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Five Takeaways from the Week

5. Dockery/Fetterman file more ethics legislation.   GOP Gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery, along with first-term reform-minded Democrat, Adam Fetterman, have filed sweeping ethics legislation that would make it illegal for legislators to vote on an item that could personally benefit them.  Current conflict of interest rules are very narrow and have come under criticism from good government reformers.  Dockery's decision to push this issue again in 2010, especially after the state's growing public corruption problems, is certainly to create for interesting debate inside the walls of the Florida GOP.

4. Unemployment in Florida rises again:  Florida's service/tourism economy inevitably leads to it recovering slower than other states, and as if more evidence of Florida's economic woes was needed, the most recent Labor Dept statistics showed a continuing rise in the jobless rate.  Ideology aside, the bad economy is the number one drag on Crist's candidacy today, which is why this week at a meeting of the local Florida Public Relations Association chapter, I suggested that Crist should consider taking a 90 day (through session) hiatus from campaigning so Floridians could see him focusing on getting our state back to work.

3. Vice President Biden visits Miami:  The Vice President came to Miami this week to meet with Haitian and other Caribbean leaders in South Florida about the recovery effort in Haiti.  Biden's visit highlights the growing Caribbean population in South Florida and the region's strong ties to the devastated island.  On the heels of this visit, the administration announced it would extend temporary protective status (TPS)to Haitians taking refuge in the United States, something the Haitian community has made a priority in recent years.  And if there was any question whether Florida was important to this President, both Obama and Biden will be in Florida again next week, each making their third trip to the Sunshine State.

 2. Downtown Scotty Brown Wins.  This week, the Bay State sent Republican Scott Brown to the United States Senate, in an election that surprised man, though not this author.  Brown, who prior to public life was apparently second best known (no reason to repeat why he is best known) for knocking down baseline 15 footers over Florida's own Dan Gelber while at Tufts, ran a brilliant campaign and rode a wave of frustration in the country to victory.  As to be expected, already both sides are over reacting.  I'm going to write more on this soon, but for those wondering what to expect next, check your history for how Barack Obama bounces back from adversity. 

1. SCOTUS re-writes campaign finance laws.   This week, the United States Supreme Court officially returned America back to the political wild west, throwing out laws regulating corporate and union spending in federal races.    While clearly this is a win for media and mail consultants (economic stimulus for political vendors?), candidates who are cheering this decision should keep in mind that the net result could be that it is harder for candidates to control their own message, as deep pockets sped more to control outcomes.  

My suggestion for reform at this point is simple:  throw away contribution limits to make it harder for candidates to hide behind 'committees', require total transparency (24 hour reporting), eliminate outside groups or at least force groups to clearly identify themselves (no more "People for Mom and Apple Pie"), and let voters make the decision if they are comfortable with candidate X taking $XX,XXX sized checks from industry group Y.

1A.  The wedding of Lisa Schale and James Drake.  This last week, my youngest sister Lisa Schale was married in Portland, Oregon  (and if you are curious, it only takes one connection to get from Tallahassee to Africa, but two to get to Portland!).   While I am blessed to be one of five, I think we all agree that Lisa is our star.  A brilliant performer who has played key roles in a number of traveling Broadway plays (Evita, Cats, Little Mermaid), Lisa married fellow actor James Drake, who she met while on tour for Evita.  James is a great guy and they had a beautiful ceremony, complete with Broadway singers and even your's truly serving as a "bridal attendant."  Congratulations, Lisa and James.  I love you both, am proud of what you are doing, and wish you the very best in your new life together.


Dem Registration Gains- Trends in State House Seats

Earlier this week, I took a look at macro-level Florida voter registration trends, which showed that despite a difficult political climate, Democrats are continuing to grow their advantage over Republicans in statewide voter registration.

Today I want to look at it my favorite micro-perspective, State House seats

Certainly, State House seats are not a perfect cell to look at.  They are purposefully drawn, generally to try to guarantee a certain outcome, making cross comparisons a little tricky.  That being said, they are small enough to create some interesting comparisons.  And just like the statewide numbers, there is very little in the state house registration trends that wouldn’t make a Democrat smile.

According to district by district state house data from summer 2009, since the 2002 redistricting, Democrats have gained in terms of two-party voter registration in 81 of the 120 state house seats across the state, including some 41 seats held by the GOP. 

Some of these shifts have been quite striking.

For example, take House District 107, the Miami Beach-Little Havana seat held by Democratic Rep. Luis Garcia.  In 2002, the GOP held a 5500 voter advantage in registration.  Today, Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 2500, a shift of almost 11 percent.   In fact, nearly 90% of all growth in HD 107 registration has been Democratic or independent.

The impact showed up on Election Day, where in 2008, President Obama received roughly 8% more of the vote than did John Kerry.   Trust me, I caught a lot of flack in 2006 suggesting that a Democrat could win this seat.  Today, it is nearly a safe Democratic district.

Or the seat held by Speaker Designate Dean Cannon, a district that when he first ran, provided him with a 7300 voter advantage.  Today, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 1000 voters—and its growing, probably because less than 20% of the voter registration growth has been Republican over the last seven years. 

Not surprisingly, these trends tend to follow larger trade winds.  For example, of the six fastest Democratic trending seats currently held by the GOP, four are in Orlando:  Cannon (HD 35), Nelson (HD 38), Precourt (HD 41) and Einsaugle (HD 40), and five of the next nine are in the Miami media market (Bogdanoff (HD 91), Robaina, Rivera, Lopez-Cantera and Fresen).

What is unique about all nine of these districts?  In 2002 (and even 2006), arguably only two of them could be deemed competitive- HD 38 and HD 91, and in both cases, just barely.  Today, you could easily make the case that at least six and potentially eight are competitive.  

Also, in all nine of these cases, larger demographic and population shifts will almost certainly continue these trends for the foreseeable future.

One other thing worth noting:  Across the state, the data does show a lot of hardening of partisanship in base seats.  Generally  base GOP and really base Dem seats are just getting more that way.   But in those places where the trends are helping one party over another---largely in the 30-40 districts designed in 2002 to be just a few points too Republican to be competitive, districts are shifting from lean safe to lean swing, creating more opportunities. 

Now let me make this clear, I do not believe in any way this means the Democrats can or will win back the House in 2010, and without a lot of good fortune or luck, it is probably not going to happen in the near future. 

But I do believe that the state will continue to trend more competitive in the Legislature---and if I can be so bold, even if the GOP succeeds in a worst-case scenario map for the Democrats.  And just like a Cuban Democrat winning a Little Havana district, a scenario where the Democrats win back the House in the next decade isn't all that far-fetched anymore.   

There will certainly be more to come on this topic. 


Democrats in Florida- The Future is Bright

This is the first of many posts I am going to write about the state of the battlefield in Florida and the forward trajectory of the state's politics.

Recently, the Florida Democratic Party released the most recent voter registration numbers, which show despite all the media hand-wringing about the fortunes of Democrats across the country, that Democrats added about 40,000 more new voters in 2009 than Republicans. 

The Democrats now hold a seven point voter registration advantage over the GOP, for a raw advantage of nearly 800,000 voters.  This the largest advantage for Democrats since 1990

This alone is very good news for Democrats.

But the better news if you live on my side of the aisle:  There is no reason this trend should slow down any time soon.

First, the Democratic trends are most striking among younger voters (Dems hold a 16 point advantage among young voters) and among Hispanics (registering 3:1 Democratic).  In Dade County alone, between 2002-2008, the Democrats increased their voter registration advantage by more than 100,000 votes, largely on the back of changing Hispanic political behavior.

Since the last redistricting, the Democratic advantage has grown by some 500,000.  And the Democratic advantage is growing in places where the bulk of people live.

For example, as of the book closing in October 2008 (I have not seen the county by county for 2009 yet), the 25 or so counties where the Democrats made the bulk of their gains comprised some 75% of the total two-party vote in Florida. 

And even more good news for Democrats, in those counties that are electorally "swing counties" (ie- voted for Crist and Sink, or Bush and Obama), the gains are truly remarkable.  In fact, the largest voter registration gain for the GOP in any swing county is in Pasco County, where they have added roughly 2500 more voters than the GOP over the last seven years.   On the flip side, Democratic registration gains in places like Orange (plus 67.000), Hillsborough (plus 30,000) and Pinellas (plus 30,000) are all significant. 

Further, these changes are threatening to move two major counties, Orange and Dade (remember Jeb won the county twice), out of the "swing" category and into "base" Democratic counties.

Add to this, we will go into 2010 with our strongest top to bottom statewide ticket in years. 

I am going to have much more on this subject in the near future, but needless to say, from my perspective, the long term futures market for Democrats is very bright in Florida.


Five Takeaways from the Week

It has been a long few days of political operative world travel, so pardon the late and shorter version of 5 Takeaways from the week.


5.  Florida Emergency Management Director resigns.   It isn't every day that a key member of the state's emergency response team resigns with no notice, especially in the middle of the state's worst cold snap in years.  But given the accusations made about Ruben Almaguer, it should come as no surprise.

4. Rothstein to plead guilty.   Alleged ponzi schemer and occasional world traveler, Scott Rothstein will plead guilty to a variety of charges.  The question on the minds of many---did Rothstein give away anything for his plea deal? 

3. Meggs still after Sansom.  After courts threw out the other charges against former House Speaker Ray Sansom, Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs came back with a few more creative charges.  Even if these don't stick, Sansom isn't out of the woods as a House Committee begins hearings on whether or not he will remain a member of that chamber---and he and future pols in his same boat probably should hope Dan Gelber's honest services bill doesn't become law. 

2.  John Thrasher to become new RPOF Chair.  With a resume that already includes House Speaker, State Senator, Alex Sink donor and Uber Lobbyist, John Thrasher now wants to be chair of the GOP.  Thrasher is a very organized and hard-nosed fundraiser who would surely bring order to the disorder of the Republican Party of Florda.  However, he is also the epitome of establishment, arguably even more 'establishment' than Jim Greer.  Will the grassroots accept that?  We will find out soon.

1.  The GOP Soap Opera Ends:  Greer is Out.  After months of hand-wringing, the GOP finally forced its embattled and controversial chair, Jim Greer, to resign.  Greer, known more for bluster than winning, had managed to alienate both donors and activists, all while running up an endless number of newspaper headlines around his party's credit card spending. 

Now here's the interesting part:  Greer still knows which GOP politicians had access to those credit cards and where they spent party money, undoubtedly with the chance to embarrass at least one or two.  My gut says Greer is a good party guy and holds his powder, but just the fear that he could drop a dime to a Bousquet, Caputo or Deslatte, is probably enough to keep a couple pols from sleeping well at night.


HONORABLE MENTION:  Me guest lecturing for Hse GOP Leader, Adam Hasner's grad school class.  I started this morning in Boca Raton (long day that included Miami, Orlando and now St. Augustine), giving a guest lecture for a class at Lynn University taught by Adam Hasner.  Needless to say, I was a little surprised when Adam called to ask me to join him, but I really enjoyed the opportunity.  He's got a good group of students at Lynn, has put together a fun course and I had a good bit of fun. I hope he'll invite me back next year.


More on Crist's base (or lack thereof)

This weekend, both the Times/Herald bureau and the Sentinel papers tackled this issue of Crist and his base.  Now that this is the political question de jour, I wanted to see if the data backed it up.

Yesterday's dismal Jacksonville Jaguars game provided the perfect opportunity.

I went back and looked at the Rasmussen data, starting in April of 2008.  I chose Rasmussen because it provided the most easily accessible data set (While I am not a big fan of robo-polls, I don't care for the R vs D polling company question- data is data, as long as it is collected using scientific standards). 

If I could figure out how to insert a chart, I could show this visually (still working on this). But generally, Crist has generally maintained a wide delta between his overall favorables and his very favorables.  

While his overall favorables has ranged from a low of 49 (twice 7/22/08 and 10/21/09) to a high of 74 (on 12/15/08), with two exceptions, his very favorables have never moved outside of a range from 14-19%.  Even if you factor in the two spikes (in Oct 08, his VF was 22 and in Dec 08, his VF was 34), his "very favorable" average is only 22, certainly not bad, but not worthy of the untouchable status that the media has given him over the years.

Moreover, even if every single point of very favorable came from his own party (which we know is not true), Crist's historic very favorables among Republicans would still be under 50%.  Hence, he has never really had a base.   For Crist, it was only a matter of time before he faced a challenge like this.

Can he still win?  Absolutely.  He is still one of the most popular public officials in recent Florida memory.  But without a doubt, it is going to require mustering all of his political skill and motivation to reintroduce himself to GOP voters and remind them why they have stood with him so many times before. 

Then he has to do it all over again in the general.



Top Ten Takeaways from 2009

Fortunately, politics had another slow week in Florida, so I will use this space for the obligatory end of year, top ten list.


10.  McCollum wants to sue over health insurance reform.  There is nothing particularly top tenish about this specific story, except that it highlights McCollum's clear strategy for election:  nationalizing the 2010 Gubernatorial election.  It may be the only play for a candidate who has run for office some 13 or 14 times in a year when it doesn't appear the electorate wants more of the same. 

9.  Jim Greer and the Florida GOP.   Personally,  I've never understood the choice or Crist's support for Greer, but I am sure glad he's around.  The bombastic and ever confident Chairman, Greer's greatest hits include proclaiming that Obama had no chance in Florida, renting his own plane to follow Sarah Palin around, while running up massive travel expenses, then losing the state in the Presidential election.  He then ran for Chair of the RNC after losing the White House and seats in Congress and the Legislature, floated his own name for Congress and suggested the President's motives in speaking to school kids was "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."  Carl Hiassan couldn't have dreamed this guy up. 

8.   Barack Obama inaugurated President.  In a nation as closely divided as we are, competitive states are always special, especially when they are worth twenty-seven electoral votes.  Proof of the importance of Florida, the President has already made several stops in the state, including one that created an image that will partially define Florida's US Senate race, and another to deliver a large grant for green energy jobs.   Moreover, the President's election led to a budget stimulus package that bailed out the stateand created the impetus for the passage of commuter rail by the legislature.

7.  Commuter Rail passes.  As I wrote in Five Takeaways a few weeks back, the passage of commuter rail combined with the possibility of Florida receiving a significant high speed rail grant could redefine transportation in Florida, while creating tens of thousands of jobs.  It has also created a great wedge issue in the GOP Gov primary, between new Tea Party GOP types led by train opponent Paula Dockeryand more mainline GOPers, led by train supporter Bill McCollum.

6.  Obama Stimulus Bails out Florida budget.    It took them a week longer than allowed by the Constitution, but on May 8, the legislature passed a $66.5 billion budget, which thanks to some $5 billion from the federal stimulus package, averted many serious cuts--and real debate about Florida's budget and tax system. 

5.  Charlie's Not so Awesome Year.  Imagine being Charlie Crist.  Eighteen months ago, you thought you might be John McCain's running mate. Twelve months ago, you were unopposed for re-election and nearly 70 percent approval.   Six months ago, you raised 4.3 million in two months for the U.S. Senate race.  Now you are tied with a former State Representative whose support isn't much higher than his name-ID.  The big question:  Can you rally?

4.  Marco Rubio raises nearly $1 million in US Senate race.  Personally, I believe that most political process stories (polling, fundraising, staffing, etc.) are meaningless, other than to the circle of 500 people who live this stuff, with one exception:  Marco Rubio's 2009 third quarter haul.   The political world was writing off Rubio after his second quarter haul (case in point why process stories are not relevant), suggesting he might run for AG.   Then he raised a million, and now people are openly suggesting the race is over for Crist.  His money made him credible. 

3.  Public Corruption Arrests Rampant.  While news on the public corruption front focused on the case against former GOP House Speaker Ray Sansom, he was certainly not alone.  Prominent electeds in Broward and elsewhere received new professional photos, leading to a renewed call for tougher ethics laws.   One solution, proposed by Sen. Dan Gelber, would allow state attorneys to prosecute under honest services laws, which could open the door to many more investigations and arrests.

2.  Charlie Crist announces run for Senate.  The decision by Governor Crist to not seek re-election and instead run for the U.S. Senate has created the largest political domino effect in FL in generations.   Because of his decision, every statewide office will be on the ballot without an incumbent seeking re-election, something that hasn't happened in over 100 years.  History could look back at this cycle as the most significant in Florida since Chiles and Askew won in 1970.

1.  It's the Economy, Stupid. 


Near Misses:   Senator George Lemieux, Oil drilling, Florida to get one new Congressional Seat, the return of John Thrasher, Alex Sink outraising Bill McCollum.


Five Takeaways from the Week--Christmas Edition 

5.  Would You Like Grits or Potatos with your Waffles?  More egg for the Florida Department of Transportation this week as the stories about the breakfast-food coded internal emails regarding the central Florida commuter rail deal continued.  Now the Tampa Tribune is reporting that the DOT Secretary and other leading players in the investigation where communicating by Blackberry instant message, a form of communication that is much harder to track through public records.  Not a good revelation for an agency trying to argue that they weren't using words like "waffle" and "pankakes" to elude Florida's public record laws.

4.  Worst Week Ever: The Charlie Crist/Jim Greer Chronicles continued:  It was another bad week for Governor Charlie Crist and Jim Greer.  Crist announced this week that the Diaz-Balart brothers had withdrawn their endorsement, as Greer endured more calls for his resignation, efforts he called treason.  Things have gotten so bad that he even quoted my piece suggesting that a change in party chairs could be tough on the GOP as a justification for his remaining GOP Chair.    Thank God for Crist and Greer it was a short week.  However, for Greer, if he makes it another month, I'd be shocked. 

3.  More Sansom Troubles:  As the House gets ready to begin its hearings into former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, new documents from the Governor's office clearly show that Sansom was behind the controversial airport hanger in Destin, though omits Jay Odom's involvement.  The St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald reports that the Governor's office document says: "According to House and Senate staff and the Department of Education, this is Rep. Sansom's project."

2. Florida to get One new Congressional SeatWhile nothing is confirmed, it looks as though Florida will gain one new Congressional seat after the 2010 census, bringing the total to 26 (Go Team 28!).  Last year, many were hoping that Florida would gain two, but slower growth rates brought it down to one.  Where that seat lands is the next great debate, though personally, I believe it will have to end up benefiting Central Florida, where the fast growth in Democratic leaning Puerto Rican voters will make it hard for GOP map drawers to create a new safe GOP seat.   One other note: with Ohio likely to lose two seats, Florida's role as the pre-eminent Presidential battleground state will only grow.

1.  God Bless the HolidaysFortunately, politics took a much needed break for a few days around Christmas (AMC's non-stop Griswold Christmas was much better than non-stop CNN).   Personally, my wife and I have enjoyed a few days in western North Carolina just getting away from it all) coming from a big family, my Holidays usually looks something like the Griswold family Christmas).  I hope you and your family are having a restful Holiday season and as we bring the door down on this year and decade, I leave you with this Holiday message from the Gelber kids.  Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!


Merry Christmas!

In this season of hope and love, I hope you and your family has a Merry Christmas and warm Holiday season surrounded by loved ones and friends. 


Gore/Graham '00

Today on her blog, the Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard made note of Mark Shield's recent column, If you could change one thing, Al Gore... where Shield's suggests that if he had to do it all over again, Vice President Al Gore would have chosen Florida Senator Bob Graham to be his running mate, not Joe Lieberman.

While Shields' piece is more of a rant against about Lieberman, the Gore/Graham question is an interesting one and certainly has provided plenty of parlor discussion among Democrats in Florida over the years.  It is also a worthwhile place to think about the role of the VEEP pick---or in the case of Florida in 2010, who Sink and McCollum pick to be their running mates.

In the case of Graham, I am convinced that Gore/Graham would have won Florida by a sizable (at least by Florida standards) margin.  I'll admit that could be colored by the fact I am a huge Bob Graham fan, but looking back to 2000, I think it is a fairly defensible argument.  Graham was (and still is) one of the most popular public figures in the state and had just come off a 20-plus point re-election margin in 1998.  Watching the way Graham was still received on the trail for Obama, I have no doubt that he easily would have energized South Florida Democrats as much as Lieberman ,and even if his inclusion on the ticket was only worth a little upstate and along I-4, Gore/Graham would have carried the state by 2-3 points and gone on to the White House.

But alas, he went with Lieberman, a decision at the time that was lauded for bringing new energy to a troubled ticket.  And at the time, it may well have been the right pick.  On August 7, 2000, when Gore named Lieberman, Gore was down double-digits in most polls, and not many considered Florida to be much in play (Gore didn't start running TV ads until late September 2000).  But Lieberman did provide a bounce and by the end of the August, the race was essentially tied.   Would Graham have provided the same bounce?  Who knows. 

It gets even more fun when you speculate what would have happened if Gore/Graham had won. 

The same question could be applied to Palin.   In the rear view mirror, was she the wrong pick for McCain?  Most people would say yes.  But the other question-was she the right pick in the moment is harder to answer?  Like a lot of folks, I shook my head the morning of her announcement, but without question, she lifted the ticket in a way that its hard to imagine a Pawlenty, Crist or Romney could have.

Over the next few months, we get to play this parlor game in Florida.  Does Sink need help in South Florida, would an upstate candidate help her knock a few points away from McCollum, or does she need to think about a seasoned legislator who can help her govern.  What about McCollum?  Does he need a moderate woman to balance the ticket, does he need someone in central Florida to counter Sink's strength, or should he pick a non-political type to blunt criticism that he is a career politician in a potentially bad year for incumbents?  And of course, my favorite question:  does any of it matter?

For Gore, in retrospect, that answer is definitely yes. 



Susan MacManus on Independent Voters

Florida's resident political scientist, Dr. Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida has written a column for the Sayfie Review looking at the demographics of Florida's independent voters.   It is definitely worth a read here:  Florida Swing Voters: A Closer Look at NPA Registrants and Self-ID'd Independents.

To me, the two most interesting data points in her paper are that these voters tend to be younger and more Hispanic than the population at large.  Not that this is in any way surprising, though I think it underscores two very important political trends for Florida in the future.  

First, as a society we are going away from traditional civic organizing. For example, citizens under 30 years old are less likely to join a group, go to church, or attend meetings than the same cohert of citizens in the 1970s. This societal shift by nature means a shift away from political party membership.  Therefore, it shouldn't be as a surprise MacManus finds that while 49% of all Florida voters under 50 are registered without party affiliation, 63% of all independents are under 50.   In addition, these voters are harder and harder to find, even as though they vote at similar levels to previous generations of younger voters.

Secondly, MacManus shows that while Hispanics comprise 12% of all registered voters, Florida Hispanics make up 18% of all independents. This trend is emblematic of the larger Hispanic population shifts in Florida, as the growth among Hispanic voters over the last few cycles has leaned significantly more towards non-Cuban Hispanics, who unlike their Cuban counterparts, do not have a traditional GOP lean.  In fact, if 2006 and 2008 showed anything, this growing segment is leaning more Democratic

Further, as MacManus shows, the percentage of self-identified independents is larger than the number of registered NPAs.   Part of this is the nature of politics, part of this is the nature of Florida, where so many in Florida have historical political affiliations that don't necessarily fit the Florida political paradigm (Gulf Coast Republicans from the midwest,  Panhandle Southern Democrats, etc.).

But one thing is for certain, we know that where these voters head will largely dictate where Florida goes in 2010 and beyond.