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7 posts from May 12, 2014

May 12, 2014

Gov and Cabinet are judges Tuesday in FPL v. locals fight over power towers

Scott and Silagy

Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet face what may be the most controversial and politically delicate decision of their term Tuesday, when they will decide whether to give Florida Power & Light permission to build two new nuclear power generators and 88 miles of new transmission lines in South Florida.

The proposed high-voltage lines, which would be hoisted on towers which could rise as high as 150 feet, have generated opposition in the cities in Miami Dade County through which the lines would traverse — a region of the state that Gov. Rick Scott has deemed crucial to his re-election bid.

While cities from Miami to Coral Gables and the Village of Pinecrest have questioned the need for the power plants, their main objection has been on where to locate the 230-kilovolt lines on 80- to 100-foot poles.

The lines are projected to run from Cutler Bay through Pinecrest, South Miami and Coral Gables to a substation in Coconut Grove. The towers would be built alongside Metrorail and down U.S. 1, past Cadillac show rooms, Porsche dealers, retail malls and through miles of concentrated development.

On the west, three 500-kilovolt transmission lines on 150-foot poles would run through the edge of Everglades National Park, a prospect that conservation groups say could have a detrimental effect on sensitive wildlife habitats.

FPL says the new lines are essential to supplying energy to South Florida’s growing population and, over the 40-year life of the project, predicts that customers will save $64 billion in fossil fuel costs, down from the $75 billion in savings the utility projected last year. Any further delay, the company argues, will be expensive for customers, said Peter Robbins, an FPL spokesman.

FPL began seeking approval for two new 1,100 megawatt nuclear generators, known as Turkey Point 6 and 7, in 2006. Since then, the state’s Public Service Commission determined in 2008 that there was a need for the project. The Florida Department of Environmental Regulation signed off on the proposal and, in this past November, after an eight-week administrative hearing, Judge D.R. Alexander sided with FPL on nearly every disputed claim.

The cities argue that if FPL needs the high-voltage wires, they should be built underground to protect property values and avoid the negative effects on economic development. They are asking the governor and Cabinet to reject the request, or defer a decision until more information can be obtained.

“This item is of extreme importance to our city and Miami Dade as a whole,” said Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez at a meeting of Cabinet aides last week. “There are 450,000 residents in the city of Miami and 2 million residents in Miami Dade County — 1.2 million of which are voters — something to keep in mind.”

The political implications have not been lost on FPL either. The project is the largest the utility has proposed in 40 years and, in anticipation of the public opposition, the company has been actively working to influence both local governments and the governor and Cabinet, who will sit as the Power Plant Siting Board. More here.

 Photo: Gov. Rick Scott shares a light moment with FP&L Chairman Eric Silagy at a Florida Chamber of Commerce event at the Governor's Mansion. Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times.

Crist campaign, committee: We raised $2.2m in April, more than Rick Scott (sort of)


Democrat Charlie Crist's campaign and political committee are bragging about what once seemed almost impossible: Outraising power-house fundraising Gov. Rick Scott.

"We raised $2.2 million in April -- our campaign and committee has once again out-raised Rick Scott -- and as of today, we've raised $10.24 million since November," Crist said in an email.

Scott's campaign and committee raised about $1.3 million.

But Scott's crew added one more variable: The Republican Party of Florida, which Scott also fundraises for (and which can get cheaper ad rates than his political committee). RPOF reported $1.72 million (note: last week, Scott's campaign said it was $1.4m, which could be the amount he raised).

So that brings Scott's total raised to $2.7 million to $3 milllion, and Crist's to $2.2m +.......?


Pam Bondi continues to rake it in for AG race

Attorney General Pam Bondi isn't taking any chances.

The Democrats haven't chosen who will face her in the fall, and she still raised nearly as much in April as her two would-be opponents -- George Sheldon and Perry Thurston -- have raised, combined, so far in the race.

Bondi raised $276,520 in April, upping her total campaign contributions to $3,525,340 since she announced she was seeking reelection last summer. Of that total, Bondi has received nearly $700,000 in in-kind contributions, such as staff, most of which has been paid by the Republican Party of Florida. She's received about $2.8 million in cash. She's spent only $148,192 of that total.

By contast, Sheldon, who served as secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families under then Gov. Charlie Crist, has managed to raise a total of $228,811 after an April in which he brought in $25,229 in contributions. Yet campaign finance records show Sheldon has already spent $215,310, leaving little in the tank against either Bondi or his primary opponent Thurston.

Thurston, who is the Minority Leader in the Florida House, had to throw April out as a month in which he could gain ground on Bondi or Sheldon. Because state law prohibits fundraising during session, he was unable to raise any money. So he still has only $105,801. But Thurston has spent only about 25 percent of his cash, leaving him with about $76,052 untouched.



GOP (McLaughlin) poll: Rick Scott 42%, Crist 38%


American Future Fund, a conservative group, has released a poll showing Republican Gov. Rick Scott with not just a lead over Democrat Charlie Crist, but a relatively substantial one: 4 percentage points.

With the margin of error, however, one could call Scott's 42-38 percent lead a tie as well.

Just as Republicans do when their guy is losing, Democrats are sure to doubt this poll's validity. It's an outlier, for now. And McLaughlin & Associates have what are generally known as "tight screens" for their likely voter polls, which could make this one inherently more-conservative leaning.

That's because a likely voter in a Florida mid-term tends to be more conservative than one in a presidential race. And that's why there are no Democrats elected statewide who hold a position in the state Capitol.

And that's why it's not a bad idea to guess that the race between Scott and Crist will be close. It might be already. Not only have more-conservative-leaning polls shown a tighter race as of late, but Scott is on pace to burn about $8.5 million in just over two months on TV alone.

Money like that has to have an effect. Because it always has.

The McLaughlin poll is composed of 37% Democrats, 40% Republicans, 23% Other/independent voters. Other polls showing Crist up had more Democrats and independents. (2006 turnout was R=43% D=42%, OTH=15.3%; 2010 turnout was R=44%, D=40%, OTH=16.0% -- but note, there are wonky debates over self-ID and registered voter polls that might not make the polling and turnout percentages listed here as completely analogous).

The last Quinnipiac poll late last month had Crist up by 10 points (background here), other polls showed smaller Crist leads generally. When the polls were "unskewed," however, the race became pretty tight (background here).

 Here's the press release


Continue reading "GOP (McLaughlin) poll: Rick Scott 42%, Crist 38%" »

Rick Scott's latest weapon: Crist advisor Steve Schale (when he opposed Crist)


Every political race is about the past and the future. But we're going to spend more looking at history as we unwind the reversals of everyone: Charlie Crist on his party affiliations and positions, Republicans on tearing Crist down over what they once supported.... and don't forget the Democrats.

To that end, the Republican Party of Florida happily spun out a video about how the former governor "ran away" from the state -- and it uses current Crist adviser Steve Schale's March 6 2009 video criticisms of the then-Senate candidate. Schale at the time was allied with Democratic candidate Dan Gelber, who dropped out months later and endorsed Kendrick Meek. The Democrat then watched the independent Crist syphon votes from him as Republican Marco Rubio won the 2010 race.

But enough about that history. Here's what Schale had to say about Crist back then:

“I may be one of the few people out there who actually love the idea of a matchup with Crist. I’d love to have a good debate in this state about where we’ve been and where we need to go and the leadership that Gov. Crist has provided… double-digit unemployment in the state --basically no growth. Education system: Hardly any changes at all.

“Governor Crist, I think, is a fantastically nice man. He’s always been very kind to me when I’ve met him. But listen. This state and this country deserve real leadership. And it’s sort of hard to argue that, when it comes to leadership or no leadership, Gov Crist has chosen the … the most politically expedient route. Not the kind of route that will get us to where we need to go.”

One big advantage for Schale: How unfailingly nice he is. He didn't trash Crist personally. 

It's a stark lesson for all prognosticators, pundits and politicos (and a line I learned from Florida Senate President Don Gaetz): Coat your words with honey so that they're sweet if you have to eat them. 

Higher speed limit may be Scott's first veto target

Gov. Rick Scott says he has not decided whether to sign or veto the bill that increases the speed limit on Florida interstates to 75 miles per hour. But signs are growing that Scott could make the bill (SB 392) a target of his veto pen.

Scott attended a funeral service last week for Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Chelsea Renee Richard, who was struck and killed on I-75 in Ocala on May 3 while she investigated a traffic accident.

The young trooper, who died one week before her 31st birthday, left a four-year-old son. The heavily-traveled stretch of I-75 is one of the areas where drivers could go 75 under the bill awaiting Scott's decision.

At the funeral, The Ocala Star-Banner reported, Trooper Tod Cloud told Scott that it "wasn't a bright idea" for lawmakers to support higher speeds on interstates, and that people often "do not drive with common sense" on I-75. Contrary to supporting higher speeds, Cloud said the state should reduce the speed limit to 55 on I-75 when the road surface is wet from rain.

On Monday, to mark the start of National Police Week, the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police and other police organizations announced they are designating June as "Move Over, Slow Down, Save a Life" month in Florida. Two other people, a tow truck driver and his friend, were also killed in the same crash that claimed the trooper's life.

FOP President James Preston said his group is considering making a recommendation to Scott on the speed limit bill. "We haven't yet. We're discussing it," Preston said. "We know it's on his desk." (Scott does not have possession of the bill yet, and he will have 15 days to act when he gets it). 

AAA Auto Club South is seeking a meeting with Scott or his staff to make the case for a veto, and public reaction from constituents is running heavily against the measure. It passed the Senate 27-11 and the House 58-56 and was the closest House floor vote of the 2014 session.

Seattle man at center of 2012 intimidation of GOP voters

A plan to get back at Florida Republicans for a 2012 purge of non-citizen voters backfired on a Seattle man, who now faces up to six years in prison and more than $350,000 in fines.

According to a plea agreement filed Monday in Tampa's U.S. District Court, James Webb Baker, Jr., 58, sent about 200 letters one month before the 2012 presidential election to prominent Florida Republicans in an effort to intimidate and interfere with their voting rights. 

At the time, Baker, who lives in Seattle, read online news articles and blogs about efforts by Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner to remove the names of voters from the official Florida county lists of eligible voters. The stories reported that Florida county officials were identifying registered voters whose U.S. citizenship was questioned and were subsequently sending them letters informing them they may be ineligible to vote.

Baker believed this was being done to suppress voter turnout, according to the plea agreement.

“(Baker) believed that the efforts of (Scott) and (Detzner) were targeted at Hispanic voters who would likely vote for candidates of the Democratic Party,” the plea agreement stated. “(Baker) believed that some of the recipients of such letters would not vote, and this belief angered him.”

So Baker created “copycat” letters of the ones that were sent by county officials. He sent 200 of these letters to Republican Party donors in Florida. Printing letters using a Xerox Phaser 6180 he bought from Craigslist.com, Baker tried to avoid detection by wearing gloves and using a sponge to seal the envelopes.

“(Baker) knew his actions were unlawful, and he knew his actions were intimidating, threatening, or coercive,” the plea agreement stated. “The defendant sent the letters for the purpose of interfering with the recipients’ right to vote.”

Baker used his home computer to find what he believed to be an actual letter sent by a Florida county official. He created a template for his false letters, including using the names and titles of the relevant county officials.

Recipients of the letters, which included Lenny Curry, who was then the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, were chosen by Baker from a list of people who contributed to Scott’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. He whittled the donor list by eliminating corporations and partnerships and by selecting recipients so they would hail from a range of Florida counties. He then created individually addressed false letters that appeared to be written by each of the corresponding recipients’ home county’s supervisor of elections.

The recipients were told that, to restore their eligibility, they had 15 days to fill out a voter registration form. Baker inserted a warning, in bold, that a non-registered voter who casts a vote may be subject to criminal penalties.

“(Baker) made these changes, in part, to stress the threat to the recipient that he or she was going to lose their right to vote and/or their liberty through imprisonment if they did not first document their citizenship and right to vote in person to the registrar,” the plea agreement stated. “The defendant enclosed the same voter eligibility form without any changes that was enclosed in the actual letters sent by Florida county officials.”

Baker sent the envelopes from a U.S. Postal Office in Seattle. He purchased a "Federal Way" postmark in hopes that it would be less conspicuous to the recipient. Letters were received by residents in 27 counties. 

The plea agreement, dated April 26, 2014, is signed by three U.S. Department of Justice attorneys: Mark Blumberg, special litigation counsel, civil rights division, criminal section; William E. Nolan, trail attorney, civil rights division, criminal section; Robert Mosakowski, assistant U.S. Attorney in Tampa, chief of the economic crimes section.

Here is the plea agreement:

Download Bakerpleaagreement

And the information:

Download Bakerinformation