Tuesday, October 30, 2007

FDP Netroots Coalition

On Sunday, October 28, 2007, the Florida Democratic Party Central Committee approved the recommendation of the Committee on Clubs, Caucuses and Organizations to grant approval to the charter application of the Florida Democratic Party Netroots Coalition.

See Florida Kossacks - We're Official!: FDP Netroots Coalition

Update: In order to avoid any potential confusion, please be aware that this blog is not the Florida Netroots Coalition - the FNC is a completely separate entity.


Blogging Florida

Okay, I had my fun at the convention, now its time to get back to work. So here's a sampling of what the blogosphere in Florida has been writing about:

The Convention!

Okay, I know. I said it was time to get back to work. I will, but these are too good to pass up.

Matt Stoller - Florida's Silent Revolution

Benjamin Kirby - What I Learned at the Florida Convention

Kenneth Quinnell - FDP Convention and Netroots Conference - My View

Larry Thorson - ("Best Professional Blog" - 2007 Florida Netroots Award) Best line at FDP convention goes to Dan Gelber

And now for something completely different

Praxis asks What the hell is going on in Tallahassee? with regards to Property Taxes. The post is from last week, but it is nonetheless insightful.

Blast Off! ("Best National Blog" - 2007 Florida Netroots Award) - In case you missed it the first time HBO has decided to do a movie called Recount about the Florida 2000 non-election. I don't know about you, but I've relived this enough times already thank-you.

Tampa Bay Blue ("Best Local Blog" - 2007 Florida Netroots Award) - Hillsborough County Need Equal County Representation. Support Charter Amendment!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Florida Democratic Party Convention

I thought it would be handy to have a roundup of what's been written about the Florida Democratic Party Convention:

The L.A. Times declares: Florida Democratic convention a bust

They base this assertion on the fact that, other than Mike Gravel, none of the Democratic Presidential Candidates showed up. So a state party that actually spends its convention focusing on its state elected officials is a failure? Pfft!

The Associated Press has a different headline: Fla. Dems Rally Despite Candidates' Snub

I know I had a good time without them.

In USA Today: Fla. Dems hope to boost '08 nominee despite infighting

In the article, there's this interesting passage:

Nelson said Iowa is set to announce that it will move its caucuses to Jan. 3, and that Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean should relent on the penalties now imposed on states defying rules of both parties requiring them to wait until Feb. 5 to choose delegates.

State party chairwoman Karen Thurman predicted that the party's nominee, who will be unofficial but probably known by mid-February, will unite the party in Denver next summer by seating all delegates. She and Nelson also said Democratic candidates will be back in Florida before Jan. 29, despite the "four-state pledge" to let Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada go first.

Okay, well I do think that the presumptive nominee, who traditionally is in charge of the nominating convention, will seat all the delegates. I'm not as confident that the candidates will violate their "pledge" and campaign here before January 29th - although if the leader at that point decides to do so the rest will follow.

By the way, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee did vote:

... to hold the Iowa caucus on January 14th, the Nevada caucus thereafter, the New Hampshire primary on January 22nd, and the South Carolina primary no earlier than January 29th. The window officially opens on February 5th.

According to the Associated Press Iowa Democrats have moved their caucus date to January 3rd. So, doesn't that mean they're in violation of the rules too?

The St. Petersburg Times reports: Dems upbeat at convention and also points out that there were quite a few delegates who weren't too happy with the DNC and wore buttons admonishing Howard Dean.

For the record, I don't have a problem with Howard Dean. I believe both sides were in a difficult position. Florida wants to have a larger role in the primary process due to its diversity and the fact that candidates come here to raise money only to spend it in Iowa and New Hampshire. The DNC, on the other hand, has these rules that all state parties agreed to follow and had to do something to try to stem the tide of states rushing to be first.

The News-Press has an interesting article stating: Florida Democrats still called influential

Florida may not have any Democratic delegates at the party’s national convention next year, but it will have a huge influence in choosing the eventual nominee, political strategists said Sunday at the state party convention.

It goes on to say:

It will still be a prize for the victor.

“This is a state where the person coming in second or third in the first four states can come in first and change the whole thing around,” said Robin Rorapaugh, who has worked with several Florida politicians.

People often talk about how the results in Iowa and New Hampshire shape the outcome of the races in the states that follow them. Well, it seems reasonable that doing well in Florida would also have a substantial impact. Delegates or not, the outcome in Florida is going to get lots of news coverage right before Super Tuesday on February 5th. In the past, Floridians voted in March after the big Super Tuesday election so that by the time we got to vote the presumptive nominee was pretty much already decided.

Apparently, according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, as I was driving back home from the Orlando on Sunday there was an attempt to oust Chairwoman Thurman. It had to do with her handling of the Florida Primary mess. The attempt failed.


Welcome to Florida Netroots

If you're coming to this site for the first time, then there's a good chance you heard about it at the state convention of the Florida Democratic Party at the Netroots Conference. I viewed my job at the convention as providing newcomers to the blogosphere with some introductory tips on how to do research online and some basic steps to help others find the posts you've written. It was a jam-packed session with lots of presenters, so I really didn't have the time to delve into the specifics of what this Florida Netroots blog and the associated mailing list is all about. So, let me introduce you to my little corner of the Internet:

Florida Netroots was founded, initially as a mailing list, in January 2007 with the intention of getting a bunch of Florida bloggers and activists together to educate ourselves and others about what is going on within the state of Florida at the state and local levels.

My thought then and now is that there are plenty of blogs and discussion lists that focus on National politics. Heck, I'm a member of a local democratic mailing list and only about 10% of the discussions have anything to do with local politics. National politics is sexier, it gets more coverage in the mainstream media and therefore more people have an opinion about it one way or the other. Fewer people know much about the people who represent them in the state legislature or pay much attention to local officials until something happens that impacts them directly. It is my goal to get informed activists from all over the state together to fill that gap.

It's also about building up the party. It is all fine and good to talk about Congressional races or the Presidency, but the strength of any political party is in its bench -- those people currently holding elected positions at the state and local level. They are the future Governors, U.S. Representatives, U.S. Senators and yes maybe even future Presidents. We need to nurture and grow that bench.

These local and state offices don't get much media attention. It's one area where I feel bloggers and activists can really make a substantial difference.

So I invite anyone who really wants to focus on state and local politics in Florida from Governor all the way down to local dogcatcher to join the Florida Netroots Mailing List to share your knowledge and help us Blog Florida Blue.

Also, Ken Quinnell of the Florida Progressive Coalition set up a few Watch Blogs - these are sites that keep a eye on specific elected officials. I am particularly excited about Florida Cabinet Watch, Florida House Watch, and Florida Senate Watch. Those three sites need people to contribute to them, so if you're interested, please contact Ken at quinnelk@hotmail.com.

Now, if this sort of thing doesn't float your boat and you would prefer to focus on Federal offices and National issues - Florida Netroots isn't the place for you.


Brief Overview of Netroots Conference

Pack a Lunch

The general session on Saturday morning didn't end until about 12:45 with the Netroots Conference set to begin at 1:00 - no time to get something to eat and our sessions run until 6:00!!!

Can You Hear Me Now?

We had a little trouble with the AV equipment at first, which made it very difficult to hear the first half or so of the Florida Progressive Radio interview with Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga of Daily Kos. One lady in the back was particularly upset about it and didn't seem to understand that we were doing the best we could until the AV guy could come and fix it.

You can listen to the whole interview at Blog Talk Radio

Assorted Dignitaries

Dan Gelber, Charlie Justice, Dave Aronberg, Karen Thurman and a representative from FairDistrictsFlorida.org all stopped by to say hello.

Netroots Do Their Thing

Ken Quinnell ably moderated the entire event. Curt Johnson stepped up and saved the day numerous times in getting the equipment to work, internet access, loading our presentations --- we pretty much would have been lost without him. I formally nominate him for Netroots MVP.

There were presentations by Ken Quinnell (Florida Progressive Coalition), Gene Smith (Florida Kossacks), Me (Florida Netroots), Brian Franklin (Impact Politics), Ray Seaman (Build Florida's DEC's), Alison Morano (Pasco DEC), Michael Calderin (Candidate for State House 119), and Phil Perry (Florida Democratic Party).

Closing Keynote: Matt Stoller

Matt advises that we "pick a fight" in order to build your community and gain prominence. He used the example of his site OpenLeft joining forces with several other blogs to pressure Chris Dodd (and others) to fight giving retroactive immunity to telecoms.

Soiree and Awards

Food ... finally there's some food! I assume everyone was having a good time ... I was busy eating. As for the Awards, I don't remember the winners in every category - the Florida Progressive Coaltion will have that posted later today (I hope!), but I do want to congratulate everyone!

There were so many great bloggers and activists nominated and it was an honor just being in the same room with all of you.

Special thanks to the Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy for America, Michael Calderin, Brian Franklin and Chris Chiari, and Susan Smith for sponsoring the event.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cast Your Vote for Netroots Awards

So many great nominees and so little time! Please cast your votes for best of the Netroots by NOON on Friday!

Netroots Awards Ballot

I'm humbled and a bit embarassed to say that Florida Netroots was nominated in three categories: Best State Blog, Netroots Activist of the Year, and Netroots Organization of the Year.

There are Florida bloggers and activists who've been working at this far longer and much harder than anything done in my tiny corner of the Internet. I applaud them.

On the plus side, I may have just gotten the better of Stephen Colbert. He thinks its so clever that in running for President of the United States (in South Carolina) as both a Democrat and a Republican that he could lose twice. Well, Monsieur Colbert, I could lose THREE times. I dare you to top that!


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Legislative Update

"No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session ..." -- Judge Gideon J. Tucker (1866)

Okay, I know I haven't been keeping up with this as much lately. Have they accomplished anything yet? Sadly, it doesn't look like I missed much.

Property Tax

Monday: Sun-Sentinel - Florida Senate, House head for tax showdown ... maybe

Having passed a very different plan last week, senators are due back in Tallahassee on Thursday at the earliest, if at all, with the Senate showing little appetite to consider major changes made by the House to a compromise worked out weeks ago.

"We do not know at this time whether you will need to return to Tallahassee," Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said in a letter to state senators. It's an indication that if the House and Senate can't reach a quick compromise, they might give up all together on drawing up a new property tax plan.

The House won't reconvene until Thursday, leaving little time to turn the competing proposals into a consensus package that could gain support from the three-fourths majority in the Legislature needed to make it on the Jan. 29 ballot.

So, the Senate and House don't reconvene until Thursday. The last day of scheduled session is Monday, which is just one day before the deadline to get the proposal on the January 29 ballot.


Wednesday: Herald Tribune - Standoff on: Senate won't meet this week on property tax relief

With no agreement in sight, Senate President Ken Pruitt informed his members Wednesday they need not return to Tallahassee this week.

Rubio responded by canceling a House session set for Thursday. The House will reconvene next Monday to give the Senate as much time as possible to review the House plan, Rubio wrote in an e-mail to his members. The session is scheduled to end Monday but could be extended.

"This is a complex issue and it requires a careful approach," Rubio wrote.

For such a complex issue, how about this careful approach: get an independent organization to do a economic impact study, make the results available to the public, and reconvene in a special session just before regular session next year.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Florida Netroots Conference

The bloggers and activists who make up the Florida Netroots are having their own conference at the Florida Democratic Party Convention on Saturday October 27. Please help us make this event a success by donating via Actblue. Check out our schedule:

1:00-2:00 Live Florida Progressive Radio Show featuring Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga of Daily Kos (via phone)

2:00-2:30 Introduction by Phil Perry of the Florida Democratic Party with Opening Keynote by State House Minority Leader Dan Gelber.

2:30-3:20 "Netroots 101" featuring Kenneth Quinnell (Florida Progressive Coalition), Jennifer Killingsworth (Florida Netroots) & Gene Smith (Florida Kossacks)

3:30-4:20 "Netroots Tools" featuring Ray Seaman (Build Florida's DECs) and Brian Franklin (Impact Politics)

4:30-5:20 "Working With the Netroots" featuring Michael Calderin (Calderin for State Representative), Alison Berke Morano (Pasco Democrats) and Phil Perry (Florida Democratic Party)

5:20-5:50 Closing Keynote: Matt Stoller (Open Left)

5:50-6:00 Netroots Awards

6:00-7:00 Soiree with special guest Dennis Kucinich (co-sponsored by Democracy for America & Progressive Democrats of America)

Note that while there are two candidates appearing during this schedule, said appearance does not imply an endorsement of those candidates.

This impressive lineup is not free. If you can help us pay for this, particularly the speakers and the food for the soiree, drop us a few bucks at http://www.actblue.com/page/floridanetroots

Thanks, and I hope to see you there...

Kenneth Quinnell

To everyone involved in making this happen, you have my sincerest thanks!


According to Ken, State Senator Charlie Justice and State Senator Dave Aronberg have also been added to the guest list.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blogging: 10 Years Old and Growing Up

I discovered an interesting article in the Gainesville Sun entitled Blogging: 10 years old and growing up

In what University of Florida journalism professor Mindy McAdams calls an example of the evolution of a once-scorned medium, UF graduate student Cher Phillips uses a blog called the McIntosh Mirror (mcintoshnews.blogspot.com) to cover Town Council meetings in McIntosh, [Florida] which has a population of roughly 500.

"No matter where you go, towns of 500 people just don't get media coverage, and who in town has time to go to four-hour meetings?" McAdams said. "Her blog is a perfect example of someone who's using a blog to do, in my mind, traditional journalism for a town that would have no coverage otherwise."

The blog's national evolution has been just as pronounced. Mainstream media outlets have gone from ignoring bloggers to forming alliances with them. Politicians who once dismissed blogs as "echo chambers for ideologues" are courting bloggers for coverage, or are keeping blogs themselves, said Diana Cohen, whose UF dissertation focused on how candidates create online identities.

Take the time to read the whole thing - its a good article about blogging in Florida.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Legislative Update

"There is nothing that will upset a state economic condition like a legislature. It's better to have termites in your house than the legislature (in session)." Will Rogers - Radio broadcast, March 31, 1935

The Florida Legislature has extended itself into yet another special session lasting through October 29th to deal with property taxes.

Government in the Sunshine

State Represenatative Dan Gelber: Florida Legislature must be in the Sunshine

These days, lots of important decisions about your life are being made in Tallahassee: How much property tax you will pay, what kind of insurance you can buy, whether public education and health care will be funded adequately.

Increasingly, however, these decisions are being made in private, without the scrutiny of the public and the media.


I believe it is time for Florida to reconsider whether giving the Legislature a pass on compliance with Florida's Sunshine Laws is a good idea.

It's important that the citizens of Florida citizens realize that the legislature is making very important decisions that affect their lives without anyone being able to serve as a watchdog over the process.

Property Tax

St. Petersburg Times - Latest tax plan makes a bad situation worse

If the governor and the Legislature don't have the vision or the courage to create a fairer property tax system, they should leave the job to the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission that is meeting now and has the power to put amendments on the ballot in November 2008. Instead, they are determined to make a bad situation worse. Their constitutional amendment to double the $25,000 homestead exemption and allow homeowners to take a Save Our Homes tax break of up to $1-million with them when they move would extend and exacerbate the unfairness of the current system. It would require further cuts in services by cities and counties already grappling with newly required tax rate rollbacks and revenue caps, and it would not provide significant relief to businesses and other nonhomesteaded property.

Sun-Sentinel - Democrats 'less likely' to support retooled property tax cut

Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, are planning for a final vote Wednesday or Thursday, but must win over Democrats because a three-fourths majority is needed to place the issue on the Jan. 29 ballot.

Legislators didn't get a draft of the bill until late Friday afternoon, and still don't have a financial analysis on its ramifications.

"I have a bill that is 40 pages long and as I'm starting to wade my way through it, I see it does a lot more than the five or six things we've discussed," Geller said, after taking his complaints to Crist. "Our members are getting less and less likely to support it. [Republicans] are slapping together this bill in a haphazard fashion and will expect us to vote for it on the fly."

The Ledger - What's the Need for Speed?

It was the instant gratification impulse that drove Florida lawmakers this year to hastily slap together, mostly in secret, a confusing, deceptively worded and dangerously wrongheaded property-tax-cut amendment and rush it onto the upcoming January presidential election ballot. Recently, a judge threw the measure off the ballot as a clumsy attempt to fool the voters.

What might be a rational response to that series of events? One might think that Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature would learn from their mistakes, resolve to adopt a more serious, studious approach to property-tax reform, and then take more time for deliberation, debate and public input - perhaps with the intention of putting a more carefully crafted amendment on the November 2008 general election ballot.

But, no. The immediate-gratification impulse will not be so easily stifled.

What ever happened to conducting economic impact studies and doing a thourough analysis of proposals before enacting them into law? We're in the situation we are in now because our leaders haven't been taking the long term view. It's time we focus on whats best for the future of Florida.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Florida's Democratic Delegates Will Be Seated

This St. Pete Times article essentially confirms what Florida bloggers, specifically those at the Florida Progressive Coalition, have been arguing all along:

... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a round-table discussion with reporters in Washington that the Democratic National Committee can try to enforce its rules, but the party's authority essentially ends when the convention begins.

"The reality is if you want to know if Florida is going to be seated, ask the Democratic nominee as soon as one emerges," Pelosi said.

Dean agreed.

"At the end of the day, the nominee will make a decision, essentially about who gets seated," Dean agreed.

No nominee for President is going to tell voters in Florida that they're not going to seat their delegates at the convention.

Dean stressed that he doesn't think the spat will cost votes in November, stressing that Florida Democrats will focus on national issues.

I have one small quibble with Chairman Dean on that point. Other than President and a few Congressional seats, there isn't much up-ticket on the November ballot in Florida. If Florida Democrats are smart, they'll be focused building up the party's bench by getting more Democrats elected to the state legislature and at the local level. Need I remind Dean that his 50 State Strategy is about winning elections at every level in every state across the country.

Now, regarding the Primary, the message to Florida Democrats is clear: VOTE ON JANUARY 29 - IT WILL COUNT.


Legislative Update

"When a legislature undertakes to proscribe the exercise of a citizen's constitutional rights it acts lawlessly and the citizen can take matters into his own hands and proceed on the basis that such a law is no law at all." - William Orville Douglas

"Online Sunshine" is the theme for the Florida Legislature's website, so why does it seem like legislators are trying to keep us in the dark?

Open Government

TCPalm - Public access to Florida Legislature is paramount

Far too much of the people’s business is being conducted in secret — far removed from the scrutiny of taxpayers and the media, as well as a majority of legislators.

Here’s how it works.

House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, and their lieutenants meet behind closed doors and hammer out agendas and agreements in advance of a special session. In many cases, key issues are resolved even before fellow lawmakers have had an opportunity to discuss, debate and vote on them.

Florida Times-Union - Public deserves better

Lawmakers have made it literally a crime for local governments and for citizen members of related government boards to discuss most public business outside of a noticed meeting where the public can attend and minutes are taken.

Yet, lawmakers have excused themselves from the same standard, leaving the public in the dark about the creation of policy.

The budget cuts have the same trappings - backroom deals and exclusion of the public - as the history-making changes lawmakers engineered to the state property tax system earlier this year.

Florida Attorney General's FAQ's on Florida's Open Government Laws

Q. Does the Sunshine Law apply to the Legislature?
A. Florida's Constitution provides that meetings of the Legislature be open and noticed except those specifically exempted by the Legislature or specifically closed by the Constitution. Each house is responsible through its rules of procedures for interpreting, implementing and enforcing these provisions. Information on the rules governing openness in the Legislature can be obtained from the respective houses.

Property Taxes

Orlando Sentinel - Crist debuts retooled property-tax trims, Herald Tribune - Some camps lukewarm to proposal

If the letters to the editor over at Florida Today are any indication, people are more upset over insurance than property taxes as they are raging over rates:

The Florida Legislature is pandering to the insurance companies. Failing to address the high insurance premium issue and morphing it into property tax reform has only served to hurt the little people in this state. - Terry Haugen

As a recent story on the front page of FLORIDA TODAY showed, Gov. Charlie Crist and the state lawmakers are in session, grappling with a $1.1 billion budget shortfall.

The solution to their problem may have been on that same front page.

Just below the budget article was another about insurance companies making record profits -- $30.6 billion for the first six months of 2007. - Walter Gruver

Fran Hall Lambert may have the best suggetion: "Vote them all out in next election."


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Legislative Update

"As they say around the Legislature, if you can't drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in office." - Molly Ivins

The Florida Legislature is still in session and will likely come back for yet another special session to deal with property taxes, never mind the fact that the costs of property insurance were people really need relief. Lets see what they're up to now:

Property Tax

Miami-Herald - Property Tax Reform and What it Means to You, News-Press - Two tales of Florida Tax Reform, Sun-Sentinel - Portability needs thorough review

St. Pete Times - Crist: Let's seize the moment with property tax deal

With the main players in general agreement over property taxes, a deal could be formalized in the next few days and lawmakers may begin deliberations by the weekend, Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday night.

"If you have consensus," he said, "why not seize the moment?"

Lawmakers will wrap up work on the budget Friday morning, and the hope is the special session could be simply extended rather than taking a break and reconvening later this month.

That would save travel expenses and build on the goodwill and momentum of an easier-than-expected budget-cutting session.

At the cost of $40,000 a day for the legislature to be in session, I hope they come up with a solution soon, but at the same time we shouldn't exchange thoughfulness for the sake of expediency.

Speaking of the Budget:

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Council on Efficient Government, noting the irony of its name given that its designed to make outsourcing more efficient rather than government.

Anyway, during this "easier-than-expected budget-cutting session" the entity that that is in charge of making sure colossal outsourcing mistakes which have cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars like the equally ironically titled "People First" personnel system and the "Aspire" accounting system is being subjected to cuts in the form of removing 5 positions.

As noted by Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat:

Besides the human-relations and supplier-diversity offices, Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, said she was especially worried about the proposed staff cuts of the new Council on Efficient Government. The council was created to prevent the kind of "outsourcing" fiascoes that have marked privatization of state personnel services, and problems with purchasing and accounting contracts.

No surprise there, the Republicans don't actually support fiscal responsibility or accountability, especially when it might impact the businesses that fill up their campaign coffers. It is about what it best for them, not Florida's taxpayers. We need more oversight on contracting and outsourcing, not less.

No really ...

Palm Beach Post - Pricey GOP consultant eludes state budget cuts

House Speaker Marco Rubio's House is paying former Jeb Bush budget chief Donna Arduin $10,000 a month, even though theres little evidence of any work being produced.

Most of Arduin's advice was provided verbally, [Rubio's spokeswoman, Jill] Chamberlin said. There is no log of those conversations, she said, but Arduin speaks with Rubio one-on-one as well as on conference calls and attends formal and informal meetings of legislators and staff.


"She works every day," Rubio said Friday. "I talk to Donna all the time. And so does our staff and so do our members. She's been a valuable member of the team and a great adviser. I think one of the best decisions we made was to have her on board helping us."

Democrats wonder whether Arduin's value is to the state or just to Rubio and his particular ideology.

"Maybe she's worth $10,000 a month to him," said Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach. "But I really don't know that we're seeing a direct benefit. I've never had a conversation with her. I would be a member also. So if you're paying her contract with state dollars, it's questionable whether or not we all benefit."

While $10,000 is small change, it didn't stop Rubio's House from going after even smaller sums from the budget of the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Nova Southeastern University, the Attorney General's Office and the Department of Corrections.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Redistricting Reform

In 2010, the new U.S. Census numbers come out. Those numbers will serve as the basis for redrawing the electoral districts in Florida - a process that will begin in 2012. It's not, or at least shouldn't be, a partisan issue. Back when the Democrats were the majority in the Florida Legislature, the lines were drawn to preserve their seats. For the last Census, the Republicans drew the lines to preserve their seats. Those seats belong to the people, not the politicians.

Having a fair redistricting process is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, so I was happy to see that the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause are attempting another ballot initiative to bring it about even if, as Bill Cotterell self-proclaimed Capital Curmudgeon at the Tallahassee Democrat says Redistricting reform is noble but doomed.

FairDistrictsFlorida.org is a political committee that wants a couple of constitutional amendments mandating that, when redistricting Congress and the state Legislature, politicians will pause and ask themselves, "Hey, how would we do this if people mattered?" A couple of years ago, reformers tried to take redistricting away from the Legislature and give it to an independent commission of nonpartisan wise people, but the Supreme Court would have none of that.

So this time, the idea is simply to provide that districts "may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries."

The odds are stacked against it. Here are the steps it has to go through:

  • submit language to Division of Elections for approval

  • collect over 600,000 signatures - which will likely be challenged

  • get 60% of the vote

According to an earlier St. Pete Times article, the proposal would be put on the ballot in 2010.

Leaders of the effort include chairwoman Ellen Freidin, a Democratic lawyer in Miami who served on the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission and Republican former Comptroller Bob Milligan and Democratic former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

Unlike 2006, when advocates proposed creating a supposedly nonpartisan commission to draw districts, this time Common Cause is merely trying to mandate that lawmakers draw compact districts without trying to help or hurt any political party. Separate ballot questions would cover legislative districts and congressional districts.

Critics say gerrymandered districts are why incumbents so rarely lose re-election and make members of Congress and the Legislature less accountable to voters.

"Really what is lacking in the Constitution is the ability for anyone to challenge these redistricting plans that get passed," said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause Florida.

I applaud the effort. In the meantime, another way to try to ensure that the districts are draw more fairly is to get more Democrats elected to the state legislature so that both parties, Republican and Democrat, have a seat at the table.

Note: FairDistrictsFlorida.org doesn't have a website up yet, but the group has registered the domain name.


Legislative Update

"Man is the only animal that laughs and has a state legislature." -- Samuel Butler

So what has our legislature has been up to:


Palm Beach Post - Florida Legislature passes PIP bill, Orlando Sentinel - PIP is back -- in 2008, Miami-Herald - No-fault insurance Q&A

The House Bill (13C) was passed by both chambers after a cap on lawyers' fees was removed and includes changes that legislators say are designed to reduce insurance fraud. Assuming Governor Crist signs the legislation, it'll take effect on January 1, 2008.


Sun-Sentinel - Senate OKs $1.1 billion in state budget cuts, News-Press - Budget talks winding up in state legislature, Sun-Herald - Budget trims looks easy for now, but 2008 could be rough


Bring Matt Stoller to the FDP Convention

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a novice political blogger opened up her big fat, um, keyboard and suggested that there be a blogger panel at the Florida Democratic Party Convention.

Blog Florida Blue
There must have been some magic in that keyboard that day because all sorts of wonderful things started happening:

  • Bloggers were invited to a special luncheon at the Jefferson-Jackson Weekend in June

  • Bloggers adopted the Blog Florida Blue Initiative

  • Florida Progressive Radio launched and its audience is growing bigger with each broadcast

  • The Netroots Coalition, modeled after a constituency caucus, has been added to the Florida Democratic Party structure.

  • We're putting pressure on Florida’s Republican Congressional Delegation with the new WatchBlog network.

  • Many bloggers around the state are keeping Florida informed with daily postings

Florida Democratic Party Convention 2007 AND, not only did the Florida Democratic Party invite bloggers to their 2007 State Convention to be held October 26-28 at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL, but the blogger panel expanded to become three panels: Netroots 101, Netroots Tools, and Working with the Netroots.

Plus, we're going to have really awesome opening and closing keynote speakers!

However, its going to take more than magic. We need your help!

Our goal is to raise $1500 to cover travel expenses for our keynote speakers. Please consider giving a small contribution to bring these speakers down. Their expertise will be invaluable in furthering the Florida Netroots.

Donate via ActBlue

Yesterday, the Florida Democratic Party announced that Matt Stoller from OpenLeft.com will be giving our closing keynote address.

Besides writing at OpenLeft.com, Matt is President of the political action committee BlogPAC and he also consults for the Sunlight Foundation on open government, for ActBlue, and for Working Assets, a progressive phone company. Other past projects of his include the web campaign thereisnocrisis.com to fight against the privatization of Social Security, a radio and blog project called 'The Blogging of the President', and the web campaign enjoythedraft.com. He is the co-author of a report titled 'The Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere' from the New Politics Institute. In 2003, he worked on the Draft Wesley Clark movement. Stoller began blogging in 2002.

I agree with the FDP that:
Matt’s focus on progressive coalition building, the mechanics of the right-wing, and communications policy is exactly the expertise that will help us to grow the online progressive infrastructure in Florida.

Please help us bring Matt Stoller and another great keynote speaker who will be announced very soon to the Florida Netroots Conference at the state convention:

Donate via ActBlue

Special thanks to all the energetic and passionate people out there who worked so hard to make the magic happen. You turned an idea into a reality.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Legislative Update

"No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session ..." -- Judge Gideon J. Tucker (1866)

Here's a roundup of what the legislature has been up to:

Property Tax

Sarasota Herald Tribune: Session Could Take a Detour

Three options facing the Legislature on property tax reform.
  • Do nothing and hope an appeals court or the Florida Supreme Court reverses a Leon County judge's decision last month. The judge found that the Jan. 29 ballot language approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature in June unconstitutionally misled voters.

  • Try to tweak the Jan. 29 ballot language to meet the judge's concerns. But a number of GOP lawmakers have reversed their support since June, making this a long shot.

  • Move to a new plan. Options include doubling the homestead exemption, allowing homeowners to keep some accrued Save Our Homes tax savings if they move, reducing the tangible property tax for businesses or some combination of this or other ideas. But to get any plan on the Jan. 29 ballot, lawmakers need to act by Oct. 29 and pass any plan by a three-fourths margin. That gives Democrats – outnumbered nearly 2-1 in the Legislature – virtual veto power.

Budget Cuts

News-Press: Budget cut tussle begins: Dems say GOP plan won't fly

Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller of Cooper City said most Senate Democrats will refuse to vote for the plan when it reaches the floor later this week.

Democrats want the cuts, which will largely fall on education and health care, to be at least partially offset with revenue increases, including an expansion of gambling and a rollback of tax breaks for special interests.

"For this special session, it's going to be a plan between the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans and it's not going to be one the Democrats can go along with," Geller said.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach agreed.

"We've had the worst high school graduation rate for three consecutive years, and now we're going to take 300 million out of our public education base?" Gelber said. "It makes no sense."

St. Pete Times: Budget at hand, but minds on taxes

Democrats have threatened to vote no on budget cuts, complaining that Republicans won't debate alternatives, like ending old sales tax exemptions or more recent tax cuts passed during former Gov. Jeb Bush's tenure.

"Everything needs to be on the table," said Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller, D-Cooper City.

"That's not going to happen in this session," said Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St.

Yeah, why discuss doing something like restoring the intangibles tax, which brought in $1.1 Billion in revenue to the state, when we could cut things like healthcare and education instead?


Tallahassee Democrat: PIP's return not if, but when

Heeding regulators who say they need time to handle changes to Florida's off-again, on-again mandatory medical coverage, negotiators said Wednesday they have agreed to a five-month delay in restarting Personal Injury Protection, as well as the state's no-fault law.

The restart date for PIP, under this proposal, would be February 15.

Government in the Sunshine?

Sun-Sentinel: Secrecy ushers in special session

Many lawmakers are openly critical of the unprecedented number of closed-door attempts at deal making that will ultimately determine what they vote on. Indeed, leaders didn't even announce the agenda for the session until Friday -- a task usually completed weeks in advance.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach was sharply critical of House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, who last week agreed to $790 million in budget cuts in a pact most lawmakers first learned about via e-mail.

"I know it's easier to have a meeting when the public isn't there and when all the legislators who might disagree aren't there," Gelber said. "But, candidly, it's not better. It's not fair."

Learn more about Florida's Sunshine Law and Public Records Law. Are secret meetings part of the accountability that Marco Rubio keeps talking about?

I'm not a big sports fan, but

Florida Today: Legislators make way for football game

House and Senate members have a tight schedule to agree on $1 billion in budget cuts, made all the tighter because most of them will be booted out of town for the weekend. Tallahassee was long-ago booked for a Florida State University football game.

Hey, whatever its takes to get them out of town!


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Legisature in Session

"There is nothing that will upset a state economic condition like a legislature. It's better to have termites in your house than the legislature (in session)." Will Rogers - Radio broadcast, March 31, 1935

Our Florida Legislature will be in session for 10 days to tackle cutting the budget by $1 Billion and to address no-fault auto insurance - keep an eye on them.

Here's a sampling of the Republican proposals:

- cut $32 million from funds that help pay for health care for legal immigrants
- cut $54 million in hospital reimbursements for Medicaid patients
- cut $200 million in funds for public schools
- eliminate vacant positions, including 50 in the Florida Highway Patrol
- delay funding a $147.5 million teacher merit-pay program for a year
- increase tuition and fees for community colleges and universities

A few details about the cuts from the Proposed Special Appropriations Act:

$ amounts in Millions

Department of Education: $444.6
Healthcare Administration: $420.9
Persons with Disabilities: $11.5
Children & Familiy Services: $16.8
Elder Affairs: $17.3
Dept of Health: $2.9
Veterens Affairs: $.2
Department of Corrections: $68.8
Justice Administration: $12.7
Law Enforcement: $8
Legal Affais/Attorney General: $.5
Parole Admin: $.2
Agriculture and Community Services: $1.3
Community Affairs: $.4
Environmental Protection: $3.6
Workforce Innovation: $25.1
Business/Professional Regulation: $1
Fianancial Services: $7.6
Governor: $1.1
Highway Saftey/Motor Vehicles: $7.6
Legislative Branch: $8.7
Lottery: $1.2
Management Services: $3.4
Military Affairs: $1.3
Public Service Commission: $.1
Department of Revenue: $10.3
Department of State: $.5
State Courts: $7.7

For Further Research:

Senate Bills for 2007C Special Session

House Bills for 2007C Special Session

Appropriations Documents for Special Session 2007C

PIP Reform Proposal Documents