Scott camp slams Crist in campaign memo; Crist camp focused on building a “grassroots operation”

Rick Scott’s re-election campaign is slamming likely Democratic candidate Charlie Crist in a memo to campaign supporters.

In the memo obtained by the Scripps/Tribune Capitol Bureau, Tim Saler, the deputy campaign manager, said Scott, a Naples Republican, has led an incredible economic recovery. In the years since Scott was elected, Saler said Floridians have “worked hard to turn the state’s economy around and they’ve done it with a governor who wants to help empower them to succeed.”

The campaign takes aim at Crist, saying the Democrat “has morphed several more times, emerging as a liberal Democrat.”

Crist faces state Sen. Nan Rich in Tuesday’s primary election. Crist, the former Republican governor, served from 2007 until 2011.

He did not run for re-election in 2010, instead deciding to run for Senate. While he initially planned to run as a Republican, Crist was dropped out of the Republican race and instead ran as an independent. He campaigned heavily for President Barack Obama in 2012, speaking at the Democratic National Convention .

He became a Democrat in 2012 and announced his bid for governor in November 2013.

Saler said Crist is expected to beat Rich in Tuesday’s primary, with a recent poll showing Crist leading Rich 61-14 in a head-to-head race. Saler said it’s expected that Democrats can bring in several thousand more primary votes compared to Republicans.

Despite the campaign’s belief that Crist will win the primary, Saler said the campaign is convinced Scott is “well-positioned for re-election in the fall.”

“Charlie Crist has collapsed, and Governor Scott has asserted his position as the leading candidate entering the fall campaign,” said Saler in the memo. “Crist has no history of recovering from failure in his campaigns.”

Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for Crist, said the Crist campaign is focused on “building a real grassroots operation.”

“While they set new lows for the negativity of their special-interest funded television ads and write memos congratulating themselves on their awesomeness, we’re focused on building a real grassroots operation supported by tens of thousands of everyday contributors,” he said. “And we hope everyone votes on Tuesday.”


Federal judge strikes down Florida gay marriage ban

Arlene Goldberg is seen in portrait surrounded by lifelong photos with her late wife, Carol Goldwasser, Friday, May 2, 2014 at her housing complex’s clubhouse in Fort Myers, Fla. Goldberg has joined the ACLU’s lawsuit against the state of Florida so that out-of-state same-sex marriages can be recognized.

Arlene Goldberg is seen in portrait surrounded by lifelong photos with her late wife, Carol Goldwasser, Friday, May 2, 2014 at her housing complex’s clubhouse in Fort Myers, Fla. Goldberg has joined the ACLU’s lawsuit against the state of Florida so that out-of-state same-sex marriages can be recognized.

A federal judge has declared Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, joining state judges in four counties who have sided with gay couples wishing to tie the knot.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled Thursday that the ban added to Florida’s constitution by voters in 2008 violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Hinkle issued a stay delaying the effect of his order, meaning no marriage licenses will be immediately issued for gay couples.

The ruling was the result of two separate lawsuits including one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The ACLU of Florida’s lawsuit challenges the ban on behalf of eight married same-sex couples, a Fort Myers woman whose wife recently passed away and SAVE, the largest LGBT-rights organization in South Florida.

“I am overjoyed that the state we made our home in will soon recognize that what Carol and I had was marriage, said Fort Myers resident Arlene Goldberg, whose wife and partner of 47 years, Carol Goldwasser, passed away.

Goldwasser died March 13 after a lifelong illness with the vascular disease Raynaud’s. When she died, Goldwasser’s death certificate read “single, never married.” Goldwasser and Goldberg had been married for two years at the time of her death.

“The day she died was when they filed the original lawsuit, which is amazing,” said Goldberg in a May interview with the Naples Daily News. “That was like a springboard for me and I said, ‘I need to do something for the community.’ It helped me with my grief to do something positive.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has appealed the previous rulings striking down the ban in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties. Hinkle’s ruling allows time for appeals in the federal case.

A number of similar rulings around the country have been put on hold while appeals are pursued.

Check back for more on this developing story.

Gov. Rick Scott proposes boosting education spending in 2015-16

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

With five days before the Aug. 26 primary, Gov. Rick Scott announced he plans to ask the state to increase total state funding for education to $19.6 billion during the 2015-16 legislative session.

The announcement comes five months earlier than Scott’s January roll out of his 2014-15 education funding recommendations. He is in the middle of a heated campaign where education has become a central issue.

Scott’s office announced the education budget proposal in a news release Thursday. The governor is on the campaign trail and is expected to hold campaign events to talk about transportation in Miami and Daytona Beach today.

The proposal, according to the release, would spend $19.6 billion on education in 2015-16, and increase per student spending to $7,176. That’s a $232 per student increase over the current year’s levels, and a $50 increase over the 2007-08 per student funding of $7,126, the state’s record highest per-student funding level.

“I am proud to announce that in the upcoming legislative session we will propose an increase in Florida’s per-pupil spending to the highest level in our state’s history,” the Naples Republican said in a statement. “We already have the highest total spending in K-12 this year and gave every teacher the opportunity for a pay raise. Because we were able to get Florida’s economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education.”

Critics said Scott’s proposal doesn’t take inflation into account. The 2007-08 per student funding is equal to about $8,191 in 2014 dollars, the Florida Democratic Party said in a news release.

Scott is running for re-election, and will most likely face Democrat Charlie Crist in the November election. Crist served as the state’s Republican governor from 2007 until 2011. Per-student funding was at its highest while Crist was in office.

Scott has put a focus on beefing up the state’s education budget in recent years. During the 2013 legislative session, Scott pushed for salary increases for teachers. The state set aside $480 million in the 2013-14 budget for teacher raises.

While Scott has spent the past few years trying to build up the state’s education budget, that wasn’t the case in his first years in office. In 2011, Scott’s first year in office, the state $1.35 billion from education.

When the governor proposed his second budget, he added $1 billion back to the education spending plan – a move at the time credited with visits to local school districts during his first year in office.

On Thursday, Crist supporters called out Scott’s proposal as election year politics.

“No right-minded parent or teacher in this state believes Rick Scott, the same guy who cut K-12 education by $1.3 billion, cares about anything but holding onto power so he can keep giving away our tax dollars to corporations,” said Brendan Gilfillan, a Crist spokesman. “In his taxpayer-funded campaign statement, he admits that Charlie Crist holds the record for per student funding, almost $200 higher than what Rick Scott is spending despite Scott collecting billions more in taxes.”

UPDATE: The Florida Education Association, which endorsed Crist, has weighed in on Scott’s announcement. In a statement Thursday, FEA President Andy Ford said the governor has a record on public education spending “and it isn’t pretty.”

“As his bid for re-election has drawn nearer, he has begun to seek restoration of some of those cuts, though per-student spending in Florida is still lower than it was seven years ago,” said Ford. “This proposal, which would have to be approved by the Legislature long after November’s election, seems very much like a desperate attempt to win votes to cover his record of neglect of public school students.”

Redistricting lawsuit: Plaintiff’s take heat for using Democratic firm

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

A Harvard University political science professor hired to help the plaintiffs challenging the state’s congressional maps in court faced a blistering round of questions Wednesday from attorneys representing the Legislature.

The line of questions came during a hearing held as part of a trial before Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. In July, he ruled that two Florida congressional districts were unconstitutional in the way they were drawn. As a result, lawmakers redrew congressional maps during a special session earlier this month. That map now needs Lewis’ final approval.

Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere took the witness stand to defend a map that he initially said he drew for the plaintiffs. They argued it represents a better version than the map passed during a special legislative session.

During his testimony, Ansolabehere briefly mentioned that Eric Hawkins, a consultant with Washington-based NCEC, “cleaned up” some areas of the map. NCEC is a Democratic law firm that specializes in map-drawing.

During the two-week trial, the plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters in Florida, were successfully able to argue that two of Florida’s 27 congressional districts were drawn to favor Republicans, which is at odds with the so-called Fair District amendments. Those changes banned map-drawers from favoring or disfavoring political parties.

Because of the statement that a Democratic firm was involved, George Meros, an attorney for the Florida House, pounced.

“Did you ever say is there any partisan intent here … did you ever try to determine if this was being done with Democratic motivation?” he asked as part of a series of questions.

“No,” Ansolabehere quickly replied.

The admission that NCEC was involved in the map is notable because, after a July hearing, John Devaney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, was asked by a reporter if the “NCEC folks were involved at all” in the plaintiffs’ maps.

“Dr. Ansolabehere is presenting and endorsing this map,” he answered without acknowledging the Democratic firm’s involvement.

Meros specifically pointed to the 5th Congressional District, a seat held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, that has been at the heart of the redistricting fight.

It currently winds from Jacksonville to Orlando, a shape that was maintained in the map passed during the special session. Plaintiffs have argued the seat was “packed” with Democratic-leaning black voters to strengthen surrounding Republican districts.

The plaintiffs’ map draws that seat from Jacksonville to Leon County (Tallahassee). The change moves 17,000 black voters into a Northeast Florida seat that is likely to elect a white candidate, but also allows for a second seat in Central Florida allowing blacks to elect a candidate of their choice.

It initially seemed that Ansolabehere drew the district himself, but during questioning he said he drew a “rough version” of the district and allowed Hawkins, with the Democratic firm, to draw the final product.

Lewis will rule on the maps passed by lawmakers, not the plaintiffs’ version, but an admission they used a partisan map-drawer partially undercuts charges of partisanship the plaintiffs have thrown at the GOP-led Legislature.

Lewis said he would rule on the Legislature’s map and whether he will call a special election for the affected districts “soon,” but didn’t give a specific date for ruling.

Gov. Rick Scott promises transportation improvements during Bonita stop

Gov. Rick Scott talks to supporters following a campaign stop at the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on Wednesday. Scott was in Bonita to tout his transportation plan. (Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster/Staff)

Gov. Rick Scott talks to supporters following a campaign stop at the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on Wednesday. Scott was in Bonita to tout his transportation plan. (Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster/Staff)

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

The Naples Republican touted plans to invest in the state’s roads, ports and airports in a campaign stop Wednesday in Bonita Springs. The stop was part of a weeklong campaign swing focused on transportation.

“If we want our families, our children and our grandchildren to have jobs we have to be the global hub for business, and we have to think that way,” Scott said in a speech at the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. “We have to have the best road system, the best airports and the best ports. We have to focus on the space opportunity. If we do all that, then our kids are going to get the best jobs in the world.”

Scott’s plan includes investing in the state’s airports and ports, and expanding the road network to ease congestion. Scott said he plans to continue to invest in the state’s airports because “they’re a big driver in economic growth.”

That promise is music to Christine Ross’ ears. Ross, director of the Bonita Springs Estero Economic Development Council, said transportation is key to economic development and the governor’s commitment to invest shows he’s committed to growth.

“Transportation infrastructure is one of the hallmarks for economic development,” she said. “He’s doing the right thing by focusing on airports and ports.”

Ross said companies often look at the nearest airport as one factor in deciding where to relocate. Direct flights are an attraction to companies, since it means their people can get in and out of the area quickly.

“He’s making our job and economic development 100 times easier than it has been in the past five years with the infrastructure that’s going in,” she said.

Read more