12 March 2005

Orlando Mayoral Witch Hunt

On Thursday night, a special prosecutor appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to investigate election violations in Orange County issued four indictments. Yesterday, we learned that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, along with a local judge and two campaign workers, was included in this list. Let the political games begin.

Mayor Dyer, former Democratic Leader in the Florida Senate and unsuccessful candidate for Florida Attorney General in 2002, has long been admired by leaders of both parties for his mild manners and commitment to public service. Dyer's crime? During his recent reelection, Mayor Dyer paid a campaign consultant, Ezzie Thomas, to conduct African American outreach. Mr. Thomas then collected absentee ballots from the homes of voters in order to directly submit them to the Supervisor of Elections office. This act was made illegal during the 1998 Legislative Session following the disastrous Miami mayoral election, when Xavier Suarez was ousted from office and Joe Carrollo was awarded an office in city hall. The law, however, is poorly written. Section 104.047(1), Florida Statutes, makes it a third degree felony to pay another individual for collecting absentee ballots. The law does not require intent, and it does not even require that the individual making the payment know that the act is occurring. Under this obscure provision, candidates must now baby-sit all of their campaign workers to make sure that they are not doing anything illegal in the course of their employment. This is an extremely unreasonable standard - one that cannot possibly be met by your average candidate for public office.

While the fact that the prosecutor is Republican and was appointed by a Republican, and the defendant is a Democratic mayor in one of Florida's most prestigious cities doesn't necessarily prove a partisan witch hunt. What is amazing is that Mayor Dyer isn't the only one who broke the law. According to testimony by Mr. Thomas, he was also paid to collect absentee ballots for Florida Secretary of State, and Governor Bush appointee, Glenda Hood, and for newly elected U.S. Senator Mel Martinez. Hood was elected mayor of Orlando in 2000 and Martinez was elected chairman of Orange County in 1998. According to special prosecutor Brad King, the statutes of limitation have expired. Senator Martinez and Secretary Hood may walk on a technicality. How convenient!

10 March 2005

Fish have needs too!

There is rarely a corporate subsidy that the big business-friendly politicians in Tallahassee don't like. The governor frequently brags about the $11 billion of taxpayers' money that he and the Republican-controlled legislature have given away to corporate interests and campaign donors, so now another special interest is heading to Tallahassee with their hands, or fins, out. The Florida Marlins are swimming upstream to the state capitol looking to collect some corporate welfare. Let's see if the politicians fall for the bait.

The Florida Marlins need a new stadium. Honest, they said so. Apparently, they are having trouble filling the seats at ProPlayer stadium because of ... the seats. It obviously has nothing to do with the team or the fact that baseball is no longer the American pastime that it used to be. So the answer to the Marlins' problem is a huge taxpayer giveaway so they may buy a new stadium in South Florida. A recent poll shows that 82% of Floridians, including nearly 70% of those who identify themselves as Marlins fans, oppose using tax dollars to buy the Marlins a new stadium. Still, this didn't bother the Miami-Dade County Commission. Only one member voted against this insanity, while the remainder of the commission recklessly pushed through this ridiculous boondoggle. When a reporter asked County Commission Chair Joe Martinez if he was concerned about the poll numbers, he smiled and said that the politicians knew better than the people. Now the issue travels to North Florida, and Florida taxpayers can only hope that state legislators have more respect for the people of Florida than the politicians in Miami-Dade County.

Only time will tell if the politicians in Tallahassee give the Marlins their new stadium at the expense of Florida's taxpayers. If the corporate advocates serving in the Legislature prevail, the Marlins will be sitting pretty. Once again, the special interests will be dining on a feast for kings, while the taxpayers will be left with little more than fish food.

09 March 2005

Special interests get a seat at the table

The Republican governor of California constantly pledges to remove special interests from government. Unfortunately, his counterpart in Florida is doing the opposite. Special interests in Florida are here to stay, and now they are calling the shots. Florida government is for sale, and we have a buyer.

Over the weekend and days preceding the 2005 Legislative Session, the local airwaves were overloaded with commercials attacking the GOP's favorite bogeyman, trial lawyers. A shadow organization, called the Florida Justice Reform Institute, is paying for commercials which blame everything from high prices to the recent tsunami on Florida's trial lawyers. Of course, the accusations against trial lawyers are never accompanied by any factual evidence, but since lawyers are among the most hated of professions, the attacks are effective.

The commercials appeared to be part of an independent campaign by a private special interest group until Tuesday at lunchtime. This was when both chambers of the Florida Legislature met in the House chamber to hear Governor Bush's State of the State address. In his speech, the governor offered many political promises, but one portion sounded all too familiar. He referenced a recent survey of corporate lawyers by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a pet project of the big business lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which names which state legal systems favored corporations over individuals. According to the Chamber, Florida's legal system has become more consumer-friendly as opposed to corporate-friendly, and the Governor stated that this needs to change.

Just a coincidence? Maybe not. At 5:18 PM on the day of Governor Bush's speech, the Republican Party of Florida sent a global email announcing the "Lawsuit Abuse Reform Rally" and inviting recipients to join the "Florida Chamber of Commerce in supporting the Florida Justice Reform Institute." OK, fine. This is not a coincidence.

Between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, and the Florida Justice Reform Institute, there is obviously a connection. And the fact that the governor is peddling their product during his State of the State speech offers proof that special interests are calling the shots in Tallahassee.

08 March 2005

Freedom at Florida's universities is under attack

The Florida Legislature begins its annual session today, and for the next 60-days, they will address the issues that they think matter to the people. Thousands of bill have already been filed for the 2005 session - many of them ... good; many of them ... not-so-good. One bill that falls into the latter category is the so-called "Student and Faculty Academic Freedom in Postsecondary Education" bill, filed by Representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala). The bill stands little chance of passage, but it does serve one great purpose. It provides encouragement to those who hate freedom and lets them know that they have a friend in the Florida Legislature.

The Baxley bill, HB 837, opposes freedom. The bill would require that state universities, under control of the state government, monitor what professors teach their students and mandate that conservative points of view also be taught in the classroom. For instance, if the subject matter of a course is the Civil Rights Movement and the professor states that this event was good for America, then the government would require that this same professor also lecture the minority view that the Civil Rights Movement was bad for America and discuss the reasons why this argument is made. Another example - if a professor discusses the Vietnam War and mentions that our soldiers fought bravely, the Baxley bill would then require that the professor also teach subjects that would demean our nation's veterans. Additionally, if a student is upset that civil rights are only being discussed in a positive light, the Baxley bill provides the means for the student to file a formal complaint against the professor. Essentially, the bill intends to create politically correctness for those outside of the American mainstream.

Representative Baxley claims that state universities are being overrun by "liberals" and that these Americans are harming our academic institutions. In an article published by the Palm Beach Post (the only Florida newspaper to report on this issue), Baxley derides those with whom he disagrees. He rants and raves about how professors are force-feeding college students propaganda, but offers no proof. Baxley's paranoia is unfounded and somewhat psychotic. He claims that "leftists" have taken control of the state's universities, but fails to mention that right-leaning groups, like the College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom, are much more prominent on Florida campuses than their progressive counterparts. In Baxley's world, the liberals have taken over and conservative students are too weak to defend themselves. No need to worry - "big government" is here to save them.

The Baxley bill is still filed in the Florida Legislature, and its fate will not be known for sure until session concludes on May 6th. If the bill dies, we can all rejoice that liberty and our American values will have prevailed in Florida. Perhaps on that day, college students throughout the state will raise purple-dyed fingers to celebrate their freedom from government oppression.

07 March 2005

Devious plans revealed

Tomorrow, Florida's legislators will convene in Tallahassee to begin the "work of the people." Governor Bush and the Republican-controlled Legislature claim that they put the will of the people first, but we'll see. A recent poll, conducted for the Jacksonville Times-Union and South Florida Sun-Sentinel, shows that the number one issue for the people of Florida is education. The poll, which was sponsored by , shows that 34% of Floridians rank Education as their number one priority. The economy and health insurance are a distant second and third. (Read more)

It shouldn't be a surprise that Florida's citizens are up in arms over the state of public education in the Sunshine State. Florida consistently lags behind the rest of the nation in the level of education it provides its children. Governor Bush inherited a broken public education system from the Chiles administration, but unfortunately, Bush's actions only made it worse. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration's fiscal policies led to the greatest economic boom in modern American history. As a result, Florida witnessed a tremendous surge in tax revenues. Instead of investing those new dollars in important issues like education, Governor Bush spent taxpayers' money on corporate subsidies and tax cuts to wealthy investors and out-of-state companies. In 2002, the voters said that enough was enough and passed Amendment 9, which limits class size in our public schools. Studies show that the students in overcrowded schools fall behind their counterparts in more appropriately sized classrooms. Still, Governor Bush opposed Amendment 9, claiming to have "devious plans" to undermine the constitutional amendment if passed by the voters. Now, his plans have emerged.

Governor Bush has recently shown his hand, and it may win the political jackpot. At a recent press conference, the governor proposed a constitutional amendment to repeal the class size mandate passed by 52.4% of the voters in 2002. The ace up his sleeve? ... link the repeal of the class size amendment to a provision increasing starting salaries for public school teachers. Florida teachers are among the lowest paid educators in the nation, and our public schools are currently facing a crisis in recruitment and retention of quality teachers. The strategy is brilliant! In 2002, Florida's teachers were the most significant supporters of the class size amendment the FEA is faced with choosing between either smaller classes or more competitive teacher pay. This is a choice that our teachers should not be forced to make.

Of course, Governor Bush is pushing more corporate subsidies and tax cuts for his campaign contributors this year. He says we have the money for those items. But for our children's schools, the well is apparently dry. The people of Florida have voiced their concerns. Unfortunately, no one is listening.