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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 2.9.18

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Ana Ceballos, Daniel McAuliffe, and Jim Rosica.

Good Friday morning. This is an Olympic-sized edition of Sunburn, so let’s get right to it.


— @AGGancarski: This @RandPaul filibuster is the first aspirational thing I’ve heard from Republicans since Trump took office. Liberty and limited government: the antidote to runaway debt. However, we vote for and ask for the omnipotent state. Government is expected to fix us. But look at govt.

— @BresPolitico: The federal government is shut down for the 2nd time in 3 weeks. The 115th Congress continues to cover itself in glory.

— @MarcoRubio: Sen.Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago.Has had zero impact on our work. #FoxNews

— @LedgeKing: .@CookPolitical changes ratings in Democrats’ favor in 21 districts in advance of Nov. elections. Three of them are in Florida: @RepStephMurphy from Lean D to Likely D; @VernBuchanan from Solid R to Likely R; and @RepBrianMast from Likely R to Lean R.

— @RichardCorcoran: Many people have asked why we need the #HopeScholarship program that I’m advocating so strongly for. No one wants to see a child suffer from any type of abuse. We also don’t want that pain to limit the child’s ability to reach for the stars and realize their dreams.

— @MDixon55: House leaders put together massive education package Dems take to the floor and inboxes to call it the worst thing in the world They get steamrollered We all go to court Rinse, repeat

— @LobbyTools: 1 day passed the midpoint of Session and we have our first substantive General Bill to successfully pass both chambers: HB 41(Pregnancy Support and Wellness Services). It will be ordered enrolled and sent to Governor Rick Scott for approval.

— @BSFarrington: You know, it seems like almost daily one of the other 37 senators attempts an @AaronPBean impersonation. Still haven’t seen anyone get it right.

— @ShanniDavis: I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event. @TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018 #PyeongChang2018

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Days until: Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training — 4; Valentine’s Day — 5; Last day for regularly scheduled legislative committee meetings — 18; Disney Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival — 20; Last day to take up Special Order Calendar — 24; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program termination begins — 24; Sine Die (maybe) — 28; Major League Baseball Opening Day — 50; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 103; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 133; Primary Election Day — 200; General Election Day — 270; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 368.


House and Senate pass similar-sized budgets, but fights are ahead” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — The House passed its $87.2 billion budget on a vote of 85-27 after a highly-charged partisan debate that foreshadowed bigger election-year battles ahead, mostly on education. Republicans cited a $100-per-student increase in public school spending, a larger Medicaid program and more money for state colleges, foster care, and hurricane-related improvements, without raising taxes. Senators passed an $87.3 billion budget on a 33-to-1 vote, with state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez the lone holdout. Both budgets are roughly $4 billion more than last year. At this stage, the budgets reveal less about how the state will spend taxpayer money next year and more about what House Republicans, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Senate Republicans, led by President Joe Negron, are willing to bargain with over the coming weeks.

It’s negotiation time for Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron.

— “State budget proposal could cost Jackson Memorial $59 million in Medicaid funding” via Elizabeth Koh of the Miami Herald

Maybe it’s time for the Seminole tribe to make a deal” via Florida Politics — Jim Rosica reported that the Tribe’s lawyer said: “his client is offended over gambling that violates its exclusive agreement with the state.” They won’t agree to a new Seminole Compact, Barry Richard said, unless the Legislature ends attempts to expand slots and card games at pari-mutuels and allow daily fantasy play in state statute. That was mostly a swipe at the Senate, which is A-OK with such moves. And why not? As Senate President Joe Negron said of new slots, lawmakers “owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who … have approved (slot machine) referendums … They decided they wanted additional slots … I think that needs to be given great weight.” … maybe it’s time to make a deal that gives the pari-mutuels at least some of what they want. Otherwise, the federal government may not approve any agreement the Legislature reaches.

Senate targets insurance claim denials” via the News Service of Florida — Health insurers and health-maintenance organizations would be banned from retroactively denying claims if they verified eligibility at the time of treatment and provided authorization numbers, under a bill that moved forward in the Senate. Currently, a health insurer or HMO may retroactively deny a claim up to one year after payment. Medicaid HMOs would be exempt from the provisions of the Senate bill (SB 162), but the state group health-insurance plan would not be exempt. A staff analysis indicates the requirements could result in a $166,347 hit to the state group plan. The Senate took up the bill and readied it for a vote as soon as next week. The House version (HB 217) is in the Appropriations Committee.

Florida will put funding for pro-life centers into law if the governor signs this bill” via Elizabeth Koh of the Miami Herald — A bill that would change state law to cement funding for pregnancy support centers, which discourage abortion and provide some medical services for unplanned pregnancies, will head to Gov. Scott’s desk after it was passed by the Senate … The bill makes more permanent a contract the Department of Health has with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, which runs more than 100 pregnancy centers through a collection of largely faith-based groups. It requires that at least 90 percent of the funding for the centers, which are known in part for their pro-life billboards on state highways, be used on pregnancy support and wellness. It also requires that none of those public subsidies be used to reimburse costs for religious material, though it would allow funds to be used for marketing. The bill passed 21-12 on a party-line vote.

Senate poised to pass needle exchange expansion” via the News Service of Florida — The Senate took up a measure (SB 800), filed by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, that would expand statewide a 2016 law that enabled the University of Miami to operate a needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade County. The Senate could vote on the bill next week. Between Dec. 1, 2016, and July 31, 2017, the Miami-Dade program provided 44,497 clean, unused syringes in exchange for 50,509 used syringes. It’s similar to a House measure (HB 579), which is waiting to be heard by the Health & Human Services Committee.

Proposal to boost funding for clemency case backlog withdrawn” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — As the Senate motored through a long list of budget amendments on Wednesday, a proposal to boost funding to deal with the mounting clemency case backlog was tossed. Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Pinellas County Democrat, withdrew his own amendment, which would have given the Florida Commission on Offender Review $500,000 in ongoing state funds to tackle its 10,000-plus clemency case backlog. The Senate is proposing the same amount in its 2018-19 spending plan, but as a one-time, nonrecurring sum. Rouson’s proposal comes after a federal court ruled last week that the state’s voter-restoration process for ex-felons is unconstitutional. “I cannot tell you the number of times I have campaigned, like you have, knocked on doors and met people in community halls who said ‘I wish I could vote but my rights have not been restored,” Rouson said.

“Speaker doesn’t favor total child marriage ban” via Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — Corcoran said Thursday that he doesn’t support a complete ban on child marriage and said the state shouldn’t tell some high school sweethearts they shouldn’t get married if a pregnancy is involved. The Senate passed a bill that would ban the marriage of anyone younger than 18 with no exceptions. Corcoran said he’s against that and defended exceptions in a similar House bill that lets 16- and 17-year-olds marry if there’s a pregnancy and the partner isn’t more than two years older. “I don’t think that the state should tell someone who just turned 18 but whose girlfriend is 17 but in same birth year that they can’t get married. Especially when they have that situation,” Corcoran said. “Now you are going to force them to be unmarried when the baby is born. That’s not good governance.” The House bill is ready for a full chamber vote.

Should teachers go to prison for romances with students? State lawmakers think so.” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — A proposal would make it a second-degree felony for teachers and other school employees to have romantic relationships with students, regardless of the student’s age. The bills would prohibit any adult working or volunteering at a school from soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct, lewd conduct or a romantic relationship with a student. “If it’s a student and it’s a teacher, or any other personnel, employee of the district, then that is a relationship that is off-limits and unacceptable,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues who sponsored one of the bills. Proponents say the proposed law would close loopholes that have allowed teachers to prey on high school students, something they argue is an abuse of power even if the student is legally an adult.

Lorde is unwelcome in Florida, at least with Randy Fine.

Brevard County’s Randy Fine demands Miami, Tampa cancel upcoming ‘LORDE’ concerts” via the Space Coast Daily — In December 2017, Lorde canceled a concert in Tel Aviv in order to join the anti-Israel BDS Movement. “Florida has no tolerance for anti-Semitism and boycotts intended to destroy the State of Israel,” said Fine. “That’s why Florida passed groundbreaking anti-BDS legislation several years ago and why, along with Sen. Jeff Brandes, I have proposed strengthening that legislation this year. Current statutes are clear — local governments cannot do business with companies that participate in anti-Semitic boycotts of Israel. When Lorde joined the boycott in December, she and her companies became subject to that statute … The taxpayers of Miami and Tampa should not have to facilitate bigotry and anti-Semitism, and I look forward to the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Tampa Sports Authority complying with the law and canceling these concerts.” Lorde is presently scheduled to perform Wednesday, April 11, at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, which is owned by the Tampa Sports Authority, and Thursday, April 12, at American Airlines Arena in Miami, which is owned by the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority. Both are governmental special districts subject to Florida’s anti-BDS legislation.

‘Beers ads in theme parks’ bill on the move — A Senate committee this week approved a measure (SB 822) that would allow beer advertising in Florida theme parks. The Commerce and Tourism Committee cleared the bill 4-1. Sen. Travis Hutson, the Elkton Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries committee, had filed a “strike-all” amendment on the original bill. The new language includes enforcement provisions and tightens up definitions. Beer distributors and craft brewers have opposed the measure, which almost passed last year, saying it would allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars from beer companies and ultimately favor Big Beer manufacturers who can pay to put up the biggest and most ads. The measure would apply only to the big parks in Orlando and Tampa, and would also allow a beer company to sponsor a concert or festival within a park. It’s up next in the Rules Committee; a House companion has been filed.

For your radar — The Redevelopment Works campaign, spearheaded by the Florida Redevelopment Association (FRA), is spreading awareness about the importance of Florida’s community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), which are currently under attack by legislation under consideration in the 2018 session. In a video recently unveiled as part of the initiative, community residents and business leaders across Florida share why redevelopment works and why CRAs should be protected.

Po’money — Feeding Florida, the statewide network of 13-member food banks, is partnering with Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille on Kleman Plaza in downtown Tallahassee. For every po’boy sandwich, the restaurant sells, Feeding Florida gets $1. For every dollar, Feeding Florida can source 40 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables for Florida’s food insecure. More reason to go out for lunch when at The Capitol.


Outlier? New poll shows Scott up 10 points over Bill Nelson” via Florida Politics — Contrary to two other polls released earlier this week, a new survey from the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economic Polling Initiative gives Scott a 10-point lead over Nelson in a hypothetical contest … the latest poll pegs the race at 44 to 34 percent, with 22 percent of voters undecided. That’s a dramatic change from FAU’s August 2017 poll that had Scott trailing Nelson 42 to 40 percent. Fueling Scott’s impressive numbers is a favorable rating that now stands at 52 percent. Meanwhile, Nelson has seen his numbers go in the opposite direction, with his favorable rating dipping from 45 to 40 percent, while his unfavorable number jumped from 22 to 27 percent. Undoubtedly, there will be those who label this poll as an outlier. They’re probably not wrong. After all Scott +10 stands in stark contrast to a Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey which had Nelson with a one-point lead over Scott, 45-44 percent. The FAU poll is also dramatically different from a University of North Florida poll that showed Nelson leading Scott 48-42 percent.

Roger Stone: Richard Corcoran is ‘bold enough to win’ in governor’s race” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — “I have no plans to support a candidate immediately but it’s very clear to me that Corcoran does have a path to the governorship and that his potential candidacy has to be taken very seriously,” Stone told Florida Politics. The Trump adviser met with Corcoran in downtown Tallahassee and said the two had a “cordial” meeting. Stone was curious to meet Corcoran and once he did, he said he was “very, very impressed” with the House Speaker.

Roger Stone is Richard Corcoran’s newest fan.

Personnel notePhilip Levine‘s gubernatorial campaign has hired Jocelyn Mund, formerly a Deputy Finance Director for Charlie Crist to serve as Bay Area Regional Director. Mund began her successful career in politics six years ago as an organizer for President Obama’s successful 2012 presidential election and the inaugural committee, and has since held positions in Florida and D.C. politics, including with Rep. Joaquin Castro, the DCCC, and on Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign as Deputy Director of Scheduling.

Assignment editors — Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam will visit and tour Florida Forklift, a Tampa-based small business, beginning 10:30 a.m., 3221 N. 40th St. in Tampa.

Chatter grows on Mike McCalister entering Ag Commissioner race” via Florida Politics — Chatter surrounding the much-discussed retired Army Colonel and former U.S. Senate candidate was loudest at the Republican Party of Florida annual meeting in January. Bringing some solid retail politicking, McCalister worked the room as if he were already a candidate. As of today, he is not in the race. But we are increasingly hearing that could change … and soon. Making the Republican rounds, McCalister has proved he can get votes with little cash resources … he has earned real agriculture bona fides by owning and operating a Plant City tree farm. While he hasn’t filed (yet) sources in the Republican Party say it’s a decision for the spring.

Frank White snags two more sheriff endorsements in AG race” via Florida Politics — St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar and Putnam County Sheriff Homer “Gator” Deloach added their names to the list of officials backing White in the four-way GOP primary for the Cabinet seat. “I am proud to stand with Frank White because I know he will stand with Florida’s men and women in blue to enforce the rule of law. Frank has proved he will defend our conservative values and protect taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Shoar said. The pair join the sitting sheriffs of Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties in endorsing White, who also got the nod from U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a former Duval County sheriff.

Poll: 76 percent support constitutional amendment on gambling” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Lawmakers, take note: More than three-quarters of likely Florida voters favor a proposed state constitutional amendment “that would require voter approval to authorize casino gambling in the state,” according to poll results released Thursday. A ballot question will be before voters in November as Amendment 3, or the Voter Control of Gambling amendment … “Voters overwhelmingly support Amendment 3 because it will return control of casino gambling decisions back to the people, rather than gambling lobbyists and Tallahassee politicians,” said John Sowinski, chairman of Voters In Charge, the group sponsoring the amendment. The Legislature is again working on an omnibus bill this year to guide gambling in the state, with legislators mindful that the amendment — if approved — will tie their hands indefinitely.

Nancy Soderberg sets campaign team — The Democrat running in Florida’s 6th Congressional District announced the addition of campaign manager Alexa Sheryll and Field Director Kirsten Dillon. Last fall, Sheryll ran the successful Suffolk County coordinated campaign in New York and previously worked for Zephyr Teachout. Dillon joins the campaign after helping elect Ralph Northam as Virginia Governor. Both women bring years of experience with candidates up and down the ballot.

Mike Miller announces CD 7 campaign finance team led by Todd Wilcox” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Miller has announced his campaign finance team for his run for Congress, to be led by businessman and former U.S. Senate candidate Wilcox and to include former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, former Florida Senate President Toni Jennings and a large number of key Central Florida figures. Miller is also staffing his finance committee with the likes of former Walt Disney World President Dick Nunis; timeshare magnate David Siegel; two former Florida House Speakers, Steve Crisafulli and Dean Cannon; and a host of major players in Florida and Central Florida political fundraising and operations, lobbying and Republican politics, including Oscar AndersonBrian BallardDaryl CarterPat ChristiansenEarl CrittendenTre EversCharlie GrayMicky GrindstaffPhil HandyMarcos MarchenaHarvey MasseyJohn MiklosRusty Roberts and Rick Walsh.

Mike Miller assembles his congressional campaign finance team, led by former Senate hopeful Todd Wilcox.

Mike Pence PAC spreads cash to vulnerable Republicans — but not Carlos Curbelo” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — When Vice President Pence‘s leadership PAC contributed to 30 threatened House Republicans across the country, it notably left out the incumbent who arguably needs it most: Rep. Curbelo. And the omission isn’t necessarily bad news for Curbelo, who occupies the most anti-Trump seat of any Republican running for re-election in Congress. “It’s probably a badge of honor that Carlos is not being favored by what’s going to be the old Republican Party very quickly,” said Juan Carlos Planas, a Republican election-law lawyer and former state legislator from Miami. “Carlos Curbelo represents the future of this party. And that future is not Trump. I spend time around young 20-something Republicans and independents, and they’re like Curbelo.” Rep. Brian Mast, a Florida Republican who is less precariously positioned than Cubelo, received $5,400 in Pence PAC money.

Matt Haggman claims his CD 27 fundraising tops any Democrat in Florida, Southeast” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — Since entering the CD 27 race in August, former Knight Foundation Director and Miami Herald reporter Haggman has raised more than $917,000, which his campaign claims is better than any other Democratic challenger running for Congress in Florida this year. Furthermore, they maintain that his $404,000 haul in the fourth quarter alone was more than any other Florida Democratic incumbent (besides St. Petersburg’s Charlie Crist) and second among all Congressional Democratic challengers in the entire Southeast. At this point, note that state Rep. David Richardson began the year with the most money of any Democrat running in CD 27 … his campaign coffers had over 1 million dollars, as well as the most cash on hand with more than $857,000. However, Richardson’s totals also include a $500,000 campaign loan.

During campaign kickoff, Bob Buesing gets aggressive versus Dana Young” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — No more Mr. Nice Guy. That was the message Buesing conveyed to a crowd of Democrats at his campaign kickoff event at Mise en Place in Tampa. The attorney and civic activist will need the financial support as he takes on Republican state Sen. Young for the second time in three years. “For Dana, her service in Tallahassee has been all about self-service. For me, it will be all about public service,” Buesing said about halfway through his 12-minute speech … Demonstrating how he is ready to get more personal, Buesing also brought up an issue that he never talked about on the campaign trail in 2016 — Young’s personal wealth. “Isn’t it interesting that in her first six years (in the Legislature) her net worth went from $452,000 to more than $4.7 million?” Contacted in Tallahassee where the Legislature is in the middle of its regular session, Young’s political team is opting to stay above the fray — for now.

Newly minted SD 38 candidate Jason Pizzo.

Jason Pizzo begins campaign for SD 38” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — North Miami Beach attorney Pizzo, technically a candidate since late 2016, is formally launching his campaign for that seat, held by a fellow Democrat who beat him in the 2016 primary for that district, state Sen. Daphne Campbell of Miami. Campbell’s re-election campaign most recently reported raising about $65,000 and had about half of that left in the bank at the start of the year. No other candidates have filed for the contest. A news release said Pizzo is focused on restoring strong, ethical leadership.

Shawn Harrison draws Democratic challenger in battleground HD 63” via Florida Politics — Tampa Democrat Fentrice Driskell opened a campaign account to run against Harrison in Hillsborough County’s battleground House District 63 … Driskill has an impressive resume. The Florida native is an attorney at Carlton Fields. She received her law degree from Georgetown and her undergraduate degree from Harvard University, where she was the was the first African-American female student government president. She also serves the community by volunteering on the boards of the Athena Society, Tampa Crossroads, the Hillsborough Education Foundation, and the George Edgecomb Bar Association. “Tallahassee is broken — the tables are tilted in favor of the powerful and politically connected instead of our hardworking Florida families, small-business owners and seniors,” said Driskell. “We need to focus on common-sense solutions to the challenges we face every day in Hillsborough from investing in education and transportation to protecting access to health care.”

James Buchanan drops new mailers in HD 72 special election — Sarasota Republican Buchanan dropped a series of new mail pieces touting he will be the only candidate who will help Gov. Scott and Florida succeed by fighting for “common-sense solutions to Florida’s toughest problems. One flyer blasts Democratic opponent Margaret Good, saying her “only priority is to obstruct the progress and priorities of Gov. Scott … accepting almost $100,000 in secret contributions from Sarasota’s biggest developer.”

Attacks unleashed during Republican primary for state House (against a Democrat)” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Javier Fernandez, the minority party’s candidate to hold on to the District 114 seat vacated by Daisy Baez, was blasted in a series of emails, text messages, robocalls and mail pieces. Some of the attacks were composed in the first-person and cleverly designed to appear almost as if they were coming from him. “My name is Javier Fernandez, but my friends call me Javi “Lobby.” I’m a lobbyist who’s represented casinos, out-of-state developers, professional sports franchises, and, yes, retail sex toy shops,” the email states. Authored by People for a Progressive Florida, the bombs foreshadow an aggressive campaign to claim a swing district in a special May 1 election, given that Republicans have yet to hold their Feb. 20 primary. They predictably focus on Fernandez’s career as a land-use attorney and lobbyist — a reversal of previous Miami campaigns where Democrats pilloried Republican candidates for being lobbyists representing special interests. The committee was created in December and has yet to report any contributions or expenses.

Here is a sample of the mail being sent in HD 114:

Rob Panepinto, Jerry Demings continue fundraising duel in Orange mayor’s race” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Panepinto, a Republican, raised more than $26,000 in January, totaling more than $246,000 since he entered the race Oct. 1. The political action committee supporting his bid for mayor, Vision Orange County, raised more than $10,000 in January, putting it over the $100,000 mark for the campaign. Demings, a Democrat, raised almost $29,000 in January to total more than $360,000 since he announced in July. The PAC supporting him, The PAC supporting Demings, Orange County Citizens for Smart Growth, raised more than $15,000 in January to total more than $126,000. Panepinto, 50, a political newcomer, is the CEO of Entrepreneurs in Action, which helps nonprofits generate revenue. He has donated $100,000 of his own money to his campaign in October.


What the Governor’s Office is reading — “Florida starts partnership to give Puerto Rico evacuees jobs” via The Associated Press — Gov. Scott is partnering with the South Florida Puerto Rican chamber of commerce and a private university from the Caribbean island to offer jobs to Hurricane Maria’s evacuees. Scott said the partnership would work through the state’s job placement agency CareerSource, which already received $1 million to aid families displaced by the devastating hurricane. It includes training, advertising and English classes through Puerto Rico’s Ana G. Mendez University System.

Economy bounces back, but many still recovering from devastating downturn” via Steve McQuilkin of the Fort Myers News-Press — Ten years after the start of the worst downturn since the Great Depression, many are still clawing their way back. Some people held on to homes that are still underwater, meaning they owe more on their homes than the homes are worth. Some are working but at jobs that pay less. Many college graduates who tried to join the workforce during the downturn have had their earnings and career prospects stunted. And some older workers gave up and retired early … Have we truly recovered? The signs are mixed, but mostly positive. People are saving less and spending more, which has some worried that we may be getting back to our pre-crash ways. The savings rate in December slipped to 2.4 percent but was as high as 6.6 percent when the Great Recession “ended” in June 2009. Yet people are spending more because they are more confident and have more to spend. Personal income grew in 2016 in 2,285 counties nationwide and fell in 795, according to recent estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. When the recession took hold in 2007, the real median income fell for five straight years. It bottomed out at $53,331 in 2012. It has since climbed to $59,039 in 2016, the highest yet.

Florida’s post-Irma credit rating still strong, Moody’s says” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times — The rating agency cited the state’s “strong economy, growing tax base and the federal government’s ongoing resources through FEMA to help cover the costs of storm damages.” Moody’s similarly praised Texas. “Both Florida and Texas have strong economic and financial resilience that have helped them rebound from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma,” Moody’s announced, citing Florida’s budget reserve of 11.3 percent of its state tax revenues. That’s more than twice as high a budget reserve as the 50-state median of 4.9 percent, Moody’s said. Other factors that Moody’s cited in support of Florida’s strong rating (Aa1/stable) are its low state debt ratio and population growth. Florida’s population has grown by 31 percent since 2000, and it now approaches 21 million.

Light ‘em up: Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet kicked off the Florida State Fair with a ‘flip the switch’ ceremony, turning the lights on to the “nation’s largest traveling Ferris wheel.”

Why should veterans get concealed weapon permits? Putnam says it’s because they face threats from ISIS” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — The road to Tallahassee was paved with a pit stop at the Veterans Art Center in St. Petersburg for Putnam, who shared his “conservative vision” to “push back against forces of the left that want Florida to be more like California or Illinois or New York or other failed states.” “For our veterans, they go to the front of the line,” he said. “And not just because we want to honor our veterans, but because it wasn’t that long ago that a gunman went into an army reserves center in Chattanooga and started shooting up servicemen. And ISIS was publishing the names of servicemen and women and their families on the internet.” But Putnam said his views on the ease at which people should be able to obtain weapons had been misconstrued. He said he wants to align background check requirements for a concealed weapons license to that those required to purchase a firearm.

DEP head formally opposes offshore drilling in Florida” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Noah Valenstein, Florida’s Secretary of Environmental Protection (DEP), on Thursday sent a letter to the feds in opposition of any exploratory drilling for gas or oil off the state’s coasts. The move comes after Gov. Scott “secured a commitment from (U.S.) Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to take Florida off the table for future consideration for offshore oil drilling,” a news release said … Since then “a senior Interior Department official said Florida’s coastal waters had not been excluded after all,” The New York Times reported. But Scott just this week told the Tampa Bay Times Zinke is “a man of his word … There’s not going to be offshore drilling.” Just in case, Valenstein wrote to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that the state “oppose(s) the inclusion of any lease sales in Florida’s coastal and offshore areas.”

Suits against Citizens Insurance declined 23 percent in 2017. Will lower rates follow?” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The number of lawsuits filed against the “insurer of last resort” declined from 10,056 in 2016 to 7,744 in 2017 — a 23 percent decrease — while the company’s policy count dropped just 6 percent. Citizens policyholders are anxious to see the number of lawsuits and its accompanying costs reduced in hopes it would herald a stabilization or even a reduction of their insurance rates. And that could happen, following two years of near-10 percent rate increases in South Florida, if the decline is projected to continue into 2018 and beyond … Citizens has 223,464 policies in the tri-county region, according to the most recently available figures from the state. Not yet known is whether the reduction in lawsuits will save money for Citizens and its customers.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants more safety checks before Brightline rolls through his county.

Citing train deaths, Miami-Dade mayor wants safety check before Brightline comes south” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Before Brightline comes rolling through Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has asked the Florida Department of Transportation to evaluate safety measures in place at the railway crossings along the private passenger line’s route. In a letter to James Wolfe, FDOT’s District Six secretary, Gimenez noted the private rail company’s recent string of “unfortunate incidents” — two deaths in the company’s first month of operation in South Florida; four since testing began last year — and described as imperative the need for a state safety review to identify “any deficiencies that may be attributed to these incidents.” Specifically, Gimenez asked for an analysis of all grade crossings along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor, and that the state establishes a “plan of action in order to enhance safety for the public. Wolfe’s office received the letter and he has not yet responded, a spokesperson for his office said.

FDOT conducting the safety review of ‘skewed’ design for crossings on Treasure Coast, Space Coast” via Colleen Wixon of TCPalm — State transportation officials are giving extra scrutiny to plans for 27 Brightline crossings — on both the Space Coast and Treasure Coast — which federal authorities have flagged for safety issues. The state Department of Transportation is working with federal and local agencies and the railroads, spokesman Dick Kane said in an email. “The department has authority to regulate public railroad crossings in the state in conjunction with federal law,” he said. That confirmation comes on the heels of the Federal Railroad Administration and FDOT pointing fingers at one another, each claiming, in a series of emails to state legislators, the other was in charge of regulating the crossings. Each agency now says there is no confusion between them.

A grand jury decides DeFuniak Springs is ‘a mess.’

’The blind leading the blind’: Grand jury decides DeFuniak Springs is a mess” via Tom McLaughlin of the NWF Daily News — A “certain culture” that blocks the flow of information within City Hall, coupled with a general lack of understanding how a municipality is run has created a mess in DeFuniak Springs that a grand jury found needs immediate attention. Following a review of city management, grand jurors reported they were “shocked to learn of the lack of knowledge of government operations by those entrusted with governance.” The report was the handiwork of a grand jury convened in January by the First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office. Grand jurors said that while they had found no evidence of criminal or intentional wrongdoing, “We have determined that a systemic problem exists.” Mayor Robert Campbell said he initially had considered the grand jury as a distraction, but after reviewing the report believes the city he leads can benefit from the findings. “I find overall the recommendations made are very valid,” Campbell said. “If we pay attention and pursue remedies, I believe the city of DeFuniak Springs will be much more fruitful as a city. I think this could be a real benefit to our city if we just follow the recommendations.”

Jeffrey Bauer, missing Seminole School Board member, a no-show again” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — Bauer, who has missed nearly a year of work, did not call into a pair of meetings despite telling school employees he would. In response, his four school board colleagues directed Superintendent Walt Griffin to send him another letter asking: “whether your resignation is the right thing to do for all involved.” Griffin’s latest letter said Seminole residents do not understand how Bauer could receive a taxpayer-funded salary and benefits yet not attend school board meetings or do school board work since Feb. 28, 2017. The board asked for a written response by next week and said a failure to do so would prompt the board to seek the advice of Gov. Scott, who has the power to remove board members from office for neglect of duty. Bauer’s colleagues said they are sympathetic to the health problems they believe has kept Bauer from work. But they also are frustrated his inaction — and refusal to provide information — was reflecting poorly on the board, which has no authority to remove him from office or to force him to do the job for which he was elected.

1-800-Ask-Gary arrested on DUI charge in Manatee” via Samantha Putterman of the Bradenton Herald — Gary Kompothecras, known as 1-800-Ask-Gary and father of Alex Kompothecras of MTV’s reality show “Siesta Key,” was arrested on a DUI charge, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Kompothecras, 57, was arrested around 1:40 a.m. heading over the JD Young Bridge on southbound Interstate 75 and was booked into Manatee County jail. It all started when a silver Porsche sped past deputies on the bridge going an estimated 100 mph, according to the arrest report.

Evan Longoria’s wife sues Tampa strip club for misappropriating images” via Florida Politics — Jaime Faith Edmondson, the wife of former Tampa Bay Rays star Longoria, is suing Tampa strip club Deja Vu, at 6805 E. Adamo Dr., for using appropriated images of Edmondson and its Facebook page without permission or compensation. The former Playboy model and one-time Playmate of the Month claims they not only stole her intellectual property but created an impression she is endorsing or participated in the “strip club lifestyle.” The suit says Deja Vu’s conduct “creates the false and misleading appearance and impression” that Edmondson either works for the club, “appeared and participated or will appear and participate in activities or events at Deja Vu, and/or has agreed and consented to advertise, promote, market or endorse Deja Vu or one or more Deja Vu’s events or activities.” The suit, filed with two other professional models — Los Angeles residents Eva Pepaj and Heather Rae Young — Edmondson is demanding $650,000 in compensation.


…  Floridians want free rein over their ability to lease short-term rentals.

That’s according to a recent study conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy that shows 73 percent of Floridians believe they and their neighbors should have the right to rent out their primary homes to vacationers for short periods of time. Only 15 percent think it’s a bad idea.

Those surveyed also aren’t fond of home rule. A strong majority — 61 percent — agree that regulations for vacation rentals should be consistent throughout the state. Demographically, that support spanned across all geographies and political affiliations. The battle over pre-emption is being played out in the Legislature this Session.

Current legislation: SB 1400, sponsored by Sarasota Sen. Greg Steube, and HB 773, sponsored by St. Cloud Rep. Mike LaRosa, seek to pre-empt regulation of vacation rentals to the state.

Respect the hustle: The survey also found that 73 percent believe Floridians should have the right to rent out a secondary home or investment property as a vacation rental.

A note on the survey: The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy from January 30 through February 1, 2018. A total of 625 registered Florida voters were interviewed statewide by telephone. The margin for error is no more than ± 4 percentage points.


Matt Gaetz, an ultimate Donald Trump defender, is happy being notorious” via Alexis Levinson of BuzzFeed News — Asked if he worried he might be gaining notoriety, rather than star power, he responded, “What’s the difference?” Gaetz is, in his way, perfectly in tune with this political moment, where word flubs, misstated positions, accusations of treason, or mischaracterizations of Catholic dogma are swept up in a steady torrent of news and forgotten almost as quickly as they happen. “I think a lot of that stuff is temporary,” Gaetz said. “We live in such a fast world, like, people don’t even remember anymore that I botched the Immaculate Conception, you know what I mean? Weeks, months from now, people won’t remember who my State of the Union guest is. But every time we get to throw somebody in jail that drags a dog behind a pickup truck, it’s a lasting effect. So that’s why I think the work always ultimately survives over the discourse,” he said. “Everybody has an error rate, and any politician that pretends that they don’t is already viewed as disingenuous by their constituency … I have an error rate.”


Joe Henderson: A more important debate for Richard Corcoran to have” via Florida Politics — A faceoff between Corcoran and Florida Education Association president Joanne McCall could be one of the great confrontations in state political history. I’m serious. And you know what? I’ll bet both of them would jump at the chance to go eyeball-to-eyeball and talking-point-to-talking-point over the future of public education in our state. The public would be the clear winner — especially given the widespread expectation Corcoran will be a candidate for governor later this year. McCall certainly sounds like she would be up for the fight. Her organization represents teachers throughout the state and just opened a campaign demanding that Republican lawmakers stand up to Corcoran and his cherished HB 7055 — his latest move to change public education. A mailer targeting select Republicans calls the bill a “monstrosity” and questions whether party members have the guts to stand up to Corcoran and vote against passage. “Don’t be a coward,” the ad admonishes.

Brewster Bevis: Affordable housing good for Florida business, economy” via Florida Politics — Fully funding our affordable housing programs is good for all Florida businesses and our economy. Affordable housing generates jobs in home construction, which is a major economic driver in the state. This industry also fosters growth in local businesses when they draw upon and use local resources. Florida’s housing market and available affordable housing stock are key factors in attracting new businesses to the state. Fully funding affordable housing goes a long way toward enhancing our workforce and business climate. Recently, the state Senate and House released their respective budget proposals. We truly appreciate the Senate and Senate leadership, including Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley and President Negron, for their commitment to affordable housing. The Senate continues to be a strong advocate for affordable housing in Florida, and we ask they remain resolute in their recommendation of fully allocating these funds as they move through budget negotiations. If lawmakers fully fund affordable housing programs during Fiscal Year 2018-19, we can generate more than 30,000 Florida jobs and have a positive economic impact of $4 billion in the State of Florida.


Doug Guetzloe, conservative political consultant, dead at 63” via Paul Brinkmann and Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — The family was celebrating his daughter’s 21st birthday when Guetzloe died unexpectedly, said his wife, Stacey Guetzloe. She did not reveal the cause. A funeral is planned at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, 106 E. Church St., said pastor David Swanson. Guetzloe was best known for creating a tax watchdog group, Ax the Tax, and as a founder of the Tea Party movement in Florida. “We’ve been on the same side and opposite sides of issues. I always appreciated his dedication and tenacity, and I believe he was looking out for the best interests of taxpayers, and a patriot,” said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida Taxwatch. He grew up in Tampa and moved to Central Florida in 1979 after graduating from Florida State University and soon built a reputation for fighting tax increases, said longtime friend Roger Williams. “Doug was always a champion for the underdog,” Williams said. “He relished challenging the power structure.”

Conservative activist Doug Guetzloe is dead at 63.

Two cleared to stay on utility regulation board — Gary Clark and Art Graham easily passed a Senate confirmation hearing this week, with the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee giving thumbs-up for the two to stay on the Public Service Commission. The body oversees investor-owned utilities in the state. Both were appointed by Gov. Scott. Clark was originally named to complete the term of former Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, who had been tapped to replace Jeff Atwater as state CFO last year. Graham has been on the commission for the last eight years and is on track to serve another 4-year term. The two must be approved by the full Senate.

Personnel note: Thais Asper joins AT&T — The company announced Thursday that Asper is the new Regional Director of External Affairs for Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier Counties. “In her new role, Asper will handle legislative and community affairs initiatives,” a news release said. “She also will assist with new technology deployment and infrastructure investment by collaborating with community leaders, legislators and business leaders.” Said Asper: “Supporting AT&T’s tradition of serving a community I love while helping provide cutting-edge products and services that will enhance the quality of life of all Floridians is a win-win for me.” Before joining AT&T, Thais was Chief of Staff at LSN Partners where she assisted clients on state and local issues. She has also served in the Florida House of Representatives as a legislative aide and the Miami Realtors Association as their governmental affairs manager.

Local lawyer pens chapter in new gambling law guide — A group of Jones Walker gaming law attorneys recently authored several chapters in the inaugural Chambers and Partners Global Practice Guide for “Gaming, Gambling & Licensing 2018,” according to a news release. The guide provides legal insight and commentary on key issues and important developments for gaming law in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Marc Dunbar, a partner in the Tallahassee office, authored the Florida chapter. Chambers and Partners is a premier legal directory that ranks the world’s best law firms and lawyers. The Global Practice Guides provide legal commentary on practice areas in key jurisdictions around the world.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Gary Hunter, Hopping Green & Sams: Rayonier

Ashlee Tising, Akerman: City of Lake Worth, MedAvail Technologies

L. John Trombetta: Florida State Alliance of YMCA

Beth Vecchioli, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt: National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies

Larry Williams, Larry Williams Consulting: Pathways Management Group


Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues that affect the area’s citizens.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists include journalist Brendan McLaughlin, Pinellas County Democratic Party Chair Susan McGrath, Republican consultant April Schiff and PolitiFact Florida writer Allison Graves.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: A discussion of independent children’s councils that fund youth programs. Joining Walker-Torres are Katrina Bellemare, executive director, Parenting Matters; former state Rep. Dick Batchelor, honorary chair, Dick Batchelor Run for the Children; Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke; former Chief Justice of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Belvin Perry, Jr.; and Glen Gilzean, Jr., president and CEO, Central Florida Urban League.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Ybeth Bruzual interviews Ag. Commissioner Putnam; PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter rates a claim made by Trump about government shutdowns in relation to the military.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon speaks with pollster Steve VancoreBob McClure and Dr. Ed Moore.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Co-hosts Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg host a weekly powerhouse news roundtable.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Guests include Mo Elleithee, founding Executive Director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service and Rick Mullaney, Director, Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute.


These two nations will top the 2018 Olympics medal race, WSJ projects” via Rachel Bachman and Ellen Emmerentze Jervell of The Wall Street Journal — The medals race in the Pyeongchang Olympics could come down to two nations: one that’s mastered a single activity, cross-country skiing; and another that’s gotten startlingly good at a bunch of them. Norway and the U.S. finished in a virtual dead heat in The Wall Street Journal’s projected medal count. Each could win 36 Olympic medals, although the Journal’s simulations show the U.S. is slightly likelier to get there.

Members of the South Korean air force’s Black Eagles aerobatic team performed above the ski jumping venue. Photo credit: Getty Images.

NBC, Intel will stream 30 Winter Olympics events in virtual reality” via Janko Roettgers of Variety — This time around, screens will include a variety of virtual reality headsets, where viewers will be able to watch 30 events as 360-degree broadcasts — including a live feed of the opening ceremony. “This is the biggest production experience that we have delivered to date,” explained Intel Sports managing director David Aufhauser. Intel is producing the VR version of the Olympics in partnership with Olympics Broadcast Service (OBS), and then distributes 360-degree videos to 10 broadcast partners around the world. In the U.S., Intel is partnering with NBC, the official Olympics broadcaster. Viewers can tune in by downloading the NBC Sports VR app, which is available for both Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream VR headsets as well as for Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

This will be the most African Winter Olympics ever” via Yomi Kazeem of Quartz — This year will see the highest number of African countries — eight in total — participating at a single Winter Olympics event. Eritrea and Nigeria will make their debuts with Kenya, Morocco, Ghana, Madagascar, South Africa, Togo completing the African party. In total, 13 athletes from African countries are scheduled to compete — a record high since 1994 when tougher qualifying standards were imposed. For African athletes, the journey to the Winter Olympics is typically anything but smooth sailing. An obvious obstacle for African Winter Olympics hopefuls is the absence of weather conditions that aid training. As a result, a majority of African athletes that have competed at the Winter Olympics have either been born or/and trained outside the continent.

From surgery to sled in 10 days? That’s bobsled driver Justin Olsen’s plan.” via Rick Maese of The Washington Post — Olsen, the man charged with piloting their sled in the PyeongChang Games and an essential piece of their Olympic dream … had mentioned he was feeling abdominal pain earlier in the day, but no one thought much of it. After all, he was a finely tuned athlete, and no one had reason to suspect something was seriously wrong. But his teammates were told that Olsen was headed to a South Korean hospital with acute appendicitis. Olsen, a three-time Olympian who was a pusher for the United States’ four-man team that won gold at the Vancouver Games in 2010, was chosen as a pilot for the PyeongChang Games, hoping to steer sleds in both the two-man and four-man races. For his teammates, the news was hard to process. Assured Olsen was going to be OK, they started thinking about the upcoming Olympic competition, just days away. His sledmates knew that as long as Olsen could stand, there was a good chance they’d still be competing. Olsen is a sergeant in the National Guard, and his fellow bobsledders have seen him overcome a lot to get to this point.

Winter Olympics 2018 personal McDonald’s for athletes.

Athletes at the Olympics get McDonald’s for free — here’s what their personal fast-food restaurant looks like” via Kate Taylor of Business Insider — The chain recently opened two restaurants in Gangneung, where much of the ice skating and hockey competitions will take place. The more stunning of the two is what the company described as a “hamburger meal”-shaped restaurant, located at the Gangneung Olympic Park. The restaurant, which holds 160 customers, is in the shape of a burger, fries and a drink. McDonald’s also opened a location in Gangneung Olympic Village, which will serve free food to all Olympic athletes. In 2016, at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympic Village location was forced to ask athletes to limit their orders to 20 items, as they were gorging themselves on free fast food and slowing down service.

— ALOE —

Jimmy Buffett does not live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle” via Taffy Brodesser-Akner of The New York Times — Jimmy Buffett is not really Jimmy Buffett anymore. He hasn’t been for a while. Jimmy Buffett — the nibbling on spongecake, watching the sun bake, getting drunk and screwing, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere Jimmy Buffett — has been replaced with a well-preserved businessman who is leveraging the Jimmy Buffett of yore in order to keep the Jimmy Buffett of now in the manner to which the old Jimmy Buffett never dreamed he could become accustomed. And therein lies the Margaritaville® Mesquite BBQ Rub: The more successful you become at selling the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, the less you are seen as believably living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle. Who is to say when the chasm between the Jimmy Buffetts became so deep? Probably it was around the first time he put the Margaritaville name on a salt shaker-shaped pool raft labeled “Lost Shaker of Salt.” Or went all-in on a brand partnership to sell a $499.99 Tahiti™ Frozen Concoction Maker®. Or when he signed off on the emblazonment of “I’m the Woman to Blame” across a Tervis tumbler. Sometime around then, Jimmy Buffett entered a point of no return where the lifestyle of the erstwhile Jimmy Buffett became so distant and unrecognizable to the new Jimmy Buffett that he understood there could be a problem in the making. “The glue that holds this thing together is authenticity,” he told me on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where he eats breakfast when he’s in New York. “People can smell it if it isn’t real.”

Happy birthday to U.S. Rep. Patrick Rooney, state Rep. Fred Costello, and our friend, Todd Jennings.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was 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.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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