Rubio: Same-sex marriage foes face ‘intolerance’

Associated Press

Associated Press

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans who oppose same-sex marriage often face “intolerance” from those who support it, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Wednesday in a speech about values that appeared aimed at wooing social conservatives.

In remarks he said were likely to get him criticized as a bigot, the Florida Republican told an audience at Catholic University that a strong America is impossible without Americans who hold strong values. Seeming to seek a debate over those values, he criticized liberals who defend abortion rights for women but not protections for “the unborn.”

While Rubio has consistently held conservative positions on gay marriage and abortion, his current emphasis appears to be an appeal to social conservatives who have yet to settle on a favored presidential candidate for 2016.

“Even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as someone who is a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” Rubio said.

Rubio’s remarks on social issues come as he is trying to recover from his failed push for an immigration overhaul, now seen as a political misstep.

Rubio helped write the bipartisan immigration overhaul that passed the Senate but stalled in the House as some Republicans balked. Conservatives grew wary of the measure, and the Republican-led House signaled the comprehensive Senate plan would go nowhere.

Rubio did not include immigration in his speech, which focused on the merits of marriage, raising children in two-parent homes and educating them with values. But a member of the audience did ask Rubio about his immigration legislation’s hopes in Congress.

“I just don’t see how we ever get the support in Washington any time in the next decade” unless lawmakers are convinced the flow of immigrants coming to the United States across its southern border has stopped, Rubio said. The unfolding crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border gives him little hope, he said.

Rubio’s priority seems to be winning back the support of the activists who have clout in picking the GOP presidential nominee. Social conservatives have unquestionable sway in the leadoff Iowa caucuses. Fiscal and libertarian-minded conservatives dominate New Hampshire’s primary. In South Carolina, religious issues top voters’ priorities.

Rubio has been working to make himself more acceptable to factions within the fractured GOP. His series of policy speeches so far have been as varied as high-tech investments, college affordability and a muscular foreign policy. He has quietly been courting leaders from all corners of the Republican coalition ahead of an expected presidential bid.

While his stance on social issues could be an advantage in early nominating, Rubio is also wrapping himself in rhetoric that could haunt him if he makes it to the general election in November 2016.

Perhaps seeking to blunt that criticism, Rubio acknowledged the United States has a history of discrimination against gays and lesbians. He added that his opponents pose what he called legitimate policy questions and urged a respectful discussion going forward: “Tolerance is also a two-way street.”

But he said he could not support such marriages despite a quick-moving shift in public opinion on allowing same-sex couples to marry.

“There is a growing intolerance on this issue,” Rubio said of those who back same-sex marriages. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.”

He also said communities should work to fight abortion and to promote children born to married couples. He said he understands single-parent households – including in his extended family – but said abortion is not the answer.

“There is undeniably another person involved in this as well: the unborn child,” Rubio said. “An unborn child should be welcomed into life and protected in law.”


Rick Scott, Charlie Crist react to poll showing voters don’t trust them

William March and Matt Dixon
Scripps/Tribune Capitol Bureau

Voters don’t trust Republican Gov. Rick Scott nor Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in what’s turning out to be a close race for Florida governor, a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed.

And that means Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie could be a spoiler in a race where voters aren’t happy with their choice.

In a head-to-head matchup, voters prefer Crist over Scott 45-40 percent. When Wyllie was added to the poll, he received 9 percent support and drew more independent voters away from Crist than Scott, making the race a statistical tie.

“Voters don’t like either of the major party candidates. They don’t think either candidate is honest and trustworthy,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling. “They have unfavorable opinions of both major party candidates, and that, to some degree, may explain how Mr. Wyllie’s doing as well as he is.”

Meanwhile, a new SurveyUSA poll released Tuesday, not including Wyllie, showed Crist leading 46-40 percent.

While the SurveyUSA results showed Crist moving up in his standings against Scott in the last two weeks, the Quinnipiac results show a decline in Crist’s standings since an April 30 poll, when he led 48-38 percent in a matchup that didn’t include Wyllie.

Asked their opinion of Scott in the Quinnipiac poll, 45 percent said it’s unfavorable, compared with 40 percent favorable, and they also disapproved of his performance in office by 48-31 percent.

Crist did only a little better — 42 percent unfavorable to 40 percent favorable.

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Critics question Collier school board candidates’ ties to charter school

Claire Aronson, (@Claire_Aronson)

As the election nears, two Collier County School Board candidates are facing increasing criticism for their involvement with a charter school opening next month.

District 1 candidate Kelly Lichter, the founding president of Mason Classical Academy in East Naples, and District 3 candidate Erika Donalds, who serves on the school’s advisory board, cannot be objective about charter schools and have conflicts of interest, critics say.

Charter schools have been a hot-button issue this election. The school board is only involved with charter schools a number of times including voting to grant school charters and revoking a charter if the school isn’t performing.

But according to state legal opinion, a conflict of interest doesn’t exist because neither Lichter nor Donalds are paid for their charter school work.

A 2011 opinion issued by the Florida Commission on Ethics states there would not be a prohibited conflict of interest or a voting conflict if district school board officers also served as unpaid members of the board of directors of a charter school sponsored by the district school board.

In a 1998 Attorney General’s Office advisory opinion, then-Attorney General Robert Butterworth wrote that members of a governing board of a charter school are not public officers for the purpose of the state constitution’s dual officeholding prohibition.

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On eve of redistricting hearing, group asks for new election dates; Legislature calls move ‘ambush’

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

In a move the Legislature called an “ambush,” a coalition of plaintiffs asked a judge Wednesday to change the 2014 election dates to ensure there is time to redraw the state’s congressional districts.

After a two-week trial, Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis earlier this month ruled two of Florida’s 27-congressional districts were at odds with a constitutional amendment passed in 2010 that aimed to take politics out of the redistricting process.

On the eve of a Thursday morning hearing set to decide what happens next, plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters of Florida, filed a motion asking Judge Terry Lewis to change the 2014 election dates to give the court time to draw new maps.

“The citizens of Florida have already endured elections under gerrymandered districts after Legislature blatantly disregarded their will,” read the motion.

Because that 22-page motion was filed one day before the scheduled hearing, attorneys for the Legislature filed their own motion at 4:35 p.m. asking that plaintiff’s newest motion not be considered at the Thursday hearing.

“To hold a hearing upon less than 20-hours’ notice and deny defendants time to evaluate…would violate defendants’ rights,” read the motion.

It said plaintiffs were trying to “surprise and ambush” the Legislature.

In their motion, attorneys for the plaintiffs offered suggested changes to the election calendar that would move primary and general election dates, but ensure the election was held in 2014. They argue if it’s not possible to redraw the maps and hold a 2014 election, the court should call a special election “at the earliest opportunity.”

Earlier this month, attorneys for the Legislature asked Lewis to clarify that his ruling would not impact the 2014 election. They say with candidate qualifying over and absentee ballots already in the mail, it would be too difficult to alter the election day.

The two sides also disagree on who should redraw the maps.

Plaintiff’s attorneys said that because the court found that lawmakers worked with political consultants to draw maps that favored the GOP, they should not be tasked with the re-draw.

“The evidence showed that Legislative Defendants, when entrusted with the task of redistricting, intentionally beached hat trust,” read the motion.

They have asked the court, or a third-party expert redraws the maps. If lawmakers do redraw the congressional lines, the plaintiffs want the court to implement specific guidelines.

In their court filing, attorneys for the Legislature say it’s that lawmaker’s responsibility.

“The Florida Legislature has stated that it will enact a redistricting plan in full compliance with the court’s final judgment,” it read. “No one else has the power to do so.”

Included in the plaintiff’s filing was a proposed map that wipes out the district currently held by U.S Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat. Her seat, which snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando, was found unconstitutional by Lewis and is considered a poster child for gerrymandering.

During the trial, plaintiffs said map-drawers boosted the number of black voters in Brown’s district to make surrounding seats more Republican-leaning. Just over half of her district consists of black voters.

During the trial, legislative leaders and redistricting staff said they wanted to get over the 50 percent threshold to avoid a race-based legal challenge.

The map filed by plaintiffs would stretch Brown’s seat from Jacksonville west to the western portion of the Panhandle. The new seats black voting age population would drop to 45 percent, which will likely be met with opposition from Brown and the NAACP.

The other seat Lewis found unconstitutional is held by Orlando Republican Dan Webster. Plaintiff’s proposed map removes a “finger-like appendage” that the court said helped pack the district with Republican voters.

N.Y. firm seeking sponsors to erect miniature billboards on Fla. state trails

James L. Rosica (@jlrosicaTBO) in Tallahassee

It’s unclear what companies, if any, are willing to shell out cash for miniature billboards on state trails.

State lawmakers looking to raise money for trail upkeep passed a law in 2012 allowing companies and nonprofit groups to sponsor seven trails and place signs to announce their support.

The trails include the Withlacoochee State Trail that passes through Hernando and Pasco counties.

In April, Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials inked a deal with New York-based Bike Path Country to act as a middleman to get sponsors.

The sponsorship bill had drawn opposition from environmentalists, who worried about the visual effect of signs on trails.

The measure, however, ensured that signs cannot “intrude on natural and historic settings” and can contain only a logo and sparse, boilerplate sponsorship language.

Moreover, signs can be placed only at trailheads or access points and can be no larger than 16 square feet at trailheads and 4 square feet at access points.

“There may be more than one sponsorship on each state trail but no more than one sponsor for each trailhead and access point,” according to a state guidance statement.

In addition to the Withlacoochee trail, billed as the longest paved trail in Florida, the other trails are:

  • Blackwater Heritage Trail, near Pensacola.
  • Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, south of the state capital.
  • Nature Coast State Trail in north Florida.
  • Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail, also in north Florida.
  • General James A. Van Fleet State Trail in central Florida.
  • Overseas Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Scripps/Tribune reached out to Bike Path Country and the DEP earlier Wednesday for an update but hasn’t gotten a response. We’ll update when we do.

UPDATE, 5:22 p.m.: DEP spokeswoman Mara Burger said in an email that in fact “there are no sponsors yet.”

She referred questions about timing and business tactics to Bike Path Country. Scripps/Tribune still hasn’t gotten a response from them.

Burger added that the agreement with that organization “ends one year from the date of execution (April 1, 2014) and may be renewed for up to two additional two-year renewal periods.”

“A deadline (for results) was not included in the agreement,” she said.