The week that was in Florida politics: Courting Hispanics, the 'Maestro' exits and tangling over tuition

in Uncategorized by

Gov. Rick Scott says he wants to hold down costs for Florida families. University presidents and trustees say they need more money to maintain quality on their campuses.

And caught in the middle this week were members of the state Board of Governors, which had to approve tuition increases at 11 universities. The board, meeting in Orlando, ultimately approved a mixture of increases that failed to satisfy Scott or many of the presidents.

“It is my priority to keep the cost of living low for Floridians and have an education system that produces the most competitive, highly skilled workforce in the world,” Scott said. “And I expect our universities and the Board of Governors to seek those same goals.”

But board member Tico Perez said increases were necessary, for example, to help ensure that universities can provide enough course offerings.

“The worst thing we can do is not have adjunct professors, not have professors, not have associate professors, and not have course sections, so these students can’t graduate,” Perez said. “That’s a tuition increase — half a year out of their life, a year out of their life, a year out of the workforce.”

Meanwhile, across Orlando, a different type of debate drew national attention, as Republicans and Democrats try to build support among Hispanic voters.

Over two days, a parade of political figures, including President Obama, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Scott, addressed the National Association of Latino Elected Officials at a Disney resort. For Obama and Romney, it was a chance to pitch their different approaches to issues such as immigration reform.

A round-up via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

TUITION HIKES, HERE AND THERE:

Going into the Board of Governors meeting, eight universities wanted to increase tuition by 15 percent. But by the time the board finished taking a flurry of votes Thursday, only four schools — Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, New College and the University of Central Florida — walked away with that large of a hike.

Of the other four, the University of West Florida got 14 percent; Florida State University and the University of North Florida received 13 percent; and Florida A&M University got 12 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida Gulf Coast University, which requested 14 percent, took home 12 percent. The University of South Florida got the 11 percent increase it wanted, and the University of Florida received the 9 percent hike it sought. The new Florida Polytechnic University did not make a tuition request.

The Board of Governors’ votes were an extension of a long-running debate in Tallahassee about the amounts of tuition that students and families should pay as state funding for universities has been cut. Lawmakers this year approved a bill that would have allowed Florida State University and the University of Florida to pass along virtually unlimited tuition increases, but Scott vetoed the measure.

Scott argues, in part, that universities have reserves that can help offset the state budget cuts. But bigger picture, he makes a pocketbook argument that students and families can’t afford major tuition increases.

“I think that the easiest thing is to just say let’s raise the cost of living in our state,” Scott said. “But unfortunately, there’s a day of reckoning. At some point, we can’t afford it.”

But university presidents and other tuition-increase supporters say schools need additional money to help offset the state budget cuts, and they also point to priorities such as increasing the numbers of graduates in science, technology, engineering and math.

Frustrations were apparent this week, with Board of Governors member John Temple saying at one point that political interference caused the University of Florida to request a 9 percent tuition increase instead of the potential 15 percent allowed by state law.

“It’s clear that Tammany Hall is interfering here,” The Gainesville Sun quoted Temple as saying, a reference to the legendary New York political machine.

CANDIDATES COURT HISPANIC VOTERS

By now, the analysis has been repeated so often it’s almost become a political cliché: Hispanic voters could play a vital role in deciding the outcome of the presidential race in states such as Florida.

But just in case any doubts remained, Obama, Romney and other high-profile political figures came to Orlando to make their cases to the Latino elected officials group.

Romney on Thursday talked about the continuing economic problems under Obama and pointed out that Hispanic unemployment is at 11 percent, while the overall national unemployment rate is about 8 percent.

The former Massachusetts governor also told the audience that he wants to make it easier for legal immigrants to come to the United States and called for steps such as granting automatic visas to science and technology students who otherwise would have to leave after getting degrees.

“I will prioritize efforts that strengthen legal immigration and make it more transparent and easier,” Romney said. “…Too many families are caught in a broken system. For those seeking to come to America the right way, that kind of bureaucratic nightmare has to end.”

Obama took a dramatic step this month when he announced an executive order that will stop deportation of many young people who came to the United States illegally with their parents. During his speech to the Latino officials Friday, Obama took a shot at Romney about the so-called DREAM Act, which also would allow many young undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.

“He (Romney) has promised to veto the Dream Act, and we should take him at his word,” Obama said.

MAESTRO LEAVES THE STAGE

When he orchestrated Charlie Crist’s dominating campaign for governor in 2006, George LeMieux got tagged with the nickname, “the Maestro.”

But this week, badly trailing in the polls and in fund-raising, LeMieux folded his campaign for the U.S. Senate and backed Republican Congressman Connie Mack.

LeMieux hoped to return to the Senate, where he served after getting appointed by Crist to complete the unexpired term of former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. His campaign, however, never captured broad support from GOP voters as he ran against the better-funded and better-known Mack, who is the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack.

“It is not my nature to step aside, but there is a reality to running a statewide race in Florida,” LeMieux said in a video message thanking supporters.

A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson with a slim lead over Mack in the Senate race. Nelson led 43 percent to 39 percent over Mack, who faces former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister in the Aug. 14 GOP primary.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Florida Board of Governors approved a variety of tuition increases for state universities, not satisfying Gov. Rick Scott or many university presidents.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Rick Scott doesn’t seem to have any political skills at all,” Tom Slade, the former co-chairman of Scott’s campaign and ex-chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, told Bloomberg News. “I’d give him a B for governing. I’d give him an A for strangeness.”

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.