Government

Weekly Roundup: A Phone Call Would've Been Nice

Recap and analysis of the week in state government
By: Keith Laing The News Service of Florida | Posted: December 4, 2010 4:05 AM
Barack Obama-Rick Scott

President Barack Obama and Governor-elect Rick Scott

Campaigning for governor, Rick Scott wasn’t particularly courteous when talking about President Barack Obama, whose policies he slammed on the campaign trail. But somehow the incoming governor was surprised this week to be left waiting for a courtesy call from Obama that never came: a heads-up about a ban on new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scott, who was in Washington, D.C., this week along with 28 other newly elected governors to get some face time with the beleaguered president, wondered aloud why the phone didn’t ring before Obama decided to reverse a previously announced decision to expand oil drilling in federal waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Atlantic.

Prior to the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the spill that ensued, Obama had said he would allow more oil exploration in federal waters, an announcement that lit a fire under many environmentalists who supported his candidacy in 2008. However, this week U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar revealed that proposal had been drilled, saying new exploration would be allowed in bodies of water where it is already taking place.

Scott, who derided the president’s budget plans during the campaign as “Obama Math,” similarly said his drilling plans don’t add up either, calling the announcement "yet another example of government regulation impeding economic growth."

The reaction from the man Scott is replacing, however, was much more gushing. Outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist, for whom the clock strikes midnight Jan. 4, praised the decision this week, telling reporters that "to be clean and green as we go forward as a state and nation is only good for Florida."

Like Scott, however, another newly elected statewide official, U.S. Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, was not pumped about the announcement.

“The administration's new policy is an obstacle to job-creation and imperils our national security by making us more dependent on foreign oil from hostile regimes," the Republican rock star said in one of his few public pronouncements since his landslide victory last month. “On this issue, the White House should have left politics out of the equation and based its decision on sound energy policy that advances our economic development and national security goals."

Rubio's Democratic counterpart, Sen. Bill Nelson, said during a national television interview that "there's simply not going to be any drilling off of Florida as long as I'm senator." But state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who appears to want that period to last only two more years, hammered Nelson.
"It's another example of a job-killing policy led by the president and, unfortunately, embraced by Sen. Bill Nelson," Haridopolos said. Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, had been a vocal supporter of a plan to allow drilling in near-shore state waters, but after the BP oil spill both he and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said they would not push the legislation during their terms at the helm of the Florida Legislature.

By week’s end, it wasn’t clear if Scott was able to air out his grievances with Obama during the group meeting, which the president noted was attended by many proud Democrats, “though not as many as I expected.” What changed, of course, was the election of Scott and a host of other Republicans in November.

ROD (TO LEAD) THE STAFF

Obama’s Democrat cohorts in Florida continued their efforts to get up off the mat this week after Scott led a Republican ticket that cleaned their clocks this year by clearing the way for former state Sen. Rod Smith to assume the helm of the struggling party.

Smith, the party’s most recent candidate for lieutenant governor, this week garnered the support of the only person that appeared to be standing in his way: Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum. Gillum, 31, had planned to challenge Smith by running as a “fresh face” the party needed after suffering an electoral drubbing in November. But this week, he bowed to the reality that Smith appeared almost assured of victory.

"Rod Smith is committed to delivering the reforms that the Florida Democratic Party needs to win elections, which is why I am proud to offer him my support," Gillum said in a statement.

Smith returned the generosity, saying he wanted to keep Gillum involved. "If I succeed in the privilege of becoming chairman of the FDP, I look forward to Andrew Gillum working with us as a key member of our statewide leadership team, inspiring and developing the 'bench' of young leaders so critical to our state's future," Smith said in a statement.

The Democrats’ Kumbaya moment was precipitated by Miami-Dade County's state committeeman and committeewoman announcing this week they were supporting Smith for chairman, appearing to put the former Gainesville lawyer above 50 percent of the votes of Executive Committee members committed to him.

Democrats award more votes to members of the state Executive Committee from the counties with the most Democrats and the best-performing ones, so between them, Miami-Dade committeewoman Verna Lewis-Edington and committeeman Bret Berlin have the most of any of the county-level executive committee members.

That math led Democratic Party state Vice Chairman Rhett Bullard to say this week, “I think that Rod Smith has this locked up,” which became a clear reality with Gillum standing down.

Fresh off the losing side of the closest gubernatorial election in Florida history, Smith wasn’t ready to declare victory, even with Gillum recognizing he was likely to get his donkey kicked if the race for chair came to a contested vote.

"You can't be in politics and believe you have anything locked up," Smith told the News Service. "I'm not presumptive at all. I'm not going to be presumptive. I'm working hard on reaching consensus with everybody."

A vote hasn't been formally scheduled but party officials are looking at Jan. 8 as a possible date.

CHARLIE LOOKS BACK – AND FORWARD

With the dawn of the Scott administration rapidly approaching, the self-proclaimed people’s governor on the way out reflected this week on his tumultuous four years in the Governor’s Mansion. But unlike most political observers, he wasn’t wondering where it all went wrong.

"A defeat doesn't mean that everything went wrong. I think it means the people made a different choice," Crist said during a half-hour exit interview. "We're in a much different climate today than we were four years ago."

Crist blamed the economic crash for the current, very conservative state of politics in Florida and the nation, saying the downturn contributed to his populist centrist style no longer being so popular. Florida's unemployment rate has climbed to nearly 12 percent -- almost four times the 3.3 percent level of the January day he was sworn in. Runaway home sales ended with the housing collapse, and the state is now staggered by one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates.

"Those who were successful at fully tapping into that despair and concern were successful," Crist said of the November elections.

Crist acknowledged that since he was not successful in that, faltering in his independent bid for the U.S. Senate, he will have to look for work -- which could be a frightening prospect for a man who has gone from state senator to education commissioner to attorney general to governor with a short stint in a state agency. But Crist said he had promising prospects from his longtime friend John Morgan’s law firm.

He was not as clear about his political future, though of course ever the political animal, he hinted there would be one. Crist would not say if he would retreat to the Republican Party -- which his predecessor Jeb Bush said this week would result in him getting squashed -- or whether he would run again as an independent, or become a full-fledged Democrat.

The outgoing governor, once thought to be on the fast track to national political stardom, perhaps provided a hint of his future plans, though, by confirming he was attending the Dec. 13 unveiling of what is being called the "No Labels" group, a centrist party-like organization aimed at nominating middle-of-the-road state and national candidates in 2012. He is perhaps hoping that running under the “No Label” label in the future will work out better than running with no label did this year.

SENATE PRES SLAPPED ON THE WRIST

Senate President Haridopolos is usually the one making the decisions, but this week he awaited one from the Florida Ethics Commission over accusations he failed to fully disclose his financial holdings over a five-year span.

Haridopolos had admitted the mistake prior to this week’s proceedings and amended his annual disclosure forms to include a $325,000 Lake County home that he and his wife own but overlooked on earlier disclosures; more details about the clients of his MJH Consulting firm; and the clients he represented for Syntax Communications of Long Island, N.Y., which paid him $25,000 from 2004 through 2006.

He also provided more details on his assets and liabilities, which include a $1.3 million home in Merritt Island.

The Ethics Commission doesn’t set penalties, but will report the settlement to the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether to penalize the Senate president. Haridopolos’ attorney, Peter Dunbar, said he didn’t expect the matter to involve punishment since his client had corrected the forms.

The Ethics Commission, which has historically been derided as being for show, also this week appeared set to push for more power. On a motion from Chairman Roy Rogers, the panel agreed to shop its proposal -- to be granted the authority to penalize lawmakers -- around to those same lawmakers that would have to suffer the penalties. A likely tough sell.

But “who knows?” Rogers said. “This might be the year that ethics becomes the buzz.”

Elsewhere, Gov. Crist appointed Eduardo Balbis to begin fulfilling the unexpired Public Service Commission term of Nancy Argenziano -- though Scott could, if he wants, withdraw Balbis’ full-time appointment in January when he takes office.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov.-elect Rick Scott would have told President Barack Obama he disagreed with his decision to ban new drilling in parts of the eastern Gulf Coast, but Obama didn’t give him the chance.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I was invited to a meeting … in the White House, so first off you'd think they could have waited and explained it to us," Scott said, lamenting finding out about the drilling decision like everyone else – when it was announced.

 

 

 


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