The field is set for the 2012 election after candidates made their intentions officially known this week by qualifying for races including 160 legislative seats and 27 congressional spots up for grabs following the once-a-decade redistricting exercise.
Candidates weren't the only ones stewing over the upcoming elections. Gov. Rick Scott this week took the initiative in a simmering battle over voter rolls in Florida as he continued his joust with the Department of Justice over Republican-led efforts to keep noncitizens from voting in the fall.
Meanwhile, James Ammons, Florida A&M University president, vowed to carry on after the FAMU board of trustees handed him a vote of no-confidence, a second shot across the bow for Ammons in the wake of a long line of problems at the school, including the November hazing death of Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion. The beleaguered president kept his $300,000 a year job, but was given a not-so-subtle hint that his tenure at the university was in jeopardy.
The final cast of characters was set for the upcoming election Friday as the deadline passed on qualifying for a host of state and federal races.
Following the once-a-decade redrawing of political boundaries, candidates for office filed necessary paperwork with the Florida Division of Elections, which began collecting qualifying papers Monday.
The roster includes 33 House candidates (29 incumbents and four newcomers) who will run unopposed and another 12 who will face only minor party opposition. In the Senate, nine incumbents – seven Republicans and two Democrats -- will return automatically with no opposition on the ballot, even though they're running in newly drawn districts.
Republicans failed to field a candidate in 23 House races, leaving either Democrats, NPA or third-party candidates to win those seats. But Democrats didn't field a candidate in 47 of the 120 House districts.
Among those districts where Democrats chose not to challenge are more than a dozen in which it appeared they would be competitive, according to voting statistics.
For example, Democrats failed to field a candidate in two House districts where a majority of the current voters went for Obama in 2008 – District 36 in the Pasco County area and District 83 in Port St. Lucie. In the Senate, no Democratic candidate was entered in District 22 in the Tampa Bay area, which would have been won by Obama in 2008.
NO, YOU'RE OUT OF ORDER:
Responding to a federal Justice Department request to explain why Gov. Rick Scott's most recent voter purge doesn't violate the National Voter Registration Act, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Wednesday fired off his own letter asking the federal elections watchdog to explain its actions in the ongoing battle over Florida's voter database, and tell Florida why the feds haven't broken the law.
In a letter to a DOJ election lawyer, Detzner defended the state's effort to purge from its ranks the names of ineligible voters, saying federal officials have been dragging their feet by not giving the state access to the Department of Homeland Security database, known as SAVE.
The information, Detzner contends, would help the state remove from its voter rolls the names of noncitizens who are ineligible to vote.
"By denying Florida access to the SAVE database, DHS appears to have violated federal law, which provides that states may use the SAVE database 'for any legal purpose such as … voter registration,'" Detzner contended.
State officials estimate that as many as 2,600 of 11.2 million registered voters should not be there.
Last week, DOJ elections lawyer T. Christian Herren said Florida could be violating federal voting laws with the purge, primarily by continuing to remove voters less than 90 days before an election. Critics have blasted Scott and Republicans for what they see as a partisan attempt to suppress voting rights.
The Scott administration disagrees, saying the state's efforts to clear its voter rolls of noncitizens are not only legal but necessary to ensure eligible voters' choices aren't diluted.
FAMU BOT MEMBERS TO AMMONS: WE'VE LOST CONFIDENCE:
Florida A&M University board of trustees this week gave president James Ammons a collective thumbs down as the panel passed a no-confidence vote by an 8-4 margin.
Ammons still has his $300,000 a year job. But his future is cloudy.
The president faces increased scrutiny from FAMU trustees and State University System officials over a growing litany of concerns ranging from fraudulent audits and financial improprieties among FAMU administrators to poor freshmen retention and sexual abuse at its developmental research school.
"It's strike two. ... Three strikes, you're out," board Chairman Solomon Badger, who voted against the no-confidence motion, said after the meeting about Ammons.
Despite the public censure, Ammons said he plans to stay at the helm of the historically black university.
"Let me say to the board that I hear you loudly and clearly," Ammons said immediately following the vote. "I understand that there are some measures that I have to take as president of this university to fix things and I am going to fix them."
FAMU alumni leaders and former students came to Ammons' defense, saying the university is being unfairly singled out by university system officials and the media, which they contend has made FAMU a scapegoat over the hazing issue.
An administrative law judge this week upheld state efforts to enact water-quality standards less rigid than specific federal numeric requirements. Rejecting arguments from a coalition of environmental groups, Florida Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter ruled the Department of Environmental Protection acted within its authority when it proposed a slate of water-quality criteria less rigid than federal standards preferred by environmentalists.
In other election news, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began an investigation into the filing of campaign papers by three Supreme Court justices -- Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince – by court employees in a last-minute scramble to file papers necessary to make sure the trio appeared on the ballot.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, raised the issue as conservatives unhappy with the liberal bent of the court's majority have made it clear they will try to oust the trio of jurists in November.
STORIES OF THE WEEK: Candidates for office submitted paperwork to run for their respective offices this week while the Scott administration sparred with Washington over who will get to vote in those races.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I begin to see that we have a leadership that is caught in a wilderness of errors," FAMU trustee Narayan Persaud, who cast a no-confidence vote against James Ammons, FAMU president.