Partly Cloudy88° WeatherPartly Cloudy88° Weather

The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Court approves Legislature's fix for congressional map, orders no special election

Florida's flawed congressional districts may remain in place for two more years and newly drawn boundaries for seven north and central districts don't have to take effect until 2016, a Tallahassee circuirt court judge ruled late Friday.

Judge Terry Lewis upheld the revisions to the state's congressional map that was approved by the Florida Legislature in a three-day special session concluded last week. But he said the current configuration, which he ruled unconstitutional a month ago, could stand for the 2014 election.

"An election in 2015 is not a viable option,'' Lewis wrote in his four-page order. "The 2014 elections will have to be held under the map as enacted in 2012.

That will come as a relief to U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican who feared being elected to a new term in November only to have to face a special election possibly next year under the newly configured boundaries. Webster has recently set up a legal defense fund to help him finance any court fights that are expected to emerge from the protracted fight. …

Full Story

Scott, Crist continue trading jabs on education spending

Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist released a new TV ad on Friday, accusing Republican Gov. Rick Scott of lying to a constituent about his education record.


"We thought it really important to remind Floridians that you cannot trust Rick Scott about public education," said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, speaking for the Crist campaign. "You cannot trust him to care about your school children or to fund your schools properly."

The ad will debut in Orlando this weekend, campaign spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said.

It was the latest strike in the war over education funding.

Last week, Crist toured the state in a yellow school bus, reminding Floridians that Scott cut $1.3 billion from the state education budget in 2011.

The Scott campaign responded Thursday with a plan to pump millions of dollars into public schools and boost per-student spending to historic levels. (Democrats point out that the $7176 figure Scott proposed still lags the high watermark set in 2007-08 when you account for inflation.) 

Crist unveiled his latest ad on Friday morning.

The Scott campaign said Crist, a former Republican governor, was suffering from "education amnesia." …

Full Story

FDP: Scott, Bondi should let gay-marriage rulings stand

A day after a federal judge struck down Florida's ban on same-sex marriages, the state Democratic Party urged Republican Gov. Rick Scott to let the decision stand.

"While we had a great victory yesterday, we are hoping to see that change be implemented quickly," Florida Democratic Party Political Director Christian Ulvert told reporters on a press call. "It is now on the attorney general and Gov. Rick Scott to stop their efforts to appeal, in hopes that we can achieve the full equality that all Florida residents deserve."

Attorney General Pam Bondi has not said whether her office will appeal the federal decision.

Her office is, however, appealing similar rulings in other courts.

Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, noted that Thursday’s ruling was the fifth in Florida to declare the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

Saunders called on Scott to support gay and lesbian couples and families.

"For too long, we've seen Gov. Scott bob and weave around the issue of marriage equality in Florida," Saunders said. "I think voters want to know. They want to know whether he's going to stand on the right side of history." …

Full Story

Scott camp on lookout for 'enthusiasm gap' among Democrats

Gov. Rick Scott's deputy campaign manager issued a memo Friday forecasting that Democrat Charlie Crist will defeat rival Nan Rich by a margin of 81 to 19 percent or better on Tuesday. The memo by Tim Saler also seeks to forge a post-primary narrative that Democrats face an "enthusiasm gap" in the upcoming general election campaign.

Saler writes: "Judging by history, if Democrats have any enthusiasm at all on their side in 2014, they should be able to bring in several hundred thousand more primary votes compared to Republicans. The last time a Republican governor ran for re-election (2002), Democrats had 40% more votes in their primary than did Republicans. This is the baseline performance for Democrats in the 2014 primary. If Democrats fall short of that metric, it would be a dangerous sign for their base enthusiasm entering the general election, and we are watching that metric closely."

Saler is right that Democrats should turn out in bigger numbers than Republicans because they have two statewide contests (Crist vs. Rich and George Sheldon vs. Perry Thurston for attorney general), and Scott faces two no-name GOP challengers. …

Full Story

Billionaire's campaign takes second swipe at Scott on link to oil drilling



NextGen Climate on Friday recrafted its attack on Gov. Rick Scott and began airing a second ad telling him to return the $200,000 in campaign cash from the Collier Family, which leased land that became the site for oil drilling near the Everglades.

Like the first ad, the ad is airing in West Palm Beach and Fort Myers television markets.

NextGen Climate is funded by hedge fund billionaire and environmentalist Tom Steyer who promises to be a player in Florida's governor's race if he follows up on his promise to spend millions to defeat Scott.  Steyer has committed $50 million of his own money to oppose the use of fossil fuels. 

After NextGen Climate released its first ad earlier this month, the Republican Party of Florida responded with its own attack on Charlie Crist in the same markets. …

Full Story

Jeb Bush talks with women leaders in Silicon Valley

Jeb Bush was a featured guest at one of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s dinner receptions for women leaders.

“Governor Bush was honored and delighted to accept Sheryl Sandberg's gracious invitation to meet with top tech and business leaders in Silicon Valley,” spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said after the Buzz asked if Bush attended.

Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, hosts regular dinners at her Silicon Valley home.

Full Story

Judge rules Florida's gay marriage ban unconstitutional

MIAMI (AP) -- A federal judge on Thursday declared Florida's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, joining state judges in four counties who have sided with gay couples wishing to tie the knot.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled that the ban added to Florida's constitution by voters in 2008 violates the 14th Amendment's guarantees of equal protection and due process. Hinkle issued a stay delaying the effect of his order, meaning no marriage licenses will be immediately issued for gay couples.

Hinkle, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, compared bans on gay marriage to the long-abandoned prohibitions on interracial marriage and predicted both would be viewed by history the same way.

"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination," Hinkle wrote in a 33-page ruling. "To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."

More here.

Full Story

Dem protesters prepare for Paul Ryan's Fla visit

Paul Ryan and mother Betty, a resident of Lauderdale by the Sea, campaigning in 2012


Paul Ryan and mother Betty, a resident of Lauderdale by the Sea, campaigning in 2012

Republican Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on Friday kicks off a three-day, nine-city Florida tour to hawk his new book, The Way Forward, and, perhaps, to take his to make what could amount to his first Florida campaign swing of a 2016 presidential campaign. Democratic critics are ready.

The liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change intends to shadow Ryan at each of his stops.

“As Paul Ryan brings his ideas about dismantling Medicare and underserving seniors to Florida, I’m happy to be working with Americans United for Change to hold him accountable. In 2012, volunteers across the Sunshine State successfully joined together to ensure all voters knew about Ryan’s extreme proposal to replace Medicare with a voucher. Now grassroots activists will work to build on that success by telling Paul Ryan to keep his hands off Medicare,” said Americans United spokesman Eric Jotkoff. 

Here's Ryan's schedule, which, alas, does not include a south Florida stop to let him visit his mom in Broward County: …

Full Story

Florida set to get $1 billion from U.S. Department of Justice settlement with BOA

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a record settlement with Bank of America on Thursday that will provide $1 billion in relief for about 17,000 Floridians.

But it’s still not clear which ones will qualify.

They’ll likely be in addition to the 120,000 who were offered $9.2 billion in relief in a separate 2012 settlement with the nation’s largest banks, including Bank of America.

On Thursday morning in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced the newest settlement with Bank of America -- a $16.65 billion mortgage deal that includes a $9.65 billion cash penalty and $7 billion in relief to homeowners and blighted areas. It’s the largest government settlement by a company in U.S. history. …

Full Story

Scott rolls out plan to increase education funding

Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday announced a plan to raise per-student spending to a record level next year.

Scott's proposal calls for $7,176 for each student in Florida -- a $232 increase over the current school year and a $50 increase over the record high from 2007-08.

"I am proud to announce that in the upcoming legislative session we will propose an increase in Florida’s per-pupil spending to the highest level in our state's history," Scott said in a statement. "We already have the highest total spending in K-12 this year and gave every teacher the opportunity for a pay raise. Because we were able to get Florida's economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education."

The announcement may seem a little premature, considering the November election still stands between Scott and the 2015 legislative session. 

But it makes perfect sense in the context of the campaign.

Last week, Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist traveled the state in a yellow school bus, reminding Floridians that Scott cut $1.3 billion from the state education budget during his first year in office in 2011. …

Full Story

Tom Lee's robo-rewind on Crist prompts complaint by Democrats

Those recent robocalls to Democratic voters featuring the voice and the conservative views of former Republican Charlie Crist have prompted Democrats to file a formal complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. Their target is Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon.

Lee engineered what he said were about two million robocalls to voters, using the same calls Crist used in his successful 2006 Republican campaign for governor, in which he called himself a pro-life, Ronald Reagan Republican who opposed same sex marriage and supported public display of the 10 Commandments -- views now starkly at odds with Crist the Democrat. Lee has taken responsibility for the robocalls and used a long-dormant electioneering communications organization (ECO) called The Conservative (singular). There's also a new web site featuring all of Crist's audio clips at

The Conservative is headed by Stafford Jones, a Republican activist from Gainesville and a behind-the-scenes player in state politics.  …

Full Story

Legislative lawyers ask court to consider role of Democratic operatives in redistricting case

Democratic operatives working for two national groups played a significant role in helping one set of plaintiffs in Florida's redistricting trial draw alternative maps that are now being offered as an alternative for the court to consider, according to depositions made public Wednesday in the trial.

The depositions were cited at a hearing before Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis by George Meros, a lawyer for the Florida House of Representatives. Meros worked to discredit a map presented by the the Romo plaintiffs, one of the voters groups that brought the lawsuit. The other group of plaintiffs is led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. 

This is the second time that Democratic political operatives were found to be as interested in gerrymandering their districts as Republican operatives were accused of doing for their maps. According to records released last year, Florida Democrats plotted with congressional leaders and political consultants to redraw congressional districts to benefit their party, according to new court records that show they were just as interested in gerrymandering as Republicans.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that Republican legislative leaders allowed GOP political operatives to "infiltrate" the redistricting process and "making a mockery" of their claims of transparency. Unlike the Republicans, however, the Democrats do not control the Legislative process and there is no evidence to show that the maps drawn by their operatives were ever voted on by lawmakers. They have relied on the court as the venue for them to make their case about alternative maps. 

The plaintiffs now want Lewis to consider their map as an alternative to the one drawn by the Republican-led Legislature last week. Mero said the testimony showed that the map was drawn by Eric Hawkins, a consultant to the National Committee for an Effective Congress, a Washington-based consulting firm organization that works to elect Democrats.

In a letter to Lewis late Wednesday, Meros referred to the depositions of Hawkins, as well as Mark Gersh, former president of NCEC Services, and Brian Smooth and Brian Zuzenak, both from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Among the points Meros wanted Lewis to note about the evidence:  Download 2014 08 20 Letter to Judge Lewis.pdfFull Story

Judge will be next to decide which side best protects black voters in redistricting fight

Terry LewisThe racial tensions that coursed for years beneath the surface in Florida’s redistricting battle came into sharp focus Wednesday as lawyers for each side blasted each other for attempting to use black voters for partisan gain.

The arguments emerged at a hearing Wednesday called by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to decide whether the Florida Legislature’s redrawn congressional map meets the constitutional standards imposed by voters in 2010.

Lewis said he will decide "as quickly as I can’’ whether to accept the new map drawn by legislators last week in a three-day special session. Legislators had until Aug. 15 to revise two congressional districts he ruled invalid – one held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, and the other held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.

At the center of the controversy is Congressional District 5, which has been held by Brown for 22 years since the Legislature linked together African American communities from North and Central Florida so they could elect the first black to Congress since Reconstruction.

Lewis ruled the "bizarrely-shaped" district, however, was an unconstitutional gerrymander under the new Fair Districts because it served to benefit Republicans.Full Story

Who's that big shot Dem campaigning for GOP Fla House candidate?

Steve Schale and Chris Latvala


Steve Schale and Chris Latvala

Whoda thunk you'd see Democratic consultant Steve Schale pounding the pavement in Pinellas County on behalf of Republican state House candidate Chris Latvala? Schale, after all,  is one of the brightest lights in Florida Democratic political circles, having helped Obama win Florida twice and now helping Charlie Crist, try to unseat Gov. Rick Scott. And House District 67 at least on paper should be one of the more competitive districts in Florida, one in which some credible Democrats are running.

"Lord. Chris is a friend. That's all it is," Schale responded when asked if he was wearing his senior Crist advisor hat, his lobbyist hat, or his idealist, bi-partisan advocate hat while knocking on doors for Latvala. (Chris' whose father, Republican Sen. Jack Latvala could become Senate President, and also prove helpful to Schale and his clients).

" I'm walking for Karen Castor this weekend. Both were friends before I put on any Crist or lobbying jerseys.  And yes, there is an element of trying to do my very small part to reduce the partisan temperature," Schale said. "I remain an idealist, even after nearly 20 years in the business." …

Full Story

Bob Gualtieri, Drug Free America worry about broad medical marijuana language

It’s not that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is against access to the potential medical benefits of marijuana; He’s worried about the side effects.

During a visit to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Wednesday, Gualtieri expressed dismay about Amendment 2, the medical marijuana initiative on this November’s ballot. Gualtieri, constitutional attorney Susan Kelsey and Dr. Rafael Miguel of the Sarasota Memorial Institute for Advanced Medicine’s Pain Medicine Program, were representing Drug Free America’s campaign against the amendment.


The sheriff said the broad language of the proposal leaves plenty of room for potential pitfalls, not the least of which is making access to marijuana easier for addicts. He added he wasn’t sure that the state Department of Health would be able to institute sufficient controls to manage cultivation and distribution of the drug within the time frame specified under the amendment.


Full Story