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6 posts from September 5, 2013

September 05, 2013

In a battle over jobs data, governor recruits his economist to defend his pitch

Gov. Rick Scott's chief economist, Rebecca Rust, was recruited today to provide some political cover to the governor amid new reports that suggest that a major reason why Florida's unemployment rate has dropped is because of people dropping out of the labor force.

In an unprecedented memo released Thursday afternoon, the normally clinical Rust referred to recent unnamed economic studies. "It remains unclear why some economic analysis would rather highlight the negative factors of the economy when there are numerous indicators reflecting the improving statewide job market over the last two and half years," she wrote.

We're not sure what reports Rust is referring to here, but we are among several news organizations that have written about the distinction between the drop in the labor participation rate and the drop in the state's unemployment numbers over the last two years. 

The distinction was made again on Wednesday, when the state House and Senate appropriations staff and the legislature's Economic and Demographic Research jointly released the State of Florida Long-Range Financial Outlook and observed a "conundrum." Despite an unemployment rate that is below the national average, Florida "is still 515,100 jobs below its peak during the boom," the report concluded, and that "simple rehiring, while necessary, will not be sufficient to trigger a robust recovery." 

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Democrats miffed as maverick Rouson goes it alone

UPDATE: (6 p.m.): Minority Leader Perry Thurston called after the initial post and announced that House Democratic leaders, including Rouson, agreed to disband the committee this afternoon. Those in agreement were himself, Rouson, Jones, James Waldman of Coconut Creek, Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, Janet Cruz of Tampa, and Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach, Thurston said.  "They all agreed to shut it down," Thurston said. "Fundraising for House Victory will go through the Florida Democratic Party and through no other entity." Asked if Rouson agreed to this, Thurston said "I want him to tell you." Rouson wouldn't return phone calls. The committee was still listed as active, however. "We're thinking it's going to be shut down as we speak," Thurston said minutes after 5:30 p.m. "We love our donors. We want to make sure they're not getting any mixed signals about who they need to contribute money to." Thurston said he wasn't worried about relations between party leaders and Rouson. "Things will get smoothed over," he said. 

UPDATE (9:45 p.m.): Rouson called back, but wouldn't confirm that he will shut down the committee. Asked if he agreed with Thurston's recollection that he agreed to shut down the leadership fund, Rouson would only say "I respect leadership and I am considering what was suggested." He defended his decision to open a leadership fund, which he had once opposed, as being pragmatic. "My role is singular and focused on raising money, protecting returning members and increasing our numbers by getting new members elected," Rouson said. "I think I'm doing my job." He questioned how Tant handled the matter. "I never wanted to play this out in the press," he said. "Having said that, there was a way (the party) could have talked about this and communicated without a letter going to 44 members. If the letter is addressed to (Thurston), why did she send it to all the members?" 

Just how dysfunctional is it within the Florida Democratic Party?

Consider what incoming House Minority Leader, Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, just did.

Unbeknownst to other party leaders, he filed papers at the Florida Department of State last month opening up the “Florida House Democratic Caucus Affiliated Party Committee” that made himself the sole designated person in control of the fund, which will raise money for House Democratic candidates.

Since Rouson’s set to take over the Minority Leader duties from Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, in 2014, that sounds all fine and good. After all, the Minority Leader is indeed responsible for recruiting candidates and raising money for the 2014 and 2016 races.

The only problem is that Rouson created what’s called an “Affiliated Party Committee”, which is also known as a “leadership fund.” For many years in Tallahassee, APCs were a discredited and illegal way to raise money because of long-ago “pay-for-play” abuses by Democrats. They were prone to such abuse because they were controlled directly by legislative leaders and spent solely at the discretion of those leaders, a structure that caused many to label them “slush funds.”


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Miami-Dade mayor joins Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns group


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has become a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the bipartisan group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

The more than 1,000 mayors in the coalition, founded in 2006, have pledged to push for laws that keep guns out of criminals' hands. Most of those laws would likely have to be passed at the state or federal level.

Gimenez, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, singled out supporting comprehensive background checks -- including for people who buy guns at shows and online -- in a news release announcing his membership.

"While the The Second Amendment provides Americans with a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, that right comes with great responsibilities," he said. "One of those responsibilities is supporting background checks that can save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. I join my fellow Mayors -– from across the political spectrum and across the nation -– in supporting this common-sense action that will help make us all safer."

Forty-five other Florida mayors are group members, including Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, according to the coalition's website.

Florida won't appeal latest ruling against law banning public hiring of firms tied to Cuba


The state of Florida has conceded it will not enforce a law — ruled unconstitutional by federal courts — that tried to prohibit the state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s decision not to contest the June ruling by a federal appeals court marks the end of the short-lived legislation. It also paves the way for Odebrecht USA, the Coral Gables-based firm that challenged the law, to proceed with significant projects in the works — unless politics get in the way.

FDOT and Odebrecht agreed late last month to allow the federal trial court that struck down the legislation last year to enter an injunction permanently blocking the law from taking effect. A preliminary injunction had been in place since U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore found in June 2012 that the legislation interfered with the federal government’s authority to set foreign policy.

“This means FDOT cannot enforce the law,” FDOT Communications Director Dick Kane said in an email Thursday.

Though the injunction is aimed only at FDOT, it effectively applies to every state agency, said Jim Moye, an Odebrecht attorney.

“The federal government is going to continue to establish whatever it believes is the proper relationship with Cuba,” said Moye, of the Orlando-based Moye O’Brien firm. “Our client will continue to comply with the laws in that regard. It’s not for the state or local governments to attempt to set the parameters for the relationship with Cuba.”

FDOT chose not to go to trial to try to show why the preliminary injunction should be lifted. Instead, it agreed with the permanent prohibition and will reimburse Odebrecht about $500,000 in attorneys’ fees, Moye said.

More here.

Brogan's 2nd-in-command will take over as interim chancellor

The board overseeing the state university system didn't look far to find a temporary replacement for chancellor Frank Brogan, who will step down at end of the month.

Jan Ignash, Brogan's second-in-command, has been tapped for the interim chancellor position. The Board of Governors will be asked to approve promoting Ignash, the vice chancellor and chief academic officer, at its Sept. 12 meeting.

Jan Ignash

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Florida joins NRA lawsuit against federal gun restrictions

Florida is supporting a National Rifle Association challenge of a federal law restricting young adults from purchasing guns.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined 22 other attorneys general in signing onto a brief intended to bolster the NRA's case. The gun rights organization wants the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal law restricting people ages 18, 19 and 20 from buying handguns.

Last year, a federal appeals court upheld that the law, passed in 1968, is constitutional. The NRA filed its petition in April asking for the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling; the states, led by Alabama, sent their brief last week.

Florida and the other states are arguing that their own laws allow people to purchase guns starting at age 18. They say the federal law passed by Congress undermines states' rights and infringes on citizens' Second Amendment protections.

In addition to Florida and Alabama, the other states supporting the NRA lawsuit are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Click here to download the brief filed by the states.