Republican Party of Florida state chair Lenny Curry has been having a good ole' time this week, trying to stir up passions among Democrats over the fact that his state party counterpart, Allison Tant, is refusing to give Nan Rich five minutes to speak at the party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner next month in South Florida.
Rich is the only declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, and thinks she should be allotted a few minutes to make her case on why the party should rally around her. And why not? She's working her ass off right now going up and down the state, making the case for herself and against Rick Scott, who despite his best efforts of late, doesn't appear to be moving the meter at all in terms of his own popularity (maybe we're wrong about that, since it's been over two months since any major poll on the governor's race has been issued. But we doubt it).
The fact of the matter is, none of the "Big 3" potential nominees on the Democratic side- Charlie Crist, Alex Sink and Bill Nelson, have made any concrete steps towards announcing their candidacies.
Sink told Cl last month that she has to make a decision by mid-summer. Our instincts are that she won't run. Nelson appeared almost angered when we asked him earlier this week about the seeming desperation amongst members of his party, who keep on touting him despite his forceful denials.
And then there's Crist. What's he up to? Lenny Curry sent out a press release yesterday saying that he believed Crist would make his announcement that he's running in two weeks, though who knows where he came up with that date. There are some observers who say Crist should continue to lay low for a few more months, to take GOP attention away from him, but that's ridiculous. The GOP already is issuing out daily releases bashing the former Republican governor.
So as move into June of 2013, we have a Democratic party that has allowed itself to be mocked by the GOP, despite the fact that they should be favored to take back the governor's mansion for the first time in two decades. But then again, we are talking about the Florida Democratic Party.
Our cover story in the current CL on new death penalty legislation that will soon appear on Rick Scott's desk is out now.
New CEO Santiago Corrada and his associates with Visit Tampa Bay unveiled their new branding campaign yesterday at the Tampa Convention Center, and we wish them all the luck in the world. "Unlock Tampa Bay" promises, officials say, to distinguish Tampa Bay from his competitors like Fort Lauderdale ,Orlando, Austin and Nashville. Of course, we heard a year ago that the RNC was going to change the perceptions of the area, but focus groups that were employed over the past year to develop the new brand indicate that's not the case.
Occupy Tampa (yes, the group still exists) is organizing a rally tomorrow honoring Bradley Manning, the WikiLeaks whistleblower whose trial on espionage charges begins Monday.
And city of Tampa residents, do you know that TECO wants to raise your electricity rates? A few hearty souls came out to a public hearing Wednesday night to voice their displeasure upon hearing of this development.
If you watched President Obama's major speech on his national security policies yesterday, or even just read about it today, you no doubt must have seen or heard about the protester at the National Defense University in Washington who began shouting in the middle of the address regarding drone warfare.
That activist was Medea Benjamin, best known as being a member of Code Pink. That's a group of female peaceniks who wear pink and are best known for crashing congressional hearings and speeches like the one Obama held yesterday, espousing their message (they were quite active in the not very active protest scene here in Tampa last year at the RNC).
Code Pink is actually only a handful of people, and Benjamin has been their main face and voice. Still youthful looking at 60, I began covering her back in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 90's with her human rights group Global Exchange. After George Bush began his war on terror, Benjamin began making regular appearances in Washington, where she has become an almost Zelig-type activist, always at the site where all the cameras are.
Some conservatives (namely Joe Scarborough) have denounced her and her group today, asking how come they were so in prominent during the Bush era, but have been dormant during the Obama years. But nothing could be further from the truth. Last year she published a book called Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, which was extremely critical of Obama's reliance on drones as a method in the war on terrorism, and she and her minions were part of a group of left-wing activists who some say forced Obama to delay naming John Brennan to head CIA years ago (that job went to Leon Panetta, then David Petraeus, then Brennan).
Rand Paul's infamous filibuster speech against drone warfare (and targeting American citizens) was another occasion where the left and Libertarian right came together to show opposition to this policy. Meanwhile, Benjamin says she'll protest the president again, so enough of the idea that left-wing activist groups like Code Pink have been "soft" on him on this issue.
Well, the Boy Scouts went up and did it last night - they're allowing openly gays in their ranks. That was too much for Orlando-area conservative activist John Stemberger, who says he'll leave the organization and try to form a similar style group.
The Tampa City Council had a very intense discussion yesterday regarding the hiring of a budget analyst. Bottom line is that it ain't gonna happen.
And in Tampa, St. Petersburg and 400 other cities around the world around 2PM tomorrow, people will be coming together to protest the Monsanto Corporation.
News about the LGBT community in one way or another seems to dominate the news these days. A big national story will be taking place later today in Grapevine, Texas, where the Boy Scouts of America are considering a proposal at their annual meeting to allow gay youths to participate openly in the popular organization for the first time (but not gay adults).
One of the leading critics against the measure is Orlando's John Stemberger, who has happily told his followers that he'll be on all the networks doing interviews tonight after the vote comes in. Stemberger's group, the Florida Family Council, held rallies against the proposal last Friday, including in Tampa, where the spokesman there told CL that he has nothing against gays, admitting they've always served in the Scouts. But like the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, they should keep quiet about it.
Meanwhile, Bill Varian in the Times reports this morning that for the first time, every member of the Hillsborough County Commission has signed off a proclamation it honoring the GaYBOR business coalition in Ybor City. Why now, when for the past few years the majority of the GOP board members refused to? Read the article to learn more, but would it be unfair to speculate that some members just said the heck with it, let's sign the damned thing so the press will get out of our hair?
Progress does move slowly in Hillsborough County. Despite all the angst about how horrible the transit tax was when it went down to resounding defeat in November of 2010, it should never be forgotten that the residents of Tampa voted in support of it, and that support for light-rail here has never waned. But nothing has been done to pick up the pieces - until now, where the key stakeholders in Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace and the county finally sat down in the same room to begin a "conversation" about transit, though I never heard the words "light" or "rail" every uttered at the meeting. Maybe they were. Read more about that meeting here.
There was some real excitement in the air yesterday morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where Ed Turanchik and some officials with a Seattle company were extolling the virtues about a high-speed ferry service. Of course, no one knows where the money will come from to fund the grandiose proposal, but hey, it does have that "wow" factor that Tampa Bay leaders like to throw out there.
And today the Tampa City Council meets to discuss a variety of issues, including whether or not they should have their own budget analyst. The odds don't look good there, however.
For those of us who thrive on following elections, 2013 is a pretty dry year. Locally we've got the St. Pete mayoral and City Council elections coming up, with a big primary in August (with the Lens on the ballot) and the general election in November.
Nationally, there's only really one gubernatorial race of interest, and that's in Virginia. There's also the race to replace three-term incumbent Michael Bloomberg in New York City, which, being New York City, means that the rest of us have to (sort of) follow it since any news in the nation's media capital is supposed to be important to the rest of the masses.
However, following New York City politics is a lot of fun, and it just got a whole lot more interesting with the overnight announcement that formerly disgraced Brooklyn Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner is entering the race for mayor, where a new poll shows him already in second place behind front-runner Christine Quinn.
There are some in the progressive community (where Weiner was venerated for his aggressive, no-holds barred style of going up against Republicans a la Alan Grayson) who think this is too soon. But Weiner has always wanted to be mayor of NYC, and well, at 48 he's apparently got nothing better to do. Like Mark Sanford, he's a lifelong politico (or "public servant," if you will). It should be damn interesting.
Well the Tea Party is certainly feeling righteous these days, and why not? Their deepest, darkest concerns that the government under Barack Obama was out to get them appear to have been vindicated in the IRS scandal that broke less than two weeks ago. Yesterday, local Tea Party groups held protests around the country, including here in Tampa.
CL was in the house in Tampa yesterday when Jamie Dimon began pressing the flesh at JPMorgan Chase's annual shareholder meeting, minutes before a vote on whether he would retain his two titles at the financial institute were in doubt. But it all turned out to be somewhat anti-climatic, as the 57-year-old Wall Street star easily beat back those efforts in an event that had far too much security, and absolutely zero protesters (though there was an area set aside for activists to demonstrate).
And one of the leading environmental activists of the moment, Bill McKibben, spoke at Eckerd College on Sunday. CL contributor Sam Johnson was there to cover the very interesting report.
Last year, the issue of the Pinellas County Commission's 2011 vote to remove fluoride from the water supply exploded, partially because of the Tampa Bay Times editorial page that raged against the four commissioners who supported that measure — John Morroni, Norm Roche, Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock. (Times writers Tim Nickens and Dan Ruth ended up receiving Pulitzer Prizes for the editorial campaign.)
With Bostock and Brickfield running for re-election last fall, the issue hung around their necks like an albatross, and was used in every possible campaign forum or event by their respective Democratic opponents, Janet Long and Charlie Justice. In case you forgot, Bostock and Brickfield are now former Pinellas County Commissioners.
Like Pinellas County, the city of Portland, Ore., was one of the biggest areas of the country to not add fluoride to their drinking water supply — until last year when their City Council voted to do so (Pinellas did not do so until 2003). A backlash to that vote led Portland to put a referendum on their ballot today, and indications are that the "self-consciously liberal city" (as described by the Wall Street Journal) could very well vote to ban the additive.
A poll taken just a few days ago indicated that the issue is losing, but obviously anything can happen on election day. Interesting to note that Roche continues to insist to this day that the measure in Pinellas should go up before the public for a vote. That isn't going to happen in the near future but in Portland, the citizens demanded that it did go up for a vote. The way that electorate votes could end up stunning a lot of folks.
Turning back to local politics, you read it here first: Michael van Hoek, whose only previous dip in the political waters was an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for Congress in 2006 in Pasco County, is the new chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee.
It's already been reported that local Tea Party groups in the Tampa Bay area feel they were scrutinized excessively by the IRS when they applied for a tax-exempt status several years back. In the case of Tampa's Karen Jaroch, it's the second time she's been let down by the government's tax collection agency.
And while Hillsborough County's transit agency, HART, seems to never get much respect, who could be upset about this news: the agency's CFO said that by findings savings in different departments, they're able to add extensive nighttime and weekend services to current bus routes, even while their budget will be dramatically lower next fiscal year.
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.