U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the anti-war Democrat from Orlando, is helping lead a bipartisan coalition to block President Obama's Administration from bombing Syria, and he's using what looks like a novel approach in Congressional hearings: Asking real and pointed questions.
While others make speeches that masquerade as campaign speeches, Grayson used today's Foreign Affairs hearing to rattle off a series of questions designed to raise doubts about the rush to bomb Syria and the consequences for doing so.
At the same time, Grayson is quietly trying to persuade fellow Democrats and some Republicans to vote no. So far, coupled with organic Republican opposition to Obama, the effort appears to be working in the GOP House, where even Democratic support is relatively tepid, which also reflects a war-weary public and polls showing the lack of popularity of bombing Syria.That could change in the coming days if the United Nations, on the ground in Syria, determines chemical weapons were used and if the administration does a better job making the case for attacking Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Grayson's position isn't just consistent policy for the Congressman, who was opposed to the Iraq war, it's good politics.
"Alan Grayson: A Congressman with Guts," says his new campaign website, "Tell Congress: Don't Attack Syria."
It has gathered 36,000 signatures, his campaign says. The site also gives people the chance to donate.
Grayson has parlayed his role of anti-war agitator in chief into multiple appearances in the news media, which can't resist intramural squabbles because they ring more true than red-on-blue or blue-on-red back-and-forths. The Atlantic has a fascinating must-read on Grayson and his criticisms on CNN of the administration's case for war was razor sharp.
Grayson continued in that vein today during his five minutes of questions for Secretary of State John Kerry, Gen. Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel:
Grayson: "Do Syria and Hezbollah have the means to launch a counterattack against U.S. vessels in the Mediterranean, the U.S. embassy in Beirut and Israel?"
Dempsey: Yes, but not much
As fundraisers go, they couldn’t have been more different.
Last week, Republican Bill Gunter held a noon meet-and-greet at the private Governor's Club during his first Tallahassee fundraiser in the House District 36 race. Reporters were asked to leave the affair, but lobbyists, who walked in and handed Gunter envelopes of money, were welcome to stay and chat with the candidate.
On Wednesday night, Amanda Murphy, the lone Democrat in the District 36 race, let a reporter stay and mingle at Andrews 228 during her first Tallahassee fundraiser. But quite unlike Gunter’s event, few guests showed.
“It’s a very quiet, relaxing atmosphere,” Murphy joked at about 6:15 p.m. The fundraiser started at 5, but only two guests had showed to dine on the tortilla chips and spinach dip.
Dropping by were party leaders Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, Rep. Darryl Rouson, who is set to become House Minority Leader next year, and Chris Mitchell, political director for the Florida House Democrats.
For Democrats, the District 36 race is a tantalizing one. Suddenly thrown open when Mike Fasano was appointed Pasco Tax Collector by Gov. Rick Scott last month, the race provides the Democrats a rare chance to pick up a seat and push their numbers to 45 members in the Florida House, a level they haven’t had in that chamber in 12 years.
But can Dems match the Republicans, who hold an iron grip on the big lobbying money that finance legislative races?
Gov. Rick Scott says he wants to hear from the public on how to reduce taxes and fees by $500 million as he has proposed. During a speech for conservative activists last week, Scott gave scant details to outline the plan.
That didn't change when he was asked to expound Wednesday evening.
"I'm working with the House and the Senate to get everybody's ideas," he said. "I want to ask all citizens what are there ideas. What can we do to give you, the citizen, back your money? What can we do to make sure we grow jobs in our state?"
Scott said he had no list in his mind of what taxes and fees he would cut and how. Asked whether vehicle and tag fees would be a priority, he only said he would like to see them reduced.
The California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation wants Florida health officials to crack down on adult films being produced without the use of condoms.
The foundation filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Health last month, after discovering that a California pornography company had shifted filming to South Florida.
The reason for the new location: a Los Angeles County ordinance mandating condom use in the adult film industry, AHF President Michael Weinstein said Wednesday.
“The industry is playing a shell game, where they are trying to conceal where they film and how they film,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein said Florida should better protect adult film actors from sexually transmitted diseases.
“The bottom line is, two performers have tested positive [for HIV] in the last few weeks,” he said. “There have been multiple scares related to syphilis. There have been thousands of cases of gonorrhea and Chlamydia. The porn performers in Florida are equally deserving of protection.”
The Florida Department of Health was waiting on additional information from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation before determining how to proceed, spokeswoman Ashley Carr said.
Despite uncovering thousands of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests submitted online last year, Miami-Dade County will not follow recommendations made by a grand jury to make the elections website more secure by requiring user logins and passwords.
Instead, the elections department has worked with its software vendor to try to beef up the system on the back end, making it easier for elections staff to review ballot requests to flag suspect submissions.
The change, which will take effect next year, will not cost the county any more money. Requiring user logins and passwords would have required an initial investment of about $843,000, with a potential recurring cost of about $743,000 in every major election, Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley said.
Legitimate voters might have been dissuaded to request ballots if the online system was made more cumbersome, she added.
“It would have also deterred voters,” she told the Miami Herald on Wednesday.
The phony absentee-ballot requests set off state investigations into potential voting fraud after Townsley’s staff alerted prosecutors before the August 2012 primary election that they had flagged more than 2,500 online requests as suspicious.
From the Associated Press in Washington today ....
President Barack Obama's request for speedy congressional backing of a military strike in Syria advanced in the Senate on Wednesday, hours after the commander in chief left open the possibility he would order retaliation for a deadly chemical weapons attack even if Congress withheld its approval.
The authorization measure, which cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote, was altered at the last minute to support "decisive changes to the present military balance of power" in Syria's civil war. It would rule out U.S. combat operations on the ground.
The resolution is expected to reach the Senate floor next week, although the timetable for a vote is uncertain. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky conservative with strong tea party ties, has threatened a filibuster.
The panel's vote marked the first formal response in Congress to the president's unexpected announcement last weekend that he was putting off an expected cruise missile strike against Syria and instead was first asking lawmakers to unite behind such a plan.
Among the lawmakers voting no: Sen. Marco Rubio.
On the jump, Rubio's statement with a video link...
Miami-Dade commissioners can't seem to make up their minds about Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
Last year, shortly after the death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin, the commission unanimously agreed to ask state lawmakers to hold hearings on the contentious law and repeal it. They didn't.
Wednesday, the commission disagreed with a similar proposal asking the Legislature to convene a special session to repeal the law. Parts of Wednesday's resolution were identical to the one the board approved in April 2012.
"We don't like them to tell us what to do, and I don't like to tell them what to do," Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said Wednesday of lawmakers. She took particular issue with asking lawmakers to repeal Stand Your Ground.
"If we encourage the Legislature to review the law, it's something different. But not to repeal, because I sincerely think there has to be a term of respect" between the two governments, she said.
Yet she voted for the hearings to repeal the law last year.
So did Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Sally Heyman and Javier Souto, who all voted against a special session to repeal the law Wednesday. Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, who also voted against Wednesday, was not in office at the time the first resolution was adopted.
All are Republicans except for Heyman, who is a Democrat. Heyman said she opposed calling for a special session rather than asking lawmakers to consider a repeal during their regular session in the spring.
Sticking with their support of both measures were Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime and Dennis Moss, all Democrats. Commission posts are nonpartisan.
"I'll continue to bring it up until something happens," said Jordan, who sponsored Wednesday's resolution.
Seventeen-year-old Trayvon was shot and killed in Sanford by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder charges by a jury in July. Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, is on unpaid leave from her job in Miami-Dade's department of public housing and community development.
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said last month he would order Stand Your Ground hearings in the fall. They will be led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and staunch supporter of the law.
It’s bill filing season again, so that can mean only one thing for red light cameras.
Yes, another attempt to remove them from public streets.
The Senate’s transportation chairman, Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed SB 144 on Wednesday. It would ban the use of the cameras, which are now used in 76 jurisdictions in Florida. (That includes Brandes’ hometown, where both mayoral candidates, Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman, support red light cameras -- which produced more than $3 million in revenue last year.)
“This program was originally sold as being about safety,” Brandes said. “I have come to believe that it’s now about revenue.”
A libertarian Republican, Brandes is a frequent critic of red light cameras, calling them a “backdoor tax increase.” He pointed to the small Central Florida city of Edgewood as an example of camera abuse. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the city has a population of 2,500 but handed out 10,000 red light citations in 2012.
“That city is covering a huge portion of its tax base with revenue from the cameras,” Brandes said. “How is that not a tax?”
Speaking to the Capital City Republican Club Wednesday, state Rep. Dennis Baxley noted his "penchant for issues that are colorful."
Case in point: the Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
The Ocala Republican sponsored the controversial legislation in the Florida House in 2005, and defended it adamantly on Wednesday.
"I truly believe we've been safer in Florida because of this legislation," he said.
Still, Baxley said he would be willing to debate Stand Your Ground in the aftermath of George Zimmerman's recent acquittal.
Baxley might "be open to some changes," he said.
But he cautioned: "Once you get a statute opened on the floor, you really don't have control over what will happen."
He declined to speculate on what the outcome might be.
Baxley said the debate would be fruitful, even though the state representative tapped to lead a hearing on the law, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has said he doesn't support changing "one damn comma."
Said Baxley: "Debate is always authentic."
He said he hoped the dialogue would include some discussion about how the law is applied. Baxley said he was "puzzled" by some of the rulings involving the statute, though he did not name the specific cases that troubled him most.
"I think it is more about application and context..." he said. "There will always be tough calls near the foul line wherever you put the foul line."
Before wrapping up, Baxley announced that he would seek reelection in 2014, and make a bid for the Florida Senate in 2016. He intends to run for the seat Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, will be vacating due to term limits.
Baxley ran for state Senate in 2007, but lost to Dean in the Republican primary.
The Republican leaders of the Legislature don’t want to change Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Polls show that a majority of voters agree. But that doesn’t mean conservatives should stand back as lawmakers prepare for hearings on the self-defense law, Rep. Matt Gaetz told tea party activists Tuesday night.
During a 90-minute conference call, Gaetz said the tea party needed to show up in Tallahassee in big numbers to offset proponents of changing the law, who have vowed to do the same. Gaetz also listened to the callers' ideas about what else can be done leading up to the yet-to-be-scheduled hearings, such as circulating petitions and lobbying local elected officials.
House Speaker Will Weatherford called for the hearings after activists and Democrats said the issue needed more attention after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. But he assigned the task of chairing the hearings to Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, chairman of the House’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee and a vocal proponent of the law without “changing one damn comma.”
Even though he doesn’t think there should or will be changes to Stand Your Ground, Gaetz said the hearings will be beneficial.
“These hearings will give a great opportunity, I think, for the people of Florida to see what the Stand Your Ground law really does,” he said. “Why it was enacted. Who it protects. Who it doesn’t protect.”
A general disdain for the Dream Defenders’ 30-night sit-in at the Capitol to push for changes to Stand Your Ground after the Zimmerman trial was a common theme of the phone call. Gaetz defended the activists' right to protest but said he wasn’t happy about the expense to the state and other things he heard.
He also claimed most of the activists, including those who planned to return for the hearings, were paid for their time and/or bused in from other states.