- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Dec. 2

The Ledger of Lakeland on term limits for Florida lawmakers:

Occasionally, it seems, Florida lawmakers like to wade into a lagoon of confusion, and drag their constituents along with them, hoping, perhaps, they will get lost there.

Take, for instance, the support for a current proposal to allow people who hold permits to carry concealed - as in hidden - weapons to openly carry their guns, while still criminalizing the public display of a firearm, if you don’t possess such a license. Or the many pols in Tallahassee who bellow about the need to get government off our backs, yet propose measures to interject the state into the most intimate of personal decisions - whether to get an abortion, for example.

The current head-scratcher making the rounds comes courtesy of Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. They seek to expand the cap on term limits for state lawmakers from eight years to 12 - the equivalent of six terms in the Florida House and three in the Senate.

The bill, if enacted, would put the question to voters next year, and if adopted with the required three-fifths majority, would apply to lawmakers elected in 2016 and beyond.

Garcia told the Miami Herald this change was needed because - perish the thought - lobbyists apparently exercise too much influence in the Capitol. “We are a representative democracy and we should be making sure that it is the elected officials who move agendas forward, and not the lobbyists,” Garcia said. Pafford noted that more time in office would permit lawmakers to become more seasoned, and thus able to delve deeper into the nitty-gritty of government. “This is really a subtle change,” he told the Herald. “There’s still term limits, but can we add some value to the process and some experience.”

It might be valid to assert that term limits create a high turnover rate that reduces the learning curve for those running a state of 20 million people - and that somehow translates to bad policy. Or that term limits wrongfully force out popular incumbents whom the voters might want to keep. But those arguments are not enough to overturn what the citizens of Florida set out to do by enacting term limits a generation ago. So, here are three reasons why this bill should be scuttled.

First, until the Fair District Amendments came along - and because of legal challenges we still don’t know if they will work as advertised - gerrymandering has ensured that Florida doesn’t have competitive elections.

Once elected to the Legislature, a new legislator essentially has earned an eight-year term - and not a two- or four-year one - because neither his or her own party nor the opposing one looks very hard to find a challenger. When qualifying ended in June 2014, almost five months before Election Day, 43 percent of the seats in the 160-member Legislature were considered decided because candidates ran unopposed or faced token opposition from minor party candidates or write-ins. Last year 123 incumbents sought re-election; all but six of them, or 95 percent, won. We gripe so much now about the job they do, why would we want to automatically extend their time in Tallahassee by 50 percent?

Secondly, term limits, properly understood, are a fallacy in the State House. Many lawmakers who serve eight years in one chamber simply run for office in the other one. Garcia, for instance, served eight years in the House and has held a Senate seat since 2010. That essentially garners those in his position a total of 16 years. Moreover, if experience would make better public servants, the likes of Pafford and Garcia only have to take a brief respite before getting more of it. A state lawmaker who is “term-limited” out is not banned for life from the Legislature. They are eligible to again seek office - and some have - after sitting out one term. If after eight consecutive years they believe their service is something the voters still crave, they have an opportunity to make the case for more time in office after a brief hiatus.

Finally, Florida voters wanted this nearly a quarter-century ago, and in that time, the public has not shown much, if any, of an appetite for going back.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states have adopted term limits. All did so between 1990 and 2000 - and among them, Florida, with 77 percent in 1992, demonstrated the strongest support for capping the time in office for lawmakers. If we eventually overturn term limits, that initiative should come from the voters and not those already in power - and since at this point that seems to be something the voters are not confused about, we see no need for a change.




Nov. 28

The Orlando Sentinel on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio:

For a moment, it looked as though U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had refocused on his day job, even as he runs full tilt for the presidency.

Perhaps you recall that during the Oct. 29 GOP debate, Rubio was asked about having the worst attendance record in the U.S. Senate, having missed 34 percent of the votes this year. The moderator even quoted a South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial, which argued Florida’s senator was ripping us off and that he should resign to run and let the governor appoint someone else who can do the job full-time. That criticism was echoed by Rubio’s erstwhile mentor, now rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

In the week after the debate, Rubio had a near-perfect attendance record. To make it happen, he canceled two out-of-town fundraising events so as not to miss a single vote. It appeared as though he’d gotten the message that voters expect politicians to do their jobs, even when they’re running for a different job.

Then, Paris happened. And when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went behind closed doors this week for a briefing entitled, “The Aftermath of Paris: America’s Role,” the Tampa Bay Times reported that Rubio was not there. “The Florida Republican is on his way to California for fundraising.”

Failing to attend committee meetings and intelligence briefings is just as concerning as missing floor votes. This is particularly true on matters of foreign policy, an area in which Rubio holds himself out as an expert. It is insufficient for him to expect his staff to relay the nuance of information presented.

Besides, an essential part of doing your job is showing up.

While we’re on the subject of attendance, let us point out:

- Of Florida’s 27 U.S. House members, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, has the poorest attendance record so far this year. According to the investigative website ProPublica, she’s missed 12.7 percent of votes on the 144 days the House has been in session.

A spokesman said 62 of her 74 missed votes were due to family or personal reasons, or because President Obama had asked her to travel with him. She missed six votes because of her job as chair of the Democratic National Committee, said spokesman Sean Bartlett. The other six were a mix of things, like not getting to the Capitol on time because of traffic or meetings that ran late. Excuses notwithstanding, it’s not a record to be proud of.

- Third highest on the missed-votes list is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who has missed 8.3 percent of votes. A spokeswoman said half of those votes were taken in a two-day period that he had to miss because of family reasons.

- Three Florida representatives are among the 22 tied for best attendance record. They are: U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami; Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland; and Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee. Each has missed only 0.2 percent of votes.

- In the Senate, which has been in session 153 days this year, Bill Nelson, D-Fla., ranks seventh for the most missed votes. A spokesman said 21 of the 24 votes he missed came while the senator was recovering from prostate cancer surgery.

Meanwhile, Rubio’s voting record gets worse. Between July and September, he missed 28 of 52 votes, or 54 percent. So far this quarter, he has missed 30 of 37 votes, or 81 percent.

Moreover, The Times reported that because of fundraising demands, Rubio has missed a slew of Foreign Relations hearings and classified briefings.

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos told the Sun Sentinel this week that the senator had been briefed on the Paris attacks last week during a classified meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also said some campaign events have been canceled so that the senator could return to the Senate, including a vote to defund Planned Parenthood. And, he said, Rubio “has not missed a vote where his vote would have been decisive.”

The part about not missing a decisive vote may be correct, but it is terribly misleading. How a senator votes is part of his record. Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war. She is criticized for that, even though her vote wasn’t decisive. How a senator votes tells people plenty - whether he casts the swing vote or not.




Nov. 21

The Miami Herald on the state redistricting process:

Just when we thought the state redistricting process couldn’t get any more fouled up, the judge trying to sort out the mess last week received yet another version of the map that draws election districts for the Florida Senate.

For the record, that makes seven distinct versions of Florida Senate election districts that have been submitted to Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds. Given how utterly dysfunctional the process has been, you won’t be surprised to learn that one hour after the Senate announced its new submission - not making this up - they sent the court a corrected version.

Nor will you be surprised to learn that the map in question was never voted on by actual senators during the futile session that ended earlier this month after three weeks of useless wrangling. Instead, Senate President Andy Gardiner took it upon himself to submit a new, hybrid map drawn up by staffers because, as the chamber’s presiding officer, he has the authority to manage litigation. Or so said a spokesman.

“It’s pretty bold to submit a map that was never put before this body and say it is the map of this body,” Miami-Dade Sen. Oscar Braynon commented.

We could come up with other appropriate words, but we’ll settle for incomprehensible. How can Judge Reynolds, whose misfortune it is to have this fall into his lap, possibly accept a map purporting to be from the Senate but that doesn’t have the imprimatur of a majority of the chamber’s members?

We will not bore you with a tiresome recitation of how the redistricting process became so impossibly muddled, but here’s the bottom line: Nearly four years after the Legislature drew new maps after the 2010 census, the Florida Senate and congressional districts are still unconstitutional.

Florida voters overwhelmingly (63 percent) approved an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment in 2010 as a way to prevent lawmakers from drawing lines in a way to promote their own, selfish political interests. The Senate essentially conceded that its own districts did not meet the voter-approved guidelines and called for a special session to redraw the maps without waiting to fight the issue in court, knowing they would lose.

But since then, the Legislature has repeatedly failed to redraw either the congressional or Senate maps in a way that meets legal requirements. A report by the Herald/Tampa Bay Times Capitol Bureau puts the total cost to taxpayers of two failed special sessions on redistricting this year at more than $1 million, in addition to the more than $9 million in legal costs to fight over redistricting in court.

Today, the congressional redistricting map is in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Judge Reynolds has the job of trying to sort through seven options for the state Senate during a five-day trial Dec. 14-18. Six of them were presented by the plaintiffs - including Democratic-leaning voters and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters - who filed a lawsuit alleging the Legislature violated the Fair Districts measure.

All of this brings to mind the late Casey Stengel’s lament after watching his young Mets baseball team commit a series of errors: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The answer is a resounding No. Florida’s lawmakers aren’t up to the job.

Surely it’s time to create an independent commission to do the work. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly greenlighted this procedure as a way to get fair voting districts.

Florida’s frustrated voters should not have to put up with a repeat of the Legislature’s pitiful performance after every new census.



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