Florida Government and Politics Weekly Update

14 June 2010 Publication
Author(s): Robert H. Hosay Thomas J. Maida

Public Policy News Alert

Politics: With New Candidates Gaining Traction, Rasmussen and Quinnipiac Polls Indicate Closer Races for Governor and U.S. Senate

Two recently released polls suggest that Florida’s 2010 elections for governor and U.S. Senate have become closer because of the entry of several nontraditional candidates. In addition to Governor Charlie Crist, who left the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate as a no-party-affiliation candidate, businessman Rick Scott of Naples is running a self-funded campaign against Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary for governor, and investor Jeff Greene of Palm Beach is running a self-funded campaign against U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District) in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary. On June 3, 2010, the gubernatorial contest became more complicated when Lawton “Bud” Chiles, son of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, announced his no-party-affiliation candidacy for governor.

In a Rasmussen Reports poll of 500 likely voters conducted on June 7, 2010, Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R-Miami) and Gov. Crist each had the support of 37 percent of respondents, with Rep. Meek in third place at 15 percent and 11 percent undecided. In their first poll of a hypothetical three-way race between Mr. Rubio, Gov. Crist, and Mr. Greene, Gov. Crist led with 41 percent, followed by Mr. Rubio with 37 percent, Mr. Greene with 13 percent, and 10 percent undecided.

According to the Rasmussen poll, Attorney General McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, has lost ground against Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate. In the June 7 survey, Attorney General McCollum leads CFO Sink by 40 percent to 38 percent, with eight percent preferring some other candidate and 14 percent undecided. In polls taken in April and May, he led by seven and eight percentage points.

Rick Scott, the other leading Republican candidate, leads CFO Sink by 45 percent to 40 percent, with three percent preferring some other candidate and 12 percent undecided.

The Rasmussen poll also included several questions about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Fifty percent of respondents said the oil spill will have a “devastating” impact on the environment, and an additional 29 percent expect a “major” impact. Asked about a potential amendment to the Florida Constitution, however, a plurality were opposed. The constitutional amendment, which Gov. Crist has said he wants to include in a special legislative session, received the support of 33 percent of respondents and was opposed by 42 percent, with 25 percent undecided.

The survey of 500 likely voters has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Gov. Crist leading in the U.S. Senate contest, with 37 percent, followed by Mr. Rubio at 33 percent, Rep. Meek at 17 percent, and 11 percent undecided. In a matchup with Mr. Rubio and Mr. Greene, Gov. Crist has the support of 40 percent of respondents, Mr. Rubio has the support of 33 percent, and Mr. Greene has the support of 13 percent.

In the race for governor, the Quinnipiac poll shows Attorney General McCollum leading CFO Sink by a margin of 42 to 34 percent, with 19 percent undecided. Results are similar when Mr. Scott is matched up against CFO Sink, with Mr. Scott leading at 42 percent, CFO Sink at 32 percent, and 21 percent undecided.

The Quinnipiac poll also included questions about the no-party-affiliation candidacy of Mr. Chiles, who apparently takes more votes from the Democratic candidate than the Republican. Attorney General McCollum leads a hypothetical matchup with 33 percent, followed by CFO Sink at 25 percent, Mr. Chiles at 19 percent, and 19 percent undecided. Mr. Scott as the Republican candidate leads with 35 percent, followed by CFO Sink at 26 percent, Mr. Chiles at 13 percent, and 23 percent undecided.

In the Republican primary for governor, the Quinnipiac poll shows Rick Scott leading Attorney General McCollum by 44 percent to 31 percent, with 24 percent undecided. In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Rep. Meek comes in first with 29 percent. Mr. Greene is a close second, with 27 percent, former Miami mayor Maurice Ferre is third at three percent, and 37 percent are undecided.

The poll of general election questions surveyed 1,133 registered voters between June 1 and June 7, with a 2.9 percentage point margin of error, except that the questions involving Mr. Chiles were asked of 435 registered voters, with a 4.7 percentage point margin of error. The Democrat-only questions surveyed 785 likely primary voters between June 2 and June 8, with a 3.5 percentage point margin of error. The Republican-only questions surveyed 814 likely primary voters between June 2 and June 8, with a 3.4 percentage point margin of error.

Politics: Former Republican Party of Florida Chair Jim Greer Arrested on Six Felony Counts

On June 2, 2010, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agents and Seminole County sheriff’s deputies arrested former Republican Party of Florida Chair Jim Greer. A statewide grand jury indicted Mr. Greer, who was forced out of his party position in January, on six felony counts of theft, money laundering, and orchestrating a scheme to defraud. In announcing the indictment, Statewide Prosecutor Bill Shepherd said that the former party chair used a company called Victory Strategies LLC to divert at least $125,000 in party contributions to his own use. “This money was laundered through Victory Strategies LLC and then used by Mr. Greer to support his own personal lifestyle,” Mr. Shepherd said.

Gov. Crist, whom most observers consider responsible for Mr. Greer’s rise to the party chairmanship, was asked whether he felt any responsibility for the alleged irregularities. “I do not feel complicit,” the governor said. “It is obviously disappointing and surprising.” Gov. Crist also denied any knowledge of “this Victory Strategies thing.”

Oil Spill: With Estimates of Potential Damage to the Florida Economy in the Billions, the Deepwater Horizon Disaster Prompts Consideration of Aid Program

On June 9, 2010, members of the Florida Oil Spill Recovery Task Force recommended that Florida demand that BP PLC, owner of the Deepwater Horizon well, immediately provide the state with at least $500 million to cover economic damage. A day later, Attorney General Bill McCollum wrote to the company’s general counsel, requesting that BP set aside a reserve of $2.5 billion to cover Florida claims.

The $2.5 billion figure was based in part on an analysis of the impact of the oil spill prepared by University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. Mr. Snaith calculated that the potential loss to the Florida gross state product could reach $2.2 billion, and as many as 39,000 jobs could be lost within a matter of weeks.

A special legislative session to address oil spill issues remains under discussion. Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) said through a spokesperson that if there is going to be a special session, it should concentrate on aid to the small businesses and individuals who have lost income because of the disaster. CFO Sink, along with several Panhandle-area property appraisers, supports the concept of property tax relief for property owners affected by the disaster. Gov. Crist has said that he remains committed to a state constitutional amendment to permanently ban offshore drilling.

Gov. Crist is currently saying that he would like the special session to occur before the end of July.

Legislature: Gov. Crist Vetoes Abortion Bill

On June 11, 2010, Gov. Crist vetoed HB 1143, a bill that would have required abortion providers to offer an ultrasound examination and briefing on fetal development to each patient, unless the patient gave a written waiver. The bill, which passed both houses on party-line votes, also would have broadened the prohibition against use of public money to fund abortions.

In his veto message, Gov. Crist said the bill “places an inappropriate burden on women seeking to terminate a pregnancy” and “would violate woman’s right to privacy.”

After vetoes of a major campaign finance reform bill and a merit pay bill for public school teachers, Gov. Crist’s veto of HB 1143 is his third veto this year of a bill that was a top priority for the Legislature’s Republican leadership.

Utility Regulation: Eight Nominees for Public Service Commission Vacancies Sent to Governor

On June 10, 2010, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) Nominating Council sent Gov. Crist a list of eight nominees for two vacancies on the PSC. The nominating council, which includes six legislators and six members of the public, interviewed 28 applicants for two PSC vacancies. The two vacancies are the result of the Senate’s decision to deny confirmation to Gov. Crist’s appointees, David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens.

Two legislators, Sen. Lee Constantine (R-Altamonte Springs) and Ronald Brisé (D-North Miami Beach), were among the eight nominees. Also on the list were former Senator and current PSC General Counsel Curt Kiser, Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham; former PSC Executive Director Mary Bane; Tallahassee attorney Charles Ranson; Senate staffer Kevin Wiehle; and former Missouri Public Service Commissioner Connie Murray.


Public Policy News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss these topics further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals:

Marnie George
Tallahassee, Florida

Michael P. Harrell
Tallahassee, Florida

Robert H. Hosay
Tallahassee, Florida

Jonathan P. Kilman
Orlando, Florida

Thomas J. Maida
Tallahassee, Florida

Leonard E. Schulte
Tallahassee, Florida

Marnie George of The George Group assists Foley on a variety of government and public policy matters as a consultant.

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