Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 204

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

Sunburn for 1.4.17 – Birthday thoughts; Rob Johnson’s big move; FDP & RPOF intrigue; Reporter gets punk’d

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.


If you want to know what’s on my mind as I approach my 41st birthday, read the essay from Andrew Sullivan, “The Distraction Sickness.

As David Brooks writes, “Sullivan was the superstar of what I guess we can call the blogging era, consumed with online volleying all day, every day. Everything else — health, friendships — atrophied: ‘Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality.’ He also came to understand that we don’t really control our time online. Our clicks are seduced by technologists superbly able to suck us in.’ “

I am not as “sick” as Andrew was. Being married to a wonderful woman and being the father to an incredible daughter gives me a perspective Andrew did not have. But I understand what it’s like to live much of life through the screen.

I’d be lying if I said I planned on changing a lot about my life save that, as I enter 2017, I am craving more human interaction and am highly interested in conversation, especially if I can translate those conversations into meaningful content for our outlets.

For a while now, I have been threatening our stable of talented reporters that I have wanted to “slow” everything down, not because I don’t still value being first, but because our analysis is still often the best, regardless of when it is delivered. The insights of an AG Gankarski into Jacksonville politics are unparalleled. Joe Henderson‘s columns are the best in Tampa Bay. Mitch Perry is arguably the best political reporter in the region.

I could go on, but the moral of the story is that I think I am arriving at the position of the old bull — you know the one who told the younger bull to walk down the hill, not run, and have at it with all of the cows.

Of course, I say this now and soon Florida’s Legislative Session will gavel into business and I will be hyperventilating once again.

Remind me then to re-read Sullivan’s essay.

GOOD NEWS ABOUT A GREAT PERSON – ROB JOHNSON EXITS PAM BONDI’S OFFICE FOR THE MAYERNICK GROUP – Johnson, a long-time policy advisor and legislative affairs director, has left the Attorney General’s Office to join The Mayernick Group.

“The Mayernick Group is excited that Rob is joining as a partner in our firm,” said Frank Mayernick in a statement. “We have experienced significant growth and know that as a well-respected professional, Rob has strong relationships and knowledge of the process that will help us continue to serve our current and future clients.

Long on the wish list for private sector recruiters, Johnson served as the Director of Legislative and Cabinet Affairs in the Florida Attorney General’s Office since 2007. He began his time there under Attorney General Bill McCollum, and stayed on after Bondi was elected in 2010. Before joining the Attorney General’s Office, Johnson served as Gov. Jeb Bush’s Deputy Director of Cabinet Affairs.

“I want to thank Rob for his 16 years of service to the State of Florida as a policy advisor, cabinet aide and legislative affairs director,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi in a statement. “Rob had a great opportunity in the private sector that he couldn’t pass up and he will be greatly missed.”

Johnson’s last day at the Attorney General’s Office was Tuesday, according to a spokesman for the state agency. His first day at The Mayernick Group is today, said Mayernick in a message.

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BARACK OBAMA’S DECISION AWAITED ON OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA – TERRORIST OR POLITICAL PRISONER via Florida Politics – Puerto Ricans and other supporters are counting down days until Jan. 20 … waiting to see if President Barack Obama will heed their pleadings to release Oscar López Rivera — a federal prisoner varyingly known as a terrorist, Puerto Rican nationalist freedom fighter, dangerous criminal, political prisoner, avowed enemy of the United States, or a conscience for a people. López … is serving his 36th year in U.S. prison, currently in the Terra Haute (Indiana) Federal Correctional Institution, on a 1981 conviction for several federal crimes, most notably seditious conspiracy, essentially conspiring to levy war against the United States. López is a cause célèbre in the Puerto Rican diaspora in Florida and throughout the United States, and for residents of Puerto Rico. His support extends from the capitol of Puerto Rico, where Gov. Alejandro García Padilla; Gov.-elect Ricardo Rossell, and Secretary of Justice César Miranda all have written and called for his release; to the halls of Congress, where López has near-universal support among the Hispanic Caucus members including U.S. Rep.-elect Darren Soto of Orlando … A petition asking for his release, filed through the White House We The People program, has drawn more than 108,000 signatures. López also has petitioned on his own for clemency. His most ardent supporters, including the ACLU, compare him with Nelson Mandela, portraying him as a jailed freedom fighter and prisoner of conscience. Soto compared his efforts with those of Boston Tea Party patriots. Even those who oppose López’s specific cause of national independence for Puerto Rico find him symbolizing their frustration at being second-class, under a political status imposed on the island.

MARCO RUBIO LANDS APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE SPOT via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Rubio, sworn in this afternoon to a second term, has taken on two new committees: Appropriations and the SpecialCommittee on Aging. He retains his posts on the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. He will no longer serve on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which had oversight on space issues.

CHARLIE CRIST SAYS “GOD WOULD BE PLEASED” IF DONALD TRUMP SHOWS MORE HEART TOWARD DREAMERS via Florida Politics – Crist is one congressional Democrat who appears to be greeting the incoming Trump administration with an open mind. “Whatever it is that we come to help American workers get back to work and help the middle class and our country, we need to do it together and do it in a spirit of cooperation,” the St. Petersburg Democrat told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview broadcast on “State of the Union” … That spirit of cooperation includes embracing a Trump proposal to place a 35 percent tax of tariff on U.S. businesses wanting to take American jobs overseas. “It’s all about jobs and making sure that we have American jobs protected, we protect the American worker, give them the opportunity to be able to provide for their families, get a college education,” Crist said. When asked by Tapper if that appeared to be a backing away from his earlier stance, Crist said yes, and he said he’s glad that’s the case. “Being a nation of immigrants, I think it’s important we embrace that kind of hope,” Crist said. “I would say to the president-elect, I appreciate you showing your heart. And if it’s a little softer, what’s wrong with that? God would be pleased.”

SPOTTED: U.S. Rep Ted Deutch on Tuesday’s edition of Vice News on HBO.

VERN BUCHANAN BEGINS NEW SESSION OF CONGRESS BY INTRODUCING SEVEN NEW BILLS via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The seven bills Buchanan will introduce include: The Main Street Fairness Act, a key feature of the tax reform blueprint released by House Republican leaders, ensures that small businesses never pay a higher tax rate than large corporations. The Social Media Screening for Terrorists Act, which directs the secretary of Homeland Security to vet all public records, including Facebook and other forms of social media, before admitting foreign travelers and visa applicants into the country. The Support Our Start-Ups Act, which makes it easier and less costly for an entrepreneur to start a new business. The Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act … aids Florida orange growers in their battle against citrus greening, which is decimating the citrus industry. An amendment to the Constitution of the United States that requires Congress to balance the federal budget. Balancing the budget is an urgent priority as the U.S. is nearing $20 trillion in federal debt. The Thin Blue Line Act, which toughens penalties against anyone who murders police and other first responders. The SAFE Act, which permanently bans the killing of horses for human consumption in America.

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FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR FEUD ERUPTS OVER RESIDENCY via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald  – With the race for Florida Democratic Party chair less than two weeks away, activists are fighting over who is eligible to remain in the running. An activist filed a challenge with the party alleging that Alan Clendenin, who moved counties to keep his chair bid alive, is ineligible to run. When Clendenin lost a race for state committeeman in Hillsborough, he then rented a mobile home in Bradford County and won a similar position there. Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, wrote in the Dec. 30 complaint that Clendenin has homestead exemptions in Hillsborough and Manatee counties and doesn’t actually live in Bradford. “It appears that Mr. Clendenin has disingenuously played a shell game with residences and homestead exemptions in total violation of state election laws and state homestead laws for the sole purpose of positioning himself to be eligible to run for the state party chairman,” Byrd wrote. “However, despite his best efforts, it is clear that he was not, and is not, a resident of Bradford County.” Clendenin called the complaint “petty gamesmanship.”

ALAN CLENDENIN DETAILS HOW HE WILL ATTEMPT CHANGE IN FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CULTURE via Florida Politics – Clendenin is vowing to work with the State Executive Committee to have them become more empowered and engaged. “As Chair, I will provide State Executive Committee members with regular opportunities to participate in the processes of setting policy, strategic planning and oversight,” he writes … that means holding monthly meetings of the State Executive Committee that will be held via conference call and online … if he’s in charge, the FDP will provide regular training for State Executive Committee members on communications and fundraising … also provide Finance Committee members with copies of budgets in advance of the meetings at which they are submitted for approval. “I will open meetings of the FDP’s Finance Committee to any State Executive Committee members that wish to attend,” … Clendenin … he will ensure that Committee members be given access to all FDP budgets, not just the operating budget … upon taking office, he will order an immediate review of the FDP’s relationship with outside providers and issue a report to State Executive Committee members … his staff will create a request-for-proposal process for future vendors that rewards contracts based on electoral results, “not relationships.” … institute an immediate ban on staff and contractual vendors from receiving commissions or kickbacks from other vendors for work done on behalf of the Florida Democratic Party, and prohibit staff from participating in outside employment or contractual work that “presents a real or perceived conflict of interest.”

CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER CONTENDS THE RACE FOR FLORIDA GOP CHAIR WILL BE A CLOSE CONTEST via Florida Politics – Ziegler says the idea of challenging Blaise Ingoglia for leadership of the Republican Party of Florida first came to his mind … As he was presiding over a gathering of the state’s Republican committeemen and committeewomen at the party’s quarterly meeting in Tampa. That’s when he said a slight case of pandemonium erupted when he began distributing approximately 150 “Make America Great Again” Donald Trump caps to the 134-member caucus … he said that the level of excitement that ensued was absent from the rest of the two-day meeting. “I had so many members after come up to me, and say, ‘Look, the energy that you had, that’s the kind of energy we should have had throughout the quarterly meeting’” … he heard from Republicans that “we need leaders who are going to accept who our nominee is going to be, and accept who are candidates are and are going to waive the flag as high as you can, and we really need to lead with the energy you generated in that room.” From there, he says that “a ton of members” then began lobbying him directly to challenge Ingoglia, claiming that leadership was lacking at the top of the RPOF …  “Blaise is a friend,” Ziegler says, ” But I think the party deserves a full-time chairman that’s focused on the party full-time, because we are the most important political state in the entire country.”

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will make a public safety announcement at 10 a.m. at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 500 W. Robinson Street in Orlando.

RICK SCOTT REJECTS BAR’S NOMINEES FOR STATE’S JUDICIAL PANELS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Scott has rejected all suggestions from The Florida Bar to fill vacancies in several of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNC), the panels that recommend lawyers for judgeships. The latest rejections now add up to at least 90 of the Bar’s recommendations for JNC openings that Scott has turned down since taking office in 2011, according to Bar records. Other names that Scott rejected over the years include Vero Beach lawyer Erin Grall, now a Republican state representative, and nationally known civil-rights attorney Ben Crump of Tallahassee. On Dec. 27, William Spicola, Scott’s general counsel, wrote a letter to Bar President William J. Schifino Jr., saying the governor wanted the Bar to start over and offer different recommendations for all the current openings. He did not give a reason.

LEGISLATORS SAY THEY’LL REQUIRE COMPANIES TO DISCLOSE POLLUTION SPILLS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald  –  …Florida legislators are drafting a law to require companies and local officials to notify the public when pollution threatens public drinking water. The legislation, being drafted by Sen. Bill Galvano … and Rep. Kathleen Peters … is in response to a judge’s ruling that rejected an emergency rule imposed by Gov. Scott in September. … The rule … was challenged by business groups … But Judge Bram D. E. Canter said in the 19-page order on Friday that DEP had overstepped its authority in approving the new rule and that only the state Legislature can enact such a change in how the public is notified regarding pollution.

TOM LEE WANTS TO ELIMINATE AGENCY DESIGNED TO USE TAXPAYERS FUNDS ON SPORTS FACILITIES via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Less than three years after Gov. Scott signed legislation providing for state revenues to go toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities, Republican state Sen. Tom Lee wants to eliminate the agency created to distribute those funds. “The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” Lee said … “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.” … it will undoubtedly be backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has historically opposed giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.

JEFF BRANDES BILL CREATES PROGRAM FOR ORDERS FOR LIFE SUSTAINING TREATMENT IN DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH via – Brandes‘ bill, SB 228, would make a new program in the Florida Department of Health dealing solely with Physicians’ Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLSTs), which provide directions on patients with terminal conditions. Brandes’ bill establishes a laundry list of small rules and regulations to cement the way POLSTs should be used and regulated. The new rules would make clear that an absence of a POLST form doesn’t mean medical professionals can withhold resuscitation or care.

BILL WOULD HELP MUSIC HALL IN CLEARWATER TO SECURE TOURISM TAX REVENUE via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The bill, sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley  would allow auditoriums that are publicly owned but operated by a nonprofit to have access to tourist development taxes, which is levied on things like vacation rentals or leases. Grimsley says the bill is aimed to help Ruth Eckerd Hall, a Clearwater performing arts center that has tried in the past to get access to the tax revenue. “If this were to pass, they would still have to go through the process at the local level to get any funding,” Grimsley said. She said the bill is aimed at addressing issues with Ruth Eckard Hall, but would also apply to performing arts centers run by nonprofits in Pembroke Pines and Fort Lauderdale.

HAPPENING TODAY – LEGISLATIVE DELEGATIONS ACROSS THE STATE MEET — The Baker, Columbia, Escambia, Palm Beach, and Suwannee legislative delegations will meet ahead of the 2017 Legislative session. The Suwannee County legislative delegation will meet for a hearing at 9 a.m. at Oak City Hall Commission Room, 101 White Ave. S.E. in Live Oak. The Palm Beach County legislative delegation will hold its annual workshop with the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners to discuss legislative priorities at 10 a.m. at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, 650 Okeechobee Blvd. in West Palm Beach. The Columbia County legislative delegation will hold a delegation meeting at 1:30 p.m. in the trustees’ board room at the FL Gateway College Administration Building 149 SE College Pl in Lake City. The Baker County legislative delegation will hold its meeting at 4 p.m. at in the council chamber at Macclenny City Hall, 118 E. Macclenny Ave. in Macclenny. The Escambia County legislative delegation meeting is also scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. at WSRE at Pensacola State College, 1000 College Blvd. in Pensacola.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK – BOBBY POWELL HOLDS TOWN HALL MEETING — State Sen. Powell will host the second in a series of town hall meetings at 6 p.m. at the Mary V. McDonald Wilson Center, 1501 N. Australian Ave. in West Palm Beach. Powell will be joined by Rep. Al JacquetOn Thursday, Powell will hold a town hall meeting at the Jupiter Community Center, 200 Military Trail in Jupiter. Jupiter Vice-Mayor Ilan Kaufer is also scheduled to attend.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Division of Workers’ Compensation will review its three-member panel 2017 biennial report and its annual report on reimbursement disputes and overutilization for 2016 at 3 p.m. at the Larson Building, 200 East Gaines Street.

RON BOOK IS RUNAWAY LEADER IN GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – For the first time, the Florida House is posting copies of contracts between lobbyists and local governments online and more than a third of the first set of contracts posted are with one lobbying firm, Ron Book of Aventura. … He is among the first lobbyists in Tallahassee to comply with a new requirement to disclose all local lobbying activity. House Speaker Richard Corcoran … is a vocal critic of the practice. He has called it a “disgrace” that cities, counties, school boards, sheriffs and others spend tax dollars on hired lobbyists to represent their interests in Tallahassee. Corcoran says local elected officials should be doing that work themselves, and that legislators should be able to look out for local interests without the help of hired guns. But the practice is common and has grown over the past decade.

PERSONNEL NOTE: PETER F. MURRAY TO COLODNY FASS via Florida Politics – The law firm has snagged another “policy and legislative strategy veteran” with the hire of Peter F. Murray, the firm announced Tuesday. Murray was Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Commission on Offender Review, formerly the Florida Parole Commission. He also was Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Department of Corrections, and has worked in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget. Before that, Murray was a Senior Program Analyst under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, focusing on energy and climate issues.

STEVEN GELLER LEAVES GREENSPOON MARDER, CITES ETHICS REQUIREMENT via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Geller marked his election to the Broward County Commission in November by resigning from the Greenspoon Marder law firm and launching a solo legal and lobbying practice. Geller had been warned that under the Florida Commission on Ethics’ interpretation of state law, his continued presence at Greenspoon could prevent any of the firm’s attorneys from appearing before the commission. So he launched the Geller Law Firm and began reregistering for his lobbying clients to reflect his changed status. All but one of his clients have followed him to his new firm, he said. “Most local governments interpret it differently,” Geller said in a telephone interview. “Most local governments believe that if you recuse yourself, you’ve resolved the conflict. The Ethics Commission feels differently.”

BEN NEWMAN NEW YEAR’S PRANK: LEAVING GRAYROBINSON FOR POSSIBLE POLITICAL RUN, NOT LOVE OF BURRITOS via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Newman has left GrayRobinson, where he’s been a shareholder for seven years, but not to feed the hungry masses yearning for queso, he said … Instead, he’s moving on to a national law firm, Wilson Elser, and thinking about running for office. “Sorry about that,” he told, politely but not entirely suppressing a well-deserved laugh. and OrlandoRising – I – bought Newman’s trail of posts on Facebook declaring he was quitting law to pursue his lifelong dream of running a food truck. Among other things (Photoshopping a picture of a food truck with his name on it), he changed his status to CBO (Chief Burrito Officer) at El Queso Loco Burrito Company. My texts and calls to Newman before I wrote went unanswered … apparently because the numbers I had were old and out of date (his GrayRobinson numbers); and while they still recorded messages they did so for someone who wasn’t around anymore to retrieve them. I also Facebook messaged him, but that was too late. Turned out I also had a private, valid email address available for him. But in a full disclosure of incompetence, I didn’t come across that until too late, and went ahead and wrote before I had his or anyone else’s confirmation. Full mud bath for my face, please.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my birthday twin, the always cool Sydney Ridley.

Upon second thought, City of St. Pete defers vote to regulate Uber and Lyft

Just as how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, officials at St. Petersburg’s City Hall are deferring taking any regulatory action against ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

City Councilmember Darden Rice told Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal that all parties involved “are ever closer to an agreement to present to Council that is fair to the taxi companies and does not encumber rideshare companies with burdensome regulations and fees.”

After Uber objected to a proposal to tax it on a per-vehicle scale, the ridesharing company — in a roundabout way — suggested it might have to make an economic decision about continuing to operate in St. Petersburg.

One member of City Council said this prompted the city to come up with a new proposal that does away with the per-vehicle tax. Unfortunately, this member said, there was enough time before Thursday’s meeting to get the proposal before Council.

“We are continuing to talk with Uber and the taxi companies in advance of any official action being taken,” Mayor Rick Kriseman’s representative Ben Kirby told Irwin. “Mayor Kriseman’s priority is keeping these companies in our market. He wants to see them thrive.”

Uber officials say the company would prefer to come to an agreement with St. Petersburg on a flat fee, such as in other Florida cities like Tallahassee and Gainesville – fees there range between $5,000 and $10,000 to allow ridesharing companies to operate.

Lyft is “optimistic” the company could reach an understanding with the city.

“We’re continuing productive conversations with Council around the vehicle-for-hire ordinance, including discussions about possible fee structures,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

On Monday, SaintPetersBlog questioned the wisdom of any effort to regulate ridesharing companies: “Really, Mayor Kriseman, this is the issue on which you want to take a stand? Against the extraordinarily popular ridesharing companies which, by the way, just made sure everyone got home safely after the New Year’s Eve festivities?”

And, as Irwin notes, moving forward with local regulations may be shortsighted ahead of this year’s legislative session: “Lawmakers are expected to consider statewide regulations that would most likely pre-empt any local rules.”


Bob Buckhorn is on the clock

When the Pittsburgh Steelers scored a field goal in overtime to win their game on Sunday, the men in black and gold kicked off the offseason for the twenty hapless teams who did not make the NFL playoffs. The worst among them, the Cleveland Browns, are said to be “on the clock,” meaning because they have the first pick of the 2018 draft; the Browns choice is the next major decision that has to be made before all the other dominoes can fall.

Of course he does not have the pitiful win-loss record of the Browns, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is the Florida politician now on the clock when it comes to who will run for what in 2018.

Will Weatherford is not running for governor.

Gwen GrahamPhil Levine, and Adam Putnam have all but declared; it’s simply a matter of how they launch their campaigns, not if they will run.

Bill Nelson is running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Rick Scott will probably challenge him, but the governor — because he can self-fund — does not have to make a decision until next year.

Richard Corcoran is a question mark about wanting to run for governor in 2018, but if he does, he would not announce until next year, either before or after the 2018 session.

Jack Latvala‘s another possible candidate, but if he gets in it won’t be until later this summer, at the earliest.

Certainly, there are other possible candidates out there – Rick Baker, Carlos Beruff, Andrew Gillum, Mike Huckabee – but none are as clearly defined as a potential contender as Buckhorn.

Seriously, Mayor Buckhorn, you are on the clock.

Of course, if Buckhorn could have his way, he would run for a third term as Mayor. And a fourth. And probably a fifth. He must look at his friend, Buddy Dyer, with envy because the Mayor of Orlando is not subject to term limits.

So, if there is to be a next chapter to Buckhorn’s political career, it will have to be in Tallahassee, not Tampa. And he’ll need to make a decision sooner rather than later.

As first reported on Florida Politics, top Democratic fundraiser Greg Goddard has signed on with Nelson’s re-election effort. Goddard working for Nelson is really not a big deal, except to those following the invisible primary among the possible Democratic contenders. The former finance director for Hillary Clinton’s Florida campaign was also being pursued by Graham and Levine, who will now have to double down to sign the next best player available on their draft boards.

As one top Democratic fundraiser said to me yesterday, “All I hear about is Gwen and Phil going after staff. I never hear about Bob.”

(That Adam Goodman, who has consulted in the past for Buckhorn, is ready to work for Levine, says a lot.)

And when asked recently by William March of the Tampa Bay Times if could run for Chief Financial Officer instead of Governor, Buckhorn essentially flinched.

“Certainly it is an option, but it’s not an option because I fear competition (in the Governor’s race),” said Buckhorn. “It does offer an alternative, but not an alternative that I have spent a lot of time thinking about recently. If people are out there blabbering, it’s not because they’ve had a conversation with me.”

Well, people are out there blabbering, and Buckhorn is wrong to criticize them for doing so. After all, it was the Mayor who did not wait 24 hours after Charlie Crist lost to Scott before speculating about the 2018 race.

“There will be an open seat in four years. I’m just saying.”

Skeptics of Buckhorn’s statewide viablility are quick to point out that in those four years, he has probably not done enough to build a large enough network to run statewide. Fundraising for his political committee, One Florida, has been anemic (just $140,000 raised through November 30).  Nor is Buckhorn a star on the chicken dinner circuit.

Still, Buckhorn does have a compelling story to tell about how he led his city to a new level of success. And he is a helluva retail politician who probably is more comfortable than others in the current ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ political environment.

But before he can tell the Tampa success story and demonstrate what a great retail pol he is, Buckhorn has to make a decision. And soon.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.3.17 — What it was, was football

In one of his books, late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson recounted a story of a campaign conversation he had, in 1968, with Richard Nixon.

It would be the only conversation Thompson was to have with Nixon, who at that point was a second-tier candidate humping it out on the tundra of New Hampshire.

Thompson, of course, made a career of excoriating Nixon but in 1968 he found common ground with the former VP in discussing their shared obsession with professional football.

“Actually, I suspected he didn’t know football from pig-hustling and that he mentioned it from time to time only because his wizards had told him it would make him seem like a regular guy. But I was wrong. Nixon knows pro football,” Thompson wrote.

“It wasn’t his factual knowledge of football that stunned me; it was his genuine interest in the game. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘the worst thing about campaigning, for me, is that it ruins my whole football season. I’m a sports buff, you know. If I had another career, I’d be a sportscaster — or a sports writer,’” Thompson added.

There are politicians whose affinity to sports teams can be termed ephemeral — think Hillary Clinton in a Cubs hat.

But Nixon wasn’t one of them. And neither is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, whose enthusiasm for the sport and for the local Jaguars is exceedingly well-documented.

Curry keeps the NFL Network on in his office, allowing him to stay abreast of what’s going on in the league. His fantasy football team had a deep playoff run this year — and being Mayor, he has certain prerogatives: a recent episode of a cable television fantasy football show saw the experts responding to one of his tweets on the subject.

However, being a football fan — much less of one of the worst teams in the NFL this decade — can be a wearying experience even for a nobody. Much less the sitting mayor of Jacksonville, who is compelled to defend his team — and his city — from the slings and arrows hurled from network soundstages at Shad Khan’s sad-sack Jags.

Last week, analyst Trent Dilfer irked the Mayor.

He said that Jacksonville was a horrible place for an NFL franchise and that Jaguars QB and Curry friend Blake Bortles was a horrible quarterback.

Curry fired back: “.@Jaguars just told my 11-year-old son what Trent Dilfer.@TDESPN said about JAX. He’s said ‘Trent who?’ Exactly.”

Dilfer, of course, has the rep of being the worst quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl.

The week before that went down, Curry found himself in a Twitter war with a Sports Illustrated contributor who told fans of the Cleveland Browns to “look on the bright side, at least you aren’t Jags fans.”

Curry took the bait: “watch this cat trash you, our city, our fans our team. — he can pound sand.”

Regarding plays to the cheap seats, bashing sports commentators is a failsafe.

Your average sports commentator, whether on TV, radio or the internet, is expected to deliver hot takes — the kinds of provocations that expand reader engagement in ways verifiable by web analytics.

Curry, in all likelihood, isn’t measuring the relative engagement level of his tweets.

However, in defending the city’s honor, he is speaking for all of those who have lived in Jacksonville and listened to national commentators use the city as a punchline — the way Jackie Gleason used to do riffs on Bayonne, New Jersey.

Curry knows that he is looking at a team with a quarterback who makes a single read on most plays, with wide receivers that don’t always run their routes fully anymore given that quarterback looks for the check-down after three seconds.

And he knows, also, that his friend Gus Bradley was as effective a head coach at Terrance Ashanta-Barker was at running the city’s Neighborhoods Department.

But he’s not going to serve up that material to the national media — or even locals, on the record.

Curry’s engagement on Twitter is notable.

Even when local media members broadcast stories that are critical of the Mayor, he doesn’t respond to them directly.

However, in terms of talking sports, the Mayor is in his comfort zone — as an analyst, and as the city’s most prominent fan of the gridiron game.

Curry will often exchange messages with AM radio sports talking heads — and the tone of those messages generally is more relaxed than the press availabilities with the political/hard news media.

There are, of course, political benefits to messaging in such a boosterish way about the Jacksonville Jaguars.

One benefit: it reminds people who may have a better grasp of a football game than collective bargaining that the mayor is on their team.

Another benefit: Curry’s downtown strategy is predicated to a significant degree on Khan driving the private investment.

However, this must be stressed — Curry means it when he demonstrates an affinity for the Jags.

He defends the team reflexively. And the city.

And the critics, as he likes to put it, are welcome to “pound sand.”

Why 2017 is pivotal for Lenny Curry” via AG Gancarski for Folio Weekly – Curry’s campaign for re-election has already begun, according to one senior staffer in the Mayor’s Office. I reviewed the papers of Policy Director Robin Lumb last week, and Lumb had a September memo to Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart that was intended to formulate a policy strategy that plays into the strategy for re-election. That strategy, posited Lumb, would be predicated on Curry’s “vision for Jacksonville,” a 12-page 2015 campaign document that expresses priorities, such as public safety, economic opportunity, education, neighborhoods and Downtown. “[The] next six months,” Lumb noted, need to contain “specific policy recommendations and initiatives to address key features in all policy areas” in the plan. All of these, Lumb added, will “require funding and need to be addressed in the FY 17-18 budget … . At a minimum, we need to be seen as having done two or three significant things in each policy area by July 1, 2018.” … “Lenny Curry’s ‘Vision for Jacksonville’ will be the benchmark against which we are measured in the 2019 election,” writes Lumb. “For obvious reasons,” Lumb adds, “it’s important that we begin to act on it.” Indeed.

Curry draws 2019 challenger via – Democrat Doreszell “DC” Cohen actually filed in November. An alumna of the University of Phoenix and Raines High School, Cohen has yet to raise any money for her bid against the mayor and his high-powered political machine. We’ve reached out to Cohen to find out her reasons for running, and she pledged to get back to us.

2017 offers Jacksonville promise, uncertainty” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union – Jacksonville will usher in the new year with the wind at its back and the potential to expand on promising 2016 trends and announcements, if politicians, developers and government administrators can deliver long-sought successes on economic development. But uncertainty still abounds in the business and political arenas, and that too will figure prominently in 2017. Here are some big stories to watch: What does Jaguars owner Shad Khan have in mind for downtown? Khan, one of the wealthiest men in the nation, is already overseeing the construction of an amphitheater and indoor practice field next to EverBank Field. Jacksonville’s Air National Guard is one of five bases in the country vying for two squadrons of F-35 Lightning II fighters. Mayor Curry embarked in late 2016 on a potentially precedent-setting goal of placing all future City Hall employees into 401(k)-style retirement accounts rather than traditional pensions. No major city has done that. Curry’s move is part of a larger reform plan aimed at tackling the city’s $2.85 billion pension debt. Curry is poised to ask the state Legislature for $50 million to tear down a portion of the Hart Bridge Expressway that runs past Met Park and a part of the Shipyards.

“Curry’s hostile rhetoric not helpful in pension talks” via Steve Zona of The Florida Times-Union – Jacksonville’s police force begins the New Year with our ongoing commitment to the safety and security of our community. Our men and women in uniform proudly wear the shield while risking their lives every day. It’s their selfless resolve to protect our city that compels the Fraternal Order of Police to find a fiscally sound resolution to the city’s embattled retirement fund. The stakes couldn’t be any higher — not only for our 2,300 law enforcement and correction officers — but for how the city will fight crime in the future. At this stage, the city is in the crosshairs of uncertainty. The good news is we have common ground with Curry, who has publicly stated that the city “must get out of the pension business.” The question is this: Will the mayor continue to play politics with our men and women in blue to score political points with the Republican establishment and outside special interests like Americans for Prosperity? This is a group that is aggressively coordinating a grassroots operation to politicize our current retirement negotiations. Over the last few months, the mayor has approached our good-natured negotiations with an overly hostile “us versus them” posture in the media. We understand negotiations have a positioning element. However, the mayor’s political rhetoric in calling police representatives “union bosses” and “union leaders” appears to be focused on impressing the Republican establishment, political elites and conservative donors. This is unfortunate.

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Matt Schellenberg pushes for ‘council of leaders’ – Second-term Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg believes he has some unfinished business from his first term.

Schellenberg recently attended the National Association of Counties (NACO) Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) Symposium in New York, and one of the lessons he brought back was the need for something he had pushed during the Alvin Brown era.

The memo discussed a “Resolution (2013-0079), unanimously passed by the City Council, that asked then Mayor Alvin Brown to convene a ‘Council of Leaders’ that included various leaders throughout the city. Nothing was done by that Mayor’s office, but I do hope the current Mayor understands the importance of getting our universities, producers and decision makers working together.”

Schellenberg resuscitated this concept in light of the discussions held at the NACO conference, which included talks on re-integrating reformed felons into larger society via community programs that include drug rehab initiatives, and ways in which Rust Belt cities are being transformed into hotbeds for emerging technological industries.

Schellenberg, who represents Jacksonville as a delegate to both the Florida Association of Counties and Florida League of Cities, has been an active proponent of a dedicated travel budget for city delegates to events put on by the state and national groups.

Schellenberg has gotten support for that position recently, with Council VP John Crescimbeni calling for a budget line-item of up to $20,000 for association-related travel.

Council members are coming around to the position that Jacksonville needs to leverage its size and prominence to take more active roles in these associations than has been the case in recent years.

Medicare for COJ retirees? – On Thursday, Jacksonville City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman will present three audits to the Finance Committee.

The audit of the city’s compensation and benefits division escaped media notice when released last month, but that might not be the case after Finance.

The most interesting recommendation?

“The City should consider forcing retirees to switch to Medicare and claims could be audited to decrease the overall costs for the plan,” Sherman contends.

“The Compensation and Benefits Division currently does not require retirees to apply for Medicare Part B at the eligible age so that Medicare can be used as the primary insurance. It appears that it is a common practice for employers to force or at least encourage retirees to opt for Medicare Part B,” Sherman notes, adding that most large private employers and many public-sector outfits compel that switch.

“Of even more significance, the State of Florida requires its group health plan retired participants to apply for Medicare so the State’s group health plan becomes the secondary insurance. Given the City is now self-insured, there is a great incentive for the City to force or encourage retirees to apply for Medicare and offer City’s insurance as secondary insurance. It would likely decrease City’s claims costs since the population of group health plan members would likely become younger and healthier,” Sherman contends.

In response to Sherman’s recommendation, the city notes that collective bargaining and “employee/retiree morale” could be adversely affected.

However, the members of the Finance Committee often disagree with those managing the city’s civil servants.

Sherman will serve up another dose of castor oil in at least one more of the Wednesday group of audits.

His report on Fiscal Year 2016 spotlighted issues with pension contributions below where they could be, inadequate emergency reserves, and questions about one independent authority’s accounting practices.

Academic accreditation bill in committee: A bill to be considered Wednesday by the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee Wednesday, then Finance Thursday, proposes tightening up a definition of academic credentials for city hires.

The bill, filed in the wake of a report that found would-be Neighborhoods Department head Derek Igou had a degree from an unaccredited college (thus driving his letter of resignation), seeks to tighten up credential requirements for various city departments.

Ordinance code would be “amended to provide a definition of ‘accredited university or college degree’ to mean a degree from an institution accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.”

The semantic glitch, according to the bill summary, affects “several Code chapters where college degrees are required as credentials for various appointed officials, but the sections do not mention accreditation.”

Among the divisions affected: Planning and Development, Fire and Rescue, Public Works, the Downtown Investment Authority, and the Board of Library Trustees.

Ticket surcharge bill back to NCIS for second time: Tuesday morning sees the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee take a second look at a bill that frustrated it in December.

The bill would increase city-imposed ticket surcharges for the Veterans Memorial Arena, the Baseball Grounds of Jax, and the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts, while adding surcharges for events at the under-construction amphitheater and flex field at the stadium.

The arena and T-U center would cost $1 more per person per ticket; a baseball game, meanwhile, would be $.50 more per ticket.

The express purpose of the new money: funding infrastructure repair and improvement.

It’s needed. The Times-Union Center, to name one, has a $5 million list of deferred repairs, including HVAC rehab.

To put the impact of fee hikes in perspective, if the boosted fees had been in effect in the current fiscal year, the city would have collected $3.68 million, compared to the $2.42 million in the current budget.

And the T-U Center would have collected $255,000 more in fees according to projections.

The bill had its first hearing in Neighborhoods, Community Investments and Services Committees, where it was deferred because of objections by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra; they noted that since they are in the middle of the season, that would affect season subscriptions.

Orchestra fees, should the bill be passed, would not be increased until the summer.

Other venues would see the increases take effect upon the mayor’s signature.

Council weighs school board tiebreaker votes: The NCIS and Rules Committees of the Jacksonville City Council are slated this week to consider a bill that would change tiebreaker votes of the Duval County School Board.

Resolution 2016-782, sponsored by Councilman Aaron Bowman, would express support for a J-Bill that would amend the Florida statute so that the vote of the Duval County School Board chair would not break a tie. In 2006, the Legislature adopted a measure for Orange County that dictated that, in counties with between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the school board chair’s vote breaks the tie.

Bowman said it is his understanding the entire Duval County School Board supports this measure.

The timing of this resolution will interest some observers who remember 2016’s very public rift between School Board Chair Ashley Smith-Juarez and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, at a time when the board was down to six members after Rep. Jason Fischer resigned.

The rhetoric became peculiarly personal between the two, with Vitti’s job security becoming a matter of public discussion and board deliberation.

Vitti and Smith-Juarez soon thereafter struck a more collaborative note, but not before members of the Jacksonville Chamber and Civic Council agitated in Vitti’s defense.

Smith-Juarez, an independently wealthy public servant who holds a paying position with the Clinton Foundation, was urged – publicly and privately – to be more measured in her approach.

She has since been replaced as board chair by an ally: Paula Wright.

Fred Newbill to JEA Board? – What happens when a preacher who took a public position against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights is up for a position on the board of a city agency that protects those rights for its employees?

The answer to that question will be predicted Wednesday in the Rules Committee, as anti-HRO agitator Fred Newbill is being considered for a position on the JEA Board.

In September 2016, JEA codified its commitment to anti-discrimination policies for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“We did it because it was the right thing to do,” JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce told the Florida Times-Union.

Will the newest potential board member agree?

In 2015, Newbill and “Bishop-Designate” Ken Adkins (who currently languishes in a Georgia jail on charges of sexual impropriety) collaborated on a preacher-presser expressing opposition to expanding the Human Rights Ordinance.

Adkins helped to manage a news conference of pastors who wanted to see an HRO referendum. After the push for HRO expansion ended with a withdrawal of both a bill that would do so by ordinance and one that would do so by referendum, Adkins and Newbill continued to collaborate.

The two co-messaged against scandal-ridden Judge Mark Hulsey during Hulsey’s re-election campaign. Hulsey was re-elected, but is mired in a Judicial Qualifications Commission investigation.

Ironically, when (not if) Newbill is confirmed by council to the JEA Board, his public opposition to HRO expansion will place him at odds with one of the most respected Republicans in Jacksonville history, one who also happens to be in favor of HRO expansion: Mike Hightower.

In October, Hightower addressed the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, urging all parties to “stay together and stay focused” to “get the HRO passed.”

Steny Hoyer tags Al Lawson as regional Dem whip” via Byron Dobson of The Florida Times-Union – Lawson has been elected by his peers in the House Democratic Caucus to serve as a Regional Whip for the 115th Congress. Lawson will represent Florida’s 5th Congressional District in the 115th Congress which convenes Jan. 3. “The role of Regional Whip will perform crucial first-run responsibilities, and work to build consensus among House Democrats on legislation that will come to the floor for a vote,” said U.S. Rep. Hoyer, Maryland, House Democratic Whip. Lawson will serve as a Regional Whip for Florida and Georgia. “I am pleased to have been selected by my peers in the Democratic Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives to serve as a Regional Whip for Florida and Georgia,” Lawson said in a release.

Court awaits Corrine Brown” via Steve Patterson of Panama City News Herald – The week after the 12-term Jacksonville congresswoman leaves office … she will be due in federal court for a hearing involving the fraud charges she’s scheduled to stand trial on in April. Two things helped shatter her long political career in 2016: boundary changes that stretched her congressional district west past Tallahassee and the federal indictment accusing her of pocketing thousands of dollars from a bogus scholarship fund. Since her indictment in July, Brown has painted the charges as payback for decades of her advocacy for the dispossessed. “During my entire political career, I have fought racism, injustice and advocated for individuals who normally get left behind,” Brown wrote on a website that asks supporters to help pay for her defense. “It should come as no surprise that some took offense to my efforts to stand up for you. … I was falsely accused by the federal government. … I am a woman of integrity and I categorically deny the charges.”

Last gasp for August sales tax referenda?” via Florida Politics – Considered to be an audacious, high-risk play when the initiative was formally launched early in 2016, former RPOF Chair and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry invested a great deal of local and statewide political capital to shepherd the measure from concept through to a 65 percent popular vote for the tax extension. However, Curry’s August triumph may not be repeated ever again after Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session. Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the current RPOF Chair, introduced a bill in the Florida House Thursday that would ensure any future sales tax referendum bills would have to be on the general election ballot. The bills covered include transportation and indigent care sales surtax measures. Ingoglia, a Hernando County Republican, had a similar bill in 2016; it passed the House 95 to 19, but died in committee in the Senate. H.B. 139 stipulates also that all infrastructure sales taxes, such as the one Jacksonville voters opted to extend past its 2030 sunset date, would have to be approved by referendum.

Cindy Stevenson ‘excited’ to carry craft distillery bill” via Florida Politics – Current rules, Stevenson said, have “long past served any purpose.” Among the highlights of the legislation: increasing production caps from 75,000 to 250,000 gallons; allowing for off-site distribution points; and removing limits on how many bottles a consumer could buy in a given year. Stevenson told us she’s “really excited to carry this bill” in the House. As a customer of the St. Augustine Distillery, whose co-founder and CEO helms the Florida Craft Distillers Guild, Stevenson has gotten a unique perspective on the myriad benefits of the craft liquor industry. Specifically, Stevenson says the distillery has been a “great story for Northeast Florida” and has been the “most gratifying economic development effort that [she’s] ever been involved with.”

Clay Sheriff mulls body cameras” via Teresa Stepzinski of The Florida Times-Union – Clay County Sheriff-elect Darryl Daniels says he’ll explore the idea of equipping deputies with body cameras after he takes office and begins work … Daniels also plans to evaluate the long-standing Sheriff’s Office practice of asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate officer-involved shootings. Those are among potential changes Daniels says he will consider during his first 100 days in office. In addition, Daniels says he will focus on community police initiatives including regularly walking neighborhoods — beginning with those with crime issues — and holding monthly town hall-style meetings to listen to people’s concerns, ideas and suggestions. Both measures as well as forging and reinforcing working relationships with other Northeast Florida law enforcement agencies are on Daniels’ to-do list.

Nassau County legislative delegation meets — Sen. Aaron Bean is scheduled to attend the Nassau County legislative delegation at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Nassau County Commission Chambers, 96135 Nassau Place in Yulee. The delegation is expected to take up a local bill from the Ocean, Highway and Port Authority requesting changes to their charter.

Flagler County Republican Club elects new officers — The Flagler County Republican Club announced the election of its 2017-18 executive officers. The club announced Danielle Anderson will serve as president, Richard Russell will serve as vice president, Linda Osborn will serve as secretary, and David Alfin will serve as treasurer. The Rev. Wes Priest is the club’s immediate past president, and Gail Wadsworth will serve as the club’s executive committee advisor. The Flagler County Republican Club also recognized Robert and Joanne Updegrave, who were selected as the club’s 2016 volunteers of the year.

Amazon confirms new facility, hiring 1,500 in Jacksonville” via First Coast News – The company will build a large facility on the city’s Northside, hiring more than 1,500 people full-time. It will be built at International Airport Boulevard and Pecan Park Road. The property was recently sold for $15 million. “Becoming a member of the Jacksonville community is very exciting for us as we grow our presence in Florida. We’re proud to be creating more than 1,500 full-time jobs to join the thousands we currently employ across the state,” said Akash Chauhan, vice president of Amazon’s North America Operations said in a statement. “We look forward to continue building relationships in the community to make Jacksonville home.” Amazon says their employees will pick, pack, and ship items ranging from books to electronics.

Global toy giant consolidates shipments through JAXPORT — Ja-Ru, a Jacksonville-based toy supplier, announced last month it would begin shipping all products destined for U.S. markets through JAXPORT. The company, which has offices and showrooms in Jacksonville and Hong Kong, specializes in toys bought “on impulse” in groceries, convenience stores and other retailers. The company ships to more than 35 countries and employs more than 150 people, most of whom are in Northeast Florida. “Getting product to market quickly and seamlessly is incredibly important to our business success,” said Andrew Selevan, with Ja-Ru. “Comparing the service we have been receiving at other ports to what JAXPORT now offers us in global connections, efficiencies, savings and the ease of doing business made the recent decision to consolidate our shipments here an easy one.”

Mayport Naval Station welcomes 2 littoral combat ships” via The Associated Press – The USS Milwaukee and USS Detroit will be part of Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two, which will consist of all the U.S. Navy’s Freedom-variant littoral ships. The Navy’s Independence-variant ships will be based in San Diego. The Detroit has been conducting system ship qualification testing since arriving Nov. 23. It was commissioned Oct. 22 in Detroit. The Milwaukee was commissioned in 2015 and arrived at Mayport in February. The littoral fleet is designed to operate close to shore with steerable jet propulsion … the Navy’s plans call for 52 littoral ships and frigates, which means half will be stationed at Mayport.

Bethel Baptist reopens main building after hurricane havoc” via News4Jax –Members of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church met in the main sanctuary Sunday for the second time since repairs were made. Church leaders told News4Jax a new year is the perfect opportunity for new beginnings and they’re thankful to be back in their main sanctuary. In October, Bethel Baptist took a major hit during Hurricane Matthew when heavy rain and wind caused the sanctuary’s roof to fall on pews and drywall to crash down. The church was told it couldn’t qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance because it is located downtown. The popular church, with 10,000 members, was forced to hold services in its old sanctuary, which is also the oldest Baptist church in Florida.

Long-awaited renaissance for Lavilla underway” via Max Marbut of Jacksonville Financial News & Record –The 246-acre plot of ground — bounded by State Street on the north, Broad Street on the east, Interstate 95 on the west and Brooklyn on the south — was a deteriorated neighborhood turned into bare ground ready to be renewed as part of the 1993 River City Renaissance redevelopment program. Over the years, several projects were proposed, but only the Duval County Courthouse came to fruition. That started changing in 2016 and by the end of this year, there will be an apartment community completed, another well under construction and a new Greyhound Bus Lines terminal that’s the first phase of a mass transportation complex. The Vestcor Companies broke ground in October for Lofts at LaVilla, a five-story, 130-unit apartment development near the rime Osborn Convention Center. The business model for the $22 million project is to set rents to attract Downtown workers and others whose annual income is 80 percent or less of the state median income — about $38,000 per year for a single person and about $49,000 a year for a family of four. The project is supported by a $270,000 loan at zero percent interest from the Downtown Investment Authority and $270,000 from the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority. Vestcor will begin accepting lease application in the spring and the apartments will be ready for occupancy in the fall, said Vestcor spokeswoman Holly Hepler.

UNF receives donation of land valued at $8.8 million” via Derek Gilliam of the Jacksonville Business Journal — The University of North Florida received a 1,050-acre donation of saltmarsh wetlands valued at $8.8 million from the Widan Investment Corp. The property stretches into both Duval and St. Johns counties from slightly south of Beach Boulevard to the end of Harbour View Drive in Marsh Landing. It’s northern end is adjacent to Cradle Creek Preserve. he property will be used by UNF students and faculty for research purposes with the property being named the William C. Webb Coastal Research Station after the father of the president of the Widan Investment Corp. “I’m proud to give this unique property to the University of North Florida Foundation in honor of my father, William C Webb,” said Dan Webb. “I’m excited by the University’s enthusiasm for the development of educational programs, utilizing the William C. Webb Coastal Research Station for our future leaders.”

St. Augustine sees holiday business after Hurricane Matthew” via Caitlin Dineen of the Orlando Sentinel – The season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s — which has always been a busy time for the Historic Coast’s tourism sector — has provided a timely lift. Small-business owners and hoteliers alike are relying on tourists to fill registers and beds. The weekend of Christmas saw heavy traffic, long lines and parking headaches. St. George Street bustled with the energy of eager explorers in the nation’s oldest permanently inhabited city. The annual Nights of Lights event, a trolley ride through a decked-out-in-white-twinkle-lights St. Augustine, typically attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year. The wait time for ticket holders the weekend of Christmas was about an hour for the 30-minute ride. The popular event runs through the end of January. Tourism leaders said Hurricane Matthew didn’t affect hoteliers as badly as it could have. November’s occupancy was up 9.6 percent year-over-year, and the destination’s rate is up 2.8 percent over a 12-month rolling calendar … More than 250 businesses were affected by the storm and reopened within a week.

How a 6-year-old got locked on a psych ward” via Rosalind Adams of BuzzFeed News —In September, a 6-year-old Northeast Florida boy was taken from his school by police cruiser to River Point Behavior Health, a troubled unity of the nation’s largest psychiatric hospital chain Universal Health Services. According to a BuzzFeed News report, the school’s counselor decided to send the boy — identified by BuzzFeed as Nicholas — to a psychiatric hospital after he had been kicking and biting. The child was locked up under the state’s Baker Act law, which allows someone to be sent to a psychiatric hospital for an examination if the person appears mentally ill and appears to be causing severe harm to themselves or others. The hospital can hold a patient for up to 72 hours. According to BuzzFeed, Nicholas’ parents asked to take their child home at least three times. At the facility, the boy “would be given a bloody nose by get locked in a “seclusion” room at 3 in the morning, and wait more than 24 hours to see a psychiatrist, according to medical records provided by his parents.” The hospital, BuzzFeed reported, also “filed a petition to get a court order to hold him for longer. Nicholas was released only after a lawyer intervened on his behalf.” UHS was the subject of a recent BuzzFeed News investigation, and River Point is under criminal investigation for Medicare fraud as part of a wider federal probe into UHS as a corporate entity, the company told investors. Federal regulators have been looking into whether River Point misused Florida’s involuntary commitment laws to hold patients at the hospital who did not need treatment.

Email insights: Gwen Graham reflects on time in Congress, hints a ‘look to the future’

Congresswoman Gwen Graham took the last few days of the year to reflect on 2016, looking back on a series of successes during the Tallahassee Democrat’s single term in Congress.

Graham, who opted not to run for re-election after redistricting made Florida’s 2nd Congressional District too Republican, is also looking to the future — with the promise to “continue fighting for each and every Floridian.”

Likely, this includes a run for Florida Governor in 2018, which she publicly announced that she was considering last year. Graham is being replaced by Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, who defeated Democrat Walt Dartland to win CD 2 with nearly 67 percent of the vote.

“This year brought environmental crises, critical moments for our military families, and more,” the email begins. “But through it all, Gwen never lost sight of what matters most — standing up for Florida’s families, putting your needs first, and making sure your voice is always heard.”

Team Graham’s accomplishments began early, the email says, with the very first bill she introduced in Congress, the VETS Act, which sought to help veterans have a smoother transition into civilian life.

Among the other issues included a push for more transparency in government, particularly in Florida waterways after delays in informing the public of a massive sinkhole opening in Polk County last summer, which has been blamed for contaminating groundwater in the Floridan Aquifer.

At the time, Graham blasted Gov. Rick Scott’s administration for “remaining silent for weeks.” In July, she also called Scott to convene a special session to address last summer’s surge in algae blooms along the Treasure Coast.

“Floridians have a right to know when their health and well-being is at risk,” the email says. “That’s why Gwen will always fight to increase transparency in our government and prevent disasters like this from ever happening again.”

The email also invoked Graham’s father, former Florida Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham; both Grahams had a program of Workdays — where each would spend shift working at various businesses in the District and Northwest Florida.

“From flying a T-38 jet at Tyndall Air Force Base to beekeeping in Wewahitchka,” the email says, “Workdays are always a great way to meet folks from across the state, build lifelong friendships and learn from each other.”

Capping off the email is a positive message of Florida’s future — with a commitment to Florida that has “never been stronger” — possibly including another generation of Graham in the Governor’s Mansion.

“Now more than ever, we need new leaders who will bring our communities together, build a government that’s transparent and accountable, and ensure every family and every child has the chance to succeed.”

Sunburn for 1.3.17 – First day for Amend. 2; Fla’s new US Reps take DC; Bill Nelson’s money man; Darryl Rouson targets Electoral College; A new job for Amy Zubaly

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.


Medical marijuana might be legal in Florida, but don’t rush out to buy a bong quite yet.

Approved by 71 percent of voters, Amendment 2 allows patients with debilitating medical conditions (think cancer, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder) to use higher strength medical marijuana than previously allowed under state law.

Even though the constitutional amendment goes into effect today, it will be months before new rules are adopted and implemented by the Florida Legislature and the state health department. And even then, getting medical marijuana won’t be as simple as popping into your neighborhood pot shop.

Under the constitutional amendment, patients need to be under the care of a licensed physician for at least three months. But that might not be as straight forward as getting an appointment at your family doctor. Physicians need to take an eight-hour course and pass an exam before they can order medical marijuana for a patient.

The Associated Press reported 340 physicians are currently registered with the Department of Health to order medical marijuana. That number is expected to increase significantly in the first quarter of 2017. And so are the number of patients in state compassionate use registry. So far there are nearly 1,500 patients in the state registry, according to the Associated Press.

Getting pot might prove problematic for some patients, at least in the short term. Five dispensing organizations have been authorized to distribute medical marijuana. There’s dispensaries in Tallahassee, Clearwater and Tampa, and some are offering in-home delivery.

Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, one of the state’s first medical marijuana dispensing organizations, said she and others in the business in Florida are excited about the progress being made, but are “eager to enter the next phase.”

The Florida Legislature and the Florida Department of Health will be tasked with coming up with the regulatory framework. And they might want to act fast: A recent report estimates Florida’s medical marijuana industry will rival Colorado’s by 2020.

New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research report projected Florida’s market will grow to $1.6 billion by 2020. That growth would make it about half the size of California’s estimated $2.6 billion market and slight more than Colorado’s expected $1.5 billion market, according to Forbes.

Last month, Forbes reported Florida could end up making up 14 percent of the medical marijuana market by 2020.

“The opportunity for good jobs, tax money and wealth creation created by Amendment 2 passing cannot be understated,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of The Arcview Group, in a statement last month. “Savvy entrepreneurs and pioneering investors are rightfully exuberant about the Florida market. And, thankfully, seriously ill patients will no longer need to go to high school parking lots or drug dealers to get their medicine.”

— Expansion of medical marijuana business is necessary and prudent” via Ben Pollara for Florida Politics

FLORIDA HEALTH DEPARTMENT APPROVES SEVENTH MARIJUANA LICENSE via Florida Politics – … and could be on the verge of adding at least one more. Department spokeswoman Sarah Revell said they have reached an agreement with McRory’s Sunny Hill Nursery for the seventh license. The nursery is affiliated with GrowHealthy and will operate an indoor facility in Lake Worth. The department also agreed to settle with Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm. Both nurseries are working on potential terms to present to the department. That would resolve the last of the 13 administrative challenges filed by nurseries not selected for the first five licenses last December by the Office of Compassionate Use. Through settlements and administrative challenges, two additional licenses have been awarded so far. The state’s Division of Administrative Hearings ruled in February that a Northeast Florida nursery should have received a license due to a background check being wrongly disqualified. The state registry currently has 340 physicians and 1,495 registered patients but state officials anticipate a significant increase once the amendment is implemented.

ALSO DRIVING THE DAY — FRESHMEN TAKE D.C. – The 115th Congress kicks off its two-year term with swearing-in ceremonies, welcoming dozens of new members to the nation’s capital. Florida’s congressional delegation will welcome 10 new members, including a former ambassador, three former state legislators, and a former governor. The new members of the congressional delegation are Republicans Matt GaetzNeal DunnJohn RutherfordBrian Mast and Francis Rooney, and Democrats Al LawsonStephanie MurphyDarren SotoVal Demings and Charlie Crist.

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FIRST IN SUNBURN – GREG GODDARD TO BECOME BILL NELSON’S FINANCE DIRECTOR — Greg Goddard, the former Florida finance director at Hillary for America, has been named finance director for Sen. Bill Nelson. Goddard knows a thing or two about fundraising in Florida. Prior to joining Hillary Clinton’s finance team, the University of Central Florida graduate served as the Florida finance director for Charlie Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial bid. Goddard also served as the deputy finance director for the Florida Democratic Party and spent seven months as the finance director for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. And Goddard is no stranger to Nelson, working as the Orlando Democrat’s North Florida finance director from April 2011 until December 2012. “I have joined the campaign in a finance role for 2018, and am excited to be back on Team Nelson,” said Goddard in a statement. Nelson is gearing up for a 2018 re-election bid, where he could face Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

>>>Christina Diamond is also raising coin for Nelson as a fundraising consultant.

>>>With Goddard to Nelson, who will serve as finance director for the expected statewide campaigns of Gwen Graham or Phil Levine? Sunburn hears Stephanie McClung of Ruth’s List is a top candidate.

STEPHANIE MURPHY, VAL DEMINGS NAME SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL STAFF via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Demings begins with Wendy Anderson as the Orlando Democrat’s chief of staff, and includes  Caroline Rowland as her communications director and Sonja White as her district director in Central Florida. Murphy, the Winter Park Democrat elected to represent Florida’s 7th Congressional District, announced that Brad Howard will serve as her chief of staff, John Laufer as her deputy chief and legislative director, and Lauren Grabell Allen as her district manager …  Howard, who ran Murphy’s campaign, spent five years on Capitol Hill as a communications director for a member of Congress and then the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, which Congresswoman-Elect Murphy will join. Allen most recently served as the executive director for Support Our Scholars, a Winter Park-based nonprofit organization that financially and emotionally assists young women from underprivileged backgrounds with extraordinary academic potential. Allen previously worked as a government affairs specialist for Siemens Corporation in its D.C. office, and has also served in the district offices of two U.S. senators. Laufer spent the last eight years as legislative director for U.S. Rep. Pedro Pierluis of Puerto Rico, and has served in a New York law firm and for a federal judge. Anderson has both Central Florida and Capitol Hill experience, having served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat; and in lobbying positions for Florida Hospital and the African-American Chamber of Commerce. Rowland served as communications director for Demings campaign. White spent 29 years at the Orlando Police Department, where Demings once was chief of police, and also has played significant community service rolls with the Oasis Preparatory Academy, Harbor House of Central Florida, Central Florida YMCA Achievers, Leadership of Orlando and other organizations. Among other Demings’ key positions, Erin Waldron was named community and economic development director, Wendy Featherson as scheduler and executive assistant, Aimee Collins-Mandeville as senior legislative assistant, and Chester Glover and Gladys Morales Smith as constituent services caseworkers.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

THE WORST THING YOU’LL READ TODAY – HOW A 6-YEAR-OLD GOT LOCKED ON A PSYCH WARD via Rosalind Adams of BuzzFeed News — In September, a 6-year-old Northeast Florida boy was taken from his school by police cruiser to River Point Behavior Health, a troubled unity of the nation’s largest psychiatric hospital chain Universal Health Services. According to a BuzzFeed News report, the school’s counselor decided to send the boy — identified by BuzzFeed as Nicholas — to a psychiatric hospital after he had been kicking and biting. The child was locked up under the state’s Baker Act law, which allows someone to be sent to a psychiatric hospital for an examination if the person appears mentally ill and appears to be causing severe harm to themselves or others. The hospital can hold a patient for up to 72 hours. According to BuzzFeed, Nicholas’ parents asked to take their child home at least three times. At the facility, the boy “would be given a bloody nose by get locked in a “seclusion” room at 3 in the morning, and wait more than 24 hours to see a psychiatrist, according to medical records provided by his parents.” The hospital, BuzzFeed reported, also “filed a petition to get a court order to hold him for longer. Nicholas was released only after a lawyer intervened on his behalf.” UHS was the subject of a recent BuzzFeed News investigation, and River Point is under criminal investigation for Medicare fraud as part of a wider federal probe into UHS as a corporate entity, the company told investors. Federal regulators have been looking into whether River Point misused Florida’s involuntary commitment laws to hold patients at the hospital who did not need treatment.

DONALD POLMANN JOINS PSC via Florida Politics – Engineer Donald Polmann joins the state’s Public Service Commission this week. The commission regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities. Gov. Scott chose Polmann, of Dunedin, to replace Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who decided not to reapply. (She has since become director of state parks.) Polmann is a registered professional engineer with three degrees, including a doctorate in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He wrote a chapter for a scholarly book on water use and supply. He had been a senior manager at Atkins, an international design and engineering firm, specializing in water projects. His appointment, which must be confirmed by the Florida Senate, runs from this Monday to Jan. 1, 2021.

SEMINOLE TRIBE OBJECTS TO GRETNA TRACK’S INTERVENTION IN GAMBLING DISPUTE via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Greenberg Traurig attorney Barry Richard, who represents the Tribe, filed his memorandum in opposition to Gretna Racing’s motion to intervene last week, court records show. Its attorneys, David Romanik and Marc Dunbar, had asked Hinkle to remove the part of his ruling they say could make it a “crime” for the track’s cardroom to continue offering certain card games. Romanik and Dunbar also are part-owners of Gretna Racing. The track has a case pending before the state Supreme Court on whether to expand slot machines in the state. Voters in Gadsden County, where the track is located, and six other counties passed local referendums to approve slots. At immediate issue, however, is the track’s offering certain card games that Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinklebased his decision on. Hinkle had ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed certain Florida dog and horse tracks to offer card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period. The judge decided the Tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030. The state wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games because a blackjack provision in an agreement between the state and tribe expired last year.

SPACE FLORIDA ‘STEELES’ ITSELF FOR THE WINTER THAT’S COMING via Florence Snyder of Florida Politics – Good on you, Jason Steele, for being the first person in the Space Florida boardroom to talk about the elephant. “We have not had a target on our back, but I promise you, and my crystal ball is very clear, the target will be on our back,” Steele told his fellow Space Florida directors, as they reaffirmed a one-million-dollar line of credit for the folks behind a secret-something called Project Ice. For all the public knew, the loan was going to Vanilla Ice, at a time when secret deals with rappers have fallen out of favor. Steele’s warning seems to have had an effect. Within days, Space Florida revealed that the line of credit is for Made in Space,” a Silicon Valley company with a growing Florida presence, for a project that aims to produce a higher-quality optical fiber aboard the International Space Station.” Steele noted VISIT Florida’s claim that the public got 9-bucks on the dollar rate of return on its trade-secret intensive investment with Pitbull. We now know that the Miami rapper was paid a cool million to encourage millennials to come to Florida to get drunk and screw, an idea that might not otherwise have occurred to the kids. Steele warned that rate of return questions would be coming Space Florida’s way, too, and they’d best be prepared with answers that don’t make people laugh out loud.

NEW LAWS TARGET COUGH-SYRUP ABUSE, OPIOID ABUSE, LEGAL PROCESS via Florida Politics – SB 938 makes it illegal for manufacturers, distributors, or retailers to supply medicines containing dextromethorphan, or DXM, to anyone under 18. Anyone who looks younger than 25 would have to supply proof of age. The law forbids local governments from setting up their own restrictions. Another new law, SB 422, is intended to increase the availability of “abuse deterrent” opioids. Addicts often crush opioids, such as Hydrocodone, so they can snort, smoke or inject them. New manufacturing techniques deter abuse by making them very difficult to tamper with. The new law would prevent health insurers from requiring pre-approval to substitute abuse-deterrent drugs for those more liable to abuse. SB 1104 allows financial institutions to designate a central location or a person as the place or agent for the service of process — that is, for delivery of subpoenas, summonses or writs in lawsuits.

FOREBODING TWEET OF THE DAY: @TravisJHutson: In 2017 the @FLSenate regulated industries committee will look to shake up the status quo. Fireworks will start early.

SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TO HEAR OPEN CARRY BILL via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The legislation, SB 140, is sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube … who introduced the measure last year when he was a state representative. If passed, the bill would allow Florida’s 1.7 million concealed carry permit holders to openly carry their firearms. The more sweeping part of the measure, however, would eliminate gun-free zones in places like secondary schools, local centers and government meeting areas. The bill would not allow CCW permit holders to carry their firearms on college or athletic events and restrictions would still exist on carrying guns to restaurants and bars. Any permit holder in violation of the restrictions in the bill would face a misdemeanor charge. The Judiciary Committee is the first stop for the bill, and the odds are in its favor this year since Steube chairs that committee … Pro-gun groups have asked their members to write to state lawmakers to make the case for passing the bill.

DARRYL ROUSON FILES BILL TO ELIMINATE ELECTORAL COLLEGE via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – In the wake of Donald Trump’s winning the presidency while losing the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million, State Sen. Rouson … is filing legislation to include Florida in a national movement to elect the president by popular vote. The goal of the movement, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, is to eliminate the Electoral College’s decisive role in presidential elections, but without requiring a constitutional amendment to abolish it. “It’s about the voters and their votes being counted and respected,” Rouson said of his bill … The bill would require the state’s presidential electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote, but it would take effect only if and when enough states sign on to total a majority of 270 Electoral College votes. At that point, the law would kick in for those states that have passed it, and the popular vote winner would be guaranteed an Electoral College majority. So far, according to the movement’s website,, 11 states totaling 165 votes have passed the bill: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

LEGISLATORS DIVIDED BY PARTY LOOK TO BLACK CAUCUS TO FIND COMMON GROUND via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – After he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, Byron Donalds had a decision to make. Would he, the only African-American Republican in the Legislature, join the Black Caucus? All of the other roughly 25 members of the caucus are Democrats. Rep. Mike Hill, a black Republican who served in the House from 2013 to 2016, chose not to affiliate with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. The group meets regularly to discuss issues and push a legislative agenda that benefits African-Americans. Sometimes members are asked vote as a bloc on a bill that is of particular importance to black people in Florida. Jennifer Carroll, who stepped down from the Legislature after eight years to serve as Rick Scott’s lieutenant governor, was an active member of the caucus. Colleagues credited her with using her leadership positions in the GOP to accomplish things that otherwise could have languished with only Democrats’ support. Donalds, 38, a 38-year-old financial adviser who lives in Naples, is a product of the Tea Party movement serving in his first elected office. He knew his conservative leanings would not always mesh with the progressive agenda the Black Caucus often pursues. He decided to join anyway.

SPOTTED at FarmTable Kitchen at Locale Market, enjoying a New Year’s Eve feats: state Sen. Darryl Rouson, his wife Angela and their family, and political consultant Barry Edwards.

SPOTTED over the holiday break: State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen in her winter best at the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg.

FLORIDA REPUBLICAN LEGISLATIVE LEADERS HOST JANUARY FUNDRAISER FOR FRANK ARTILES, MANNY DIAZ via Kristen Clark of the Tampa Bay Times – Newly elected Miami state Sen. Artiles and Hialeah state Rep. Diaz — who’s running for a Florida Senate seat in 2018 — are planning a joint fundraising reception for Jan. 10 at the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee … The host committee for the reception includes five influential Republicans, four of whom are current or future chamber leaders: current Senate President Joe Negron … Bill Galvano … Wilton Simpson … Jose Oliva and … René García. As Senate president, Negron is in charge of the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises money to assist top party candidates. Galvano and Simpson are both on track to be future Senate presidents after Negron: Galvano in the 2018-2020 term and Simpson in 2020-2022. And, Oliva is poised to take over as House speaker in 2018. García’s presence on the host committee indicates an endorsement of Diaz as his successor. García is in his final term representing Senate District 36 and Diaz, a three-term representative, is running for that seat.

LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

On: Lindsey Locke is now administrative support for the House Commerce Committee and its related subcommittees (Agriculture & Property Rights, Careers & Competition, Energy & Utilities, Insurance & Banking, and Tourism & Gaming Control).

On: Anna Higgins is a new legislative aide for Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White.

On: Ashley Jeffrey has become district secretary for Santa Rosa Republican Rep. Jayer Williamson.

Off and on: Brian Pierce has stepped down as district secretary for Panama City Republican Rep. Jay TrumbullCooper Harrison is Trumbull’s new district secretary.

Off: Michael Bowen is no longer district secretary for Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg.

On: Samuel Wagoner is legislative assistant and Tammy Still is district secretary for Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne.

On: Christina Castillo is the new legislative assistant for Miami Republican Rep. Jeanette Nunez.

On: Dewayne Mallory is legislative assistant, and Gabriel Powell Legros is district secretary for St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Wengay Newton.

On: Charles Smith is a new district secretary for Broward Republican Rep. George Moraitis.

On: Christopher Melvin is legislative assistant for Rep. Ralph Massullo.

Off: Isabela Dorneles is no longer legislative assistant for Broward Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs.

On: Gina Wells is the new district secretary for Volusia Democratic Rep. Patrick Henry.

On: Maria Wimberly is new district secretary for Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon.

On: Rachel Lockhart is the new legislative assistant for Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer.

On: Kathy Johnson is the new district secretary for Orlando Republican Rep. Eric Eisnaugle.

On: Zachary Allen is now district secretary for Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds.

On: Ellen Boukari is the new legislative assistant Newberry Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons.

On and off: Sydnie Tiseo switched from district secretary to legislative assistant for Sanford Republican Rep. Jason Bodeur.

On: Kesnel Theus has become legislative assistant for Palm Beach Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet.

On: Ashley Alvarez is the new district secretary and Daniel Martinez the new legislative assistant for Hialeah Gardens Republican Rep. Manny Diaz.

On: Kelly McClure has become legislative assistant and Rosana Fonseca district secretary for Orlando Democratic Rep. Amy Mercado.

On: Roshanda Jackson is the new district secretary for Duval County Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels.

On: Thomas Valeo has become district secretary for Palm Beach Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite.

Off and on: Caitlin Butler is no longer district secretary for Altamonte Springs Republican Rep. Bob CortesDavid Casto is replacing Butler.

On: Michael Scimeca is the new district secretary for Titusville Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia.

On: Josh Barnhill is the new legislative assistant for Orlando Republican Rep. Mike Miller.

On: Jacob Hawkes has become the new district secretary for Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd.

On: Kaly Fox is now a secretary at Pensacola Republican Sen. Doug Broxson’s local district office.

On: Max Flugrath is new deputy communications director for the House Democratic Caucus.

On: Shawn Hall has become legislative assistant for Palm Beach Democrat Rep. Joseph Abruzzo.

Off and on: Brian McManus is no longer legislative analyst for the Senate Majority office. He has now become legislative assistant for Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young.

On: Elizabeth Honorat and Isabela Dorneles have now become legislative assistants for Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell.

On: Kayla Bailey is a new legislative assistant to Vero Beach Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield.

On: Travaris McCurdy is the new legislative assistant for Ocoee Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy.

On: Nicholas Alvarez and Demi Busatta are new legislative assistants for Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores.

On:  La’Toya Jones is a new legislative assistant for Broward Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston.

On: Lance Clemons is new legislative assistant for Starke Republican Sen. Rob Bradley.

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BALLARD PARTNERS WILL CONTINUE REPPING DAILY FANTASY SPORTS SITES via Florida Politics – Brian Ballard and the lobbyists who work for him, including former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, have begun registering their representation for the 2017 Legislative Session, some effective as early as this week. Chief among those interests are DraftKings and FanDuel, the DFS giants who announced their merger in November. It still requires federal approval. In the online games, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games. Florida struggled with fantasy sports last legislative session, ultimately letting die a measure that would have explicitly legalized online fantasy play. A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s since exploded in popularity. But several states continue to grapple with whether the games are mere entertainment or illegal sports betting.

CRAFT DISTILLERIES HIRE LOBBYISTS FOR UPCOMING SESSION via Florida Politics – Some craft liquor makers have hired or re-hired representation for the upcoming session: Ron Book and Kelly Mallette, for Florida Distillers of Lake Alfred. Foley & Lardner’s Christian CaballeroPaul LowellJon Yapo and Jonathan Kilman, for American Freedom Distillery of Tampa. GrayRobinson’s Jason Unger and Robert Stuart, for the Florida Distillers Guild, the St. Augustine-based trade group. Republican state Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota already has filed a bill (SB 166) that would change state law to craft distillers’ benefit. The House companion (HB 141) was filed by state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican. One provision in the measure expands how much booze they can produce and still be considered “craft,” raising the limit from 75,000 gallons per year to 250,000 gallons. Another repeals limits on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it maintains a limit on bottles being no bigger than 1.75 liters.

PERSONNEL NOTE: AMY ZUBALY NOW INTERIM HEAD OF FMEA via Florida Politics – Zubaly is now interim executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA). The board of directors tapped Zubaly, deputy executive director of public affairs and strategic communications, to helm the association while it looks for a new head. She’s been with the group for 17 years. Longtime FMEA executive director Barry Moline resigned last month to lead the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) in Sacramento. “We are fortunate to have someone who has the longevity and knowledge of the industry and association that can lead us through the transition period,” FMEA President Clay Lindstrom said in a statement.

AIRBNB HOPES TO PARTNER WITH ESCAMBIA COUNTY IN 2017 via Joseph Baucum of the Pensacola News Journal – The company has already secured partnerships with 32 counties, but it will attempt to finalize deals with the remaining 35 next year — Escambia County among those who have so far abstained. A spokesman for the company said the primary benefit of the agreement is it ensures counties receive all the tax due to them. Tourist development tax is charged on rentals of less than six months. It is collected and administered at the county level and is largely generated through hotel stays, but also on bookings through short-term rentals such as Airbnb. Escambia County’s TDT rate is 4 percent. County Commissioner Doug Underhill said in regards to identifying property owners who owe the tax from short-term rentals, the county monitors the listings that are advertised. But he conceded there is difficulty in tracking all who owe the tax. “To a great extent, we rely on the accountability of property owners,” Underhill said. “For the most part, our citizens are responsible about reporting their taxes.”

U.S. OFFICIALS HAVE OK TO STUDY BRINGING BAHAMAS SAND TO FLORIDA BEACHES via Eric Staats of the Naples Daily News – The 2016 Water Resources Development Act authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to study the potential of using foreign sand, such as from the Bahamas, to widen shorelines and protect coasts from hurricanes like the ones that lashed the Big Bend and northeastern Florida last summer. In its “Shrinking Shores” investigation last year, the Naples Daily News reported Miami-Dade and Broward counties have exhausted their deposits of available offshore sand, leaving only sand that is too far offshore to retrieve or is nestled among protected reefs or other underwater marine features. A federal search found enough sand to last 50 years, but beach project managers told the Daily News the sand is too dark and risks triggering sand wars with other coastal counties. Project managers said Bahamian sand is the region’s best chance to end expensive and inefficient sand hauls from inland mines. But a ban, backed by the U.S. dredging industry, on spending federal money on beach projects that use foreign sand stands in the way. Coastal communities can ill afford to forgo federal money for their beaches, the Daily News found. Florida members of Congress tried again last year, unsuccessfully, to lift the ban.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Dunedin’s Julie Ward Bujaiski, and Hillsborough’s Ella Coffee and Ed Turanchik.

… and another thing about the City of St. Pete’s efforts to regulate Uber and Lyft

Earlier today I wrote about the City of St. Petersburg’s misguided effort to impose a per-vehicle tax on ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Judging from the amount of traffic the story received and the reaction on social media, the issue is prompting some strong reactions — mostly from those who do not see the city attempt to fix what isn’t broken.

Fortunately, SPB is hearing that a compromise is already in the works, one that would actually be better than what is found in most other cities. Let’s hope a compromise is reached.

In the meantime, I want to circle back to something Kevin King, chief of staff to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, said about what may happen under the proposal headed before City Council.

Asked how the city would endorse the new ridesharing ordinance, King said it would be difficult for police to catch rideshare drivers, but “officers would adapt.”

“Like a lot of communities, they’ll just learn,” King told the Tampa Bay Times’ Charlie Frago.

And therein lies the biggest problem, not only with this ordinance but big government in general.

Instead of working to catch real criminals and stop real crime, the Mayor’s Office would have the St. Petersburg Police to “adapt” to stopping the scourge that is ridesharing.

Mind you, no one save a few taxi cab owners are complaining, but now we might have police officers attempting to enforce an unnecessary ordinance.

So instead of breaking up that bar fight or recovering that stolen car or tracking down that purse-snatcher, Officer Smith will be making St. Petersburg safer by, um, ticketing that friend of yours who is working for Uber to pay for his tuition.

After all, that kind of crackdown worked out so well in Hillsborough County.

Doesn’t the City of St. Pete have better things to do than mess around with Uber & Lyft?

A lot must have happened over the holiday break in the city of St. Petersburg.

A path forward for the design of the new Pier must have been discovered.

A solution to the Rays stadium saga must have found.

The city’s decrepit sewer system must be fixed. Midtown must be undergoing an economic progress.

All of this must have happened the past two weeks because Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council are acting as if they have nothing better to do than to create a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

As reported by Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, the Council is poised to vote this Thursday on a proposal that splits the baby between ridesharing companies and taxi outfits.

“The ridesharing companies have objected to paying the city’s $65-per-vehicle business tax, which taxi cab companies have done for years.

“Instead, Uber, the dominant firm in the rideshare industry, wants to pay a $5,000 annual fee for all its drivers. Kriseman hasn’t budged on the tax.”

Really, Mayor Kriseman, this is the issue on which you want to take a stand? Against the extraordinarily popular ridesharing companies which, by the way, just made sure everyone got home safely after the New Year’s Eve festivities?

The taxi cab companies (which if they had been providing affordable, reliable transportation would never have been challenged by Uber and Lyft) are insisting that Uber pay the per-vehicle tax even though ridesharing operators are a) independent contractors and b) 70 percent of whom work less than ten hours a week (they’re getting their side hustle on!).

Unfortunately, the horse-and-buggy crowd at City Hall is poised to sign off on this proposal.

Put aside for a moment the debate about whether the ridesharing companies should be taxed in bulk or by the head. In the long run, Uber and Lyft have and will win this legal argument.

My point here is why is Kriseman and the Council inviting this headache? Who’s clamoring for this non-problem to be solved?

If it’s a few upset taxi cab owners and operators, to be honest, they would be easy to ignore. Yet, by insisting on this per-vehicle tax, bustling St. Pete is in danger of seeing Uber drive away.

“We’ll react to (the) decision if and when it happens,” warned Cesar Fernandez, who was Kriseman’s campaign manager when he was elected Mayor in 2013, but is clearly not interested in returning to that position in 2017.

This past weekend, the Tampa Bay Times editorial page asked an intriguing question: “St. Petersburg is on a roll,” the Times ed board writes. “Is that because of City Hall or in spite of it?” For the last five or six years — from the middle of Bill Foster’s tenure until now — I haven’t questioned whether St. Pete was booming in spite of its elected leaders; I believe it’s a fact (although the City Council deserves credit for its marked improvement).

How Kriseman, Council, and the city attorneys are handling how to regulate ridesharing companies is a perfect example of what the Times is asking about. There was no problem here. And the solution, by Kriseman’s chief of staff’s own admission, would be difficult to enforce.

Yet, on Thursday, City Council will likely vote to monkey up the entire situation.

City Hall must not have better things to do.

Sunburn for 1.2.17 – Welcome back; Jeb’s consolation prize; Adam Goodman switching sides?; Charlie Crist’s new boat; Prosecutor to investigate Pam Bondi; Bill filings galore

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.


It was supposed to be the time for a long winter’s nap, but instead Florida politicos continued to stir and create their own kind of clatter.

There were 2018 announcements, key Supreme Court rulings, and a series of elections that could shape the future of the Florida Democratic Party. Dozens of bills have been filed, including ones taking aim at judicial reform, Enterprise Florida, and decriminalizing youthful indiscretions.

If you’ve spent the past two weeks avoiding The Process, don’t worry. We have you covered. Here’s just a few of the stories that helped Florida bid farewell to 2016.

— House Speaker Will Weatherford put an end to the speculation, announcing just days before Christmas that he wouldn’t run for Governor in 2018. The Wesley Chapel Republican said he is focused on “raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” He wasn’t the only one making a 2018 proclamation, though. Orlando Republican Paul Paulson also threw his hat in the race — for Agriculture Commissioner, that is.

— The Miami-Dade Democratic Party elected Stephen Bittel as state committeeman, paving the way for Bittel to mount a bid as the chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. His election was just one in a series of twist and turns in the race to lead the state party. Bittel defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard in the Miami-Dade race, but that doesn’t mean Bullard is out of the running. One week after Bittel secured his seat, Bullard was elected as state committeeman from Gadsden County.

— Stephen Auger, the executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., resigned amid controversy (isn’t that always how it happens), after an audit showed the organization spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on lavish meals and awarded more than $440,000 in employee bonuses. His last day is Jan. 5.

— Gov. Rick Scott assigned Stephen Russell, the state attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit, to look into a complaint filed against Florida Attorney Pam Bondi. Russel now has one year to decide whether the complaint — which stems from a $25,000 contribution Bondi received in 2013 from President-elect Donald Trump’s foundation — has any merit.

— Bills, bills, bills. There was no rest for the weary (or bill drafting) as the holidays neared. Sen. Anitere Flores filed legislation aimed a decriminalizing youthful transgressions, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron; while Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez filed a bill to reform Enterprise Florida. Over in the House, Rep. Julio Gonzalez filed two bills that would let lawmakers override court decisions they don’t like.

With 2016 now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward to 2017. There might not be any major elections on the ballot, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a crazy year. Election watchers can expect the 2018 buzz to get louder, while the fight to land a spot on the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission is starting to heat up.

And although there’s 67 days left until the start of the 2017 Legislative Session, the first full week of House and Senate committee weeks kicks off on Jan. 9.

Starting to wish you took that long winter’s nap? Yeah, so are we.

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MARCO RUBIO CLASHES WITH DONALD TRUMP’S RUSSIA RHETORIC via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO – Rubio put more distance between himself and Trump when he criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin in a statement … welcoming President Obama’s newly released sanctions “From his repression of the Russian people and the assassination of his critics, to his dangerous invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea, to his threats against our NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe, to the war crimes committed by Russian forces and their Syrian and Iranian allies in Aleppo, Putin’s Russia is a threat to global stability,” Rubio said in a statement … The statement was critical of Obama, calling the sanctions “long overdue” following “years of weakness that have invited and encouraged Russian aggression.” But it also clashed sharply with Trump’s consistently positive outlook on Putin and the Russian Federation.

WHEN A LOCAL BECOMES PRESIDENT, NEIGHBORS FEEL THE EVERYDAY EFFECTS via Tony Doris of the Palm Beach Post – Don’t ask Palm Beach Town Manager Tom Bradford how life has changed since a certain part-time resident became President-elect of the United States of America. Since the second Tuesday in November and even before, Bradford has been fielding inquiries from residents and calls and visits to his office from reporters from New York, Los Angeles, Germany, France and beyond. “I could spend my entire day answering people’s questions about the president and the impact and I wouldn’t be able to get any work done,” he said. south of town hall, where South Ocean approaches Mar-a-Lago and makes its sharp westward curve toward the causeway named for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the mansion’s former owner, the changes become evident: A Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office cruiser is stationed in a median. There’s another in a driveway. Then, two outside Mar-a-Lago’s closed gates. One more at the round-about. An extendable PBSO watch tower perches above the club’s southern perimeter.

Still, bicyclists, joggers and a seasonably heavy flow of cars make their way easily past and around what will serve as a southern White House, even with its ever-more-famous owner in residence for the holidays. The causeway’s beach and parking areas remain open for the public to swim, walk dogs and enjoy views of the Lake Worth Lagoon, just a stone’s throw from… er… let’s make that within eye shot of… Mar-a-Lago. A steady flow of visitors pause next to a small encampment of media tents and a CNN satellite truck, to snap photos of themselves with the orange estate as a backdrop. Meanwhile, Coast Guard inflatables with flashing blue lights zip along the Intracoastal Waterway, shadowing boats that make their way past the newly designated restricted zone and through the causeway drawbridge. Roads, waterways aren’t so accessible anymore.

GOOD, LONG READ – HOW TRUMP BEAT PALM BEACH SOCIETY AND WON THE FIGHT FOR MAR-A-LAGO via Mark Seal of Vanity Fair – From the moment Trump set eyes on Mar-a-Lago, the grand palace of old Palm Beach, he was on a collision course with one of the richest and most insular towns in America. Mark Seal chronicles how the president-elect created his ‘Winter White House’ with brash ploys, lawsuits, and by turning Palm Beach’s exclusivity against it.

JEB BUSH’S CONSOLATION PRIZE via Caitlin Emma of POLITICO — There may be a silver lining to the 2016 presidential election for Bush — the elevation of his longtime friend, patron and political ally, Betsy DeVos, as education secretary. If DeVos is confirmed by the Senate as most expect, Bush could see his views on education — repeatedly ridiculed on the campaign trail by Donald Trump — given new life as she turns their shared vision into national policy. For years, the former Florida governor and DeVos worked side-by-side to push “school choice” policies that steer taxpayer funding to charter and private schools — and which critics blame for undermining traditional public schools. They served together on the board of Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, to which DeVos and her husband gave large contributions. The DeVoses also contributed to Bush’s presidential campaign. … A member of Bush’s inner circle, Josh Venable, who has worked as national director for advocacy and legislation at his foundation, is helping DeVos prepare for her confirmation hearing. Bush’s former deputy commissioner of education in Florida, Hanna Skandera, is also being considered for a top position beneath DeVos.

BILL NELSON CONFIDENT BUT EXPECTS A FIGHT FOR HIS SENATE SEAT via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – “No. I feel good,” Nelson said when asked by reporters in Tallahassee recently if he has a target on his back as anticipation grows that Gov. Scott … will challenge him for re-election in 2016. Nelson said he knows he’s going to get a Republican challenger no matter what because of the fact that he is one of 10 incumbent U.S. senators living in states that Trump won. “That’s nothing new, Florida is always going to be a state that is contested,” said Nelson, 74. He said what gives him confidence is that in years past, Florida voters have looked beyond party labels and judged candidates on whether they have done the job they were elected to do. He said historically he’s been able to win over some Republican voters and thinks he can do it again … He said he’s going to run the same as he always does: “Like a scared jackrabbit.”

RICK SCOTT’S POLITICAL COMMITTEE RAISES MORE THAN $2.9M IN 2016 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics — State records show Let’s Get to Work — the political committee that fueled Scott’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races — raised more than $2.9 million in 2016. And that sum will likely rise, since the most recent campaign finance data does not include money raised in December. The committee spent more than $2.5 million this year, including $227,666 for political consulting and $76,264 on surveys and research.

ADAM PUTNAM POLITICAL COMMITTEE BRINGS IN MORE THAN $2.3 MILLION IN 2016 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics — State records show Florida Grown, Putnam’s political committee, raised more than $2.3 million through Nov. 30. The committee has raised more than $6.3 million since February 2015, according to state campaign finance records. Records show Florida Grown spent nearly $1.4 million in 2016, including at least $240,000 for political consulting and $51,450 for advertising and advertising design work.

ADAM GOODMAN COULD WORK FOR A DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE IN 2018 GOVERNOR RACE via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – If Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine makes a run for governor, as he’s widely expected to, he may have a surprising media strategist – Goodman of Tampa. Goodman is a nationally prominent Republican media strategist whose clients have included John McCain‘s presidential campaign, Republican governor and Senate candidates in a half-dozen states, Attorney General Bondi and numerous Florida GOP congressional candidates. Goodman has worked for Democrats in non-partisan races — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Levine — but never for a Democrat seeking a partisan office. The two got to be close friends when Goodman worked on Levine’s 2013 race, he said. “He’s a phenomenal guy,” Goodman said of Levine. “He’s the kind of Democrat Republicans should worry about … a modern, post-partisan leader whose trademark is ‘get it done.’ … If he runs, I’d be tremendously interested in working for him.”

GOODMAN NAMED MURROW CENTER FELLOW via a release from The Fletcher School of Tufts University – Goodman … was appointed the first Senior Strategic Fellow at the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World. In this role, Goodman will contribute to the many activities of the Center, as well as be available to students for guidance on research and career options.

BOB BUCKHORN CALLS RUNNING FOR STATE CFO ‘AN OPTION’ via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – There’s been insider chatter in Tampa lately that … Buckhorn, facing a potentially tough primary for Governor in 2018, could switch his sights to the race for chief financial officer. To which Buckhorn this week said, in effect, yes and no. Sort of. What he actually said: “Certainly it is an option, but it’s not an option because I fear competition (in the governor’s race). It does offer an alternative, but not an alternative that I have spent a lot of time thinking about recently. If people are out there blabbering, it’s not because they’ve had a conversation with me.”

FORMER ORLANDO MAYORAL CANDIDATE PAULSON RUNNING FOR STATE AG COMMISSONER via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The race to succeed Putnam in 2018 has already kicked off – and it’s with an unexpected name out of Orlando. Paul Paulson, the newly elected Orange County state Republican committeeman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate in 2015, said that he filed paperwork with the state to run for agriculture commissioner. Paulson, an Orlando real estate executive, said that his father owned a cattle farm in Minnesota and he was familiar with agricultural issues. But he stressed that the department has “a broad umbrella of many responsibilities” including issuing concealed weapons permits.

FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR FORUM SET IN BROWARD via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – The drama of the race to lead the Florida Democratic Party will travel to left-leaning Broward when the candidates convene at a forum in Pompano Beach Jan. 11. Wealthy donor/developer Stephen Bittel, activist Alan Clendenin, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Duval County’s Lisa King and Osceola Democratic chair Leah Carius have all confirmed they will attend, said Tim Canova, one of the organizers. The forum gives Democratic activists in Broward — the county with the highest number of registered Democrats — a chance to hear how the candidates hope to reinvigorate the party after its crushing defeat in November with an eye toward 2018 races for Senate and governor. But ultimately, the opinion of only two Democrats in Broward matter — state committeeman Ken Evans and committeewoman Grace Carrington — who get a powerful vote in the chair election in Orlando Jan. 14. Evans said he hasn’t decided who he will vote for but said he will base his decision on who Broward Democrats coalesce around. Carrington said in a text to the Miami Herald “I’m not making my decision until 10 minutes before the vote.” Votes are weighted based on the number of registered Democrats in each county which means that Broward and Miami-Dade get a major say in the chair election to replace Allison Tant.

— “With support from State Senators, Blaise Ingoglia moves to debunk myth of fractured RPOF” via Brian Burgess of the Capitolist

— “RPOF chairman’s race: Facing Blaise Ingoglia’s Endorsement Onslaught, Christian Ziegler says math doesn’t add up” via Brian Burgess of the Capitolist

SPOTTED in The Hill’s list of “10 freshmen to watch in the new Congress:” Democrats Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy, and Republican Brian Mast.


BRIAN MAST GETS CELEBRITY RECEPTION IN CONGRESS via Isadora Rangel of – Newly elected Republican Mast is causing a buzz, even before he takes House office Tuesday. The Army veteran, who lost his legs in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan, has a strong story of sacrifice for the country that has garnered him popularity among congressional Republicans and several appearances in national news outlets. Republicans gave him a standing ovation during a recent congressional caucus meeting and several of the lawmakers he introduced himself to already know who he is, he said. Mast, 36, will be one of the youngest House members and was named one of 10 House freshmen to watch by D.C. newspaper The Hill. Mast’s popularity goes beyond his military service. He helped the GOP pick up three House seats nationwide in 2016 and conservative super PACs invested heavily to carry him to a victory against businessman Randy Perkins in November.

FRANCIS ROONEY GOES TO WASHINGTON via Ledyard King of – Rooney has been in charge for much of his professional life as the chairman of an international investment company with real estate, energy and construction holdings. Come Tuesday, the Oklahoma native who lives in Naples will be simply one of 435 members of the House. And one of the most junior ones at that. “This is a new page,” said Rooney, 63. “I don’t know much about legislating, I’ve never been in a legislative body. (But) I’m really looking forward to it. In our company, you get respect by doing a good job. And this may be a little different. I’ve got to learn, but I seem to do OK with most of the challenges I’ve had.” Rooney … won an open seat in November to succeed another GOP businessman, Curt Clawson, who decided not to seek re-election… Unlike Clawson who embraced his “outsider” status and skirmished with the GOP establishment, Rooney said he plans to play ball with party leaders. He said he’ll back the re-election of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as Speaker and will raise money for the party as lawmakers are expected to do. That’s not a reach for Rooney who has been – along with his wife Kathleen – a prolific Republican fundraiser for years.

FLORIDA SUPREME COURT APPOINTMENTS COULD BRING CHAOS via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – A quirk in the state constitution means Florida could be headed to a bruising legal brawl over the ideological balance of the Florida Supreme Court that would decide the future of the court for decades to come. Three justices – Barbara ParienteFred Lewis and Peggy Quince – will be forced under the state constitution’s age limits to retire Jan. 8, 2019, Gov. Scott‘s last day in office. The justices are reliable members of the liberal voting bloc that holds a 4-3 majority on the bench. Even though the appointments are two years away, both sides are gearing up for a fight. Scott, a Republican, believes he’ll be able to appoint their replacements on his final day in office. Not so fast, Democrats say. Whoever wins the 2018 gubernatorial race and succeeds Scott should have a say, they claim. The appointments are not subject to confirmation by the Legislature. If Scott names the replacements for Pariente, Lewis and Quince, the court could have a solid conservative majority until at least 2025. That’s when justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, the other conservatives on the bench, face mandatory retirement. In 2014, GOP lawmakers tried to settle the judicial-appointment question by putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would have given Scott clear authority to fill “prospective” vacancies. But 52 percent of the electorate voted against it.

FLORIDA’S DEATH PENALTY SYSTEM WILL FACE RENEWED STRESS IN 2017 via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – A series of federal and state court rulings will bring upheaval to a system long criticized for racial disparities and for seemingly endless and unjust delays. Now the state must confront the enormous impact of a case known as Hurst versus Florida, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that constitutional rights of defendants were violated because their juries had too little say in recommending sentences of death. Applying the Hurst case to Florida — the state with the second most death row inmates at 383 — the state Supreme Court decided that about half of those inmates should still face execution. Those inmates were sentenced before 2002, when another case, Ring versus Arizona, found that it was unconstitutional for a judge instead of a jury to find the facts necessary to impose the death penalty. At the time, the Florida Supreme Court decided the Ring decision did not apply because Florida had a different sentencing scheme and that in another case, the nation’s highest court upheld the constitutionality of Florida’s system. But the other half of the death row population — most inmates sentenced after Ring in 2002 — could be resentenced to life without parole, depending on the facts in each case, because they were condemned to die under a law ruled unconstitutional by the Hurst case.

NEW PROSECUTOR WILL INVESTIGATE COMPLAINT AGAINST PAM BONDI via The Associated Press – Gov. Scott has assigned a complaint filed against Attorney General Bondi to a prosecutor in southwest Florida. The complaint stems from scrutiny this year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from President-elect Trump in 2013. Bondi asked for the donation around the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University. A Massachusetts attorney filed numerous complaints against Bondi, including one that asked State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate Trump’s donation. Ober asked Scott in September to appoint a different prosecutor because Bondi used to work for him. Scott assigned the case to State Attorney Stephen Russell, who has one year to decide whether the complaint has any merit.

FLORIDA CANCELS ROBUST INSURANCE PLAN FOR KIDS WITH FEW OTHER OPTIONS via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida Healthy Kids, a public-private organization, offers health insurance to children ages 5 to 18 whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In 2016, the program covered about 167,500 children across the state. … Families who make more can also buy coverage, but must pay the full premiums. In 2016, about 1,700 full-pay children were enrolled in a plan called Sunshine Health Stars that cost $205 per month, or $220 per month with dental coverage. Another 9,620 children had a more robust plan known as Sunshine Health Stars Plus. Its benefits included a $0 deductible, a $10 co-pay for emergency room services and a $5 co-pay for all therapy services. The monthly premium for a full-pay child was $284, or $299 with dental.

FLORIDA REPORTS MORE LOCAL ZIKA CASES via Lisa Schnirring of the University of Minnesota – The Florida Department of Health … announced three more locally acquired Zika cases … [Involving] Miami-Dade County, and investigations are underway to determine where exposure occurred. However, it added that Florida still doesn’t have any identified active transmission areas … Officials said they expect to see isolated cases of local transmission, “so it is important for residents and visitors in Miami-Dade County to remain vigilant about mosquito bite protection. The illnesses are the first to be reported since Dec. 21 and lift Florida’s local case total to 256, Florida Health said in today’s report. Health officials also announced two more Zika infections in Miami-Dade residents who also had exposure overseas in areas with ongoing active transmission. The state now has 19 cases that involve undetermined exposure to the virus. Meanwhile, Florida’s number of travel-related cases is still growing, with three more reported … two from Polk County and one from Palm Beach County. The state now has 1,011 travel-linked Zika infections.

— “Keys plan field trial for bacteria-infected mosquitoes” via The Associated Press

JUDGE INVALIDATES POLLUTION NOTIFICATION RULE via The Associated Press – A Florida administrative law judge says a rule requiring companies to notify the public of pollution events within 24 hours is invalid. The new rule was pushed by Gov. Scott after it took weeks for the public to be notified about a giant sinkhole at a fertilizer plant that sent millions of gallons of polluted water into the state’s main drinking water aquifer … the new rule, which would result in fines for companies who failed to report pollution within a day, was “an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.” Five business groups – Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Retail Federation, Florida Trucking Association and the National Federation of Independent Business – challenged the rule in court, saying it would create excessive regulatory costs.

WHAT CHRIS FLACK IS READING – JUDGE: DUKE ENERGY IS OFF THE HOOK FOR $352 MILLION FOR CANCELED LEVY COUNTY NUKE PLANT via William Levesque of the Tampa Bay Times – A federal judge in North Carolina ruled … the Florida utility does not owe the Westinghouse Electric Co. $352 million for disputed costs associated with the 2013 cancellation of a Levy County nuclear power plant. But federal Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. said in a 29-page order that Duke is contractually obligated to pay Westinghouse a $30-million termination fee plus $4 million in interest. The judge’s decision, after a bench trial, is a rare dose of good news for Duke over the controversial Levy project, which Duke inherited when it acquired Progress Energy in 2012. Duke’s 1.7 million Florida ratepayers were forced to cover about $1.5 billion of Duke’s costs in developing the project. And the utility had been expected to seek approval from the Florida Public Service Commission to pass on the $352 million bill to its customers had Westinghouse prevailed. It remains unclear if consumers will be asked to cover the $34 million.

WHAT STEPHANIE SMITH IS READING – IN 2017, UBER AND LYFT’S NEXT REGULATORY FIGHT COULD BE IN ST. PETE via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times – Uber and Lyft currently hold the upper hand in Hillsborough. After a long fight with the county’s Public Transportation Commission, they can legally operate through 2017. But legislators appear poised to do away with the PTC altogether next year. The agency regulates Hillsborough’s for-hire vehicles like taxis, but never got Uber or Lyft to play by the same rules. That’s why ridesharing’s next battle could be in St. Petersburg in 2017. The companies may not agree to a measure that Mayor Rick Kriseman says will level the playing field between the rideshares and taxi companies. The city’s revamped vehicle-for-hire ordinance, first discussed in February 2015, has taken an unusual twist: it satisfies neither the ridesharing firms nor the taxi cab companies. “It’s one of these intractable issues,” said the mayor’s chief of staff, Kevin King. The ride-sharing companies have objected to paying the city’s $65 per vehicle business tax, which taxi cab companies have done for years. Instead, Uber, the dominant firm in the rideshare industry, wants to pay a $5,000 annual fee for all its drivers. Kriseman hasn’t budged on the tax. The St. Petersburg City Council is poised to vote on the issue Thursday.

SENATE WILL DETERMINE WHETHER BOBBY POWELL STAYS OR GOES via Florida Politics – It’s now up to his new colleagues whether Powell gets to stay a state senator. The Riviera Beach Democrat was elected to Senate District 30 this year after serving four years in the House. But his opponent, Republican candidate Ron Berman, challenged the results with a “notice of contest,” according to reports. Because the Senate is the ultimate judge of its members, Senate President Joe Negron appointed a “credentials committee” to review the matter. That panel will be chaired by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto. It will meet Jan. 12 during the regularly scheduled committee week in preparation for the 2017 Legislative Session.

LEGISLATIVE LEADERS SAY THEY’RE WILLING TO COMPROMISE ON EXPANDING GAMBLING via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – With a lawsuit pending in the Florida Supreme Court, the House and Senate still disagree on whether to allow slot machines in eight counties where voters approved gambling expansion. But leaders from the two chambers said they are willing to compromise for a lucrative gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe … House Commerce Committee Chairman Jose Felix Diaz said the House would not support slot machines in eight counties that approved expanded gambling if it meant more gambling sites in the state. “At some point last year, there was a proposal that would have massively and indiscriminately expanded slot-machine gaming in various counties across the state,” said Diaz. “The House said then that our goals are twofold: a contraction in gaming and a long-term solution.” Senate President Negron said the Legislature should follow the will of the people who spoke out through local referendums. But approving a compact with the Seminoles was a top priority for next year’s legislative session.


BILL SEEKS TO INCREASE OVERSIGHT FOR ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Troy Kinsey of Bay News 9 – The measure, SB 216, by Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, would require annual audits of incentive deals brokered between Enterprise Florida and companies that promise to create a specified number of jobs. In recent years, taxpayers have been on the losing end of such arrangements, providing seed money for jobs that never materialized. The legislation would also require Enterprise Florida’s president to be confirmed by the Florida Senate. Such a move would effectively strip Gov. Scott of his prerogative as chairman of the Enterprise Florida board of directors to hire and fire the agency’s chief. Incentive deals would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote by the board, reducing the potential for cronyism.

BILL WOULD MAKE CRIME OF ‘BALLOT SELFIES’ IN FLORIDA via Florida Politics – State law now says, “No photography is permitted in the polling room or early voting area,” but doesn’t include an enforcement provision. State Sen. Frank Artiles‘ bill (SB 224) would make it a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. The bill would make other changes to the state’s election code, including also making it a first-degree misdemeanor to “solicit” someone inside the 100-foot exclusion zone “of the entrance to any polling place (or) early voting site.” State law defines “soliciting” as trying to influence a vote but does not prohibit exit polling. Artiles’ bill does not yet have a House companion.


— “Anitere Flores files bill aimed at decriminalizing youth” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Bill: Businesses hiring vets would get tax breaks” via Florida Politics

— “Cyndi Stevenson ‘excited’ to carry craft distillery bill in House” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

— “Equal rights amendment gets another introduction in Legislature” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

— “Future sales tax referendum bills could be restricted to general election ballot” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

— “Helmets would be required for motorcyclists under proposed bill” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Legislation would allow lawmakers to override judges’ rulings” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Linda Stewart files bill to stop short-handed contamination votes” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

— “Nick DiCeglie blasts Darryl Rouson’s electoral College reform bill” via Florida Politics

DISNEY DECISION TO EXPAND ALCOHOL SALES COULD IMPACT LEGISLATIVE SESSION via Brian Burgess of the Capitolist – The move by Disney could have a broader impact on this year’s legislative session as lawmakers consider whether or not to repeal a law preventing grocery stores … to expand alcohol sales inside their existing locations. The 80-year old law, dating back to the Prohibition-era, blocks retail stores from selling liquor and distilled spirits on their premises. In the past, one of the primary arguments against repealing the law has been based on the idea that kids – especially teens – could more easily access liquor and drink illegally. It’s fascinating that Disney … rejects that kind of thinking … Disney announced plans last week to expand wine and beer sales to four restaurants inside the Magic Kingdom, and for years has sold distilled spirits and liquor at its other parks – including bottled alcohol on sale at specific locations around Epcot. … Disney says there’s reason for the change in policy: consumer demand … here is no way the company would make a change like this if there existed a shred of evidence suggesting the company had decided to prioritize profits over public safety. That’s why Disney’s decision effectively guts one of the common arguments against repealing the law.

PERSONNEL NOTE: LOGAN PIKE NOW WITH JMI via Florida Politics – Pike, formerly State Government Relations Manager at The Heartland Institute, is now Director of Public Affairs at The James Madison Institute. Pike, a former JMI intern, is “responsible for building and maintaining the Institute’s relationships with government officials and civic leaders on the federal, state and local levels,” according to a post on JMI’s website … Pike has dual undergraduate degrees in Political Science and International Affairs from Florida State University.

PERSONNEL NOTE: JESSICA CARY JOINS FDLE AS SPOKESWOMAN via Florida Politics – Cary, a former Department of Corrections communications director, is now communications coordinator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen announced the hire Dec. 21. Cary will work with longtime FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger in the statewide law enforcement agency’s Tallahassee headquarters. Cary replaces the retiring Steve Arthur in the agency’s press office.

ANOTHER POLITICIAN CHARGED WITH BRIBERY IN CORRUPTION-WEARY OPA-LOCKA via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald – … the fourth defendant to be prosecuted in the still-widening probe. Luis Santiago, 55, lost his city commission seat in November after a series of Miami Herald stories reported he was the main target of an alleged extortion scheme involving payoffs for official favors. News of his arrest spread quickly through Opa-locka, a poor city whose government since June has been under the control of a state oversight board that must approve all spending by the city commission due to a financial emergency. Santiago, perhaps best known around Opa-locka for sponsoring bingo nights and raising money for the city’s Fourth of July celebration, was once an influential member of the commission because of his alliance with Mayor Myra Taylor.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

FAPL RE-ELECTS BOARD MEMBERS FOR 2017 TERM via Florida Politics – The Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists has selected board members for the next term. According to an email from the group, the Nominating Committee forwarded a slate of seven candidates, each a current Board member seeking re-election for another two-year term. FAPL members overwhelmingly approved the slate. The following members were each re-elected for a two-year term: Eric Eikenberg, Jose Gonzalez, Jennifer J. Green, Jeff Kottkamp, David Mica, John Wayne Smith, Doug Wheeler. 

MEDIA LAWYER ALISON STEELE LEAVING RAHDERT, GOING SOLO via Florida Politics – The longtime media attorney is leaving the St. Petersburg law firm she has helped build for the last quarter-century and starting her own solo firm. Steele, a name partner in the firm of Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds & Driscoll, said she was sending out announcements of her new practice. She will continue to focus on media and employment law and civil litigation. Steele has represented the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald, the New York Times, the First Amendment Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to a bio. Steele said she’s leaving her old firm on good terms: “I started out with George (Rahdert) in 1987, then took a year and a half for a federal clerkship, then returned to practice with George in 1990 … We have coming up on 30 years of friendship, more than 25 practicing law together. We built a great firm together. We have a great legacy together. We’re going to continue to be great colleagues and friends.”

— “AFSCME hires Rubin Group to lobby Legislature, governor” via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida


Ron Book, Kelly Mallette, Ronald L. Book PA: Florida Network of Children Advocacy Centers

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: AFSCME Florida, UrbanPromise Miami, Inc.

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Smallwood Prison Dental Services

Dean Cannon, David Griffin, Todd Steibly, GrayRobinson: Florida Girl Scouts Legislative Network

Michael Cusick, Michael Cusick and Associates: Opportunity Solutions Project

Claudia Davant, Adams St. Advocates: Take Stock in Children

Christopher Carmody, Christopher Dawson, GrayRobinson: Coronal Energy

Scott Dick, SKD Consulting Group: Southwest Florida Enterprises, Inc.

Rob Fields, One Eighty Consulting: Dell Technologies

Nicole Fried: San Felasco Nurseries, Inc.

Jasmyne Henderson, Pittman Law Group: Peoples Gas System, Inc.; Tampa Electric Company

Douglas Arlington Holder Jr., The Legis Group: Martin County Sheriff Office; Sarasota Memorial Health System

Fred Karlinsky, Greenberg Traurig: LKQ Corporation

Paul Lowell, Foley & Lardner: National Strategies, LLC.; Streamlink Software; Zenefits

Larry Overton, Larry J. Overton & Associates: Mary Mifflin-Gee

William Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Melissa Akeson, Christopher Finkbeiner, The Rubin Group: AFSCME Florida

Douglas Russell, D. Russell & Associates: Greenwich Biosciences, Inc.

Robert Schenck, The Legis Group: Martin County Sheriff Office; MCNA Dental Plans; Ultimate Health Plans, Inc.

Timothy Stanfield, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

Margaret Timmins, Timmins Consulting: The Florida Providers for Traffic Safety

SPOTTED on Roger Stone’s 11th annual list of the best dressed: Foley & Lardner’s Jon Yapo, GrayRobinson’s Chris Carmody, and Southern Strategy Group’s Alex Setzer.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Brian CrowleyCharlie DudleyNatalie Kato, Rep. Chris LatvalaBrock Mikosky, Rep. Carlos Guillemo Smith, Eddie Thompson.

Neal Dunn nails one-handed catch, makes New Year’s resolution for D.C.

While most New Year’s resolutions revolve around eating better or getting healthy, newly elected Republican Congressman Neal Dunn seeks to make some more far-reaching changes.

“Hitting the gym is nice and all,” Dunn, a Panama City orthopedic surgeon, says in introducing a 30-second Facebook video posted Friday. “But my New Year’s resolution is to be the strongest conservative voice for you in Congress.”

“Well it’s that time year again … and everybody’s making their New Year’s resolutions … Hitting the gym … or eating healthy,” he says, each punctuated by a barbell pump and a perfectly executed one-handed apple catch, shown in slow motion.

Dunn, who will take the place of Gwen Graham in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District this week, then lays out his conservative priorities for once he officially becomes a member of Capitol Hill: “I’m going to be protecting the Second Amendment. I will appeal Obamacare. I will stand up for veterans.”

“I may not hit all of the CrossFit sessions with Speaker [PaulRyan,” he adds, “I will be a conservative voice for you in Washington.”

Dunn won his race for the CD 2 by about 67 percent of the vote against Democrat Walt Dartland. The North Florida District came out of redistricting with a more Republican lean, forcing Democratic incumbent Graham to decline a bid for re-election. She will instead be a likely candidate for governor in 2018.

The 115th Congress is scheduled to convene Tuesday, where new members, including Dunn, will be sworn in.


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