Thursday, June 29, 2006

Storms Resigns from County Commission to Run for Senate Seat

As required by Florida law, Rhonda Storms (see photo) resigned from the Hillsborough County Commission to run for Senate District 10. Commissioner Storms has acquired something of reputation on the Commission - though the nature of that reputation is up for debate.

To some, she is a hard nosed fighter for her values and her constituents. To others, she is a disruptive influence on the county government, prone to picking fights, and is even considered bigoted by some, based on her role in stopping the County of Hillsborough from even acknowledging gay pride events.

She will face three candidates in the Republican primary. The leading fundraiser in the race is former State Representative Sandy Murman. The winner of the primary will face Democrat and veteran Stephen Gorham.

New Strategic Vision Poll for Florida Is Out

Strategic Vision, a Republican polling firm, released its latest poll, taken of 1200 likely voters in Florida between June 23-25. While most of the results were unsurprising (Crist and Gallagher lead, Republican nominee has a definite, though not overwhelming advantage in the general election and Bill Nelson leads handily), I have included below some of the results I found most enlightening - including one that shows a plurality of Floridians who believe that our state is headed in the wrong direction. Click here for the complete list of polling questions and responses. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 3 points.

For more information on political polling, I recommend the Mystery P0llster and Political Arithmetik.

Do you approve or disapprove of President Bush's overall job performance?
Approve 38%
Disapprove 53%
Undecided 9%

Would you like to see the United States Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?
Yes 36%
No 56%
Undecided 8%

Do you favor granting amnesty to illegal immigrants currently living in the United States?
Yes 17%
No 69%
Undecided 14%

Would you favor the construction of a wall along the southern border of the United States to prevent illegal immigration?
Yes 71%
No 15%
Undecided 14%

Do you think Florida is headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?
Right 39%
Wrong 47%
Undecided 14%

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tests Continue to Find Weakness in Electronic Voting Machines

A new report issued by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice concluded that the three major electronic voting systems in use have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities. Most of the vulnerabilities can be overcome by auditing printed voting records to spot irregularities. 26 states require paper records of votes, but Florida is not among them. The machines expected to be used in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties do not provide a paper record, so the results could not be audited.

"With electronic voting systems, there are certain attacks that can reach enough voting machines . . . that you could affect the outcome of the statewide election," said Lawrence D. Norden, associate counsel with the center.

The Florida Secretary of State has been working to restrict the ability of local governments to test their voting equipment for security after Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Ion Sancho, conducted tests revealing serious security risks which could be used to swing an election.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lee's Struggles Continue - FOP Withdraws Endorsement, Endorses Randy Johnson Instead

The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Senate President Tom Lee (see photo) in his bid for Chief Financial Officer back in 2005. In a dramatic and damanging turnaround, they have withdrawn their endorsement from the Hillsborough senator's campaign and thrown their support behind his opponent in the GOP primary, Rep. Randy Johnson.

All in all, this campaign has not gone well for Lee. He was expected to be the 800 pound gorilla in this race, but things are not falling into place for the Senator.

Johnson has not gone away, as he was expected to. In fact, he has been gaining momentum on Lee. First he won the endorsement of the Florida Profession Firefighters and now the FOP. Johnson has been campaigning aggressively on the issue of hurricane insurance and there is talk that the lobbyist community may direct their contributions towards him, rather than the Senate President.

Finally, there is an undercurrent of conventional wisdom which suggests that the Democratic candidate, Alex Sink, is slightly favored in the general election.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Castor Campaign - We Are Only $2500 from Our Fundraising Goal

According to her latest e-mail fundraising request (see image), Kathy Castor's campaign for the 11th Congressional District is only $2500 short of her financial goal for the quarter ending June 30. The e-mail wisely did not specify what that goal was so that, no matter what, the campaign can claim to have met their goal. By identifying a relatively low number - only $2500 - the message was clearly targeted at low dollar contributors who give $25 to $100 who could feel that their small contribution was significantly moving the campaign towards the goal in way they couldn't if the campaign claimed to be $25,000 away from their goal.

According to the last federal filing, Castor's campaign raised $671,203 through March 21 and had $498,677 on hand. Castor's actual goal is likely to be between $800,000 and $1 million or something between $150,000 and $350,000 for the quarter.

Filing for the second quarter of 2006 are due July 11. At the local level, it will be interesting to see what effect the legislative session - and sitting legislators' legal prohibition against raising money during the session - has had on their campaigns. In particular, look for Sen. Rod Smith's report and the report for the candidates in SD 16 - Representatives Berfield, Farkas, and Justice.

Senate President Tom Lee's filing this quarter and next quarter will also be of interest. He is running for CFO and it has been suggested that he alienated many in the PAC/lobby community. Now that he no longer has any authority through his position in the legislature, does more money flow to his opponent in the Republican primary, Rep. Randy Johnson, as a form of retaliation from the donor class?

Candidate Charged with Disorderly Conduct

Warren Hope Dawson, a candidate for House District 59, was arrested for disorderly conduct on June 24 for allegedly shoving a man's camera. Dawson (see photo) is a prominent Tampa attorney. According to reports, a film crew was operating near his law office and causing a disturbance. He pushed the camera back. Dawson apologized and was arrested and released on the scene.

Dawson is running for seat being vacated by Rep. Arthenia Joyner. He has raised over $11,000 and loaned his campaign $59,000. No other candidate has raised more than $8,000 or has raised loaned or contributed significant monies to their campaign.

Joyner is considered the frontrunner in the race for the Senate District 18, an open seat.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wadlinger Dismisses Rumors About Return to Pinellas DEC Chairmanship

Ever since she announced her decision to step down as Chairwoman of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee, rumors have been swirling that Carrie Wadlinger had changed her mind and would be running to win back her position.

As it happens, Wadlinger has not only denied those rumors, but is stepping down earlier than the original July 15 date set in her resignation.

Among the contenders jockeying to succeed her are DEC vice chairman Arlin Briley, former chairman Tom Steck, former St. Petersburg mayoral contender Ed Helm, and Victor Jovan - husband of state House District 50 candidate Candi Jovan.

Pinellas Petition Filers

The following candidates filed qualifying petitions with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, Deborah Clark.

Tom Anderson, Republican - House District 45
Brian Flaherty, Repubican - House District 48
Carl Zimmerman, Democrat - House District 48
Ed Hooper, Republican - House District 50
Candi Jovan, Democrat - House District 50
Dottie Reeder, Republican - House District 51
Liz McCallum, Democrat - House District 52
Ross Johnson, Republican - House District 52
Charles Gerdes, Democrat - House District 53
Jim Frishe, Republican - House District 54
Betsy Valentine, Democrat - House District 54.

Chris Hrabovsky, a Democrat running in House District 45, and Rep. Kim Berfield, one of the Republican candidates in Senate District 16, also submitted petitions, but Pinellas County election officials are still reviewing them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Gov. Bush Vetoes Improvement to Florida's Sunshine Laws

Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed a measure that would have required government agencies to respond "promptly" to requests for public records. In his veto message, Bush argued that requiring agencies to respond promptly would be too disruptive.

The text of the legislation is available below.

HB 1097 - Public Records

Requires an agency head who appoints a designee to act as a custodian of public records to provide notice to the public of such designation; provides notice requirements; prohibits a person who is not a custodian of public records or a designee from denying the existence of a record or misleading anyone as to the existence of a record; requires custodians of public records and their designees to respond to requests to inspect and copy public records promptly and in good faith.

Effective Date: July 1, 2006.

Last Event: 06/20/06 Vetoed by Governor on Wednesday, June 21, 2006 9:05 AM

Partisan Split in Florida Delegation Allows Congress to Move Closer to Opening Florida's Gulf Coast to Drilling Only Fifty Miles from Beaches

On June 19, Congress fast-tracked legislation to allow drilling 100 miles from Florida's Gulf Coast Beaches - and as close as only 50 miles in some circumstances. Congressman Jim Davis (D-Tampa) was quick to criticize the deal being spearheaded by California Congressman Richard Pombo (R-Stockton). Other members of Florida's delegation were quiet - including veteran Congressman Clay Shaw (R-Fort Lauderdale).

In the past, Florida's congressional delegation has formed a united front against drilling closer to Florida's beaches, but this latest effort has split the delegation along party lines, with all but one Republican negotiating with Pombo and other drilling supporters to allow drilling closer to the shore. Last month, legislation that would have allowed drilling as close as nine miles from Gulf Coast beaches was narrowly defeated in the House by a vote 217-203.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kathy Castor Lumps Rhonda Storms with Tom Delay

Hillsborough County Commissioner and Congressional candidate Kathy Castor appeared on the local political television program, Political Connections. While on the show, she told hosts Adam Smith and Troy Kinsey that she was "not going to back down whether it’s Rhonda Storms, Tom Delay, or others in Congress.”

Castor and fellow commissioner Storms (see photo) have been engaging in a very public feud. Despite the fact they are running for different offices (Storms is a candidate for the 10th Senate District), they almost seem to be behaving they are running against each other.

The situation has been compounded by Storms' growing reputation for "eccentricity."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Qualifying Petitions Due Today

Today at noon was the deadline for candidates to turn their qualifying petitions into the Supervisor of Elections. Some candidates will simply have turned in the minimum number of signatures, plus a few extra to avoid any mishaps should some of the signatures be disqualified. Other candidates may choose to turn in a significantly larger number of signatures in order to show the breadth of their support.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Senate Indulges in a Southern Tradition with Seersucker Thursday

Thursday, June 15 was "Seersucker Suit Thursday" in the U.S. Senate. No word on whether Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez participated. In the photo is endangered Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania).

For record, I own a blue and white seersucker suit, but not a bow tie.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Castor Makes Healthcare Central Message of Campaign

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor (see photo) recently laid out the centerpiece to her campaign for the 11th Congressional District, saying:

I have been walking door-to-door and talking with voters across the district. Here is what I am hearing. Seniors are struggling with Medicare Part D. Families are unable to afford health coverage for their children and themselves. Most everyone is fed up with the corruption in Washington.

These experiences have strengthened my resolve to fight for
those who need it most. And that is why I’m running for Congress. I’m running for Congress to fight for change in Washington. For too long, the Bush administration has ignored the true priorities for our country. As a local official, I understand how Washington politics affect real People.

I stood up for our community when the local power company
installed massive transmission lines through our neighbors’ front yards. I have been fighting for health care by working to protect our award-winning Hillsborough Health Care plan from a HMO takeover. I have been assisting our seniors by holding office hours to help them through their difficult and confusing transition to Medicare Part D. I have worked to reform government on the local level by passing meaningful ethics reforms.

Castor, the daughter of former USF President and Senate candidate, Betty Castor, is considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Other candidates include State Senator Les Miller and Attorney Scott Farrell.

Incumbent Congressman Jim Davis is a Democratic candidate for governor.

Legislative gerrymandering has made the seat safely Democratic in order to create safe Republican seats in the rest of the Tampa Bay area and any Republican opposition for the seat in November will be negligible.

Qualifying Petitions for Candidates Due June 19

Tampa Bay candidates are making sure that they have their qualifying petitions ready by June 19. Along with fundraising, qualifying petitions are a measure of support for a candidate. Rep. Charlie Justice (see photo), the Democratic candidate for Senate District 16, has always been better known for his community support than his ability to collect campaign contributions by "dialing for dollars" (call time - when a candidate gets on the phone and calls contributors to ask for money is still the major way that campaigns are funded and an important source of $500 maximum contributions). As a result, he is making a big push over these last few days, calling out his volunteers - the Justice League - to make a good showing in this summertime test. Volunteers will be going out everyday from locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough to collect petitions.

He will face either Rep. Frank Farkas or Kim Berfield in the general election.

Additional note: On June 7, Charlie Justice earned the endorsement of the Florida Education Association.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Education Commissioner John Winn Admits that Democratic Senators Miller, Campbell Were Right to Question FCAT Graders' Credentials

After Senators Les Miller (D-Tampa) and Skip Campbell (D-Tamarac) forced the release of information about the qualifications of the people grading the FCAT, an initial examination revealed a disquieting lack of appropriate and verifiable credentials.

Under pressure from these revelations, Florida Education Commissioner John Winn (see photo) agreed that workers hired to grade Florida's public school assessment test should have some background in the academic subjects they are scoring. However, he is insisting that there is no problem with scores handed out by the graders in past.

"We are constantly monitoring the scoring as they're happening," said DOE spokeswoman Cathy Schroeder.

However, it seems only a matter of time before a parent of student who failed the FCAT sues over the revelations about the graders questionable qualifications.

Monday, June 12, 2006

FCAT Graders Lack Credentials

After Senators Skip Campbell (D-Tamarac) and Les Miller (D-Tampa, see photo) forced the state to and CTB/McGraw Hill (the company contracted to grade the FCAT) to release the credentials of the test's graders, an examination has shown that the graders lack educational credentials.

Suspicion was first aroused when it was discovered that the temp agency, Kelly, was hiring the graders for $10 an hour.

"I am disturbed that we are seeing people who are non-educators. Some of them have physical education or a hospitality management major," said Sen. Campebll. "I am concerned that some are coming from schools in Poland, Colombia, Nigeria, Liberia, Germany and other countries, and we don't know if they [the universities] are certified by anybody. And I don't know what [the graders] English skills are."

Sen. Miller is a candidate for 11th Congressional District.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Florida Secretary of State Wants to Restrict Testing of Voting Machines

After Diebold, the largest manufacturer of voting machines, tried to stop Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Ion Sancho, from independently testing Diebold equipment, Florida Secretary of State, Sue Cobb (see photo), has taken up Diebold's cause. The Secretary of State's office is trying to enact rules that would require county election supervisors to get permission from Tallahassee before testing voting equipment for security problems and notify the manufacturer before doing any testing.

"The state should not be so concerned about protecting the voting companies from embarrassment when their equipment has security vulnerabilities," Sanco said in June 9

Earlier testing by Sancho - testing that was opposed by both Diebold and state election officials - revealed important security flaws.

Lt. Governor Endorses Tampa Senator for CFO

On June 6, Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings (see photo) endorsed Senate Leader Tom Lee (R-Brandon) in his campaign for Chief Financial Officer. Governor Bush endorsed Lee on May 17.

State Representative Randy Johnson (R-Celebration) is Lee's opponent in the Republican primary. The winner will go on to face Alex Sink in the general election.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Deborah Cope to Run for House District 57

Deborah Cope (see photo) is making another run for HD 57. She currently serves on the Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee to the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission and the Mayor’s Environmental Roundtable. She sits on the Board of Directors of The Coalition 4 Responsible Growth and is Past President and current Growth Management Chair of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club. She is currently working on an advisory committee to update Hillsborough County’s comprehensive plan and with the City of Tampa on a Green City initiative.

“Given the demands of today’s economy, every child has to be able to reach high standards in order to prosper”, said Cope. “We need to start by investing in our schools, providing quality, well-paid teachers with smaller, safer classrooms in which to work.”

The incumbent, Rep. Faye Culp, most recently received coverage for mistaking U.S. Senate candidate LeRoy Collins, Jr. for his father, Gov. Collins, who died in 1991.

This is Cope's second campaign against Faye Culp. Cope initially filed to run for an open seat on the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners, before switching to the race for House District 57.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sink's Website Generates Some Buzz

Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for Chief Finanical officer, unveiled her new, more interactive website the other day, earning a mention in the St. Petersburg Times political blog - the Buzz.

Sink is a Tampa Bay resident and former bank president.

In the same item posted on the Buzz, it was noted that, in the Republican primary for CFO, Rep. Randy Johnson was preferred to Tampa Senator Tom Lee by the Florida Professional Firefighters.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Charlie Justice Campaigns for Hurricane Insurance Reform

The Florida Democratic Party created a website to highlight issues of hurricane insurance - StormingMad. St. Petersburg Representative and State Senate candidate Charlie Justice participated in a press conference that unveiled the site, saying "As someone who has received my non-renewal notice I share the frustration of neighbors all around the state. "

Sen. Rod Smith, democratic candidate for governor, has also focused on this issue, as has Rep. Randy Johnson on his "Blue Tarp Tour."

Rod Smith Campaigns for Real Insurance Reform, Relief for Florida

Senator Rod Smith asked voters to contact their legislators to express their opposition to Senate Bill 1980 as the official start of hurricane season kicked off.

While the bill includes $715 million to pay down the debt in Citizens Property Insurance, Smith says, that money does not even cover half of the estimated $1.7 billion shortfall facing the state's insurer of last resort. Even worse, SB 1980 does absolutely nothing to ease the cost of insurance premiums for homeowners or fix the long-term structural problems in Florida's property insurance market; in fact this bill gave the insurance the power to raise rates every year without seeking state approval.

He listed some of the reasons that Florida needs real insurance reform and relief:

- State Farm, Florida's largest insurer, has requested premium rate increases by an average of 70 percent statewide.
- Allstate Floridian, currently serving 650,000 policyholders, recently announced it is dropping 174,000 customers.

Rod Smith is a Democratic candidate for Governor.

Education Leading Concern for Bay Area Voters

The Tampa Tribune commissioned a poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Research to determine what issues were on people's minds in Tampa Bay - and found one overwhelming answer: education.

Only 17 percent of the 625 voters interviewed in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, and Polk counties thought that Florida's schools were improving. 35 percent of all participants - and 46 percent of women - thought they were getting worse. These are disturbing numbers for incumbents facing strong challenges who want to run on the record of recent years.

The majority of voters believe that increasing teacher pay - which lags $6,000 behind the national average, would go a long way towards improving the situation. 78 percent think higher pay for teachers will improve education, including 83 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of independents.

"Almost half our teachers are leaving after five years," said gubernatorial candidate and Tampa Congressman Jim Davis. "I think our first priority has to be raise teacher salaries."