Sometimes, grades depend on who makes up the exam.
This week, the Florida Education Association gave higher marks to Democrats than Republicans in the GOP-dominated state Legislature. The report card was based on priorities of the teachers’ union ranging from committee and floor votes during the 2017 and 2018 sessions to “behind-the-scenes” efforts on those priorities and access between union leaders and lawmakers.
In the union’s grades, seven Senate Democrats and 12 House Democrats got “A+” marks, while “F” grades were assigned to 16 Senate Republicans and almost every Republican in the House.
Among the more-notable grades was a “C” given to Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, and a “C+” received by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.
Montford, the chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, joined 19 Republicans this year in supporting a controversial measure that expanded publicly funded programs to send students to private schools (HB 7055).
Campbell didn’t vote on the bill, which got through the Senate in a 20-17 vote.
Not surprisingly, Montford was the only Senate Democrat to land on the honor roll in grades released in late April by the Foundation for Florida’s Future.
The foundation, created by former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, was more supportive of Republicans --- seven senators and 16 House members got “A+” grades. Bush and the foundation have been key supporters of issues such as school choice.
Unlike the union, the foundation’s lower grades went to Democrats. In the Senate, the lowest mark was a “D,” given to three members --- Democrats José Javier Rodriguez of Miami, Annette Taddeo of Miami and Victor Torres of Orlando.
In the House, 13 Democrats received “F” grades.
Each year, numerous interest groups come out with usually-predictable report cards for state and national lawmakers.
Retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., offered an interesting point in an interview posted Thursday with Sarasota Magazine titled, “Rep. Tom Rooney’s Escape from Washington.”
Rooney noted several issues influenced his plan to leave office after five terms. One was the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana during a practice for the annual congressional baseball game. Rooney has been the first baseman for the Republican team.
Another issue was scoring of lawmakers by think tanks and political groups.
“I’ve heard from people in my district, ‘Why can’t you be more like Congressman X who has a 100 percent rating from the Heritage Action for America?’” Rooney is quoted in the article. “It leaves me dumbfounded because I’ve never heard Congressman X make a single argument on the House floor or propose a single piece of legislation. For these think tanks, it means not just going against (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi, it means you’ve got to stick it to (Speaker) Paul Ryan.”
PUERTO RICANS OR BUST
Already-heightened efforts to attract Puerto Rican voters --- whether the voters left the island long ago or are recent hurricane refugees --- have shifted into higher gear amid a new death count from Hurricane Maria.
The Florida Democratic Party on Wednesday received a “first-of-its-kind” national party grant, worth $100,000, to “expand engagement efforts with Puerto Rican voters across the state.”
“With this grant, we’re making sure that Florida Democrats have the tools they need to identify and connect with new Puerto Rican voters, and provide them with the support they need as they settle in the Sunshine State,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Rick Scott embarked --- in his official capacity, not as a U.S. Senate candidate --- on his sixth trip to the territory since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island last September.
The Thursday trip to “offer guidance” regarding ongoing hurricane recovery, came at the invitation of Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello, according to a news release from Scott’s office.
While critics have tried to highlight perceived indifference by President Donald Trump toward the island’s recovery, Scott’s office offered a bullet-pointed rundown of “actions taken by Governor Scott following Hurricane Maria.”
The latest Democratic and Republican efforts came on the heels of a report by a research team led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that concluded far more people might have died in Hurricane Maria than official totals indicate. Based on storm-experience comments from randomly surveyed households, the report said perhaps 4,645 people died who otherwise wouldn’t have perished if Puerto Rico hadn’t been ravaged by Maria.
The estimate would ratchet up the death count, which the officials who invited Scott to the island have held at 64 --- 20 fewer than Florida recorded from Hurricane Irma.
DEMS CONTEST BALLOT ‘POSITION BIAS’
Several Democratic groups are contesting what they describe as the “position bias” of Florida’s ballot order, which gives Republicans the top spot on the ballot in partisan elections while the GOP controls the governor’s mansion.
The groups want a federal court to require --- before the November general election --- that Florida’s ballot placements be something more in line with Ohio, where the order of names are consistently rotated on ballots, or like New Jersey, Illinois and California, which have adopted random-selection ballot order systems.
In a complaint filed May 24 in federal district court in Gainesville, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee are among plaintiffs contending that “position bias” puts their party at a disadvantage.
“Because a Republican has held the position of Florida governor for 20 years, this advantage has continued, unabated, for two decades,” the complaint said.
According to the complaint, the top slot on the ballot gives Republican candidates a 2.7 percentage point “bump,” while Democratic candidates gain 1.96 percentage points when listed first. The gap is considered significant, as, for example, Scott won by narrower margins in his 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial elections.
“Position bias in favor of the first listed candidate on a ballot occurs because individuals have an implicit bias to pick the first choice in a set list,” the complaint said. “Position bias in the context of elections occurs most often when voters (1) lack information about candidates, or (2) are ambivalent towards the candidates, despite having information about them. In each of these scenarios, the order of candidates’ names on the ballot can be enough to nudge the voter to select the first listed candidate.”
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is named as the defendant in the case. The Department of State said in an email that it is simply following the law, which states “the names of the candidates of the party that received the highest number of votes for Governor in the last election in which a Governor was elected shall be placed first for each office on the general election ballot.”
The party placing second for the governor’s office gets the second slot. Minor parties get the following spaces based on the order in which they qualify, with independent candidates --- again based on qualifying order --- rounding out the ballot for each office.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Trump offers pardon to Dinesh D'Souza, controversial figure who mocked Parkland survivors and is scheduled to appear at Florida GOP summit in late June.” --- Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary (@learyreports).