Since 2002, daily Florida political news and commentary



Articles by Derek Newton

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The Nelson Thing
Deep, Dark Secret
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Bringing Guns to a Knife Fight
Playing to our Strength
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Not in the Concrete
The Tamiami Trail

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Crist Praises Schiavo Judges
GOoPers Getting Nasty
Reflected Glory
And So It Begins

Ten More Things

Just as I predicted, the St. Petersburg Times has begun to vastly overstate the partisan significance of Rick Baker's re-election as St. Petersburg Mayor. Baker's margin was a gift of not having to run as a Republican. If he ever has to slap that (R) anchor behind his name, his St. Pete base will evaporate.

The biggest news of course in the past few weeks is that two independent polls in a row show Jim Davis tied or slightly ahead of the Republican candidates for Governor. But missed in the second poll (Rasmussen Report) was that they apparently didn't poll Rod Smith at all. There's no way to spin that you're a winner when an independent polling report doesn’t even include you as a candidate.

News that Buddy MacKay endorsed Jim Davis this week may be news but it has me baffled. I love Buddy MacKay and worked to elect him in 1998. But MacKay's policy-centric, personality-light style (and the results it delivered) may not be the image Davis wants to embrace.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has served his time in political time-out. Before he was dragged into the public square on a bogus political charge, Dyer was a true emerging force in Florida politics. I hope some statewide candidate has the courage to ask Dyer inside their inner circle and I hope Dyer has the confidence to accept.

A few years ago, some Legislators created the Mainstream Democrats (www.MainstreamDemocrats.org) in an attempt to moderate the message of Democrats and appeal to business interests - similar to DLC. But doesn't the name imply that if you're not pro-business and socially conservative, you're out of the mainstream? Is that really what we want to say about ourselves?

On a related note, Attorney General candidate Skip Campbell may discover the ugly flip side of being a new, "mainstream" Democrat. Following the DLC play-book, Campbell has tried to position himself as a moderate to appeal to more conservative voters. But to conservative north Florida voters, Campbell will always be a Broward County trial lawyer. And to liberal south Florida voters, Campbell will be another un-inspiring, conservative DLC candidate. The result: by trying to be both, Campbell may end up with neither.

As George Bush's approval numbers continue to slide, Democrats should have credible candidates in every congressional race in Florida. In 1994, Republicans moved more than 50 seats in Congress and 2006 could be a better national year. But like the lottery, we can't win if we don't play.

Speaking of the DCCC, who over there thought it was a good idea to back Greg Rublee so early in District 9 (Bilirakis)? Rublee was always a weak candidate and his website still headlines an endorsement from DCCC Chief Rahm Emanuel. But now that Democrat Phyllis Busansky is running, Emanuel is in the awkward position of hosting a fundraiser for Busansky - the opponent of his previously endorsed choice.

In more than 20 years, no Democrat has won Florida without winning Miami-Dade County where more than two-thirds of voters are African-American, Hispanic or Jewish. Makes me wonder why every statewide Democratic candidate is a white Christian.

I am thankful that Jeb Bush will be a memory in a little more than a year. And I am thankful that we may, just may, have a chance to send an adult to Tallahassee next November. I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that Rod Smith or Jim Davis on their worst days will make me prouder to be a Floridian than Jeb Bush ever did.

10 Things

Miami's city elections are [this] week - moved back after Hurricane Wilma. And they must be the most boring elections in generations. Incumbent Many Diaz will coast to victory over a pack of unknowns and neve-will-bes. With the population base and glowing press in Miami, Diaz could have named his statewide office if he hadn't jumped the Democratic ship a few years ago.

Wins in Virginia (and to a lesser extent New Jersey) will impact what happens in Florida. Bush won Virginia with a wider margin than he won Florida last year giving hope to donors and candidates alike that 2006 may bring electoral blessings to the Sunshine State.

It wasn't statewide news, but former Hillsborough Commissioner Phyllis Busansky's entrance into the race for Congress in District 9 is important. Early polling there suggests the seat is in play and Busansky has the experience and rolodex to be a real problem for the GOP. And take this to the bank: she wouldn't have gotten in it if she didn't think she could win it.

Rod Smith's new website (www.RodSmith2006.com) is a nice improvement over his older one. It's clean, modern and accessible. But Rod's camp deserves special recognition for linking his campaign site's front page directly to Florida political blogs. Tha's courageous, forward thinking and bold.

[ed. note: we appreciate the Smith site's crediting our new site FLA Politics for the use of our links.]

It was big news today that the U.S. House dumped plans to drill for oil for Florida's coast. But the press coverage seems to be dominated by Rep. Clay Shaw at least claiming credit for the GOP retreat. That's good politics for Shaw. It helps him prove he's a pro-environment moderate. But it makes me ask, since he campaigns on the issue, where's Jim Davis?

[Update: Cong. Jim Davis made it in several news accounts of the battle to nix oil drilling in Florida. A day late. But a nice recovery and a good day of earned media. Nicely done.]

Republican Rick Baker was re-elected as Mayor of St. Petersburg on Tuesday in what can only be called a landslide. Most agree Baker has been a decent Mayor but efforts to use this win to build him into a candidate with statewide chops are overstated. If municipal elections in Florida were partisan, and he had to run as Baker (R), his margin would have been single-digits.

Alex Sink is a good candidate and I have high hopes for her success. But whoever is advising her might consider it a good idea for her to actually meet some people in South Florida. Saying she's been invisible in the state's population base misses the point. To be invisible, people first have to know you exist.

News that former Senator Max Cleland will campaign for Jim Davis is a Davis win. Not that Cleland is going to change the dynamic of the election, he won't. But Cleland is a heavyweight in Democratic circles and campaigning with Jim Davis on Veteran's Day was a nice touch.

Rumors that Congressman Mark Foley may enter the race for U.S. Senate are actually good for Democrats. First, Foley is a moderate. But second, it will be worth the price of admission to see the right-wing base of the GOP squirm to support a ticket with Charlie Crist and Mark Foley. And if Foley runs, someone at the DCCC had better have Tom Rossin's number on speed-dial.

[ed. note: Bense is also considering the jump]

On balance, Karen Thurman has done a good job as Chair of the state party. But I'd like to start a conversation about her returning home to challenge Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite. With the President's popularity sinking daily, every Republican is vulnerable. Especially considering that Brown-Waite won the seat by less than 2% even while Jeb Bush was beating Bill McBride by 13 points. And I'd trade a capable Party Chair for a seat in Congress everyday.

That's what I think. Differing opinions and conversations are welcome.

Fox on Line 1

One thing is clear - FOX NEWS sucks.

It's been dissected, discussed and disputed since it hit the air nine years ago and 467 years to the day after the first public book burning.

I am sure the timing is just a coincidence.

Fox News is biased, slanted and agenda driven. If you're reading this blog, you know this already (if you're more interested, "Outfoxed" is a decent documentary on the subject and can be ordered from Netflix). As far as I am concerned, the least newsworthy thing about FOX NEWS is that it's not news.

FOX NEWS is so off-base that it's not worth debating anymore.

But what I do want to debate is: Should Democrats, liberals and other progressives engage FOX NEWS, Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura and the thirteen hundred other crappy conservative shows and stations? Or should we not bother?

There are two arguments.

The first argument is that these conservative outlets aren't going away. In spite of their obvious flaws, they reach a hefty chunk of the electorate every day. And rather than allow these political snake oil salesmen to peddle their own thories about our liberal agenda, we should speak for ourselves. Only then, this argument goes, do we have any control over what they say about us and we can, from time to time, let the light of truth shine on otherwise dim discourse.

The counter view is that by appearing on FOX NEWS and doing radio interviews with Sean Hanity, we give them credibility they wouldn't otherwise have. By appearing on the O'Reily Factor, for example we allow His Smugness to pretend to be fair and impartial when we know he isn't. Even further, some argue, when we debate conservative pundits we stoop to their level or, even worse, we let the public believe that some political issues are in debate at all.

It's taken me a while, but I have come to believe, that when it comes to the FOX NEWSES of the political marketplace, we're better off yielding to the logic of the second argument - leave them alone.

That's not to say the engagement argument is bogus. We're clearly the best messengers for our own agenda.

But I think we're better off leaving them alone because their viewers and listeners are the equilivent of street junkies; there are a ton of them but the only thing they really want is their conservative, liberal-bashing fix. FOX NEWS viewers have to be the most un-persuadable demographic on television - especially on progressive issues.

If you've watched FOX NEWS at all, you've seen capable, experienced, political professionals hacked to death by half-truths, bogus arguments and shouting. You have to wonder, even if FOX NEWS views are interested in a debate, how much of our argument actually gets delivered.

My hunch is not much.

On the other hand I think we do a great service to a station that shouts about its fairness and balance when we appear. Shakespeare would have said they doth protest too much. But even so, it is harder to argue that FOX NEWS is the public relations arm of the Republican Party when Rep. Nancy Pelosi is a guest.

Just for fun, what would happen if credible Democrats (they can have Zell Miller) refused to go on FOX NEWS shows, blocked them from their press conferences and erased them from their press release media lists?

What if the only guests Brit Hume could get were Reps. Tom Delay and Tom Feeney?

Sure, conservative junkies would still get their fixes. But it would be harder to call yourself a news station if you could only cover one side of every story.

If the Republican White House can restrict access of reporters from CNN or The New York Times when they don't like the coverage, why are we gun-shy about kicking FOX NEWS to the curb?

And here's an honest question: How much more respect would have for Bill Nelson if he had a campaign event and threw the FOX NEWS "reporter" out on her ass?

Sure, they'd play it over and over again. They'd say he's disrespecting the freedom of the press. So what. They're not press. More importantly, what are FOX NEWS viewers going to do about it? Not vote for Democratic candidates?

At the end of the day I think Democrats and other progressives have little to gain by appearing on FOX NEWS and nothing to lose by treating them like the media quacks they are.

Pretend you're the Press Secretary for Rod Smith or Jim Davis or Becky Democrat, and FOX NEWS is on line one about your press conference.

I know what I'd do.

What's your call?

Stem Cells Are Intelligent Design

On the horizon are two issues set on cataclysmic collision courses.

They are: funding of embryonic stem cell research in Florida and "intelligent design" science instruction. Watching these issues explode all over one another in the looming campaign and policy debates will be insightful. And, if you're into that sort of thing, fun.

Putting them into the same sentence has gotten me to thinking.

Let's assume that the genuine of heart but deeply misguided proponents of "intelligent design" are right. At the base of their argument is that life, and humans specifically, are too complex to have evolved by accident. Fine. God exists. He/she used vast intelligence and unlimited power to create the universe, earth, life and people.

But when the same "intelligent design" advocates line up and lock arms against stem cell research, I am puzzled.

If they are right and "intelligent design" is the way everything went down, we must assume that God was intelligent enough to create life but careless enough to leave the blueprints lying around. The "intelligent design" advocates must believe that God was omniscient enough to create humans but powerless to keep humans out of the laboratory.

That doesn't make a ton of sense to me.

I have to believe that, if God exists, he or she is smart enough to keep stem cell technology and science out of our hands.

Just maybe God wants us to understand how stem cells work and use that information to make our lives better. Why isn't it at least possible that God's "intelligent design" includes the ability to understand things for a reason?

I haven't seen the "intelligent design" advocates and other Christian conservatives calling for the abolition of penicillin. Or DVD players. In fact, I've seen Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family) on satellite television.

And what about this excerpt from the televangelist Pat Robertson's 700 Club, "A team of nine medical doctors, two pharmacists, four nurses and four laboratory scientists worked side by side with 20 other non-medical volunteers ..." [in a free clinic in Africa where] " ... 38 surgeries were performed."

Obviously, devout Christian leaders can use cutting edge medical science and technology when it suits them. I am left to believe that the "intelligent designer" of the world must have told Dobson and Robertson that surgery is fine. AIDS vaccines are cool. Child immunizations are Godly. But medical cures that involve stem cells are off limits.

And that's baffling.

I just don't believe that God is stupid enough to let us discover the nearly limitless benefits of stem cells for no reason.

Of course, we can always let the misinformed have their arguments that our "designed" ability to learn new skills and make new tools is some kind of trap. But we must then be left to conclude that maybe the universe is actually a "not quite so intelligent design."

To be honest, I have a great deal more faith in stem cell science than "intelligent design" theory. But what really frosts me is the lack of a loud voice on the other side of this debate.

Have our liberal leaders been so far bullied as to believe that supporting stem cell research is un-Christian? If anything, stem cell research is the Christian approach. Or at least it should be.

If our political leaders don't step up to defend science, we'll get what we deserve. We will continue to elect leaders like the former members of the Lake County (Florida) School Board who wanted to teach that dinosaurs became extinct because they couldn't fit on the ark.

We all know better. Am I am asking too much for a real Democrat to step up and say so?

Maddox's Day

As a member of the minority party, I'm used to being lonely.

So I realize I may be alone in saying that I've never really been a Scott Maddox fan. His charisma is real but it never won me over. Maybe I knew too much about the back-room deals and rumors that surrounded him for years.

Having said that, my opinion of Maddox grew greatly yesterday as word of his departure from the Governor's race spread. Maddox, for the first time that I can remember, put winning ahead of ego.

I know doubters will say Maddox only dropped out when there was no way he could prosper on his own. Maybe. But let's not obscure his actions with assumptions about his motives. Maddox did the right thing.

There's little doubt that leaders and pundits alike will begin to mention Maddox as a candidate for Attorney General or Lt. Governor. But I think that's a mistake.

Scott has a vital role to play. As a young, energetic leader Scott can rally a crowd and motivate progressive voters like few others in our Party. He should embrace this role and bask in the credit he will earn for being a team player.

Not only that, by staying out of the race as a candidate, Maddox has chance to act selflessly - putting to rest perceptions that his actions as Chair of the Florida Democratic Party were just the opposite. Signing on with another candidate gives Maddox a chance to prove to cynical Democrats that he cares about a team victory more than a personal one.

And I know that opinion leaders in the Democratic Party are divided between Congressman Jim Davis and State Senator Rod Smith. The truth is that both have a great deal to offer our party and both deserve credit for having the courage it takes to run for Governor.

Davis is leaving well paying, highly prestigious elected office that he could hold forever. Smith, although he is term-limited in the Senate, could go home to Alachua and make millions as a private lawyer. Instead, both are committed to helping Florida and the Democratic Party make a comeback.

It's just one person's opinion, but I think Maddox's departure and endorsement of Davis makes the road to the nomination very hard for Rod Smith. If any of Maddox's strong support in South Florida (and with the Party's progressive leaders) transfers to Davis, Smith is in for a tough fight.

When Boca Raton Congressman Robert Wexler came to Davis's campaign with Maddox yesterday, the beginning of the next phase of the race started poorly for Smith.

Some people will say that Central Florida moderate and dark horse Bill McBride bested the establishment Janet Reno in 2002. But the biggest problem for Smith's chances is that, at least in the Primary, Jim Davis is the Central Florida moderate. Worst of all, Davis could become, with Maddox's help, the Central Florida moderate with South Florida backing.

In Democratic Primary politics, that's a perfect storm.

I'm not saying that Senator Smith should drop out. It's far too early for that. But I am sure someone in Smith's camp already sees that delivering Maddox's base to Davis, who is already leading, is a real problem.

Maybe the most interesting thing to watch over the next few weeks and months in this Primary battle is whether Smith can take a lesson from Maddox - not in getting out but in being a team player.

If Smith begins to see that he'll have to destroy Davis to be the nominee, his choices will be interesting. It's possible to run an aggressive, proud campaign without scorching the earth. Doing so would allow Smith to reap Maddox-esque admiration and respect.

And if fortunes turn in Smith's favor and Davis finds himself behind, he'll have to make a similar decision and have the same opportunity.

Maddox impressed me the other day. I really hope that either Smith or Davis are as impressive when it's their turn to make a difficult decision.

[Note: Cross Posted at "FLA Politics".]

Katrina Spin

Only one force in nature delivers more dangerous winds than a hurricane - the suffocating hot air produced by the Republican spin machine.

As overpowering as it is dishonest, most people agree that it's one of the real advantages Republicans have over Democrats. And that dangerous delivery of disinformation was in full force after the criminally negligent handling of Hurricane Katrina.

I know this blog is, as the name says, about Florida politics. So I won't use it to ask people to help the victims (although you should and I imagine many already have). I don't even want to directly discuss the politics of the historically inadequate rescue and recovery debacle. Those implications are as sweeping as the tragedy itself.

But I do want to call out Republicans on their rhetoric that has, unfortunately, ensnared Democratic political leaders and pundits and turned some of us into unwilling allies in their quest to absolve Republicans from blame.

Their first successful sidestep was during the disaster's most dire hours. Instead of speaking about the lack of rescue capabilities, medical provisions and other life-saving supplies, the Republican spin machine fed the media stories of looting.

According to the Republican spin masters, Jeb Knows Hurricanes. He does hurricane preparedness the right way. So when he has an opinion about hurricane looting, he has my rapt attention.

And Jeb, you may surprised to learn, just doesn't think looting is an issue.

Just a few precious months before Katrina crossed Florida en route to Louisiana and Mississippi, Jeb, the Republican Hurricane Governor, relied on his vast experience with hurricanes to veto a bill increasing criminal penalties for ... wait for it ... wait for it ... looting.

I couldn't make this up if I tried.

Earlier this year, Governor Bush vetoed House Bill 207 raising penalties for looting after hurricanes.

Never mind that House Bill 207 passed the House by a vote of 111-0 and sailed through the Senate 40-0. (Kudos to Democrat Senator Dave Aronberg for sponsoring the Senate version, SB 282, before the Republicans decided to pass the House Bill instead so Republican Holly Benson could get credit).

Before Republican leaders like the Governor of Mississippi were droning on about "zero tolerance" for looters, Hurricane Master Jeb decided looting after hurricanes isn't really a big deal.

But that stunning display of hypocrisy didn't stop the Republican public relations "hurricane" from anointing Jeb and His Greatness Mayor Rudy Giuliani (any coincidence that it sounds like a 2008 ticket?) as the disasters-done-the-right-way twins.

Even before food and water arrived, Republican operatives and apologists began chanting that the Katrina failures existed at the "local, state and federal level" - using Jeb and Giuliani to make their case for the way it should have gone.

Republicans, they were saying, obviously know how to handle disasters and the federal government (and the President) would have done the job this time too if those Democrats in New Orleans and the Governor's mansion didn't screw it up.

But to say that the failures were "local, state and federal," isn't just spin, it's crap.

Even after the twin towers fell, Giuliani still had 85% of his police force, nearly 90% of his fire department, a city hall, operational communications, working hospitals and open transportation routes in and out of the disaster area. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, had none of these.

You'll get no argument from me that four hurricanes in one year is no picnic. But not one of them was anything close to Hurricane Katrina which displaced about 30% of Louisiana's population.

A similar event in Florida would displace the entire populations of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Or put another way, Katrina's comparable impact on Florida would have been removing every resident from Clearwater and St. Petersburg through Tampa along the I-4 corridor and all of Orlando.

Now I am sure Jeb Bush is competent but no Governor in any state can afford to lose nearly a third of their state in one day. There's just no way to prepare for that.

Had FEMA waited for days to respond to a similar disaster in Texas, I have no doubt that the Governor there would have freely admitted to failures in his state government. After all, he should be able to lead the charge under similar circumstances - that is to say if Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso and Lubbock all fell into chaos on the same day.

In California, a Katrina impact would have been equal to devastating every one of the state's top 15 cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, Oakland, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Riverside, Stockton, Bakersfield, Modesto and Fremont.

Arnold is an action hero, I know. But I think even he would have needed an assist from the feds if something like that happened in California.

I am sure it's hard for Republicans to understand this (since they see no role for government, ever) but this is why we have FEMA and a federal government.

One thing Republicans do understand is shifting the blame. That's why they've been leading vicious attacks of against the two Democrats in Katrina's path. Google Mayor Ray Nagin or Governor Kathleen Blanco. I dare you.

When we allow Republicans to blame local and state leaders, we let them off the hook. When we repeat their absurd arguments, we let people believe that the mistakes were non-partisan.

They weren't.

Republicans ran for and won office based on their supposed ability to be stronger than Democrats in times of crisis. Hurricane Katrina was a test. And they failed it - with tragic human consequences.

Now they're trying to cover their tracks with tales of looting and by spreading the blame around to those who could do little or nothing about it.

As Democrats, we don't have to help them.

No "Can't Win"

Over the past week I came across no less than three or four newspaper articles where Rod Smith supporters are saying publicly that Jim Davis can't win.

Their charge brings back memories. And they're not good ones.

Nobody remembers, but at this time eight years ago Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay was actually beating Jeb Bush in statewide polls. In fact it wasn't until February or March of the following year (1998) that Prince John (Ellis Bush) took a polling lead he'd never relinquish.

About that time, two things happened that permanently tilted the race in Jeb's favor.

First, Jeb's fallacious re-packaging as a moderate began to take root in the public psyche. Remember when Jeb ran in 1994, he told African-American voters he would do "probably nothing" to help them. He picked right-wing-whack-job Tom Feeney as his running mate and campaigned with an arrogance we've come to know as the Bush smug.

By 1997, the real Jeb was cleaned-up for public consumption. He began to like education and black people. In fact he put them both together in his Liberty City Charter School. He first picked a pro-choice moderate woman as his running mate before selecting the telegenic and energetic Commissioner of Education as his number two.

People bought it.

But I thought at the time that the far more damaging occurrence for Buddy MacKay was the public chatter among Democrats that MacKay couldn't win.

A group of well known Democratic donors began a public search for a candidate "who could beat Jeb." Naturally, they searched no farther than their own ranks for a replacement and found none.

But the sting was delivered on the front page of every state newspaper. And the echo of MacKay's inability to succeed never faded. It dogged him through the summer and into the fall campaign - his slipping poll numbers reinforcing the perception which impacted his polling numbers which ... you get the idea.

In my mind at least, a rule has developed from that MacKay experience.

Democrats: don't go there.

Disagree on choice? Let's debate it. Differ on gun policy? Tee it up. Want to make a case that one candidate is better suited to win in November? Fine by me. But don't make that case by saying your opponent can't win.

If Smith's allies continue to say in public that Davis can't win and Davis is our nominee, those predictions may become self-fulfilling. We have a hard enough time winning in Florida without hanging a "can't win" anchor around our own necks.

In 1997-98, there was also a conservative central Florida Senator in the race for Governor. Senator Rick Dantzler did everything in his power to wrestle the nomination from MacKay. He made a case that he was a better General Election candidate. But, to his credit, I don't ever recall him saying MacKay couldn't win. That was classy. And it allowed him to accept a spot on the ticket as MacKay's running mate.

In 2002, Bill McBride was loud and clear about his concerns about a Janet Reno candidacy. He said she couldn't win. It was a dangerous gamble that paid off for him in a primary election miracle. I agreed with his assessment of Reno's chances at the time, but he still should have known better. Had he fallen short that September, he would have done untold damage to our nominee.

Rod Smith should follow Dantzler's example.

Not only is Jim Davis no Janet Reno, it's a great opportunity for Smith to be a leader.

He should issue a campaign edict to his supporters to knock off the "can't win" talk. It would demonstrate a partisan loyalty that is one of Smith's true weaknesses in this race. And it would be classy.

To be clear, I'm not supporting anyone in the Governor's race. I briefly worked for Rod Smith in the Senate and I honestly like him. He has some things to say in this race and if he's our nominee he can count on my full support. He should extend the same courtesy to his opponent.

But if the "can't" talk continues and Davis is our nominee, Smith could be an unfortunate profit. And there's too much at stake next year to wound either of our potential nominees - especially with our own careless bullets.

Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Has Florida become the last refuge scoundrels? The dumping ground for right wing extremists who can't get work anywhere else? Has it come to that?

Apparently so, with Jeb Bush's selection of Cheri Yecke as Florida's K-12 Chancellor. The selection has become yet another national embarrassment for Florida.

What follows is out original August 30, 2005 post on this issue together with updates.

Original Post: As K-12 Chancellor; the Tallahassee Democrat blithely reports as follows:
"I was asked by Governor Bush," Yecke said Monday. "What an honor to be asked to serve under Jeb Bush. Everything Florida is doing is right. You've got strong accountability, and you're closing the achievement gap."
"K-12 chancellor named". The St. Pete Times posts a similarly bland description of the selection in "Minnesotan to be Florida's K-12 chancellor".

However, there is a bit more to this woman than the standard it's "an honor to be asked to serve under Jeb Bush" reflected in the above story. Fortunately, the Tampa Trib digs a bit deeper:

A former Minnesota commissioner of education who was forced out in 2004 was chosen Monday to be Florida's chancellor of K-12 education.

Cheri Yecke, 50, now works for a conservative Minnesota think tank and, until Monday, was a candidate for Minnesota's 6th Congressional District. ...

After being in office for more than a year, however, she lost her confirmation hearing after nine hours of testimony, The Associated Press reported.

That report described Yecke as a controversial figure, painted by critics as a "divisive ideologue who is taking education down the wrong path." ...

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported in April 2004 that detractors said Yecke pushed for social studies standards that were overtly conservative. In June 2003, The Associated Press reported that Yecke believes in creationism but didn't want the subject to be part of new science standards.

A Minnesota Public Radio report said Yecke was campaigning for the congressional seat on educational issues, restrained government spending, retooling Social Security and enacting a ban on same- sex marriages.
"Conservative Minnesota Official To Oversee Florida K-12 Education". The AP story also provides a little insight, noting that Yecke is considered by some to be a "divisive ideologue" who "was removed as her state's education commissioner". "Former Minnesota official picked to oversee K-12".

As noted above, Yecke works for a so-called "conservative Minnesota think tank", the "Center of the American Experiment". "Conservative"? That is putting it politely: these folks are first order wingnuts. The website links to the neo-fascists at Powerline at the top of their main page as follows: "Powerlineblog.com: Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker's Celebrated Blog" (the link is not off to the side in a list, put prominently displayed front, top and center). The site also (in the "About us" section) brags about their associations with folks like Ward Connerly and Charles Murray.

The views expressed by Yecke on this page are disturbing to say the least. Can't imagine what she thinks about "intelligent design"? Might be interesting to see the transcripts of the Minnesota hearings that resulted in her ouster.

Where does "Jeb!" find these losers?

Too bad the Florida Legislature won't say a thing about this embarassing choice.

Update: DKos addresses this issue on the front page today with "How the GOP Works in Florida Affects Us All" with the usual discussion thread. The post includes this link: "I'm sorry, FloridaÂ…". As you might expect, Yecke does have some, ahem, "problems" with that crazy theory of evolution: "Yecke's hypocrisy". Here's some info on her failed confirmation hearing: "Paper full of Yecke"; see also "Tales from the State Senate Education Committee meetings: Part I".

Florida Blues has more: "Thanks, Minnesota. Thanks a bunch", including this embarassing bit about treatment of Native Americans. See also "Heart of Darkness: a trip to Willmar".

Also via Florida Blues, this from the Organization of American Historians: "What Happened in Minnesota?"
In the past academic year, the K-12 public school system of Minnesota survived an attempted hijacking of the statewide social studies curriculum by an alliance of radically right-wing and evangelical Christian activists who were empowered, startlingly, by the state's own acting Commissioner of Education. This effort was defeated over the course of several months by a remarkable collaboration between an energized group of K-12 teachers and parents and members of the University of Minnesota's Department of History. We describe this struggle, which has counterparts in a number of other states, and then assess some of its ramifications both for the place of history in K-12 curricula and for the public relevance of academic history.
Read what happened here.

FlaBlog has this: "Right-wing appointment for schools".

Update 8/31/05: Though not surprising, the follow on coverage of the embarassing Yecke appointment has been less than impressive. See e.g., "She's no stranger to discord" ("Passionate or polarizing? When it comes to Florida's new K-12 chancellor, it depends whom you ask.") See also "Meet the New K-12 Boss" and "Education chancellor hired"

By the way, the "Florida job isn't subject to confirmation by the state Senate, but that wouldn't be a problem because it's also in Republican hands." "Happy to See Her Go?".

Update 9/04/05: This editorial from the St. Pete Times is disappointing: "Leave politics behind, Chancellor". To be sure, Yecke is recognized as a rabid GOoPer hack:
She is relentlessly partisan. ...

Wendy Swanson-Choi, a Republican parent who worked to elect Gov. Tim Pawlenty and served on an advisory committee for Yecke, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune there was another side. "She did herself in," Swanson-Choi said. "From the time I met her and saw her interacting with people, I thought, "You know what? We're set up for a problem here.' She didn't listen to anyone. It was just, "We're doing it my way. I'm right.'"

Gov. Jeb Bush and his Department of Education have operated in much the same fashion in Florida, demonizing critics instead of listening to their concerns. The political paranoia has diminished the professionalism at DOE and hurt Bush even with those in his own party.
But in the end, the editorial does not call for her removal, but instead says that (at least some) of her "ideas are welcome".

Scott Maxwell also soft pedals Yecke's extremism in "K-12 chief holds strong views". It's the usual, some people say she's got an
"An ideological take on education -- a very conservative one."

That's the word from Jamie Crannell, a high school chemistry teacher in Minnesota who worked with Yecke when she was the state's education commissioner in developing standards for science classes throughout the state. "The only thing she was interested in was the intelligent-design issue," Crannell said of the creationism term. "The other 95 percent of what we do in science was ignored."
While others say she's wonderful. Maxwell's conclusion:
while many of her preliminary ideas raised eyebrows, the standards ultimately adopted under her leadership during the 16 months she was education commissioner in Minnesota were relatively well-received.

Plus, she has an impressive resume that includes 10 years of teaching middle and high school, three years on the Virginia State Board of Education and degrees at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate level.
There you have it.


Comments Close this window Collapse comments
Anonymous said...
What an embarassment to the State of Florida. Hopefully someone - anyone - in the Legislature will stand up to this.

6:49 AM

Redstate Blues said...
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a hardworking press that would research this woman's writing (she seems to have quite a record) and ask some hard questions?

8:11 AM

Anonymous said...
What a joke. And the media will doze through it all as she assumes her new position.

8:52 AM

Anonymous said...
Just great! We promote rejects from other states.

10:11 AM

Peter Schorsch said...
Read here [.pdf file]: www.yeckeforcongress.com/PDF/Filibuster.pdf

1:33 PM

spencer said...
Wesley Elsberry, who posts regularly at The Panda's Thumb (www.pandasthumb.org), has already begun the process of putting together Florida Citizens for Science, which will fight against the anti-science policies of Yecke and those like her at the grassroots level.

Go here


if you are interested in getting involved.

4:01 PM

Michael Hussey said...
Raise your hands. Who anyone expecting Bush to appoint a good chancellor?

10:10 PM

Michael Hussey said...
Pat Sajak is a member of the Center of the American Experiment. If they have him and Ass Rocket then they must be cool.

10:16 PM

Perhaps The Most Important Race ...

On the surface it would seem that Florida Democrats just ain't a perfect fit with farmers and cattle ranchers. And on the surface, you'd be right.

So it may seem odd that I think the campaign for Ag Commissioner may be second most important Florida election in 2006 after the US Senate.

Even more important than the campaign for Governor?


Conventional wisdom in Florida is that you have to lose a statewide race before you can win one. You have to get known, make the connections and be seen on TV. Since 1990, I can think of only three first time candidates who beat statewide veterans. (Extra credit if you can name them. Answer at the end).

Accepting that maxim as true, we suck at learning that lesson.

Our unsuccessful statewide aspirants just disappear. Bill McBride must have entered the witness protection program after winning the nomination for Governor. Buddy MacKay did no better - although he can be excused after 30 years of public service. Buddy Dyer is temporarily off the statewide stage. Paging John Cosgrove. Has anyone seen George Sheldon? All points bulletin for Peter Wallace.

Am I crazy to believe that Peter Wallace or Bill McBride would kick Joe Negron's ass for Attorney General?

So with the Republicans running two well-known statewide elected officials against our triumvirate of skilled but outgunned hopefuls, putting all our eggs in the governor's basket seems risky and foolish.

So ideally who we run today should be (at least a little bit) about who will run later.

Which brings me back to the race for Agriculture Commissioner.

Since the Ag Commission race is the only statewide contest with an incumbent (again, besides the US Senate), it's likely that whichever Democrat runs will lose.

And if we're likely to lose anyway, why haven't we been looking for a person who isn't say a perfect match to be Commissioner of Agriculture today but could be a good CFO candidate or Attorney General Candidate in four years?

Or better yet, how about someone who will commit to running for Agriculture Commissioner again in four years when the seat is open?

I can already hear a Skip Campbell thundering away on uprooting citrus trees in the back yards of Tamarac grandmothers. I see former Rep. and citrus giant Rick Minton enticing thousands of conservative Democrats back to our party. I can even envision Al Lawson opening the eyes of Florida voters to see African-American candidates as more than just urban liberals.

A few months back, I wrote an article on our undervalued and overlooked bench where I listed at least 10 Democrats who are ready for statewide attention. Any of those, or the three above, could run a good, solid campaign, finish with 45% or better and be the automatic frontrunner in 2010.

I'm not trying to be a pessimist but just consider what happens if we fall short in our quest to re-take the Governor's mansion.

And that loss trickles down to close loses for Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer.

And not one of those three nominees is interested in running again in 2010.

In one bad election night, we'd be looking at 2014 - likely with another crop of first-timers on a statewide ballot.

I just can't wait that long to start winning again.

I hope we win everything next year. But I'm unwilling to risk what happens if we don't. That's why it's extremely important to find someone who can run for Ag Commissioner now with at least one eye on 2010.

Let me ask for you help here.

When you see one of our statewide candidates or hear of someone who's considering a run, pull them aside and ask them: if they don't win, are they willing to run again in 2008, 2010, or whenever?

Use their answers as a gauge for measuring their commitment to the long haul of re-building this party. Count on me to do the same.

(EXTRA CREDIT: Bob Milligan knocked off Chris Comstock in the 1994 GOP Primary and then Gerald Lewis in the 1994 General for Comptroller, Katherine Harris upset Sandra Mortham in a GOP Primary in 1998 and Mel Martinez edged out Betty Castor last year).

Florida Senate Outlook

by Derek Newton

For years, the Florida Senate has been the only bastion of common sense in our out-of-touch and out-of-control state government.

Since a 20-20 tie in the 40 member body in 1992 forced an odd power-sharing agreement, Democratic numbers in the Senate have gone steadily downward to just 14 today. With that in mind, here's a look at some of the top races for the Florida Senate this year.

First on everyone's radar is District 16 - the seat being vacated by squishy Republican Jim Sebesta. The district leans Republican. Sebesta won the seat in a 52/48 upset of Democratic Rep. Mary Brennan in the 1998 contest to replace Senator Charlie Crist. Yes, that one.

Republicans have a compelling primary fight on their hands between two sitting members of the House: Frank Farkas of St. Petersburg and Kim Berfield of Clearwater.

Farkas is the self-described "Rodney Dangerfield" of politics. Since he won his House seat, he's been a target of Democrats each time squeaking by with small victories. The Chiropractor is a respected fundraiser having already raised about $92,000 and spent a little more than $30,000 leaving him a comfortable $62,000 in cash.

Berfield is an underestimated young and energetic Republican whose father and mother both served on the Clearwater City Commission. Berfield has raised $114,000 and spent about $15,000 leaving her a strong $99,000 to spend.

My money is on Berfield to win this primary. She's a tenacious campaigner and smart Republicans will see the wisdom in nominating a woman. But the field is wide open for a Hillsborough Republican to shake things up by running. With two strong Pinellas candidates, a Tampa entry could win the nomination just based on geography.

And such a scenario would be a blessing Rep. Charlie Justice - the Democratic candidate. Like Farkas, Justice has been a frequent and aggressive target of the opposition yet manages to win. Justice is moderate but understated and has already given pundits and legislative leaders night sweats by raising a paltry $9,000. A 10:1 disadvantage this early is downright terrifying.

Even though there's been talk about finding another candidate to carry the Democratic banner in this seat (Lars Hafner?), it's unlikely. It's more likely that, regardless of how Justice performs, the Democratic Party will come to his rescue.

Winning this seat will be tough. And it will take some top-tier strategic thinking and flawless execution - especially if Charlie Crist is the nominee for Governor. But it's possible. And possible means District 16 is the number one focus of Senate Democrats.

Republicans will make noises about picking-up Rod Smith's seat in the Senate.

But that's a joke.

Any seat where George Sheldon beat Charlie Crist for Education Commissioner is probably safe. Smith's seat is conservative but it's not Republican. Democrats outnumber Republicans in that seat by 30% and as long as we don't nominate an idiot, we should keep it.

District 24 probability isn't on the target list for Democrats. But it should be.

This space-coast seat is currently held by Sen. Bill Posey. That you've never heard his name is all you need to know. He's a lightweight. Posey won the seat in 2000 in a very close race (Posey got 51.8% as a sitting House member).

Posey hasn't been on the ballot since then (he faced a write-in only in 2002). The district leans Republican but only by about 3% and it covers Brevard County and the eastern outreaches of Orlando which Bill Nelson represented in Congress. Nelson continues to enjoy strong political support there and with Nelson running statewide it may be the only place in Florida where coattails work for us.

Most importantly, former Senator Patsy Kurth is sitting there. Kurth was a well-respected moderate who was termed out of the Senate in 2000 and lost a tough race for Congress that year against Dave Weldon (59/39). Kurth could enter the race with name ID and a fundraising base to re-claim her old seat.

And it's political malpractice not to field a credible challenger in Senate District 12 represented by Victor Crist. Kathy Castor almost won in 2000 – falling 52/48 and the district actually has more Democrats than Republicans. I don't think there's a chance to beat Crist. He's actually a Democrat who happens to be a member of the Republican Party. Moreover, it's a good time to be running in Tampa with the last name Crist.

But the Castor example is why Democrats should get serious about this seat. Castor lost but used that race as a springboard onto the County Commission and now is the frontrunner to replace Jim Davis in Congress. The Senate seat will be open in 2010 and it would be a treat to have someone with name ID and experience in the wings.

Even though Democrats can't win the seat and shouldn't spend resources there, the Republican primary in District 8 will be a national event. Former Senate President Jim King faces proselytizing pabulum pusher Randall Terry.

Terry is the poster-child for right wing nut job with the resume to match: big wig in the terrorist group Operation Rescue and spokesperson for the Schindler family in the Terri Schiavo scandal.

King is a moderate. Republican, but a voice of reason in the Senate. If Terry knocks off King, the implications are not bad. They are catastrophic. Every Republican will lurch right and Terry's victory will be used a symbol of approval for the abuse of power stunt the Republicans pulled in the Schiavo case.

If ever there was a time to support a Republican, this may just be it.

It's a long shot to think Democrats will come into the 2007 session with anything more than 15 members. But even that would be a cause for celebration - especially if King wins and the other Republican moderates feel empowered to be rational, thoughtful Senators.

Crist Praises Schiavo Judges

Yesterday, based on this post at Florida News, we noted that Charlie Crist was scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of the Florida Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates back in mid-July. At this meeting, Jurists of the Year awards were presented to Sixth Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer and U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore of Tampa, the two judges most involved in the Terri Schiavo case. Crist was scheduled to be the keynote speaker (scroll down to .pdf link), but we had not confirmed that he actually attended or spoke at the event.

Well, it turns out that Charlie was there, and boy did he have something to say:
Rising to the podium, Crist, who can use the support of fellow Florida lawyers in his gubernatorial bid, did not mention the Schiavo case by name or declare precisely how he felt about the outcome.

But he did join the chorus of those who stressed the need to preserve judicial independence. ...

And in a nod to Greer and Whittemore, Crist said he was "proud" of the two judges.

"You are heroes to all of us, and your defense of the judiciary and what is right is beyond admirable," he said.

"Believe it or not," he said, "I'm not a partisan guy."
"Miami Business Journal, July 25, 2005 ,'Inside Track'" (subscribers only).

More power to Crist. If he can survive the forces of darkness that control the Florida Republican primary, he will be a tough man to beat.

GOoPers Getting Nasty

The GOoPers are already at it with Nelson. Although the story itself is noteworthy, what is really telling is how the media treats this egregious behavior as "politics as usual" and rationalize that "both sides do it". But is that really true?

Here's what they're up to:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson predicted Republican attempts to oust him would get ugly as he seeks reelection next year.

But even Nelson was caught off guard when told a Republican group was questioning whether he would be easy on sexual predators simply because he appeared with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in historically black Eatonville, Fla.

After the appearance, the National Republican Senatorial Committee posted items on its website asking ''Nelson Campaigns With Obama -- Does He Agree With Obama's Record Of Lenience On Sexual Predators?'' and ''Does Nelson Agree With Obama's Refusal To Support Commonsense Measures To Keep Children Safe?'' The site then listed votes Obama made as a state senator on issues like sex offenders, pornography and adult businesses near schools.

The fact that Republicans in Washington and Florida are already rushing out attacks against Nelson 16 months before the election is a sign that they see him as beatable.
"Nelson's Senate reelection campaign could become nasty".

The Nelson Thing

by Derek Newton

In discussions with Democrats here and there, I've picked up what I can only describe as a festering discontent with Senator Bill Nelson.

Some members of our Party tell me that Nelson has become a Republican. He doesn't vote the "right way" on certain issues. Their logic seems to be, and some have even said, that Democrats should teach him a lesson and not support him in 2006.

And I have to say I don't get this.

No, more than that, this has to be among the dumbest things I've ever heard.

Make no mistake; Bill Nelson is no poster child for liberal causes. If I were in the Senate I am sure I would have cast a few votes differently than our senior Senator.

But any elected legislator will tell you there's only one vote that really counts - the vote for who will lead the Chamber. Nelson voted for Tom Daschle and Harry Reid to lead the U.S. Senate.

Without a Democrat in that seat, that leadership vote will be cast for Bill Frist. Or worse.

On that score it seems to me that those Democrats who are inclined to withhold support for Nelson would rather see Majority Leader Santorum than Majority Leader Obama.

Even more importantly, unless I missed an election, Nelson is our only statewide elected Democrat. Not to rip off Looney Toons but he's all there is folks. And if he stumbles at the ballot box next fall Florida will officially become no different than Texas - a large state without a Democrat anywhere in sight.

But there are good Democrats running in 2006 you say.

Yes, there are. But most of the time it takes at least one statewide loss before you win in Florida and, as of today, we have exactly zero candidates for 2006 who have been on a statewide General Election ballot.

Let me put it another way. What do you think the odds are of say Jim Davis beating say Charlie Crist on the same ballot where Bill Nelson is losing?

Start at zero and count backwards.

Really our best and perhaps only shot of winning a statewide seat is with a very strong Nelson showing. With Nelson winning with 55% of the vote it begins to be conceivable that a Democratic Attorney General candidate, for example, could squeeze out a 52-48 win.

To me, punishing Nelson seems, as they say in Dixie County, "bassackwards." We need Bill Nelson a hell of a lot more than he needs us.

Recent polling in Jacksonville and outlying Tampa (both solid Republican areas) show Nelson coasting. It's possible that Nelson can win without help from "rank and file" Democrats by moving even father right. But I am nearly certain that our other candidates can't win without his help.

And here's a new idea. Maybe if the Democratic Party wakes up and rallies around Nelson he may win comfortably - with enough votes to actually steal a seat in Congress or pick-off a few seats in the Florida House.

As an experienced operative friend of mine said a few weeks ago, "Nelson may be only 60% Democrat but that's 60% more than Mel Martinez." And in political math, Nelson is quite possibly 120% more Democratic than Katherine Harris.

Love him or hate him, Nelson is the top of our ticket and I don't see any Democrats lining up to challenge him. I only hear a few lost souls whispering about him.

It's well past time for that to stop.

The next election will be a war. And the first rule of combat is to know friend from foe.

Deep, Dark Secret

by Derek Newton

All the talk over the last few weeks about Scott Maddox's fumble of the Party's tax bills has forced me to admit a deep, dark secret I've kept bottled up for years.

Tom Slade is my hero.

Since the Maddox fiasco broke, many people have asked me if I think Scott should abandon his campaign for governor. For what it's worth, I think he should.

But my opinion on Maddox's future is irrelevant. And that's the greater point.

Much more than wishing I had the personal power to decide who stayed and went in campaigns, I wish we had our own Tom Slade.

In case you don't know Tom Slade, he's the former Republican State Senator from Jacksonville who served as Chairman of the Florida Republican Party in the mid and late 1990s.

Slade, many will remember, ran the Florida Republican Party like a dictatorship. His word was the only word. And when it came to many issues, his was the only vote that was counted.

He not only directed the campaign battlefield of Republican candidates, he orchestrated legislative policy and raised money. Not coincidentally, Republicans won historic and implausible electoral gains during his reign.

Authoritarianism goes against some core belief we Democrats have. It's very hard for us to trust it.

But am I alone in thinking that Florida Democrats could use a Party leader who has the clout to settle issues such as the current Maddox dilemma - one way or the other?

Think of the time, money and energy we'd save by solving issues like our Maddox problem right away and without second-guessing. Quick resolution of these problems could also turn week-long press events into single day stories.

Not having such a person to make tough calls and enforce them has plagued the Party for years. In fact, as long as I've been involved in state politics, Democrats haven't had a leader like this. Terri Brady, Mitch Caesar, Charlie Whitehead, Bob Poe and Maddox all had strengths and weaknesses. But not one of them was respected and feared enough to give orders to elected leaders and candidates.

Well, they could give orders but none of them could expect much in the way of execution.

Aside from our genetic resistance to being told what to do, one of the reasons that few of our previous Democratic leaders had the clout to resolve these issues is that few of them were elected officials themselves. Maddox was. But he never got away from the perception that he was using the Chairmanship as a kind of rest area between statewide campaigns - making his motives suspect even if they weren't.

But Karen Thurman was an elected official. She served in the State Senate and Congress and knows personally how the right-wing attack machine works. She's raised millions. Thurman has been there and done that. So she when she speaks, candidates and policy makers should listen.

Republicans listened to Tom Slade when they needed help. Now we have Karen Thurman.

She handled the tax lien problem quickly and gracefully and has already taken the bite out of several of our Party's barking dogs. But she needs to speak up more - not by challenging Republicans (that will come later) but by challenging Democrats. Our Party is out of shape and we need a task-master.

We need a little more vision and a lot more discipline.

It's going to take a hard-fought miracle to take back Florida and miracles take leaders and followers.

The real test for our future won't be whether Karen Thurman is capable of leading. The real test will be if the varied interests, backgrounds and leaders in the Party are capable of following her - or anyone.

Reflected Glory

The first post today relays that "49 percent of the 1,248 Florida voters surveyed by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute approved of Bush's overall job performance as governor, compared with 40 percent who did not." Even though "Florida voters are convinced Gov. Jeb Bush is intervening in the Terri Schiavo case for political reasons and disapprove by a nearly 2-to-1 margin ... the Republican governor's popularity is largely untouched."
What's wrong here?

Perhaps it is time for the media to shoulder some of the blame.

This editorial is typical:
It is important to see the return of the third branch of government, the lawmakers. They're beginning to provide the kind of loyal opposition that might have made Jeb Bush's audacious ideas more viable had it been in place all along to temper them.
That is all well and good, and it certainly is important to see signs of "the return of the third branch of government"; the separation of powers and all that.

And its nice to see the media recall that the State Technology Office failed in large part because "Jeb!"
hired an inexperienced political aide with a big audacious personality to launch it, except the fellow ended up embarrassing the governor with legal problems of his own.
"Tech office expires". To be sure, reminding readers that Bush hired an incompetent political hack to run a huge State agency - the kind of thing Floridians have gotten used to it over the years - is important.

But the mild, indeed pablumesque, tone of the piece - nominally about a critical issue: the executive having rendered the legislative branch impotent - bespeaks a larger problem.

The media has been largely asleep at the wheel as "Jeb!" steadily assumed, excercised and abused executive authority. In the meantime, "Jeb!" has run roughshod over, and ultimately cowed, the few GOoPers in the Legislature who were not totally in bed with Buchco.

And what do we have to show for it: a Governor who has managed to portray himself as some sort of moderate slash occasionally conservative fellow, when (as recent events, coupled with a considered review of his agenda over the years, show) "Jeb!" is in reality is a hard right conservative, with, dare I say it, a substantial streak of religious fanaticism.

How has it come to this? Is Florida really this "way"? I for one don't think so; most Floridians are simply not hard right conservatives.

The ultimate responsibility of course rests with us, Florida voters, for being uninformed. Sadly, most Floridians apparently get their information from the mainstream media, specifically the electronic media.

The media - primarily the electronic media - permitted "Jeb!" to bask in the reflected glory of, first his father (who enjoyed the misleading reputation as a moderate), and then his brother (who enjoyed the misleading reputation as a harmless dolt). In the meantime, "Jeb!"'s extreme legislative agenda and executive peccadillos have been given little scrutiny (and then, mostly in the increasingly less relevant print media).

There is another dimension to this, and we've seen it before. Many reporters seem awed by the "stature" of a son and brother of a U.S. President (particularly since he's supposedly the "smartest" of the bunch). These reporters want "Jeb!" to succeed; they want him to stride upon the national stage. After all, they, too, as the reporters covering the phenomenon, will then bask in the reflected glory of another Bushie who made the big time.

And So It Begins

"Frustrated with the White House and a key Republican, supporters of Rep. Katherine Harris' (R-Fla.) 2006 Senate campaign lashed out at the administration yesterday for seeking to convince another prominent GOP official to enter the race." And so the Florida GOP internal dissension begins.
"It's unimaginable that the White House folks and the National Republican Senatorial Committee would be so disloyal to Katherine Harris, especially after all she has done for the Bush family and the Republican Party," a Florida political operative who supports Harris said. "It's unconscionable and a stab in the back."

Harris backers are irritated that State House Speaker Allan Bense met with White House chief of staff Karl Rove and NRSC Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) this week to discuss challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) next year.

The operative added, "If it is true, they should be ashamed and embarrassed, considering she stepped aside at their request for the president and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) in 2004. It's her turn."
"Harris camp feels 'a stab in the back'" (via dKos).

Note how the "political operative" is unnamed. "Jeb!" and Dubya have the Florida GOoPer political establishment cowed.

Smart Boy

by Derek Newton

In late 1999, I attended a dinner meeting with a few state Senators and the head of a prominent statewide business group who was also a lobbyist and not shy about being a Republican.

At the time we were all learning how political life would change under a Republican Governor. Over dinner, this GOP stalwart made a comment about Jeb Bush that has stuck with me to this day.

He said, "You can't tell a smart boy much."

Jeb Bush is a smart boy. He knows it.

The problem with being a "smart boy," as this Republican operative crystallized, is that they don't listen. They have no need for input. Smart boys have all the answers already. Just ask them.

But only those who think they're smart are smug enough to believe they have nothing to learn. Rejecting facts and informed opinion doesn't make you smart. It makes you a fool.

That's our Governor: equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

But our governor has another character flaw. One he likely owes more to genetics and his pampered upbringing.

Governor Bush, like his older brother, can't admit he's wrong. He doesn't make mistakes or misjudgments. Having all the answers means you can't be wrong. He's clearly above such earthly limitations. Being infallible must one of the benefits of being a smart boy.

Our Governor's special stew of ignorance, arrogance and infallibility have never been more obvious than during the national embarrassment surrounding Terri Schiavo.

Numerous Florida courts, pondering evidence and opinion from both sides, found Terri's loving and supportive husband Michael to be a fit spokesperson for his incapacitated wife.

But Jeb "the omniscient" and other Republicans just knew that couldn't be right. So hearing information from only one side, they sought to discredit and slander Michael Schiavo.

When independent and respected doctors said Terri's condition was severe and beyond repair, Jeb "the soothsayer" and other Republicans just knew that couldn't be right. So disregarding science, they rolled out their own docs to disagree - including one truly bizarre video-tape diagnosis from the floor of the U.S. Senate by Senator Bill Frist.

When Florida courts followed the law and ruled to get government out of family decisions and allow Michael Schiavo to implement his wife's wishes, Jeb "the almighty" and the other Republicans just knew that wasn't right. So they sent the power of big government through armed agents to forcibly take custody of Terri.

This week when another independent, scientific voice confirmed what Michael Schiavo, dozens of doctors and a thorough and judicious consideration of evidence already revealed, Jeb "the clairvoyant" and other Republicans knew this couldn't be right.

So setting sail again on a journey that is certain to crash on the reef of truth, Jeb "the perfect" is seeking another useless investigation into Michael Schiavo. This time he wants to know if Michael Schiavo asked for help in a timely fashion the night of Terri's tragedy.

No doubt that Jeb's latest actions caused many in Florida and around the country to scratch their heads. Some will believe that Jeb "the political" is playing to national Republican conservatives to set himself up to run for President in 2008 - or later.

But the real reason that Jeb "the self-important" can't let this one go is even simpler than that. He can't let this one go because he's Jeb Bush. He already has all the answers. He can’t listen to other opinions. And he can't be wrong.

Doctors, paramedics and police have already testified that Michael Schiavo acted quickly and responsibly that night.

It's someone else's conduct that needs to be investigated - someone who has clearly acted irresponsibly. You get three chances to guess who. But here's a clue: He's a smart boy. And you can't tell him much.

Bringing Guns to a Knife Fight

by Derek Newton

In late 1997, Tampa area Rep. Elvin Martinez was appointed to a judgeship by then Governor Lawton Chiles. Martinez was a Democrat who had established himself as a leader on criminal justice and was a fine choice.

The appointment created a vacancy in the House to be filled by Special Election. Martinez's district was, and still is, mostly Democratic. Today it's represented by a fine Democrat - "Coach" Bob Henriquez.

But that October, voters chose Republican Deborah Tamargo over bright, young, talented Democratic lawyer Kathy Martinez. The race really wasn't that close.

Lobbyists and strategists dismissed the Republican upset win as further proof of a rising Republican tide in Florida. A tide that a year earlier delivered the state House and a year later would wash Jeb into the Governor's mansion.

But at the time, I watched and learned a valuable lesson about the way in which Republicans win elections.

Before the polls opened, Republicans sent a piece of direct mail to voters that in bold, red letters had the following cover: "Kathy Martinez. Lawyer. Liberal. Liar."

The lawyer part was true enough. And the liberal part was, in fairness, an opinion. Fine. But the liar part struck me then and I remember it now as excessive. But it was not unusual.

Republicans know they are wrong on most issues but they don't care about being wrong because they don't campaign on issues anymore. They campaign and win by destroying us.

Specifically, Republicans attack the character of our candidates and politicians. Their first objective in every campaign is to destroy our credibility. They say our candidates are liars, will say anything to get elected or can't be trusted.


Because if voters believe a Kathy Martinez or a John Kerry or a Buddy MacKay is a liar, they won’t believe them when they tell the truth about issues or anything else.

It's an impressively simple formula.

Republicans attack Democrats with a suddenness, clarity and totality that we seem never to anticipate and always unwilling to emulate.

And I have a theory about why.

Democrats are nice people. By and large Democratic candidates, donors and strategists set their feet on the political battlefields to help people. We care about right and wrong.

Republicans may be nice people too. But their candidates, donors and strategists fight not to help but to win. They care about power.

Since Republicans see campaigns as exercises in power, they never hesitate to attack first, attack hardest and kill early. Since Democrats believe campaigns are about people, we continue to tell voters that we agree with them on issues.

Clearly one strategy is working. And it's not ours.

While Republicans continue to run their campaigns like killing fields, Democrats have a choice to make.

We can continue to be the issue lambs being slaughtered by the Republican war machine or we can act like the Republicans did when they were in the minority: We can get mean. We can shed our inhibitions about attacking first. We can learn how to attack their credibility.

In Miami we call it cojones and we need to find ours.

Campaigns aren’t exercises in civil debate anymore. They've become knife fights. And we can't allow our candidates to be surprised when Republicans bring guns to a knife fight.

Like most Democrats I got involved in politics to help people.

But we can't help anyone when we lose. So if winning means we have to attack harder, faster and more often, sign me up.

Playing to our Strength

by Derek Newton

In order to win statewide in Florida a Democrat has to win the smaller, mostly rural counties in the central and northern part of the state. Okay, maybe not win but at least not lose too badly. You know, minimize the damage.

The problem is that it’s just not true.

Like it or not, Floridians don’t live in the smaller, rural, more conservative nooks and crannies. They are overwhelmingly in the cities and large suburban counties.

In fact, just Florida’s largest three counties deliver more than a quarter of all Florida’s votes. The top five counties together are almost 40% of the state total. And more than 80% of all of Florida’s votes were cast in the top 20 counties.

Put another way, Floridians in the smallest 47 counties (the more conservative and rural ones) cast just one of every five ballots.

I know some people are already saying, “But Democrats can’t ignore those 47 counties. We’ll get killed.”

Yes we can. And no we won’t.

Even if Republicans win those 47 counties by a lopsided 70% to 30% margin, Democrats only need to win 55% of the vote in the remaining 20 counties to carry Florida. If we lose those 47 by an astonishing 80% to 20% margin, Democrats only need to win the remaining 20 Counties with 58% to win the state.

Keep that ratio in mind. Democrats have to pick-up a full 4% of the vote in Florida’s smaller 47 counties to get the same number of votes we get from a 1% increase in the top 20.

The last four statewide Democratic candidates finished in the following order: Gore (48.8%), Kerry (47.1%), MacKay (44.7%) and McBride (43.2%). McBride was the lowest scorer and Kerry was second. But comparisons between McBride and Kerry are not far off. Both were unknown to Florida voters before they ran and both sought to dethrone incumbent Bushs.

So where did McBride fail to cash-in when compared to Kerry?

You guessed it: Florida’s largest counties. McBride’s top vote loss counties were Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. And those losses weren’t nearly offset by McBride gains in smaller counties. All tolled, McBride didn’t get 270,000 votes in Florida’s largest three counties that Kerry did. To offset the losses in just those three counties, McBride would have had to win 27% more of the vote in the smallest 47 Counties. That’s probably impossible.

And where did Kerry stumble compared to Gore?

Different question. Same answer. As I wrote previously, in just six of the state’s 20 largest counties Kerry suffered a full two-thirds of his statewide loss total.

The case can be made that neither Kerry nor McBride lost their campaigns in Florida by failing to win the smaller, rural more counties. Even if the war hero and native lawyer had done better there, they’d have lost because they didn’t do enough in Florida’s large counties.

So if you’re a Democratic strategist or advising the Democratic candidates seeking statewide office, what would you suggest?

It makes sense to me that Florida Democrats should campaign where the votes are. Small things in large communities can make a big difference.

And since the top 20 Counties have more cultural diversity and more problems with their schools and health care systems, Democratic messages and candidates will work better there anyway. Perhaps it’s time for statewide Democrats to play to our strengths and make Republicans answer for their failures in our cities and suburbs.

Doing that may just give African-Americans and Hispanics and suburban soccer moms and retirees reasons to vote for Democrats. If we do that, I am sure we can win in Florida again.

Citizen Soldiers

by Derek Newton

Occasionally there’s a parallel between national political events and what happens in Florida.

Last year John Kerry upset the political apple cart by pulling off an unexpected win in the Iowa Caucuses.

Here’s the kicker: Kerry should never have won.

According to almost every poll released before the Caucuses, the top three issues to Iowa Caucus goers were: 1) The war in Iraq 2) The Patriot Act 3) The No Child Left Behind Act. Senator Kerry supported all three.

Almost every other Democratic suitor, especially Howard Dean, had better positions on these key issues. Dean and Dick Gephardt both had more money than Kerry.

So how’d he do it?

Kerry won in Iowa because he did two important things. Kerry invested in young people. And he put them to work early.

Well below the political radar, Kerry established a political committee with the over the top name “Citizen Soldier Fund.” He used his Citizen Soldier money to scour college campuses for promising political talent, provided them with in-depth campaign training and sent his young shock troops to the primary states his presidential campaign would need to win - states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Kerry assigned his young, new staffers to work, for free, on key campaigns in 2002 in these key states so they could get real experience, make political connections and (because he was providing free staff to candidates) collect political favors.

The first Citizen Soldiers (as the graduates of Kerry’s exclusive training were known) arrived in Iowa in June of 2002 – 20 months before the Iowa Caucus. By the time the other Presidential candidates arrived to compete a year later, Kerry’s staff already knew the players, activists, donors and political leaders who would deliver his caucus upset.

It’s fair to say Dean, Gephardt and Clark didn’t know what hit them. Even before the now famous “Dean Scream,” Dean finished a disappointing third in Iowa.

The lesson for Florida is simple to follow: even in a hostile political environment, making investments in people and giving them the training and time to build infrastructure can mature into winning elections.

In a state as large as Florida, it’s hard to imagine that finding, training and placing staff in key areas will really impact statewide campaigns. There are just too many voters and too many issues.

But Kerry’s Citizen Soldier model would change the results in State House, Senate and Congressional races where Democrats face a decade-long losing streak. With a new Chairwoman at the Florida Democratic Party, I have high hopes that she will begin to make investments in young people and get them working early.

For the cost of two days of statewide television ads the Florida Democratic Party can place young, aggressive staffers in six battleground areas such as Hillsborough, Pinellas, Volusia, Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota Counties.

But Kerry’s strategy will not pay dividends immediately. It’s possible that building political infrastructure could take longer in Florida than it did in Iowa (which has stronger unions and elected statewide Democrats). But even if investing in field staff doesn’t pay off in 2006, we shouldn’t throw in the towel.

After all, just to do as well as Kerry did (getting staff on the ground in key battleground areas 20 months before Election Day) we’d have to have done it this March.

Not in the Concrete

by Derek Newton

Watching Governor Jeb Bush struggle to avoid enforcing the class size amendment reminds me of an old joke.

The joke goes that an older man is always bragging to his neighbors about how much he loves children. One day, some neighborhood children wander onto his freshly paved driveway. Irate, the man storms into the street yelling at the children and scolding their parents. When confronted with his previous statements about his love of children, he replies, "Sure, I love children in the abstract - just not in the concrete."

In 1998 candidate Bush was giddy about education. He promised to be the "education governor" chatted up his son (George P. Bush) working as a public school teacher, started a non-profit foundation and bragged about his role in founding a charter school in Miami.

Back then Bush believed in the benefits of lower class sizes. In a letter to political supporters about his charter school he wrote, "the total student body and class sizes will be small to maintain a human, loving environment."

Even before that, the soon-to-be Governor's son (George P.) began an educational career at a series of schools where small classes were a key selling point. He graduated from the private Gulliver school in Coral Gables, attended Rice University and earned a law degree from the University of Texas.

Gulliver's website boasts it has, "class sizes small enough to enable instructors to meet students" individual needs. And Rice University tells students and parents that it has, "an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 5-to-1." And, not to be outdone, the law school at the University of Texas brags about a, "friendly environment with small classes."

Clearly, schools with small class sizes were good investments for the Bush family and a good investment for the Governor's political supporters.

So it was an odd sight four years later to see our "education governor" publicly oppose the citizen petition to force funding of class size reduction in everyone else's classrooms.

It was not a surprise when voters overruled the governor and passed the class size initiative in spite of his dire warnings that it would "block out the sun," raise taxes, force bussing and end civilization as we know it.

Now that the tab for reducing class sizes is coming due, it's amazing how many things have changed since our "education governor" was an education candidate: his son went from teacher to lawyer, his foundation is out of business and he is now scolding voters for passing the class size amendment in the first place.

(Feel free to insert your joke here about how voters in 2002 were smart enough to re-elect the governor but stupid to require leaders to get serious about class sizes.)

In his attempt to wiggle off the voters' hook of class size reductions, the governor has returned to the same doomsday rhetoric about budget limitations, bussing and teacher salaries that voters didn't buy the first time.

Just last month Republican Representative Frank Farkas of St. Petersburg (a senior member of the Pre-K - 12 Education Committee) told the St. Petersburg Times that he chose a private school for his child in part because of its small class sizes.

Most voters aren't buying Bush's latest push to reverse the class size vote because, they, like Rep. Farkas, understand that smaller classes can greatly increase the quality of education.

It's obvious from his history that our "education governor" knows this too.

It would be really sad if our governor’s position on class size is that they are great if you can afford them for your children. But if you want smaller classes in your school, you're wrong.

And it just isn't funny that our "education governor" is like the man in the joke; he loves children on the campaign trail just not in his budget.

The Tamiami Trail

by Derek Newton

For years, state and national pundits have blathered on about the so-called I-4 corridor between Tampa, Orlando and Daytona Beach being the key to unlocking Florida elections. The candidate who wins I-4, the old wisdom was, wins Florida. But the 2004 elections paint a different picture: namely that winning the Tamiami Trail may be more politically important than I-4.

Unlike I-4, the Tamiami Trail runs, as the name suggests, from Tampa to Miami. And Tampa Bay is, as John Kerry learned, Florida's unquestioned electoral king-maker.

Of George Bush's top six "most improved" counties from 2000 to 2004, four of them encircle Tampa Bay. Together Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk gave the Bush campaign a comfortable winning margin of 81,000 in 2000. But the 2004 Bush outfit nearly doubled that margin in whipping up on Kerry by 161,000 votes in those same four counties. Those four Tampa counties alone accounted for nearly 20% of Bush's entire winning margin statewide and instantly dashed Kerry's hopes of stealing Florida.

Farther south along the Tamiami Trail are four overlooked but important counties along the lower western coast. Bush carried Sarasota, Manatee, Collier and Lee Counties by a combined 81,000 votes in 2000. In 2004, he pushed that advantage to 127,000 - a 54% increase. The difference, 46,000 votes, accounted for another 12% of Bush's total Florida victory margin.

For those scoring at home, those eight large counties along Florida's west coast accounted for about one third of Bush's Florida winning margin.

But while the top of the Tamiami Trail was a walk in the park for Republicans, the last leg is more a bright spot for Democrats. It is Miami-Dade County, Florida's largest. With little fanfare, Miami-Dade County gave a 49,000 vote edge to John Kerry when it mustered a 39,000 vote margin for Al Gore four years earlier. Even though it's only an increase of 10,000 votes, Miami-Dade is one of just three large counties in Florida to actually increase its vote margin for Democrats.

This could be the best news of all for Democrats. With their continued dominance in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, an emerging stronghold in Miami-Dade could give Democrats a real trifecta in the southeast where Kerry collected nearly 1.2 million votes.

But to have any real chance of winning statewide, Democrats can't allow themselves to be bludgeoned in Tampa. They will have to offer candidates such as Betty Castor, whose Tampa political base made her a formidable statewide candidate, or impressive Tampa Congressman Jim Davis, who is already a candidate for Governor in 2006. Or Democrats may have to cultivate newcomers like State Representative Charlie Justice from St. Petersburg if they hope to make inroads around Tampa Bay.

Even more than competing in Tampa, Democrats can no longer afford to ignore Florida's lower western coast. The region is growing in population and Republican strength. Democrats must recognize the importance of campaigning there and will have to make real investments to be competitive.

Last, Florida Democrats must take advantage of the political climate in Miami and make changes that will exploit and accelerate the growth of their new emerging majority. That means grooming Hispanic candidates and developing messages that work in Spanish.

Republicans have a naturally easier time along this new political road. They can either move to maximize their advantages in Tampa by fielding candidates like Attorney General Charlie Crist from St. Petersburg who is a rumored 2006 candidate for Governor or override growing Democratic strengths in Miami-Dade like Cuban-American Mel Martinez did to win his seat in the Senate. But if Republicans allow Miami-Dade to become another Broward or Palm Beach County, their days of winning in Florida are over.

Candidates looking for election roadmaps in Florida in 2006 and beyond would do well to take a spin down the Tamiami Trail. The candidates who focus their campaigns on the voters who live there will be best positioned to win. And the political party that develops messages that work in Tampa, Naples and Miami at the same time can likewise look forward to a long and prosperous winning streak.