It’s going to cost a whole lot more money to get your legislator’s attention, or get your corporate welfare or tax loophole or whatever. The bill to change the campaign donation limit from $500 to $10,000 in exchange for full donor disclosures and effectively ending CCEs (Committees of Continuing Existence), HB-569 – the darling bill of House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) – is moving ahead.
This page recently criticized a so-called watchdog group for its endorsement of this ridiculous bill and the false equivalency argument presented. Somehow Floridians are so stupid that they believe increasing campaign donation limits by 20 times the current level is a fair trade for closing down CCEs and their primary function of funneling money. Further, Floridians are unable to imagine how money will make its way to politicians without CCEs. Duh.
Not everyone is either stupid or silent. State Sen. Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg) has a capacity to buck the trend and engage in plain speak at different times. He has chosen this bill on which to unload some refreshing common sense:
“If you say you’re going to reform the process, then reform the process,” said Latvala
“Every candidate can get up to $10,000 per contributor and give an unlimited amount from the party and that leads to a whole new area for money,” he said. “The last thing we need in this process is more money.”
“I raised $600,000 this year without breaking a sweat and I gave $150,000 to charity,” Latvala said. “What would I do with four times that much.”
He didn’t even have a serious opponent; she raised $950.
Technically, Latvala raised $591,000 in 2012, so raising sufficient funds was not much of an issue. Since candidates – incumbents in particular – have to be adept at fundraising, let’s consider what might happen to 3 candidates if the top donation was $10,000 instead of $500.
Not every $500 donation is automatically going to turn into a $10,000 donation if this bill passes the Senate where it has drawn the most skepticism. But certain donors have the ability to write a bigger check than $500 and would do so willingly. Remember, Sen. Latvala didn’t even have serious opposition and over a half million dollars rolled in. He didn’t have to beg; many candidates don’t.
Taking campaign finance information from the Florida Division of Elections web site which candidates are required to report, we can gauge what some impact from this change might be. Let’s look locally.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has served in the Florida House for over eight years, having been elected to his fifth term. With time comes seniority and Baxley is definitely a leader in the House who has gotten key committee assignments. His new district is redder Republican than his old one, so he is unlikely to face a serious challenger until he has to step aside in 2018 due to term limits. There was no challenger in 2012 and he still raised $96,000.
Taking his richest reporting period, October 1-December 31, 2011 when he raised over $60,000, a look at the donors reveals $500 donors among associations like Florida Pharmacy PAC CCE, Florida Sheriffs CCE, Florida Dental PAC, Florida Bankers Association, Florida Outdoor Advertising, etc. Then there are some dandy corporate donors like Genentech, TECO Energy, CSX, Chevron, Walgreens, Progress Energy and Duke Energy, Publix, Walt Disney, Abbott Labs, Liberty Mutual, Caremark, etc. These are organizations – not considering individuals – that would likely drop $2,500 into the hat if that was the expectation. Counting 78 such organizations making $500 donations in this one filing, making it $2,500 would convert $39,000 into $195,000, or almost twice the entire donation amount for all 2012. Obviously, that’s really low-balling the possible impact, but it allows that not all would put up $10,000 and without real competition, they may hedge on $5,000. But $2,500? Sure.
If half of those – 39 donors – gave $2,500 and the other half gave $10,000, the total jumps to $487,000! Just 39 donors at $10,000 would yield $390,000. Again, that is only one reporting period.
Now let’s try rookie State Rep. Clovis Watson (D-Gainesville) who is also in a district where he is supposed to win and is unlikely to face a major challenger unless he severely alienates his constituents. His only real challenge was in the primary, facing middle school teacher Marihelen Wheeler.
Watson was doing just fine with fundraising in this easy district, but he sought and received the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Up to that point, he had raised about $40,000 to Wheeler’s $30,000. The Chamber’s seal of approval changed his campaign finances really fast. By November, his campaign had raked in almost $90,000. A look at Watson’s report from the period before the primary – July 21-August 9 – was his richest 2 ½ weeks at $23,615.
Thanks, no doubt, to the Chamber, a lot of the same donors appear as in Baxley’s report. Florida Architects Political Action, Florida Cattle PAC, Florida Hospital Association were a few associations listed. Noteworthy corporate donors include NextEra Energy (Florida Power), Walt Disney, Publix, Plum Creek, HCA, WellCare, WalMart, Progress Energy and Duke Energy, and Health Management. Using the same criteria, those $500 donor organizations on this one report reveals 35 such donors who, if tossing aside $2,500 instead, would convert that $17,000 into $87,500, or nearly the whole amount his campaign raised in 2012, this amount from just a few of the deep pocketed organizations who gave to his campaign.
Again, half of those donors giving $2,500 – just 17 – produces $42,500, while half giving $10,000 – only 18 – brings the grand total of this group for just this single reporting period to $222,500! Cha-ching!
Let’s do one more: newbie State Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) whose grab for this open Senate seat was heavily contested by Volusia Democrat Frank Bruno. Hukill raised $540,000 to Bruno’s $377,000. In her last report – October 15-November 1 – Hukill recorded about $63,500 in donations in those 2 weeks, better than 10% of her total. Using the same criteria, if those $500 donor organizations on this home stretch report – 103 such donors over just 2 weeks – could juice the gift to $2,500, it would convert $51,500 into $257,500.
Watch what happens when we tweak the numbers; half of these donors – 52 – giving $2,500 bring $130,000 and the other half – 51 – at $10,000 boosts the total to $640,000 just for this 2 week period! It’s more than the campaign raised in all of 2012, captured in just 2 weeks.
You can see how State Senate races would command multi-million dollar campaigns routinely if this bill passes. Even State Representatives in safe seats would have to figure out how to dispose of $250,000 and up every two years. The math is staggering.
Hopefully, Sen. Latvala and the other senators will squash this abomination posing as “campaign reform” legislation. There is plenty of money flowing into campaigns without lifting the campaign donation limit, and there is no way lifting the caps in exchange for fast, full disclosure reporting is at all reasonable. There should be fast, full disclosure reporting regardless.
Kill Will’s bill!
Readers of the Star Banner may have been stunned to read the post-inaugural address editorial entitled “Missed Opportunity” that expressed disappointment in the President’s remarks. Their criticism was that Obama had missed the opportunity to
… reach across the aisle, to mend some fences, to create an atmosphere of cooperation in Washington ….
Surely the Star Banner itself featured stories that time and again recognized the dangerously dysfunctional conduct of Republicans in both the US House and Senate. Click here for a review of recent history on the budget alone for the memory impaired.
Here are some highlights; the debt ceiling default threat (round 1) with credit downgrade, Boehner refusing the Obama-initiated Grand Bargains – TWICE! – the government shutdown threats (rounds 1 and 2), the sequestration threat, the new debt ceiling default threat (round 2), and plenty of smaller threats to bring pain and damage to citizens, like the contemptible delays in voting FEMA disaster aid to Sandy victims in the northeast, FAA Re-authorization, and voting down the Disabilities Treaty which former GOP Sen. Bob Dole advocated.
Public opinion has consistently failed to support the GOP’s ideological tantrums that refuse to raise taxes on anyone, and particularly not for rich people or fat corporations. The GOP lost a national election which functioned much like a referendum on these very issues, yet the GOP remains intransigent. They are willing to continue menacing our nation’s well-being while exposing vulnerable citizens to deprivations and abandonment.
But the editors at the Star Banner think Obama missed an opportunity to inspire with
…words like compromise, and sacrifice, and working together for the good of the country.
What planet are you folks reporting on? In the one which most of us inhabit, the most sensible, rational, and constructive ideas are routinely dumped on the junk pile, having been suffocated by the strangling idiocy of Tea Party. Their myopia perceives only one set of answers that applies to every issue; no taxing, cut spending, deregulate, dominate. End of monologue.
Whenever a national threat du jour finally gets addressed and overcome, it is because Republicans have decided to allow a miniscule amount of common sense into their narrow fundamentalist equation.
It is not because Obama and the Democrats failed to offer compromises time after time after time that we’ve had the ghastly national experience of the last four years. It got started in today’s extreme form with the Tea Party in 2009 and has been sustained by those extremists having taken over the GOP today. Congress was nothing to celebrate before, but most thinking folks regard twin pimples on the butt to be more helpful than Tea Party darlings Rich Nugent or Ted Yoho who represent us today.
The Star Banner apparently feels, as most media outlets these days, that there is some insanity that requires a balanced presentation, tilting reality to provide the loonies with an equal seat at the table of intelligent public opinion. Seriously, get a grip. They belong in a time-out chair, not an equalizing booster seat.
Is Obama only okay if he is doing some wimpy sell-out of a compromise, trying to minimize the egregious policy damage of the Tea-crazed while staunching the wound to sanity with constructive measures, however small and hamstrung?
The nation is ready to hear what we can do, what our chief executive can get done, and how we can move forward despite the national minority that has lost its mind and is willing to hold all of us hostage until we capitulate to their demands. That’s what we needed to hear and that’s what he said.
The outreach to these dangerous deluded won’t stop, but by omission, Obama has made it clear that reconciling with the dissenters won’t be a priority like it had been four years ago. They’ve had their best chances over the last four years. Incredibly, they blew off every single opportunity, even repeatedly defeating measures that they had supported themselves, simply to deny Obama any victory of any kind. They arrogantly believed that their destructive efforts would achieve a Republican giving the Inaugural Address on Monday. They gambled and they lost. But they can’t accept it.
We know the president will need to compromise, and we progressives expect to be pretty pissed off at some of the things likely to appear on the trading block. But for heaven’s sake, let’s get moving! We’ve had enough of being held hostage by the GOP at every turn. Call their bluff and act like you won the last election handily, President Obama, despite the highly successful and coordinated GOP efforts to suppress voter turnout.
If the austerity reactionaries can’t abide with working with the president, if they demand Obama’s failure and damn the national cost as they have for the last four years, then Obama would be an ass to emphasize the nicety gestures for which the Star Banner pines. That editorial may have given your Republican readers something to feel good about, but really, Star Banner editors, Tuesday’s editorial focus was pure crap.
Campaign finance reform had been announced in November as a priority of new Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel, pictured left with former Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala)) who said that reform of the secretive flood of campaign cash is best addressed by removing caps on direct campaign donations (now $500) and requiring fast, full disclosure of donors, something certain entities can legally avoid.
Surprisingly, Integrity Florida, the newcomer watchdog group, has just submitted a report to the Florida House that fully endorses Weatherford’s two key ideas. Okay, it’s a mirror image of Weatherford’s viewpoint with a generous dollop of Integrity’s claim to non-partisanship thrown in. Click here to download their report.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Aaron Deslatte wasted no time with a very informative piece challenging some of the basic calculations in Integrity’s report. Deslatte also reviews the different entities that may have their hands on cash that ends up with a campaign, and describes how the process can be rather elaborate in shielding the true donor.
Since the US Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates to a torrent of corporate campaign cash, many have raised grave questions about the integrity of political campaigns and candidates. A 2012 case tested a century old Montana state law restricting corporate campaign donations, giving the Supremes an opportunity to reconsider their dubious decision to give corporations the free speech (and campaign donation) rights of individuals. The court’s decision affirmed Citizens United, striking down the Montana law as unconstitutional. Bad news for states.
In the 2012 presidential campaign, voters were shocked to see massive amounts of cash being donated to candidates in the Republican primary process, like Sheldon Adelson literally keeping Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive with his own funding. It seemed every candidate needed a billionaire backer to stay afloat financially in a race defined by cash.
In Florida, Democrats well remember the bizarre 2010 US Senate candidacy of billionaire Jeff Greene who appeared out of nowhere, easily spent huge sums, forced Kendrick Meek to spend precious cash in a farcical primary, and then disappeared off the political map. Some question whether Greene was just a shill to undermine Meek’s funding. By the way, Greene is still a mess.
In short, what happens with campaign cash matters in a variety of ways. It affects races, campaigns, candidacies, candidate positions, opponents, etc. And 2012 showed one thing clearly; there is a lot of cash for politics. And surely it’s spent for a reason.
Both Weatherford and Integrity Florida start from the same premise, stated in the IF Report:
The state-level campaign finance system in Florida is fundamentally broken.
That’s a dramatic statement, but isn’t it broken in most places, certainly since Citizens United? The IF report claims that Florida’s campaign finance system amounts to “money laundering”:
… [The current system] has failed in preventing unlimited amounts of money from being spent to attempt to influence the outcomes of our state and local elections. Donors have a proven track record of adapting to any campaign finance regulatory schemes that seek to limit contributions or restrain spending.
Weatherford and IF seem to believe that removing the $500 campaign donation cap is a non-event since it is being circumvented so readily and donors always seem to find some way around restrictions. The IF report cites four states that have unlimited contributions, the disparate states of Missouri, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia, pointing to their politically mixed legislatures as proof that unlimited donations don’t result in any advantages. It’s an entirely specious and irrelevant argument. No one denies that Republicans already have a consistently huge cash advantage in Florida and unlimited donations will surely encourage that gap to remain, if not widen. Unlimited campaign cash is about who gets to buy the candidates for how much, not partisan political advantages. If they’re already bought, no caps simply increases the ante for the players.
Further, Weatherford and IF are convinced that 24 hour disclosure of donations will bring accountability. If there is a money laundering system – let’s not argue the point; it seems valid enough – do they seriously believe that new routes for cash won’t be found, passing through more obscure entities in a continuation of the current game plan? The IF report focuses on the operational feasibility of fast reporting – yes, it can be done. The IF report says absolutely nothing about impacts of fast reporting that would suggest it has any benefit of disclosure. In short, 24 hour full disclosure reporting is a great idea and should be done, but don’t think it’s a magic bean that will contribute much at all to lifting the covers on secretive donors.
Basically, Floridians are supposed to believe Weatherford and IF that there is some sort of worthwhile trade-off in lifting the $500 donation limit, making unlimited donations possible, in order to gain 24 hour full disclosure reporting. Do you see any merit?
From Weatherford, one expects posturing like this that would really drench the whole messed up system with bigger bucket loads of cash.
If Integrity Florida was serious, they might have presented a reform agenda that would serve to tame the cash flow and demand fast, full disclosure of donations. IF might have drawn the best examples from other states that have effected reforms. Instead, they somehow envisioned Weatherford’s agenda and produced an 8 page rubber stamp. Their organization did itself no favors with this report, and now IF deserves close scrutiny itself since its allegiance to seriously improving the political process seems doubtful.
Watch Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi for a short while and you realize that she is sticking out from the GOP pack, and she seems to want it that way. One ought to expect that she is looking ahead in her political career.
While she was mentioned by pundits in veep speculation for Mitt Romney, she doesn’t yet have national level star power. Her headline role in the Supreme Court case against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), her history of appearances on Fox News, and her striking good looks which draw gossipy attention, have all made her a rising star, to be sure.
Her star shined bright enough to earn a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. Frankly, it was terrible as she shared the podium with timorous Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. For her part, Bondi clumsily read aloud to the teleprompter as her hands disjointedly tried to appear graceful and life-like – watch the video, but beware: it’s painful. Still, it’s recognition of her notoriety and popularity, particularly with the GOP base.
The ambitious nature of Florida’s Attorney General has been well known.
At first as AG, there appeared to be heavy handed tactics and early missteps surrounding the firing of two staff lawyers, known for their prosecution of foreclosure fraud, followed by Assistant AG Andrew Sparks’ critical memo for Bondi’s weak pursuit of foreclosure and consumer deception cases the day before he quit. There were also the embarrassing job changes by top staff who joined finance/foreclsoure firms under investigation by the AG’s office. In retrospect, Bondi just “winked” to the banking and housing finance community to show that she was playing on their team.
The distinction is noteworthy since Bondi garnered more headlines this fall with her insistence on having a major voice in how federal foreclosure fraud settlement funds were going to be spent, about $300 million for Florida. Yes, she coddled the housing finance cretins when her office confronted them, but when their cash landed in her lap via federal settlement, it was a political opportunity to play the ‘high-minded leader’ against the ‘grasping legislature,’ while mouthing a populist appeal:
‘We are diligently working to get this money distributed as soon as possible to help homeowners,’ [Bondi] said. ‘I’m not going to talk about backroom conversations, but I’ll tell you I’m working as hard as I can, my staff is working as hard as they can. This money needs to go to homeowners. That’s where it was meant to go, and that’s where it should go.’
Yes, that kind of political posturing is where your attention is being directed. And check this out:
While governors in other states have played an active role in the mortgage settlement, Gov. Rick Scott has been mum. When asked last week about his opinion about the $300 million and the disagreement between Bondi and the Legislature, he would only say: ‘I think attorney general Bondi will do a good job.’
Can you say “awkward”? Scott knows he can only look bad if he tries to challenge Bondi. Point: Bondi.
Bondi was very visible with GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney; Rick Scott was invisible, please! Bondi was an attractive asset; Scott was a bumbling liability. From the Florida GOP, only Rubio was more chummy with Romney/Ryan.
Senior Florida political reporter Bill Cotterell penned a recent column for Florida Voices claiming Rick Scott will be a strong candidate in 2014 with a solid record to make his case.
Cotterell downplays Scott’s atrociously low popularity and high un-favorability ratings that have relentlessly plagued Scott from inauguration. (Remember, he won in 2010 by a whisker.) Whenever his numbers improve, it’s often because he has done nothing, like this fall during the presidential campaign when Scott’s most public venture was inside a local Republican headquarters where a handful of old ladies were phone banking for Romney. He was as hidden away as crazy Uncle Louie.
When Scott does something, like pull a $10,000 college degree idea from thin air, people realize that Rick Scott is a total waste and an incredible jerk – they hate him all over again, just when they had begun to forget about him.
Yes, Scott has money – his own and an early bankroll of $5 million from donors. He can take credit for a variety of items that will play well with the base, but he can’t help being awkward and ill-equipped beyond his stupidly simplistic talking points. No matter what they say, legislators are not going to the mat for Rick Scott if there is another viable option. Politicians are as loyal as convenience allows, certainly true for Republicans.
Where Bondi has prominently shown her mettle is on the ACA. Her fierce posturing and unwavering attacks stand in marked contrast to the recent waffling of both Gov. Scott and the legislature as the boys depart from absolute rejection of state health insurance exchanges, and now even consider some possible Medicaid expansion within ACA. O. M. G!
Tea Party-ers – the base that propelled Rick Scott’s insurgent candidacy – have been hearing that ACA/Obama is satanic for years and the baggers are not altering this tenet of Fox faith in light of reason, events, or corporate cash. If Scott and the legislature cave to the corporate medicos drooling at b-b-billions from Medicaid expansion, the GOP’s ideological activists may find this betrayal unforgiveable.
Their hard line has gotten sclerotic following the national disaster of Mitt Romney’s flip-flopping “conservatism of convenience.” Expect them to seek an alternative to Scott, the jerky sell-out who looks (and sounds) like a Q tip.
Bondi will be ready, having stayed doggedly hardline as she parrots the Tea Party line, and having curried favor with two key GOP constituencies, ideological and corporate. She is young, attractive, sharp, passionate, and has been a popular figure in the key Tampa Bay market area as well as having national visibility. She is what Rick Scott can never be. Think Nikki Haley of South Carolina replacing Mark Sanford.
The little that Scott has going for him – hardline, uncompromising conservatism at its most ideologically idiotic – will be gone amid his attempt to moderate himself to electability, including acting sensibly toward implementation of the ACA in Florida. The hardliners will cut him loose in a heartbeat (or hang him in effigy).
Watch Pam and see if you think she is getting ready to give Rick Scott a run for his money in 2014.
And then think how Charlie Crist compares to Pam Bondi. Hmm.
Tuesday’s re-election victory for President Obama was a genuine squeaker, Electoral College totals aside. However, the GOP losses, both in Congress, in the Florida legislature, when combined with the presidential failure in what should have been a cake walk for any plain vanilla opposing presidential candidate, have failed to serve as a wake-up call.
Conservatives have contrived an incredible fantasy world that thrives in their social, political, and media echo chambers. Republicans seem incoherently and aggressively intent on ignoring realities as they shout down contrary perspectives and pursue the fantasies of their surreal worldview.
An article in The Economist entitled, State of denial: The real blow to Republicans may be not that they failed to take the White House, but that they did not lose more heavily, details some of the peculiar state of mind predominant in GOP circles, like how polls were rigged against them, how voting was rigged against them, how their most obnoxious views are mainstream and commonly accepted, like this:
Many [Republicans] seem genuinely uncomfortable with the new America. Republican gatherings are strikingly white-skinned and grey-haired. Many in attendance voice nostalgia for a time when American workers lacked global competition from places like China, when traditional American (meaning their) values were unchallenged and—to cite their most frequent complaint—the poor either worked or went hungry.
Had the Republicans lost more spectacularly, perhaps their manufactured worldview would have crumbled more completely, leading to the kind of reforms that are needed. Then we could return to an objective two party system instead of the status quo with a party of utter insanity and the party of better sanity.
The stunning craziness was chronicled by The Daily Show’s review of Fox News’s Election Night coverage on its November 7 show.
Although Jon Stewart needed to do no more than air the amazing clip of Fox’s newsroom turmoil as Ohio was credited to Obama – the utter collapse of its self-serving, self-designed fantasy – Stewart’s closing commentary echoes the reality that typically entitled, privileged, pampered, white Americans are witnessing the death throes of their familiar world.
The vitriol and bellicosity of many Republicans in the wake of the election results has been noteworthy as evident in Facebook posts and personal conversations. See today’s Ocala Star Banner Letters to the Editor for some real beauts. Expect more.
The reason for the extraordinarily harsh and bitter reaction to a single election is hard to fathom. A mismatch between emotional response and factual cause usually indicates there is something more at stake. And clearly it has been building and headed this way for some time. It is their swiftly disappearing world that needs a false reality to be sustained. This secure and understood world of theirs is being lost. This is grief.
Grieving loss typically proceeds in discernible stages as explained by the classic study of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Denial and anger are the early stages of coping with loss.
Simply denying the loss, acting as if nothing has changed or creating a pleasant fiction, provides a buffer to the changed reality. Like a shock absorber, like adrenaline temporarily masking an athletic injury, denial stays enmeshed in a world and vision that no longer exists because the loss of that world and vision is too difficult and too painful to accept. However, the changed reality becomes unavoidable sooner or later.
Weakened by the loss, cast adrift, and bearing pain from the loss – whether acknowledged or not – the next (or simultaneous) stage is anger. The display of anger masks weakness with a blustery show of strength, while an uncompromising stand belies being adrift, and blindly lashing out retaliates for the pain.
Of course, the anger cannot be targeted at the loss; it finds other targets who tend to be unsuspecting. These poor folks are unable to equate the expressed anger with any corresponding reference point, like “Where did that come from?”
Anger, too, is a shock absorber, serving to protect and buffer the one who is hurting, lost, and weak – the one who endured the loss – until the point when the new reality becomes inescapable.
The strange behaviors, attitudes, and thought processes that we are witnessing across our society are quite remarkable. No, I don’t think you’ll find a corresponding point in recent memory. The Great Depression and the Civil War are other occasions when the world changed and people endured loss in the same measure, although the 1960s and the Civil Rights Era would come pretty close. We live in an exceptional and difficult time.
Progressives have no reason to gloat. Moreover, there is no reason to reply to bitterness with ugliness, or vitriol with contempt. It is about as helpful as telling someone struggling with grief over the loss of their loved one to ‘get over it and stop being a jerk.’
By the same token, there is no way this corrupt worldview can be allowed to go unchallenged. It needs to be exposed, and done so repeatedly, until reality actually becomes accepted. We certainly don’t need to lose our cool, but we are responsible for continually placing a mirror before our counterparts (and sometimes ourselves) and pointing out the reality we actually share.
Then we can begin solving the problems of our shared reality instead of senselessly arguing over which reality is valid.
Florida’s 2012 ballot was dominated by the overwhelming length and breadth of 11 constitutional amendments, achieving the passage of only 3 small impact, specialized tax relief measures. Trapped in the carnage of steep amendment losses seems to have been the local measure authorizing the sale of bonds to support the Marion Hospital District, enabling retention of high quality, cost effective Munroe Regional Health Systems which operates Munroe Regional Medical Center for the Marion Hospital District.
[Click here for the full results of Marion County’s voting in the general election.]
Was the rejection of this key local proposal a failure of the well-funded campaign in support of the bond measure? Was it voters rejecting the notion of a $5 per month additional property tax? Was it a result of a radio campaign in the last month by secretive Florida pro-corporate lobby Associated Industries of Florida (AIF)? How about none of these? Then what did it?
The hospital bond measure was declined by 43-57% of Marion voters, a solid margin of defeat.
Mail drops to voters in support of the hospital measure were frequent and high quality. But did they stand out from the rest of the campaign literature that inundated mail boxes? Perhaps not.
The radio campaign waged by AIF’s arm, a group oddly named Save Our Constitution, Inc., surely got many voters’ attention, but was it enough to achieve this kind of defeat? This also seems unlikely.
Was it reflective of voters not being persuaded that a new tax was necessary? And wouldn’t such an attitude gain a mirror in, say, presidential election voting outcomes, with Republican voters opposing and Democratic voters favoring the measure?
A look at two precincts with diametrically opposite presidential election voting outcomes should make the case. Precinct 0005 (First Christian Church, E. Fort King St., Ocala) and precinct 3700 (Church at the Springs, Baseline Rd., Ocala) fit the bill with 0005 voting 2-1 in favor of Romney, and 3700 voting 2-1 in favor of Obama. Here is a chart that includes the respective “yes” and “no” votes on the hospital bond proposal (and revised further to see how votes on Amendment 1 – the health care mandate – fit into the pattern, or not):
Perhaps we can get some insight by considering the few measures that did pass.
Amendment 1 on the health care reform mandate passed in Marion 53-47%, but didn’t come close to meeting the statewide threshold of 60% now required for adoption (and failed statewide). This anti-health care reform proposal was likely well understood by voters, and apparently health care reform is not as unpopular as the media often leads us to believe.
[Click here for an article about the amendments’ performance statewide and a summary chart of voting outcomes.]
Amendments 2, 9, and 11 all passed by wide margins, locally and statewide, and they all share something in common. They were all relatively brief in text, clear in their intent to provide property tax relief, and targeted to specific populations with whom most anyone would be sympathetic; combat injury disabled veterans (2), surviving spouses of military veterans or first responders killed in the line of duty (9), and low income senior citizens (11).
All the rest of the amendments were less distinct, often with dense, obtuse language, hewing to an ideological position, or political minutiae, or obscure purpose and benefit. They failed, and most of them failed miserably.
The hospital bond measure came at the very end of the painfully long ballot – click here to see the sample ballot again. Its result mirrored those constitutional amendments that lost.
The best answer for the outcome on the hospital is the voters’ disdain for the amendments cluttering the 2012 General Election Ballot. Voters said “no” unless there was a clearly articulated purpose and a personally meaningful population. The hospital bond proposal simply got lumped in with the rest of the mess.
Marion voters even said “no” to Amendment 6 – 49-51% – the umpteenth time conservative Christian Florida voters were baited with an anti-choice proposal. Even on this topic, voters have had enough, and seem tired of being manipulated. The same can be said of Amendment 1, another narrow vote.
Unless it made clear sense, voters simply said “no” in resounding fashion in this election. Sadly and unfairly, the hospital bond measure got caught in the downdraft of negative voter sentiment toward the constitutional amendments. How very unfortunate for our community.
Reflecting the theme of the Obama/Biden re-election campaign, the Vice President rocked an estimated 2,500 fired-up supporters at Tuscawilla Park in Ocala on a postcard perfect weather day. “Forward,” the campaign’s theme word, echoed in consistently in Biden’s remarks.
The crowd was prepped with an inspired, thoughtful speech by lead volunteer in Ocala, Cynthia Rose, and was mesmerized by young Mr. Moore in his proudly passionate singing of the Star Spangled Banner, and enchanted by Joyce Rabun’s introduction of key issues, particularly for seniors, and then the Vice President himself.
[Biden’s full speech is on video at C-SPAN – click here for the full speech. H/T Dale B. and Delphine! It seems to be in HD, so expect a lot of buffering.]
Facing into the sun on the cloudless day, Biden wore sunglasses as he began by reminding the crowd of the kind of cooperative bipartisanship that has characterized interactions among very different governors and mayors in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. He insisted that for America to move forward, all Americans would need to pull together and do what is needed to get the country back on its feet, in marked contrast to the rancor and inertia on key issues of the past few years.
He recounted his view on the last debate on foreign policy, remarking how Romney has changed his position so completely, hamming it up to the delight of the crowd. With Romney, it always depends, depends on the hour, the audience, the polls, etc., and yet in this late stage of the campaign, it often turns out sounding like the Obama administration’s position.
His attention swung to women’s issues, challenging GOP candidates including Romney and Ryan who evade and avoid taking the stances that are equitable, just, and forward-looking. He reminded women that pregnancy was formerly a reason for refusal of health insurance because it had been considered a pre-existing condition.
Knowing that President Obama has appointed two women to the Supreme Court, Biden insisted that the president’s daughters and his grand-daughters have the same rights, privileges, and opportunities as any son or grandson.
The Vice President dedicated considerable time to economic opportunity and tax fairness, chastising the Romney-Ryan tax plan for its gigantic breaks for the very wealthy – $800 billion out of $1 trillion – and the inability of GOP budget designer Paul Ryan to name a single loophole to be eliminated in his own plan. Biden called the details of his opponents’ plan “not just sketchy, but etch-a-sketchy.”
He also focused on the GM bailout, which Romney opposed, but which saved 1 million jobs and generated 200,000 more, complaining about a reprehensible slew of lies in Romney’s absurd Ohio ad that claimed Obama sold out US automakers and their jobs so that Chrysler could be bought by Italian carmaker Fiat, as well as completely misrepresenting a recent report about Jeep shifting all of its production to China. In fact, the story said:
Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Jeep president] Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites [to meet demand in China] rather than shifting output from North America to China.
Being in Marion County with its large number of retirees, Biden also noted the numerous improvements in Medicare and the commitment to keep Medicare as a government health care program for seniors. This strategy was contrasted with Romney-Ryan’s voucher program that would not keep up with expenses, leaving seniors vulnerable to tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses.
Biden shared his dismay at Romney’s secretly videotaped remark that 47% of Americans are dependents of the government, and the tax plans that are protective of Romney’s mere 14% tax rate on his $2 million annual income, less than most working Americans. He noted that these 47% are familiar people in our lives, and that the Romney/GOP characterization is a sad misrepresentation of people who work hard, are proudly independent, and form the backbone of the nation and its economy.
Relaxed and resonant, casual, candid, and compelling, Biden is a wonderful speaker who invariably charms his audience. As he disarms by twirling niceties like, “These [opponents] are nice guys,” Biden quickly delivers the smack down, pointing out how they’re total jerks in his easy passive-aggressive banter. We noticed, but it’s the fun of Joe Biden rolling up his sleeves and getting to work.
The crowds at Tuscawilla Park were thrilled to hear Biden’s message that points the way “Forward.” Here’s hoping and praying we get there with Obama-Biden, and not somewhere between 1952 and 1592 with Romney-Ryan and the Tea Party Republicans.
Picture credits: from the top: D. Sizemore, R. Seaman, D. Sizemore, M. Kudrna.
As Early Voting locations sprang into action this past weekend, reports are already appearing about the long waits as well as heavy turnout, driving speculation about what may occur on Election Day. Let’s just say that it’s too soon to call Florida for anyone, regardless of what polls may say.
As posted here previously, the ghastly long ballot produced by the Republican legislature’s ridiculous 11 constitutional amendment questions seems designed to suppress voter turnout. Depressed voter turnout typically means trouble for Democrats who depend on strong turnout from its constituency that tends to be inconsistent in voting practices while Republicans benefit from more reliable turnout from their supporters. Yet the Florida Department of State is reporting that, statewide, Democrats have nearly matched the Republicans on their own turf – absentee or mail-in ballots. That really changes the dynamics as well as the math.
Republicans traditionally own the absentee ballot counts, and in 2008 trumped absentee voting by something like a 2-1 margin over Democrats, the result of years of spending heavily to get their voters signed up to vote-by-mail. Democrats have kept a strong turnout operation focused on Early Voting, and bested Republicans during Early Voting and on Election Day in 2008 to notch a win for Obama in Florida.
Following passage of the Voter Suppression Law sponsored and championed by Ocala’s Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-ALEC), a number of measures were implemented to make voting more difficult for traditional Democratic constituencies. The law included the reduction of Early Voting days, particularly targeting for elimination the Sunday before Election Day – the day when African American faith communities have pushed “Souls to the Polls.”
No, there was hardly a mention in the law addressing absentee ballots – the preferred method for Republicans – even though those ballots have been the source of the few, pathetically insignificant instances of voter fraud in Florida.
The Baxley Voter Suppression Law forced the Obama campaign and its allies to alter their strategy. Far more emphasis was placed on setting up voters with absentee or vote-by-mail ballots, and that work seems to have paid off handsomely. The all-out effort by the Obama campaign has virtually matched the Republicans in absentee ballots, taking away their former prodigious advantage. As the calendar gets short, the focus now shifts to Early Voting.
Pundits caution that the large increase in Democratic absentee ballots has come at the expense of their margins in Early Voting and on Election Day.
That means Democrats could post relatively fewer early-voting increases over Republicans compared to 2008, when Democrats cast 500,000 more in-person early votes while the GOP cast about 250,000 more absentee ballots.
Of course, that makes some sense, but it also fits the Obama campaign’s model of getting votes “banked” early so that the Election Day focus is narrower for the critical, final get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort. Democrats have correctly dismissed such remarks as “spin:”
Republicans say Democrats have “cannibalized” their early voters this time. But the Obama campaign dismisses that as “spin” and says it’s focused on getting its core voters out while trying to entice occasional or sporadic voters — who tend to back Obama — to show up at the polls.
Also, it’s not as if Republicans haven’t eaten into some of their regular voters, either. About 29 percent of the absentee ballots cast by Republicans this year came from those who voted early or on Election Day in 2008, the Herald and FCIR analysis shows. [versus 38 percent of Democratic absentee ballots]
In the canvassing that this writer has done for the Democrats and the Obama campaign, almost all of the voters encouraged to vote by mail or use Early Voting in 2012 were Election Day voters in 2008.
As Early Voting proceeds, and as mail-in ballots continue to get completed and returned, one might expect the neck-and-neck pace to continue. That brings the campaigns to a dramatic conclusion on Election Day. Neither side will relax for a moment until it’s all over.
What happens on Election Day may get determined by that stupidly long ballot. It won’t be enough for the campaigns simply to turn out voters; it will depend on voters’ stamina to remain in long lines for long periods as unprepared and uncertain neighbors pore over the mind-numbing, tiny text of those ballot amendments.
Will the seniors in the South 441 gated communities who vote like a Republican locust swarm become an inadvertent morass of voters stranded by long lines? Will they be targeted on the voting line for clog dancing lessons and golf putting practice while being served tea – iced or hot, or flavored with their favorite conspiracy theory?
Will working adults and others with well-defined schedules be falling over each other to get through the human thicket of dumbfounded ballot readers? Will they skip Mary’s ballet lesson, or lose precious hours at work and tick off the boss while hoping for a miracle angel with a heaping bag of junk food to satiate their lunch hour – not Michelle’s veggies?
Or did the threat to Democratic voters inspire enough anger and angst to motivate the changes that could overcome the advantages the Republicans thought they could steal legally?
Election Day should be a nightmare in any case. Encourage your friends, families, co-workers to get to Early Voting before it closes.
Click here for the listing of Early Voting locations, dates, and times in Marion County.
And if you can volunteer to call or canvass, your help is really crucial.
Leadership skills are acquired through experience, hence the value of considering and evaluating the roles in which candidates have performed. In this last post on the School Superintendent’s race, their experience in their respective roles reveal the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unknown about Diana Greene and George Tomyn.
[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]
Let’s begin by recognizing that there is a world of difference between being Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction – Diana Greene – and Director of School Development and Evaluation – George Tomyn. This becomes apparent when you try to review their track record; Greene’s role has lots of exposure while Tomyn’s role generates little, if any, by comparison.
Greene gets a very public report card every time the district’s FCAT scores are released. Tomyn doesn’t.
Greene is the current administration’s face for everything in curriculum and instruction, just as Wally Wagoner is the face on facilities, non-instructional, and support services.
Tomyn’s job has been described as “the principal for principals,” being involved in the management of the district’s dozens of schools. It is a huge responsibility, earning the “Director” level title. However, you won’t see Tomyn’s name appearing in the paper apart from his current election campaign.
Media-wise, a bit of digging turns up Tomyn’s sudden resignation in 2010 from the Board of Directors at Florida Blood Centers. He was on the Executive Committee and deeply involved in the messy departure of CEO Anne Chinoda. Having been given a huge pay raise and a fat bonus, Chinoda at the same time was requiring layoffs for 42 hourly workers, amid a furor over conflict-of-interest type Board/management decisions that caused major corporate backers to withdraw their support from the non-profit organization. Having plenty of personal experience with ugly Board conflict myself, let’s acknowledge that there are likely angles to the story that aren’t being reported.
On the other hand, Greene is always in the spotlight, or the crosshairs as it may be, like here and then here. Her senior standing virtually equates her with decisions made by current Superintendent Jim Yancey and the School Board. That isn’t entirely fair, but that is exactly what happens.
Those most noticeably aggrieved by Greene have been folks at Marion Education Association (MEA), the teacher’s union, which chose to endorse George Tomyn. Bear in mind that ‘no endorsement’ was an option. The act of an endorsement implicitly rejects any other candidate, a statement that MEA apparently felt it wanted to make.
Several of MEA’s reasons for rejecting Greene pertain to how funding cutbacks were handled. The Yancey administration made its stated priority to not lay off staff. To that end, open positions went unfilled, programs were curtailed, and painful cuts and compromises were made. Among these correctives was the hiring of certified substitutes to avoid the costs of salaried teachers with benefits, and stretching staff for art, music, PE, and library/media centers to harsh levels, parceling existing staff out to multiple school sites while at the same time paring back program availability.
Greene gets held responsible for these policies, and in all fairness she may have recommended them as options to be considered – that’s her job. Since these actions sought to address reduced funding, wouldn’t the School Board’s refusal to pursue simple funding options be more accurately blamed? What alternate options should have been adopted to cover the millions in budget shortfall? What would Tomyn have done? Specifically? What has Tomyn pledged to do? Specifically? If there were layoffs, rather than these actions, would Greene be blamed for such layoffs, too?
Similarly, Greene was blamed for the administration’s contracting with an anti-labor law firm – a new development – and its hostility to collective bargaining. However, changes in the district’s senior staff capabilities in conducting labor negotiations likely had plenty to do with the newly contracted negotiators. Greene’s role was likely consultative, but she gets the blame. Has Tomyn pledged to end this contract and commit to collective bargaining led by district staff? I haven’t seen anything like that but would appreciate hearing about it.
Sorting through various charges against Greene, the one that continually provokes the greatest outrage, anger, and disdain concerns student testing. It seems like every teacher who would administer these tests complains about the amount of testing. I don’t mean a simple “I don’t like….” It’s more like this comment I received from one teacher:
Dr. Greene’s position on testing… is outrageous. Over 25% of the school year is spent testing students to collect data on what educators already know. The county testing system she developed, promotes and mandates is unfair to students and to teachers. She claims to have raised student proficiency but yet we’re still ranked 43rd in the state. If her system of testing actually worked, we would be doing much better. She is unbending to listen to input from those who have to work this mandated system.
Greene acknowledges that the testing culture imposed by the state has become extreme in its all-or-nothing consequences, and even that local testing is too much, as she stated early in her video interview on “Classroom Connection, October 2012” beginning about 2:40.
However, Greene insists that the local testing regimen has settled to a more modest level since its inception. Further, given the testing culture that has been imposed, Greene asks: what is the alternative strategy to closely monitor comprehension and ensure that students succeed when they face the battery of end-of-year exams? What about Common Core, the national testing regimen that has promised to make FCAT seem like a cake walk? What about teacher merit pay tied to testing?
The most amusing part of this summer’s discussion about Marion’s student testing is that the Star Banner’s Brad Rogers consulted the Madonna of Mandatory Testing, Patricia Levesque, who used the opportunity to soft pedal the very policies which she has championed with Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Florida’s Future; a culture of accountability, running schools like a business, treating students like widgets, and teachers like assembly robots. Levesque takes no responsibility for any local level testing culture that her own testing-is-best movement has wholly inspired and aggressively promoted.
Levesque even had the audacity to write an op-ed of her own, perhaps at Rogers’ instigation since it’s doubtful that she subscribes to the Star Banner. Try this:
As a mom, I take my children to the doctor annually for a physical check-up to ensure they are growing on track. Assessments are annual academic check-ups to ensure students are learning on track.
That’s a lovely sentiment, but if your child fails the annual physical, it may be a terrible disease requiring far more testing to be diagnosed, monitored, and corrected – see Greene’s own op-ed. Mrs. Levesque offers a stupidly deceptive example and shows how (deliberately) clueless she is about Florida’s testing scheme.
In between Rogers and Levesque, Janet Weldon’s op-ed followed Rogers, critical of the weakly inconclusive evidence that Rogers and Levesque cite to claim Marion County over-tests its students. Weldon highlights at the end that the new national level of Levesque’s testing agenda – Common Core Standards – is close on the horizon, indicating how testing will remain the determining factor in public education and its culture, generated by political decisions made outside Marion County.
Nonetheless, Greene should be challenged by the continued vehemence of teacher attitudes. Clearly communication by her and by her senior staff of the singular need for this testing routine failed in too many instances. Communicating policy changes, particularly unpopular ones, requires a huge amount of effort, repetition, enduring withering blasts of anger while listening patiently to complaint after complaint, and unreasonable demand after unreasonable demand. To conduct that communication with over 3,000 instructional staff, much less reach out to tens of thousands of parents and caregivers, would require a full strategy of its own and demand the dedication of a tremendous number of hours.
The price of missing this necessary base is what seems too much in evidence presently, embittered teachers who feel they have been dictated orders and not treated like professional partners in the education enterprise. Alienated, these disaffected have turned in anger and lashed out. As the preceding discussion suggests, the object of their scorn is likely quite misplaced as Greene has been made a punishment surrogate for grievances better placed against Yancey, the School Board, and the idiotic GOP legislature.
Considering Diana Greene and George Tomyn, voters must be clear about how their concerns over unhelpful developments in public education, from testing to funding to political meddling, fit into the voting choices. They also need to be clear-eyed about the vastly different levels of experience and exposure these candidates present. Finally, voters shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that big picture politics don’t play a role in local policies, that somehow the school superintendent transcends the partisan politics that divides our community. Think again. Consider the funding issue and see how politics shapes the dimensions of every funding debate.
Sorry this post is so long, but I hope the series has provided insights.
I particularly welcome ideas for ensuring that students are prepared to pass state-mandated exams apart from the strategy of regular testing. Please use the Comments section below, remembering that Florida is a galaxy or two away from Finland, the top education performer which eschews the Bush/Levesque/industrial testing culture. Seriously.
The title has a question mark because the subject of funding for public education is somehow a difficult issue for educational leaders to stand up and promote. How will our next superintendent deal with this issue?
[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]
The funding referenda on the August primary ballot got an appalling lack of support from every elected educational leader except for Superintendent Jim Yancey, a lame duck in the countdown to retirement.
In the School Board races decided in the August primary election, Woody Clymer was the only candidate out of four to endorse the community’s support for new public education funding. Clymer lost narrowly while the rest either dodged the issue or made nonsensical statements like, ‘I don’t know about the budget, but once I’m elected, I’ll work it out,’ or ‘Let’s reduce administrator pay to cover the deficit,’ or ‘The system is improving with less money; let’s cut more and make it even better.’ (I heard each of these comments from candidates.)
We need to ask our two candidates if they intend to watch our schools become ever more decrepit as funding gets stripped or suppressed by Tallahassee, or are they actually going to provide leadership to seek funding support from the community.
On the two August ballot proposals for school funding, Diana Greene decided eventually to endorse funding for the operations assessment, but declined to support funding for the capital assessment. Her initial statements, like the response provided to Marions United for Public Education before their forum with Education Task Force, indicate a dodgey non-committal stance since the funding revenue would arrive long after the budget was adopted.
I believe the way I vote is my personal business, but I will say that we owe it to the citizens of Marion County the opportunity to weigh in their desires by casting their vote. I can only control my vote, and so I encourage everyone to vote [their conscience].
Indeed, the next year’s budget was adopted with the hope of both proposals passing built into its figures. Both measures’ failure meant revising the budget, inflicting $14.8 million in cuts, covered from fast dwindling reserves plus not hiring reading coaches for students, and shelving any planned capital expenditures.
Greene eventually came around to support at least one of the proposals, but her refusal to endorse the capital assessment seems inexplicable. I believe she had stated that there were funds to meet those capital expenses, but never indicated where the funding existed exactly.
George Tomyn has responded to the issue by chanting the phrase “using available resources.” Presumably if the school budget decreased by another $40 million over the next 5 years, Tomyn would simply make it work … whatever is left. He offers no hint of advocacy. Of course, he does state the obvious – you use what you’re given. This was Tomyn’s reply to the same questionnaire from Marions United/EFT before their forum:
The job of the Superintendent of Schools is to create and manage an exemplary school system using the available resources. I intend to do just that! This task may be a bit easier to accomplish with additional resources but I do not believe that Marion County property owners should bear the responsibility of paying higher property taxes in order to address a problem created by our state legislature. These are tough economic times. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to solve the challenges created by reduced funding.
Here Tomyn blames the legislature, protects property owners from a $10/month assessment, and leaves education funding (the students, the staff, the facilities, etc.) hung out to dry.
My favorite video of this election cycle is Tomyn’s 33 second commercial on funding. As you witness his strong, vigorous tone, listen closely to the message. Click here to view it.
In the video, he is deeply passionate, rock solid serious, firmly in charge, sternly confronting the challenge, and he commits to … absolutely nothing. He will spend the money that is given. Um, can I get a woohoo?
To see Tomyn give another, more recent answer on the funding issue, try this one – MCSB’s “Classroom Connection, October 2012.” (Sadly, the same question is not asked of Diana Greene in her preceding interview in this video.) At about 14:00, Tomyn very carefully answers the question of ‘how much funding is enough.’ Using precise wording, he eventually falls back to his favorite expression, “using available resources,” while finally affirming that ‘current funding is adequate.’ To close, he throws a meaningless bone to staff, saying ‘we really need to support those people.’ That’s a really nice sentiment but a chronically slashed budget with no new funding (or advocacy) isn’t close to reflecting “support.”
Public school funding and local taxation are the issues on which Tomyn’s Republican base will be holding him accountable. Greene will not find the Democrats running another candidate if she advocates community funding support for our local schools. Tomyn will have to worry if he dares to open his mouth to advocate for any taxation.
The school board isn’t going to provide any leadership on the funding issue. Instead, they’ve proven adept at running in the other direction and letting the budget dine on reserves, programs, and staff, a meal that’s no longer digestible without serious consequences.
The next superintendent will need to show leadership in advocating more funding from the community. The state has abdicated its role and is no longer a reliable partner in the public education enterprise.
Tomyn is unlikely to provide that leadership for obvious political reasons. He has pandered to his GOP base in this campaign, as he must.
Greene seems more likely to carry that mantle, not being menaced by political retaliation from her own party, and having already taken a stand for more funding already.
In the next post, leadership means communicating a vision and standing in the crosshairs – who is ready to do that?