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Politics

The Dean's List

February 26, 2015 - 6:00pm

Here we are again in the second week of "The Dean's List" -- an Ed Dean-style look at who Florida's political achievers were (and weren't) in the last seven days. What you see here is strictly my opinion, not necessarily the editor's or the rest of the staff at Sunshine State News.

THOSE WHO MADE THE DEANS LIST

State Sen. and former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was 100 percent correct when he called Gov. Rick Scotts education proposal a tax increase -- not on a state level but at the local level. Funny thing about this story is that Gaetz is the only legislator talking about the issue.

During the gubernatorial debate last year between Scott and Charlie Crist, there was a bidding war between the two on who would spend more money on state education, and last fall the state Board of Education came out and supported spending record levels on education.

The governor's proposal is in the amount of $842 million. But the little secret is, that proposed mandated spending will not all come from Tallahassee. The folks who make up the difference sit on local school boards. Scotts record levels of education spending will force local school boards to either cut programs or increase taxes. And when is the last time you saw any school board cut spending?

So if your local school board member talks about raising your local property tax for school funding, youll know the reason why.

Speaker Steve Crisafulli. I swear, there isnt a bromance going on here. But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli makes the list again. In a recent interview with Sunshine State News, Crisafulli brought up the issue of pensions. Its an interest of mine," Crisafulli said, insisting the current pension costs are unsustainable."

Crisafulli isnt using scare tactics on this issue, or claiming the Florida Retirement System is going belly-up. But he sees the big picture. Florida politicians running for office in 2014 never made the pension topic an issue. And it shows no sign of being much of an issue in the 2015 Legislature.

Pension reform in Florida is a lot like the national discussion of Medicare and Social Security. Every politician knows something has to be done, but that same old can keeps getting kicked down the road.

Florida-Americans for Prosperity. When the Legislative Budget Commission decided to delay giving $7 million in direct taxpayer monies for sports stadiums, several members of the board refused to give interviews to the press on why the postponement.

The answer: the Florida chapter of Americans For Prosperity.

During the week and days leading up to the vote, the pro-free-market organization took to the airwaves throughout the state, with a massive ad campaign exposing this deal as corporate welfare. State Director Chris Hudson was pleased, yet also disappointed. We won a small victory, says Hudson, but he believes the issue will come back and get in through the back door on some appropriations bill in the final days of the 2015 Legislature.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. How do you not like Jeff Atwater? Hes accessible, friendly, and he doesn't shy away from doing interviews with the media. And he makes no bones about the fact that he may just make a run for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida if Marco Rubio steps down to run for president. Hes not wasting time, either. Hes showing all the signs above and under the radar.

This week Atwater attended the annual CPAC convention in Washington, D.C., and there were news reports of him meeting with members of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Another sign he may be gearing up for a Senate bid is a few of the people he has brought over. Some have come from campaigns, including the Pam Bondi team from 2014. But one heavyweight who stands out, who just came over to the Atwater side, is John Miller. Miller's personal and political success ranges from his service as a vice mayor to owning a communications business to working with groups such as the Florida Chamber and the Retail Federation.

Even with other names being thrown around, one shouldnt discount Atwater in a Republican field. He hasn't done anything to anger Florida Republicans. His time as a CFO shows a record of fiscal responsibility. And if Atwater were to be in a general election, its quite possible he could win over several Democrats. His tenure as the state CFO has presided over a booming return for the Florida Retirement System, which many unions and Democrats see as sacred ground.

But, of course, everything depends on what Rubio decides.

DEANS LIST MISSES

The Advancement Project. In 2014 the Advancement Project, along with other liberal groups, deployed a team to monitor the 2014 Florida election process. Their stated purpose: to make sure all citizens have unobscured access to voting. The group was worried about new voter ID laws restricting voter access, as in the issue of race.

Now this is being brought up again. In a recent article published in Florida Today, the headline read, "Voting rights for minorities threatened, experts say." Who is one of those experts? Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights group.

One of Browne Dianis' comments quoted in Florida Today said, We no longer have poll taxes. But instead, we have voter IDs.

Nice sound bite. But what Browne Dianis and other groups like the Advancement Project never mention is that during the Jim Crow period, not only did the poll tax deny black people the right to vote, it denied many poor white people, too.

The website www.abhmuseum.org, Americas Black Holocaust Museum, points out many poor whites were excluded from the political system for decades.

Florida Democratic Party Media Team. We reported last week how the majority of Rick Scott's tax cuts would go to consumers who use satellite and cellphone services. The FDP response: It was a tax cut for special interests.

The next question was asked: What should be done with the extra money coming in to the states coffers? The FDP response: It should be spent on health care and education.

On the cellphone tax cut, would someone remind the FDP that several high-profile Democrats support Rick Scott's cellphone tax breaks. One of them happens to be well-known South Florida state Sen. Maria Sachs.

On the health care and education spending issue, the FDP needs to come up with some new tactics. For the record, education and health care are important. But when have you ever seen a new fresh idea from Democrats on to how address those two topics? Its the same response: spend more money.

Claudia Jimenez, Indian River County School Board. Years ago, Florida charter schools were sold as a popular alternative to the public school system. And many school boards throughout the state jumped on board. According to the Florida Department of Education, since 1996, the number of charter schools in Florida has grown to more than 615 in 2013-14. Charter school student enrollment now tops 229,000.

The FDOE describes charter schools as public schools of choice. In fact, charter schools are so popular, they are among the fastest growing school choice options in Florida.

But not every school board member is a fan of charter schools. Take Indian River County School Board member Claudia Jimenez. At a February school board meeting, the topic of increasing spending on charter schools came up.

Jimenez is not a fan of increasing spending for local charter schools. In the meeting, when it came to charter-school spending, she said, we have to protect our own kids.

The term "our own kids" she was referring to were the kids who only attend public school. Several parents attending the meeting felt Jimenez's comments were a cheap shot at kids who only go to charter schools.

Jimenez seems to believe that if you dont attend a public school, you're not "one of us."

If the issue is about the credibility of a school that receives or dosen't receive government money, someone may want to remind School Board member Jimenez that charter schools also receive government funding.

Even the FDOE website has a whole page devoted to charter schools and their success.

The Mouse. Within one year, Walt Disney World again jacks up its ticket prices. Now the cost to attend the theme park is around $105. Disney didnt clarify why the increase. But its sister theme park, Universal Studios, followed suit, jacking up its price per ticket to $102. Central Florida News-13 did an analysis of what it would cost a family of four to spend just one day at the park.

They looked at prices for parking, admission, popular dining options, snacks and popular souvenirs. The price: $766.


Ed Dean, a senior editor with SSN whose talk show can be heard on radio stations across Florida, can be reached at ed@sunshinestatenews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @eddeanradio
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