Can we end the pretense espoused by such conventional wisdom proprietors as MSNBC's Joe Scarborough that the various problems hitting the Obama White House "threaten" his second term agenda? With the exception of immigration, Republicans (particularly in the House) have not really shown any interest in working with the president whatsoever (though on budget issues they're sort of forced to) since his re-election.
What else? Gun control? Please. Yes, some GOP Senators have taken a hit in their poll numbers after voting against basic background checks, but there hasn't been any serious effort to try to resume those legislation. Tax reform? This had been a goal of the GOP coming after the fiscal cliff negotiations. Could they work with Obama on this, as the investigations with the IRS take place? Maybe.
You have to sort of doubt that though when you have some Republicans going on television and saying that the recent problems with the IRS and Benghazi might lead to impeachment . In USA Today, conservative columnist Michael Medved is urging Republicans not to go down that route, since the odds are low it could happen, it could backfire and benefit the president, and Medved contends, it would only help Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, two of the leading Democratic candidates for president in 2016.
But on immigration, why would these issues affect those negotiations? There are certain Republicans who are hellbent on crushing that proposal in the Senate, but there are just as many members of the GOP (like their entire establishment) who believe it's crucial that comprehensive immigration reform be passed this year in order to stop hemorrhaging Latino voters. So yes, it's safe to say that the Obama agenda might be a bit in peril in terms of his goals for the second term. But let's be honest - with a hostile GOP House and Republicans using the filibuster to require 60 votes in the Senate, any major accomplishments (with the exception of immigration) were always going to be a major haul - so stop blaming these the incidents breaking in the last week as being the culprit.
We did watch White House aide Dan Pfeiffer do all five Sunday morning public affairs shows yesterday defending the President in the wake of the IRS/Benghazi/AP storm. He certainly had his talking points down cold, though he did have to suffer the indignity of CBS' Bob Schieffer asking him "Why are you here?"
Though it got little mainstream media coverage that we noticed, CL's Terence Smith was on Treasure Island Beach on Saturday to cover the 5th annual Hands Across the Sands event.
And if you missed over the weekend, all of a sudden Hillsborough County has gone from being one of the largest homeless areas of the country to being quite average in that respect -but the reason for that isn't that they've all found shelter.
The Tampa Tribune's editorial page today is coming out forcefully in advocating that Governor Rick Scott veto the $200,000 added into the state budget by Clearwater area GOP state Senator Jack Latvala for a new "desk study" evaluating the prospects of a merger between HART & PSTA, the two respective transit agencies for Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.
The paper notes the $100,000 study conducted by the agencies last year (that one paid by the agencies - this one would be paid for by Tallahassee, or you could say, taxpayers). But HART objected to the desk study, and merger talks petered out.
CL spoke briefly to Senator Latvala earlier this week about HART's objections. He said further study should be something all taxpayers support, since it could show increased savings. He's fully aware of the opposition that board members there feel, particular those who believe it's a Trojan Horse to have Hillsborough help pay for Pinellas light-rail plans.
But he's undeterred, calling criticisms "turf wars."
The Trib writes: "As the Tampa Bay area grows, and its stifling commutes worsen, getting the public to support rail becomes more likely. And the reasons to consolidate transit agencies become more apparent," but they say you don't need a study to realize that.
Well yesterday was quite interesting over at the County Center in Tampa. First the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to agree to putting a referendum on the 2014 ballot asking voters to add another single-member district for the county, eliminating an at-large district. Arguments used by Commissioner Les Miller is that the population has doubled in the past 30 years, yet the board still has only four single member districts. That's far smaller than equally large counties throughout the state. And yes, the move could pave the way towards creating a district with a heavy Latino presence, which actually is something that Republicans and Democrats are in harmony about, since they both are pursuing that voting bloc.
Also at the BOCC -we've never seen Commissioner Kevin Beckner as impassioned as he was yesterday regarding the record that the board has on LGBT issues (manifested earlier this year with the board rejecting a domestic partner registry). It all centered around conservative firebrand Terry Kemple, and it was intense.
Are you aware that former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich is running for the Democratic nomination for governor? She is, and we learned more about her candidacy when she visited CL's offices earlier this week.
During the past presidential election, lots of reporters (including myself) wrote that there were many similarities between the 2004 and 2012 campaigns. The main parallel was a polarizing incumbent who was ripe for being defeated, running against a stiff Massachusetts politician who most folks didn't feel comfortable with.
But for Barack Obama and his supporters, they'd better hope that 2013 is better than 2005 was for George W. Bush. That's when 43's juice as commander in chief evaporated quickly. First it was his plan to privatize Social Security that went nowhere. Then in late summer there was the delayed response to Hurricane Katrina, followed in the fall by the debacle that was nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. His presidency was never the same after that.
Yesterday's revelation that the Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of AP reporters seems something out of the 1970s Nixon White House, not something from a progressive administration.
Republicans have been pounding Obama so hard on Benghazi, to the point where their legitimate questions are obscured by their obsession to bring him down any way possible (worse than Watergate, Senator Inhofe? Really?) But with the revelations about the IRS targeting specific political groups, followed by this AP justice story, the White House is in crisis.
The president has to get ahead of these issues, or whatever agenda he hopes to achieve (already formidable against an intransigent group of House Republicans), will be impossible.
Marco Rubio shot out of the gate yesterday morning, calling for heads to role at the IRS. The only problem? The man who was in charge when all the shenanigans went on — the Bush appointee Douglas Shulman — left the job last fall.
More brain drain coming out of Tampa's City Hall with Siobhan Harley, special assistant to Mayor Buckhorn, leaving town to work as a political consultant in Nashville.
And in between everything else I did last weekend, I spent 90 minutes watching a documentary on the late conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart (so you don't have to). But if you want to see Hating Breitbart, the film will open this weekend at the Veterans 24 theater in Tampa.
The American people's trust in government began eroding in the 1970s, and it has never fully recovered. That erosion, coupled with an ideological aversion amongst Libertarians and some conservatives to what they label "big government," has created an environment where Second Amendment fans can argue against universal background checks for guns because of fears of a national gun registry, which they claim would lead the government to take away their guns.
Gun control advocates have been angry about that mindset, but guess what folks? That paranoia about the government only got more octane over the weekend when it was made public that officials with the Internal Revenue Service singled out nonprofit groups that criticized the government, including those with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names, and those seeking to educate people about the Constitution.
The effort apparently stemmed out of a desire to bust the surfeit of "social welfare" groups potentially exploiting their tax-exempt status, which included groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads and others that burst forward after the Citizen's United Supreme Court decision in January of 2010.
The big story here of course is how Glenn Beck and other Patriot groups don't have to make up some of their rhetoric anymore — it's been handed to them on a silver platter by these IRS officials. This news will further reduce trust in government. One of the reasons voters in Hillsborough County rejected the transit tax two-and-a-half years ago was because they didn't trust local lawmakers about how that tax would be administered. Although the federal government hasn't reneged on any major commitments financially, state lawmakers justify rejecting federal funds for Medicaid expansion because they don't trust the feds to hold up their end of the deal. Believable? No, but again, they just got a gift with this new revelation about the IRS behavior, redolent of Richard Nixon's White House activities in the 1970s.
Back to politics. I spent a chunk of my Saturday night on the clock, covering the Hillsborough County Kennedy/King Dinner in Tampa, where Charlie Crist did not announce his candidacy for governor, nor talk extensively about much of anything, other than how the Democratic Party is a much better fit for him.
Speaking of outrageous behavior, what the hell is going on with our military and the reporting of sexually violent acts? These days on Capitol Hill, women lawmakers in particular are disgusted by what's happening with the lack of prosecutions in rape cases, and it looks like they're ready to change current laws on the books to better deal with this crisis.
And if you missed it on Friday, John McCain wants to allow folks like football fans in Tampa the right to watch Buc games this season on local television, regardless of whether the game is sold out (or 85 percent sold out). Folks who get to see better national games because of the blackout rule may question whether this is a good thing or not.
Although it's being reported that the Tampa City Council postponed voting on the ambitious 36-story apartment tower complex near the Straz Center last night, in fact it was the point man for the city of Tampa, economic development head Bob McDonough, who accurately read the temperature in the room at City Hall and deduced that the city needed more time to answer questions from the Council — and the public — about the development.
As we reported earlier this week, opposition that has grown in recent months since the proposal by developers Greg Minder and Phillip Smith to built to the immediate west of the John F. Germany Public Library and to the south of the Straz Center.
Straz Center president Judy Lisi (who did not return a request for comment by CL last week on her position about the proposal) came out last night showing much more concern about the development than when it was originally unveiled months ago. One of the main issues of contention last night was about the reconfiguring of Cass and Tyler streets near the Straz - something that the performing arts center supported. But now? "This is a case of be careful what you wish for." she told the Council.
City officials and the developers now have a couple of months to sell the community on the project - that should be interesting.
A new poll taken in Gus Bilirakis congressional district says that the majority of folks polled there support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Gus has said it's all about border security. But until the Democrats produce a viable candidate to knock off the Bilirakis brand in that upper Pinellas/Pasco area, what does Gus care what the polls say?
CL met up with Tampa-area House Democrat Mark Danish the other night, the quintessential "citizen-legislator." Danish is a middle-school teacher who never ran for office until last November, where he was vastly outspent but pulled off a narrow victory over Republican Shawn Harrison. On Wednesday night he told a crowd in Ybor City about his experiences over the past two months as a freshman legislator. A freshman legislator in the minority, need we add.
USF Student and veterans advocate Kiersten Downs is getting poised for her bike trip across the country that is gaining national attention.
And CL's new issue is all about how to enjoy the upcoming summer months in Tampa Bay. Our addition is about the little known product that is Minor League Baseball here in the region.
As the returns coming in last night showed that Mark Sanford was going to defeat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the special election for Congress in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza tweeted, "Amazing. Just amazing."
No, Mr. Cillizza. it's not.
Enough already about the formerly disgraced governor won back his old (very conservative) congressional district, okay? Bottom line is that aversion to federal spending amongst much of the electorate there - as well as an aversion to anything about Nancy Pelosi, played a far bigger part obviously than Sanford's personal foibles. And you know what? In New York City, if formerly disgraced Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner gets in the race, and perhaps even wins it, will that mean the end of civilization, or that New Yorkers are morally depraved? Nope. It's because the electorate will take those issues into consideration when they make their final choice.
Now you might be saying, what about here in Hillsborough County? After all, didn't disgraced property appraiser Rob Turner lose seat because of the tawdry details out of what he called a "personal affair?" No doubt, it hurt him substantially, certainly in the GOP primary against Ronda Storms. And in the general, he did lose to moderate Democrat Bob Henriquez. But Henriquez was a known quantity, and a moderate, and Storms had never won county wide. Colbert-Busch had never ran for anything before last night. So there are a number of factors at play here, obviously, with no set hard rules. But enough of the criticism by Democrats blasting South Carolinians for their hypocrisy. It goes on with both sides, and that district, my friends, was not friendly towards Democrats (I learned last night that Democrats have now failed to pick up a GOP-held seat in South Carolina for 48 consecutive House races).
Tomorrow night there's a zoning hearing about that proposed high-rise apartment tower in downtown Tampa. There are some folks who live around the area who aren't too pleased about it - though their complaints probably won't go too far.
Local officials in Tampa/Hillsborough County are psyched about hiring a dynamic new film commissioner to try to bring more TV, film and commercial work to Tampa Bay.
And you might have heard that the 50th anniversary of Fort De Soto Park takes place this Saturday. There was a bit of controversy a few years ago when the Pinellas County Commission opted to begin charging visitors to the park - but that $5 fee will be relaxed this Saturday for the anniversary, so go crazy.
Hope everyone had a good weekend - how can you not dig these uncommonly low-humidity days rolling into the first week of May? By the way, I discovered something about myself yesterday. I can't deal with films like "Iron Man 3" at all anymore. Life is too short to watch a lot of stuff get blown up for a couple of hours, you know?
Big sports weekend, with a championship boxing match and the Kentucky Derby...I spent my leisure time watching a few hours of the very exciting NBA playoffs. We are now down to just four series going on, after the Joakim Noah-led Chicago Bulls went into Brooklyn Saturday night to knock off the Brooklyn Nets. Now Chicago faces the number one seed in this tournament, the big, bad Miami Heat, led by the great LeBron James.
LeBron yesterday took home the league's Most Valuable Player Award for the 2012-2013 regular season, the fourth time in five years he's taken home the trophy as the league's best, or at least most valuable player. At 28, James is at the peak of his athletic powers, and it's a sight to behold. And with 4 MVP's, he's in rarefied air, joining Abdul-Jabbar, Russell, and Michael Jordan. Having said that, I'd love to see the Bulls knock off the Heat (or the Knicks or Oklahoma City afterwards), not because I'm anti-Miami, simply that they're the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champions, so why not have a major upset?.
Still, let's be frank: LeBron still has a ways to go before America embraces like they did MJ. Maybe they never will..
It was exactly a week ago that a journeyman basketball player became the biggest story in the country for a couple of days - that would be Jason Collins, the 34-year-old free agent who came out as gay in Sports Illustrated. Lots of people weighed in on that, of course, including Daily Beast contributor Howard Kurtz, who is now ex-Daily Beast reporter Howard Kurtz, after he misread Collins story. That led to the unusual spectacle of the media critic getting severely grilled on his own CNN show yesterday.
Although most Democrats I speak with are so over it, the fact of the matter is that questions about the circumstances before and after the death of former U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens still haven't been adequately addressed for many congressional Republicans. That means the issue of Benghazi will come back before Congress this week. Yesterday John McCain said it was time for a select committee to investigate the entire situation there, a la Iran-Contra.
And the Florida Legislative session came to an end on Friday night. One of the last major bills to get passed was an election reform bill that may not have appeased some state Democrats who are unhappy that local supervisors of election aren't being mandated to open up early voting for 14 days, but the League of Women Voters says the new law is just swell.
There were demonstrations held throughout the world on May Day, a day when labor unions traditionally take to the streets to talk about work conditions. According to reports, more than 100,000 people in Spain marched because they were upset about budget talks and higher taxes. In Indonesia, tens of thousands marched calling for higher wages. In the Philippines, 8,000 workers marched for regular jobs instead of contractual work. In Taiwan, more than 10,000 protested a government plan to cut pensions.
In the U.S., it was groups fighting for comprehensive immigration reform who held rallies, though none were of the size of those back in 2006 and 2007, the last time the issue went before Congress. In Tampa last night, about three dozen people met in the driving rain in Ybor City's Centennial Park to advocate for such legislation.
It's no revelation that Americans are crazy about pets, so it was no surprise that the chambers at the Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa were packed yesterday due to the issue of what should be done on a government level about the excessive amount of feral cats that roam the region. The man in charge of Animal Services, Ian Hallett, testified that there are somewhere between 200,000-400,000 in the county. I can relate to the issue as I have fed and fixed four feral cats throughout the past six years, since I moved to Ybor City. It was five, but the cat I called Suzy seems to have gone away, which is sad. An interim proposal to deal with such cats was debated yesterday at the County Commission.
There seems to be more concentrated movement on liberalizing American laws regarding Cuba. Earlier this week, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor joined 58 of her colleagues in writing to President Obama, calling him to further reduce restrictions on Americans traveling to the communist island.
There was a lot of news out of Tallahassee yesterday, but for our money, nothing was more significant than the rejection of the Parent Empowerment Act (a/k/a parent trigger), a bill strongly opposed not just by the teachers unions, but a variety of groups and some Republicans.
If the bill was going to go down to defeat, enough Republicans would have to join Democrats in opposing it, and that's exactly what happened in the Senate, where it once again deadlocked in a 20-20 vote.
When I wrote about parent trigger two months ago, I finished the story with the following thoughts, hinting at Gov. Scott possibly vetoing the bill if it passed:
Now with Governor Scott on the outs with his party — for giving $2,500 one-time bonuses to teachers, among other offenses — might he "do a Crist" as he tries to win more teacher love? The FEA's Jeff Wright says he's not even thinking about that yet, believing that a year ago nobody thought parent trigger would lose.
The Sunshine News Service reported in a story that Scott pressured a handful of GOP senators to vote against the bill, including several (like Jack Latvala) who supported it last year. I'm not certain what to make of the report (such as why wouldn't Scott prefer to make a high-profile veto of it?), but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.
I gave props to the Tampa Bay Times for its increase in daily circulation yesterday, but I did so without having the numbers on the Tampa Tribune. It appears the Tampa-based daily had a dramatic increase in circulation, up 32.6 percent.
And there's apparently some anxiety in Tally regarding whether or not Gov. Scott will sign the ethics and election reform bills that recently passed in the Legislature.
A happy good morning to y'all on this last Monday in April. How was the weekend?
As an inveterate moviegoer, 2013 has started off a bit rocky, to say the least, which is why I can happily say I saw two very strong films over the past couple of days that I'm happy to recommend to everyone.
One is Mud, which quite simply is the best American film of the season. Directed by 34-year-old Arkansas native Jeff Nichols. I had high expectations for this film after his brilliant, apocalyptic Take Shelter was released in 2011. And Mud delivers. Go see it.
I also saw The Company You Keep, the Robert Redford vehicle about 70's radical on the run, which has a definite point of view about the state of journalism in America currently, a subject that I'd like to revisit in a subsequent post. Though this film has received rather mixed reviews, trust us, this story is quite engaging, though it could have used about 15 minutes of trimming. Long known as an idealist throughout his lengthy Hollywood career, this film has something to say about decades-old friendships and trust that struck a chord in me.
Now back to the news of the week: There's a major bill that will be voted on in the state Senate today in Tallahassee that could speed up the appeals process for the more than 400 people on Death Row in the state. However despite some momentum to change a part of the law that requires a bare majority of a 12-member jury to recommend a death sentence, this legislation does not touch that controversial provision.
Over the weekend there was a health care fare for kids out in Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park we checked out. And in national/international news, what does the Obama administration, and the U.S. do, if anything, about the fact that Syria has used chemical weapons in its civil war? That's what D.C. lawmakers debated yesterday on the Sunday talk shows.