Weekly roundup: Teams picked, eyes turn to November
(Recap and analysis of the week in state government)
By Michael Pelter
The New Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, FL — Florida’s political parties this week named their respective teams for the upcoming general election as primaries separated the no longer hopefuls from the standard bearers.
Like any All-Star team, Democrats and Republicans alike will recognize many familiar faces as incumbents and heirs apparent swept into office during Tuesday’s primary from both camps. But each party had a few surprises as incumbents fell and newcomers emerged.
Eyes now turn toward the general election, less than 12 weeks away. To that end, election officials said they will once again begin culling through the names of potentially ineligible voters after striking a deal to access a federal database following months of legal wrangling over its use.
The state’s economics were also part of the political fray this week as Gov. Rick Scott and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney took different views of the latest jobless figures released for July.
Scott said he sees blue skies ahead despite a small uptick in the state’s unemployment rate as Florida continues to claw its way back. Romney, meanwhile, sees that same sky, but it’s not so blue. Also, it is falling.
Voters from across the state cast ballots Tuesday on host of races from U.S. Senate to local precinct committeemen. Much speculation surrounded the Republicans and how the party’s conservative wing would fare. The results were mixed.
In one race for Congress, 10-term incumbent John Mica survived a challenge from Sandy Adams, who had been ushered into Congress as part of the tea party push in 2010. Mica easily defeated Adams in what he called “a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.”
“I’m happy to report the heart and soul of the party endures,” Mica said this week.
Tea party supporters, however, had better luck in other parts of the state. In north central Florida, Gainesville veterinarian Ted Yoho unseated 12-term Congressman Cliff Stearns, who had moved north to run in the sprawling District 3.
And in southwest Florida, conservative talk show host Trey Radel defeated a slate of political veterans and household names as he took the GOP primary in Congressional District 19 in Lee and Collier Counties.
“We had a message that resonated with the common man,” Yoho said after polls closed and it appeared he would defeat Stearns. “…It was the feeling that career politicians had created this mess or they failed to prevent it. Neither was acceptable.”
Despite the throw-the-bums- out messages, most incumbents won on Tuesday.
In state legislative elections, a handful of competitive primaries may set the direction of the chambers in the years ahead.
Former Rep. Aaron Bean and Rep. Jeff Brandes easily won their bids for GOP Senate nominations. Both candidates – Bean in Duval and Nassau counties and Brandes in the Tampa Bay region — are aligned with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Negron is running against Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, for Senate president in 2016-18. Not surprisingly both Negron and Latvala were sanguine over Tuesday’s results, each saying they are still on track to lead the 40-member chamber when the opportunity arrives.
Meanwhile, the Senate is guaranteed to lose one incumbent as Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale and Sen. Maria Sachs, D- Boca Raton, battle it out in November.
Florida voters sent three incumbent House members packing, rejuvenated the political careers of a few old names — and likely elected the state’s first openly gay lawmaker.
Miami-Dade voters chose Rep. Jose Felix Diaz over fellow Rep. Ana Rivas Logan in a Republican primary in House District 116, and Rep. Barbara Watson held a narrow lead late Tuesday over Rep. John Patrick Julien in a Democratic primary in District 107, a race that was headed to a recount on Friday. Rep. Steve Perman was also ousted in the primary. Meanwhile, Miami-Dade Democrats in District 113 chose David Richardson over three other candidates, electing likely the first openly gay member of the Legislature.
Farther north, Palm Beach County voters gave former Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, a big primary win over Perman of Boca Raton. Rader joined former lawmakers such as Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, in winning primaries as they seek to return to Tallahassee.
In addition to the Watson-Julien recount, one other House race and one Senate primary were being re-checked.
The Senate District 27 battle between Reps. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach; and a House District 55 race between former Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Sebring, and Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park; were the others.
CITIZENS FACES CUSTOMER UNHAPPINESS
Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state’s largest property insurer, announced this week it will revisit its highly controversial program to take away discounts for hurricane hardening efforts the insurer says were improperly applied.
The Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post have recently reported that re-inspections have increased Citizens premiums by more than $130 million, with more than 75 percent of property owners paying more after the inspections are completed.
The insurance company has completed about 255,000 re-inspections and has 88,000 more to go.
Citizens Board chairman Carlos Lacasa, a former Miami-Dade County lawmaker, said one of the problems facing homeowners is that standards for receiving the credits have changed in recent years.
The newer standards are more stringent, which has led to people losing credits during reinspections.
FLORIDA ECONOMY INK BLOT TO GOP
Florida’s economy is either doing well or it is not, depending on which Republican leader you talk to. Florida’s jobless rate in July rose 0.2 points to settle at 8.8 percent, the state reported Friday.
Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement saying the economy is chugging along. The governor’s message has been consistent: Florida is creating jobs and returning to prosperity.
“While the unemployment rate can vary from month to month, Florida continues to see positive private sector job growth,” Scott said in a statement put out by his office
Not so, says Romney, whose campaign is targeting the nation’s lack of economic recovery as a reason to replace his Democratic opponent.
“More than 800,000 Floridians remain jobless, 42 months after Barack Obama and Charlie Crist stood on stage in Fort Myers and promised spending money we could not afford would lower the unemployment rate….. ” the Romney campaign said in response to the same results.