Florida’s Charlie Crist is running for governor again—now as a Democrat. Is he a craven opportunist or an effective pragmatist in a time of ideological exhaustion?
Florida’s ex-governor is running for his old job—now as a Democrat. Is he a craven opportunist or a voter-pleasing pragmatist for a time of ideological exhaustion?
In the scattershot, countrywide affair that is a midterm election, political observers are always looking for entrails to read for signs of what November might hold, and each cycle’s handful of special congressional elections inevitably get treated as portentous omens, particularly by the winning side. Sometimes this is even true: In 2010, Republicans won a Senate election in Massachusetts in January and a House election in Hawaii in May, two unlikely victories in extremely hostile territory that in retrospect showed how badly America was about to hand it to the Democrats. (The losing side of a special election, just as inevitably, insists there were race-specific factors at work that will have no bearing on elections elsewhere—and often that, too, is the case.)
So it is with today’s special congressional election, which will determine the next member of Congress from Florida’s 13th District, a little piece of coastline about halfway up the Gulf Coast. A Democratic former statewide elected official, Alex Sink, is running against a Republican former congressional aide and D.C. lobbyist, David Jolly. The election is happening because the congressman who represented this part of Florida for 43 years, Bill Young, died in office last October at the age of 82.
Though Young, a beloved local figure, always won reelection easily—20 times!—this is a swing district that has been trending blue. It last voted for a Republican for president in 2004, and it has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+1—the narrowest possible GOP edge. Polling has the race extremely tight, so this one really could go either way.
Today’s election has been a nearly pure test-drive of the two parties’ strategies as they’re shaping up for this year’s national House and Senate battles.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
New projections on student enrollment from the federal government hint at the financial pressure many states will face as their student populations rise considerably in the next decade.
The data, released last week by the National Center on Education Statistics, forecast that the nation’s number of public school students from prekindergarten through high school will grow by 7 percent between 2011 and 2022. Leading the charge are states in the Western and Southern parts of the United States.
The school populations of Nevada and Arizona are expected to swell by more than 20 percent. Utah is set to grow by 19 percent, and Texas by more than 15 percent. Florida, the researchers write, can look forward to 14 percent growth.
But these states stand out for another reason as well. The states expected to grow the most also are among those that spend the least per student.
Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Texas and Utah all fall in the bottom 10 on the list of state expenditures per pupil, according to Education Week data released this year. State and local money tend to comprise nine out of 10 dollars spent on students, though those students with disabilities or from cash-strapped homes receive a larger share of funding from the federal government.
Read more. [Image: Mike Ferer/AP Photo]
Jury selection begins today in the trial of Michael Dunn, the man who shot and killed teenager Jordan Davis outside a Florida convenience store in November of 2012. Davis was sitting in a parked SUV outside the Jacksonville store with friends when Dunn, who is white, began complaining about their music. An argument ensued, and then ended, when Dunn fired his 9mm handgun into the vehicle. As the SUV raced off, Dunn stepped out of his car and fired again. Then he and his girlfriend drove to a hotel, checked in, and ordered a pizza. He never called the police and was only arrested because a witness jotted down his license plate. Dunn, who is mounting a Stand Your Ground defense, claimed a passenger in the vehicle had threatened him with shotgun—or a stick. The police found no gun.
In the wake of Jordan Davis’s death, his mother Lucia McBath has become active in the fight against Stand Your Ground laws. I spoke with her recently about the impact of the death of her son.
Read more. [Image courtesy Lucia McBath]
You didn’t miss much on the privacy beat if you spent the first days of 2014 on an off-the-grid tropical vacation. The Justice Department notified U.S. District Judge Richard Leon that it intends to appeal his December ruling that jeopardizes the nation’s metadata bulk surveillance operations. And the ACLU notified U.S. District Judge William Pauley that it intends to appeal his ruling last month that endorsed the legality of that very program. It will be springtime, at least, before all the briefing in these appeals are completed. In the meantime, the program will continue, according to an even newer ruling by the nation’s secret spy court.
You didn’t miss much—except a major legal victory for privacy advocates (and for those who advocate on behalf of the least fortunate among us). Last Tuesday, on New Year’s Eve, a federal judge, a nominee of President George W. Bush, struck down for good a dubious Florida law that required state welfare recipients to submit to (and pay for) drug testing as a precondition of receiving benefits. The ruling was not a surprise—the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals presaged it in a February 2013 injunction ruling in this case—but it was nonetheless bracing: a good, old-fashioned screed against a very bad idea.
Read more. [Image: Tomas Bravo/Reuters]
"Florida criminals have a well-earned reputation as some of the strangest in the country, possibly the world. But as the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department demonstrated late last month, when it shot an unarmed man in his own driveway, it’s not just Florida perps who are out of line. A number of the state’s police and sheriff’s departments are every bit as notorious for employing weird, backwards, and even criminal Floridians.”
Earlier this summer, the FBI shot and killed Ibragim Todashev at his Orlando, Florida apartment, where he was being questioned by law enforcement officials. Afterward, police sources gave wildly conflicting accounts of what happened just before his death: some said he was unarmed but agitated; others said he was armed, but disagreed about the weapon. Did he reach for a gun? A samurai sword? A knife? A metal pole? A broomstick? Every news report seemed to tell a different story. The FBI wouldn’t go on record with an official version of events, and was unusually tight-lipped about the case, even as the dead man’s grieving father speculated that his son was murdered. The ACLU, the Counsel on American Islamic Relations, and various newspaper editorial boards called for an independent investigation, in part because when the FBI investigates itself, its agents are basically always found blameless for fatal shootings.
Then the story faded from national headlines.
Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia excoriated his colleagues on the United States Supreme Court for not always saying what they mean. Today, with a man’s life on the line, with lower courts in full-flowered rebellion, and with a clear and present opportunity to decisively affirm their own precedent, those same justices demonstrated that they don’t always mean what they say. The result is yet another shocking example of the hollowness of constitutional doctrine in the Roberts Court era.
Today, the Supreme Court allowed Florida to execute a patently insane man named John Ferguson, a man with 40 years worth of paranoid delusions chronicled by government doctors, a man who considered himself the “Prince of God.”
Read more. [Image: Joe Skipper/Reuters]