23 April 2005

Florida Democrats campaign for Republican

Last month, the Florida House of Representatives lost one of their own. Representative David Coley (R- Marianna) died from liver cancer at the age of 43. Sadness overcame the capitol, because Coley was a well liked young man. He became a legislator after serving as a legislative aide to members of both political parties, serving for state Representatives Jamey Westbrook (D-Bascom) and Rob Trammell (D-Marianna), former Republican Congressman Bill Grant, and current House Speaker Allan G. Bense (R-Panama City). Coley's seat was previously held by former GOP Representative Bev Kilmer, who unsuccessfully challenged Congressman Alan Boyd (D-Panama City) last November.

Governor Jeb Bush is required to call a special election, but as of last week, no date had yet been set. Coley's District 7 leans Republican, but remains competitive. With a strong candidate, Florida Democrats could possibly retake the seat. Now before you comment that it is too soon to even discuss campaigning for this House seat, keep in mind that the Republicans have already begun their efforts. David Coley's widow, Marti, has been recruited by the Florida GOP to run for the seat, and their party is lining up behind her candidacy. Carl Joaquin Duncan, the Democratic nominee against David Coley last November, is still deciding on whether to run again. Unfortunately, he probably won't have his party's support.

The state party has been alarmingly absent and missing in action during the legislative session, so it is fitting that Chairman Scott Maddox would be silent on this race as well. Even worse is the fact that Democratic members of the Legislature are already jumping ship and supporting the GOP. Senator Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) is scheduled to attend some of Marti Coley's campaign kickoff rallies and to show his support. "Marti is very bright and worked with her husband a long time," stated Lawson. "Not only are they friends of mine, but she'll do a good job politically."

Senator Lawson is not alone. Democratic State Representatives Loranne Ausley (D-Tallahassee), Curtis B. Richardson (D-Tallahassee), and Will S. Kendrick (D-Carrabelle) have also pledged their support to Marti Coley's campaign. Ausley declared, "I think it's a very noble gesture that she'll step forward and complete David's term."

I commend the Democratic members who believe that a high degree of respect is owed to Marti Coley. Her loss was sudden and obviously painfully. All Democrats, Republicans, and Independents should pray for Marti and her family and wish them well. David Coley was close to a great number of Democrats, and they too will sincerely miss him.

This next Monday, however, Marti will no longer be just a widow. She will be a candidate for the Florida Legislature, launching her political campaign. Florida Democrats need to make a choice. They can either campaign for Marti Coley's Democratic opponent, or they can just sit it out. Democrats campaigning for Coley would be a betrayal to their party and a violation of the loyalty oath that they signed in order to become candidates.

Still, expect to hear Democrats say that it would be insulting to run a candidate in this race. I would say they are dead wrong. We have a democracy in this country. The voters deserve a choice, so they can elect the man or woman that they believe would best represent their interests. If the Democrats don't give the voters of District 7 that choice, then that would be real insult.

21 April 2005

Dyer Debacle: Where's the outrage?

It was bad enough that practically no one in the Florida Democratic Party voiced their disgust and outrage regarding the witch hunt of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. But now that this frivilous prosecution is behind us, the Democrats are willing to just let this abuse of power go unchecked. This is just another example of Florida Democrats having no backbone and failing to stand up for what is right.

This politically-driven prosecution was overseen by Republican State Attorney Brad King, who was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. Legal experts from around the state have voiced their disbelief over the indictment of Mayor Dyer, Circuit Court Judge Alan Apte, Dyer campaign manager Patti Sharp, and African-American outreach coordinator Ezzie Thomas. The original sponsor of the law that Dyer and others were accused of violating stated that King was misinterpretting the law. Still, the silence from the state party and Democrats in the Florida Legislature was absolutely deafening.

Now that the legal wrangling is behind Dyer, the Democrats are quick to pat themselves on the back and declare victory. Victory for what? The Republicans, with Governor Bush pulling the strings, manipulated the system and used the state's judicial system for their own political gain. Democrats, on behalf of all Florida citizens, should be outraged and demand that those who abused their power be held accountable. The Democrats need to stop running scared everytime the Republicans play hardball.

20 April 2005

Dyer Witch Hunt Ends

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Governor Jeb Bush's hand selected special prosecutor, fellow Republican and State Attorney Brad King, who oversaw the election prosecutions in Orlando, has decided to dismiss all charges against Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and others.

Mayor Dyer, Circuit Court Judge Alan Apte, Dyer campaign manager Patti Sharp, and African-American outreach coordinator Ezzie Thomas were indicted last month for allegedly violating a state law that prohibits payments for the collection of absentee ballots. Many experts, Republicans and Democrats alike, agreed that Mr. King was misinterpreting the statute and that the law was inappropriately being applied to Mayor Dyer. Even the original sponsor the bill, former Republican Senator Jack Latvala has disagreed with the charges and felt that Mayor Dyer should be reinstated.

Governor Bush has immediately issued an Executive Order of Reinstatement, returning Mayor Dyer to his rightful place in the Orlando City Hall.

19 April 2005

Congratulations to Pope Benedict XVI

As of a few minutes ago, the Vatican has announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany has been elected pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Ratzinger has chosen the name Pope Benedict XVI.

Florida GOP: Ethics rules don't apply

Senate President Tom Lee (R-Brandon) has made cracking down on the influence of money in the legislative process one of his top priorities. Under a number of new rules, he has stiffened the penalties on members of the Florida Senate who violate the chamber's rules pertaining to fundraising and accepting gifts from lobbyists. One change to an existing rule is that Senate members can no longer raise money for political parties during the legislative session. Unfortunately, one GOP member has violated this rule, but apparently, the new rules don't apply to Republicans.

As first reported Saturday by the Palm Beach Post, Senator Carey Baker (R-Eustis) violated Senate rules by allowing his name, along with Representative Larry Cretul (R-Gainesville), to appear on a fundraising letter for the Republican Party of Alachua County. On Friday, April 22nd, the Alachua County GOP is holding its annual fundraiser, the Lincoln Dinner. Senator Baker stated that he didn't intend to violate the rule and was awaiting a ruling from the Senate General Counsel on how to proceed.

Senate Rule 1.361(1) states that "[d]uring any regular legislative session, extended session, or special session, a Senator may not directly or indirectly solicit, cause to be solicited, or accept any contribution on behalf of either the Senator's own campaign, any organization described under section 527 or section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, any political committee, any committee of continuous existence, any political party, or the campaign of any candidate for the Senate[.]" (emphasis added)

According to today's Palm Beach Post, Senator Baker will not be appearing at Friday's Alachua County GOP Lincoln Dinner, and he will not receive any punishment. Still, the senator authorized his name to appear on the invitation, and money was raised. The rule has clearly been violated, and nothing is being done. This would not be a big deal if this were an isolated case. Unfortunately, the rules have been enforced when the guilty member has been a Democrat.

Last Thursday, the Florida Senate reprimanded one of its members for a violation of the chamber's rules. Senator M. Mandy Dawson (D-Fort Lauderdale) was publicly rebuked and stripped of a committee assignment for violating rules pertaining to fundraising. She too claimed that her violation was not intentional.

Senator Lee should be commended for his desire to clean up the political process in the Florida Legislature. He should, however, consistently apply these rules to all members of the senate. Republicans should not get any special privileges, and they should never be treated as if they are above the law.

18 April 2005

Read Jeb's lips: NEW TAXES!

If you have ever driven on a Florida highway and noticed that a drive which used to take 10 minutes a decade ago now takes 45 minutes, then you are not going to be surprised by this next statement. Florida's growth is out of control! It doesn't matter if you are in South Florida, Orlando, Jacksonville, the Tampa Bay area, or any other area in Florida, development is rampant and local elected officials throughout the state are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of their new residents. According to USA Today, Florida is home to the fastest growing county in the country. Unfortunately, the State of Florida is not prepared for this growth.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner was told to "build it and they will come." Unfortunately, this has not been the case in the Sunshine State. The people came, but the State didn't build anything. We didn't construct new roads, adequate water systems, proficient schools, satisfactory infrastructure, etc. Instead, we have been caught with our pants down, and that definitely makes for an awkward welcome to the newest residents of Florida. What can be done?

Well first of all, this is a time when Florida needs a strong leader who will tackle this problem head-on. Unfortunately, we have Jeb Bush. Providing a statewide growth management plan is necessary, and the State must be willing to pay for it. Governor Bush is not willing to make those funds available, because this plan could interfere with possible tax cuts. The governor is also unwilling to require that developers, who are making a fortune on Florida's growth, pay their fair share. Instead Governor Bush is proposing that the Florida Legislature pass an unfunded mandate along to the local governments and require that they raise the additional funds themselves. Since current law establishes that these new local taxes be authorized by a vote of the people, the governor is suggesting that the requirement for a referendum be eliminated and instead county and city commissions would be able to raise taxes without the approval of the voters.

Local governments are not happy. The governor is essentially mandating that they provide the necessary infrastructure for a worthy growth management plan, but then failing to provide any money. Bush gives them the "choice" to raise taxes, but for all practical purposes, the local governments don't have a choice at all. This legislation would essentially be an enormous tax increase levied by the governor himself, no matter how much distance he tries to put between himself and the local tax collectors.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that this legislation by the governor appears to violate his 1994 pledge to not raise taxes. The governor's office claims that the pledge is still being upheld. According to Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj, "[Bush] has said very clearly he will never raise state taxes. He's offering flexibility to local governments to address taxes that already exist." (Emphasis added.) The Times writes that Faraj argues that the "governor's push for local tax increases without voter approval is not the same as supporting higher taxes[.]"

The governor's soundbite is starting to sound a lot like he "did vote for the $87 billion before [he] voted against it." Anyone with a brain in their head recognizes that the governor is proposing a massive tax increase, and his effort to keep the blood off his hands doesn't change that fact. The time has come for leadership. If the governor is unwilling to require developers to pay their fair share or to provide state funding for this proposal, then the governor's growth management plan should be recognized for what it is ...

A huge tax increase on Florida's taxpayers by Governor Jeb Bush.

17 April 2005

Social Security: Bush plan dead, Clinton plan resurrected

Typically, I devote my blog to state issues in Florida. Today, I have chosen to discuss the president's social security privatization plan. Since Florida has perhaps the greatest number of social security recipients in the nation, I think that this discussion is warranted. Unfortunately, a troubled social security program is definitely a Florida issue. So here it is ...

News broke this week that President George W. Bush has flip-flopped on his idea of private accounts within Social Security and instead may focus on "add-on" accounts outside of the New Deal program. Unfortunately, the president refuses to address the solvency problems; however, the recent declaration by one of Bush's aides shows that the administration is willing to take an important necessary step in saving Social Security which is to first do no harm. This shocking retreat by the president on private accounts may be bad news for partisan Republicans, but it is clearly good news for those who wish for a strong, solvent Social Security program for America.

Allan Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, stated at a breakfast last Thursday that the president was willing to take a drastically different approach toward social security. Instead of diverting portions of the payroll tax into private investment accounts as he has made part of his proposal, Bush may now favor investment accounts through a new, separate entitlement program. "It really comes down to what the proposal is," stated Hubbard. Unfortunately, President Bush has spent the past few months campaigning on various policies, but has failed to actually introduce a plan like his predecessor did in the late 1990s.

The add-on accounts plan, you may remember, was the brainchild of President Bill Clinton, which was introduced following his 1999 State of the Union speech and later was endorsed by Vice President Al Gore during his 2000 campaign. The Clinton plan has now been mimicked by Republican Congressman E. Clay Shaw (R-Florida) through legislation that his office has drafted, and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has also proposed a plan similar to that of our 42nd President. Clinton's plan, which involved his Universal Savings Accounts, commonly known as USA accounts, was more than just private accounts tacked onto social security. Clinton's overall plan involved steps to ensure the solvency of social security, which followed the Democratic Party's principle of fiscal responsiblity.

Clinton proposed on January 19, 1999 that "we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector just as any private or state government pension would do. This will earn a higher return and keep Social Security sound for 55 years." His plan was brilliant. It involved taking the enormous budget surplus that we enjoyed in the late 1990s and invest nearly 2/3 of the funds in the social security trust fund. Then 25% of the surplus would be invested in the private market in order to maximize our profits on this money. On top of investment income's contributions to the social security crisis, President Clinton would introduce his USA accounts as a way to empower Americans to invest their earnings in the stock market.

The choice is clear: Clinton's plan was one that empowered investors and maximized their freedom. Bush's plan on the other hand, is a big government plan, where the amounts each investor is entitled to invest and what companies they choose would be controlled by the government. Clinton's plan encouraged freedom and empowerment, while Bush's plan pushes for more government control over people's lives. We are glad that President Bush has decided to follow the Clinton model and abandon his big government plan.