Does the GOP Hate the Panhandle?

4 02 2009

The House GOP has done the dirty deed. They have dumped scandal plagued Speaker Ray Sansom and moved into a new era of ethics in politics. Or have they? Is it possible Sansom was easier to jettison because he hails from a region that many in the Republican Party want nothing to do with?

In 1995, the State House investigated John Thrasher for a potential conflict of interest stemming from his days as a lobbyist for the Florida Medical Association. Then in 1997, CNN did a piece on it’s weekly Sunday newsmagazine on Thrasher’s potential conflicts of interest as the House Rules Chairman. Yet the GOP kept Thrasher on the path to eventually be Speaker, and in 1998 he was elected the second Republican Speaker since Reconstruction. Thrasher is from Jacksonville, which since the days of Claude Kirk has been the center of Republican activity in Florida.

Ethical questions have also surrounded former Republican Speakers Tom Feeney and Johnnie Byrd, both of whom hail from Central Florida.  Feeney’s ethical behavior eventually led to his demise as a Congressman, but during his Legislative service, Republicans didn’t want to challenge him.

The one Republican House or Senate leader from the Panhandle since the GOP takeover, Alan Bense had impeccable ethics and the confidence of members in both parties. Perhaps had Bense been a little more like Bo Johnson or Ray Sansom he’d have been dumped overboard before his first Regular Session also.

This record stands in contrast to the Democrats who when controlling the Legislature, placed a disproportionate number of Panhandle members in leadership positions. Recall Donald L. Tucker, W.D. Childers, James Harold Thompson, Bo Johnson and of course Dempsey Barron?  Maybe the Democrats current obsession in some ranks with traditional voters in the Panhandle isn’t ill founded? Well it is if you consider the region does little to win you statewide elections, and that the true battleground is where the GOP protects itself and its members: up and down the I-4 corridor.

We’ve already discussed at length the discomfort of the Democratic Party in this state, traditionally Jeffersonian and skeptical of big cities and ethnic/minority voters with the urban mass in southeast Florida. Now we have further evidence the traditionally suburban GOP which until the late 1960s was confined to Pinellas, Broward and Orange Counties has with the Jeffersonian traditions of the Panhandle.

The Republicans are so inept in the region that in 1996 when they had the opportunity to capture an open US House seat they nominated a city slicker, a Tallahassee banker Bill Sutton to oppose a Jefferson County farmer and legislator Alan Boyd. Predictably the GOP lost big.

The Florida Republican Party resembles a group of suburban country club elites who continue to subsist on the votes of those they would never associate closely with. Ray Sansom who represents the sort of constituency the coastal Republican elite in Lighthouse Point or Indian Rocks Beach would never get near was easy to eliminate.

Ultimately it may be high time for the Panhandle to realize the Republicans are still now and always will be the party of Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover, and Wall Street. The Democrats are the party of Thomas Jefferson, but probably not Andrew Jackson as the Florida Democratic Party has traditionally been influenced by heavy landowning families. But when given the chance to dismiss a leader from the Panhandle, The Republicans will gladly take the opportunity.

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“Comrade Crist” Remains a Formidable Foe for Progressives

3 02 2009

Charlie Crist has the distinguished honor of being nominated by the extreme right wing Club for Growth as a nominee for the first “Comrade of the Month” honor. Pat Toomey’s group which is trying to obviously rekindle memories of the House Un-American Activities Committee has singled out one Republican nationally. Toomey’s group which was previously led by the wonkish market oriented Stephen Moore may in fact be helping Crist by positioning him as a moderate in the eyes of Florida voters.

This will certainly make the Democrats who have spent two plus years cozening up to the Governor more comfortable: Crist is obviously perceived as a moderate in certain GOP circles. However given Crist’s ability to change political positions and ideology on a dime, the Democrats should not take solace in this perception. Charlie Crist is no moderate, but in fact a partisan Republican.

Two years ago, when the Governor railed against the Insurance Industry, he cleverly coaxed Democrats to buy into his government run proposal. If and when the next Insurance crisis hits the state of Florida, Democrats perpetually in the Legislative minority will share equal blame with the Governor for the inevitable problems.

For whatever reason, Democrats seem less willing to oppose and more likely to be talked into tokenism and back slapping in the capitol. The Democrats would be better served by not showing up for Legislative Session rather than cutting deals that inoculate the GOP Governor and Legislative majority. Obviously nobody would defend simply not showing up in Tallahassee, but the point is constantly cutting deals should be viewed the same way.

To doubt Charlie Crist is a partisan Republican is foolhardy. In 1995 he held up Governor Chiles most critical appointments until the final day of session for strictly political reasons. The same year he initiated a Senate investigation of campaign calls made by the Chiles campaign. In the long history of political campaigns, dirty tricks have been conducted over and over again. Jeb Bush accused Lawton Chiles of being soft on crime exploiting the family of a murder victim in a TV ad.

But it was Chiles that was accused of dirty tricks in a politically motivated investigation which cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.  In 1996, he helped lead the Republican opposition to Governor Chiles landmark lawsuit against the Tobacco Industry and then a year later, Crist conducted another partisan witch hunt, this time against the attorney’s who bravely represented the state in the Tobacco Lawsuit. By 1997, Crist was firmly viewed within the halls of the Legislature as a show horse and a partisan.

The following year he supported Kendrick Meek’s bill to give Wilbert Pitts and Freddie Lee compensation for their incarceration in the 1960s and 1970s.  Crist was wisely seen in photos with these innocent victims for future use in trying to win African-American support statewide. As a mere coincidence, Crist’s Democratic opponent eight years later has voted against a similar bill two years earlier when he was still in the Legislature. Pitts and Lee were good men who fell victim to raw racism in the Jeffersonian spirited Panhandle of the 1960s. But Crist never felt true sympathy for them: he was merely exploiting their plight for political gain.

When he ran for the US Senate in 1998, Crist accused Bob Graham, a political moderate who put the concerns of the state of Florida over any partisanship or ideology of being a left winger and ran a negative campaign. In 2000 he ran an ad against George Sheldon focusing on a D.U.I. Sheldon had received 25 years earlier. The Ad was pulled after the Governor and Attorney General intervened, but the lesson was clear: Crist will play to win at any cost.

In 2002 Crist’s campaign slimmed Democratic nominee Buddy Dyer repeatedly in the Attorney General’s race. Dyer’s positive legislative record was dissected in a way the Democrats never did to Crist in any of his four statewide races.

Free Market forces have let Florida and the nation down. This cannot be questioned. But the Democrats over eagerness to help “bail out” Republicans for their economic irresponsibility and mistakes is politically naïve.

The Democrats are protecting Charlie Crist, plain and simple. His failures will be tossed aside as he blames liberals and Democrats for backing him into a corner. The Legislators and Democratic elected officials who think they can work with Governor Crist for mutual benefit of the state don’t know the Charlie Crist many Floridians remember: a petty partisan who’ll say or do anything to get elected.





Florida’s Democrats: Stuck in the 20th Century

2 02 2009

The political landscape in Florida has changed a great deal this decade. But the more that changes, even more stays the same. Florida’s Democrats appear fearful of nominating perceived liberal candidates from southeast Florida and are discussing the need to place “moderate” Democrats in key races. Yet the track record of Florida’s Democrats on such matters is pitiful at best.

We’ve been on this ride before. Florida’s Democratic Primary voters were told by party elders in 2002 that Janet Reno’s nomination would be a disaster for Democrats and that the moderate Bill McBride from Tampa would be the right image for the party. McBride won almost every Florida country in the primary with Reno, but lost badly in the three southeast Florida counties (which more resemble New York or New Jersey in voting patterns than the rest of Florida).

McBride’s nomination was disastrous for Florida’s Democrats with the GOP winning a record majority in both chambers of the Florida Legislature.  One can only speculate on Janet Reno’s electability statewide. While many southeast Floridians seem to owe more loyalty to New York or New Jersey than to Florida, Reno was distinctly old Florida. McBride on the other hand spoke like an old Floridian, but lacked the understanding and passion for issues affecting old Florida, particularly environmental ones. McBride was a distinctly new Florida lawyer with little idea how to appeal to ethnic urban voters or old Florida constituencies.

This cycle was repeated in the 2004 US Senate race when southeast Floridians Alex Penelas and Peter Deutsch were considered “too ethnic” for voters north of Jupiter. Much like politics in northern states, ethnic urban candidates are often seen as undesirable in the rural and suburban areas of those states. Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York have long histories of nominating candidates from outside urban areas in their Democratic Primaries.

The obsession of Pennsylvania and Illinois Democrats with selecting nominees from outside Philadelphia and Chicago respectively has finally vanished. From that we have produced Governor Ed Rendell, and President Barack Obama, two of the most able Democrats in the nation. The 21st Centruy has brought throughout the nation a new emphasis on problem solving and ability and less of an emphasis on ideology thoughout the nation.

But the obsession in Florida of nominating non southeast Florida area candidates remains. Anybody who seeks the Democratic nomination from Miami-Dade County is instantly viewed with suspicion outside the area.

Kendrick Meek and Dan Gelber have both placed themselves forward in seeking the US Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez. But as I speak to Democrats from outside Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach Counties, I hear the usually snickering about nominating liberals and southeast Floridians.

The last three major elections, the Democrats have nominated perceived moderates from increasingly conservative Hillsborough County, and in all three elections the Democrats have lost. The Democrats have avoided nominating southeast Floridians at all cost and have also managed to avoid fielding strong candidates from the Orlando area, growing rapidly and moving equally quickly into the Democratic column.

Democrats in Tallahassee and across the state seem to be once again placing a geographic stigma on Senator Gelber and Congressman Meek. This stigma, so difficult for many to overcome is preciously why the Democrats continue to lose election after election in Florida.





Discover Florida: Wekiva Springs State Park

1 02 2009

wekiva

The Wekiva River and Swamp have become a holy grail for Central Florida Environmentalists. But when you visit the area as I have recently it’s easy to see why Central Florida’s rapid development has halted when it conflicts with the health of the Wekiva River area. Attempts to complete the missing link of the Beltway around Orlando have met strong opposition and the only way to complete the highway appears to be through a compromise that will force the Highway to share the current route of SR 46 for several miles.

Governor Charlie Crist’s recent veto of Florida Forever funds ensures the long term health of this ecosystem, and the continued efforts to restore the entire River and Swamp region. The Florida Black Bear an endangered species is the Springs areas most famous resident. Alligators and Turtles are also frequently found in the region.

Here is the Florida State Parks website description of the Springs:

Located at the headwaters of the Wekiva River, the beautiful vistas within this park offer a glimpse of what Central Florida looked like when Timucuan Indians fished and hunted these lands. Just one hour from most central Florida attractions, Wekiwa Springs offers visitors the opportunity to relax in a natural setting, enjoy a picnic, or take a swim in the cool spring. Canoeists and kayakers can paddle along the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run. Thirteen miles of trails provide opportunities for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. Options for camping include a full facility campground and primitive camping areas. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.

kartik-wekiva-river


North of the Springs the Wekiva River runs for 16 miles through the Swamp. Below is the State Parks description of the Wekiva River:

“Central Florida nature exists in its purest form along four miles of the Wekiva River and Blackwater Creek. For thousands of years, Native Americans valued the abundance of wildlife in this area. This system of blackwater streams and wetlands provides habitat for black bears, river otters, alligators, wood storks, and sandhill cranes. Visitors can stroll along the Sand Hill Nature Trail for a self guided tour of the native Florida plants and wildlife found at the park. Canoeists can paddle through the park on the Wekiva River. Equestrian camping is available in designated areas and can be reserved by calling Wekiwa Springs State Park. Horse stalls and corrals are available for equestrian campers. Located nine miles west of Sanford on State Road 46.”

The entire Wekiva Springs/River/Swamp area is unique and critical for the continued health of Central Florida’s environment.







Sansom Steps Aside While House Democrats Remain out to Lunch

31 01 2009

The Democrats still don’t get it. Speaker Ray Sansom’s decision to step away temporarily from the duties of the Speakership should be an occasion to call for greater ethical scrutiny of the majority party. Yet the House Democrats met the news of Sansom’s decision with a short statement, which basically said nothing.

We’ve discussed at length the apprehension of the Democrats in the Legislature to aggressively confront the GOP on serious issues. The neutering of the minority party which began with the intimidation tactics of Speaker Dan Webster, who led the first GOP majority since Reconstruction has been completed with the inaction on Sansom’s scandal.

Yesterday’s decision for Sansom to step aside, albeit temporarily owes itself to the outstanding reporting of several top reporters in Florida. It also owes much to the courage of editorial boards at this difficult time for the newspaper industry to confront the excesses and hubris of the GOP majority.  Additionally, it is extremely possible that many Republicans were uncomfortable with the political ramifications of being led by someone as ethically challenged as Sansom, and requested he step aside. This pressure was brought on the GOP by Florida’s Newspapers and citizens not by the minority party.

In 1998, Congressional Republicans feeling they had a problem with Bob Livingston, the in-coming Speaker jettisoned him. Much of the pressure came from within the GOP House caucus although the Democrats had rightfully used Livingston’s advocacy of President Clinton’s Impeachment against him publically. With ethical issues dogging Sansom, and Barack Obama carrying the state by a relatively wide margin this past November, the Democrats had two weeks to call for Sansom’s rejection as Speaker.

The minority party had a number of potential ways to prevent a Sansom speakership, or to at the very least bring light to the culture of corruption that has been protected by the GOP majority. The Democrats could have fairly easily have started a fire that consumed the GOP majority’s will to stand with Sansom.  The Democrats could have caused enough trouble for the Republicans to embarrassingly shove aside Sansom and nominate someone else to be Speaker at the Organizational Session. The Democrats however choose the path of least resistance, and thus Sansom faced little internal pressure from within the House.

Sansom’s current difficulties have very little if anything to do with minority party pressure. The Democrats have not only failed to stand up for their ideology. They have let the state down by a failure to provide a vibrant opposition party in the halls of the Legislature. This is a shortcoming every citizen of the state should take seriously and be concerned about.

We’ve discussed the success of the Congressional Democrats in using Jack Abramoff, and other incidents of graft, greed and corruption against a twelve year entrenched GOP majority in Washington. But in Tallahassee, where the Republicans enter the thirteenth consecutive year with a House majority, the Democrats are totally out to lunch.

Perhaps the Democrats don’t have enough courage in their convictions to step forward and confront the likes of Ray Sansom. Or perhaps they lack an ideology and conscience completely, and are simply happy to enjoy the perks of legislative office themselves. Whatever the case, the Democrats have through thirteen years in the minority become less and less effective as a true opposition party in Florida.





Florida GOP Practicing Hoovernomics.

30 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Earlier this week the Tallahassee Democrat reported that the Chiles Endowment Fund is being eyed again by GOP lawmakers and Governor Crist.  The fiscal policies that have basically bankrupted the state have been on the watch of the Republican Legislative majority as well as Governor Bush and Governor Crist. Yet much like one of Florida’s worst Governors, Fred Cone who led the state during the Depression.

Cone was a doctrinaire conservative much like many fellow Democrats of the day. David Sholtz, who had been the Governor in FDR’s first four years as President employed progressive programs to try and jump start Florida’s economy. But under Cone the state backslid because of an unwillingness to raise revenue or implement new programs.

The Florida GOP of 2009 looks like the Democrats of Cone’s era. Conservtaive, ideological and completely impractical. Governor Crist a master politician understands that this cannot be the GOP’s image. But the legislative leadership, conservative and in many cases tied to the traditional landowning families of Florida’s yesteryear.

These ideolgoues want Florida to be a twenty first century labratory for Hoovernomics. Even Republicans as controversial as Dick Cheney warned GOP Congressman about associating so openly with the failed ecomomic policies of the Republican Party of the 1920s. But the Florida GOP save the Governor clearly did not get the memo from the Vice President.





Florida Forever Must Be Maintained At All Costs

29 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

When Florida Forever was passed as a compromise piece of legislation during the 1999 Legislative Session. Environmentalists including myself wanted a more comprehensive program to promote restoration of natural ecosystems (including but not limited to the Everglades). Whether or not the original legislation went far enough can be debated but few can argue that the Florida Forever program has been universally successful, and one of the few positive legacies of the Bush years in Florida.

Governor Charlie Crist understands this legacy in a way Legislators who were not around for its passage and whose shortsightedness is obvious.

The progress of the program is best described by the official website:

” Since its inception in July 2001 through September 2006, the state’s Florida Forever land acquisition program has been extremely successful as evidenced by the protection of: over 231,730 acres of Strategic Habitat Conservation Areas (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission); 374,890 acres of habitat conservation areas (FNAI), and over 580 listed species locations of 190 different species, 98 of which are state-listed as endangered, 41 state-listed threatened, and 17 species of special concern; 513,050 acres of ecological greenways (Office of Greenways & Trails); 68,260 acres of under-represented natural communities; 54,540 acres of natural floodplains; 530,550 acres important to significant water bodies; 5,060 acres of fragile coastline; 236,210 acres of functional wetlands; 524,846 acres of significant groundwater recharge areas; 30,130 acres of land to support priority recreational trails; and, 268,330 acres of sustainable forest land. Also, over 2,500 acres of archaeological and historic sites have been protected. Note: these acreages were derived from the most recently updated Florida Forever data layers, which are continuously amended to reflect the most current scientific analyses of Florida’s natural resources. Additionally, the acreages recorded for each measure often overlap, and thus should not be added together.”

So in short Florida was on the cutting edge of progressive reform which our readers all realize is a rarity. It’s a shame the legislators don’t appreciate the historical significance of this program and remember that Florida’s economy is fueled by tourism and Florida’s tourism is largely fueled by its unique environmental balance. Investing in Florida’s environment is in fact an investment in Florida’s economy even more so than cutting taxes, funding education, etc. It is critical Florida continues to maintain higher environmental standards than other states.