As Halloween nears, House proposes monster mash-up of maps

House redistricting map for Senate makes big changes in Palm Beach County
House redistricting map for Senate makes big changes in Palm Beach County

When it comes to drawing Florida Senate district boundaries, senators have already reviewed a few maps that borrowed concepts from other proposals — a process they started calling “Frankenstein” maps.

Just in time for Halloween, the House did its own version Friday of a monster mash-up of maps.

House proposes monster mash-up of maps.
House proposes monster mash-up of maps.

Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami, unveiled proposed district lines for the other chamber that takes what the Senate approved this week — and adds some pieces of a map recommended by a voters’ coalition.

But while the coalition, led by the Florida League of Women Voters, would have kept four Senate districts in Palm Beach County, the House goes along with the Senate plan that reduces the county to three seats.

But – Igor-like — it adds a few new twists.

The district now held by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would be moved out of the Jupiter-Tequesta area it currently holds, instead containing Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, similar to what the Senate has proposed.

But the three remaining Palm Beach County districts currently held by Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, Joe Abruzzo of Wellington and Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, undergo some transformation in the House plan.

A central county district similar to the one Clemens now holds would still exist. But Abruzzo and Sachs might have to choose which of the remaining two districts look most like their current boundaries — since the House splices together pieces of each.

What looks like Abruzzo’s current, western county district courses in the House proposal from the Glades region south into Boca Raton, then curves into Broward County, taking in parts of Deerfield Beach and Pompano Beach.

The south county and Broward communities are areas Sachs currently represents, so she also might stake a claim to that district.

The third and last county seats ranges north to the Martin County line, taking in West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and such Republican-leaning communities as Jupiter, Tequesta, Juno Beach and Palm Beach Gardens.

Hard to tell which of the county’s Democratic senators are eager for that seat.

The proposal is set to go before Oliva’s Redistricting Committee on Monday. With lawmakers looking to end a three-week special session on redistricting next Friday, it’s difficult to gauge what plan will emerge as final.

But for now, the House proposal — is alive.

 

Haunted by spectral images of last Halloween — when Rubio, Christie rallied for Rick Scott

 

Last Halloween weekend, Marco Rubio was stirring up crowds for Gov. Rick Scott
Last Halloween weekend, Marco Rubio was stirring up crowds for Gov. Rick Scott

Halloween weekend a year ago, two Republican presidential candidates were effectively going door-to-door for Gov. Rick Scott, then in the homestretch of his re-election campaign against Democrat Charlie Crist.

While kids were still sorting through their candy bags, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were campaigning alongside Scott across Southwest Florida.

Chris Christie joined Gov. Rick Scott for a post-Halloween rally in Naples
Chris Christie joined Gov. Rick Scott for a post-Halloween rally in Naples

Now struggling to join the top tier of a crowded Republican presidential field, Rubio and Christie a year ago displayed some of the glibness that has marked the pair in recent debates — including this week’s CNBC exchange in Colorado.

But it was Crist-bashing that was the common theme then.

At the sprawling retirement community of Sun City Center, Rubio recalled that he served as House speaker for the first two years of Crist’s term as Republican governor.

“If you think the Republican Charlie Crist was bad, imagine what Democrat Charlie Crist would be,” Rubio said.

Christie, who steered $19 million to Scott’s campaign as Republican Governors Association chairman, joined Florida’s governor in Naples the day after last Halloween.

“There are only two kids of people who get involved in politics,” Christie told those at a Scott rally. “Those who want to do something and those who want to be something.”

Scott was a favorite last fall for the future lineup of GOP presidential contenders. Along with Christie and Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (oops, he’s no longer running) made frequent appearances with Scott.

 

 

Is it time for Confederate general to go?

Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's statue at U.S. Capitol could be on way out.
Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s statue at U.S. Capitol could be on way out.

Only weeks after the Florida Senate removed the Confederate flag from its official seal, the state House next week will begin work on what may be the Legislature’s next historical cleanup.

The Senate replaced the Confederate banner with a state flag through a simple rules change earlier this month.

But the bid to replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection will take legislative approval from both the Senate and the House.

The House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee is set Wednesday to review legislation (HB 141) by Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, that would set in motion removal of the Smith from the hall, where it’s stood since 1922.

History shows Smith was born in St. Augustine, but  spent little time in Florida. He commanded the last army of the Confederate States to surrender — more than a month after General Robert E. Lee gave up in April 1865.

Smith’s companion in the Capitol hall is John Gorrie, a doctor and early pioneer of air-conditioning, which has proved so vital to Florida’s development.

Gorrie looks secure. But Diaz’s bill, and a similar proposal still awaiting a Senate hearing, would authorize a panel within the Florida Department of State to choose another Floridian from history to be commemorated with a statue in the Capitol.

Removal of the Smith statue has been proposed occasionally going back at least 20 years.

But like the Senate’s seal change, the proposal has gained momentum since last summer, when South Carolina officials removed the Confederate flag from that state’s Capitol following the massacre of nine black churchgoers in downtown Charlestown.

 

Poll: Which network has been best at moderating GOP debates?

Debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, left, Becky Quick, center, and John Harwood appear during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, left, Becky Quick, center, and John Harwood appear during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

In the wake of the third Republican primary debate, hosted by CNBC, we want to know: Which network has had the best panel of moderators for the GOP debates?

CNBC was heavily criticized for its moderating Wednesday night, both by the audience — and the participants.

Vote in our poll, and comment to share your thoughts.

» POLL: Who won the third GOP debate?

Poll: Who won the third GOP debate?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The third GOP debate of the presidential primary season is over, and we want to know: Who do you think was the winner?

Vote in our poll below.

You can also check out a recap of our live chat, or check out the results of our poll on the second GOP debate.

Voters’ coalition plan would bring back Negron, keep four Senate seats in Palm Beach County

Sen. Joe Negron. Where he lands, no one knows
Sen. Joe Negron. Where he lands, no one knows

Just when it looked like Sen. Joe Negron was going to be saying goodbye to Palm Beach County, a proposed Senate map by a voters’ coalition tucks him back within the county’s boundaries.

Six earlier staff-drawn Senate maps — and the proposal approved Wednesday by the full chamber — remove the Stuart Republican’s Jupiter-Tequesta piece of the county, pushing him further north and west.

Negron is in line to become Senate president following next year’s election, and his departure would cost the county some political muscle. But the map approved Wednesday also reduces the county’s Senate delegation from four seats to three — a cut opposed by the Palm Beach County Commission.

“Nothing in this process is final until it’s over,” Negron told the Post Wednesday. “But it certainly appears more likely I’ll be representing voters further north and west than those in Palm Beach County.”

But a late-hour map from voters’ groups led by the Florida League of Women Voters keeps Negron’s District 32 in Palm Beach County’s northern tier. It also retains four Senate seats in the county — complying with county commissioners’ wish list.

Voters coalition map keeps four Senate seats in Palm Beach County.
Voters coalition map keeps four Senate seats in Palm Beach County.

It’s hard to tell where any of the Senate map-making ends up. The Senate map approved Wednesday could face a tough review in the Florida House, where Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said he plans to consider a range of  plans, including the voters’ proposal.

The Florida Supreme Court also is positioned to have the final word on what Senate boundaries look like, beginning with next year’s elections. And so far, courts have viewed more favorability coalition-drawn plans than those coming out of the Legislature.

Four Floridians to watch in tonight’s GOP presidential debate

bush carson rubio trumpSure, the PostOnPolitics blog is Florida-centric.

But so is the 2016 Republican presidential race.

Three Florida residents and part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump will command much of the attention in tonight’s third GOP debate from Colorado on CNBC.

You can check out our debate live chat here.

For those not watching the World Series tonight, here are some things to watch from Florida’s Republican contenders, in alphabetical order:

** Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor began the race as the establishment favorite, but has slipped in the polls — even plunging to single digits in his home state in one recent survey. Last week, the Bush campaign slashed staff and reduced salaries after weaker-than-expected fundraising. After two solid but not memorable debate performances and months of ridicule from Trump about being “low energy,” there’s pressure on Bush to reassure the GOP establishment and donor base by appearing strong and perhaps even “joyful.”

** Ben Carson: The West Palm Beach resident has risen steadily in the polls and even surpassed Trump in one survey this week. He’ll likely get more attention from Trump and more scrutiny from CNBC moderators tonight. Don’t be surprised if the other GOP candidates lay off, however, because Republican voters clearly like Carson. Tonight those Carson fans will get an extended chance to confirm or second-guess their feelings.

** Marco Rubio: Rubio has moved ahead of mentor Bush in most polls and is vying to become the clear leader in the GOP’s establishment primary to determine the leading alternative to political outsiders Trump and Carson. Rubio has generally avoided clashes with Trump, Bush and other rivals. But his Senate absenteeism has come under fire from Democrats and Republicans alike and will likely come up tonight.

** Donald Trump: He has defied the laws of political gravity for four months, so blog posts suggesting what he needs to do or what to expect from him should be taken with a 44-pound bag of salt.  Talking about his polling success has been a major part of Trump’s campaign so far, so it’ll be interesting to see how he interacts with Carson now that Carson has moved ahead of Trump in recent Iowa polls and is getting closer in national polls.

Cerabino: Who pays for billion-dollar bomber? Florida retirees

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By Frank Cerabino
Palm Beach Post columnist

The big economic news for Florida this week is that Northrop Grumman got awarded the contract for the Air Force’s new long range strike bomber.

Florida taxpayers have been paying corporate welfare, er … I mean, participating in economic partnerships … with Northrop Grumman in Melbourne in the hopes that the defense contractor would win the bomber project, and then be grateful enough to drop some of the golden crumbs on us.

So the news that Northrop Grumman beat out the team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for a contract that’s expected to be about $55 billion was greeted as a kind of victory for Florida by lawmakers, who are already tallying the hypothetical 1,500 high-paying jobs coming to Florida’s Space Coast because of it.

And funding the program for a new bat-wing bomber to replace the B-2 stealth bomber was made more secure this week by a budget deal that would jettison the military’s mandatory spending cuts as part of the so-called sequester and raise the cap on military spending by $25 billion for each of the next two years.

So good news all around, right? Well, maybe not.

Not if you’re a Florida retiree. Your part in freeing up more military spending for the multi-billion-dollar bomber project is to accept some modest cuts in Medicare and Social Security. And you probably won’t be around when, and if, this new bomber ever gets airborne.

Just look at the bomber it’s replacing, the B-2 stealth bomber, which was built by Northrop Grumman in the mid-1980s for an advertised price of $441 million per plane. We were supposed to get 132 of the B-2s, but ended up with 21 of them, due in part, to cost overruns that quickly made the price tag of each plane $2 billion.

The B-2 was conceived as a nuclear-capable bomber able to evade radar detection and destroy targets well inside the borders of distant countries.

It turned out to be a temperamental aircraft that couldn’t be left out in the rain, and each one required so much maintenance, 50 maintenance workers per plane, that at any given time more than half of the B-2s are grounded.

When they do fly, it costs $135,000 for every flight hour. And now it has come time to replace the under-used and over-priced B-2 with another stealth bomber also capable of bombing distant lands.

You’d think that our misadventures in the Middle East has made it abundantly clear that bombing people we don’t like in distant lands is a futile, and ultimately, harmful way to conduct foreign policy.

And we’re certainly not going to nuke China. (Who’s going to make our iPhone?)

The roll out of the new bomber sounds like a rerun of the B-2 sales pitch. We’re supposed to get 100 of the yet-to-be-named new bombers at a cost of $550 million per plane. But I wouldn’t count on it.

These defense contracts tend to start out as wishful thinking.

Take the F-35 fighter jet, a project that is $200 billion over budget and 15 years in the making. And yet, the jet it produced has been unable to outperform in mock dogfights the F-16 it is replacing, even with the F-35 pilots wearing high-tech $400,000 helmets.

The F-35’s got funded by spreading the subcontracting work to Florida and 45 other states. Legislators, more interested in creating jobs in their own districts, kept going along for the ride and demonstrating their fiscal conservatism in other areas.

Lockheed Martin hails the F-35 for creating 133,000 jobs both directly and indirectly, calling it “the single largest job generator in the Department of Defense program budget.”

But if you do the math, those 133,000 jobs for a $400 billion project comes out to about $3 million taxpayer dollars per job. That’s a tremendous opportunity cost for a glitchy new weapon that may not pan out.

And if we’ve got that kind of money to throw around, it makes it all the more obscene to consider squeezing Medicare recipients — half of whom live on $24,150 a year or less — or reducing Social Security benefits for the disabled.

Senate approves new redistricting map facing uncertain future in House, courts

Florida Senate approves new district boundaries -- but future unknown.
Florida Senate approves new district boundaries — but future unknown.

A sharply divided Florida Senate approved a redistricting map Wednesday that left critics predicting it will be rejected by a wary House or struck down by courts.

The 22-18 vote included unanimous opposition from Senate Democrats, along with four Republicans. The proposed boundaries, which cut one seat from Palm Beach County, head to the House, which won’t review the plan until next week but has condemned maps earlier drawn by senators.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the plan is doomed on similar grounds, arguing it was designed to protect incumbents and favor ruling Republicans.

“That’s clearly what we did,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “Everybody in here knows that, whether they want to say it or not.”

But Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, defended the plan, saying most of the map was crafted by legislative staff shielded from political influence.

Galvano said he was confident the House will conclude the proposal fixes problems with the 2012 Senate boundaries alleged by a voters’ coalition. That challenge led to a legal settlement with the Senate and the current three-week special session to redraw the map.

Lawmakers are not set to adjourn until Nov. 6.

“We will have an opportunity to sell it to them, so to speak,” Galvano said of the House.

In Palm Beach County, the plan moves Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district currently includes the Jupiter-Tequesta area, into a district entirely comprised of Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties.

“Nothing in this process is final until it’s over,” Negron said. “But it certainly appears more likely I’ll be representing voters further north and west than those in Palm Beach County.”

Negron, who supported the map, is positioned to become Senate president following next year’s elections. But his rival for the powerful post, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was among those blasting the proposed boundaries.

“I don’t think the right thing to do is vote for this map,” Latvala said, urging senators to reject the plan and start over.

Latvala also teed off on the Senate’s lawyers, who had assured senators the proposed map meets constitutional standards.

“How many battles have they won for us in court?” Latvala said of the lawyers, led by former state Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero. “For the most part, we’ve gotten our butt kicked. We’ve gotten our clock cleaned.”

The Florida Supreme Court is overseeing both congressional and Senate redistricting after siding with voters’ groups in earlier lawsuits against maps drawn by lawmakers.

Much of Wednesday’s criticism focused on revisions made a day earlier by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, who said his goal was to bolster Hispanic voting performance in three Miami-Dade County districts.

But his changes also assured that he won’t be lumped into the same district with two other incumbent senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat.

Opponents of the map railed that the change favored incumbents – a move barred by voter-approved, anti-gerrymandering standards in the Florida Constitution.

Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, also said the proposal would help the GOP maintain dominance in most voting districts, despite having 400,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

“This map does not represent Florida,” Abruzzo said.

In the map, Abruzzo’s home is paired in the same south county district as the residence of Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, a seat which also reaches into Broward County.

Abruzzo, though, has said he plans to move residences – avoiding the possibility the two would have to challenge each other.

Clemens, the county’s third senator under the map before lawmakers, is in line to become Democratic Leader following the 2018 elections.

Diaz de la Portilla’s changes separated his district from a neighboring seat where Sens. Anitere Flores, a Republican, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Democrat, are paired. The revision was the only change made to a staff-drawn map endorsed by Galvano, a Negron supporter in the presidency fight.

The Republicans opposing the boundaries bill (SB 2C) were Latvala and Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Nancy Detert of Sarasota and Greg Evers of Baker.

There was mounting tension Wednesday in the usually clubby Senate, with the map vote followed by the rare move of one Republican senator singling out a fellow GOP senator he accused of mischaracterizing his record.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, a former Senate president and redistricting chairman, lashed out at Latvala, who had already left the floor.

Latvala has been quoted in media reports blaming Gaetz for advancing earlier maps that favored incumbents and caused legal woes that contributed to $11 million in redistricting costs paid by taxpayers.

Gaetz acknowledged mistakes. But he also read testimony from court records where Latvala was named as having sought to draw boundaries to help fellow senators.

“When a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back, and never give in,” Gaetz told the Senate.

Update: Ex-House Speaker Hastert pleads guilty to evading bank laws

FILE - In this June 9, 2015 file photo, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert departs the federal courthouse in Chicago. Hastert is accused in a grand jury indictment of agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep someone silent about past misconduct against that person by the Illinois Republican. Before the May 28 indictment, Hastert was known primarily for rising from political obscurity in rural Illinois to second in the line of succession to the presidency. Hastert intends to change his plea to guilty in court Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee, File)
FILE – In this June 9, 2015 file photo, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert departs the federal courthouse in Chicago.  (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee, File)

By MICHAEL TARM
The Associated Press

Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday to evading banking laws in a hush-money scheme, averting a trial by agreeing to a deal with federal prosecutors that recommends the former House speaker serve no more than six months in prison.

Before accepting the plea, the 73-year-old Republican was warned by the judge that he could go beyond the deal’s recommendation and give Hastert up to five years behind bars when he is sentenced in February.

Because the plea has a sentencing range from no time to six months, Judge Thomas M. Durkin could also decide to put Hastert on probation or home confinement.

The hearing revealed no new details about why Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to an unidentified person. The indictment says the payments were meant to conceal past misconduct by Hastert against that person but does not explain the nature of the wrongdoing.

The Associated Press and other media, citing anonymous sources, have reported that the payments were meant to hide claims of sexual misconduct from decades ago.

At the half-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in Chicago, a subdued Hastert read from a brief written statement that — like his indictment — focused narrowly on how he technically broke banking laws.

By pleading guilty, Hastert avoids a trial that could have divulged the embarrassing secrets he presumably wanted to keep under wraps by paying hush money. Judges are also generally more likely to give lighter sentences to defendants who accept responsibility for their actions and spare the government the cost of a trial.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors were expected to drop a charge stemming from lying to the FBI.

When the judge asked Hastert to describe his wrongdoing in his own words, he read his statement, telling the court that he had been withdrawing cash $50,000 at a time. After banking officials questioned him, he said, he began taking out less than $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements.

Speaking in a halting voice and losing his place in the text at one point, he described why he lied to officials: “I didn’t want them to know how I intended to spend the money.”

Hastert did not say why he required so much cash or why he sought to skirt reporting requirements. As Hastert finished, the judge immediately asked: “Did you know that what you were doing was wrong?”

He responded, “Yes, sir.”

Since the plea deal offers a wide punishment range, February’s sentencing hearing could feature arguments from prosecutors on why Hastert should spend some time behind bars and from the defense about why he should be spared prison.

Asked by the judge if the government would call any witnesses at the sentencing, lead prosecutor Steven Block left open that possibility, saying, “We don’t know if we will be calling witnesses. We will decide that at a later date.”

Prosecutors could theoretically call the unnamed person Hastert was allegedly paying, a prospect that could make public the conduct Hastert sought to conceal.

The sentencing range is below what many legal experts thought Hastert could get. Many thought prosecutors would press for six months to two years in prison.

The change-of-plea hearing was the longtime GOP leader’s first court appearance since his arraignment in June, when he pleaded not guilty in the same courtroom in Chicago.

A May 28 indictment accused Hastert of handing as much as $100,000 in cash at a time to someone referred to only as “Individual A” to ensure past misconduct by Hastert against the person never became public.

The plea helped seal the downfall of a man who rose from obscurity in rural Illinois to the nation’s third-highest political office.

Hastert was speaker for eight years — longer than any other Republican. He also parlayed his connections into a lucrative lobbying career after leaving Congress in 2007. That career is almost certainly over.

As a convicted felon, “no congressman will want to meet with him about anything. His influence and power will be gone,” said Dick Simpson, a co-author of “Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality.”

Known as a savvy deal maker in Congress, Hastert and his attorneys negotiated the plea deal in recent weeks, avoiding a trial that could have divulged embarrassing secrets dating back to his days as a high-school wrestling coach.

Hastert allegedly made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 from 2010 to 2012. It’s what he allegedly did later in 2012 that would make his actions criminal. After learning withdrawals over $10,000 are flagged, he supposedly began taking out smaller increments, eventually withdrawing $952,000 from 2012 to 2014.

The withdrawals stopped after FBI agents questioned Hastert on Dec. 8, 2014, according to the indictment.

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Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm .