Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 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 SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, 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.

Uber, MADD, Hillsborough County want New Year’s Eve celebrants to #LeaveTheKeys for safety

As 2016 draws to a close, more Tampa Bay area residents than ever will turn to Uber for safe, affordable rides to and from New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Once again, Uber is partnering with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), to provide area residents and visitors a few of the best tips to get around safely this holiday season.

In addition, Uber and MADD are asking Hillsborough County residents to pledge to keep roads safe and #LeaveTheKeys when they go out to celebrate the upcoming new year.

“At the Tampa Police Department, we are focused on keeping our roads safe and that includes educating the public about the many transportation options they have access to after a night out,” said TPD Sergeant John Womack. “If holiday plans include alcohol, we urge residents and visitors to have a designated driver or take public transportation.”

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 973 drunken driving deaths took place nationwide between Thanksgiving and new year’s eve 2015 – an increase from 957 the year before. In total, 10,265 people died from alcohol-related crashes in the United States in 2015 –including 508 in Florida. During the new year’s holiday period (6 p.m. Dec. 31, 2014, to 5:59 a.m. Jan. 5, 2015) there were 31 killed per day in drunken driving crashes — 139 deaths over 4.5 days.

“Raising awareness about the dangers associated with alcohol-impaired driving this holiday season is one of our top priorities,” said Colonel James Burton, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. “When local leaders and organizations come together to arm residents and visitors with information on safe ways of getting from one place to another, we can help reduce drunken driving.”

Uber and MADD launched a national campaign to help save lives this season by reminding people of the safe ride alternative. Everyone is encouraged to take a pledge not to drink and drive during the holidays.

The campaign includes the #LeaveTheKeys promotion, which Uber recently rolled out in a new in-app messaging on the pledge and road safety.

“Uber is proud to team up with MADD to raise awareness about the dangers associated with alcohol-impaired driving,” said Susan Hendrick, of Uber Safety Communications. “There is never an excuse to get behind the wheel after drinking. Pledge to keep the roads safe and ensure you have a designated driver.”

MADD works to educate people to ensure everyone knows the travel choices available in their city, town or county,” said Linda Unfried, co-founder of Hillsborough County MADD. “Ridesharing has a significant impact on communities, including Tampa Bay, by connecting them with a safe and reliable alternative to getting behind the wheel after a night out.”

As 2016 closes, Hillsborough’s transportation problems still mostly unsolved

Another year of our lives is about to become history, and that means another year where little tangible was accomplished in terms of addressing the transportation needs of the citizenry in Hillsborough County.

But a whole lot of people did get angry with each other over the process, anyway.

At this time a year ago, the biggest concern was: What would come out of the Hillsborough County Sheriff Department’s investigation into Go Hillsborough, the two-years-in-the-making transportation plan that called for a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase?

“The Sherriff’s Office has completed most of the work in its investigation of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan but the results won’t be made public until mid-January,” the late and lamented Tampa Tribune wrote in December of 2015.

But it would not be released in January. Nor in February.

When it was ultimately released in March, the 1,974 page-report from the Sheriff’s office and State Attorney Mark Ober found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing in how county staff, commissioner and private consultant Beth Leytham acted in the months leading up to the selection of Leytham’s client, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to the project. But any momentum for what was always a rather large lift had been severely thwarted, thought it didn’t mean it was DOA, at all.  The referendum always required a simple majority of commissioners to vote to put the half-cent plan on the November 2016 ballot.

However, some Tampa liberals – considered to be the base of support for the tax – balked at what they said was a plan with too heavy an emphasis on roads and a lack of transit in the city.

On April 27, after hearing more than 60 people speak during a four-hour hearing, the BOCC rejected the plan on a 4-3 vote. The proposal died after Commission Victor Crist, always considered the swing vote on the seven-member board, said he was going with his “gut feeling” in opposing the measure.

But like Freddie Krueger, Go Hillsborough wasn’t quite dead yet.

Flash forward to six weeks later, when another 67 people came before the BOCC to give their views on a slightly revised measure. In this case, the tax would have gone for 20 years instead of the original 30 year-plan. But the vote tally on the BOCC was still the same. Go Hillsborough was dead. Again.

Several months later, the board ultimately voted to approved dedicating $600 million over the next decade to fix roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersections. But not much for transit, which upset newbie Commissioner Pat Kemp.

There is no talk about a referendum going up anytime soon.

While the county went nowhere on addressing transit, the Florida Department of Transportation’s ambitious plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 275, Interstate 4 and Interstate 75, as well as overhauls to the Howard Frankland Bridge moved forward. Sort of.

Opposition to the $6 billion plan Tampa Bay Express project has come most prominently from the areas that would be directly impacted, in Tampa’s Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor neighborhoods, and it’s been lasting and sustaining for more than a year-and-a-half.

The single biggest public hearing on the project took place on a summer night in June, when the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization held a public hearing on whether the TBX plan should be placed in its Transportation Improvement Plan for the next five years.

The 12-4 vote in favor of the plan came after eight hours of public hearing and 180 people signed up to speak, with the meeting concluding at 2:18 a.m.

Considered the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area, the vote showed that while there are some lawmakers who strongly oppose the plan, the majority of the political and business establishment still remained solidly behind it.

In December, FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold said that he was hitting the “reset” button on the project, bringing in new staff to manage the project, “and work more intensively with the local communities.”

According to a Tampa Bay Times investigation, 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that FDOT aims to raze for TBX are in black and Latino households.

Another ongoing story that began in 2014 and lasted through most of this year was the continuing drama playing out at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

At one point during the acrimonious negotiations regarding the level of severity on background checks for ridesharing drivers, Uber pulled out their “Work with us or we’ll leave” card, which carried some real force after they literally did leave the Austin, Texas market over a similar disagreement with local regulators. And in this seemingly never ending saga, the public has, for better or worse, always been on the side of Uber/Lyft, and against the perceived stuffy bureaucrats not willing to adapt to a “disruptive” new mode of transportation.

At times, it got very ugly – and that was just between PTC Chair Victor Crist and his executive director, Kyle Cockream. Neither man ended up looking great at the end of it all, with Cockream first announcing his resignation, then postponing, then resigning again.

Crist, meanwhile, did a 180 from his previous stance in support of going hard on Uber and Lyft, and seemingly overnight became their ally, much to the consternation of fellow PTC board members David Pogorilich and Frank Reddick.

By the end of the year, the beleaguered PTC was barely standing, after a vote by the Hillsborough legislative delegation may ultimately give the agency just twelve more months to find a graceful way to exit the scene, with presumably the regulatory duties being handled by the BOCC, which is the case virtually everywhere else.

And oh, yes, Uber and Lyft drivers are now legally good to pick up and drop off passengers (not that their illegal stance did much to deter them previously).

And then there was the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project taking residents from Tampa to St. Petersburg and back, a plan spearheaded privately by former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and publicly by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who, hat in hand, was able to procure $350,000 each from the local governments of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Tampa and his own City Council in St. Pete, respectively.

And while there was a lot of fanfare when the rides began, with seemingly every local official being captured on Facebook Live taking a maiden journey, WFLA- Newschannel 8 reported in mid- December that one recent day, only two people had taken the ferry, and a week before, only one passenger was on a trip from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

Florida Health Department approves seventh marijuana license

Less than two weeks before Florida’s constitutional amendment expanding the legal use of medical marijuana takes effect, the state’s Department of Health has approved a seventh license 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.

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters, takes effect on Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments once a new set of rules are adopted and implemented.

The state legislature and Department of Health have six months to revise current rules and must implement them within nine months. The Florida Senate’s Health Policy Committee conducted a workshop hearing last week to begin the process.

The current law – which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 – allows non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. It was expanded in March to allow patients with terminal conditions access to higher strength cannabis.

The March legislation also ensures that once the patient registry reaches 250,000, an additional three licenses will be made available, one of which will be designated for black farmers.

The state registry currently has 340 physicians and 1,495 registered patients but state officials anticipate a significant increase once the amendment is implemented.

Four organizations have been approved for distributing authorization and are doing in-home delivery throughout the state.

Tom Rooney blasts Weather Channel documentary: Lake O is not ‘toxic’

A recent Weather Channel documentary alleging Lake Okeechobee “pollution” drew a storm of controversy among Florida scientists, farmers – and at least one U.S. Congressman.

“Toxic Lake: The Untold Story of Lake Okeechobee,” an online video posted last week, gives what many call an extremely inaccurate and incomplete picture of the environmental circumstances surrounding Lake O. The nearly 11-minute video places much of the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of Florida’s sugar industry.

In the video, Weather Channel reporter Kait Parker claims she spent eight months researching the issue, concluding Lake O is “toxic” due to a “man-made calamity.” She then attributes much of this past summer’s algal bloom along the Treasure Coast to releases from the lake.

Parker also blames the phosphorus load for feeding algae blooms, an allegation directly contrary to findings in scientific research conducted by both the University of Florida and South Florida Water Management District.

In fact, scientists learned that much of the nutrient entering the St. Lucie waterway – resulting in last summer’s catastrophic algae blooms – came not from Lake O, but from the watersheds of coastal counties. Indeed, many people in in the area around and to the south of Lake Okeechobee insist the water is not only safe, but it is used frequently in homes, businesses and schools throughout the region.

One of those most bothered by the Weather Channel claims is Republican Congressman Tom Rooney.

In response to the video, Rooney, who represents parts of Lake O in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, drafted a letter Wednesday to The Weather Channel, Inc. CEO Cameron Clayton, looking to set the record straight on “Toxic Lake.”

“While I’m pleased that the Weather Channel is drawing more attention to the struggles surrounding the Lake,” Rooney writes, “I strongly disagree with their one-sided reporting on this complicated and years-long issue.”

Rooney says Lake Okeechobee in the center of one of the biggest environmental struggles in all South Florida. Floridians take environmental stewardship very seriously, and high-quality water is crucial to the state’s agriculture – especially the sugar industry.

“There is no reason to assume that our farmers and ranchers want to pollute the land upon which their livelihood depends,” Rooney says, “just as charter fishermen wouldn’t want to overfish their favorite spots.”

Several factors are involved in harmful algae blooms, which Rooney says was not fully addressed in the Weather Channel piece, including the impact of urban sprawl.

Rooney continues: “Had your coverage included findings from the South Florida Water Management District – the state­ run authoritative and scientifically-backed voice in water quality management in this part of the state – your piece may have cited the legitimate environmental impact of the deposits from the aging septic systems along the St. Lucie River.”

Rooney also points out another issue left unaddressed was nearly all South Florida has benefited from the altered flow of the Everglades’ ‘River of Grass,’ which, he says, provides “dry land for residents to live along the canals and shores” of both Florida’s coasts, as well as in the Everglades agricultural area.

And while Florida has made great progress at both the state and federal level to restore the Everglades, Rooney says his work is not done.

“I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to build upon the increased visibility the Weather Channel has brought to this issue,” he adds. “And I hope that we can all work toward a positive solution for everyone.”

According to statistics from the Army Corps of Engineers, billions of gallons of freshwater did flow east and west from Lake O during the wet summer months. However, testing by the University of Florida finds the water is no more “foul” than that coming from the Indian River watershed.

In reality, the Okeechobee News notes that scientists from the University of Florida, Harbor Branch and South Florida Water Management District each discovered Lake O water had “lower concentrations of phosphorus than the water entering that system from the basin runoff.”

The Weather Channel video failed to even mention runoff from either septic tanks or golf courses, a more likely source.

auger boggio

We told you so: Audit blasts Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Tip o’ the hat to the Times’ Susan Taylor Martin for covering a blistering audit of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. (FHFC), which is supposed to be the steward of both state and federal affordable housing money.

But let’s also give some credit where it’s due: In a series of three articles called “Who watches the low-income housing watchmen?” over September and October – which are here, here and here – I kind of saw this train wreck coming.

In glorious detail, Martin reviews the 80’s-style “Masters of The Universe” excesses that Steve Auger, the agency’s executive director, lavished on lenders and board members.

How about “a $52,000 dinner (for lenders) that featured filet mignon, broiled lobster tails and a bar stocked with deluxe brand liquors”?

Or, at a board reception, shelling out “$300 for a bartender, $425 for a pork carving station and $420 for a Spanish charcuterie station”?

The mouth waters—and the fists should clench over the waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

But wait, there’s more.

At a time “when thousands of Floridians were waiting for help in saving their homes,” Martin writes, “the agency (also) awarded a total of nearly $443,000 in bonuses to its employees.” Nice work if you can get it.

And that’s just in the first three paragraphs. Auger, to no surprise, offered a meek defense to the costs, calling them “ordinary and necessary expense(s).”

But readers should recall I was ringing the bell about this fiasco in the making.

Let’s not forget, as a federal criminal plea deal put an end to a $36 million housing fraud, I asked, “What will legislators do now to make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

Federal prosecutors had alleged 70-year-old developer Lloyd Boggio of Carlisle Development Group and others defrauded the government out of millions. They did so by padding South Florida affordable-housing projects to get federal tax credits and grants, then keeping the excess.

What happened? Yep, Auger and his FHFC watchdogs fell down on the job, or as I said back then: “A heist on Uncle Sam and the poorest among us.”

“How does something like this happen without (Auger & Co.) knowing — or at least having a suspicion? Were these transactions not being audited? How did they not know this was going on for five years? If they didn’t know, should they have known?” I said in that first post.

“Let’s put it even more pointedly: Did Auger or others at FHFC know about it and whiff — or were they all asleep at the wheel? Now that the criminal side of this fiasco is coming to a close, the legislative side needs to ramp up by asking: Who is responsible?”

The audit, among other things, notes the agency “did not require sufficient documentation from underwriting agencies to support their denial of mortgage assistance to some applicants” and “did not take adequate steps to ensure that electronic fund transfers were going to authorized recipients,” according to Martin.

So, with the 2017 Legislative Session a couple months away, let me repeat some more questions to Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chair, whose feud with Auger a few years ago nearly cost him his job, and to other lawmakers.

They referred to the fraud at the time, but with a little rewording could just as well apply to the recent extravagances.

“What (is) it about the culture at FHFC?” I asked in October. ” … Has Auger taken any steps to assume responsibility for this? What safeguards could be put in place at FHFC?”

Because with the state’s budget looking iffy at best, and many thousands of Floridians deserving an honest broker when it comes to their homes, we can’t afford any more Spanish charcuterie stations.

City of St. Petersburg chooses Capitol Alliance Group as new lobbyist

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has chosen the Capitol Alliance Group of Tallahassee to be the city’s lobbyist in the state capitol.

Although Kriseman has made the choice, details of the contract have not been ironed out, spokesman Ben Kirby said.

Capitol Alliance will replace the city’s current lobbyist, Peebles and Smith, also based in Tallahassee, in the upcoming Legislative Session. St. Petersburg’s contract will Peebles expired Sept. 30. The contract was worth $50,000 last year.

Capitol Alliance has a wide range of clients across the state, including the city of Key West and Leon County. Other clients include the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, the PGA Tour, and Tesla Motors. The Capitol Alliance Group’s team includes Dr. Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl.

Capitol Alliance was one of six firms that submitted proposals for the contract. The others were Peebles; Ballard Partners; Ron Boo, P.A.; Dean, Mead, Egerton, Bloodwork, Capouano & Bozarth of Tallahassee; and Southern Strategy Group of Tampa Bay.

It is unclear when the contract will be final. The 2017 Legislative Session convenes March 7.

Lee County

Sawyer Smith appointed to Conservation 20/20 board

Sawyer C. Smith, managing partner of the Wilbur Smith Law Firm, has been appointed to the Conservation 20/20 Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee.

“I look forward to serving on the committee and continuing my dedication to protecting and preserving the natural resources in Lee County,” Smith said.

Conservation 20/20 is an environmentally-sensitive land acquisition and stewardship program in Lee County.

The purpose of the program is to preserve and protect environmentally critical land in Lee County for the benefit of present and future generations in Southwest Florida.

To learn more about Conservation 20/20, click here.

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 12.20.16

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’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE … 2018

If you already know who you’re backing in 2018, you might be the only one.

A new Florida Chamber Political Institute poll found most Florida voters were undecided when it comes to the upcoming gubernatorial election. But with 685 days until Election Day 2018, it’s never too early to start ponder who will next take up residence in the Governor’s Mansion.

“It may seem that we have a long time before we need to address the election for Governor and Cabinet, but time will fly by and before we know it, we will be in the midst of campaigns that will affect Florida’s future,” wrote Marian Johnson, the executive director of the Florida Political Institute.

A bevy of names have already been bandied about. Gwen Graham, the one-term Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee, is considering a run. Ditto, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The same goes for Democrats John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

But if the primaries were held today, “undecided” would come out the resounding victor.

According to the Florida Chamber’s survey, 45 percent of Democratic voters and 64 percent of Republican voters said they were “undecided” about the 2018 gubernatorial race.

If the Democratic primary was held today, the poll showed Graham would be locked in a tight race with Morgan. The poll found Graham received 16 percent support, followed by Morgan at 15 percent. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum would get 8 percent, while Buckhorn and Levine would each get 5 percent of the vote.

Four percent of Democrat voters said they’d back “someone else” in the 2018 primary.

When it comes to the GOP primary, the Florida Chamber found 22 percent of Republican voters said they would support Putnam.

The Republican would fare well in the general election, according to analysis by the Florida Chamber Political Institute. In a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, Putnam holds a small lead over both Graham and Morgan.

The survey found Putnam leads Graham 39 percent to 36 percent; while he leads Morgan 40 percent to 37 percent.

Those numbers are a flip of Gravis Marketing poll conducted for the Orlando Political Observer that showed the Democrats holding slight edges in head-to-head races. In that poll, Graham led Putnam 37 percent to 34 percent in a hypothetical match-up; while Morgan led Putnam 39 percent to 35 percent.

But really at this point, anyone who has truly decided who they are voting for is probably related to a 2018 hopeful … or clairvoyant.

AND WE’LL SEE YOU IN 2017: The team that produces Sunburn will be enjoying a long winter’s nap through the holidays. Sunburn will return to inboxes January 2.

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DAYS UNTIL: Shopping days until Christmas – 4; FSU vs. Michigan/Orange Bowl – 10; Inauguration Day – 30; Super Bowl – 47; Pitchers & catchers start reporting for Spring Training – 56; Start of 2017 Legislative Session – 87: Election Day 2017 – 321: Election Day 2018 – 688.

WITH HELP FROM FLORIDA’S 29 ELECTORAL VOTES, DONALD TRUMP GETS 270 NEEDED TO BECOME PRESIDENT via Steve Bousquet and Kristen Clark of the Tampa Bay Times – The ceremony ended weeks of efforts by disappointed and angry voters across the country who wrote letters, fired off emails, filed lawsuits and finally staged protests in an effort to prevent Trump from becoming the nation’s 45th president Jan. 20, 2017. “I know it was a long hard haul,” said Rep. Blaise Ingoglia … chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, as he thanked fellow electors for standing by Trump despite the many “harassing” messages. “We were part of history.” About 200 demonstrators assembled in the rotunda outside as electors gathered in the state Capitol’s newly remodeled Senate chamber in a ceremony under the direction of Gov. Scott‘s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Florida’s awarding of electors to Trump was celebrated — inside the Senate chamber. Seated in alphabetical order, each of the 29 electors cast separate paper ballots for Trump and for Vice President-elect Mike Pence. They applauded loudly when Detzner announced the anticlimactic results.

— “You’re hired! Trump picks Florida Panthers owner for Army Secretary” via John Pacenti of the Palm Beach Post

GWEN GRAHAM, IN FINAL NEWS CONFERENCE, CLAIMS $2.5 MILLION IN BENEFITS TO CONSTITUENTS via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – “Our office is an example that you can get a lot done and still be fiscally conservative,” the Democrat said during a news conference at Tallahassee City Hall, where she maintains a district office. Aides said it would be her final meeting with reporters before leaving office early next year. “We made constituent service or No. 1 priority,” Graham said. So much so that she has discussed its importance with Neal Dunn, the Republican from Panama City elected in November to replace Graham in a radically redistricted Congressional District 2. “I will work with him on that,” Graham said. “I hope he continues that focus on constituent services. Because, of all the things you do in Congress, there is nothing more important that helping people back home. I have had that conversation with him I know that, in his heart, he wants to do the same.” Graham said her office helped constituents secure $489,000 in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits; $293,000 in Veterans Affairs benefits; $118,000 from the IRS; and $100,000 in Deepwater Horizon claims. Of her office’s operating budget, Graham in prepared remarks that, “with smart management, government can provide essential services to help people while also being fiscally responsible.”

ALAN GRAYSON: FLORIDA DEMOCRATS NEED SOMEONE WITH A MESSAGE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Grayson is wrapping up his third and, for now, final term as a Democratic congressman from Orlando, a never apologetic liberal lion with perhaps as much name recognition in California and New York as he does in Florida. While looking ahead to his announced plans to run a legal or Florida constitutional amendment campaign to restore civil rights for felons, Grayson also reflected on his own accomplishments, his collapsed campaign for the U.S. Senate, and his opinions for what it would take for the Florida Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, and other Democratic establishments to win. Grayson is calling, really wishing, for a new approach …  “Unless there is substantial structural change, the Blue Dogs will continue to make the argument that a populist Democrat, or for that matter a progressive Democrat, which is not exactly the same thing, has no chance of winning – because that’s the way they continue to dominate the statewide machinery,” Grayson said. “Even though they’ve been proved wrong in every single race except for Alex Sink’s race for CFO, every single race for a quarter century.” … “There are populist issues that would actually bring the whole state together and galvanize the groups that we did extremely poorly with in the national election, for instance high school dropouts, where the Democratic Party got wiped out,” Grayson said. “The polls showed Bernie did 40 points better than Clinton with high school dropouts. 40.”

— “The Democratic Party: Evolution or Extinction” via Scott Arceneaux for Medium

FEA FACE-SLAPS DWIGHT BULLARD, ENDORSES MEGADONOR STEPHEN BITTEL via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The Florida Education Association added its name to the growing list of names supporting his bid for Miami-Dade Democratic Party State Committeeman, a springboard position to take the reins of the struggling FDP. In the endorsement, the FEA called Bittel a “strong advocate” for Florida’s teachers and education professionals. “A product of the Miami-Dade Public Schools, his commitment to protecting and improving our public-school system is well-established,” said the FEA. “Stephen Bittel’s progressive values are displayed in his actions and with every campaign and issue he champions. We believe that Stephen has the best combination of experience and leadership to help rebuild the Florida Democratic Party.” The FEA sent a rallying cry to its 140,000 members, asking them to join in their support for Bittel. Bittel, whose wife is a teacher, vowed to make the party inclusive and representative of “all Florida Democrats” … “We’ve received the support of South Florida progressives because they understand what’s at stake and they want a Democratic Party leader who isn’t afraid to shake things up to ensure more voices are heard and more Florida Democrats win elections,” said the candidate for Miami Dade Democratic State Committeeman.

FOURTH TIME FILING BILL, SENATOR HOPES SURVIVING CHILD ABUSE VICTIM WILL GET MONEY OWED via Sasha Cordner of WFSU – Victor Barahona already received $1.25 million for the abuse he suffered at the hands of his adoptive parents, under the state child welfare agency’s supervision. His twin sister, Nubia, didn’t survive. Now, through a claims bill, Sen. Anitere Flores … is seeking to get Victor $3.75 million—the rest of the agreed settlement with the Florida Department of Children and Families. “It should be one of the poster childs of why we have claims cases,” Flores said. “There is a small opportunity or the state to try and help the life of this child, the brother who survived. I’m hopeful that we’re able to do that. And, so, I won’t stop fighting, until we do that. I do think that this year will be a little bit more open to claims bills.” Since it’s her fourth consecutive year filing the bill, Flores is hopeful it’ll pass in 2017. And, she says it doesn’t hurt she’s now the Senate President’s Second-in-Command. “I think that it helps … the facts of this case are just very compelling and they pull at the heartstrings of anybody that hears it,” Flores added. Flores calls the claims bill “a top priority.” So far, there’s no House sponsor.

EDITORIAL: facKEEP PARTISAN REVENGE OUT OF STATE CONSTITUTION via the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Florida voters had to be aware of a sneaky constitutional amendment this year. They may have to be even more informed and focused in 2018. The 2016 subterfuge was an amendment related to solar energy that advertised itself as consumer-friendly. In fact, Florida’s investor-owned utilities financed the amendment with $26 million in hopes of securing a monopoly on solar power. Voters, however, wised up. The amendment fell far short of the 60 percent needed for approval. For 2018, the looming danger is amendments that seek to undermine Florida’s independent judiciary. This issue may not sound as sexy as energy from the sun, but it’s far more important. Florida is the only state in which an appointed body — the Constitution Revision Commission — can put amendments on the ballot without court review. The 37-member commission meets every 20 years, and the next iteration starts in 2017 to decide which amendments — if any — go on the 2018 ballot. Though he claims that conservatives “get the separation of powers,” [RichardCorcoran is not acting like such a conservative. He wants to make the Florida Supreme Court subservient to the Legislature because he opposes the court’s rulings on, to name a few, school vouchers, workers’ compensation insurance and, especially, redistricting. In 2010, voters approved constitutional amendments that prohibited the Legislature from drawing gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts to favor parties and incumbents. Last year, the groups that sponsored the amendments successfully challenged the congressional and state Senate maps the Republican-controlled Legislature drew in 2012. Both amendments got nearly 63 percent of the vote. Evidence showed that, despite promises of transparency, Republican leaders had worked in secret with party operatives to draw maps that favored the GOP. The legal challenge ensured that the amendments would work as voters intended. Corcoran now wants the Constitutional Revision Commission to go after “bad decisions” — translation: his side lost — by the Florida Supreme Court. He wants proposals to neuter the Fair Districts Amendments and impose 12-year-term limits on Supreme Court justices. It takes 22 votes to get an amendment on the ballot. We don’t know what the commission will produce. Based on the early comments, however, we know that there’s reason for Floridians to start worrying and stay informed.

WEATHER CHANNEL EXPOSÉ UNFAIRLY BASHES SUGAR INDUSTRY FOR ALGAE, CRITICS SAY via Kim Miller of the Palm Beach Post – A documentary published this month about the summer’s widespread algae outbreak faces criticism from scientists, fishermen and farmers who say it pins too much blame on Florida’s sugar industry, and paints an inaccurate picture of Lake Okeechobee as a bubbling cesspool of “radioactive fish.” The piece, titled “Toxic Lake – The Untold Story of Lake Okeechobee,” delves deep into Florida’s calamitous decision to reroute its natural plumbing system, as well as the robust lobbying efforts and political prowess of Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar. But critics argue the 10-page article and 11-minute video pay less attention to the unusual weather that super-charged the algae growth over the summer, or to where the pollution that seeded the St. Lucie River slime originates. The story, which can be found at toxiclake.com is labeled an investigation by The Weather Channel. “It just seemed like there were a lot of things in the story pointing back to sugar, and that is a distraction,” said Nyla Pipes, executive director of the One Florida Foundation, a nonprofit group focusing on water issues. “People want a boogeyman, but it’s a disservice to Floridians because you can’t point fingers at one industry.”

WHAT DEAN CANNON IS READING – DENTAL CARE VENDOR LOSES TRADE SECRETS CASE via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee last week ruled against Managed Care of North America (MCNA Dental). She ordered the company to divulge certain records to Delta Dental. MCNA now must give up the names and locations of the dentists it contracts with … Delta was one of four companies to bid on providing kids’ dental services, and the only one to lose. It filed a public records request with Florida Healthy Kids Corp., which manages the contract. MCNA learned of the request and objected. Half of its score was based on its provider network — essentially the depth of its bench — and MCNA said disclosing that info would divulge “trade secrets.” But the info is publicly available, in bits and pieces through specific searches, on its website. Delta said it wanted “access to MCNA’s network data in the exact format that it was submitted to (Healthy Kids)” to independently verify its bid. “If the information was not accurately presented or formatted, a small variation in office address, county or office hours can result in duplicate counting of providers,” its filing said.

APPOINTEDStuart Kaplan and Lucille Turner to the Florida Board of Optometry.

LONGTIME BUSINESS LOBBYIST LAMENTS LOSS OF ‘SMOKE-FILLED ROOMS’ IN WASHINGTON via Carl Hulse of The New York Times – As executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, [BruceJosten, 66, was the point man for business interests in a slew of heavy-duty trade, tax and energy negotiations … a master at the inside game. After more than 30 years in the Beaux-Arts-style chamber headquarters across Lafayette Square from the White House, Josten is now in his own transition, retiring after helping turn the chamber into a political powerhouse and watching his specialty – sophisticated legislative give-and-take – become less prized in a polarized capital. … “I actually do miss the smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear,” said Josten … “Because you got a lot done.”

DEMOCRATIC WOMEN MORE LIKELY TO HIT THE UNFRIEND BUTTON OVER POLITICS via Leslie Clark for the Bradenton Herald – Only 13 percent of the public blocked, unfriended, or stopped following someone on social media because of a political posting, a new survey from PRRI found. There were sharp divisions among those who took offense: 24 percent of Democrats say they took action after a post angered them, compared to just 9 percent of Republicans and independents who reported eliminating people from their social media circle. Political liberals were far more likely than conservatives to say they removed someone from their social media circle because of what they shared online: 28 percent to 8 percent. Just 11 percent of moderates said they took action against a friend for a posting. Women were twice as likely as men to report unfriending: 18 percent to 9 percent. Three in 10 or 30 percent of Democratic women say they removed an individual from their online social network because of a political opinion they expressed, while only 14 percent of Democratic men did so. Republican men and women were equal when it came to blocking or unfollowing friends: 10 percent versus 8 percent. The poll also found that 5 percent of Americans plan to shun family because of their political views. Democrats, however, are five times more likely than Republicans to say they are trying to avoid certain family members because of their political views, the poll found with 10 percent of Democrats avoiding a family members, compared to just 2 percent of Republicans.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ANDREW FAY – The Legislative and Policy Specialist for Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office received The Florida Bar’s 2016 Government Attorney of the Year award for his service to the victims of the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In her weekly newsletter, Bondi thanked him “for his unwavering service and dedication to the people of Florida and those affected by the tragedy.”

CHRISTMAS CARD FUN via GrayRobinson:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the future mayor of St. Petersburg, Greg Holden.

Gus Bilirakis makes impressive appearance on Political Connections

Sunday morning, I had a chance to catch Gus Bilirakis on the weekly Bay News 9 Political Connections digest.

The Tarpon Springs Republican, chatting with host Al Ruechel, touched on what I would easily say is his most significant issues, including problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, co-sponsoring the 21st Century Cures Act, and his vision for 2017.

During the eight-minute segment, viewers could catch a glimpse of three key moments.

“This shouldn’t happen—it’s just an awful thing,” Bilirakis said about the incident at Bay Pines VA where the body of a dead veteran was left unattended and ignored in a shower for nine hours. Staff members were later criticized for attempting to cover up the incident.

“I’ve already demanded information. The Chairman of the VA Committee and myself are demanding all the information [from VA Secretary Robert McDonald], and we’re not going to let this go.”

Bilirakis added: “We need to fix the VA and terminate bad employees,” saying he filed legislation with the committee chair and other members to “make sure VA employees are held accountable.”

“Fire them if they’re not doing their job,” he said. “That’s not happening enough.”

On his co-sponsorship of the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law last week: “It was a grassroots effort. We had roundtables here — the first roundtables occurred here in the district, in Hillsborough County — and I led that effort. We’re finding cures and treatments for individuals.

“Of course, we need more research and that’s why we boosted the NIH.”

Looking forward to 2017, Bilirakis said he believes there is an opportunity to cooperate and “get things done.”

“It takes both parties to get a good bill through,” he said. “That’s why Obamacare failed, because we didn’t have the input we should’ve had … I think there will be more governing, and I’m very hopeful.”

In case you missed it this weekend, the full interview is also available on YouTube.

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