Ho-Hum Session Not Just About Governor's Race

By: Dara Kam News Service of Florida | Posted: April 16, 2014 3:55 AM
Florida Capitol

Tax breaks are in. Gambling? No dice. Lower tuition is OK, but alimony is a no-no.

Blame the GOP-dominated Legislature's attempt to give Gov. Rick Scott a helping hand for what people are calling one of the most boring sessions in recent history.

But, while they are doing all they can to keep the governor in office, Republicans also have their eyes on a bigger prize -- the presidential race two years from now.

"Absolutely it's important. We want the governor re-elected but it's clearly important for 2016. No question," said Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and former head of the Republican Party of Florida who is also chairman of Scott's re-election effort.

Lawmakers recently put the kibosh on gambling legislation that was sure to split the Republican faithful. And, after Scott vetoed a similar effort last year, they opted to not even consider a prickly overhaul of the alimony system, putting the issue on hold for at least another year.

But they are angling to land on the incumbent Republican's desk a cornucopia of items that appeal to Hispanics, gun owners, drivers, families footing the bill for university educations and anyone disgusted by revelations that sexual offenders let loose by the state preyed again on children.

The Legislature quickly passed a package of measures aimed at cracking down on child molesters, even after critics complained that the legislation fails to fully address the problem.

And lawmakers swiftly handed Scott one of his top priorities, a nearly $400 million rollback of vehicle registration fees increased during economic tough times in 2009, when Charlie Crist -- Scott's leading Democratic opponent -- was governor.

With the May 2 end of the session fast approaching, the House and Senate are now wrangling over how to parcel out the remaining $100 million of the $500 million in election-year tax and fee cuts Scott made a top priority.

No election year on GOP turf would be complete without some National Rifle Association-backed legislation to pump up base voters. So Florida lawmakers are approving a suite of bills aimed at firing up gun owners. One measure would let gun owners who don't have concealed-carry training pack heat during states of emergency. A "warning shot" proposal awaiting Scott's signature would let people show guns and fire warning shots in self-defense.

Another gift to Scott -- lower tuition for university students -- is wrapped in a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition, a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford. The House has already passed the bill, and Senate sponsor Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, says he has the votes for Senate approval once it makes it to the floor. The measure is viewed as an olive branch to Hispanic voters whom Scott alienated in his first bid for governor when he campaigned on bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida. Scott further angered Hispanics when he vetoed a nearly universally-supported measure that would have let children of undocumented immigrants get temporary driver's licenses.

"I think we've got a nice smooth session going on and that always helps. Everyone's working together, the House, the Senate, the governor. I think it's as much harmony here as I've seen during any session and that obviously should help him," Latvala said.

Keeping the governor's mansion, as well as the Florida House and Senate, in GOP hands is part of a longer-term strategy.

Florida, a critical swing state, helped President Obama get into the White House and stay there in the past two elections.

A Republican governor would help turn that around, Thrasher said.

"It makes a difference," he said. "We've lost the last two elections in Florida. We need to win the next one in order to elect a Republican president."

Thrasher said the 2016 election doesn't put more pressure on Republicans to re-elect Scott, who remains unpopular, but "it clearly gives us some incentives to do that."

Getting Scott re-elected could also help the GOP maintain a stronghold on legislative and congressional seats in 2016, especially in the state House, where about a dozen seats could now be up for grabs after new maps were drawn in 2012.

"It's not just about the presidential. It's about legislative. It's about congressional. Anytime you have the governor in the mansion, that changes the dynamic for that party," said lobbyist Nick Iarossi. "Where the Republicans have drastically outraised Democrats for the past decade, that could turn on a dime if Charlie Crist wins the governor's mansion. That's why everyone's being cautious."

But House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said Republicans are ignoring issues such as an expansion of Medicaid to lay the groundwork for the presidential race.

"For sure it's positioning for 2016. They want it to appear that there are no problems here in Tallahassee, that everything's moving along smoothly and they've got this $1.3 billion in surplus to try to camouflage to that effect. But there are a number of issues we're not addressing. We need to address the issue of health care, which we believe is a crisis in this state. We need to fully vet the issue with DCF. They're talking about new investigators but they're not addressing the issue of the services. If you have more investigators, clearly there are going to be more cases and they're going to need to place more children. They're not addressing those placements and the services," Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. "The governor's race clearly is being done to set up how Florida will be a Republican governor-led state at the time of the (2016) election."

But Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who led Obama's 2008 campaign effort in Florida and is advising Crist, said that it's wrong-headed of Republicans to pin their presidential hopes on the governor's race.

"I think it's a very myopic view of the Tallahassee-centric world which doesn’t exist in the five blocks outside of Adams Street," Schale said.

Obama won the Sunshine State twice with a Republican governor at the helm, Schale pointed out. And, Schale said, presidential elections are now so expensive and require such a large organization that, although a governor can help his or her party's fundraising efforts, state parties are relied on less and less to aid candidates.

"In a previous era you would have had to depend on party apparatus … because nobody could raise a billion dollars. But in this new world we live in, you don't need a political apparatus in a presidential election. You don't need it at all," he said.

Obama won Florida by 3 percentage points in 2008, "arguably at the point at which our party was most inept," Schale said.

"It may be materially important for some political leaders and some political consultants but it's not in terms of the outcome of the election," he said.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (2)

Teacher Resigns over Uncommon Common Core
1:52PM APR 17TH 2014
Teacher Pauline Hawkins is resigning from Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Here’s her resignation letter:
Dear Administrators, Superintendent, et al.:
This is my official resignation letter from my English teaching position.
I’m sad to be leaving a place that has meant so much to me. This was my first teaching job. For eleven years I taught in these classrooms, I walked these halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. This school became part of my family, and I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as a teacher. I met the most incredible people here. I am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.
I know I have made a difference in the lives of my students, just as they have irrevocably changed mine. Teaching is the most rewarding job I have ever had. That is why I am sad to leave the profession I love.
Even though I am primarily leaving to be closer to my family, if my family were in Colorado, I would not be able to continue teaching here. As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.
Along with the salary issue, ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children.
I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.
It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago–and it’s only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.
I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they’ve been told they aren’t good enough by a standardized test; they’ve been told that they can’t be successful because they aren’t jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.
I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher–I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right” answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed to be a proper education.
As unique as my personal situation might be, I know I am not the only teacher feeling this way. Instead of weeding out the “bad” teachers, this evaluation system will continue to frustrate the teachers who are doing everything they can to ensure their students are graduating with the skills necessary to become civic minded individuals. We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.
Since I’ve worked here, we have always asked the question of every situation: “Is this good for kids?” My answer to this new legislation is, “No. This is absolutely not good for kids.” I cannot stand by and watch this happen to our precious children–our future. The irony is I cannot fight for their rights while I am working in the system. Therefore, I will not apply for another teaching job anywhere in this country while our government continues to ruin public education. Instead, I will do my best to be an advocate for change. I will continue to fight for our children’s rights for a free and proper education because their very lives depend upon it.
My final plea as a district employee is that the principals and superintendent ask themselves the same questions I have asked myself: “Is this good for kids? Is the state money being spent wisely to keep and attract good teachers? Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers?” With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “All mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” I want to be someone who moves and makes things happen. Which one do you want to be?
8:46AM APR 16TH 2014
The Lawmakers in Tally completely blew their best oppurtunity to help Scott by refusing to give the Jordan Medical Marijuana Act even a hearing, much less going ahead and passing it. An action that may well have kept some voters home in Nov. All while bragging about the faux medical marijuana bill being considered. Such foolishness has made every Medical Marijuana naysayers vulnerable in Nov as more Democrats will turn out to vote for this Amendment, with a result that more Democrats are going to be elected. Even some Republicans and Libertarians are going to vote against the partisan politicians that failed to follow the desires of their voters. No matter your party or whom you choose to vote for, Please Vote YES on Amendment 2, Medical Marijuana. Thank You

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