It’s Monday. Aug. 17, and Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State is back just in time for another topsy-turvy week. Florida holds it’s general election primary Tuesday, and the national political parties Monday night begin the first-ever virtual political conventions.
Let’s not forget, the U.S. economy remains in tatters because of the coronavirus. Congressional action regarding a second economic relief package remains stalled and, we learned last week, the impact the pandemic is having on Florida’s budget is historic: Over the next two years, there will be $5.4 billion less revenue than expected by economists in January. Because the $92.2 billion budget was built on the pre-pandemic forecast, Florida’s budget is operating in a deficit.
WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT
Upside down: It seems perfectly fitting then that the gyrations of 2020 have spun the political wheel in Florida to an unfamiliar place.
As Herald reporters David Smiley and Doug Hanks explain, Miami-Dade County’s previously established voting patterns are all out of whack as turnout trends among Democrats and Republicans have flip-flopped from just four years ago. Democrats, for example, have built a 15-point early voting advantage. Republicans, who once dominated mail ballots, had cast more ballots in-person than Democrats heading into Sunday, and Democrats, who previously favored early voting, are voting by mail now in unprecedented numbers.
Dynasties and feuds: Then there are the stories that explain why we love Miami politics — the dynasties and the very complicated internecine feuds. Families that for decades have sought and held office have returned to the ballot, either attempting to win back power from voter-imposed exile or trying to expand their influence.
Here’s the must-read on the the primary for Miami-Dade County mayor from Doug Hanks, featuring lots of detail on candidates Steve Bovo, Daniella Levine Cava, Alex Penelas and Xavier Suarez, the county commissioner who wants to become a mayor again — more than three decades after first serving as mayor of the City of Miami, and whose campaign heavily features his son, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
The story is also about money. The race for county mayor so far has been a $13 million fight with mega donations from the county’s top billionaires.
Fried featured: Just when we thought Democrats were freezing Florida from the national convention, the nation’s most important swing state in the presidential election, the Democratic National Committee announced Sunday that Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried had earned a speaking spot on the second night of the convention. Fried will join 16 other Democratic rising stars to deliver a joint keynote address Tuesday under the theme “Leadership Matters.”
Tricks: And it wouldn’t be a proper campaign season without the tricks and dirty tricks. A mysterious robocall emerged last week falsely claiming that Barack Obama was endorsing Senate District 35 candidate Daphne Campbell in the August 18 primary election.
Dirty tricks: And after the Miami Herald wrote about state Rep. Shevrin Jones being turned away from donating plasma, a text message was sent to voters across his district attacking Jones, one of Florida’s few openly gay members of the state House.
Kamala connections: Kamala Harris, the U.S. senator picked last week by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to be his running mate, drew praise from Florida’s Black community, particularly among the large, growing and influential Caribbean community. Harris, whose mother is from India and father from Jamaica, also announced that her chief of staff is Karine Jean-Pierre, a well-known Haitian-American political organizer.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Coronovirus calculations: As of Sunday, Florida’s average daily positive test rate for COVID-19 in the last seven days was 9.1, down from 9.7 from the previous week but still a dangerous sign that the virus remains widespread in Florida. The data around COVID-19 has been politicized in many ways, but there are some incontrovertible facts: COVID-19 has sickened Floridians of every age group, race and region.
Do try this: Want to know how people like you have been affected by the coronavirus in Florida? The Miami Herald has created this interactive tool you can customize to see how the virus has affected people who match your demographic stats.
School mediation: Those numbers, and the fears from teachers, prompted a Leon County circuit court judge on Friday to deny the state’s motion to dismiss the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit challenging a state order requiring schools to open with in-person instruction five days a week this fall. In another unprecedented move, the judge ordered mediation next week as schools across the state continue to reopen.
Mailed ballot snags: Florida is now among 45 states the U.S. Postal Service has warned that its state deadlines for requesting mail ballots are too close to Election Day and may lead to mail ballots not being counted in the Nov. 3 presidential election. The Postal Service recommended mail-in ballots be sent back no later than Tuesday, Oct. 27, a week before Election Day, even though people can request mail-in ballots until Oct. 24. If making sure all votes are counted is the goal, Gov. Ron DeSantis could use his executive powers to change the deadlines, as former Gov. Charlie Crist did in 2008, but will he?
Deficit denial: As if you needed any more proof that this is an election year, Florida legislators — who have the sole authority to craft the state’s spending and revise and reconfigure it to meet the new normal — have decided they will not be returning to address the state’s response to the budget crisis, or as we’ve written, the pandemic.
If the election depends on the economy then how can you fix the economy if you haven’t fixed the coronavirus? Perhaps you just try to tell the story with a solitary focus on the incremental signs of improvement and hope people consider that enough?
How big is Florida’s deficit? It depends on how you parse it. The state was already $1.9 billion short for the budget year that ended June 30. Forecasters said Friday the current revenue picture will create another $3.4 billion shortfall and, if nothing is done, the shortfall next year will increase another $2 billion from the January 2020 expectations.
Federal unemployment assist? If you accept the fact that the economy will need another federal boost, you can see why both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Florida were encouraging DeSantis to become the first governor to sign President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order extending unemployment benefits by $400 per week. Florida’s unemployment benefits are so low — just $275 per week — legislators said, DeSantis was compelled to take it.
But DeSantis rejected the suggestion, saying instead that borrowing money from the federal Department of Labor would be a more viable way to increase unemployment benefits by $400 a week than Trump’s idea.
How Tallahassee turns, part 1: Despite all the talk of historic change and unprecedented policies, we saw signs that much about Florida’s state Capitol remains the same. State Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa-area Republican who sponsored legislation last year that rewrote the terms and conditions of the state’s chief information officer, resigned from his legislative post last week and did something not entirely unheard of: he took the job he had crafted. The legislation he authored changed the qualifications for the chief information officer, eliminating a requirement that the applicant “be a proven, effective administrator who must have at least 10 years of executive-level experience in the public or private sector.” Grant, who otherwise would not have qualified, called any suggestion that he created the job for himself “a cheap political shot.”
How Tallahassee turns, part 2: Days after applying to the Florida Public Service Commission, state Rep. Mike La Rosa gave $50,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee. Why does this matter? La Rosa was one of four finalists sent to the governor last week to fill a seat on the powerful utility board. The chair of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council is Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, and, if appointed by the governor to the post, La Rosa would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
How Tallahassee turns, part 3: Deloitte Consulting, the company awarded a potential $135 million state contract, doesn’t appear to have been penalized for its past work building Florida’s dysfunctional CONNECT unemployment benefits system. Neither a negative recommendation by the state’s unemployment agency nor $8 million in penalties appears to have counted against Deloitte Consulting before it was selected for the new contract for the job of overhauling the state’s Medicaid data.
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