The week that was in Florida politics: DOE plays CYA; Q-poll debated

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Florida education officials crisscrossed the state this week offering a series of apologies over the admittedly botched roll out of tougher writing assessments that if taken at face value showed that seven of 10 Florida students did not make the grade.

Following the release of the FCAT writing assessment results the week before, Department of Education Secretary Gerard Robinson went on the road to explain why the number of students making satisfactory scores on the test fell from over 80 percent last year to as low as 27 percent.

Having a better week was Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who pulled ahead of President Barack Obama in one poll, though he still trailed the incumbent president in another.

That poll that had Romney ahead also showed most Floridians stand behind ‘stand your ground’ but don’t want folks carrying concealed weapons into the Capitol. (Though more think it OK to be packin’ at the Republican National Convention.)

While Robinson spent the week mending bridges, Gov. Rick Scott may have burned one as Florida’s head of state became a comedy target for an apparent gaffe with Spanish King Juan Carlos by gleefully bringing to light an embarrassing moment for the monarch involving a not-so secret trip involving elephants and guns.

Back here at home, lobbyists reported strong earnings for the quarter ending March 31.

And the Senate will be without one of its more independent members and provocative debaters as Republican Sen. Ronda Storms of Valrico announced on Friday she will run for a local office instead of making a run for another term.

A round-up via The News Service of Florida.

MR. ROBINSON IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Acknowledging that his office may have undersold the importance of new FCAT writing standards, the education commissioner met with concerned parents, teachers and administrators to calm nerves frayed last week when the state board had to meet in emergency session to lower passing scores on the statewide test.

The governor’s office stepped in to help, playing a key role in coordinating the state’s response after the drop in scores. The test crisis began when passing scores on the writing test plummeted from 81 percent to 27 percent for fourth graders and showed similar drop in eighth and 10th grades.

The Florida Board of Education eventually met in emergency session to lower the passing grade from 4.0 to 3.0 while they develop a longer-term answer.

Since then, Robinson has been on a nonstop remediation tour (he’s even working Memorial Day) as part of a “Full-Court Press,” that included attempts to get supportive letters to the editor written by organizations like the Florida Chamber and the Council of 100, and having Robinson record on-hold phone messages.

Despite the hoopla, Scott made it clear that he has Robinson’s back.

QPOLL: ROMNEY ON TOP:

With a contentious primary behind him, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pulled ahead of the president in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, which showed Romney with a 47-41 percent lead. The poll was good news for Romney, who back in March trailed Obama by a 49-42 margin.

Peter Brown, assistant vice president of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said Romney’s good fortune is likely tied to the fact that he’s not getting beaten up daily by fellow Republicans. Obama’s recent support of same-sex marriage may also have helped. While 63 percent said Obama’s support would not affect their vote, those that do care say they are less likely to support the president.

But if presidential race observers in Florida know anything, it’s that the race is likely to be close here, and maybe too close to call this far out. If you have any doubt, we point to a counterbalancing poll that confusingly shows Obama still leading in the purple state.

That poll, by NBC News and Marist College, showed Obama would get 45 percent in Florida if the election were held today, while Romney would get 40 percent. The margin would move around a bit depending on who Romney picks for a running mate – with Romney’s best bet for getting Florida votes appearing to be to ask Jeb Bush to join the ticket.

Also this week, Scott got some good news about his own popularity – he has some.

After months of embarrassingly low poll numbers, his approval rating this past week went up over 40 percent for the first time in the Quinnipiac Poll, though the percentage who don’t really like him still is higher. Still, after several months of lower unemployment rate announcements, it appears things are moving in the right direction for Scott, who has already said he will run for reelection in 2014.

LOBBYISTS REPORT QUARTERLY EARNINGS

Legislative lobbyists collected an estimated $36 million during the first three months of 2012, an increase of about $3 million over the same period last year. The increase likely stems, at least in part, from the earlier start of this year’s legislative session.

Among the biggest spenders on lobbyists were AT&T, with an estimated $1.161 million, and firms linked to Miami casino backer Genting, with $445,000, according to the report.

STORMS TARGETS PROPERTY APPRAISER POST

State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, announced she would not seek re-election to the 40-member chamber but would instead challenge the Republican incumbent to become the Hillsborough County property appraiser.

Storms’ announcement opens up the race for the Tampa Bay area district. Former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, is rumored to be interested.

SCOTT: A REY OF SUNSHINE

The Court back in Spain hasn’t been so confused about what’s up with Florida since King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella heard there wasn’t much gold.

Meeting with heads of state, especially kings, is usually a staid, protocol-filled affair. Not so this week as Gov. Rick Scott met with Spain’s King Juan Carlos during a business development mission.

Juan Carlos, still stinging from Spanish media accounts of his recent elephant hunting trip to Botswana, may never forget his meet and greet with the governor and his wife, Ann Scott. In what has become a trademark Scott break-the-ice move, the governor told the king a personal story about his own recent trip to the African nation.

“I’ve ridden elephants, I’ve never tried to shoot one,” Scott told the monarch, before going on – and on – about the trip. The exchange got wide play in Spain, where the king had been lampooned for the embarrassing secret hunting trip.

Upon his return to Miami, Scott apologized for any discomfort he may have caused the 74-year-old king, who broke his hip during his African visit.

“If I did anything to do — anything wrong — I completely apologize,” Scott told reporters upon his return at Miami International Airport. “The king’s a wonderful person. He’s a wonderful world leader. He’s done so many wonderful things in his life.”

STORY OF THE WEEK:

Department of Education Secretary Gerard Robinson spent the week trying to put out fires caused by FCAT writing assessment scores, released the week before, which showed precipitous drops among Florida students.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’ve ridden elephants, I’ve never tried to shoot one,” Gov. Rick Scott to Spanish King Juan Carlos about the monarch’s recent elephant hunt in Botswana.

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.