the Democratic nominee; Ponte Vedra Beach congressman Ron DeSantis is the GOP nominee.

Quince was the last justice to be appointed that way in 1998, and was the consensus candidate of then Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, a Republican.

A Gillum spokesman has all but spurned the idea, saying that “in our understanding of the constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Scott, now running for U.S. Senate, says he will announce the new justices on Jan. 7, his last day in office, which coincides with their retirement date.

Scott’s insistence on replacing the three spurred a legal challenge earlier this year by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause. The progressive organization’s implied concern was that Scott would pack the court with more conservatives.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court said in December that it couldn’t step into the controversy because the Governor hadn’t taken any action yet.

The lone dissenter? Lewis, who said Scott’s plan to make the appointments on his way out the door was “blatantly unconstitutional.”

The application form is here. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Oct. 8.

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Capital correspondent Michael Moline and Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Jeanette Nuñez’s anti-Trump comments are ‘non-issue,’ Ron DeSantis says

A running mate whose anti-Donald Trump comments surfaced after she was chosen by President Trump’s strong choice for Governor of Florida?

“That’s a non-issue,” U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis said of state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez Thursday.

DeSantis, who rode Trump’s endorsement from 10 points down in most polls to an easy Republican gubernatorial primary victory over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, introduced Nuñez of Miami to run for lieutenant governor on his ticket. And then he dismissed any notion that she at least once was a fervent member of the #NeverTrump wing of the Republican Party.

In at least one 2016 tweet, Nuñez called Trump a con man and accused him of supporting the Ku Klux Klan.

Water over the bridge of past elections, and that’s what you say in primaries when you like the other guy, Nuñez and DeSantis said on Thursday.

“We’re talking about moving Florida forward. Elections are elections. It is what it is. It’s no secret that I was a strong Marco Rubio supporter, but that election is done and I’m looking forward to this election,” she said, referring to Florida’s junior U.S. Senator.

“To support Marco Rubio, a favorite son, a Cuban-American, a historic run, to me, if I was in her shoes, I probably would have been supporting Marco as well. So that’s a non-issue,” DeSantis said.

Of course, DeSantis had cut no slack for Putnam after he also had said negative things about Trump during the 2016 election cycle. Putnam also supported a favorite-son candidate from Florida in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, former Gov. Jeb Bush. Putnam tried hard to walk it back during the primary campaign, while DeSantis ripped him repeatedly for his anti-Trump remarks in 2016.

That’s different, DeSantis insisted Thursday.

“He was running saying, like, he was basically Trump’s guy. And I just thought it was more insincere,” he said. “Jeanette is standing by what she said. She’s just saying it’s a different contest.”

Lieutenant governor picks could have little effect in November

Gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum must pick their running mates by a Thursday deadline.

Based on recent political history, you can expect the candidates to bring some demographic and geographic diversity to the general-election tickets with their selections for lieutenant governor.

But while rumors and speculation swirl about who might be tapped by DeSantis and Gillum, history has also shown the lieutenant-governor candidates are not likely to have much impact on the outcome of what will be one of the highest-profile elections in the nation this fall.

The primary duty of the Florida lieutenant governor, a post that was re-established in 1968, is to succeed the governor if he or she is incapacitated or dies.

That transition last happened in December 1998, when Gov. Lawton Chiles died and Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay became governor, filling the office for the last month of Chiles’ two-term administration.

Talking to reporters after his primary-election victory, DeSantis, the Republican nominee, said his “first criteria” in selecting a running mate would be to find someone who could step in as governor if necessary.

A secondary consideration would be someone who could help him “advance an agenda” and perhaps have expertise on “certain niche issues,” DeSantis said.

“I don’t really necessarily just want somebody hanging around. I want them to be actively involved,” DeSantis said. “So I’m going to be looking for someone who can be value-added, not just in the election but once you become governor and are working to implement an agenda.”

Gillum, the Democratic nominee, will look at similar criteria, and both campaigns are likely weighing running mates that will broaden or balance the appeal of their tickets.

For instance, in the last gubernatorial election in 2014, both candidates had running mates from Miami-Dade County, which with 1.4 million voters has the largest county electorate in the state.

Both 2014 gubernatorial nominees also had Hispanic running mates, with Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos LopezCantera running as Republicans against Democrat Charlie Crist and his running mate, Annette Taddeo, who is now a state senator.

Another consideration in the process is the long-held mantra from political consultants that the selection of a lieutenant governor should “first do no harm.” That means the potential running mates must be well-vetted to avoid controversies that could damage the general-election ticket.

Missteps by a lieutenant governor have not seriously damaged a gubernatorial candidate in recent elections. But governors and candidates have parted ways with their running mates.

The last time came when Scott forced Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the first African-American elected to the office, to resign in 2013 after she became embroiled in the investigation of a group linked to internet cafes. She was never charged with any wrongdoing. Scott picked Lopez-Cantera to replace her.

But lieutenant governors can also help governors. MacKay played a key role in the Chiles administration. And Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, a former Senate president, helped Gov. Jeb Bush navigate the legislative process during his second term.

Aside from the two major parties, Darcy Richardson, running for governor as a Reform Party candidate, has picked former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano as his running mate.

Florida politicians react to the passing of John McCain

The family of U.S. Sen. John McCain, Arizona’s senior senator and the 2008 Republican nominee for president, announced his death after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Florida’s political leaders remembered the longtime Senate leader.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, elected in 2010, issued a statement mourning McCain.

“John McCain’s sacrifices to his country are immeasurable. With his passing today, America has lost more than a leader and more than a senator. We have lost a true American hero. As a colleague in the Senate and a friend, I drew personal inspiration from his leadership, intellect and moral courage. He set the standard for what we should expect from our soldiers and from our public servants of all levels. In this time of grief, I hope John’s family finds comfort in knowing that this extraordinary man touched countless lives, and his memory will continue to set the standard of leadership and moral resolve for future generations.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat elected to the Senate in 2000, called McCain a friend a hero.

“John McCain was my friend and one of my heroes. He devoted his life to duty, honor and country. He shall always be a role model for me.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running against Nelson this year, noted McCain’s military service.

“John McCain was a true American hero. As a Navy man myself, I’ve always had immense respect for Senator McCain. A lot of folks talk tough, but he was the real deal. From one Navy family to another, we extend our sincerest gratitude for his strength and perseverance. John will always be a beacon of hope and perseverance for America. He was a true fighter and fought every day for this country. We will miss him dearly but take comfort in knowing his legacy will live on forever.”

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose brother George W. defeated McCain in the Republican presidential primary in 2000, praised McCain’s lifetime of service.

“John McCain’s courageous and selfless lifetime of service is a profile in American exceptionalism. Prayers this evening for the Senator, Cindy and the entire McCain family.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi sent prayers to McCain’s family.

“US Senator John McCain was a war hero, a public servant and a great American. Our country is better for his service. My heart breaks, and my prayers are with Cindy, Meghan and the entire McCain family.”

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, celebrated all stages of McCain’s service. “America lost one of her bravest defenders today. In a cockpit, an enemy prison, or the Senate chamber, John McCain fought for our nation’s values and freedoms, and sacrificed much in the journey. May God welcome him home and give comfort to his family.”

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis remembered his interaction with McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“Katie, Theo and I had the honor to meet Senator McCain during his 2008 campaign for President. My family appreciates his sacrifices for our country and pray for strength for the McCain Family.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor, spoke of the relationship between McCain and her father, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. “Dad and @SenJohnMcCain formed a friendship serving together because John McCain was one of the rare statesman who could place public service before partisanship. He was a warrior and maverick all the way to the end. May he rest in peace.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, praised McCain’s character. “We’ve lost a truly courageous leader tonight. John McCain’s integrity and love for our country was boundless. He led with a passion and purpose that we all aspire to. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends this difficult evening.”

Chris King, another Democratic candidate, posted a classic photo of McCain being honored for his service by President Richard Nixon.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democratic candidate for governor, also remembered McCain. “His patriotism is beyond measure, his heroism beyond question, and his character is a role model for a life beautifully lived.”

Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, a Democrat, also posted a picture of McCain with another president, former opponent Barack Obama.

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Baxter Troutman, a Republican, was among those mentioning McCain’s maverick reputation.

Chief Financial Officer candidate Jeremy Ring, a Democrat, called McCain a true patriot.

“So sad to hear of the passing of a true American Patriot and Hero . My prayers are with his family at this time as well as all the people he has touched throughout his eighty-one years. Senator McCain, THANK YOU for your service to the American people.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who as Florida’s Republican governor campaigned for McCain for president, remembered the senator.

“Tonight our country lost a true American hero. Honored to have called Senator McCain a friend. May God bless his loved ones during this time of loss.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, echoed the thoughts. “America loses a true patriot in Senator John McCain. Honor him with independent thinking, love of country.”

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican, added his tribute to McCain. “John McCain was a true American patriot who sacrificed much for his country. He was a man of tremendous courage and will be missed.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican, released the following statement: “I am saddened at the passing of a true American hero, Senator John McCain. Senator McCain was a devoted family man, a passionate leader, and a dedicated public servant. He always put his country first, and as such he leaves behind an impressive legacy of service and sacrifice. The Bilirakis family was fortunate to call him a friend for many years. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. May his memory be eternal!”

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat, also put out a statement: “”I was so incredibly saddened to hear the news of Senator John McCain’s passing. He was a classic Patriot and served our nation with honor and distinction. May his family find the peace that they need in this difficult time, and know that his legacy will forever endure. Throughout Senator McCain’s years of distinguished service, we all saw firsthand his integrity, humility, courage and grace. My thoughts and prayers are with his entire family. Senator McCain inspired a nation and will be dearly missed.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, shared a picture of herself with McCain and a message for his family. “An American hero passed away but his legacy will endure. A fighter through and through, was a patriot and a true American hero. Dexter and I were proud to know him.”

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, said he felt honored to have served in Washington with McCain. “ was a true hero. Honored to have known him and served in Washington with him. Thinking of the McCain family and all who loved him tonight. Rest in peace Maverick.”

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford was among those celebrating McCain’s military contributions. “I am saddened by the passing of Senator John McCain and thank him for his service to our nation both in the Navy and in Congress. For decades, his dedication to his country, his family, and his principles have served as an example to us all.”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat, said he was incredibly saddened to hear of McCain’s death. “He embodied true patriotism and was a man of unflinching integrity, who went above and beyond the call of duty in service to our country. This is a profound loss for our nation.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat, recalled a diplomatic trip the two lawmakers took together to Vietnam. “Patriot. Hero. Public Servant. Maverick. Senator McCain will be missed by this nation. As a Vietnamese refugee, I will treasure the memory of visiting Vietnam with talking about our deep and mutual love for America. Rest In Peace, Senator. Your legacy lives on.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat, simply thanked McCain for his candor. “Thank you for your service to our country, for your courage and for your candor!”

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican, said McCain exemplified the best of the United States. “Sen. John McCain dedicated his entire life to serving our nation. As a Navy Veteran, a war hero, and later through his service in Congress, he exemplified the best this country has to offer as a statesman. My prayers are with the McCain family during this difficult time.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, issued a lengthy statement celebrating McCain’s life from the military to his Senate service. “Generations to come will benefit from his selfless dedication to duty and country.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, simply passed along her regrets at the news.

Florida Senate President Joe Negron celebrated McCain’s military record. “We are keeping the McCain family in our prayers as they grieve this incredible loss. Senator McCain was an American hero who served the cause of freedom throughout his entire life. He endured suffering most of us cannot imagine. We are so grateful for his service and sacrifice.”

State Rep. Jason Fischer also made note of McCain’s naval record. “Fair winds and following seas, shipmate. We have the watch.”

State Rep. Shevrin Jones demonstrated the bipartisan affection for the senator, saying McCain “was an example of what courage, strength, and civility in the process looked like. Today, let us honor him for showing the world that it can be done. To a true American legend and hero, Rest In Peace.”

Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a Democratic candidate for Congress in South Florida, released the following statement: “It is a sad day today for all Americans. I may not have always agreed with Sen. John McCain, but I always respected him. He was a true American hero who fought for what he believed in — both in war and in Washington — and was a true representative of his people, not special interests. He was a warrior, a statesman, a model for us all. His death Saturday can be mourned by both Republicans and Democrats because Sen. McCain wasn’t afraid to cross the aisle, or challenge his own party and its leaders, when he felt he had to. Twice, he refused to support GOP legislation to end the Affordable Healthcare Act. His example and his leadership will be missed.”

Jesse Phillips, Seminole County Republican state committeeman, mentioned McCain sometimes upset his base but always inspired respect. “Love him or hate him, the maverick embodied so much of what makes America great.”

Christian Whitfield, Jacksonville City Council candidate, honored McCain’s service record. “Elizabeth and I would like to send our condolences to the family and to our fellow and shipmate sleep in peace sir, we have the watch.”

Hawthorne Mayor Matt Surrency recalled a famous moment when McCain dismissed false theories about Obama even in the midst of the presidential race.

This story will be updated as more leaders release statements.

Jeb Bush, George W. Bush to help boost Rick Scott’s U.S. Senate bid

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has already had President Donald Trump stump for his U.S. Senate bid, and now former Gov. Jeb Bush said says more presidential support is on the way.

“As a resident and former Governor of Florida, I understand the complexity and leadership it takes to serve as the chief executive of our state and the commitment it takes to bring real change,” Bush said in a Thursday email. “I also understand the importance of the election this November and how the outcome will affect the direction of our state and country for generations.”

Bush went on to call Scott “the type of leader that we need to elect to serve in the United States Senate.” Sharing that view is Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush.

Highlighting his brother’s pre-presidential gig as Texas Governor, Jeb said George also “understands that Rick Scott is the type of leader America needs now.”

To help Scott in his quest to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, the two Bushes will be present at a pair of Sept. 14 fundraisers for Scott. During the day, the brothers will attend a luncheon fundraiser in Tampa before heading down south for an evening reception in Palm Beach. Times and locations weren’t printed on the invitation — it’ll take an RSVP to the Scott campaign to get those details.

As far as the expected donation goes: $1,000 for a reservation at the luncheon, with suggested contributions ranging up to $25K for those looking to chair the event — those that go that route will get a “VIP photo,” two luncheon tix and preferred seating.

The stakes go up in Palm Beach, with the bottom tier donation level set at $2,700. To be a chair at that event, donors will have to give or bundle $50K for Scott’s campaign.

The race between Scott and Nelson is one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the country.

Nelson, currently in his third term, is one of a handful of incumbent Senators up for re-election this year in states that voted for Trump in 2016, making it a prime flip target for national Republicans and a key seat to defend for national Democrats.

So far, Scott has trounced Nelson in fundraising and put that money to work with a ton of media buys. Senate Majority PAC put pro-Nelson ads on TV in May, and his official campaign has since started to run its own ads.

Most recent polls of the race have shown Scott with an edge, though the race is close. Among the polls tracked by RealClearPolitics.com, the margin ranges from plus-5 Scott to plus-4 Nelson. Overall, an average of those polls shows Scott leading by 1.5 percentage points.

The fundraiser invitations are below. Those looking to attend can find the RSVP form on Scott’s campaign website.

Republican Governors Association starts spending spree in Florida

The GOP has held the Governor’s Mansion since the election of Jeb Bush in 1998, and the Republican Governors Association is spending big bucks to keep it that way.

According to newly filed campaign finance reports, electioneering communications organization Florida Facts received a $2.45 million cash infusion from the Republican Governors Association on Aug. 2, and it quickly put the money to work with a $2.12 million media buy through California-based Target Enterprises and another $225,000 in spending for “professional services,” likely media production, through that firm and Maryland-based OnMessage, Inc.

OnMessage has been the preferred media consulting shop for term-limited Gov. Rick Scott since he burst onto the political scene in 2010. In his two gubernatorial campaigns, Scott’s campaign and committee accounts paid the Annapolis firm more than $14.3 million.

Florida Facts, which shares an address with the HQ of the Republican Governors Association, finished the reporting period with just under $100,000 in the bank.

There are currently 33 Republican governors, including Scott, in office nationwide, and 26 of those Republican-held seats will be on the ballot in 2018. In its quest to shore up candidates ahead of a possible “blue wave,” the RGA has reeled in record-breaking fundraising hauls, including $113 million so far in the 2018 cycle.

In Florida, the winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be the beneficiary of the Republican Governors Association’s spending.

The eventual Republican nominee will go up against one of five Democrats running for the job, with former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine currently atop the polls heading into the final leg of the nominating contest.

The general election is Nov. 6.

Sides battle over ‘high quality’ schools requirement

When Florida voters went to the polls in 1998, more than 70 percent approved a constitutional amendment that required the state to provide an “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality” system of public schools.

But two decades later, the Florida Supreme Court is preparing to wade into a long-running battle about whether the state has adequately carried out the requirement — and whether judges should even decide questions that attorneys for the state describe as a “political thicket.”

The state last week filed a 72-page brief asking the Supreme Court to uphold a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that rejected the lawsuit, which has been led by a group called Citizens for Strong Schools.

In the brief, the state’s attorneys argued that the issues raised by the plaintiffs are “non-justiciable political questions” that courts should not resolve. But even if the Supreme Court disagrees with that argument, the state’s attorneys contend that Florida has made “dramatic improvements” in student performance, dispelling the notion that it has not provided an adequate education system.

“Florida’s school reforms and education policies — most of which were implemented after the 1998 constitutional amendment … — have led to steady and impressive gains in student performance,” the brief said.

But in a brief filed last month, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the Supreme Court should overturn the 1st District Court of Appeal ruling and send the case back to a circuit judge under an “appropriate standard of review” to determine if the state has met the constitutional requirements.

In questioning the quality of education provided in the state, the plaintiffs’ brief pointed to issues such as disparities in student test performances in different counties and by different racial and ethnic groups.

“The (1998 constitutional) revision mandates that the state give all children in Florida a chance to obtain a high quality education,” the plaintiffs’ brief said. “Parents allege this is not occurring. But the First DCA (District Court of Appeal) ruled that, regardless, courts have no power to ensure it does. That decision was an abdication of the courts’ core responsibility to act when other branches of government’s acts violate the Constitution.”

The 1998 amendment was placed on the ballot by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, a panel that meets every 20 years to consider revisions to the Constitution. Voters approved the measure at the same time they elected Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who ushered in major — and often-controversial — changes to the education system that continue to reverberate in 2018.

Among other things, Bush and his supporters backed expansion of school choice, high-stakes testing and grading the performances of public schools.

The constitutional amendment, in part, said it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools.

Citizens for Strong Schools and the other plaintiffs initially filed the lawsuit in 2009. A Leon County circuit judge ruled in favor of the state in 2016, and the 1st District Court of Appeal followed suit in December.

After the plaintiffs took the issue to the Supreme Court in January, the state argued justices should not take it up. But the Supreme Court decided in April to hear the case. It has not scheduled oral arguments.

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