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Topic: Rick Scott

In Picking Crist, Dems Look Beyond Florida

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything–or you just might become governor of Florida. Last night, Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial election, in which he’ll face incumbent Rick Scott. In doing so, he completed something of a trifecta: he was the Republican nominee for governor the first time he ran, then was the independent candidate on the ballot in his run for Senate after the rise of Marco Rubio, and now he’s the Democratic candidate for governor. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, Charlie Crist has at one point or another pretended to agree with you.

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If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything–or you just might become governor of Florida. Last night, Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial election, in which he’ll face incumbent Rick Scott. In doing so, he completed something of a trifecta: he was the Republican nominee for governor the first time he ran, then was the independent candidate on the ballot in his run for Senate after the rise of Marco Rubio, and now he’s the Democratic candidate for governor. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, Charlie Crist has at one point or another pretended to agree with you.

It’s easy to dismiss the smarmy, oleaginous Crist as a transparent phony and a walking caricature of everything Americans profess to hate about politics. But there is a certain degree of sincerity in his insincerity: it can be argued he has finally found his place in the natural order of politics. Indeed, just glance at his career arc: Republicans saw him as an unprincipled fraud and booted him from their ranks. Democrats saw him as an unprincipled fraud and nominated him to represent their party.

Nothing about that is out of the ordinary. The Democrats have today taken on the ideology of power. Barack Obama ran two vapid campaigns driven by a personality cult and enforced groupthink. He has chosen, and his people have accepted (thus far at least), Hillary Clinton as his successor, who virtually guarantees the same type of campaign all over again. Ideas are dangerous things, and liberals tend to keep their distance from them. Hence their decision to have Crist represent them in a key state.

But what people often forget about cynical, self-serving politicians is this: they tend to stick around. If you act as a conduit for taxpayer cash and a megaphone for all and sundry personal grievances, you can get a lot of people to vote for you. How many? Well, that’s a question Crist seeks to answer not only for himself but for Democrats nationally. As Florida-based political consultant Rick Wilson writes:

You may share the kind of visceral dislike of Crist with most Republicans, but you need to know that the risk of Charlie Crist reaches far beyond Florida, and offers an insight into an emerging behavior of national Democrats. While we chase perfection, they chase election. They demonstrably don’t care about character, and Crist is a perfect example of the moral vacancy of Democratic voters.

You’re thinking, “Meh. Florida’s crazy. So what if he wins? The GOP owns the Legislature.” Don’t count on it. Florida’s GOP majorities in the House and Senate have some admirable scrappers, and some will fight Crist until the last dog dies. But there’s already a Quisling Caucus in the State Senate quietly whispering that Charlie might not be so bad.

Next, Charlie is very much a road-test for limits of reinvention of future Democratic candidates, including the Damsel of Chappaqua. He transformed himself from far-right Reagan Republican to left-of-Obama liberal in a year and a half without missing a beat. There is no lie the man won’t tell, no promise he won’t make, and no deal he won’t cut to return to power. Hillary is watching, as are other Democrats, as Crist attempts to define history down.

Wilson posits that Crist will hope not only to be a model for America’s soulless liberalism but will also seek to boost his new party’s fundraising, rejuvenate its political machine, and go to bat for the expansion of federal programs in the two years between Election Day 2014 and Election Day 2016. All that is normal state politics, but it does have national implications.

A good example of why that is comes from the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake. In a piece about the implosion of the campaign of Ed FitzGerald, the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in Ohio, Blake notes that what FitzGerald’s freefall exposed was the Democrats’ lack of a good farm system. Blake explains that in Ohio, Republicans improved their electoral map in the House as well as the state legislature. That means, simply, more Republicans and fewer Democrats to choose from.

But Blake goes on to say that Republicans have pressed this advantage in states beyond Ohio. And Florida is one of them. He notes that in Florida, not only do the Republicans have a numbers advantage due to redistricting but they hold far more competitive districts, which helps develop candidates. Here’s Blake:

So while 11 Florida districts lean Republican by seven or fewer points, just one Democratic-leaning district is even remotely competitive.

Want to guess which kind of district is more likely to produce a credible candidate for statewide office? Hint: It’s not the district where the incumbent only has to impress his or her heavily liberal constituents.

It is not altogether too surprising, then, that Democrats had to go looking for a hired gun like Crist. But the real aim of the national Democrats backing Crist is to staunch the statewide bleeding and then start rebuilding the roster of future candidates.

And they’re relying on Crist to get the state Democrats up off the mat so the national party can try to secure its tenuous hold on Florida in presidential elections as well. All this is a pretty far cry from where Crist was just four years ago, as a Republican about to turn independent. You can argue Crist and the Democrats are taking a cynical route to power all you want; you can’t say they don’t understand the stakes.

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The $10,000 College Degree

Whenever the cost of a good or service consistently rises above the rate of inflation one of two things is going on.  Either the supply is fixed while demand is increasing or there is a cartel in operation.

With the immense increase and spread of wealth in the last 30 years (in 1982 it took $82 million to make the Forbes 400 list, today it takes $1.3 billion, a 650 percent increase net of inflation), such things as fine art, rare books, and caviar have soared in price because the supply of each is static. There are only so many Guttenberg Bibles, 18th-century dining tables, and Winslow Homer paintings in existence, after all, while the sturgeon of the Caspian Sea can supply only so much caviar without going extinct (which would make the price of caviar infinite). 

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Whenever the cost of a good or service consistently rises above the rate of inflation one of two things is going on.  Either the supply is fixed while demand is increasing or there is a cartel in operation.

With the immense increase and spread of wealth in the last 30 years (in 1982 it took $82 million to make the Forbes 400 list, today it takes $1.3 billion, a 650 percent increase net of inflation), such things as fine art, rare books, and caviar have soared in price because the supply of each is static. There are only so many Guttenberg Bibles, 18th-century dining tables, and Winslow Homer paintings in existence, after all, while the sturgeon of the Caspian Sea can supply only so much caviar without going extinct (which would make the price of caviar infinite). 

But the supply of college degrees is not fixed. Regardless, tuition and other college costs over the last 25 years have increased 440 percent, about four times the rate of inflation. So there’s a cartel in operation. Colleges don’t compete with each other in terms of price, partly because most colleges are non-profit and therefore the bottom line is not of supreme concern. But that doesn’t mean that non-profits don’t make a profit. Many colleges, in fact, are quite profitable, but the money is invested in such things as research, larger faculty, more and more luxurious facilities, and, especially, an ever-expanding administration.  The number of administrators at Perdue University has grown 54 percent just in the last decade, six times as fast as the number of professors.  It’s a beautiful example of the well-known political science dictum that, absent outside pressure (such as the profit motive), institutions tend to evolve in ways that favor their elites. Vance Fried, of the Cato Institute, explains at some length.

But outside pressure is beginning, finally, to materialize. In 2011, Governor Rick Perry of Texas challenged his state’s public colleges to come up with four-year degree programs that cost no more than $10,000. He wanted this accomplished by using online courses and competency-based credits, (i.e., you can get credit for a course essentially just by passing the final.) The idea was, of course, pooh-poohed by the higher education establishment, and declared impossible. But it is beginning to catch on.  Governor Rick Scott of Florida is now calling for the same thing at Florida public colleges and universities.

With student debt now passing credit-card debt in this country and more and more people calling into question the value of a college degree, the outside pressure to cut costs is finally at hand. That’s bad news for the third assistant associate dean for diversity and feeling good about yourself, but it’s very good news for students, parents, and the country as a whole.

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The GOP and Scott’s Immigration Flip

When Rick Scott successfully ran for governor of Florida in 2010 beating Democrat Alex Sink, he called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Arizona’s controversial law calling for law enforcement authorities to check the immigration status of those who were arrested, blamed illegals for taking jobs away from Floridians, and said they should be sent back where they came from. But, due in no small part to support from the Cuban-American community, he wound up winning a whopping 50 percent of the Hispanic vote according to exit polls that year.

Despite calls from other Republicans who interpreted their 2012 defeat in the presidential election as a sign they needed to start thinking differently about immigration, he has generally stuck to that hard line, even vetoing a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. But apparently Scott, who trails his predecessor Charlie Crist in all the polls, may be thinking that now would be a good time to reach out to Hispanics who regard immigration as a litmus test.

As Fox News Latino reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who urged a crackdown on immigration four years ago, is throwing his support behind a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally. But Scott is supporting the idea as long as it is combined with his own proposal to place limits on how much state universities can raise tuition each year.

It’s not entirely clear what Scott is up to, but this has the feel of an election-year conversion that is more likely to anger right-wing opponents of immigration than it will entice Hispanic voters to vote for him. If so and if Scott winds up losing to the former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist, then it is likely that conservatives will blame it on the governor’s lack of principles rather than on faulty policies. But Scott’s fate is not the only matter at stake in this debate. Though Florida’s electorate has a different makeup than other states with large Hispanic populations, the governor’s flip-flop may be a sign that even those who benefitted from rabble-rousing anti-immigrant stands in the past are starting to realize that the negative fallout from that position may be greater than the benefits.

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When Rick Scott successfully ran for governor of Florida in 2010 beating Democrat Alex Sink, he called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Arizona’s controversial law calling for law enforcement authorities to check the immigration status of those who were arrested, blamed illegals for taking jobs away from Floridians, and said they should be sent back where they came from. But, due in no small part to support from the Cuban-American community, he wound up winning a whopping 50 percent of the Hispanic vote according to exit polls that year.

Despite calls from other Republicans who interpreted their 2012 defeat in the presidential election as a sign they needed to start thinking differently about immigration, he has generally stuck to that hard line, even vetoing a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. But apparently Scott, who trails his predecessor Charlie Crist in all the polls, may be thinking that now would be a good time to reach out to Hispanics who regard immigration as a litmus test.

As Fox News Latino reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who urged a crackdown on immigration four years ago, is throwing his support behind a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally. But Scott is supporting the idea as long as it is combined with his own proposal to place limits on how much state universities can raise tuition each year.

It’s not entirely clear what Scott is up to, but this has the feel of an election-year conversion that is more likely to anger right-wing opponents of immigration than it will entice Hispanic voters to vote for him. If so and if Scott winds up losing to the former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist, then it is likely that conservatives will blame it on the governor’s lack of principles rather than on faulty policies. But Scott’s fate is not the only matter at stake in this debate. Though Florida’s electorate has a different makeup than other states with large Hispanic populations, the governor’s flip-flop may be a sign that even those who benefitted from rabble-rousing anti-immigrant stands in the past are starting to realize that the negative fallout from that position may be greater than the benefits.

Given the desire of conservatives to turn out to send a message to Washington against President Obama and especially ObamaCare, perhaps it’s smart politics for Scott to risk a backlash from conservatives. But his decision to break down and start mending fences with those who want a softer approach to illegal immigration has an air of desperation about it. The governor has had a rocky term in Tallahassee and is easily among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in 2014. Even taking into account the fact that the large Cuban-American demographic in Florida is more Republican than any other group of Hispanics, his standing among Hispanic voters has dropped since his 2010 win. Though he remains within striking distance of Crist and can count on a midterm environment that looks to be very friendly to Republicans (as the vote in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District showed on Tuesday), Scott remains an underdog heading toward November.

Nevertheless, Scott’s abandonment of the anti-immigration crowd this year may be a signal that some Republicans are starting to understand that bashing illegals may not be quite as potent a talking point as it was only four years ago. It was one thing for Scott to urge that the 800,000 illegals in Florida be deported when he was running for office. But that sort of empty threat rings hollow from someone sitting in the governor’s chair. Support for DREAM Act-type measures such as those involving in-state tuition rates are growing, making those holding the line against them look mean-spirited and out of touch with reality. That’s why GOP majorities in the legislature have backed such stands.

Moreover, if Republicans are going to be able to build winning coalitions in the future, they’re going to need Hispanic votes. In Florida, that once meant just taking a strong stand against the Communist regime in Havana. But even Cuban-Americans may now require more than a casual swipe at Castro in order to gain their support.

If Scott is defeated this year, it’s likely that it won’t be due primarily to his position(s) on immigration. But by doing an about-face on the issue in the middle of a tough reelection race, he has certainly given other Republicans food for thought about how best to build a majority in an era when Hispanic votes are up for grabs.

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Can Crist Hold Lead as ObamaCare Loyalist?

On a national electoral map that has a lot of bright spots for Republicans, Florida is a problem. As Marc Caputo wrote yesterday in the Miami Herald, Governor Rick Scott’s polling numbers are enough to turn the stomachs of the GOP party faithful in the Sunshine State. Even polls conducted by Republicans all show Scott trailing renegade Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in his attempt to win re-election. Crist leads Scott in Republican strongholds in the state and can count on landslide-type advantages in areas where Democrats predominate. If those patterns hold, that’s a formula for certain defeat for the Republican.

It is true that there’s still plenty of time for Scott to recover and he has the kind of personal wealth that can finance a formidable counter-attack in the coming months. But his problem is that Crist, who preceded Scott as governor when he was a fellow Republican, is viewed favorably by the public while the controversial incumbent is not. That’s why Scott may view Crist’s decision to link himself inextricably with President Obama as providing his only path to victory. Crist went on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday and played the loyal Democrat in an awkward interview that had to make members of his current party wince. Crist denied that hundreds of thousands of Floridians had lost their insurance coverage as a result of the president’s signature health care law and even stuck to that implausible position even when Candy Crowley told him “that’s a fact.”

That exchange raises the prospect that the Florida governor’s race may provide an interesting test case as to whether the national GOP theme of running against ObamaCare in the midterms can salvage the party’s otherwise gloomy prospects in Florida. As we’ve seen in past midterms the vastly different electorate in non-presidential years can turn easy wins for the party of the incumbent president into nail biters, especially when a race can be nationalized. While there’s good reason to believe that Scott’s unpopularity makes such a scenario extremely unlikely in Florida, embracing the president and his unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act may be a case of Crist unnecessarily tempting fate.

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On a national electoral map that has a lot of bright spots for Republicans, Florida is a problem. As Marc Caputo wrote yesterday in the Miami Herald, Governor Rick Scott’s polling numbers are enough to turn the stomachs of the GOP party faithful in the Sunshine State. Even polls conducted by Republicans all show Scott trailing renegade Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in his attempt to win re-election. Crist leads Scott in Republican strongholds in the state and can count on landslide-type advantages in areas where Democrats predominate. If those patterns hold, that’s a formula for certain defeat for the Republican.

It is true that there’s still plenty of time for Scott to recover and he has the kind of personal wealth that can finance a formidable counter-attack in the coming months. But his problem is that Crist, who preceded Scott as governor when he was a fellow Republican, is viewed favorably by the public while the controversial incumbent is not. That’s why Scott may view Crist’s decision to link himself inextricably with President Obama as providing his only path to victory. Crist went on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday and played the loyal Democrat in an awkward interview that had to make members of his current party wince. Crist denied that hundreds of thousands of Floridians had lost their insurance coverage as a result of the president’s signature health care law and even stuck to that implausible position even when Candy Crowley told him “that’s a fact.”

That exchange raises the prospect that the Florida governor’s race may provide an interesting test case as to whether the national GOP theme of running against ObamaCare in the midterms can salvage the party’s otherwise gloomy prospects in Florida. As we’ve seen in past midterms the vastly different electorate in non-presidential years can turn easy wins for the party of the incumbent president into nail biters, especially when a race can be nationalized. While there’s good reason to believe that Scott’s unpopularity makes such a scenario extremely unlikely in Florida, embracing the president and his unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act may be a case of Crist unnecessarily tempting fate.

Crist’s decision to play the die-hard Democrat/Obama enthusiast is presumed to be smart politics. Democrats know that his decision to abandon the GOP had little to do with principle and everything to do with opportunism. He left the Republicans because they preferred to nominate Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate seat the former governor coveted in 2010. Crist needs to convince rank-and-file Democrats who voted against him when he was a Republican and then an independent to turn out in November rather than to sit out the governor’s race. But while liberals may find his turncoat act distasteful, they tend to be more pragmatic about such things than the conservative base. Unlike the conservative base that places a higher value on ideological purity (as establishment Republicans who have been unseated by implausible Tea Party candidates could testify), liberal Democrats generally prefer winning elections. 

The irony here is that while being rejected by conservatives somehow enhanced Crist’s popularity, he seems to think that his future rests on transforming his political persona to that of a Democrat who is determined to march in lockstep with the leader of his party even on his most unpopular and least successful initiatives. Given the widespread dissatisfaction with Scott, Crist would probably do better trying to run this year as a moderate independent running on a Democrat line rather than to do a complete makeover as a true Blue Obama acolyte. But his comments about ObamaCare show that Crist’s opportunism may be getting the best of him.

Crist’s lead may be strong enough to withstand his decision to double down on ObamaCare and perhaps his loyalty to his new leader may induce Democrats to turn out in the numbers he needs to retire Scott. It’s also possible that Scott’s unpopularity rather than any national issue will determine the outcome of the race. But Crist’s ObamaCare comments won’t go unnoticed and will be used against him by the GOP. Florida may have gone for Obama in the last two elections and its changing demography may, like other purple states, may be making it a more friendly state for Democrats. But Crist’s over-the-top and blatantly insincere embrace of the president could give Republicans the chance to hold onto a governor’s seat that might otherwise be a lost cause.

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Jindal, Brownback, and the State-Led Conservative Opposition

Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

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Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

This month, the largest tax cut in Kansas history took effect, and most of its Medicaid system was handed over to private insurers. The bill introduced this week would pare taxes further, with the goal of eventually eliminating the state’s individual income tax. Mr. Brownback has already slashed the state’s welfare roll and its work force. He has merged government agencies and is proposing further consolidation. He is pushing for pension changes, to change the way judges are selected and for altering education financing formulas.

“I think it is the leading edge of the conservative economic and political movement,” said State Representative Tom Sloan, a Republican representing the area around Lawrence. “As such, it is the example that other state leaders will look to to determine whether the political philosophy can mesh with the expectations of the public.”

The Washington-centric focus of the press and the drama over negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and the Obama White House tend to overshadow the far-reaching economic reforms taking place at the state level. And that focus is exactly what Jindal plans to take aim at in his keynote speech tonight to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. Jindal, who has been at the forefront of conservative education reform and is a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, plans to argue forcefully against his own party’s concentration on Washington. As the Washington Post reports:

“By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington, instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.),” Jindal is set to say at one point in the speech. At another, he will argue that “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” adding: “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

It will be interesting to see just how clearly Jindal can pair his critique of Washington with a conservative alternative. On the broad strokes, Jindal is certainly correct: Washington’s buddy system and its self-perpetuating bureaucracy make it ripe both for bad policy and for cronyism that often too easily seduces Republicans as well as Democrats.

But there’s also a trap here Jindal is setting for himself, and his party. Conservatives are on firm ground when they talk of the need to reform Washington, but they should be careful not to treat the capital as incidental. Congress’s approval ratings may be low, and there is certainly a limited amount of policymaking the GOP can do with only one house of Congress and Harry Reid’s refusal to permit even basic Senate business from taking place in the other house. But conservatives should learn the right lesson: they need to be in a position to legislate.

Nothing proved this more clearly than the Obamacare debacle. Republicans didn’t have enough seats in Congress to block it, and then Chief Justice John Roberts allowed himself to be bullied and intimidated into ruling in favor of the president’s constitutionally suspect legislative overreach out of concern for his legacy and his public stature rather than his own best judgment. Roberts is an example of how the conservative movement cannot rely on the courts to protect the country from unconstitutional big-government schemes. Conservatives have the right idea on state-level reform to act as a bulwark against some of the terrible policy coming from the White House. But they also can’t ignore the battles on Capitol Hill.

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