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Personnel note: Rob Johnson exits AG’s office for The Mayernick Group

Photo credit: Michael B. Johnston

Rob Johnson, a long-time, respected 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.

“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.”

Before joining the Attorney General’s Office, Johnson served as Gov. Jeb Bush’s deputy director of Cabinet affairs. He was also extensively involved in the 2003 workers’ compensation overhaul during his time working as legislative advisor to the state’s first Chief Financial Officer.

Started by Mayernick and his wife, Tracy Mayernick, The Mayernick Group is one of the leading boutique government relations firms in the state.

Often ranked among the Top 20 firms earning more than $250,000 in the state, the firm saw steady growth in the first three quarters of 2016. According to an analysis by LobbyTools, the firm brought in an estimated $430,000 in the third quarter of 2016.

Among The Mayernick Group’s roster of clients are heavyweights like HCA Healthcare, Florida Power & Light and U.S. Sugar.

The husband-and-wife duo with deep connections in the Florida Senate also does work for several “white hat” clients including maternity and infant health charity March of Dimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Florida, Lutheran Services and the PACE Center for Girls as well as industry-centric “food fighters” such as AT&T, Alkermes Plc and Dredging Contractors of America.

Johnson’s years of public sector experience will likely mesh well with the team at The Mayernick Group. Before striking out on his own, Frank Mayernick served as the legislative affairs director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

He also served under the Speaker’s Legislative Fellowship Program, working in the House Rules Committee, and worked as an aide to both Sen. Charlie Clary, a Destin Republican, and Rep. Jerry Melvin, a Fort Walton Beach Republican.

Tracy Mayernick, meanwhile, boasts a strong appropriations background, as well as a history of working on healthcare, telecommunications, environmental, agriculture, economic development, transportation and criminal justice issues.

Johnson’s last day at the Attorney General’s Office was Tuesday. His first day at The Mayernick Group is Wednesday.

I look forward to working with professionals like Frank and Tracy and am committed to providing the firm’s clients with sound strategic counsel as we move into the 2017 Legislative Session,” said Johnson in a statement Wednesday.

A Florida State University graduate, Johnson is married to Alia Faraj-Johnson, the senior vice president and Florida public affairs leader at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. The couple lives in Tallahassee with their 8-year-old daughter.

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Infamous dates: The moments that shaped Florida politics in 2016

Everyone expected Florida to play an important role in politics this year.

And why wouldn’t they? Presidential hopefuls hailed from here; the state’s electoral votes were coveted; and its Senate race could have determined control of the U.S. Senate.

But just like many predictions in 2016, some of the prophecies for Florida’s outsized role on the national stage fell flat. Many believed a Sunshine state politico would be a presidential nominee (not quite right) or that the election would hinge on its 29 electoral votes (close but no cigar). And that much anticipated battle for the U.S. Senate? It fizzled out before the first vote was even cast.

Here are the dates that really mattered in Florida politics this year. And some of them might just surprise you.

Jan. 20Florida Senate says it won’t appeal redistricting decision — A years-long battle over the state’s political lines came to an end in January, when Senate leadership announced it planned to let the court-ordered maps go into effect. The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported the four-year legal battle cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million. The new maps threw a wrench in the 2016 election cycle, with all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats on the ballots. While many believed the new maps could boost Democrats chances in 2016, that didn’t quite pan out.

Feb. 20 — Jeb Bush ends 2016 presidential bid —  All signs pointed to Jeb Bush being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The son and brother of two presidents, the former Florida governor racked up a massive war chest and plenty of big-name endorsements. But Bush couldn’t make headway in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls and was often on the receiving end of then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks. After a sixth place finish in Iowa and a fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Bush hung his hopes on South Carolina. He spent days on end campaigning in the Palmetto state, but it was just too late. He came in third, and ended his campaign that night.

March 15Donald Trump triumphs in Florida primary — Was it the turning point for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Maybe. The New York Republican was already on a winning streak by the time the March 15 primary rolled around, but the Sunshine State contest was the biggest one to date. And Trump was up Sen. Marco Rubio, who was believed to be a hometown favorite. Turns out, Florida voters weren’t keen on sending Rubio to the White House. Trump trounced Rubio, winning every county except for Miami-Dade County. Rubio ended his presidential campaign that night, saying America was in “the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami. And we should have seen this coming.”

April 21Gwen Graham hints at 2018 plans — When the dust settled on new congressional districts, one thing was clear: Florida’s 2nd Congressional District was solidly Republican. What wasn’t entirely clear was whether Rep. Gwen Graham would run for re-election or follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in 2018. She put the rumors to rest in April, announcing she was dropping her re-election bid and was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.” In the months since, Graham has continued to fuel speculation about her plans for 2018, most recently telling reporters every part of her “wants to run for governor,” but that her husband’s battle with cancer will play a significant role in her decision.

April 28Workers’ compensation decision rocks business community — A Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases might have been a victory for injured workers, but it also set the wheels in motion for what would become significant workers’ compensation rate hikes. The 5-2 ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company was just one of the decisions striking down workers’ compensation laws this year. Those rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation to ask state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent rate hike. That rate, which was eventually lowed to 14.5 percent, went into effect Dec. 1. The state’s business community has said the rate hikes could have a dramatic impact on business, and are pushing lawmakers to tackle workers’ compensation reform in 2017.

June 1249 killed in an attack on Pulse nightclub — In the wee hours of the morning on June 12, a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, and sent shockwaves through the state and country. Gov. Rick Scott spent several weeks in Orlando, visiting with the victims and their families, attending funeral services, and meeting with members of the community. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together to support the victims and their families. Spearheaded by Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city set up the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the attack. As of Dec. 2, the fund distributed $27.4 million for 299 claims, or 98 percent of all eligible claims filed.

June 17David Jolly drops out of U.S. Senate race, announces re-election bid — When Rep. David Jolly announced he was forgoing a re-election bid to run for the U.S. Senate, all signs indicated former Gov. Charlie Crist would sail to an easy victory. But after more and more politicos pushed encouraged Sen. Rubio to run for re-election, Jolly ended his U.S. Senate bid and announced a re-election bid, challenging Crist in an effort to keep his seat in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. He had the support of many local Republicans, but Jolly’s push to end the practice of lawmakers dialing for dollars soured many congressional Republicans. When Election Day rolled around, Crist defeated Jolly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

June 22 — Marco Rubio reverses course, decides to run for re-election — After a devastating loss in his home state’s presidential primary, Sen. Rubio swore he wouldn’t run for re-election. The Miami Republican said multiple times that was going to serve out the remainder of his term and then go back to being a private citizen. And, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, a close friend — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera – was already running for his seat. But in the days after the Pulse shooting, Lopez-Cantera encouraged his friend to run for re-election. Rubio ultimately announced his re-election bid just days before the qualifying deadline, effectively clearing the Republican field. He walloped Carlos Beruff in the Republican primary, and led in nearly every poll between him and Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio sailed to victory, winning a second term with 52 percent of the vote.

June 29 — Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency after algae clogs waterways — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers after record rainfalls earlier in the year. While those discharges sparked outrage in both communities, the appearance of algae blooms on the state’s east coast prompted action from the governor. Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties in June, and called on the federal government to quickly approve permits for dispersed water management projects. The declaration helped push the issue of water quality to the forefront of many campaigns.

July 8Corrine Brown indicted — It was a no good, very bad year for former Rep. Corrine Brown. Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which she represented since 1993, was redrawn as part of the state’s ongoing redistricting case. She and several other political operatives were served with subpoenas at a BBQ joint in Jacksonville. And in July, Brown and her chief of staff were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges. The charges stem from her involvement in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme. Brown was defiant, saying “just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean they have the facts.” To add insult to injury, Brown was lost her primary in the newly drawn district.

July 29 — Zika comes to Florida — The first reported cases Zika virus in the Sunshine State began popping up in February, when state health officials confirmed there were nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Gov. Scott declared a public health emergency in four Florida counties, a number which would grow as the months wore on. As concerns about the illness spread, officials called on the federal government to assist Florida in combatting the disease and minimize the chances of homegrown cases. But in July, health officials announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika had been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly issued a travel warning for the Wynwood neighborhood, where the first cases were found. The state eventually identified several Miami-Dade communities, including a portion of Miami Beach, where local people had contracted the illness. The state cleared the final Miami-Dade Zika zone in early December. According to the Department of Health, there were more than 250 cases of locally acquired infections reported this year.

Aug. 30The Grayson era comes to an end — Rep. Alan Grayson was known throughout Florida — and beyond — as a bombastic, no holds bar congressman. And he lived up to that reputation when he ran for U.S. Senate. Grayson made headlines after his ex-wife claimed domestic abuse over two decades, a claim he refuted (but not before getting physical with a reporter). Grayson gave up seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District to run for office, but convinced his second wife to run. That pitted Dena Grayson against Susannah Randolph, a former aide to the congressman, both of whom tried to carry the banner for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And there was no party at the Grayson house when primary night rolled around. Rep. Murphy crushed Rep. Grayson in the U.S. Senate primary; while former state Sen. Darren Soto defeated both Dena Grayson and Randolph (Dena Grayson came in third). The hits kept coming for the Grayson political dynasty. In November, Star Grayson, the former congressman’s daughter, finished a distant third in a three-person race for the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Sept. 2Hurricane Hermine ends Florida’s hurricane-free streak — The Category 1 hurricane was the first storm to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. And boy, did it leave an impression. The storm smacked the Panhandle, knocking out power to thousands upon thousands of customers. While power was restored in some communities relatively quickly, Tallahassee struggled to get up and running. That led to a tussle between Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum and Gov. Scott. In a testy press release, the governor said the city was declining help from other utility companies and expressed frustration over how long it was taking to get the power back on. Gillum shot back, saying Scott was just trying to undermine a cooperative process. But politicos across the state noted the way Gillum, a rising star in the Democratic Party, handled the situation might come back to haunt him in future political runs.

Sept. 26 Water contamination concerns prompt rule changes — Days of rain leading up to, and following, Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed St. Petersburg’s sewer system. City officials opted to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, marking the first time in about a year the city did that. Combine that with news that a Mosaic Fertilizer sinkhole released 215 million gallons of toxic, radioactive water into the water supplies, and it’s no wonder concerns about Florida’s water supply ran rampant this fall. After many people raised questions about when the spills were reported, Gov. Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to establish new reporting requirements. Those requirements are meant to guarantee local governments and the DEP are notified within 24 hours of a pollution incident. The state in October reached a deal with Mosaic over the sinkhole, which held the company accountable for fixing the sinkhole and rehabilitating the impacts of the spill.

Oct. 7 — Deadly storm threatens Florida’s east coast — One month after Hurricane Hermine made landfall near Tallahassee, Floridians were faced with another hurricane barreling toward their shores. What started as destructive tropical cyclone morphed into Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Gov. Scott and other officials throughout the state encouraged Floridians to evacuate and warned of days without power. The storm sideswiped the entirety of the East Coast, causing damage up and down the coast. The storm tore apart A1A in Flagler Beach, forcing it closed and requiring significant restoration.

Nov. 8Medical pot becomes legal — The second time was the charm for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The constitutional amendment which allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana, easily passed with 71 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, were able to fend off opposition attacks. Florida was one of six states that legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes on Election Day, marking one of the biggest electoral victories for marijuana reforms in years.

Nov. 10Richard Corcoran era brings new rules to Florida House — Calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced new rules aimed at getting tough with with the capital’s lobby corps. The rules prohibit representatives from flying on planes owned, leased or paid for by lobbyists; require lobbyists to filed individual disclosures for each bill, amendment and appropriation they’re working on; and increased the lobbying ban on former members from two to six years. Corcoran also created the Committee on Integrity and Ethics, an oversight committee.

Dec. 22Will Weatherford rules out 2018 gubernatorial bid — Considered a likely 2018 gubernatorial contender since he left office in 2014, former House Speaker Will Weatherford ended the year (and helped officially kick off the 2018 election cycle) by saying he would not run for governor in two years. “I have decided that my role in the 2018 gubernatorial election should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate,” he said in a statement. “My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” Weatherford was the first candidate to formally say whether they were running. But even without Weatherford in the race, Floridians can expect a crowded field. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to run, and Speaker Corcoran has been mentioned as a possible candidate. On the Democratic side, Rep. Graham has already expressed her interest, as has trial attorney Morgan. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all believed to be pondering a run.

Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories in 2016

From algebra to Zika, 2016 brought a plethora of material to the Capitol Press Corps. Trying to pick the top state government stories is a subjective pursuit, to say the least, but here are the FloridaPolitics.com picks for the passing year. In (kind of) chronological order:

— Kevin McCarty ousted as state Insurance Commissioner, replaced by David Altmaier

McCarty gave himself the ax in early January, saying he was resigning to pursue “other career opportunities.” The then 56-year-old often took the blame for rising insurance rates in the state, especially when homeowners discovered they would have to pay more in premiums. Gov. Rick Scott had had it in for McCarty for a while; he was among a triumvirate of state officials that Scott forced out the door, including FDLE Commissioner Gerry Bailey and Department of Revenue head Marshall Stranburg. Then Scott and CFO Jeff Atwater deadlocked on McCarty’s replacement. (Under state law, Scott and Atwater first have to agree on one candidate.) Scott backed retired insurance executive Jeffrey Bragg, while Atwater was behind Bill Hager, a state representative and former Iowa Insurance Commissioner. The compromise candidate was David Altmaier, then the Office of Insurance Regulation’s deputy commissioner, who once was a high school algebra teacher. Altmaier was appointed in April.

— Pro-school vouchers rally in Tallahassee; school vouchers ruling

Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led a march and rally in downtown Tallahassee during the Legislative Session in February, in support of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship, attracting several thousand participants and spectators. Capitol Police director Chris Connell even sent an advisory to state workers that “organizers are busing in people from around the state and are planning for approximately 10,000 people to attend the rally.” The timing was apt: It was the day after the federal holiday memorializing his father, the slain civil-rights leader. Then in August, the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with a lower court to throw out the lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association and others over the state’s largest private school voucher program. They had argued its method of funding private-school educations for more than 90,000 schoolchildren is unconstitutional. The vouchers are funded by companies, which in turn receive tax credits on money they owe to the state.

— Rick Scott’s $250 million in incentives nixed by lawmakers

Scott had proposed a “Florida Enterprise Fund,” $250 million for business incentives. “Everyone knows my priorities,” he said close to the end of session. “All of them are tied to getting more jobs in our state. The tax cut is important … along with the $250 million for (the Fund).” But, as Uncle Junior once said of Richie Aprile, “He couldn’t sell it.” An intransigent House, including current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, derided it as corporate welfare. Relentless criticism from groups like Americans for Prosperity-Florida didn’t help either. In the end, Scott’s business recruitment effort got “zero.” And Scott wound up vetoing $256.1 million from the final 2016-17 budget – eerily close to the $250 million he sought for economic development.

— Legislature punts on new Seminole Compact

The history of failure in dealing with gambling continued in the Legislature in 2016. A deal between the state and Seminole Tribe of Florida on exclusive rights to offer blackjack in Florida expired last year, and Scott negotiated a new “compact” guaranteeing blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. The deal died in March when it couldn’t get to either floor for a vote. It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers tacked on bills that would have expanded gambling offerings for the dog and horse tracks in their districts. Legislative leaders say they support bringing the compact back in 2017. But a federal judge recently sided with the tribe in, saying no matter what the Seminoles can keep dealing cards till 2030 – the end of the original agreement – and don’t have to pay the state a dime. Nonetheless, the tribe is still paying to keep a fragile peace, depositing $19.5 million in state coffers this month.

— Rick Scott signs death penalty overhaul into law, which Supreme Court later invalidates 

In March, Scott signed a measure that overhauled Florida’s death penalty by requiring that at least 10 out of 12 jurors recommend an execution for it to be ordered. Florida previously only required that a majority of jurors recommend a death sentence but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state’s sentencing law was unconstitutional. In 2013, Scott also signed “The Timely Justice Act,” which requires governors to sign death warrants within 30 days after a Death Row prisoner exhausts all appeals, among other provisions. This year’s fix was short-lived: By October, the Florida Supreme Court shot the law down, saying death sentences require a unanimous jury. The court added the new law can no longer be applied to pending prosecutions in the state. Still another decision opened the door to death-sentenced inmates getting their sentences reduced to life. And the opinions mean lawmakers will once again, in the words of Justice Harry Blackmun, have to “tinker with the machinery of death” in 2017.

— Supreme Court decisions punch holes in workers’ comp system

The state’s business lobby had a conniption after the Florida Supreme Court ruled on two cases this summer affecting the state’s workers’ comp system. One struck down a law that limited payments to injured workers to only two years. Another struck down a law that capped attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases. Soon, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which submits rate filings on behalf of insurers, asked state regulators to OK a nearly 20 percent rate hike in workers’ comp premiums. That request was whittled down to 14.5 percent, which took effect Dec. 1. Opponents have criticized the 2003 changes put in place by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, saying they were draconian and favored employers at the cost of injured employees. Companies said the new system cut costs, which helps businesses grow jobs. And the changes also were intended to reduce lawsuits over benefits. Expect lawmakers to tackle this issue as well in 2017.

— Citrus Department gets smaller budget, staff cuts

The citrus greening epidemic, which is killing the state’s citrus trees, also hit the Department of Citrus this year. Normally, the department’s operations are paid for by a tax paid by growers on each box of citrus. But because the state’s citrus crop is shrinking, so are the department’s finances. The Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the department, in June approved a $20.7 million spending plan for 2016-17, a 32 percent decrease from the prior budget year. That was after leading growers called for the Department to “be scaled back considerably,” saying they “do not believe current marketing programs are generating an economic return.” One bit of good news came by year’s end: Florida’s orange crop production will hold steady at 72 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasted.

— State economists say budget is heading into the red

In September, the state’s economists told lawmakers Florida is likely to basically break even next year in terms of its state budget. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Income and outgo estimates left Florida with a relatively scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue. And deficits were forecast for following years. The current year’s budget is roughly $82 billion, which includes federal dollars. (About two-thirds of the yearly budget goes toward health care and education.) By December, the outlook was a bit more sanguine, with nearly $142 million expected to be available. Within context, however, that amounts to a “very minor adjustment,” said Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist.

— Scott tussles with Tallahassee over Hurricane Hermine response

Welcome to Tallahassee, where politics meets weather. Hurricane Hermine, the first to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005, smacked the Panhandle on Sept. 2. Afterward, Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee and Republican Gov. Rick Scott had a testy faceoff over the speed of repair to the city’s electric system. Scott said in a press release that the city was declining help from other utilities and the Department of Transportation. He said he was “frustrated” over how long it was taking to get power back on. Gillum shot back that Scott’s “comments and press releases and tweets have been put out, in my opinion, to undermine our cooperative process … We owe it to (the people of Tallahassee) to not be about politics, but to be about getting power to them.” When Hurricane Matthew skimmed Florida’s Atlantic coast the next month, Scott was more solicitous in dealing with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Republican Party of Florida chair.

— Voters pass medical cannabis amendment

The second time was the charm for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing Floridians a right to medical cannabis. Florida voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent. The amendment creates a right for people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other disorders. In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version is already approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days. Lawmakers already have begun dealing with how medical marijuana will work in Florida, holding the first of many workshops this month.

— Dozens begin applying for seats on Constitution Revision Commission

The Florida Constitution allows for a “revision commission” to meet every 20 years to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.” The next one is scheduled to convene in the 30 days before the beginning of the 2017 Legislative Session in March. The lead-up started in January. That’s when the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank, released a cartoon featuring an animated Sandy D’Alemberte, the legal legend and former Florida State University president who chaired the commission in 1977-78. Later in the year, scores of constitution-revising aspirants turned in applications to Scott, who gets to pick 15 of the 37 members and will choose its chair. Applications also rolled in to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, who gets three picks, and Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who get nine choices each. The applicant lists read like a Who’s Who of Florida, old and new, including present and former lawmakers, lawyers and law professors, local officials and lobbyists.

— Richard Corcoran rolls out tough new House rules

The new Speaker, calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, issued new rules in November that get tough with the capital’s lobbying corps. One increases the ban on former members lobbying their colleagues from two years to six years. Another prohibits state representatives from flying in aircraft owned, leased, or otherwise paid for by lobbyists. Still another requires lobbyists to file an individual disclosure for every bill, amendment, and individual appropriation they are trying to influence. And he created a new Committee on Public Integrity and Ethics, which will “consider legislation and exercise oversight on matters relating to the conduct and ethics standards of House members, state and local public officials, public employees, lobbyists, and candidates for public office, the regulation of political fundraising and the constitutional prerogatives of the Legislature.” Lobbyists publicly nodded in agreement – and privately expressed displeasure. “What I take major issue with is trashing ALL lobbyists and accusing us of being the reason legislators are out of control,” one said anonymously.

— Pitbull controversy ends with VISIT FLORIDA head’s ouster

In December, Scott called on CEO Will Seccombe to resign, the last casualty of a kerfuffle over a secret contract with Miami rapper Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. Corcoran filed suit for the agency to reveal how much it promised the rapper after it claimed the deal was a “trade secret.” Pitbull had the last laugh, disclosing his contract via Twitter and showing he stands to make up to $1 million. Scott wrote to agency board chair William Talbert, telling him he wanted an overhaul of how it does business, revealing more on how it spends money, including contracts. “The notion that Visit Florida spending would not be transparent to the taxpayers is just ridiculous,” Scott wrote. By that point, Seccombe already had fired two of his top executives, Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps, but it wasn’t enough. Seccombe had been in charge of the agency since 2012.

— Department of Health beats Zika–for now

Florida declared its crisis with local transmission of Zika over for the season in December, ahead of peak tourism months. But health authorities warned that travelers would continue bringing the disease into the state. Starting in late July, state health officials had identified four zones in the Miami area where the virus was spreading through local mosquitoes – the first such transmissions in the continental U.S. – and launched aggressive efforts to control the insects. One by one, the zones were deemed clear of continuing infections, and Scott announced that the last one – a 1.5-square-mile area in touristy South Beach – also was cleared. About 250 people have contracted Zika in Florida, and over 980 more Zika infections in the state have been linked to travel, according to state health officials. Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms for most people, but it can cause severe brain-related birth defects when pregnant women become infected. “Hopefully, by next summer, we’ll have a federal government that has a vaccine,” said Scott.

Peter Schorsch, Michael Moline and The Associated Press contributed to this post (reprinted with permission). 

Craig Fugate fumes while Florida sinks in a sea of bulls**t!

Like a teenager who wants Daddy’s money, but not Daddy’s directives, Gov. Rick Scott is not embarrassed to throw tantrums when the feds fail to pony-up fast enough whenever it rains, even as he sticks his fingers in his ears at unwanted advice like “try rolling up your windows.”

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) director Craig Fugate isn’t having it.

Fugate was the wind beneath then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s wings in the horrific hurricane seasons of the decade past. The Bush administration won worldwide admiration for its competence in dealing with whatever Mother Nature threw our way, and Fugate went on to earn more praise managing the nation’s response to the rapidly accelerating pace of acts of God and their ungodly consequences.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg View’s Christopher Flavelle, Fugate makes the case for a “disaster deductible.” The idea is to give state and local governments a pocketbook reason to get out of denial and in to action that would reduce the risk of death and damage from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, volcanoes and earthquakes, fracking-related or not. States would be on the hook for a hefty deductible, but can bring the number down if they resist the urge to build in places people were not meant to live.

Fugate calls the current governments won’t worry be happy FEMA will pay incentives “perverse.” And since he’s talking to Bloomberg, which is an ultra-sophisticated venue for business journalism and not a full-service family newspaper, he also calls them “bullshit.”

“The builders and developers and all the people running around saying they’re capitalists and they’re Republicans and they’re conservatives, and it’s all about individual freedom and making money and growing the tax base, and all the bullshit they throw at people, convincing them this is an economic boon activity. It’s nothing but socialism and social welfare for developers when you subsidize risk … FEMA is the euphemism for you, the taxpayer, holding the bag,” fumed Fugate.

Developers can buy permits, pols and PR campaigns about jobs! jobs! jobs! for pennies on the dollars they’ll make building whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, Fugate is that rare public official who won’t ignore the smell, and isn’t afraid to call it by its right name.

Will Weatherford’s decision enhances, not removes, future options

I think Will Weatherford’s just-announced decision not to run for governor in 2018 merely delays the inevitable. I believe he will be Florida’s governor eventually, and that will be a good thing.

Weatherford, the Land O’Lakes Republican, is a smart, articulate, center-right conservative in the Jeb Bush tradition. He has a strong legislative resume, including a turn as House Speaker. At age 37, he also is young enough that he can afford to wait eight years, which is another way of saying “Merry Christmas, Adam Putnam.”

The sea certainly does seem to be parting among Republicans for Putnam to make his move on the governor’s mansion. Florida CFO Jeff Atwater has shown no appetite for the job. Attorney General Pam Bondi is more likely targeted for a job in Washington.

Weatherford would have been a formidable challenger, but says his top concern right now is family.

He has four children – the oldest is 8, the youngest is 2. Last year he and his brothers Drew and Sam launched Weatherford Partners, a venture capital group, and serves as managing partner. Tellingly, he did not fall into the Republican conga line in the presidential race. He said he did not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

His decision to sit out the governor’s race this time removes a lot of drama, for sure. Weatherford and Putnam are pals, but so were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and we saw how that went.

If Weatherford had gotten into the race, it could have gotten bloody for Republicans. Having two candidates as strong and well-known as Putnam and Weatherford could have split the party, but what this does is increase the likelihood of a Putnam coronation for the nomination.

It allows Putnam to stay low-key for the next year or so, stockpiling cash and support while waiting for the Democrat slugfest between Gwen Graham (assuming her husband’s prostate cancer doesn’t worsen) and possibly Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Weatherford can campaign now for Putnam, and wouldn’t a photo of the two of them together on a platform make for a mighty fine poster for Republicans?

Weatherford will need to find a way to stay in the public eye. As he saw with Jeb Bush, sitting on the sidelines for too long in politics means someone else is getting all the headlines. A cabinet job or gubernatorial appointment to a public post could both keep him in the news and allow him to tend to family matters.

Deciding for now to wait doesn’t remove Weatherford’s options. If anything, it enhances them. If his aim is to one day sit in the governor’s chair – and, really, why wouldn’t it be – then stepping back now doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.

Erin Gaetz launches her own digital content firm

Erin Gaetz is paving her own way, but don’t expect her to veer too far from the family business.

Gaetz, the 31-year-old daughter of former Senate President Don Gaetz and sister of Congressman-elect Matt Gaetz, recently launched her own digital content firm, Southpaw Content. The firm specializes in producing faster, more engaging and less expensive social media and digital content.

Or, as she puts it: No dopey ads of candidates standing around a factory and pointing.

“After the experience on the Jeb campaign, I thought a lot about video,” she said. “It’s great if you’re in a big presidential campaign or (statewide) race, and you have a ton of money and can hire (a team) for a shoot. But I started to think about the scalability of video. Can you make something just as professional without 20 sound guys and the consultant (costs)?”

That’s exactly what she’s trying to do.

As the director of digital content for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid, she wrote, produced and created digital content for the campaign. That included those quirky “#JebNoFilter” videos and a 2-minute documentary-style video highlighting the former governor’s connection to a Charlotte County community devastated by Hurricane Charley.

When her brother ran in Florida’s 1st Congressional District earlier this year, she grabbed her camera and MacBook and started producing videos for his campaign. While there were more traditional political ads, she also produced several untraditional digital segments, like the “Open Gaetz” feature.

“I think you need hooks and you need more fun,” she said.

One of the benefits Southpaw Content can offer clients is the quick turnaround time, she said. Since she’s handling every step of the process, the firm can help clients quickly turn over a new ad, react to a hot issue, or send a message to supporters.

As for those clients, she’s already lining them up. She’s already doing work for Republican Reps. Neal Dunn and Dan Webster.

“I’m working with everyone from current governors to just elected members of the House to universities that really want to build out digital projects and do it in a way that’s cost effective and fun,” she said.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering where the name came from: She’s a lefty.

Joe Henderson to the Palm Beach Post: Are you freaking crazy?

In 2003, then-Gov. Jeb Bush punished reporters from the Tallahassee bureau of the Palm Beach Post by canceling their invitation to his year-end interview session.

His staff cited the “unprofessional behavior” while dealing with some of Bush’s officials, but the paper suspected it was in retaliation for critical reporting on Bush’s pet school vouchers program. I’m betting on the latter.

As a career newspaper guy until my own paper, The Tampa Tribune, folded in May, I always admired the Post. At its peak, this award-winning newspaper was top-to-bottom one of the best in the land.

That is why I ask this question now to the owners and operators of the Post:

Are you freaking crazy?

That’s a rhetorical question, I know. But it seems apropos after last week’s announcement that the Post will close its Tallahassee bureau. We found out about that from the Facebook page of the Post’s Tally reporter, John Kennedy. He was announcing his own layoff.

“The paper’s future is local and digital, and coverage of the goings-on in the state Capitol don’t meld as well with this direction,” he wrote.

Those words could be on the tombstone of many newspapers that abandoned their own strengths in search of click-bait. Papers throughout the state have decided that all that complicated stuff coming out of Tallahassee is boring to the younger generation and doesn’t bring the digital bang for the buck that newspapers chase in the hope it will bring in enough cash to keep them going.

They’re screwing over readers they do have but declining circulation and readership numbers show they aren’t attracting new ones. Why do you think that is?

They keep trying to reinvent the wheel when what they ought to do is realize that nothing generates clicks like real news. We used to see it all the time at the Tribune on our digital site, TBO.com. If there was a big breaking news story, site traffic would spike and readers became engaged.

Whoever ultimately decides at papers like the Post to go without that news is chasing fool’s gold. They either don’t understand or don’t care that real stories happen because of dedicated and plugged-in reporters who find out stuff that governors and presidents would prefer they didn’t know.

Instead of engaging the public with hard news, publishers push in their chips on dubious strategies like page redesigns and marketing slogans. To cut costs, they lay off reporters and decide, as Kennedy so aptly penned, “coverage of the goings-on in the state Capitol don’t meld” with the modern newspaper.

Then they call a staff meeting or send out a memo and moan about the “tough decisions” they had to make. What they should do is apologize to readers for shirking their responsibility to inform the public what the top elected officials in Florida are doing.

There are a few papers that still do it right. The Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald have combined forces in Tallahassee for several years. The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville has been aggressive.

I was at the Tribune when bosses decided coverage in the state capital was a luxury (while maintaining two full-time reporters on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – although, I can promise you that wasn’t the feeling in the newsroom. Top editors fought to regain our presence in Tallahassee by hiring Jim Rosica and, later, Jeff Schweers. But the overall trend isn’t good.

Besides the Post, FloridaPolitics.com reported Gatehouse Media, which owns the Sarasota Herald-Tribune among its nine daily newspapers in the state, closed its Tally bureau recently.

Reporters at that level are the firewall between citizens and politicians who don’t have the public’s best interests in mind. They are the one who make sure the pet projects from top leaders aren’t another effort to line someone’s pocket with public cash.

When newspapers decide that’s no longer important enough to have someone on the scene every day, the public isn’t the only loser. When you take the “news” out newspapers, all that’s left is a bird-cage liner.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.8.16 – Al Gore gets punk’d

For the #NeverTrumper Republicans out there, this Trump presidency might work out pretty well, after all.

Jeb Bush was seen doing cartwheels after Trump selected Betty DeVos to become his Secretary of Education.

“I’m so excited,” Bush said last week at the National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush founded and chairs and on which DeVos serves as a board member.

“President-elect Trump made an extraordinary choice with Betsy DeVos,” he added.

Similar hosannas are being thrown out today from the business community and Jim Inhofe’s of the world regarding The Donald’s choice of noted climate change denialist Scott Pruitt to serve as his EPA secretary.

Pruitt, the Attorney General of Oklahoma, wrote in National Review in May that “the debate is far from settled” over whether human activity has contributed to the warming of the earth.
I’m wondering how Al Gore is feeling today about that?

On Monday, the former Vice President traveled to Trump Tower to discuss climate change with Ivanka Trump, but instead got face time with the soon to be most powerful man in the world.

“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” he told reporters afterward, describing the meeting as “a sincere search for areas of common ground.

“I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued. And I’m just going to leave it at that,” he added.

He didn’t quite leave it at that, going on MSNBC later today that Ivanka “is very committed to having a climate policy that makes sense for our country and for our world, and that was certainly evident in the conversation that I had with her.”

There have been other clues that Trump’s team will lean closer towards Pruitt’s view of the world that Ivanka’s.

The head of his EPA transition team is Myron Ebell, who has never believed in the idea of global warming.

Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders are talking tough about Pruitt when it comes to his confirmation pick.

As Gore would say, to be continued.

In other news…

The blowback has been intense in some quarters regarding Monday night’s Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting. Hillsborough County School Board head April Griffin now says that DEC Chair Ione Townsend blocked her path to challenging her for the chair position a year ago. Townsend says she was just following the rules.

Following the Florida House of Representatives vote last month, Hillsborough County Commissioners may pass their own version of a no texting while lobbying bill.

And that idea that Les Miller had last month to rotate who gets to serve as the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners? Forget all that, please.

Jeb Bush to align with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney law firm as strategic consultant

Jeb Bush is bringing his star power to the law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in a strategic affiliation through his firm Jeb Bush & Associates.

The two-term Florida governor and former presidential candidate will be providing expertise as a consultant to the firm and its clients, according to a statement by the firm first shared with FloridaPolitics.com.

“This move adds to our firm’s distinguished reputation as a leader in providing strategic advice on government, regulatory and business matters,” said Buchanan CEO Joseph Dougherty. “There are very few people that have the breadth of experience that Governor Bush has both in the public and private sector. We believe his insight will be a tremendous asset to our attorneys and clients.”

“Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney is an outstanding adviser to its clients, and I look forward to collaborating with them,” Bush said. “We live in a complex business and political environment, and I believe that putting my knowledge and experience together with Buchanan’s professional acumen will help Buchanan’s clients grow and prosper.”

In his new role, Bush — who will not be lobbying — will focus primarily on guidance for issues concerning Florida, the state he led as governor from 1999 to 2007.

“Those of us who have had the pleasure of working with the Governor in the past now have the opportunity to do so again, and those who haven’t can look forward to a truly rewarding experience. This is an exciting development for the firm and for our clients,” said longtime Bush friend and adviser John “Mac” Stipanovich, who chairs Buchanan’s Florida Government Relations practice.

In a way, the new partnership is somewhat of a homecoming for Bush.

Bush was a key surrogate when Stipanovich served as Florida’s executive director for the Reagan-Bush 1984 campaign. He was also Secretary of Commerce when Stipanovich was working as chief of staff. In a friendship that spans more than 30 years, Stipanovich served as a senior adviser during Bush’s unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial bid.

Buchanan principal Mike Harrell was Bush’s golf partner on Sundays for the eight years while governor and was behind the initiative to bring the two firms together. Kim McGlynn is another Bush alum; she was on staff in the campaign headquarters for both 1990 and 1994. Jim Magill also was on staff for two sessions in Bush’s second term, after having done advance work on all three campaigns.

Bush brings to the firm a long, successful record both in the public and private sectors.

Beginning his career with various roles at the Texas Commerce Bank, Bush moved to Florida and served as the state’s Secretary of Commerce from 1987 to 1988. After a successful run as Florida’s 43rd Governor, Bush returned to private consulting with Jeb Bush & Associates. During his presidential campaign this summer, Bush touted his strong economic record, where Florida added more than 1.3 million jobs and reduced taxes by $19 billion during his watch. When he left office in 2007, the state’s economy had grown by 7.2 percent and its unemployment rate was only 3.4 percent.

In 2015, Bush launched a bid for The White House. Although he raised an impressive war chest, he dropped out of the Republican presidential primary after the South Carolina primary in February.

Earlier this year, Bush announced he would teach a 10-day elective course on governmental leadership at Texas A&M.

Bush is the founder of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a nonprofit public policy organization, as well as the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit charitable think tank to develop solutions for improving education in the U.S. He also chaired the Board for the National Constitution Center, a Philadelphia-based institution for research and education on the U.S. Constitution.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC employs nearly 500 attorneys and government relations professionals in 17 offices nationwide. The firm provides advice and guidance in a broad range of areas: health care, financial services and banking, litigation, intellectual property, labor and employment, real estate, corporate and business law, tax, energy and government relations.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Martin Dyckman: On Jeb Bush’s relevance

Aiming to regain some relevance in the Republican Party, Jeb Bush argues that it should show voters that it stands “for a few a big ideas” rather than only for things to vote against.

Regrettably, four specific ideas that he proposed in a Nov. 24 Wall Street Journal op-ed are not simply big but bad.

“Republicans should support convening a constitutional convention to pass term limits, a balanced budget amendment and restraints on the Commerce Clause, which has given the federal government far more regulatory powers than the Founders intended,” he wrote.

By far the worst is the notion of calling a constitutional convention to pass anything. The Constitution obliges the Congress to call one upon the request of 34 states, but it says nothing about how delegates would be chosen or whether the agenda could be limited to any one issue or set of issues. The uncertainties are so potentially dangerous that this method of amendment has never gone far.

A convention could call for scrapping the entire Constitution, replacing it with we know not what.

The Constitution itself is the product of a convention that was called to revise, not replace, the feeble Articles of Confederation.

That was progress. In the current sour national mood, would a convention respect what’s good about the Constitution — the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary? Or would it reward the authoritarian instincts of an incoming president who has no respect for any of that?

Just this week, our budding dictator called for revoking the citizenship of people who burn the flag. Never mind that it’s the approved method for disposing of one that’s tattered or soiled.

Could a convention abolish the Electoral College? No, because there are not 38 states that would ratify such an amendment.

Would convention delegates be elected or appointed by the state legislatures, which are so badly gerrymandered as to be essentially unrepresentative? If delegates were to be elected, would the Koch Brothers and their big-money allies effectively buy themselves a convenient Constitution?

Bush’s suggestion of a convention as a means to term limits looks like a deep knee-bend to Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has already told Trump to forget about that one.

“We have term limits now. They’re called elections,” says McConnell. For once, I agree with him.

Senate elections can be brutally competitive—we’ve just seen some—except in the most extremely red or blue states. Everywhere, party primaries can and do dispose of seemingly entrenched senators. Indiana’s Richard Lugar comes to mind. As The Washington Post has noted, 64 of the 100 senators have been there less than 10 years, and slightly more than half the 435-member House are new since 2008.

House elections are not nearly as competitive as they should be, but that’s because of gerrymandering. The federal courts are finally showing signs of doing something about that.

The term limits initiative that Bush’s buddy Phil Handy foisted on Florida in 1992 ranks as the second worst mistake — behind secession — the state ever made. It did little to promote more turnover. It made the Legislature worse, dumbing it down and leaving it weaker against the lobbyists, its leadership and the executive branch.

If it weren’t for term limits, Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd—widely disliked but still powerful—could not have said, as he did in 2004, that his members were “like sheep, waiting for someone to tell them what to do.”

The damage works this way: Having only eight years to make their marks in the House or Senate, new members must follow the leaders or their bills won’t be heard and they will never become committee chairs.

In older, better days, legislators could dare to be independent in the knowledge that they could outlast unfriendly leaders. That was true of some who went on to become speakers and Senate presidents themselves. But now, in the House, a future speakership can be nailed down by a freshman who has not yet shown any good judgment or any other leadership quality.

“If you’ve sided with the wrong people, you’re in the doghouse or in the mid-tier, you are more likely to get attracted to any open county commission seat,” departing Sen. Daniel Webster told the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas in 2008.

Klas calculated that only 31 legislators remained from the 83 who had been elected when term limits disposed of their predecessors eight years earlier. But only five of the 83 had been voted out of office before their time ran out.

Although term limits have increased competition for open seats, they seem to be discouraging opposition to incumbents. Potential challengers wonder, reasonably, why they should invest time and money against an incumbent rather than wait for his or her enforced departure. The result: some incumbents could not care less what the voters might think of their deeds in Tallahassee.

What’s most wrong there, as in other state capitals, is the redistricting that leaves too many seats safe for one party or the other, giving the voters no effective choice. Of the 120 Florida legislators voting on new districts during a special session in October 2015, nearly a third—50—were elected without any primary or general election challenge.

As for Jeb’s other dubious reforms, I know of not nation that hogties itself the way a balanced budget amendment likely would, giving extreme power to minority voices in event of an emergency. History suggests an alternative: elect Democrats. Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress balanced the budget and generated a surplus.

As for the Commerce Clause, it was perhaps the single most important provision the Founders established to knit together the 13 independent states into a functioning economy. There is already a check on the Commerce Clause: It’s the Supreme Court, as the court implied in rejecting the clause as a justification for Obamacare, which it upheld only under a different provision, the power to tax.

The future of our country is already uncertain enough in the hands of an unqualified and irrational president-elect. We hardly need a constitutional convention, or any of Jeb Bush’s other bad ideas, to make things worse.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times.

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