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Politics

Weekly Roundup: Beginning to Look Familiar

October 21, 2016 - 11:00pm
Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy
Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy

A major figure in the Clinton White House visited Florida this week as part of a bid for the presidency. The two political parties fought over election rules in court. And there was talk of a rigged election.

Welcome back to 2000.

There are some significant differences between the storylines of the current day and those of 16 years ago. It's now former First Lady (and, since then, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton running for office, instead of then-Vice President Al Gore. The fights in court are about the rules before the votes are counted rather than after. And talk of a vast conspiracy to fix the results was mostly confined to the fringes back then; this year, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has taken up the mantle.

Still, it was hard to look at it all and not consider the idea often attributed to Mark Twain that while history doesn't repeat itself, it does rhyme.

Floridians hope that rhyming is all there is. The last thing anyone wants is for 2000 to repeat itself for real.

SIX YEARS --- BARRING DIVINE INTERVENTION

The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Marco Rubio and Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy has remained largely in the shadows this year as Clinton and Trump have fought over Florida's 29 electoral votes. But the race began to emerge this week with the first of what now looks to be two debates between Rubio and Murphy.

The headline of the debate was Rubio coming as close as he has to committing to serve the entirety of a second term in the Senate --- unless a higher authority weighs in.

"I'm going to serve in the Senate for the next six years, God willing," Rubio said.

It was pushback against one of Murphy's most persistent charges against Rubio --- that the Republican all but abandoned his seat to run for president in 2016 and might do so again in 2020 if Trump fails to capture the White House, as looks increasingly likely.

Rubio's comment appeared to catch Murphy off guard. A few moments later, the Democrat rattled off that Rubio still hadn't vowed to "commit to serving a full term," as he responded to a question about his own business career.

"That's a line he practiced before I said what I actually said today," remarked Rubio.

There was a note of irony to the call-out, given that Rubio's presidential campaign stumbled badly after he repeated a line almost verbatim four times at a debate, something that N.J. Gov. Chris Christie was quick to point out.

But 2016 politics is still 2016 politics, and Trump loomed over the debate. Murphy slammed Rubio for refusing to unendorse the Republican candidate despite offensive comments about women, immigrants and others.

"If you can't stand up to Donald Trump as a candidate, how in the world are you going to stand up to him as the president of the United States?" Murphy asked. "This is about what he's done. Think of how unqualified he is. Just a couple of weeks (ago) it came out that he's violated the (Cuba) embargo, something that I know you care a lot about. And you still stand by his side."

Rubio, repeated a line he rolled out prior to the debate, that neither presidential candidate is inspirational. And that while he disagrees with a lot of what Trump says and does, Rubio said he disagrees with everything from Clinton.

"I don't trust either one of them, and the job of a U.S. senator is not to blindly follow the president because they happen to be from your own party," Rubio said.

For the record, Rubio rejected Trump's assertions that the presidential election could be rigged. Whether his attempts to distance himself from the nominee are working is questionable after a new poll this week showed the Senate race is essentially a dead heat.

Rubio led by two points, 49 percent to 47 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted before the debate. That's well within the poll's margin of error.

DO YOU KNOW 'JIU-JITSU'?

Groups that support solar power and oppose Amendment 1 on this year's ballot have long argued that the utility-backed initiative is not exactly on the up-and-up. Now, an official with a Tallahassee-based think tank might have given them some evidence.

The Miami Herald first reported on an audio tape in which James Madison Institute Vice President of Policy Sal Nuzzo described how to use a "little bit of political jiu-jitsu" by promoting solar to win support for desired changes in policy. His comments came while speaking Oct. 2 at the "Energy/Environment Leadership Summit" in Nashville, Tenn.

"The point I would make, maybe the takeaway, is as you guys look at policy in your state or constitutional ballot initiatives in your state, remember this: Solar polls very well," Nuzzo said on the tape, which has been posted online.

Amendment 1 foes jumped on a tape as evidence of utility-industry efforts to deceive voters.

"Amendment 1 is a con job and scam perpetuated on Florida voters," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, on a conference call following the tape's release. "And we just have to get that word out."

But the group Consumers for Smart Solar, which has led efforts to pass the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot, said the James Madison Institute wasn't involved in planning or drafting the proposal.

Meanwhile, the James Madison Institute said Nuzzo misspoke about the conservative think tank having any role with Consumers for Smart Solar. The institute supports the initiative, which it says would provide consumer protection.

The Consumers for Smart Solar amendment would enshrine in the Florida Constitution existing rules regarding the use of solar energy by private property owners.

The proposal also includes a more contentious provision, which states that those who haven't installed solar on their property "are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do."

Proponents say the second provision provides consumer protections for people who don't install solar panels. Opponents say it could result in "discriminatory charges" against rooftop solar users and limit the desire of people to go solar.

VOTING WRITES

While candidates and advocates were fighting for votes, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker was refereeing fights over how Floridians can cast ballots. The judge has been saddled with the task of wrangling order out of a pair of cases that could help decide the outcome of the Nov. 8 elections.

He opened the week by blasting a state law regarding vote-by-mail ballots as "indefensible" and arguing it threatened to disenfranchise voters.

The 30-page ruling focused on situations in which voters' signatures submitted with mail-in ballots do not appear to match signatures on file with county supervisors of elections. Under a 2004 law, such mail-in ballots are rejected.

But siding with the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee in a lawsuit filed against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Walker issued a preliminary injunction ordering a process that would allow voters to resolve questions about such "mismatched signature ballots" --- and have the ballots counted.

A key part of Walker's ruling was that state law has allowed voters a process to fix --- or, in legal parlance, "cure" --- vote-by-mail ballots that do not include signatures. But it has not allowed a similar process for when signatures do not appear to match.

"It is illogical, irrational, and patently bizarre for the state of Florida to withhold the opportunity to cure from mismatched-signature voters while providing that same opportunity to no-signature voters," Walker wrote. "And in doing so, the state of Florida has categorically disenfranchised thousands of voters arguably for no reason other than they have poor handwriting or their handwriting has changed over time."

Walker, meanwhile, rejected Democrats' efforts to draw him back into a case on voter registration after the judge ordered a one-week extension in the deadline for Floridians to sign up to cast ballots.

Siding with Detzner, Walker turned aside a request that he order elections officials to do more in processing tens of thousands of forms that poured in after the judge gave voters more time to register following Hurricane Matthew.

Democrats wanted Walker to call for more forceful action to make sure that all new, legal voter registration forms were verified by Sunday, the day before early voting starts in 50 of Florida's 67 counties. They also wanted Detzner to be required to issue updated lists of registered voters as the process continues and for the judge "to clarify" that voters whose forms were still being verified could cast regular ballots, instead of provisional ones.

But Detzner and local elections officials argued that it would be difficult to process the registrations any faster and dismissed as implausible other ideas like having poll workers call to check on the status of pending registration forms.

"We can't work people any harder, and we don't have any more people," said Bob Pass, an attorney for Detzner.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The U.S. Senate race between Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Patrick Murphy started shaping up as the two traded fire at a debate, and polls in the contest appeared to tighten.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We have 67 counties in this state, each of which conduct their own elections. I promise you there is not a 67-county conspiracy to rig this election."---U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, trying to tamp down talk of fixed elections, during a Senate debate Monday.

Comments

It's just wrong and embarrassing that "L'il Paddy-Boy" is allowed "up on the stump" to reveal to the world that he has ONLY the "experience and polish" of an "annual potted plant". If "substance" was bull-shit, he'd have suffocated by now and dragged down by his loaded diaper... (to be continued...) "JUST SAYING"...

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