Friday, August 28, 2009

LeMieux Who?

Today Governor Charlie Crist decided to fill the the Senate seat being vacated immediately by Republican Mel Martinez with his former Chief of Staff George LeMieux. Now this is needless to say a head scratcher. Not only has Lemieux never held elected office, he also was most recently a lobbyist..errrr, "consultant". Aren't those kinds of people exactly who we are trying to run OUT of Washington? With so many big issues facing our nation and with our military still actively engaged in two wars, Governor Crist decided to install a puppet of his into a seat that he will be challenging for next year. I mean LeMieux proudly proclaims that he is a "Crist Republican" so what should we expect from him other than being Crist's proxy in the Senate?

The Democratic challenger for that Senate seat, Congressman Kendrick Meek, had this to say about the appointment.

"From the moment Senator Martinez announced his retirement, Governor Crist placed his ambitions over Florida's needs. Floridians require a Senator working to ease their economic pain and achieve comprehensive health insurance reform, not a political appointee who serves the monied special interests.

"The Governor added another addition to his campaign team at taxpayers' expense. George LeMieux doesn't represent Floridians facing economic challenges - he represents privileged clients with expense accounts far removed from the realities Floridians are facing.

"Governor Crist was afforded a high responsibility with this appointment. Instead, he treated this process like a mockery, politicizing his selection by flying around the state at taxpayers' expense, touring major media markets and drawing this selection out. Well respected Floridians with a wealth of elected service experience from Congressman Clay Shaw to Mayor John Delaney to various Hispanic leaders were in a position to hit the ground running if appointed, but that possibility is now nonexistent.

"By appointing George LeMieux, Governor Crist's inner circle was rewarded with a U.S. Senate seat and Floridians are left lacking the representation they deserve."

Tough words but they are really on point. Floridians deserve a strong legislator looking out for their interest for the next year or so, not a political neophyte just trying to find his way.

Well there is a little bit of information out there about Lemieux online including his newly published wikipedia page. has a post up currently about LeMieux's previous support for gay adoption and how that may make some conservatives nervous.

But it's some of the stances LeMieux took on gay adoption and gay benefits way back in 1998 when he ran unsuccessfully for the state House that could really rankle the conservative base.

In 1998, when LeMieux was challenging Democratic state Rep. Tracy Stafford for a Broward Congressional seat, he sought to siphon off votes from the district's gay community in Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manor.

LeMieux told Steve Bousquet (back then of the Herald, now of the Times/Herald) in September 1998 that gay couples in Florida should be allowed to adopt children. He also said he favored domestic partnership laws to extend health care and other benefits enjoyed by married couples. He said unmarried partners should be permitted to be listed as beneficiaries on insurance policies.

Now this is obviously is a very progressive view on gay adoption and even though he doesn't support gay marriage his support for gay adoption would definitely be a plus. But the question is will Lemeiux, like his former boss, now govern to the right of Tom Coburn just to try to help Governor Crist curry favor with the wingnuts in the Florida GOP? I guess it will remain to be seen but since the deed is done now I think its important to try to divine what kinds of views Lemeiux has held in the past. Thankfully he publishes a newsletter called "The Lemieux Report" online which has been really good resource for taking a peek into his way of thinking.

On health care it doesn't make me optomistic about his position when he decides to quote a stain on humanity like Dick Morris in one of his newsletters.

The Death of U.S Health Care: From Dick Morris' column, "When all of America's top health insurers and providers met at the White House this week and pledged to save $2 trillion over the next decade in health costs, they were pledging to sabotage our medical care. The blunt truth, which everybody agreed to keep quiet, is that the only way to reduce these costs is to ration healthcare, thereby destroying our system." Click here to read more

Going by LeMieux's position on federal help for Hurricane relief funds evidently he doesn't think that government is always the problem.

Topic 2: Cat Fund:-No Help From the Feds?

With Hurricane Season just around the corner, Florida's Hurricane Catastrophe Fund is short on cash. The Cat fund sells reinsurance, insurance for insurance companies, to private companies who can draw on the fund to bridge the gap between the funding they have on hand, and the amount they need to cover claims in the event of a major disaster.

If a serious hurricane or other natural disaster hits Florida, the Cat Fund could be responsible for covering up to $29 billion in damages. Currently, the fund has resources to cover only $11 billion.

Last year, Florida paid Warren Buffet $224 million to secure a $4 billion line of credit in the event claims against the Cat Fund surpassed available funding. This year, Florida asked the U.S Treasury for a line of credit, but last week the U.S Treasury denied that request. Members of the Florida Cabinet are now faced with the task of exploring alternative means to bridge the gap.


Florida isn't the only state facing this problem, which underscores the need for federal lawmakers to act. President Obama supported a National Cat Fund on the campaign trail. It's time to fulfill that campaign promise now before hurricane season starts.

LeMieux definitely saw the utility of the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment act as he spoke favorably of it several times including ways it could be used to solve the state budget problems, how it could be used to build a light rail system within the state, how the funds could be used to invest in green energy and also how they could be used to shore up the educational system.

Topic 5: Education Funding: Possible Sales Tax Hike?

How do you maintain the current level of education funding and implement the Class Size Amendment during an economic recession? That is the question Florida lawmakers in both the House and Senate faced last week as they mulled over the education budget for Fiscal Year 2009-10.

So far the three suggested avenues for maintaining Florida's current level of education funding have surfaced: 1) accepting federal stimulus dollars; 2) ratification of the Seminole Gaming Compact; and 3) a constitutional amendment creating a penny increase in the statewide sales tax.

The Senate's budget maintains the current funding level, $6,860 per student, by incorporating both federal stimulus dollars and funding from the Seminole Gaming Compact. The House plan includes federal stimulus dollars, but no gaming funds, and results in a 10 percent reduction in education spending.

The Senate has also suggested a constitutional amendment for a penny increase in the statewide sales tax to bridge the gap in education funding. Within that amendment is a provision to ease the class size limit voters previously approved in 2002. House leaders oppose the amendment, while education interest groups have yet to take a side.


Flexibility, rather than tax increases, is the solution to this problem. Both chambers should incorporate federal stimulus dollars and funding from the Seminole Compact. The federal dollars serve as a bridge to better times, while ratification of the Seminole Gaming Compact will produce billions in funding over the twenty-five year term of the Compact.


Topic 1: Stimulus Part II - What it means for Florida

According to state-by-state employment data released by the White House last week, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will create over 200,000 jobs in the Sunshine State. Florida is set to receive over $12 billion from the nearly $789 billion package.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, leader of the statewide organization of 193 local chambers, has joined with The Florida Council of 100 and Enterprise Florida in requesting that the Legislature target stimulus funds toward more than 250 job creation proposals. The Chamber also noted that Florida is home to 6.5 percent of the nation's population, but is slated to receive only 1.5 percent of the Federal Stimulus Package.

On Friday, Governor Crist released his 2009-10 recommended budget. (See Topic 2) The budget proposal includes recommendations for investing $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars during the current fiscal year, and $4.7 billion in 2009-10. $1.4 billion will go toward shovel-ready projects that can be initiated within 180 days, creating or retaining an estimated 24,200 additional Florida jobs.

BOTTOM LINE: Without the federal stimulus funds, Florida's 2009-10 budget would have dropped to $61.8 billion and required drastic reductions and deep cuts to important programs and projects. We all can think what might have been with the spending of nearly 800 billion in revenues:

*raise the salary of every public school teacher in America by 20% for five years for $150 billion;

*allocate $100 billion to alternative energy research, implementation, and commercialization to free us from foreign oil;

*spend $250 billion to build regional high speed rail projects nationwide (Los Angeles to San Francisco, Boston to New York to Philadelphia to D.C., Miami to Orlando to Atlanta to Charlotte, Dallas to Houston to San Antonio, etc.);

*invest $100 billion to cure cancer, Alzheimer's, and other diseases;

*divide $200 billion between the states on a proportionate basis to shore up their budgets and fund transportation and infrastructure programs.

Whatever might have been, the national economy needs a stimulus to put Americans back to work. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

On the other hand it seems that LeMieux was in a bit of denial about the severity of the recession earlier this year.

Topic 1: Is the Media Making the Economy Worse?

Are we really in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression? It depends on who you talk to. The national economy has slowed, unemployment is rising and the financial crisis of last fall, even with TARP 1 and 2, has frozen credit for many. However, for my money it is not as bad as the late 70s/early 80s. The April 21, 1980 cover of Time magazine carried the stark headline: "Is Capitalism Working?" The American economy was in crisis after years of stagflation (inflation and economic stagnation occurring simultaneously). The story recounted the ills: mortgage rates were 17%, business loans carried 20% interest rates and productivity had collapsed.

Since that "Great Recession" we have had several economic downturns. What makes this cycle different? This is the first economic decline since the saturation of 24-hour cable news, widespread use of the Internet, PDAs and social media that allow folks to track and analyze in explicit detail every single up and down the economy takes throughout the day. Media outlets competing for your attention take the same "if it bleeds it leads" approach to the economy as they do to crime stories and hurricane coverage. Media pressure moves markets as evidenced by the one ubiquitous appliance in every stock trader's office-a television.

Is it possible that while these are tough economic times, the media is making it worse by jamming down on the accelerator as the car approaches the cliff? Eight percent unemployment is troubling, but 92 percent are still working, and many of the restaurants, theme parks, hotels and attractions in Florida are still doing well.

So what should business leaders and entrepreneurs do? Make the most of a down economy. To that end, the St. Petersburg Times ran an interesting story on the upside to the down economy. The story notes that with inventories down, some small businesses are weathering the storm and rising to the top as lean mean fighting machines, bettered equipped for future shifts in the marketplace. For would-be homebuyers and investors, both homes and stocks are selling at a significant discount. The market may be down now, but it will rise again as it always does, so those willing to take the risk could reap substantial benefits down the road.


There is no doubt that the economy is in a tough place, but don't be fooled by the media into believing that that situation is worse than it actually is. And when the market recovers, expect the media to act accordingly by exaggerating the upside (look for the Time Magazine cover "America is Back!"). The truth is that it is never as bad or as good as it seems.

Now its very important that all Floridians familiarize themselves with what LeMieux has said in the past because any deviation from his past policy stances will probably be prompted by Crist pulling LeMieux's string to help his electoral chances in 2010. Such is the dynamic Crist set up when he decided to play politics and cronyism rather than give us a Senator that we deserve.

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