Weekly Roundup: Farewell Summer, We Hardly Knew Ye
Around the State
Inter- and intra-party scrapes over elections in the sultry months leading up to November are typical hijinks for those already in office and others hoping to join the in-crowd.
But the latest scuffle over the GOP-dominated Legislature's congressional map has brought summertime finger-pointing to a halt, at least for members who already have subterranean Capitol parking spaces.
So lawmakers, who are prohibited from taking campaign cash while they are in session, are back in Tallahassee this week and at least part of next week to draw a handful of new districts. The special session gives their opponents, if they have any, the chance to rake in a little extra dough while the incumbents are holed up in the Capitol.
The campaigning in the governor's race, however, is in overdrive, with both sides slinging mud. Republican Gov. Rick Scott spent the week touting environmental plans, while his likely Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, fleshed out some platform details in the "Fair Shot Florida" plan aimed at middle-class voters.
SUPER-FAST SPECIAL SESSION:
House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz quickly ordered lawmakers into a special session this week to revise the congressional map struck down by Lewis.
Proving that the process is on hyper-speed, the chairmen of the committees working on a new map released a joint proposal hours after the session convened Thursday. The plan was approved by committees Friday and could gain approval from the full Legislature by Wednesday, before lawmakers return home for summer vacations, last-minute primary campaigning or helping get the kids ready for school.
The work is focused on correcting the two districts targeted by Lewis: Congressional District 5, represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, which sprawls across eight counties as it winds its way from Jacksonville to Orlando; and Congressional District 10, represented by Republican Congressman Dan Webster. At least five other districts abutting the problematic seats could be impacted by the changes.
Under the plan revealed by Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and his House counterpart, Land O'Lakes Republican Richard Corcoran, Brown's district would no longer include the city of Sanford -- it would instead pick up more of Putnam and Marion counties.
All of Seminole County, which includes Sanford, would be included in Congressional District 7, now held by Republican Congressman John Mica, while the changes would force Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis' District 6 to pick up more of Volusia County.
The plan released by GOP leaders differs significantly from a proposal by two voting-rights groups that were among those challenging the current map in court. Those groups wanted Brown's district to instead run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west.
"Slight alterations will not correct the constitutional defects Judge Lewis identified," wrote Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, and Peter Butzin, chairman of Common Cause Florida, in a letter Thursday to legislative leaders. "The snaking north-south configuration of CD 5 should be abandoned."
In a marked departure from the norm, the fourth floor of the Capitol appeared abandoned before, during and after discussions regarding the districts. Usually during session, the area between the House and Senate chambers is crowded with lobbyists.
The absence of Capitol insiders may be because Galvano and Corcoran issued a gag order for staffers, an apparent reaction to revelations during the trial about secret meetings, map-swapping and email exchanges between legislative aides and GOP consultants. Lewis decided that the political consultants manipulated the process that led to the tainted maps in what he called a "mockery" of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments.
Galvano, in a memo, warned staff "to refrain from discussing their map-drawing efforts with anyone outside of the Legislature except our legal counsel and not to share their work product with any outside interests in advance of the public release of the remedial plan."
Corcoran was even more pointed in his directive.
"House Redistricting Committee staff have been informed that they are to have no interactions with any member of Congress, congressional staffer or aide, or with any political consultant," Corcoran wrote. "If any member of the House suggests to Redistricting Committee staff that a plan be changed with an intent to favor or disfavor any incumbent or political party, staff should disregard the suggestion entirely and report the conversation directly to me."
One lobbyist offered a simple explanation for why he was avoiding the Capitol this week.
"I don't want to get subpoenaed," he said.
GOING GREEN WHILE SLINGING MUD:
Campaigning had to take a backseat for a few days this month for incumbent legislators, but there's been no reprieve for Scott and Crist.
Scott on Monday rolled out a $1 billion environmental blueprint for Florida, the latest piece of his re-election platform.
The governor's proposal includes investing $50 million a year for alternative water-supply projects and another $50 million a year for natural springs restoration.
Scott's plan calls for increased penalties on polluters, a new position in the governor's office focused on efforts to move water south through the Everglades rather than east and west, commitments to protect the Florida Keys and Apalachicola Bay, lobbying Congress to provide matching funds for South Florida water projects and $150 million-a-year for Florida Forever for items including land preservation.
Democrats and Crist quickly blasted Scott -- who, within months of taking office in 2011, successfully pushed for the elimination of the Department of Community Affairs, the agency tasked with overseeing growth management -- for what they called "an election year gimmick."
Scott has "always been on the polluters' side," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp said. "Rick Scott campaigning on the environment is like the Grinch campaigning for Christmas."
Crist never misses an opportunity to dis Scott for what he calls a dismal environmental record. But this week Republicans slugged back. The state GOP released a Web ad docking Crist for taking a ride to a campaign event -- in which he bragged about his green credentials -- on a private plane owned by developer James Finch, owner of a construction company fined at least twice for violating environmental regulations.
The fight over who's the larger land lover comes amid buzz about billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer's selection of Florida as one of seven states in which he's planning to spend up to a reported $10 million to back climate-change politicos like Crist. Steyer, founder of San Francisco-based NextGen, dropped $750,000 into a Florida political committee backing Crist, who took a lot of heat from Republicans for holding a climate-change summit during his tenure as Florida's GOP governor.
In a break from dueling over the green, Crist this week released details of his campaign platform, announcing tuition-loan forgiveness and refinancing programs as part of a "middle class jobs and opportunity plan."
The proposal features a number of education-related proposals as well as several previously discussed ideas, such as increasing the minimum wage and expanding access to health care.
"To ensure that everyone has a fair shot, Florida needs a governor who will invest in them, not just the big corporations," Crist, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010 instead of seeking a second term as Republican governor, said in a prepared statement.
Crist, who's lambasted Scott over past education-funding cuts and for failing to expand health care, dubbed his plan "Fair Shot Florida."
Even before it was released, the plan was panned by Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who is Scott's campaign chairman.
"Its hard to take Charlie Crist seriously on 'jobs and opportunity' -- because he hurt Floridas economy so much as governor, he didn't even want his own job," Thrasher said in a statement issued by the Scott campaign more than three hours before Crist's announcement Tuesday. "Charlie Crist had his shot at being governor -- but he failed, then ran away."
STORY OF THE WEEK: Lawmakers are meeting in a special session to draft a new congressional map after the 2012 plan was struck down by a Tallahassee judge.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I think senators of both parties are fulfilling their constitutional responsibility -- and that's more important than running for election, it's more important than me taking out the cat boxes for Vicky (Gaetz), it's more important than fundraising or anything else that we might do." -- Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, on the special session dealing with redistricting.