Monday, June 29, 2009

Greg Steube going to Tampa to raise money

Florida House District 67 does not include the city of Tampa, but that's not stopping Greg Steube from heading to the Cigar City tonight to try to pad his fund-raising lead just before he has to file his next set of campaign finance reports.

Tampa beer distributor Tom Pepin and a quartet of political heavyweights - state Reps. Bill Galvano and Ron Reagan; state Sen. Mike Bennett; and Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee - are hosting a fund-raising reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Icons Restaurant at St. Pete Times Forum.

The term-limited Reagan and the others have already endorsed Steube in his 2010 bid to succeed Reagan in the Florida House, even though so far, there are three other candidates vying for the Republican nomination. Along with the endorsements, Steube has been busy collecting campaign cash; last week, Bennett hosted a fund-raiser for Steube at his Bradenton home.

In the first three months of this year, Steube collected more than $61,000 in contributions. The next largest amounts collected by District 67 candidates were Robert McCann's $31,000 and Jeremiah J. Guccione's $20,000. Guccione, though closed the gap, by loaning $50,000 to his campaign. (The fourth candidate in the race, Marie Nisco, has not reported any fund-raising activity.)

The second-quarter reporting period ends Tuesday.

EMILY's List endorses Sink for governor

EMILY's List makes it habit to raise money for and otherwise support Democratic women running for governor and Congress, so it's no surprise who the organization is backing for Florida governor: Alex Sink.

"A proven leader and advocate for Florida families, Sink is extremely qualified to serve as Florida's chief executive," said Ellen R. Malcolm, president of EMILY's List, in a news release. "Demanding accountability in state government, Alex has earned a strong reputation as a watchdog for Florida consumers and taxpayers. Her vast experience and business acumen make her an ideal candidate for governor during these challenging economic times. EMILY's List looks forward to helping to elect Alex Sink as Florida’s first woman governor."

The endorsement could mean big money for Sink. EMILY's List claims it raised more than $43 million for candidates in the 2007-08 election cycle.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rubio picks up another endorsement from outside Florida

Senatorial candidate Marco Rubio has picked up another endorsement from a politician who has never won election in Florida.

This time, it's former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

"Marco believes in smaller government," Huckabee said in a release issued by the Rubio campaign. "He is a firm supporter of life. As the former Florida Speaker he was incredibly effective at bringing new ideas to the table and working to see them passed into law. He is a family man, loyal, compassionate and someone I am proud to call a friend."

Huckabee, who knows something about running against the political establishment, also took a few digs at Rubio's GOP opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist, who has been endorsed by Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and other Washington lawmakers.

"Last night, his opponent was raising money in Washington, DC," Huckabee said. "I am told he may have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, I am hoping that Marco will receive the financial support of tens of thousands of Americans; the sort who make one political contribution a year, to the candidate they believe in with their hearts not just their heads. Because I firmly believe it is these contributions that will make the difference in this race, not the money raised from lobbyists who make a new political contribution each week, betting the "smart money."

Earlier this month, Rubio also won the endorsement of Sen. James DeMint, R-S.C., one of the most conservative members of the Senate.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Redistricting brings out the politician in politicians

Few things bring out a politician's political instincts more than the once-in-a-decade chance to redraw the boundaries of political districts, whether it be for the city council, state legislature or U.S. House of Representatives. Lawmakers in charge of redistricting have a lot of interests to balance, among them, those of their hometowns seeking to hold onto or increase their influence, and those of their party.

But at end of the day, redistricting is about job security and their political futures, so it would be smart to keep that in mind when considering how the lines might be re-drawn after the 2010 census.

For instance, don't separate state Sen. Mike Bennett's informed speculation that Florida might get two new U.S. House seats - and that he might help draw the new lines - from the possibility that one of the new districts could be tailor-made for an out-of-office politician already familiar to the voters of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

How an additional congressional district might reshape the local political landscape - and how it might affect Manatee's political fortunes - is unclear. It's not enough to take the state's population and divide it among 25, 26 or 27 districts. Mapmakers will have to consider many factors, like preserving communities of common interests and ensuring that minority representation, a particular interest of federal courts, is not diluted.

Throw in the political interests of the mapmakers and their parties - whichever party is in the majority in Tallahassee will do its best to stick it to the other guys when redrawing the map - and it's much more than a mathematical affair.

Currently, Manatee County is divided, albeit not equally, into two congressional districts. At first blush, that might seem to be a good thing, but the real effect is to dilute Manatee's potential influence in Congress - note that neither of Manatee's two representatives, Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, resides in the county.

How might a new district for the region change that?

I'm no expert - nor a politician - so I don't have a vision of what a new district might look like. But if you accept Bennett's notion that population growth in the eastern portions of Manatee and Sarasota counties merits a new, additional district for the area, it is difficult to see how Manatee would stay intact in one district.

And if it somehow remained intact, what would be its real influence? New congressional districts drawn after the 2010 census will have an average population of about 700,000 residents. As of 2008, Manatee's population was an estimated 316,000, meaning additional population would have to be drawn from the south in Sarasota - where politicians will be working to protect its particular interests - or from the north, in Tampa-St. Petersburg, in order to create a viable district. A third option might be extend to east various tentacles in order to get the needed numbers - and to create a new example of gerrymandering gone haywire.

- Marc R. Masferrer

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rubio winning support ... outside of Florida

Marco Rubio, who is taking on not only Gov. Charlie Crist but most of the Republican Party establishment for the GOP's Senate nomination, has picked up a major endorsement from outside the state.

The Miami Herald reports:

Crossing Republican leaders, U.S. Sen. James DeMint of South Carolina is the first sitting senator to endorse former House Speaker Marco Rubio over Gov. Charlie Crist for the Senate.

While few Florida voters have even heard of DeMint, the endorsement is intended to send a signal to conservative leaders and donors nationwide that Rubio is a serious contender against the popular Crist.

"He is exactly the kind of Senator Florida needs, and exactly the kind of leader our party is looking for: a conservative's conservative with a record of success in a swing state, a self-made first generation American, a dynamic Republican spokesman in two languages, a young husband and father himself dealing with the same problems middle class families like his face every day,'' DeMint writes in today's FOX News Forum.

Rubio hopes to milk this endorsement for all its worth, with a press conference in Washington today and a phone call with bloggers. Perhaps the first Cuban-American speaker of the Florida House will be asked about DeMint's hardline stance on immigration; the senator favors forcing illegal workers to return to their home countries and making English the official language of the United States.

Read what DeMint has to say here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Buchanan, USF to host 'listening session' on health care

With a debate over health care reform high on the agenda for President Barack Obama and Congress, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is turning to his constituents for ideas.

Buchanan on Monday, June 15, will host a "listening session" at University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee. The forum, called “Prospects for Health Care Reform,” will be held at the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at USF‘s Selby Auditorium, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail.

“The Congress is expected to vote this summer on sweeping health care legislation,” said Buchanan, R-Sarasota. “I look forward to hearing the views from doctors, seniors and others on how best to make health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans.”

David Klement, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership, will moderate a discussion on legislative proposals to improve health care in the United States.

Panel members will include Sarasota Medical Society immediate past President Dr. Michael Patete, past president of the Sarasota Medical Society; Moody Chisholm, CEO of Manatee Memorial Hospital; David Verinder, chief financial officer for Sarasota Medical Center; Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce; and Jeff Johnson, advocacy director for AARP.

The event will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Monday. The public is invited to attend.

RSVP to or call Buchanan's office at (941)951-6643. There is no fee for the event but space is limited.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Keeping track of the dominoes

Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to run for the U.S. Senate has predictably set off a mad dash by Florida politicians seeking higher office.

Crist is running for senator, so that means Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink are running for governor.

And state senators Dan Gelber and Jeff Atwater, respectively are running for attorney general and chief financial officer.

And so on, and so on ...

Throw in the effect of term limits - like in Manatee County, where state representatives Bill Galvano and Ron Reagan are precluded from running for re-election, creating opportunities for wannabes - and no doubt that even the most expert political watcher needs a scorecard to track who's who, and who is running for what.

Fortunately, there is one readily available, thanks to the Florida Division of Elections, right here.

Of course, Crist was not the instigator of what some might call madness, but which I prefer to call part of the ugly beauty of representative democracy.

That would be U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez who got it all started earlier this year when he announced he would not be running for re-election. So far, 12 people - eight Republicans, three Democrats and one with no party affiliation - have announced their bids for the Senate seat.

Sarasota official announces for Florida House District 67

Marie Nisco

The race to replace state Rep. Ron Reagan in the Florida House is now a quartet.

Marie Nisco, a member of the Sarasota County Charter Review Board since 2000, has filed to run in House District 67, which is comprised of parts of Manatee, Sarasota, and Hillsborough counties.

She joins fellow Republican candidates Jeremiah J. Guccione of Sarasota; Robert K. McCann of Lakewood Ranch; and Greg Steube of Bradenton. Reagan, R-Bradenton, cannot run because of term limits.

If elected, Nisco, 67, said one of her priorities would be stamp out illegal immigration in Florida by instituting an "E-verify" system she said would help speed up checks on whether prospective employees are eligible to work in the United States.

Illegal immigrants, she said, take jobs away from Americans.

"If there are no jobs for illegals ... they will go home themselves," Nisco said. "They won't have to be deported."

Other priorities, Nisco said, would include stopping human trafficking and domestic violence and improving food safety.

Nisco, a retired mental health care consultant, briefly ran for the District 67 seat in the 2008 campaign. She said she dropped out because of a problem in gathering petition signatures to have her named placed on the ballot. She was unwilling, she said, to pay a filing fee.

Nisco said her plan all along was to try again in 2010.

Unlike the three other candidates, Nisco does have electoral experience. She has three times been elected countywide to the board that reviews and recommends changes to the Sarasota County charter.

How that success will translate to the House 67 race is uncertain. Only 11 of the district's 85 precincts are in Sarasota, with the bulk of the voters - 56 precincts worth - living in Manatee, home base for Steube, who holds large leads in fund-raising, endorsements and name recognition. (Steube is the son of Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube.)

Nisco pointed out, accurately, that fund-raising and endorsements will not determine who ends up in Tallahassee for next year's legislative session.

"If you don't have the votes, you're not going to win," she said.

Former N.H. senator now wants Florida's Senate seat

You can take Bob Smith out of the Senate, which New Hampshire voters did in 2002 when they denied the conservative Republican re-election.

But apparently you cannot take the Senate - or more specifically, the desire to be a senator - out of Smith.

Smith, now a resident of Sarasota, over the weekend kicked off his campaign for the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. Smith, who ran for president in 2000 and briefly ran in 2004 for the seat now held by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., may be the most experienced candidate in the race. He served three terms in the U.S. House before serving 12 years in the Senate.

But arguably, he lacks the name recognition of two of the other candidates in the race, Gov. Charlie Crist and former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio.

Promising to run a "principled, passionate, pro-liberty, pro-Constitution" campaign, Smith in his video announcement portrayed himself as antidote for just about everything that is wrong with America today.

"I can't stand by and watch what's happening to our country and to our party," Smith said.

Smith has turned his back on his party once before. A report from 2001 explains:
In 1999 GOP Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire abruptly quit the Republican Party and announced his candidacy for president as an Independent. "I want my party to stand for something," he said, complaining that his colleagues failed to toe the party platform line on issues such as international policy, gun control and abortion.

When his campaign failed to gain popularity or momentum months later, Smith ended his presidential bid and eventually was allowed to return to the GOP. Some political analysts say Smith's flip-flop has made him vulnerable and may cost him his Senate seat in 2002.
Smith lost his Senate seat when former Sen. John Sununu beat him in the New Hampshire Republican primary.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Burden of proof property tax bill becomes law

Upset about your property tax bill?

A new law signed by Gov. Charlie Crist today should make it easier to fight back against the taxman.

The Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog has the story:

At a ceremony in the Capitol Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation that lowers the burden of proof for property owners who challenge their tax bills. Joining Crist at the ceremony were Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and John Sebree of the Florida Association of Realtors.

Before HB 521 became law, the burden was on the taxpayer to prove that the appraisal was incorrect. The new standard is the preponderance of the evidence, and the change "is an added protection for taxpayers and it's good public policy," Crist said. Asked about concerns by local governents that the legislation could "handcuff" them by costing them up to $500-million, Crist said: "Florida taxpayers feel handcuffed and they need some help."

The bill will not affect pending property tax challenges, but it will affect taxpayer challenges filed with counties' Value Adjustment Boards in 2009. Challenges are usually filed in August and September. The legislators who led the charge on the bill were Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey and Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Crist signs KidCare legislation

Gov. Charlie Crist is stumping across the state today to mark his signing of legislation reauthorizing Florida KidCare, the state’s children’s health insurance program for uninsured children under age 19. Crist signed the bill earlier this morning in Tallahassee, and was scheduled to sign it again in Tampa at 11:15 a.m. and in Hollywood at 1:30 p.m.

State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was one of the key players in winning legislative approval of the measure, which among other things clarifies the application of the Florida Kidcare program to include all eligible uninsured, low-income children; removes a restriction on participation in the Florida Healthy Kids; and deletes provisions that placed a limit on enrollment in Medikids
and the Florida Healthy Kids full-pay program.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, whose mother, former Florida Education Commissioner Betty Ann Castor, helped implement KidCare in the 1990s, praised the new legislation.

"Parents and families throughout the state of Florida can breathe a little easier today knowing that Florida is committed to ensuring that children from middle class and working class families can see a doctor, receive immunizations and check ups and not break the family budget doing so," Castor, D-Tampa, said in a statement.

For more about Florida Kidcare, including eligibility requirements, visit the program's Web site.