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Supreme Court candidates are all about conservatism

The first three candidates to be interviewed for state Supreme Court justice burnished their conservative credentials Monday afternoon.

The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission began interviewing the 11 applicants to replace retiring Justice James E.C. Perry, who departs the bench Dec. 30.

The nominating panel will forward six names by Dec. 13 to Gov. Rick Scott, who will then name Perry’s replacement.

This is Scott’s first chance to pick a state Supreme Court justice, and thus the first opportunity to expand the high court’s reliably conservative voting bloc, now only two justices: Charles Canady and Ricky Polston.

“I generally care about two things,” Scott has said about judicial appointees. “Are they going to be humble in the process, and are they going to uphold the law?” The governor, like the conservative GOP House majority, is a believer in judicial restraint.

First up on Monday were Wendy W. Berger, a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal; Alice L. Blackwell, a circuit judge in Orange County; and Roberta J. Bodnar, an assistant U.S. attorney in Ocala.

The judiciary’s job is to “apply the law, to interpret the law, but not to make it,” Berger told the panel.

She may have the most experience in death penalty cases, which now makes up roughly half of the Supreme Court’s caseload.

As an assistant general counsel, Berger was Gov. Jeb Bush’s point person on death sentences, helping him determine which cases were ripe for death warrants.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, based on a Florida case, requires unanimous jury recommendations before a judge can impose a death sentence.

But Berger told commissioners she doesn’t believe the Hurst ruling should be retroactive: “That would open a large amount of floodgates we don’t need to see.”

Asked about professionalism, she said dissenting from a majority opinion should mean “you can disagree without being disagreeable.”

She quickly added, “You can be open minded to other points of view, but if they’re outside the law, I’m not going to agree for the sake of collegiality.”

Berger also played up her trial court experience as a circuit judge, saying “if you want to call balls and strikes, you need to have played the game.”

Blackwell, a judicial appointee of Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, played defense early and often, mentioning her “conservative judicial philosophy” and saying she was “not an activist judge.”

The judge played up her rural South Carolina upbringing – “You can probably hear it in my voice” – and said she worked her way through school as a church organist.

She was 34 when she first applied to be a judge, and said she was the second youngest person to become a judge when appointed in 1991. Blackwell followed the footsteps of her “Uncle Joe,” a judge who held the Bible at her swearing-in.

Blackwell said she follows the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s concept of ‘originalism’: “What do the words mean that are in the law?”

She distinguished herself from activists who say what the law “ought to be.”

“That’s not a judge’s job,” Blackwell told the panel. “I don’t legislate from the bench.”

But, she was asked, what about when courts, even the Supreme Court, have misinterpreted a law? 

“I hope I would have the intellectual and moral fortitude to say we got it wrong and we need to change it,” she said.

Bodnar, unlike Berger and Blackwell, sat for her interview with no notes. She too espoused restraint in interpreting the law, saying judges should “apply the law” and not “invent it.”

“The law belongs the people,” she said, a theme she revisited later in her interview. “Start with the law, never start with instinct.”

Bodnar, however, bristled at a question on her lack of judicial experience, referring to her analytical skill in a brief she submitted as a writing sample.

“I wrote that brief, and it’s good,” she told commissioners. “I don’t need to have put on a black robe.”

She also was asked about her long-standing “BV” Martindale-Hubbell peer rating, which she’s had for 23 years. “BV” is similar to a silver medal; “AV” is considered the gold standard.

Bodnar smiled, saying the only reason she sought a rating in the first place was to ensure a pay bump from her then-boss, state Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Getting rated or getting published was the only way he’d give a raise, she said.

Finally, when asked about a right to bear arms, Bodnar said she “believe(s) in a personal right to bear arms,” adding that she has a concealed carry permit.

The interviews, which are taking place in Orlando, continue through the afternoon and are being livestreamed by The Florida Channel.

Florida school choice advocates praise selection of Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Florida leaders praised Donald Trump’s choice of education secretary, calling Betsy DeVos an excellent pick.

The president-elect announced Wednesday he tapped DeVos, 58, to lead the federal agency. The choice reinforces his pledge to make school choice an education priority. In September, he pledged to funnel $20 billion in existing federal dollars into scholarships for low-income students, an idea that would require congressional approval.

“Students, parents, and education reformers across the United States should be thrilled by the selection of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education.  Betsy is a tireless, fearless, and intelligent national leader in high quality education,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a statement. “I can think of no one better to break down bureaucratic barriers, eliminate the institutional intransigence on school choice, and reduce federal costs and interference in the state and local decision-making process.”

A supporter of school choice, Corcoran railed against the state’s largest teacher’s union in his fist remarks as Florida House Speaker. The Land O’Lakes Republican said the Florida Education was “fixated on halting innovation and competition,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Corcoran pointed to the ongoing fight over the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program as an example. The program helps low-income children attend private schools. The teacher’s union has been fighting the program in the courts for years, saying it diverts money from traditional public education.

The Associated Press reported that DeVos’ support of school choice goes back more than 20 years. She was politically involved in the passage of Michigan’s charter school bill in 1993 and worked on an unsuccessful effort to change Michigan’s state constitution to allow tax-credit scholarships or vouchers. She has described that loss as her biggest setback.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush also praised Trump’s decision, saying she “is an outstanding pick for Secretary of Education.”

“She has a long and distinguished history championing the right of all parents to choose schools that best ensure their children’s success. Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next,” he said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “I cannot think of more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms.”

 DeVos’ appointment is subject to confirmation by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Lamar Alexander said the Senate’s education committee would move swiftly on the nomination in January.

The new education secretary will oversee implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law passed last year to replace No Child Left Behind. The Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Personnel note: Dave Murzin joins Liberty Partners of Tallahassee as NW Florida director

Former state Rep. Dave Murzin has joined Liberty Partners of Tallahassee as the firm’s Northwest Florida Director.

“We are honored to have Dave join forces with the Liberty Partners team.” said firm President and owner Jennifer Green in a statement. “This strategic partnership gives us the opportunity to continue to work with a longtime friend and colleague in a region of the state where we all have a strong connection.”

A former state legislator and longtime legislative staffer, Murzin has experience in both the public and private sector. Murzin served in the Florida House from 2002 until 2010.

While in the House, Murzin was appointed by former House Speaker Larry Cretul to the Florida Council on Military Base and Mission Support.

He also served on the Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council, was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush to both the Joint Select Committee on Hurricane Insurance and the Property Tax Reform Committee, was appointed by former House Speaker and current U.S. Senator Marco Rubio to the Joint Property Tax Reform Committee, and served on the Escambia County Utilities Authority Administrative Advisory Committee.

Before serving in the Florida House, he served as a top staffer to Jeff Miller, a former congressman and member of the Florida House, and former House Majority Leader Jerry Maygarden.

“I appreciate the opportunity to join the Liberty Partners team,” said Murzin in a statement. “This team and their clients represent the conservative philosophies and policies that I have supported my entire legislative career. I look forward to working on issues important to the Northwest Florida area and especially my hometown of Pensacola.”

Murzin and his son, Benjamin, live in Pensacola.

In remembrance: Janet Reno

Newspapers were rolling in dough in the late 20th century. Reporters had expense accounts and plenty of public officials were happy to let them pick up the check.

Not Janet Reno. She paid her own way, spoke for herself, and did not require those around her to bow, scrape, or screen calls to her home phone, which was in the book and accessible to the folks who paid her salary.

The former Dade County state attorney and United States attorney general under Bill Clinton needed no help to “craft the message.” She did not lard the public payroll with puppet masters to put words in her mouth about the “Hot Topics” of the day.

Harry Truman had done all the “message development” Reno would ever need.

Time after time after time, Reno faced hostile citizens, taxpayers, Congressional committees, and reporters. Her talking point never varied. “The buck stops here. With me.”

Reno was the state attorney in 1980, when riots broke out in Miami after her office failed to convict four white police officers accused of beating an unarmed black man to death. A dozen people died, and hundreds more were injured before the National Guard could restore order. Reno walked through the wreckage —alone, unarmed and unguarded — to take accountability with angry, distraught survivors.

Reno came from a storied Miami family that knew the difference between real friends and transactional friends. She was a star in a generation of lawyers that knew you can’t win if you’re afraid to lose. All of that would serve her well in jobs where making life-and-death decisions was just a normal day at the office.

Reno had hoped to continue in public life as her party’s standard bearer against Jeb Bush in the 2002 governor’s race. But the denizens of the Democrats backed the more malleable Bill McBride, leaving history to wonder if Bush could have crushed Reno as easily as he demolished McBride.

The memory of Reno standing in front of a bank of microphones, answering hostile questions truthfully until her interrogators gave up in exhaustion, is a source of pride to Florida, and an enduring example of what real accountability looks like.

Despite end of formal fundraising, Donald Trump to hold breakfast event at Doral Wednesday

Donald Trump may have said he was scaling back on high-dollar fundraising — ending with a Las Vegas luncheon held last week — but it didn’t mean he wasn’t quite done raising money.

The Republican nominee, joined by Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus and former ambassador Mel Sembler, among others, returns to Florida for a breakfast event Wednesday at the Trump National Doral Miami resort.

Proceeds will go to boost Trump Victory, an organization Trump established with the RNC to help pay for staff and other ground operations supporting Trump and other down-ballot Republicans. Sembler, a former Republican National Committee finance chairman and board member of Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC, became vice chair in May.

Listed on the invite is a host committee that includes Priebus, Sembler, Trump Victory Finance Chairs Louis Eisenberg and Brian Ballard, as well as Steven Mnuchin, who chairs the Donald J. Trump for President committee.

Last week, Mnuchin told The Washington Post that Trump Victory’s last formal fundraiser was held Oct. 19.

The invite provided no information on the upcoming fundraiser, saying supporters will get further details upon RSVP.

The campaign also announced his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, will be visiting Utah Wednesday, a formerly solid Republican state where polling shows Trump’s chances of winning are at risk.

Miami GOP rainmaker Mike Fernandez endorses Patrick Murphy, gives $100K

Mike Fernandez is backing Democrat Patrick Murphy in his race against Republican Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate.

Fernandez, the Miami billionaire who is one of the nation’s largest GOP funders, announced his support of Murphy to the Miami Herald Friday morning. He told reporters the main reason he’s voting for Murphy is the Jupiter Democrat’s support for lifting the Cuba embargo.

As well as voting for Murphy, the Herald also reports Fernandez has given $100,000 to a pro-Murphy super PAC.

Fernandez has been a longtime Republican fundraiser — giving more than $3 million this cycle to a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s presidential run — and briefly served as finance chair for Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2014 re-election bid.

However, in September Fernandez announced he was formally endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

Slater Bayliss: Cubs want to party like it’s 1908

As Floridians, we have a very special connection to baseball through spring training, as Florida is now one of only two states to host spring training games. In fact, only a few years removed from their 1908 World Series title, the Chicago Cubs came to Tampa in 1913 for spring training.

In doing so, they became the first team to hold spring training in Florida.  In a twist of irony that same year, the Cleveland Indians came to Jacksonville and became the second team to train here.

Like many Floridians, including Tallahassee politicos Dr. Ed Moore, Rich Heffley, and Brad Piepenbrink, to name a few, I am a Chicagoan by birth and Floridian by choice.  As Commissioner Adam Putnam is fond of saying, “Midwesterners typically get to move to Florida as a reward for a life well-lived”; we just came early to build our lives in this increasingly dynamic state.

All I remember about my 12th birthday is the Chicago Cubs played their first night game ever at Wrigley Field. Growing up in the 1980s and in the 312 area code, my ideas on life were shaped by Reagan, Bueller and Banks- all of whom had deep ties to the Cubbies.

President Ronald Reagan began his career as a Cubs radio announcer and remained a fan his entire life.  Ferris Bueller famously took a day off anchored around a visit to Wrigley Field and observed, “Life moves pretty fast. If you do not stop and look around every once in a while, you might just miss it!” And Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, despite playing for many losing Cubs teams, famously said, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!”

When the Cubs last won in 1908, Teddy Roosevelt was President, Henry Ford had just produced his first Model T, the U.S. flag only had 46 stars, and the southern half of Florida was a wilderness of mangrove swamps.  It is doubtful anyone in Florida knew of the Cubs victory until they read it in the newspaper, as baseball would not be broadcast on radio for another 13 years.  The Cubs made it back to the Series in 1945 but lost after being hexed by a Chicago tavern owner who was irate because his guest, a pet goat, was forcibly removed from the stands.

Since the hex was placed, the Cubs are well known for breaking the hearts of their joyful, yet long-suffering fans. I have anguished, but remained ever optimistic, with other Florida Politicos like Karl Rasmussen, Brian Ballard, Tim Stapleton, Dale Brill and Brady Benford.

The black cat was walking onto the field in a 1969 meltdown, a bizarre Gatorade spill leading to a costly error in 1984 and most recently the infamous Steve Bartman incident — the poor soul who was offered political asylum by Governor Jeb Bush as the Marlins beat the Cubs to advance the World Series in 2003. Six years before, the Marlins crushed the hopes of the Indians in the World Series.

This summer, thanks to Tallahassee’s own David Ross, my family and I had the privilege of visiting the friendly confines of Wrigley Field on my 40th birthday. When I heard the organ, saw the emerald green grass surrounded by lush ivy along the brick outfield walls and caught my glimpse of the ancient green scoreboard in centerfield, it brought me back to afternoons in the park with my dad. It also brought me back to my first cold beer at Wrigley- a Bud because that is what Harry Caray drank.  To me, Wrigley is like an old song on the radio that transports me back in time.

Tonight the Cubs will play a World Series game for the first time in 71 years as they attempt to do something they have not done in 108 years- win a World Series. Unfortunately for all of us who spent a week this summer better understanding the impressive and vastly underrated City of Cleveland during the RNC Convention, the Cubs face off against another storied franchise with something of a losing streak.

The Indians’ 68-year championship drought is baseball’s second-longest active one behind that of the Cubs. No matter who wins, this World Series promises to be one for the ages.  If my beloved Cubbies are able to break the hex, it pains me that so many loyal Cubs fans will not see it.  Ernie Banks will not see it.  President Reagan will not see it. And Harry Caray will not see it. But Cubs Nation, including many Floridians, will party like it’s 1908.  #FlyTheW

___

Slater Bayliss is a partner at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners and a gentlemanly Cub fanatic.

CBS poll shows dead heat between Patrick Murphy, Marco Rubio

The Patrick Murphy campaign had more to cheer about Sunday after a CBS News poll showed the first-term congressman within striking distance of incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

The poll showed Rubio with 44 percent support among registered Florida voters compared to 42 percent support for Murphy, with 8 percent undecided and 6 percent saying they would vote for a different candidate.

Last week a poll from Opinion Savvy showed the Murphy, a Democrat, tied with Rubio at 46 percent support, and a Quinnipiac University poll showed Rubio ahead by 2 points.

In addition to the head-to-head, the poll also asked voters who they would choose if they could change their vote in the Republican Primary, and Donald Trump came out on top with 21 percent of the vote, followed by John Kasich with 17 percent.

Rubio, who placed second in the Florida Primary back in the spring, was the third place finisher in the with 15 percent support. Another 12 percent said they would have voted for Jeb Bush and 9 percent picked Ted Cruz, while the remaining 26 percent said they would vote for “someone else.”

The poll also showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with 46 percent support compared to 43 percent for Trump. Libertarian Gary Johnson polled at 3 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein took 2 percent.

The CBS News poll was conducted over the internet Oct. 20 and 21 and received 1,042 responses. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.

5 things I think I think about today’s Tampa Bay Times

Back before there was a FloridaPolitics.com and it was just me blogging at SaintPetersBlog.com, I would write a semi-regular screed about the Tampa Bay Times’ political coverage. This was so long ago, the Times still had St. Petersburg in its masthead.

I gave up the “5 things I think I think…” column after a while because it got repetitive. (And because so many of my favorite writers — Howard Troxler, Eric Deggans, Michael Kruse —  left the newspaper). However, with 15 days left before the election, it’s as good a time as any to check in on what the Times has to offer.

Unfortunately, it’s not much. At least as far as the print product is concerned. There’s some good and interesting stuff about national and state politics, but when it comes to the local scene, the pickings are slim.

There are only two Sundays left before Election Day and there isn’t a story in the newspaper about the high-profile congressional race in the region (Republican David Jolly vs. Democrat Charlie Crist) or the high-profile state Senate race in the region (Republican Dana Young vs. Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner). Nothing on any of the state House races, although most of them are snoozers. Nothing on the county commission race between Republican Mike Mikurak and Democrat Charlie Justice.

Like I said, not much.

No wonder Adam Smith has to write about how “the dreaded campaign yard sign appears to be less in demand this season.”

Really, that’s the best the political editor of the state’s largest newspaper has to offer two weeks out from an election? Other than quotes from good guys Brian Burgess and Nick Hansen, this story is even sillier than you might think. It’s as if because Smith doesn’t see any yard signs in his tony Old Northeast neighborhood, there are no yard signs anywhere!

Smith blames The Case of the Missing Yard Signs on “most voters disliking the major presidential nominees too much to want to boast about their choice.” But since when were presidential campaigns even known for having a strong yard sign program? It’s the local campaigns, with their tighter budgets, which rely more on yard signs. And in Smith’s St. Petersburg neighborhood there aren’t as many competitive down-ballot races as there have been in recent election cycles.

Where Smith lives, there aren’t bruising races for state Senate, state House, county commission, or school board as there were in 2012 and 2014. So maybe Smith’s headline should have been “Adored by candidates, the dreaded campaign yard sign appears to be less in demand IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD.”

Ah, the good ol’ days of making fun of Adam Smith‘s work. It’s 2013 all over again. No wonder yellow-bellied Adam won’t participate in a post-election panel with me at the Tampa Tiger Bay club.

Actually, Smith has a must-read piece fronting the newspaper about Hillary Clinton’s connections to the Sunshine State and his “Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics” (consultant Rick Wilson is the winner; Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes is the loser) is spot on.

Other thoughts about today’s newspaper:

Months after both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were dispatched from the presidential election by Donald Trump, their names still sit atop the Times’ website when you click on the 2016 CAMPAIGN under the POLITICS link.

jebio

I agree with half of what John Romano tries to say about how “Rick Scott might have held the key to an outsider’s successful bid to the White House” because the columnist echoes some of what I’ve recently written about Scott; namely that Scott is under-appreciated as a political force. But where Romano and I diverge is with his thesis that Trump should have relied on the same message-driven playbook that worked for Scott in 2010. To suggest this ignores The Donald aspect of Donald Trump, which is what has propelled him to where he is today.

With Trump, there’s no way to separate the messenger from the message. This can be accomplished with Scott because he was a blank slate before he arrived on the political scene. Trump was already a brand.

Still, Romano’s column is worth the read.

 The Times’ final mission for the 2016 election cycle is to take down the utility industry-backed Amendment 1. The newspaper, of course, will write about Clinton vs. Trump and Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign, but it can’t influence those races. It can be a factor in whether Amendment 1 passes, so look for it to flood the zone — as it does today with not one, not two, but three Amendment 1 related punches, including this editorial.

Such good questions prompted by Charlie Frago’s reporting of how the City of St. Petersburg “experienced the equivalent of an air-raid siren warning about its impending sewage crisis.” Unfortunately, no one at City Hall is talking.

“I have no recollection of that event,” says Bill Foster, the mayor at the time. … Council members who served at that time also had never heard of it.

Former public works administrator Mike Connors, who was there when the Albert Whitted plant was closed in 2015, has retired. Water resources director Steve Leavitt and engineering director Tom Gibson were placed on unpaid leave while the city investigates what happened to the 2014 report, which was brought to light by a whistleblower.

Gibson and Connors declined to comment. Leavitt could not be reached for comment.

Even if any of these people did comment, it would not answer this question: who tipped off Frago to the 10.5 million-gallon discharge in 2013?

Pay attention to Susan Taylor Martin’s reporting about the 400 block of Central Avenue and whether it should be redeveloped into a residential property or into commercial space. Ten years from now, the 400 block could be the most important piece of non-waterfront property in the city, but only if the right decisions about its future are made now.

This was fun, critiquing the Times’ political coverage. Maybe it’s time to relaunch this series …

Marco Rubio presidential campaign owes $1.5M in debt

Marco Rubio might be running for re-election, but his presidential campaign is still more than $1 million in the red.

Campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission show Rubio’s presidential campaign had more than $1.5 million in debt as of Sept. 30. The sum includes the costs of telemarketing services, media production, and legal fees.

According to campaign finance records, the presidential campaign owed $570,657 for telemarketing; $315,000 for media production; $167,000 for legal fees; $350,000 for strategic consulting; and $130,000 for web services.

It may seem like a lot, but the campaign has continued to whittle down its outstanding debt each reporting period. Records show the presidential campaign had more than $1.9 million in debt at the end of March.

Rubio ended his presidential bid in March, after he came in second to Donald Trump in Florida’s presidential preference primary. He announced he was running for re-election in June, just days before the qualifying deadline.

It’s not unusual for presidential campaigns to carry debt well after the race is over. In May, the Wall Street Journal reported former presidential hopefuls owed more than $5.4 million.

Paying down the debt could take years. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic nominee, didn’t pay off debt for her 2008 presidential campaign until 2012.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is still trying to pay down the debt from his 2012 presidential bid. According to the most recent campaign filing, Gingrich still owed $4.6 million for his 2012 campaign.

Rubio isn’t the only 2016 hopeful whose campaign is still carrying some debt.

Campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission show Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign owed $368,063 through Aug. 31; while Bernie Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful, owed $472,011 at the end of August.

Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign owed $250,000, down from $452,065 at the end of February. Bush ended his presidential bid after the South Carolina primary. Meanwhile, Chris Christie’s campaign still owes $170,505; while Rand Paul’s presidential campaign owes $301,107.

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