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15 posts from March 12, 2013

March 12, 2013

Manny Diaz looks like he's dropping out of Florida governor's race

@MarcACaputo

Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz is considering whether to leave Florida’s gubernatorial race, a decision that could make it easier for former Republican governor Charlie Crist to sew up the Democratic primary.

For days, political insiders have buzzed with speculation that Diaz won’t stay in the race – for unspecified family reasons – and Diaz isn’t doing much to quell the talk.

“No decision yet,” he said in a brief text message in response to a question about whether he’d drop out of the race.

Top advisors say they’re not sure, either.

“I don’t know if he’s staying in,” said Richard Lydecker, Miami-Dade’s former Democratic Party chairman.

“He hasn’t decided if he has decided,” Lydecker added.

Diaz has tried to keep his potential candidacy under wraps for months.

In January, he avoided reporters’ calls on the matter – even though he was plugging his new book, Miami Transformed, and the attention wouldn’t have hurt sales.

Then, sometime in late February, Diaz went from appearing to run hard for office by lining up supporters and insiders to not returning their calls.

A poll last month showed Diaz had formidable challenges: He’s largely unknown.

Diaz would earn only 4 percent of the vote in a theoretical matchup against Crist (43 percent), 2010 gubernatorial Democratic candidate Alex Sink (14 percent), former Weston state Sen. Nan Rich (1 percent) and former Orlando-area congressional candidate Val Demings (1 percent). 

Rich is the only announced candidate of those who were polled in the survey conducted by Hamilton Campaigns, a firm that typically works for Democrats. Sink has been lukewarm about running and, though she's being urged to run, Demings appears unlikely at the moment.

The poll showed that Crist was the strongest candidate to face Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who appears to be in a stronger position for reelection than many Democrats had hoped.

In a theoretical matchup, Crist tied Scott 41-41 percent.

Sink narrowly lost to Scott 37-42 percent.

And Diaz lost most-handily to Scott: 33-42 percent.

House education panel OKs easing class-size penalties

A House education panel on Tuesday approved a proposal to ease the penalties for school districts that fail to comply with state class size caps. 

"This bill does not change the Constitution. We cannot do that," said Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, who is sponsoring the bill. "What it does attempt to change is the computation of the statutory penalty."

In 2002, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting the number of students in public-school classrooms. Elementary-school classrooms are now capped at 18 students. Classrooms in middle and high schools may only have 22 and 25 students, respectively.

School districts that do not comply with those requirements are subject to financial penalties, which are calculated based on the average number of students in each classroom.

If the Moraitis bill were to become law, the state would use the schoolwide average to calculate the penalty. That would give school districts a little more flexibility -- and, in some instances, reduce the size of the penalty. In Broward, for example, the penalty would drop from $1.2 million to about $600 million, school district lobbyist Georgia Slack said.

Slack also pointed out that charter schools -- which receive public dollars, but are managed by private management companies or non-profit organizations -- are penalized based on schoolwide averages, not classroom averages.

"We are simply trying to put the traditional schools, which are public schools, on the same level playing field as charter schools, which are also public schools," she said.

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, rejected the idea that the bill was about parity. She pointed out that charter schools receive less in facilities funding than traditional public schools.

Adkins voted for the bill anyway.

"I do believe school districts need that flexibility," she said.

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee went on to unanimously approve the bill.

Broward GOP may ban recordings at forums

Trackers beware! Broward Republican Executive Committee interim chair Christine Butler, has proposed that no one be allowed to record forums this week featuring candidates running for the chair position -- unless they agree to provide a fully copy within 24 hours to all the candidates.

We asked Butler about her proposal after we read her list of rules on browardbeat.com. We asked: shouldn't you assume that anytime you are in  public you could be recorded?

"I suppose that is true," she said.

Media will be banned from the March 18th election in which only BREC members can vote. (These steps aren't really new -- a former chair Richard DeNapoli only allowed BREC official recordings and banned media from an election.)

BREC is electing a new chair after Rico Petrocelli abruptly quit after about two months citing "irreconcilable differences" with his board. Candidates include Butler, former Davie town mayor Tom Truex and activists Bob Sutton and Jim Gleason.

Butler says banning media allows for  a "full and free interchange,  exchange of ideas without fear of misrepresentation."

Or we could put it another way: it reduces -- maybe -- the change that media and bloggers can report internal warfare. When practically everyone carries a recording device, this rule may be unrealistic.

Broward Democrats have plenty of fighting before, during and after their elections but they don't close them to the media.

"I consider the public's right to know more important than a petty political squabble that would be erupting," Broward Democratic chair Mitch Ceasar said.


Fact-checking Will Weatherford on pension reform

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford made his case for a dramatic overhaul of the Florida Retirement System on the opening day of the legislative session, arguing the pension fund is not in as good of shape as people say.

"This session, we will spend $500 million of general revenue just to shore up our pension fund," he said. "That’s above and beyond what we contribute to state employees’ retirement. And it’s just the down payment. We’re going to have to keep writing that check of a half a billion dollars for the next 28 years to keep our so called ‘great pension system’ afloat."

PolitiFact Florida fact-checked his statement and found Weatherford omitted key details that would have painted a more complete picture of the pension fund's health.

Read why we rated it Half True.

Five Things To Know for Tuesday's Legislative Session

Wit and wisdom are the watchwords — not in that order — in the Florida Legislature on Tuesday as the day begins with the Senate in session and ends with the annual press skits hosted by the Capital Press Corps. Here are five things to watch:
  The Senate will meet to take up a series of relatively routine bills except for one, SB 50, which has been long-sought by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. The bill would require public boards and commissions to guarantee the public a right to speak before the entity takes any action.
 The House is scheduled to take a do-over on a bill passed last year in the height of the immigration debate that required all international visitors to get a special driving permit before they can drive in Florida. The requirement has been roundly criticized by Canadians, who regularly flock to Florida in their annual winter pilgrimage. The episode has given Florida a bit of a black eye and lawmakers are attempting to remedy it by swiftly repealing the law (HB 7059).
 School safety is the focus in the Senate Education Committee where a series of bills addressing the issue are up for consideration. One bill (SB 514) would allow counties to impose new taxes to pay for school safety and mental health services.
 A revised domestic partnership bill (SB 196) goes before the Senate Children and Families Committee. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who chairs the committee, said the bill would give domestic partners certain rights, including hospital visitations, property rights and end-of-life decisions. At a press conference Monday, Sobel said the bill has been revised and “narrowed” to mirror domestic partnership registries outlined in 18 Florida jurisdictions, including Sarasota and Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. 
 The 58th Sometimes Annual Capital Press Corps Skits will be held Tuesday night at The Moon. Performances will feature the Capital Press but there will also be video productions from the House, Senate and governor’s office and members of the Cabinet. Proceeds go to pay for scholarships for young journalists. Ticket info: http://www.flcapitolskits.com/.
-- Mary Ellen Klas, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau