Sunburn for 10/16 – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

in Uncategorized by

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the firm best known for smart, strong and strategic counsel across the diverse and ever-changing media landscape: Sometimes, miracles can start in the most unlikely places … like St. Petersburg, where the most improbable season in American professional sports history began. What began in Spring Training at St. Pete’s Al Lang Stadium culminated 45 years ago today when the New York Mets – the “Miracle Mets” – won a world championship, just eight years after establishing themselves as one of the worst teams ever. Since their creation in 1962, the Mets had never had a winning record more than nine games into any season – yet somehow the 1969 team managed to win 100 games and defeat the powerful Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 in the World Series. In the inimitable words of Casey Stengel: “Amazing, amazing, amazing!”

Now, on to the ‘burn…

C-SPAN VIDEO OF #FANGATE watch here

THE SENSELESS SCOTT MELTDOWN OVER CRIST’S FAN via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News

The debate was over before it started.

When Gov. Scott didn’t immediately come out on stage in the debate against former Gov. Crist at Broward College due to concerns about the Democrat using his ubiquitous fan, the governor lost the debate right off the bat. The Crist team quickly took to Twitter, insisting under the agreed-upon rules their candidate was allowed to have his fan.

Crist’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sent out emails before the debate was over, mocking Scott’s decision.

“Something crazy just happened,” Omar Khan, Crist’s campaign manager, emailed supporters on Wednesday night. “Moments before the debate was scheduled to begin, Rick Scott decided he wasn’t going to participate. Why? Because there was a fan at Charlie’s podium. A fan.

“For a few incredible minutes just now, Charlie stood all alone at the podium while Rick Scott threw a temper tantrum backstage, denying the people of Florida the chance to hear from their gubernatorial candidates because of — literally — a breeze,” Khan continued. “Scott finally caved and decided to join the debate. But the fact that this sideshow happened at all is an embarrassment to our great state and fellow citizens.”

Instead of focusing on the issues, the debate became about Crist’s fan and Scott’s apparent pettiness.

HOW IT PLAYED: #FANGATE EDITION

Huffington PostRick Scott Almost Refused To Debate Charlie Crist Over A Fan – Florida’s second gubernatorial debate got off to a bizarre start Wednesday evening … “That’s the ultimate pleading of the Fifth I’ve ever heard in my life,” Crist said. Washington PostCharlie Crist, Rick Scott and a fan in one of the most bizarre debate moments ever – In one of the most bizarre starts to a debate, well, ever, Scott initially refused to come out because Crist asked to have a small fan placed under his podium. MSNBCRick Scott and Charlie Crist standoff at debate over fan – The defining moment of Wednesday’s Florida gubernatorial debate came down to a fan … and not even of the human variety. Associated PressElectric fan below Charlie Crist’s podium delays Florida governor debate – Crist always uses an electronic fan at public appearances to avoid sweating … The Republican governor eventually strode on stage … Crist kept the fan. The DCRick Scott Refuses To Appear On Debate Stage Because Charlie Crist Has An Illegal Electronic Fan – Scott eventually appeared on stage, after he was booed in absentia by the crowd. POLITICOFalse start to Florida debate over fan – The famously-tan Crist is legendary for carrying a black fan with him to events to keep cool. It’s been widely mocked in the Sunshine State for years. TIME MagazineFlorida Governor Holds Up Debate Over Challenger’s Fan – The governor eventually relented, but not before Twitter erupted with snarky commentary. The DGA derided the incident as the “political equivalent of pleading the Fifth Amendment.” Yahoo NewsFlorida governor debate reflects nasty campaign – The Florida governor’s race that was already one of the most negative in the state’s history became even nastier— and weirder … Palm Beach PostBizarre even by Florida political standards — Fangate delays debate! –  Even considering Florida’s Reputation for bizarre political twists …. (the) debate between … Rick Scott and … Charlie Crist set a new standard as the event was delayed several minutes by a disagreement over Crist’s familiar electric fan.

NOT NEW ON THE TWITTERS: @CCristFan

TWEET, TWEET: @SaintPetersblog: With apologies to Walter Cronkite, if @FLGovScott has lost Sunshine State News, he’s lost Florida.

TOP TWEET: @MarcACaputo: Privately, Republicans/Rick Scott loyalists are telling me the moment he didn’t go onstage over fangate was the moment he lost the election

I DON’T KNOW WHAT HE WAS WATCHING: @WillWeatherford: At debate – Gov Rick Scott is Winning! Charlie is being Charlie… #nov4th

THERE’S SPIN AND THEN THERE’S THIS … EMAIL FROM SCOTT CAMPAIGN MANAGER MELISSA SELLERS: “So, let’s get one thing clear: Rick Scott never refused to take the stage and debate. In fact, our campaign was not notified Charlie had even taken the stage because the last we heard, Crist was in an “emergency meeting” with debate organizers pleading for his precious fan. But Charlie Crist can bring his fan, microwave, and toaster to debates – – none of that will cover up how sad his record as Governor was compared to the success of Governor Rick Scott.”

MY TAKE (WITH A SCOOP IN IT)

Like a safety investigator sifting through the rubble of catastrophic train derailment, it’s time to assign blame by dissecting Gov. Scott’s failure on the issue of Crist’s podium fan.

First, let’s agree on the specific failures: Scott looked petty and perhaps even desperate. Crist got to stand next to an empty podium for seven minutes while the bemused debate hosts chuckled as they explained Scott’s refusal to walk on stage. And regardless of how well Scott might have done during the debate, he virtually guaranteed that Florida’s media would ignore his performance and talk about the bizarre decision not to come out and debate.

Whether it was Scott or his campaign staff that noticed the fan and insisted on making it an issue, ultimately, it’s the campaign team’s responsibility to keep the candidate focused and prevent an unforced error.

So who was running the show behind the scenes tonight?

Sellers is the governor’s campaign manager. Brett O’Donnell, a Washington D.C. consultant and former adviser to Michelle Bachman, was brought in by the Scott campaign to run debate prep. More than anyone else, including Scott himself, these two individuals were responsible for making sure a catastrophic screw-up like this didn’t happen. Even if Crist’s fan was a violation of debate rules, Sellers and O’Donnell should have kept Scott out of the line of fire and quietly raised the issue with debate organizers to let them make a ruling. Under no circumstances should the candidate be allowed to wade into the middle of such a petty issue.

To underscore this point, during the 2010 campaign, Scott’s team noted a potential rule violation minutes before a debate against Alex Sink. And no, we’re not talking about the fateful Blackberry cheating scandal during the final debate on CNN, though that may have been what Scott’s team foolishly tried to replicate tonight.

No, this issue occurred during the first Univision debate. Sink’s team placed a 4-inch riser behind her podium so she would appear taller. Scott’s advisers believed the riser violated debate rules, but if they mentioned the issue to Scott at all, he still came out on stage at the appointed time. What we know for certain, however, is that Scott’s team pointed the riser out to reporters, then posted photos of the riser on Twitter, saying “Sink needs help standing up to Rick Scott,” and calling the riser “Sink’s debate stimulus.” What the campaign team didn’t do was allow Sink to own the stage for nearly seven minutes while the candidate himself complained that Sink wasn’t really as tall as she looked.

Scott’s campaign staff failed badly tonight. This isn’t even a question. But how is Scott to blame for the disaster? The answer is straightforward. Just as Scott likes to say he takes responsibility for the fraud that occurred on his watch at Columbia/HCA, he also must take responsibility for the disastrous decisions of the people that he has chosen to advise him and execute his re-election campaign. Did he tolerate this kind of failure at Columbia/HCA? I doubt it.

AT DEBATE, SCOTT AND CRIST TAKE DIFFERENT SIDES OF GAY MARRIAGE ISSUE via The Associated Press

Scott and Crist took opposing sides on the same-sex marriage question during their latest debate.

Scott told the statewide television audience Wednesday that he supports traditional marriage but ultimately it is a question the courts will decide.

Crist said he supports same-sex marriage but agreed the courts will decide.

During rebuttal, Scott pointed out that when Crist served as the governor from 2007-11 as a Republican he opposed same-sex marriage. He noted that Crist later told reporters his opposition to same-sex marriage was for political expedience because he was then a Republican.

Floridians passed a state constitutional amendment in 2008 banning gay marriage.

SCOTT CLAIM OF FEWER CHILD ABUSE DEATHS QUESTIONED via Brendan Farrington and Kelli Kennedy of the Associated Press

Gov. Scott repeatedly tells voters that abused and neglected children are safer under his leadership than when his Democratic opponent Crist was governor, but an Associated Press examination of that claim shows that campaign claim may be an exaggeration.

Scott says deaths among children who have come to the Department of Children and Families’ attention have plummeted from 97 in 2009 to 36 last year, but child welfare experts say any drop is attributed to the way DCF responds to abuse reports and changes to what is considered a death caused by neglect or abuse. The result artificially reduces the number of child deaths compared to Crist’s 2007-11 term.

Three times during the Telemundo debate, Scott said 97 children with a DCF history died of abuse in 2009. But the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Team, which is independent of DCF and often highly critical of the agency, says only 69 children fell into that category that year. Scott’s staff said the 97 figure came from a private company hired by DCF and the Scott administration that examined child deaths between 2007 and 2013. The administration says the company’s analysis is based on updated data.

After the debate, Scott’s campaign issued a release saying child abuse deaths have declined dramatically since he took office in 2011. But the governor and his team omitted a crucial point: Child welfare officials no longer count children who drown or infants and toddlers who die because a sleeping parent rolls onto them, saying there had to be a caregiver’s willful act for the death to be considered abuse or neglect. The new standard meant many deaths weren’t counted, even when there was evidence that parental drug use contributed.

The result made it appear there were fewer deaths. The change came under Crist but has affected the numbers since Scott took office.

The effect was immediate and the number of verified child abuse and neglect deaths dropped 30 percent under Crist, from 197 to 136 between 2009 and 2010, according to a tally by the state Department of Health. In the three years since Scott took office, the figures dropped to 130, 129 and 112, according to state data. This includes verified abuse and neglect deaths where the family had no history with DCF.

EARLY BALLOT RETURN NUMBERS as of 10/14 (courtesy of St. Pete Polls): 534,743 Total ballots returned. 256,151 Republican 47.9%; 186,998 Democratic; 91,594 Independent 17.1%.

WHO MIGHT BE THE REAL WINNER ON ELECTION DAY? THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE via Gary Fineout of the Fine Print

What might get lost in the back-and-forth … is how each governor is prepared to deal with the political future and reality that will exist no matter which one of them wins.

And that reality is that the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature will have a lot to say on how the next four years go…for both candidates.

The fault lines will be obvious for Crist.

Crist has already said several times that he thinks he can work with the Legislature because he will “have a pen.” That threat, however, would be rendered useless if Republicans gain a veto-proof majority as some polls are suggesting. You can bet a Legislature chagrined by the prospect of a Crist governorship will not hesitate to challenge Crist at every opportunity.

Except Crist might not be the only one who could be at odds with legislative leaders.

The plain fact is that when talked to privately many GOP legislators continue to have discomfort with Scott four years after he knocked off GOP establishment favorite BIll McCollum and contended on primary night that the Tallahassee insiders would be “crying in their cocktails.” Scott has an uneasy alliance with many Republican heavy-weights in the state who have remained quiet as he brought in outsiders – many of them connected to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – to run the Republican Party of Florida.

ELSEWHERE…

TROUBLE LOOMS FOR OBAMA, DEMOCRATS WITH ELECTION DAY 2014 APPROACHING via Gary Langer of ABC News

Barack Obama and his political party are heading into the midterm elections in trouble. The president’s 40 percent job approval rating in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll is the lowest of his career – and the Democratic Party’s popularity is its weakest in polling back 30 years, with more than half of Americans seeing the party unfavorably for the first time.

The Republican Party is even more unpopular. But benefitting from their supporters’ greater likelihood of voting, GOP candidates nonetheless hold a 50-43 percent lead among likely voters for U.S. House seats in the Nov. 4 election.

These and other results are informed by an array of public concerns on issues from the economy to international terrorism to the Ebola virus, crashing into a long-running crisis of confidence in the nation’s political leadership. Almost two-thirds say the country is headed seriously off on the wrong track. Even more, three-quarters, are dissatisfied with the way the political system is working.

Scorn is widely cast: Among those who are dissatisfied with the political system, two-thirds say both sides are equally to blame, with the rest dividing evenly between Obama and his party, vs. the Republicans in Congress, as the chief culprits. But as a nearly six-year incumbent president, Obama – and by extension his party – are most at risk.

Beyond his overall rating, Obama is at career lows in approval for his handling of immigration, international affairs and terrorism (long his best issue) in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Approval of his handling of the conflict with Islamic State insurgents in Iraq and Syria has plummeted by percentage 15 points in the last two weeks, amid questions about the progress of the air campaign now under way.

Further, while Obama’s negative rating on handling the economy has eased, more Americans say they’ve gotten worse off rather than better off under his presidency; the plurality is “about the same” financially, for most not a happy outcome. Even with the recovery to date, 77 percent are worried about the economy’s future, and 57 percent say the country has been experiencing a long-term decline in living standards – all grim assessments as Election Day looms.

Such views can carry a punch. An analysis conducted for this report shows that presidential approval ratings (in data since 1946) and views that the country’s on the right track (since 1974) highly correlate with midterm gains or losses for the party in power. (The correlations are .68 and .65, respectively; 0 means no relationship and 1 is a perfect, positive fit.)

ISIS THREAT TOP CONCERN FOR REPUBLICAN VOTERS — WSJ/NBC POLL via Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal

For Democrats, the most important issue in this year’s midterm elections is what’s long been the central focus for the party’s top officials: jobs and the economy.

But Republicans have a different view of things, rating taking military action against Islamic State militants as their top issue, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

In the survey, 41% of Republicans said acting on the ISIS threat is the most important issue in deciding their midterm vote. Just 18% of Democrats agreed, placing the issue fifth behind economic growth, breaking the partisan gridlock in Washington, health care and social security.

Republican candidates are on safer ground talking about foreign policy. By a two-to-one margin, voters who said ISIS action is their most important issue – 29% of the electorate – prefer Republicans. Only immigration and the deficit provide GOP candidates a stronger advantage. Democrats do better among voters who want to end partisan gridlock, “look out for the interests of women,” care about Social Security and Medicare, job creation and health care.

The eagerness of Republican voters to go on offense against Islamic State comes as Americans in record numbers say the Iraq war was not worth it. A full two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed said that conflict wasn’t worth fighting. Even Republicans who say they are voting for a more robust response to the Middle East militants say the war wasn’t worth it, 49% to 41% who say it was worth it.

It doesn’t help Democrats that the American people have soured so quickly on President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign policy. Throughout the Syria crisis, Mr. Obama’s unwillingness to commit U.S. ground troops to another foreign conflict had broad public support. But now 55% disapprove of his handling of the ISIS crisis and 61% say military action against ISIS is in the national interest.

Even support for using ground troops in Iraq and Syria is ticking up: 41% now say action against ISIS should include boots on the ground, up seven points from one month ago. Now 35% say U.S. action should be limited to airstrikes only, a figure down from 40% in September. Just 15% said the U.S. shouldn’t take any military action at all against ISIS – a figure that has remained static over the last two months.

RECORD NUMBER OF BLACK CANDIDATES SEEKING OFFICE via Jesse Holland of the Associated Press

More than 100 black candidates will be on the ballot in statewide and congressional races next month, a post-Reconstruction record that some observers say is a byproduct of President Barack Obama’s historic presidency.

At least 83 black Republicans and Democrats are running for the U.S. House, an all-time high for the modern era, according to political scientist David Bositis, who has tracked black politicians for years. They include Mia Love in Utah, who is trying to become the first black Republican woman to be elected to Congress.

Four other black women — Bonnie Watson Coleman in New Jersey, Brenda Lawrence in Michigan, Alma Adams in North Carolina and Stacey Plaskett in the Virgin Islands — are expected to win seats as Democrats, Bositis said. If they all win, and no black female incumbents lose, there should be 20 black women among House members, an all-time high, Bositis said.

There are at least 25 African-Americans running for statewide offices, including U.S. senator, governor or lieutenant governor, also a record number.

The previous record for black candidates seeking House seats was 72 in 2012, the year Obama, the nation’s first black president, was re-elected to a second term. The previous record for statewide contests was 17 in 2002, said Bositis, formerly of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank in Washington that focuses primarily on issues affecting African-Americans.

An Obama “coattails effect” is partly responsible for this large candidate pool because it spurred blacks to vote, and encouraged them to pursue offices they might not have sought in the past, said political science professor Fredrick C. Harris, director of Columbia University’s Center on African-American Politics and Society. America’s blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

CONGRATULATIONS, JEB BUSH, YOU’RE BEING TRACKED via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Oppo researchers aren’t waiting for Jeb Bush to decide whether he’s running. After appearing at an event Monday for Terri Lynn Land, who is running for Senate in Michigan, Bush was approached a Democratic activist who asked him if the candidate should support the Paycheck Fairness Act.

American Bridge was there, of course.

“What is the Paycheck Fairness Act?” Bush asks. The man replies, “The Paycheck Fairness Act is a piece of legislation that would ensure women receive the same pay as men…equal pay for equal work.

Bush: “Equal pay for the same work, not for equal work – I think that’s the problem with it. I think there’s a definition issue.”

Man: “So you don’t think Sec. Land should support it?”

Jeb Bush: “I don’t know. You’d have to ask her.”

BOLD ENDORSEMENT OF THE DAY (Sarcasm alert): Florida Police Chiefs Association backs Adam Putnam for Agriculture Commissioner.

TAMPA BAY TIMES POLL – SUPPORT FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA AMENDMENT SLIPS DRAMATICALLY via Stephen Nohlgren of Tampa Bay Times

For more than a year, the amendment seemed to enjoy broad support, cutting across political, racial and age lines.

But with opposition forces financing TV ads and sheriffs showing up at forums, support for the amendment has slipped dramatically, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll.

Only 48 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Amendment 2. Forty-four percent oppose it and 7 percent said they had not made up their minds.

The requirement that it pass by a 60 percent vote now represents an imposing hurdle.

“My guess today is this is not going to pass,” said David Colburn, director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. “It may not mean that Floridians don’t support the use of medical marijuana,” he said, but apparently many voters dislike the amendment’s wording and embedding it into the state Constitution.

GWEN GRAHAM RELEASES NEW AD ON COMMITMENT TO BIPARTISANSHIP AND COOPERATION 

The Gwen Graham Campaign released a new ad featuring Graham and her father, former Gov. Bob Graham, reiterating her commitment to providing new leadership in Congress that is focused on solving problems and putting the North Florida Way over Washington politics.

“We’ve got to get back to having the people that you represent being your number one priority,” says Graham in the ad. “Not being divided along party lines. We need to have people who want to go to Washington for no other reason than to serve.”

The spot begins airing today in the Tallahassee and Panama City media markets.

KOCH BROS’ SUPER PAC SPENDS BIG ON NEW AD FOR STEVE SOUTHERLAND via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Freedom Partners Action Fund, the Super PAC launched by the Koch Brothers, will announce later today a new ad in the Steve Southerland-Gwen Graham race.

It’s a whopping $400,000 buy, according to the group. The spot talks up Southerland’s support of local fishermen and slams Graham as a “liberal.” The message mirrors the group’s first ad.

CAMPAIGN PROFILES

Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan hopes to wrest bluish seat from incumbent Jeff Brandes

THE COOLEST THING YOU’LL READ ABOUT TODAY

Strategic Digital Services (SDS) is announcing a first-of-its-kind online, interactive tool visualizing Florida’s digital landscape. Florida Digital Atlas maps out Florida voters’ digital footprint by media market, and showcases the usage and saturation of digital platforms in Florida’s political marketplace. By displaying the praxis of many of Florida’s nearly 12 million registered voters, an atlas is a powerful way to illustrate their digital usage and how this usage compares in the state’s various media markets.

“We know that digital media plays and will continue to play a major role in campaigns and advocacy in Florida,” said Matt Farrar, co-founder of SDS. “What we didn’t know was where voters were spending most of their time online, and which party was more digitally active. This tool gives us the keys to more effectively target and better reach voters digitally with the right message.”

The atlas was developed in partnership with SDS and Florida State University Professor of Political Geography, Dr. Nick Quinton. Dr. Quinton and SDS analyzed data from the Florida Division of Elections, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, and other websites over several weeks to produce the tool as well as a white paper, which offers some astounding insights into Florida voters’ online activity.

“I was surprised to learn Republicans actually have a larger digital footprint than Democrats in Florida,” said Quinton. “This tool will change the game and the political playbook in Florida.”

The Florida Digital Atlas can be viewed at fldigitalatlas.com where users can also download the in-depth white paper produced by Dr. Quinton.

LAYING OUT LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES, ADAM PUTNAM CALLS ON INCREASED FUNDING TO PROTECT FLORIDA WATER Full blog post here

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam is asking the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for more money to restore and protect Florida water.

“Water is our state’s most important natural resource,” Commissioner Putnam said. “Not only is it one of Florida’s defining characteristics, but we need a healthy and abundant supply of water to grow and thrive as a state. Therefore, we must work to restore the health and conserve our supply of water – and we must do so with a policy and budget that is flexible, comprehensive and long-term.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services submitted its Legislative Budget Request today for consideration by the legislature to fund projects in the next Fiscal Year. In a letter, Putnam asked for increased funding for waterways like Lake Okeechobee. Increased funding would go toward water retention and nutrient reduction efforts in not just Okeechobee, but also the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River watersheds. That $15 million program would be the biggest source of funding on Putnam’s ask.

The proposal also asks for $5 million for the Springs Initiative and another$5 million for the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. Both of those projects would hopefully increasing agricultural lands that are taking steps to reduce impact on the environment. Putnam is also asking for $1.5 million for agricultural water supply planning and $1.4 million for partnership agreements with water management districts and soil and water conservation districts.

The proposal also includes a request for $25 million in funding for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. That program provides funds conservation efforts of easements to protect Florida’s landscape, wildlife habitat and other natural resources, while maintaining private ownership and supporting the local economy.

Putnam is also asking for $16 million to combat citrus greening. It’s an incurable bacterial disease that has spread to every citrus producing county in the state. According to a press release from Putnam’s office, the citrus industry harvested the lowest crop last year in more than three decades. The funding would go to both research and prevention.

UF PICKS CORNELL PROVOST FUCHS AS NEXT PRESIDENT via Alex Harris of the Associated Press

Cornell University’s provost was selected as the University of Florida’s next president, replacing Bernie Machen as the state’s largest university continues its drive to become a Top 10 public university nationwide.

After three days of interviews and meetings, the Board of Trustees named W. Kent Fuchs as the 161-year-old school’s 12th president. The other finalist was New York University Provost David McLaughlin.

Once ratified by the Florida Board of Governors on Nov. 5 or 6, Fuch’s tenure will begin Jan. 1.

Fuch’s experience at Cornell fits in well with UF’s top 10 aspiration. He spearheaded several initiatives at Cornell to refocus funding and faculty in top academic areas.

One plan – “Reimagining Cornell” – reduced administration costs by $70 million and eliminated $120 million from the recurring deficit by dissolving smaller programs, such as dance and theater, to concentrate faculty and funding on more “strategically important” majors.

During his first 100 days, Fuchs said he plans to learn as much about UF as possible by forming relationships with students, faculty, alumni and elected officials.

Fuchs, 59, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery.

EDITORIAL: EXCELLENT CHOICE TO LEAD UF via the Tampa Bay Times

The University of Florida made a bold statement about its high aspirations by selecting as its next president Fuchs. UF wants to vault into the elite top 10 of public universities, and hiring a high-powered academic with a proven track record is a big step toward that goal.

Fuchs is taking a leap of faith in bringing his talents to a state and a system that too often undervalues and underfunds higher education. Now that UF has made this excellent choice, the university and the Legislature should reward his belief in them by supporting his vision with a ramped-up investment of time, money and talent that will allow the flagship university to blossom at a time when higher education is rapidly changing.

In addition to his training in computer science, Fuchs has a master’s in divinity. He might well need that faith to sustain him through a legislative session that will, if past is prologue, too often expect him to do more with less. But his background also gives him the balance to know that the university’s — and the state’s — future is not pinned exclusively to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates. A top 10 public university combines cutting-edge research with an educational system that produces the next generation of critical-thinking citizens, who know not only how to make a discovery but how to ask the right question. A solid grounding in the liberal arts plays a key role in creating those thoughtful leaders of tomorrow.

Just a few days ago, Fuchs, 59, became a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He should be able to draw more professors to Gainesville to join the 11 who are also members, and boosting that number is a key indicator of academic quality and a goal of the state Board of Governors’ strategic plan for higher education. He also has 20 years of leadership experience at three other major land grant universities, all of which belong to the prestigious Association of American Universities. UF is the only Florida school among the 62 members. He even has Florida roots, including graduating from high school in Miami.

While the university should be commended for conducting a worldwide search — one of the top three candidates was the president of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands — it is once again clear that search committees skirt the spirit, if not the letter, of Florida’s public records and meetings laws. At the 11th hour the top candidates submit their applications, and in a hurried few days interviews and the final selection occurs.

Still, compare this result with the recent debacle at Florida State University, where John Thrasher, a powerful state senator with fundraising skills but no academic experience, was chosen in a process that appeared to be rigged from the start and discouraged quality outside candidates from applying.

CONTEXT FLORIDA: DEBATES, HEALTHCARE, MEDICAL CANNABIS, TWEENS AND AMENDMENT 1

On Context FloridaDaniel Tilson imagines putting mainstream Floridians in charge of one of these 2014 Florida gubernatorial debates. He talks about a tough primetime TV questioning by an uncompromising panel that truly represents “We The People.” As a business owner, one of the most important ways Kim Williams takes care of employees is to ensure they have access to affordable health care. She pays for 77 percent of my employees’ health care costs, but it is getting tougher every day to do that. In a previous article, Gary Stein discussed the financial backers of the groups both for and against Amendment 2. Just as important, if not more significant, are the stories of the people meeting medical needs if voters approve Amendment 2 and legalize medical cannabis. Catherine Durkin Robinson asks about the “real tweens,” those in their mid-40s, straddled between two unruly generations — one that won’t listen and another that can’t hear — we’re the ones who really need help. The Florida Chamber of Commerce is one of the few entities publicly opposing Amendment 1 on the November ballot, says Barbara Joy Cooley.  Yet at the end of September, the Florida Chamber’s own Political Institute polling data showed that Amendment 1 has very strong support: 75 percent in favor and 14 percent opposed.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Loranne Ausley, Rebecca O’Hara, Beth Switzer, and Carrie Thompson. And a very special happy birthday to my wonderful mother-in-law, Robin Cain Todd.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.