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Mitch Perry Report for 3.9.16 – Sanders stuns in Midwest

Although Bernie Sanders and his supporters have to be feeling great after the Vermont senator stunned everyone Tuesday night by defeating Hillary Clinton in Michigan, Clinton’s victory in the richer delegate state of Mississippi won her more delegates for the night, 86-69.

Nevertheless, it’s certainly a stunning rebuke to the pollsters and pundits, some predicting Clinton could win by nearly 30 percentage points. On the Bloomberg Channel’s “With All Due Respect” Tuesday night, the dean of conventional wisdom, Mark Halperin, said the only way that the Sanders could “spin” that they did OK was if he came within 4 percentage points.

He won by 50%-48%.

How big a victory was it? No less than FiveThirtyEight website calls it one of the “one of the greatest upsets in modern political history.”

When Jesse Jackson won Michigan back in 1988, his fans actually thought he might take the nomination, freaking out the DNC leadership.

They ended up nominating Michael Dukakis.

So now what? There are two  huge prizes next week, Ohio and Florida, and again the polling shows Sanders trailing big-time in those states.

I like his chances to surprise better in the Buckeye State than down in Florida, where the reputation as “Clinton Country”seems to be well deserved, until otherwise noted.

Sanders has been so busy trying to win the earlier states that Wednesday will be his first campaign stump this year in Florida, and who knows whether he’d show up if there wasn’t a debate in Miami?

Nevertheless, he does have a very vocal group of supporters in the Sunshine State who are very much into his message, as I can attest covering a couple of events the campaign has had with campaign staff members (as well as the listeners on my weekly radio show).

Although Clinton fans are undoubtedly still feeling smug about her chances of capturing the nomination, perhaps they shouldn’t feel so terrific. The fact is, the majority of states she’s winning in the South are destined to go Red in November. So Sanders’ success with whites in particular could prove troublesome in some of the states where Donald Trump thinks he can compete that other Republicans haven’t in recent elections, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and perhaps a few others.

In other news …

House District 59  hopeful Rene Frazier says she knows it’s a a lot about negotiating with the other party to get things done as a Democrat in Tallahassee.

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A Survey USA poll done for Bay News 9 is making Florida look ominous for Marco Rubio next week.

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Orlando area U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson says the U.S. Deptartment of Justice won’t look into the circumstances regarding the death of 14-year-old Andrew Joseph III at the Florida State Fairgrounds two years ago. However, he says they may look at the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office’s practices.

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Speaking of the HCSO, it had a message for the media Tuesday regarding the apparent exuberance among some reporters to find out when the Go Hillsborough investigation is due out.

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And Uber is now going after Senate President Andy Gardiner regarding the holdup in voting for a bill regulating TNCs in Tallahassee.

Uber targets Senate President Andy Gardiner in new ad

With just days to go before Sine Die in the Florida Legislature, frustrations are boiling over the issue of whether there will finally be bill regulating TNCs (Transportation Network Companies) in Tallahassee.

Uber is unhappy with Senate President Andy Gardiner, who they say has failed to bring up to a vote in the Senate a companion bill to a bill, passed overwhelmingly in the House, that was sponsored by Fort Walton Republican Matt Gaetz.

Gardiner responds that there isn’t a companion bill in the Senate, because the bill sponsored by Altamonte Springs Republican Dave Simmons does not address the issue of preemption. That provision would require that local government could not regulate companies like Uber and Lyft.

Uber is taking it to another level now, airing this ad in Tallahassee and Orlando.

Here’s the ad:

Senate President Andy Gardiner still considering whether to bring up John Armstrong’s confirmation

Don’t count out Surgeon General John Armstrong quite yet.

Senate President Andy Gardiner said he is still debating whether the Senate will consider Armstrong’s confirmation. Gardiner said if the Senate were to take up Armstrong’s confirmation, it could come up on Thursday.

But, Gardiner said, that’s still a big if.

“I’m not sure we’re there yet,” said Gardiner. “We are not whipping. For me, it’s more of a procedural (question). If we bring him up, what’s the sense of the Senate.”

The Senate Ethics and Elections committee did not take up Armstrong’s confirmation. The committee postponed the hearing several times. Naples Republican Sen. Garrett Richter, the committee’s chairman, said at the time that Armstrong’s confirmation was postponed because members still had questions.

Armstrong’s confirmation has been an uphill battle. His leadership has been criticized, and lawmakers have questioned the state’s growing rate of HIV/AIDs and the slow implementation of the state’s medical marijuana law.

The Senate did not confirm Armstrong during the 2015 legislative session. If it fails to confirm Armstrong this year, the state’s top doctor will be out of a job.

Florida Senate confirms Cissy Proctor, Tom Delacenserie

The heads of two more state agencies are keeping their jobs.

The Florida Senate on Tuesday confirmed dozens of Gov. Rick Scott appointees, including Cissy Proctor, the executive director Department of Economic Opportunities, and Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie.

Proctor’s confirmation flew through all of its committee stops.

Scott selected Proctor to lead the agency last year. She replaced Jesse Panuccio. Panuccio was not confirmed by the Senate in 2015. It was widely expected he wouldn’t survive a confirmation hearing in 2016.

“Cissy and Tom are outstanding public servants, people, executive leaders and advocates for all Floridians. They truly understand what it means to serve taxpayers very well,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Florida TaxWatch looks forward to working with both of them in ensuring that Florida remains the best place to learn, to work and to live.”

Lawmakers did not consider Surgeon General John Armstrong, whose confirmation stalled in the Senate Ethics and Elections committee. The panel postponed a vote Armstrong several times. Senate President Andy Gardiner said Monday he is still considering whether to bring Armstrong’s confirmation up before the whole Senate.

Senate pays tribute to outgoing President Andy Gardiner

The man of the hour smiled as his colleagues told stories and reminisced about his time in the Florida Legislature.

They spoke of his commitment to his family, his dedication to his community, and his calm demeanor when dealing with the tough issues the state has faced in recent years.

“He is the George Bailey from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in our state,” Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean said of Senate President Andy Gardiner. “He’s truly the richest man in the Florida Senate.”

Andy Gardiner's official Senate portrait. Courtesy of Florida Senate.
Andy Gardiner’s official Senate portrait. Photo courtesy of the Florida Senate.

For nearly two hours Monday, lawmakers paid tribute to Gardiner, who’s wrapping up his term as Senate President. The  Senate unveiled the official portrait of the 47-year-old Orlando Republican, and colleagues from both sides of the aisle praised him for his nearly two decades in office.

“There has not been a time where I’ve shown up to this office that I don’t look forward to being here,” Gardiner said. “It is an incredible opportunity.”

First elected to the Florida House in 2000, Gardiner served as the House Republican leader from 2004 until 2006. He was elected to the Senate in 2008, where he was the Majority Whip for two years, before becoming the Majority Leader in 2010. He has spent the past two years as the Senate President.

Gardiner – whose son, Andrew, has Down syndrome – has made improving the quality of life for people with unique abilities a priority during his time in office. Gardiner spent much of the past two years pushing legislation to create a path to economic independence for people with unique abilities.

This year the Legislature approved a bill (HB 7003) that expanded the personal learning scholarship account, now known as the Gardiner Scholarship Program, to more students; creates employment options for people with unique abilities, and creates a financial-literacy program for individuals with disabilities. Gov. Rick Scott has already signed the bill into law.

“The greatest accomplishment is bringing folks and families out of the shadows, making it known and expected that we will give them the best opportunities,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican. “If we did nothing else, we changed the culture.”

Gardiner’s wife, Camille, and three children — 12-year-old Andrew, 8-year-old Joanna Lynn and 5-year-old Kathryn Lucille — attended the ceremony Monday. His parents, in-laws and several friends and former legislators — including former House Speaker Dean Cannon and former Senate President and CFO Jeff Atwater — also attended the event. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran were also on hand.

“Thank you for embracing the Gardiner family on this journey,” he said.

Gardiner used his speech to thank his staff, family and friends for their support during his time in the Legislature. He became emotional as he spoke to his colleagues, encouraging them to continue to advocate for their communities.

“There is no doubt in my mind that God has a plan for each and every one of us,” he said.

Uber Florida uses app to call out Andy Gardiner on ride-sharing legislation delay

Uber has had a tough time getting legislation passed this session, and the ridesharing company is focusing its efforts on changing one lawmaker’s mind: Republican Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Starting Monday, Florida users of the ridesharing app will be prompted to “vote for Uber” the next time they call for a car. The “VOTE” app experience redirects users to a page asking them to “tell Senator Gardiner to stop holding up access to safe, affordable, reliable rides.”

“It’s not hard to hold an up or down vote,” the web page reads. “There are only five days left in the 2016 session for the state Senate to vote on allowing all Floridians access to Uber. A bill that would do just that passed the House 108-10, but Senate President Gardiner is refusing to even let the Senate take a vote.”

Customers aren’t the only one Uber hopes to get involved in the fight. The group also announced it made a radio ad buy and direct mail campaign in Gardiner’s Orlando-based district.

“The taxi companies and their well-connected friends are at it again,” the radio ad says over ominous piano music. “But this time, they are not alone. They have turned to their pal, State Senate President Andy Gardiner for help.”

The mail campaign hits a similar note, describing the Senate President as “selling us out to his rich taxi friends,” and urging Floridians to bombard the Orlando Republican’s Tallahassee phone line with pleas to pass the House’s ridesharing bill.

That bill, HB 509 by Shalimar Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, would pre-empt local regulations on ridesharing companies. It cleared its committee stops and a floor vote in the House with little opposition, but no Senator filed a companion version in the early days of Session, and HB 509 is currently languishing in the Senate.

UBER_FL MAILER_Page_1 UBER_FL MAILER_Page_2

With downtown campus funding in budget, UCF hopes it has satisfied Rick Scott

The University of Central Florida has walked a careful path to line up support for what had been a controversial plan for a downtown Orlando campus, and now the university has everything but the governor’s signature.

No one is taking that for granted, though.

Over the weekend, with pushes from Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island, the Florida Legislature’s budget conference included the $20 million UCF needs.

That came a few days after the Florida Board of Governors signed off, even as key members of that board stated flatly they would not have done so based on how the plan had first been presented.

Last month the city of Orlando pushed all its chips onto the table, signing a memorandum of understanding that it would provide $68 million worth of land, buildings and infrastructure.

Civic leaders and organizations in Orlando also have chipped in on their own, raising $16 million in private donations over the past four months toward a promised goal of $20 million.

It all hinges, though, on a critical set of promises and concessions that the university agreed to in January after UCF officials and officials of Gov. Rick Scott met in December to sort out what the university could do to change his mind.

Scott vetoed money last summer for the campus. He still has not made any statements about whether he’ll change his mind this time. That’s where the UCF memorandum of understanding, approved by the UCF Board of Trustees in January, becomes critical.

UCF Senior Vice President for University Relations Dan Holsenbeck called the budget appropriation a “huge relief,” but not the final relief.

“Honestly, it would not be possible without, first and foremost, the real support and tenacity of the Speaker and the President,” Holsenbeck said.

“But we also have to recognize that we worked with the Governor and his staff over the holidays and addressed most of his issues,” he said. “I’m not speculating that he is going to sign it or not veto it, But we worked out the issues of concern to him.”

Those issues included UCF promises:

  • to focus the academic offerings on majors that would address downtown workforce needs;
  • to review progress and weed out programs that have low student demand;
  • to pursue the goal of 100 percent job placement in the two most popular degree programs within a year of graduation;
  • to set up an instructional model that would involve about 46 percent of instruction coming from traditional classroom lectures, 38 percent from hybrid methods, and 16 percent as on-line studies;
  • to not build its own student dormitories downtown, but to allow private developers to offer private student housing; and
  • to not seek any more state money until after the campus opens for the 2018-19 year.

The downtown campus was not the only major UCF project to get funding in the conference budget.

UCF also is getting $14 million for continued development of a joint-use set of facilities for military research in the university’s research park. It also got more than $3 million to finish renovations of a UCF engineering building, and more than $4 million for a multidisciplinary lab building on campus.

Next up for UCF, and for the University of South Florida: anticipation that they could get money and recognition as universities of “emerging preeminence.”

Both universities are hoping the new category is created as a notch below the current universities of preeminence category that brings the University of Florida and Florida State University additional funding.

Bills are alive in both legislative chambers to create the new category, and the universities are hoping the money will appear in the budget. They expect $20 million to be set aside for UF and FSU to split, and an amount equal to half of what the preeminent universities get — $10 million this year — for UCF and USF to split.

House lays Seminole Compact failure at feet of Senate

It’s the Florida Senate’s fault that the Seminole Compact wasn’t passed this session, two House leaders said Friday afternoon.

They rejected claims there weren’t enough votes in the House, saying instead there was no point in moving a bill that wasn’t going to be considered across the Capitol Rotunda. (For Friday’s background, click here.)

The Senate gave up on it earlier this week, with President Andy Gardiner saying the compact “will be for another day, and for somebody else to handle.” This is his final  year in office.

“We wanted to keep hope alive, but obviously nothing panned out,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. “We figured there was no life in it … as for 2016, it won’t have an opportunity to come back up.”

“It just couldn’t get done in the Senate,” he said. “There wasn’t a compromise opportunity to get it done.”

Gardiner and other Senate leaders weren’t available Friday afternoon because that chamber was still meeting.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican who chairs the Finance and Tax Committee, said he believed there were “no fewer than” 80 votes in the 120-member House to pass the re-negotiated agreement. A majority in the House, enough to pass legislation, is 61.

He also feared that now the courts will essentially make gambling policy for the state since several related suits are pending.

The Florida Supreme Court is set to consider a challenge by a Creek Indian-operated racetrack in Gretna that it and pari-mutuels in five other counties can offer slots because voters approved the machines in local referendums.

Competing lawsuits are also before two federal judges.

In one, the Seminoles say the state violated a previous promise of blackjack exclusivity by allowing card games known as player-designated games, similar to some versions of player-banked poker.

The tribe offers blackjack at seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

In another suit, the state alleges that the tribe’s current offering of blackjack is technically unauthorized because one part of the previous agreement expired and Seminole blackjack going on now is illegal gambling.

“If we don’t take action, we will surrender the state’s involvement in this critical decision-making,” Gaetz said. “If there is judicial action that deems the state in violation of the Compact, we’ll have the deprivation of revenue, a loss of control on the expansion of gaming … and we look dysfunctional.”

The previous blackjack deal was worth at least $1 billion over five years to the state treasury, though payments usually exceeded $200 million per year. Revenue from the tribe stops without a new deal.

It wasn’t clear whether the new Compact would still go to the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees Indian gambling, for review and separate approval.

Seminole Compact dies (again) in Legislature

The Florida House of Representatives “temporarily postponed” consideration of this year’s troubled gambling legislation, suggesting last-minute whip counts showed a lack of votes to pass the bills.

Friday’s move signals that any possibility of legislative approval of the state’s new gambling agreement, or Compact, with the Seminole Tribe of Florida is dead for the session, which ends next Friday.

The Senate had already given up on it: The Compact “will be for another day, and for somebody else to handle,” President Andy Gardiner said earlier this week. This is his final year in office.

“Gaming bills tend to die of their own weight,” he said.

It’s now up to the tribe whether it triggers its “nuclear option,” making good on a promise by Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen that the tribe would lay off thousands of casino workers across the state if the deal died this year.

Gov. Rick Scott this Wednesday repeated the threat before reporters: “According to the Seminoles, if the Compact is not passed, 3,700 people are going to lose their jobs.”

Gary Bitner, the Seminoles’ spokesman, “respectfully declined comment” Friday night.

The new Seminole Compact was worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but also contained key provisions that critics said expand gambling in Florida, such as allowing the Tribe to offer craps and roulette.

Moreover, lawmakers trying to appease pari-mutuel interests, such as horse and dog tracks, added on even more measures to expand gambling, including slot machines and card games. But that move ensured its demise among legislators shy of seeming too cozy with gambling interests.

We’ll add more comment to this story as we get it.


Jim Rosica (jim@floridapolitics.com) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee. 

Tug of war over tax package kills bills

A squabble over tourist taxes, a last-minute amendment to the Senate’s tax cut package, sucked up about half of the 2016 Legislative Session’s last Senate Appropriations meeting, killing bills left hanging on the agenda.

The panel OK’d the House plan (HB 7099) after amending it with the Senate’s own tax package. The legislation promises about $129 million in tax relief, far less than the $1 billion asked for by Gov. Rick Scott.

For instance, it scales back Florida’s back to school sales-tax holiday from 10 days to three days in August. Legislative budget writers disagree with Scott about the amount of projected revenue the state has to spend next fiscal year.

The amendment in question was eventually approved 11-8, and the tax relief package itself later cleared the committee, though not before budget chief Tom Lee let off a little steam.

Because of the tourist tax fight, the Brandon Republican warned the panel “legislation is already dead on this agenda.”

The infighting highlighted the breakdowns that start piling up in the waning days of a legislative session.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, had introduced the change for Bay, Okaloosa and Walton counties, allowing the possibility of redirecting local tourist development taxes to subsidize items such as emergency services at beaches.

But Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, objected to the amendment being filed nine minutes before the 8 a.m. start of the appropriations meeting, which ended promptly at 10 a.m. Still others questioned whether the move should have come up through the local bill process.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the Port Orange Republican who shepherded tax cuts through her chamber this year, also objected.

“This is a local issue … they know what’s important to them,” she said. “We know where this is going: This is ‘creeping’ and I’m not in favor of it.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner later released a statement, explaining that lawmakers were “reducing local (property tax) rates and using only state tax dollars to pay for a $478 million increase in education funding.”

“This is a win-win scenario for our state,” he said. “K-12 per student funding is at an all-time high, but state taxes dollars, rather than the property taxes of local homeowners and businesses, will cover the cost of that increase.”

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) also commented on the plan, lauding a provision that permanently gets rid of the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment.

“As the tax package heads to the Senate floor, AIF encourages the full Senate to advance this pro-business tax cut that will reinvigorate manufacturing and accelerate job growth in the Sunshine State,” it said.


Editor’s Note: This version corrects the amount of tax cuts referred to in an earlier post.

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