Weekly Roundup: Mysteries Abound in Florida Politics
Around the State
It was a week of mysteries in Florida politics.
What will the $500 million tax cut that Gov. Rick Scott promised look like? Nobody knows. Not even Scott.
And a far more serious mystery continued to unfold about what happened years ago at the shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
WHAT CAN I GET FOR $500 MILLION?
Scott spent Wednesday making a variety of appearances at events that he said were about jobs. The last stop was at the grand opening of a Bass Pro Shops store in Tallahassee -- where NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, Miss Florida USA and a variety of hunting and fishing celebrities stood alongside the governor on a parking-lot stage.
But after his appearance at the event, Scott told reporters that his administration had not released details of one of his key initiatives for the 2014 legislative session -- a $500 million reduction in taxes and fees -- because Scott didn't know exactly what the details were yet.
Instead, the governor said he was looking for feedback on how to continue his mantra of holding down the cost of living in Florida.
"So I'm working with the House and the Senate to get everybody's idea," he said. "I want to ask all of the citizens, what are their ideas?"
On Friday, the governor laid out a plan for doing just that. Scott said he would embark on an "It's Your Money" tour of the state to ask the citizens what he should propose in the form of a tax cut. Scott said he would visit West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando to hear from those who had ideas on how taxes should be sliced.
Meanwhile, the Florida Democratic Party took advantage of reports about the projected size of the state surplus to take a whack at the tax-cut proposal. An early financial projection showed that the state could have a surplus of $845.7 million as lawmakers look to craft a budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins next July 1.
But there are caveats, including the fact that $449 million of the surplus is considered one-time money, and all of the other uncertainties that accompany a projection for a fiscal year that is almost 10 months away.
Nonetheless, Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant hammered away, saying there was no way the state could cover the cost of the tax cuts and continued increases in spending on schools.
"Voters deserve to know just how much education funding will suffer because the governor wants a new talking point for his re-election campaign," Tant said. "After over $1.3 billion in cuts from education, our kids cannot afford to fall victim to Rick Scott's political games again."
WILL DEMS STILL WANT TO BE AFFILIATED WITH ROUSON?
An already-challenging 2014 election cycle for House Democrats, who will be defending several freshmen in swing districts just as the six-year itch hits President Barack Obama, got a new speed bump when Rouson spent the latter part of the week mixing it up with Tant and other party leaders.
It was an awkward position for a man who is set to lead House Democrats after the election.
Party leaders discovered this week that, in August, Rouson had set up a fundraising body called the Florida House Democratic Caucus Affiliated Party Committee -- one of the "leadership funds" that Democrats had attacked when Republicans reinstated them in 2011.
Tant fired two staffers involved in the brouhaha, prompting an angry email from Rouson to his House colleagues.
"This overreaction today by FDP is an example of why we must continue in this direction for the long-term viability of our electoral success as a caucus," he wrote. "In a private meeting with Allison Tant yesterday she could have discussed this matter but she chose a public forum to air an internal matter."
It is the second public dust-up between Rouson and fellow Democrats in less than three months. He faced heated criticism from two House Democrats at a caucus meeting in June, shortly before the party's annual fundraising gala. Most Democrats were cautious Friday, saying they wanted more time to figure out what was going on.
"There are a lot more questions than answers at this time," said Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat who briefly ran against Rouson for Democratic leader before backing Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville.
Perhaps it's not mysterious, but there are a still a handful of offices around state government whose occupants are unknown. Among them: the internal watchdog at the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a position that will ultimately be filled by Scott and the Florida Cabinet.
Hector Collazo Jr., the inspector general for the Pinellas County clerk of court, and Thomas Raftery, a former member of the FBI who is now with the Delaware River Port Authority, received the most support from a three-member selection committee vetting the applicants.
But all four names were sent to the Cabinet, including Bruce Meeks, a former member of the state attorney general's office who is now a partner with the law office of Roberts & Meeks in Tallahassee, and R. David Holmgren, a deputy inspector general for inspections and evaluations at the U.S. Treasury General for Tax Administration.
"I just assume that we do all four, give them (Scott and the Cabinet) the broader rather than the narrow," said committee member Tom Kirwin, the inspector general for the Department of Financial Services.
There will be just one name for the job of interim chancellor of the State University System: Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer Jan Ignash.
Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson said he would recommend Ignash during a meeting next Thursday; she would take over temporarily for Chancellor Frank Brogan, who is moving to a similar job in Pennsylvania.
And speaking of jobs, state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said this week that he will be looking for a promotion. Baxley intends to run for Senate in 2016.
LOOKING FOR DOZIER ANSWERS:
Investigators also continued to try to uncover what happened at the Dozier school decades ago. A group of researchers from the University of South Florida announced Tuesday that they had finished the latest part of their work, exhuming the remains of two boys from half-century-old unmarked graves at the Panhandle reform school.
The team will now try to identify the remains before returning in search of additional bodies.
The two boys are among at least 50 sent to the school between 1900 and 1952 who were buried in unmarked graves, said Erin Kimmerle, a USF anthropologist who is one of the leaders of the excavation. Others have claimed the body count could top 100.
The researchers intend to return in October or November to exhume bodies from unmarked graves in other locations on the once 1,400-acre campus that now sits closed behind chain link fencing topped with barbed wired.
The state hopes to eventually sell the land.
Identifying the bodies could be harder than finding them.
"As children, they didn't have direct descendants and the parents had their last known address over 50 years ago," Kimmerle said. "So you really have to find aunts and uncles, and then the cousins and go down a generation or two and find where these people are living today.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, faced criticism from fellow Democrats for setting up an "affiliated party committee" to raise funds for the 2014 campaign, throwing into doubt whether he would remain the choice to lead House Democrats after the 2014 elections.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We have a very glamorous and handsome and winsome cool black guy for president. I think they're quite concerned what's going to happen when he's not on the ballot next time. I just don't want them to use this issue. What I saw him do is shift. They can't deliver on the hate crime from the Department of Justice so they pivoted and said let's go look at all these self-defense laws." -- Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, explaining his thoughts on the reason President Barack Obama had allegedly politicized the state's controversial Stand Your Ground law.