Peter Schorsch - SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch

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

Introducing FloridaPolitics.com’s latest newsletter: “The Delegation”

We admit it; we love a good newsletter.

So with 10 new members in the congressional delegation, a part-time #FloridaMan in the White House, and plenty of Sunshine State connections to the Beltway, we thought it was about time to launch our own newsletter diving into D.C.

Welcome to “The Delegation,” Florida Politics’ weekly roundup of the news from D.C. as it relates to the Sunshine State.

Here you’ll find stories about President Donald Trump, hot takes about Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, video of Congressman Neal Dunn bringing a musket to the Capitol and everything in between.

Send us your tips, your thoughts and suggestions. And please be patient while we work out the kinks. We know the ins and outs of Tallahassee, but we’re still learning the tricks of the trade in D.C.

Donald Trump, Month 2: Talks on health care and tax overhaul via Julie Pace of The Associated Press —  White House chief of staff Reince Priebus expects a health care plan to emerge in ‘the first few days of March. Pressed on whether the plan would be coming from the White House, Priebus said, “We don’t work in a vacuum.”

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs banker now serving as Trump’s top economic adviser, and newly sworn-in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been leading talks with Republican lawmakers and business leaders on taxes. Neither man has prior government experience. …

One of the biggest questions on Capitol Hill is how involved Trump plans to be in legislative minutia. One GOP leadership aide whose office has been working with the White House described the president as a “big picture guy” … he expected Trump to defer to Capitol Hill on health care … Priebus expects Congress to pass both a tax package and legislation repealing and replacing Obama’s health care law by the end of the year. But the White House’s outward confidence belies major roadblocks on both matters.

In Trump’s future looms a familiar shutdown threat via Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press — Add a potential government shutdown to Trump‘s growing roster of headaches.

Beneath the capital’s radar looms a vexing problem — a catchall spending package that’s likely to top $1 trillion and could get embroiled in the politics of building Trump’s wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and a budget-busting Pentagon request.

While a shutdown deadline has a few weeks to go, the huge measure looms as an unpleasant reality check for Trump and Republicans controlling Congress. Despite the big power shift in Washington, the path to success … goes directly through Senate Democrats, whose votes are required to pass the measure. And any measure that satisfies Democrats and their new leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is sure to alienate tea party Republicans.

Bill Nelson’s postelection pep talk — Is Sen. Nelson up for a contested Democratic primary in his re-election bid next year?

“You want to do a contest on pull-ups or push-ups?” Nelson replied to a reporter who asked that question during an informal news conference in Tallahassee Monday.

News reports have mentioned a variety of primary challengers to the 74-year-old Democrat in a year when much of the party base is fired up with anti-Trump fervor.

Nelson visited Tallahassee to speak to STEM students at Florida A&M University and deliver a pep talk to the Senate Democratic caucus. “My message is going to be: It’s worth it to keep fighting for your values.”

He praised Stephen Bittel, the new chairman of the Florida Democratic Party for his fundraising ability — not easy, he said, in a state where Republicans dominate government and the lobbying corps. “Stephen, he’ll go around the lobbying corps,” Nelson said. “He’ll go to all his outside contacts.”

Days until the 2018 election: 621

Nelson “on strong ground” to oppose Gorsuch — Left-leaning group Progressive Change Campaign Committee is using the results of a poll they commissioned to test out arguments against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to pressure Sen. Nelson into opposing his confirmation. The poll found nearly two-thirds of Floridians opposed Gorsuch when he told he “sided with big insurance companies, sided with employers who denied wages and retirement benefits to employees and generally protected big corporations from accountability.”

The group said the results show that Nelson “is on strong ground opposing Neil Gorsuch’s nomination” if he sticks to the talking points in the poll. PPP conducted the blended phone/online survey of 326 Floridians from Feb. 3-4. The error margin is plus-or-minus 5.4 percentage points.

Nelson takes action on property insurance ratings — Sen. Nelson has asked the Deputy Director of the Office of Federal Insurance to step in after financial stability rating company Demotech announced earlier this month that it was considering downgrading the stability of Florida companies from an A to a B. The move has the potential to cause thousands of Florida homeowners to default on their loans.

First reported by Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida, Nelson asked in the letter to Steve Seitz that he “take any and all necessary steps to help stabilize Florida’s property insurance market and avoid such a disaster.”

Demotech cited Florida’s assignment of benefits laws and a pair of rulings it said created Florida-specific standards when it made its ratings announcement.

Protesters hold mock town hall meeting in Tampa with cardboard Marco Rubio via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — His face was posted on Popsicle sticks, printed on a life-size cutout and hidden in Where’s Waldo?-styled puzzles. His name was printed on T-shirts and written on posters. But Rubio was thousands of miles away from Wednesday night’s “constituent town hall” meeting held in his honor.

“Why won’t Rubio come to town, or at least address us?” said event organizer Melissa Gallagher …”It’s really disconcerting, especially since he ran a presidential campaign and promised Floridians to protect us and look out for our best interests.”

A spokesman for Rubio said the staff has met with “dozens of these liberal activists,” including a small group of protesters a week earlier. Staff has been “fully accessible and responsive” to all who come with concerns and questions, he assured.

A cardboard cutout of Marco Rubio stood in for the Florida Senator, as more than 500 constituents attended a mock town hall meeting in Tampa Wednesday. (Photo: @DDonovan21/Twitter)

Rubio riding high in Associated Industries of Florida poll — It’s no surprise that Rubio gets top marks in the Associated Industries pre-session survey. The pro-business group had the Miami Republican leading in the U.S. Senate race throughout 2016. The survey of 800 likely Republican primary voters found 69 percent said they approved of the job Rubio was doing, compared to 22 percent who disapproved. According to the polling memo, the second term senator “enjoys a high net approval, but his overall approval is soft with 44 percent somewhat approving of the job he is doing as Senator.”

ONE hires former Rubio staffer as senior director — Sally Canfield will become senior director of U.S. government relations for ONE, the advocacy organization co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono, which is fighting to end poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

Canfield previously served as Rubio’s deputy chief of staff and was formerly the senior director of international government affairs for pharmaceutical company AbbVie. She has held a variety of senior positions including deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, counselor to the secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, and senior policy adviser to the Speaker of the House.

In the 2000 campaign, Canfield served as domestic policy adviser to then-Gov. George W. Bush and in the 2008 campaign cycle, she served as policy director for Gov. Mitt Romney.

Op-ed: Florida’s new members of Congress leading the way in civility via Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer for Florida Politics — This past year has seen our country feeling more divided than ever before. The 2016 election took its toll, with candidates up and down the ballot partaking in name calling and disrespectful attacks.

Florida’s newest members of Congress may have the answer … 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats — the Freshman Class of the 115th Congress, signed a Commitment to Civility — both Republicans and Democrats — from red states and blue states, from the north and the south. Florida has much to be proud of, with 9 of their 11 freshmen members (Representatives CristDunnDemingsGaetz, Mast, Lawson, RooneySoto, and Rutherford) signing the letter signaling their commitment to civility.

Florida’s freshmen … Stating what we all believe to be true, the civility statement addresses the “ … coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse. One result has been a loss of trust in our institutions and elected officials.” For acknowledging this reality, these congressmen deserve our commendation.

Progress Florida calls out 10 members of the congressional delegation — The left-leaning activist group named 10 members of the Florida delegation who have voted in lock-step with “President Trump’s anti-environmental agenda.” According to the group, Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Dennis Ross, Vern Buchanan, Tom Rooney, and Francis Rooney have supported the White House’s position in each of the 22 environment-related roll call votes in the House. Rubio got the same score for the four votes that have come up in the Senate.

Progress Florida said the votes put each of the 10 lawmakers “squarely out of sync with public opinion in a state where a majority of residents say they are worried about global warming.”

Progress Florida Director Mark Ferrulo added: “The question is, what will it take for our elected representatives to stand up to President Trump and to vote independently, on behalf of all Floridians?”

Gaetz back in Florida Capitol — The CD 1 Republican was in Tallahassee Wednesday to discuss health care reform, including his support for a block grant funding method for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor.

After a structured media availability, the former state representative elected to Congress last year also held a more informal gaggle with members of the Capitol Press Corps. He explained without elaborating that such grants would offer more control over Medicaid to states, repeatedly knocking the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, with Congressman Matt Gaetz behind him, discusses Medicaid block grants at a Wednesday Capitol news conference.

Gaetz calls for Trump tax returns via CNN – Gaetz surprised a roomful of angry protesters Thursday night when he called for President  Trump to release his tax returns.  But the Florida Republican stopped short of saying Congress should subpoena those returns.

Gaetz has stood by Trump, campaigning with him over the past weekend and closing his raucous one-hour town hall at the Oops Bowling Alley here Thursday night by saying he wanted to “make America great again.” But he surprised the audience when he said, “Absolutely, Donald Trump should release his tax returns.”

Dunn files resolution to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water plan — Freshman U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn announced this week that he filed a resolution to prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing their water control plan for the Apalachicola Bay. “This crisis and the fight for our right to river water goes back many years, but the challenge is urgent for us today,” said Dunn, a Panhandle Republican.

Dunn’s resolution would block the Corps’ plan for the water basin that empties into the bay, which has been the subject of a yearslong dispute between Florida and Georgia, which has seen its water needs grow alongside population booms in Atlanta and other metros. “If implemented, this rule would have even more devastating effects on the ecosystem in Apalachicola and the economy in the (2nd Congressional District) than the current water control plan that led to the unprecedented collapse of our oyster fisheries in 2012,” he said.

Dunn brings musket to Capitol office — The CD 2 Republican posted a video last week showing off an antique musket that now hangs on the wall in his Capitol office. The 1777 British flintlock rifle was surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, and Dunn said the firearm is “how I’m reminded to fight for your Second Amendment rights every day.”

Dunn said he “came to Congress to fight for you and to ensure that our Constitution remains the supreme law of the land. We must never forget how precious our Constitutional rights are, and the right to bear arms is one of our most fundamental and sacred rights.” Click on the image below to watch the video.

— “Neal Dunn shuns citizens calling for town hall” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat

Save the dateTed Yoho town hall — The Gainesville Republican is hosting a town hall discussion Saturday, March 4, at Countryside Baptist Church, 10926 NW 39th Ave. in Gainesville. Doors open at 9 a.m., the event begins at 10 a.m.

Rutherford: ‘I thought I was facing death’ via Florida Politics — This weekRutherford addressed a group of young Catholic professionals at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville. Though the speech was about faith, Rutherford also discussed his ongoing recovery from a January medical episode (he collapsed in the cloakroom of the House of Representatives), and how the rosary proved to be the key to his survival.

“I thought I was having a massive heart attack … The panic was off the scale.” Feeling consciousness fading, Rutherford surmised that if he passed out, he might not come to. “I thought I was facing death … But I thought it wasn’t the ending, only the beginning … I was not afraid.” He started saying the rosary, and the pain and hyperventilation subsided.

Schedule confusion characterizes Al Lawson in Jacksonville via Florida Politics — Lawson’s itinerary … was pretty straightforward … the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee was to go to Eureka Garden on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

However, the plan did not come together … Lawson called an audible and made his Eureka Garden visit Monday — Presidents Day … Curry was camping with his family … Dennis likewise was busy with personal business. With no local political backup, Lawson spoke in generalities about the improvements on the property, discussing potential collaboration with Marco Rubio on HUD reform. Even so, there was a tone-deaf quality to his remarks.

From “Whenever I get my paycheck, I think of you” to his assertion that Eureka apartments — which made national news for months because of their issues — are “better than apartment in D.C.,” Lawson’s presentation confused media on hand — especially those who have been immersed in the Eureka Garden story.

Posey applauds the return of professional boxing to Palm Bay — The Rockledge Republican praised the City of Palm Bay and Telemundo for working to bring another World Boxing Organization (WBO) sanctioned boxing night to Palm Bay.

“I applaud the efforts of Mayor Capote and the City of Palm Bay for working with Telemundo and All Star Boxing to bring another exciting night of boxing entertainment here to Florida’s Space Coast,” Posey said. “Events such as this help provide a boost to local businesses and raise our profile around the world as a premier travel destination.”

“Palm Bay is excited to have ‘Showdown at the Bay VI’ back here at the Tony Rosa Community Center,” Capote responded. “Attracting top-tier programs and events, such as Boxeo Telemundo Ford, is just a taste of what we plan to do in Palm Bay as the city grows. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner Telemundo with and the event organizers as we continue to bring this event back to Palm Bay.”

Facebook fun:

Murphy unites 150+ Congress members calling for response to Jewish centers threats via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Conference, sent the letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey expressing “deep concern regarding the recent spate of anonymous bomb threats made via telephone against Jewish Community Centers” and urged them to swiftly assess the situation and advise Congress about what is going on.

She also called for prosecutions and efforts to deter threats and to assist centers to enhance security.

“This is not an idle concern, given that there have been at least three casualty-causing attacks at JCCs or other Jewish institutions in the last two decades,” she added, referring to the shootings in Kansas, Seattle and California. “This is a national problem and, as such, it requires a national solution.”

Trump immigration policy spurs discussion from Demings, Soto via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — With angst rising in immigrant communities, two members of Congress from Orlando on Tuesday met with their minority constituents, who are alarmed by Trump’s immigration-enforcement plan. U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Val Demings, both Orlando Democrats vocally opposed to Trump’s immigration policies, hosted roundtable discussions at their respective district headquarters.

Hours before the meetings, memos signed by Secretary Kelly revealed further details of the administration’s plan to ramp up deportations.

“My first impression is we have a community in crisis,” Soto said before about 30 people in Kissimmee Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, four local Muslim leaders met with Demings at her MetroWest office to continue a previous discussion of Trump’s ban of immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Happening Sunday: Demings’ town hall — The Rep. will answer questions and concerns about the Affordable Care Act. Event is 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Dr. Phillips high school, 6500 Turkey Lake Road in Orlando. More information at www.demings.house.gov.

Webster jeered for declining to answer questions at Inverness town hall via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — The town-hall meeting at the Inverness Government Center didn’t go all that smoothly. Many in attendance appeared upset that they didn’t get to ask questions of the Congressman, who now represents Florida’s 11th Congressional District. GOP House lawmakers were warned last week to maintain “enhanced security awareness” as they return to home districts following several raucous town hall meetings in which angry Democrats dominated the proceedings, upset over plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Tweet, tweet@realDonaldTrump: The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!

Webster returns $460,000 to taxpayers — The Republican congressman returned $460,000 appropriated run his congressional office in a Thursday ceremony in Brooksville. The CD 11 representative said he has returned more than 30 percent of the money set aside to run his office over the past six years, for a cumulative savings of just under $2.5 million.

“Washington operates on the principle that if money is appropriated, it should be spent. During my service in Congress, I have exposed this flawed principle,” Webster said. “If every area of the federal government began intentionally cutting waste, we could get a lot closer to balancing our budget and trimming the massive burden of debt that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.”

In a cheap-and-proud-of-it-like-your-Dad moment, Dan Webster says he runs his Congressional office on less money that it’s budgeted for, now saving a total of nearly $2.5 million since he was first elected in 2011.

Crist divorcing wife Carole via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – “I think the world of Carole. She’s an amazing person. It just didn’t work out for us,” the former governor told the Tampa Bay Times. “I wish all the best for her.” Crist, 60, said the divorce should have no impact on his service.

Crist asks supporters to “fight for a cleaner Florida”Crist sent out an email this week urging supporters to “fight for a cleaner Florida.” The former governor and first term congressman extolled the virtues of Florida’s environment, but added that “recklessness and lack of oversight can have devastating impacts” on nature. “As someone who has always had a deep appreciation for the environment and a vocal advocate, the first few weeks of this new administration have been disheartening. Now, I am certain we will need everyone to join in and make our voices heard to protect Florida’s most important resource.”

Crist blasts the Trump administration’s rollback of protection for transgender students via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics  “This action sends a frightening message that the administration does not care about the safety of transgender children in our nation’s schools,” Crist said on Thursday.

Crist to host St. Pete student at presidential address — He has selected an eighth grade student from St. Petersburg to be his guest at next week’s address by President Trump before a joint session of Congress.

Oliver Hess, a student at Shorecrest Preparatory School, is assisting a Syrian family fleeing persecution as part of a school “passion project.” He recently wrote to Crist saying “families being denied a better life and a safe future is devastating to me.” Crist commended the “conscientiousness” of Hess, earning him the invitation. “I look forward to having him join me in Washington next week to bring greater attention to helping refugees in need.”

Castor’s district director retiring after decade in officeChloe Coney is retiring as U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s district director after a decade of service, Castor’s office announced recently. Before her work with Castor, Coney spent more than 40 years working in housing and urban development. “Chloe’s passion and expertise have served our neighbors, families and businesses well,” Castor said. “She is revered by Tampa’s community for her lifetime of service.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also weighed in on Coney’s retirement, saying that more than almost anybody, Chloe spearheaded the effort to begin the revitalization of East Tampa.”

Marcia Mejia, Castor’s communication director, will take over for Coney, while Steven Angotti will take over communications for the 10-year congresswoman.

At town halls, doses of fury and a bottle of Tums via Trip Gabriel, Thomas Kaplan, Lizette Alvarez and Emmarie Huetteman of The New York Times — During the first weeklong recess of the new Congress, many Republicans have chosen not to hold events at all, wary of protests that might greet them. Others gamely faced the music, including Dennis Ross.

Ross, one of the most conservative members of Congress and an enthusiastic defender of Trump’s, was called a liar by participants in his town hall in Clermont … They held signs reading “Disagree,” “Nyet My President” and “No Pipeline.”

One protester tried to reason with the passionate crowd, urging people to let Ross speak and adding that if they were angry, the correct response was to vote. “But in the meantime, let him talk so we can hold him accountable,” she added.

“This is democracy in action,” Ross said at one point.

Buchanan spends congressional recess overseas — Instead of returning to Sarasota during the Presidents Day break, Buchanan is visiting Afghanistan and other countries, including Israel. While in Afghanistan he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani discussing the country’s fight against the Taliban and the U.S. role in assisting this struggle. He reaffirmed the need to maintain “strong alliances with our allies in the fight against terrorism.” Buchanan also met with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Hugo Llorens and Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the 8,500 American troops in the region. He also visited with several troops from Florida, calling it “an honor and privilege to meet some of the Florida soldiers keeping us safe overseas.”

Vern Buchanan (front row, second from right) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (front row, third from left) and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Hugo Llorens (second row, second from left)

Buchanan: Restore USDA animal protection website immediately — The Sarasota Republican is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully restore a site designed to expose animal abuse. Citing “privacy concerns,” the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suddenly removed the online database earlier this month.

A partial restoration was found lacking by Buchanan, who joined more than 100 colleagues writing to President Trump urging a full restoration “immediately.” Buchanan, the co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus in Congress, said “there’s no reason to hold back this vital information. Putting a few documents back online is not good enough.”

The database is used by animal welfare groups and journalists to watch puppy mills, zoos, circuses and research facilities.

F. Rooney gives history lesson to MSNBC host — Republican Rep. Francis Rooney gave MSNBC host Katy Tur a bit of a history lesson Monday when he brought up Barack Obama’s promise to give then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev more “flexibility” after the 2012 election cycle. Though Rooney misremembered the incident as Obama talking to Vladimir Putin, the content was correct and was a major story during Obama’s campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.

Tur, who said she didn’t know what Rooney was talking about during the broadcast, hit Twitter later in the evening to say “she didn’t touch politics in 2012,” and that she would “rather be honest about what I know and don’t know in the moment.” More from Mediate here.

Protesters heading to Rooney’s office Saturday while he speaks in D.C. via Alexandra Glorioso via the Naples Daily News — Rooney‘s decision not to hold an open, town-hall style constituent meeting … left some Southwest Florida residents feeling that he’s avoiding them.

Rooney … will hold a “tele-town hall” at 4 p.m. Tuesday. To participate, residents of his district must go to his website — francisrooney.house.gov/contact — and send an email requesting an invitation.

On Saturday, local members of the left-leaning national group OurRevolution have scheduled a protest near Rooney’s Naples office as he’s speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. The group will hold the protest at 10 a.m. at the Collier County Courthouse Complex on the same day as other national protests are held against efforts to repeal Obamacare.

P. Rooney celebrates cost cutting for F-35 project — Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney lauded a new deal between Lockheed Martin and the Department of Defense that will save taxpayers $728 million on the next 90 F-35 fighter jets purchased by the US. In addition to the savings, the manufacturer announced it would add 1,800 jobs at its Fort Worth, Texas, facility.

“It has always been my top priority to ensure that our men and women in uniform have the latest and greatest technology at their disposal to defeat our adversaries, which for us means the F-35 aircraft,” Rooney said. “I appreciate Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon for swiftly coming to an agreement that equips our military with the most advanced aircraft in the world, while also saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Rooney also worked to strike funding for an alternative engine for the fighter jet back in 2011, which saved taxpayers up to $3 billion.

Florida congressmen demo F-35 at West Palm Beach event — U.S. Reps. Rooney and Brian Mast took to the (virtual) skies in an F-35 fighter jet during a Wednesday demonstration at manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s West Palm Beach engine center. The two congressman and area business leaders were invited to hear an update on the fighter jet project and demo a demonstration unit packed with virtual missions.

Mast and Rooney both spoke at the event and emphasized the importance the project plays in the Florida economy.

Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corporation, said the fighter project “supported over 14,700 direct and indirect jobs and created an economic impact of $3.1 billion” last year in Florida.

Palm County Republican Brian Mast takes control of the F-35 Lightning II cockpit simulator during a visit to the Pratt & Whitney Engine Facility in Jupiter.

Happening today — Mast hosts veterans’ town hall meeting — The Palm City Republican congressman is hosting a town hall in Fort Pierce to “honor our nation’s heroes, ask questions and hear about services we offer for veterans.” The event, which is open to the public, will be Friday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Havert L. Fenn Center, 2000 Virginia Avenue in Fort Pierce. RSVP at masthouse.gov.

— “Mast has first town hall as GOP faces angry crowds” via Isadora Rangel of TC Palm

Frankel faces constituents from both sides of political aisle at West Delray town hall via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Question after question at the 75-minute session concerned what the president is doing: on his court-blocked ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, on his new order calling for more deportations of immigrants who aren’t in the country legally, and about potential conflicts between serving as president and the businesses he still owns.

The crowd at the Kings Point condominium community was largely friendly, unlike what many Republican members of Congress are encountering as they are being pushed by voters to explain their support for Trump and his policies.

At times Frankel had to dial down some of the anti-Trump comments from her constituents, one of whom suggested first lady Melania Trump be deported, and another of whom suggested the president’s attacks on the news media show he’s acting like a Nazi. Frankel immediately rejected the Nazi label. As to the first lady, Frankel said “Hands off the president’s family.”

Deutch tapped for two leadership posts — This week the South Florida Democrat took on two leadership roles in the House of Representatives. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tapped the Boca Raton Democrat for the role of Ranking Member on the House Committee on Ethics. Pelosi said Deutch “will be a pillar of ethics and accountability.” Also, he was elected by his colleagues to serve as Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa for the third consecutive term.

Deutch expressed pride in the “bipartisan work” of the subcommittee and the collaborative engagement with the chairman, Cong. Ros-Lehtinen. Besides Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen, Republicans Ron DeSantis and Brian Mast also serve on the subcommittee.

Diaz-Balart calls out human rights record of Venezuela’s Maduro — The District 25 Republican took the opportunity to shine a little light on the human rights abuses of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Following a visit to his Washington office by Lilian Tintori and Mitzy Ledezma, wives of political prisoners Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, Diaz-Balart called for the release of all Venezuelan political prisoners on the third anniversary of Lopez’s jailing.

Diaz-Balart also listed all that is wrong politically and economically in Venezuela with deteriorating human rights, corrupted government institutions and a failing economy topping the list. The Congressman also praised President Trump for “placing tough sanctions on Maduro’s right-hand thug Tareck El Aissami.

Diaz-Balart renames foreign aid as “national security spending” — Is there a better way to describe the term “foreign aid?” During a Miami forum sponsored by the US Global Leadership Coalition, Diaz-Balart said “national security spending” is a more accurate definition of U.S. assistance to other nations.

Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign expenditures, predicted the federal budget “will survive” attempts to slash the $52 billion allotted for foreign assistance. Diaz-Balart and fellow panelists that included retired Air Force General Richard Hawley, discussed why overseas investments and projection of American values are good for the country’s security and prosperity. “The world is safer when the U.S. leads,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz denounces Trump administration immigration changes via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – “There’s a long list of pretty terrible things that have happened in the Trump administration so far. This is definitely among the worst.”

She pledged to do everything she could to counter the new policies, including opposing the spending authority Trump would need to hire 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 5,000 new Customs and Border Patrol Agents. “I’m going to fight. I’m going to stand up for the values of this community,” Wasserman Schultz promised.

She rejected the idea that the policy is OK because Trump won the presidency after promising during the campaign to get tough on illegal immigration. “It doesn’t matter whether we should have expected it,” she said. “You have to fight injustice wherever you can.”

Curbelo: Tax reform helps small businesses via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News — From his new seat on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee … House Republicans featured Curbelo in their latest “Tax Reform Tuesday” web video.

“Greetings from South Florida. I’m Carlos Curbelo, and I represent this community in Congress,” the South Florida Republican says in the video which was also released in Spanish. “We House Republicans are starting our work on tax reform and tax reform is about people. We want to build a simpler, flatter, and more fair tax code, so that people like these behind me can dedicate more time to their families and can have more resources to get ahead instead of just getting by.”

“So that small business owners like the family who came from Cuba decades ago and struggled to build this wonderful restaurant can invest more in the community, provide better jobs, and pay their employees more.”

Suspicious package flagged at Curbelo’s Capitol Hill office, all OK via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Someone hand-delivered an anonymous envelope … addressed to “Comrade Curbelo,” according to one of the congressman’s staffers. Instead of a return address, it listed, “Kremlin.”

Curbelo wasn’t in the office — he’s spending the congressional recess in the district — but some of his aides were. The Capitol Police checked out the letter “out of an abundance of caution … We were able to clear it without any threat.”

Capitol Police deals with similar situations “on almost a daily basis.”

Spotted: U.S. Reps. Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a POLITICO report about The Partnership for a New American Economic, an advocacy group led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

DCCC Twitter ad targets Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen for ACA votes — The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Wednesday that it is targeting Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen in a series of targeted Twitter ads.

“Representatives Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen’s reckless vote to rip apart the Affordable Care Act without a replacement is causing widespread backlash at home,” said DCCC Spokesman Javier Gamboa. “These digital ads expose Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen for being shameless enough to take people’s health care away and then run scared when their constituents demand answers.”

The ads show a crowd assembled in front of a stage with an empty chair, asking “Where’s Curbelo?” and “Where’s Ros-Lehtinen?” The DCCC will also promote a Spanish version of the ad on the social media platform.

Ros-Lehtinen tells reporters they are not the enemy — The Miami Republican distanced herself from President Trump’s anti-media comments in her first public appearance of the congressional recess.

“To the members of the press, I want to say thank you,” she said to an audience including reporters. “You are not the enemy of the American people.” Ros-Lehtinen, Florida’s most senior representative in the House, added that the media has “a central role in our republic.” The statement is in seemingly in response to a tweet President Trump made last week calling major news outlets “the fake news media” and “the enemy of the American People.”

Ros-Lehtinen, whose son is transgender, calls Trump change to bathroom rules ‘lamentable’ via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Trump administration’s move to lift protections for transgender students, who under Obama-era rules had been allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.

Ros-Lehtinen — whose son, Rodrigo Lehtinen, is transgender — noted that in 2015, she introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, prohibiting schools from discriminating against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She has also signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in a Supreme Court case seeking to protect access to public accommodations for transgender students.

“This lamentable decision can lead to hostile treatment of transgender students and studies have shown that bullying and harassment can be detrimental to the emotional and physical well-being of teenagers,” Ros-Lehtinen said …”Evidence has shown that acceptance of transgender students lowers their risk of suicide. SNDA prevent discrimination of transgender young people, and we will reintroduce it because our country benefits when everyone is accepted, and we live up to our nation’s promise of inclusiveness.”

Ex-David Jolly staffer hangs out shingle via Florida Politics — Preston Rudie, who served as Jolly’s communications director, is now a media consultant for state Sen. Latvala.

The Clearwater lawmaker is the most high-profile client for Rudie since he’s gone into the consulting business. He says that with the Catalyst Communications Group, he’ll be working with both private companies and elected officials. Rudie was an award-winning television reporter with more than 20 Emmy’s and 6 Edward R. Murrow awards to his name while working at WTSP 10 News from 2002-2014.

“Preston Rudie was the best Communications Director in Congress,” Jolly says. “Colleagues across the country would often share with me just how remarkable Preston was at his job. His clients at Catalyst, including candidates for regional or statewide office, will find great success working with Preston. Simply put, he’s one of the best in the business.”

Harris CEO Bill Brown meets with Trump via Wayne Price of FLORIDA TODAY – Harris was the only Florida-based company that took part in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council meeting. Brown and the other business leaders first met with Vice President Mike Pence, cabinet members and top aides … Topics of discussion involved deregulation, tax and trade, training and the workforce of the future, and infrastructure.

Others invitees … included top executives from U.S. business stalwarts like The Dow Chemical Co., Ford Motor Co., Johnson & Johnson and the Whirlpool Corp. Also invited was SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Hillsborough County drops long time lobbyists Alcalde & Fay via Patrick Manteiga of La Gaceta — Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Alcalde & Fay lost Hillsborough County as its client after close to 25 years of representing its interests in the Capitol.

The firm’s founder, Hector Alcalde, lived in Tampa for several years, having built strong relations. At one time, he represented most of the region’s local governments, including the City of Tampa. Hillsborough Community College and the Tampa Port Authority still retain the firm. Alcalde is also a partner in Potomac Partners, which represents the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Squire Patton Boggs is the new federal lobbying firm for Hillsborough County. The two-year contract is for $216,000.

Marty Fiorentino assisting Trump administration via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union — Fiorentino is the owner of the most prominent Jacksonville-based lobbying firm in state politics, but he is away from Florida’s Capitol these days. Fiorentino is working in Washington as a consultant for new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Trump appointed Chao, and shortly after Senate confirmation, she asked Fiorentino to come to Washington for a meeting.

He agreed to help her transition. The two are friends who met nearly three decades ago when he was working at the Federal Railroad Administration, and she was Deputy Secretary of Transportation. Fiorentino expects to spend a couple of months helping Chao in her new role before returning to his lobbying work in Florida.

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Florida GOP lawmakers hosting annual ‘Mardi Gras’ fundraiser this weekend

Ever wanted to ask Senate President Joe Negron what he’d do to earn some Mardi Gras beads?

Well, you’ll have the chance to do just that if you take part in a “Mardi Gras Celebration” at Universal Studios in Orlando where Negron, Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Presidents-to-be Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson and House Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls and other legislative leaders will come together for a fundraiser the weekend before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

According to an invitation obtained by FloridaPolitics.com, on March 4-5, the Republican lawmakers will take part in a full schedule of activities, including VIP tours. There will be a lunch and dinner, followed by a VIP viewing of a Mardi Gras Celebration Parade & Concert.

Funds raised at the event will benefit House Majority 2018, one of the campaign arms of the Republican Party of Florida.

Presumably, it would be during the parade when an adventurous donor could trade some beads for a check — if only doing so were not against the gift ban.

Let’s hope Negron, Corcoran and Co. do not partake too much in the Mardi Gras festivities. The legislative session will kick-off just two days later.

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 2.24.17

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

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

TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK

Even if Gov. Rick Scott reached out and poked him in the chest, Richard Corcoran “would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

Yes, those words did come out of the House Speaker’s mouth.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican, seemingly showing signs of fatigue less than two weeks before the start of Session, spoke with reporters Thursday.

That was after Scott’s political committee beat him up in a new video over the Speaker’s attack on Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives.

That video, which refers to him as “Rich Corcoran,” labels him a “career politician” who trades in “fake news” and “waste(s) your money.”

Of course, that was prompted by Corcoran’s own staff-produced video that slammed Scott for failures of business incentive projects that (whoops) began before his time in office.

When asked about the latest video, Corcoran turned on his trademark grin and told a story of how Scott and his wife Ann helped him after his “cataclysmically” unsuccessful 2007 run for a state Senate seat.

The future governor hired Corcoran, an attorney, to do legal work for the Solantic walk-in urgent care centers he then owned.

“There’s too many people in this world who forget what (other) people have done for them” Corcoran said. “Gov. Scott, Ann Scott, I met with them in their house in Naples and they helped contribute to my ability to make money and feed my family.

“To those around him, or their political committees, I would say, for lack of a better phrase, if Gov. Scott poked me in the chest, or whatever, I would take it 10 out of 10 times,” he said. “He’s been a very good man to me and my family.

“That said, we have a position on an issue and we believe in that position and we’ll fight for it,” Corcoran added. “We’ll try to do it as civilly and honorably as we can.”

That must not apply to his film crew. But hey, that’s what surrogates—and staff—are for.

CONCILIATORY RICHARD CORCORAN ANNOUNCES ‘WE’LL GET THERE’ ON A JOINT RULE WITH SENATE ON BUDGET PROCESS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Corcoran said he is open to compromise with the state Senate on his hardline new rules aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the budget process. Senate President Joe Negron has resisted Corcoran’s rules, last week even threatening to sue the House over what he considers an unconstitutional attempt to control the Senate, an independent coequal branch of government. Negron defused the potential legal battle when he said the Senate would not sue but instead would work out their differences over the House rules in closed-door negotiations to come up with a joint rule.

Corcoran believes the rules, which have the support of both the Democrat and Republican caucuses in the House, “have revolutionized the budget process.” Although he taunted the Senate last week, urging them to “sue us,” he sounded more conciliatory this week. “The concepts of transparency and accountability and not hiding things in the budget, if we could get that in a joint rule, absolutely we’ll compromise,” Corcoran told the Herald/Times in a pre-session interview.

— “So I guess Twitter is Florida’s new field of honor” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will be in Washington, D.C. to take part in POLITICO’s 7th annual State Solutions Conference. He’ll be taking part in the afternoon session, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m.

RICK SCOTT THE HEAVY FAVORITE TO BE NEXT RGA CHAIR via Kevin Robillard of POLITICO – Scott is the heavy favorite to be the new vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to lead the organization during the crucial 2018 gubernatorial elections. The RGA’s 11-member executive committee will vote on a new vice chair Friday in Washington, D.C., according to two sources with knowledge of the executive committee’s thinking.

SCOTT TO COURT: THROW OUT LOTTERY LAWSUIT via Associated Press Scott’s administration is asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by Speaker Corcoran. A Leon County circuit judge held a brief hearing Thursday over Corcoran’s lawsuit that maintains the Florida Lottery broke the law when it approved a more than $700-million contract with IGT Global Solutions to help run lottery games. Corcoran’s lawsuit contends the contract is illegal because it exceeds the department’s authorized budget.

SCOTT COULD BE BIG LOSER IN FIGHT OVER ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times – All the “So’s your old lady!” bickering between Scott and House Speaker Corcoran makes for lousy government. But it sure is fun watching this Tallahassee pie fight between politically ambitious egos. Sensing perhaps that Scott’s lame duck light is beginning to flicker more brightly, Corcoran is challenging Scott over his pet projects, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida … The speaker sees them as needless, wasteful expenditures of precious taxpayer dollars. This has royally peeved the state’s official hologram. Scott, who would rather bestow public money on swells rather than peasants in need of Medicaid coverage, has flitted about the state trying to save his legacy bureaucracies, most notably by attacking fellow Republicans. Say, there’s a brilliant strategy on the part of a politician who just might need GOP support in 2018 in an expected race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

AMID REPUBLICAN ROW, SOME HOUSE DEMOCRATS VOICE DISAPPROVAL OF ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – Several House Democrats joined their Republican counterparts in voicing displeasure with Enterprise Florida. House Minority Leader Janet Cruz even broke ranks and voted with the GOP, although she was the only Democrat to do so … The shared criticism signals an area of bipartisan agreement at the outset of a legislative process that’s sure to entail a contentious and drawn-out process of argument and amendment. Rep. David Richardson was perhaps the most vocal opponent of the taxpayer-funded business assistance organization during a House Appropriations Committee hearing … “I have very little good to say about Enterprise Florida and the way it has been conducted in the past,” he said. The rub, however, is that eliminating Enterprise Florida also would include reducing Visit Florida’s budget to pre-2009 levels under the substitute approved this week, something Richardson said he wasn’t prepared to do. “But if you pull out Enterprise Florida … I’d be happy to kill it for you,” he said.

HOUSE GAMBLING BILL GETS THUMBS UP ON FIRST LOOK via Florida Politics – With its chair saying he wants to “freeze” gambling in the state, a House gambling panel on Thursday cleared that chamber’s overhaul bill, including a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d the measure on a 10-5 party-line vote. But the bill, which isn’t yet assigned to another committee, differs greatly from the Senate’s gambling legislation. Its proposal now is cleared for consideration by the full chamber after a 14-2 vote in the Appropriations Committee, also Thursday.

***The 2017 Florida Blue Foundation Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards are coming to Kissimmee April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. The two-day event – with the theme “Creating a Culture of Health” – will feature several Florida-based, regional and national health professionals. The symposium will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about health care culture, purpose built communities and communities of health. Discussions will center on health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Network with 400+ executives from a range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more. To view agenda and register, click here.***

DISMAYED, DCF HEAD MIKE CARROLL EXPLAINS FRAGMENTS OF FACEBOOK LIVE SUICIDE CASE via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Standing before the members of the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Thursday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll admitted Naika Venant had been in out of foster care since 2009. Naika, 14, closed her chapter on this planet through suicide, hanging herself, shockingly, on Facebook Live’s video feature. “Can you imagine? And to have hundreds of friends watching, but only one friend would call to do anything,” Carroll asked committee members. “We became involved with Naika at a young age.” Carroll conceded this case was not like others, and it was likely to take longer than normal, which drew specific questions from committee member Rep. Kionne McGhee and Chairwoman Gayle Harrell about what date, exactly, they could expect a copy of the investigative report on Naika’s death.

FEDERALISM MESSAGE ECHOED BY HEALTH SUBCOMMITTEE MEMBERS via Erin Clark of FloridaWatchdog.org – The House Health Innovation Subcommittee approved sending a memorial to Congress asking lawmakers to consider giving Medicaid funding to the states in the form of block grants. “As you know, Medicaid is supposed to be a partnership. In reality, the federal government is in control,” said state Rep. Frank White who introduced the memorial at the hearing. He argued that the states need flexibility to design programs tailored to their specific demographic and geographic needs. In the public testimony on the memorial, speakers offered a mix of caution and enthusiastic support. “In the redesign of health care, would you like to be in charge, as the state Legislature? Or would you like a bunch of people in Washington to be in charge, dictating terms, creating more requirements, limiting your ability to manage the utilization of your own Medicaid program?” asked U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

FLORIDA TO LEGISLATE FREE SPEECH ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES? via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The Florida House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education heard from conservative academic Stanley Kurtz about the Campus Free Speech Act, a piece of proposed legislation that he says would defend free speech in Florida universities. “When protesters disrupt speakers or break in on meetings and take them over to list demands, administrators tend to look the other way,” Kurtz told committee members as he began his 16-minute address. “Students have come to take it for granted that they will face no discipline for such disruptions, administrators themselves often disinvite controversial speakers and limit the exercise of liberty to narrow and highly regulated so-called free speech zones. University boards and trustees rarely act to curb these administrative abuses.”

HOUSE PANEL VOTES TO RAISE THE BAR FOR PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS via Florida Politics – A lively debate on governing principles broke out Thursday as a House committee voted unanimously to ask the voters to raise the threshold for amending the Florida Constitution. HJR 321 would require approval by 66 2/3 percent of the voters to change the state’s foundational document. At present, that requires 60 percent approval. Sponsor Rick Roth … acknowledge his proposal would make it harder to change Florida’s basic law. “I watch politics very closely, and have for 30 years, and it seems like it’s becoming, more and more, who has the money to put something on the ballot,” he said  following the 14-0 vote by the Oversight, Transparency, & Administration Subcommittee.

HOUSE PANEL WOULD ALLOW INTEREST PAYMENTS ON NONECONOMIC VERDICTS via Florida Politics – Insurance interests are up in arms about a House committee’s approval of a bill that would allow plaintiffs to recover prejudgment interest on noneconomic claims, including pain and suffering. HB 469 says that plaintiffs who prevail in lawsuits could collect interest — at a rate now set a 4.9 percent, but varying with inflation — from the date of a loss. They could collect against attorney fees and costs, too. … Sponsor Shawn Harrison, an attorney from Tampa, said plaintiffs could not collect interest on punitive damages. … “A person who is damaged by a tortfeasor is just as damaged regardless of whether they have an action in contract or in tort,” Harrison said. “Why should there be a difference?”

***Smart employers know an inclusive workforce makes good business sense and helps secure Florida’s future. Only 30% of Floridians with disabilities are working. Explore the talent in the untapped 70%. Find out how at AbleTrust.org***

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND – GOP LAWMAKERS HOSTING ANNUAL ‘MARDI GRAS’ FUNDRAISER via Florida Politics – Ever wanted to ask Senate President Negron what he’d do to earn some Mardi Gras beads? Well, you’ll have the chance to do just that if you take part in a “Mardi Gras Celebration” at Universal Studios in Orlando where Negron, Speaker Corcoran, Senate Presidents-to-be Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson and House Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls and other legislative leaders will come together for a fundraiser this weekend … the Republican lawmakers will take part in a full schedule of activities, including VIP tours. There will be a lunch and dinner, followed by a VIP viewing of a Mardi Gras Celebration Parade & Concert. Funds raised at the event will benefit House Majority 2018, one of the campaign arms of the Republican Party of Florida.

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND:

HAPPENING NEXT WEEK:

BRING ON THE ORANGE JUICE: DENISE GRIMSLEY SCHEDULES BREAKFAST FUNDRAISER FOR MARCH 7 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception for her 2018 bid for Agriculture Commissioner at 7:30 a.m. on March 7 at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue in Tallahassee. The reception … is hosted by Sens. Aaron BeanDennis BaxleyRob BradleyAnitere FloresGeorge GainerBill GalvanoRene Garcia, Jack LatvalaTom LeeDebbie MayfieldDavid SimmonsWilton SimpsonKelli Stargel and Greg Steube. The breakfast fundraiser comes just hours before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

>>>Interesting that Steube is on the host committee; there has been some reporting he too wanted to run for Ag. Commissioner. Guess he’s staying in the Senate?

ANDREW GILLUM TO MAKE CASE FOR GUBERNATORIAL BID IN ORLANDO SPEECH via Marc Caputo of POLITICO – Gillum will all but announce his 2018 bid for governor today, hoping to become the first African-American to win an office that Democrats haven’t held in two decades. Gillum won’t commit outright to running for governor – at least not yet. But his speech this morning to the Central Florida Urban League in Orlando has all the trappings of a campaign stemwinder, replete with biographical references, policy positions and shots at Republican President Donald Trump, according to excerpts shared with POLITICO Florida.

PHILIP LEVINE LAUNCHES POLITICAL COMMITTEE, HIRES MATTHEW VAN NAME via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Levine launched All About Florida and has hired Matthew Van Name to work for the political committee. Van Name recently served as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and was formerly the Florida political director of the Service Employees International Union. The news of Van Name’s hiring comes just one day before Levine is scheduled to deliver remarks at the annual Cornerstone Award Breakfast sponsored by the Central Florida Urban League. Levine is expected to discuss his vision for Florida’s future. He is expected to make an announcement this spring about “his plans for continued public service.”

SURPRISE (OR NOT): MICHELLE REHWINKEL VASILINDA JOINS THE REPUBLICAN PARTY via Florida Politics – The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican. Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee … “We are excited to welcome former Representative Michelle Rewinkle Vasilinda into the Republican Party,” said Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF). PIFF was formed in late 2010 with three charter members: Allstate and Castle Key Insurance Companies, The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, and State Farm Insurance Companies, to create a dynamic, efficient, and competitive marketplace for personal insurance products for the benefit of all Floridians.  PIFF charter members serve forty-five percent (45%) of the automobile insurance market and more than twenty percent (20%) of the homeowners’ property insurance market. The association is the leading voice for personal lines property and casualty insurers in Florida. Learn more.***

AS DONALD TRUMP REVOKES TRANSGENDER STUDENT PROTECTION, FLORIDA LGBTQ COMMUNITY WONDERS WHAT’S NEXT? via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Michael Jones, a well-known entertainer and drag whose stage name is “Meagan Towers,” was in street clothes, sipping on a drink at Pepperz Cabaret in Gulfport … “I think what they’re doing is wrong,” Jones, who works mostly in Naples, said. “I know too, too many trans people that this could affect if (Trump) takes this further.” He and a couple of friends worried whether Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress were poised to do much more, like rescind the right for those in the LGBTQ communities to legally marry. Jones said Trump used to support “the LGBTQ team,” but since becoming president, the shifting winds of politics had taken hold. “Apparently, he’s making it known to all minorities and us that he doesn’t give a damn,” he said, irked.

SPECIAL REPORT: IN HARM’S WAY via Kathleen McGrory and Connie Humburg of the Tampa Bay Times — Gun injuries are a growing problem for Florida’s children, rising along with the increasing availability of firearms across the state, the Tampa Bay Times has found. To determine how many kids are shot each year — accidentally, intentionally or during the commission of a crime — the Times looked at millions of hospital discharge records for patients across Florida, as well as data collected by the state’s 24 medical examiners. The analysis found that, between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids 17 and younger were killed or injured by firearms. Put another way, a child in Florida was shot, on average, every 17 hours. From 2010 through 2015, the number of kids killed in gun-related incidents rose nearly 20 percent. Injuries from guns jumped 26 percent from 2014 to 2015 alone.

SOLARCITY’S QUESTIONABLE BUSINESS PRACTICES A WARNING FOR FLORIDA SOLAR DEBATE? via Florida Politics – A recent New York Times article exposes some of the “diminutive” players in Florida’s solar industry for what they really are – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations which engage in highly questionable business practices to lure consumers. SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea; a 20-year lease for those signing up for its solar panels. Reporters found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered such long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity submitted paperwork to the government … in the past few years, SolarCity lowered its requirements for entry into the program – using a 650 FICO score cutoff, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.

WHAT WILL WEATHERFORD IS READING – FLORIDA CHAMBER CEO DELIVERS UNEXPECTED MESSAGE via Janelle O’Dea of the Bradenton Herald – Mark Wilson delivered a somewhat unexpected message to a room of 75 businesses leaders and government officials. “I’m positive that when some of you got the invite for today you asked, ‘What’s the chamber doing looking at poverty?’” he said. Wilson took attendees through a presentation showing how business leaders and their attitudes need to adjust to solve the problems associated with generational poverty. “Generational poverty means you were born into it,” Wilson said. “It is not your fault. If you’re born into poverty, you don’t know anything else.” He recognized that this concept may be foreign to some, especially business leaders who thrive on the idea that if one works hard enough, they can ascend the throes of a life in poverty. It’s not that easy, Wilson explained.

***Sen. Jack Latvala is fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala you support him and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at protectflbusiness.com.***

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Melissa Akeson, The Rubin Group:  Friends of the Underline; Orthodox Union

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Broward County Property Appraiser; Florida East Coast Industries LLC.; Friends of the Underline

Travis Blanton, Jon JohnsonDarrick McGhee Sr., Johnson & Blanton: Transdev North America, Inc.

Michael Bronstein, Bronstein Consulting LLC: American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies: Region X of the Appraisal Institute

Lynne Elizabeth Grinsell, Capital City Consulting: Zurich American Insurance Company

Travis Mitchell, Louis Betz & Associates Inc.: 3 Bees Corp

Timothy Parson, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Wexford Health Sources

William RubinHeather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Friends of the Underline

Ryan Sacco, The Rubin Group: Broward County Property Appraiser; Dosal Tobacco Corporation; Florida East Coast Industries LLC; Florida Taxi Cab Association; Friends of the Underline

Lane Stephens, SCG Governmental Affairs: Florida Airboat Association

SPOTTED on American Association of Political Consultants’ 40 Under 40 lists: Tim Saler, the vice president of Grassroots Targeting former deputy campaign manager of Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign, and the former deputy executive director for political strategy at the Republican, and Christian Ulvert, president and founder of EDGE Communications.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jessica Ellerman, Matt Farrar, and Susan Goldstein. Belated wishes to my longtime friend, Joel Silver.

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Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

Surprise (or not): Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda joins the Republican Party

As long expected, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda is pulling a reverse Charlie Crist.

The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee Thursday night.

“We are excited to welcome (her) into the Republican Party,” Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power said. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”

One person who predicted the move is state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, who last year tweeted: “One step closer to joining the Grand Ole Party, my friend :)”

She follows the reverse footsteps of former Gov. Crist, who left the Republicans to become an independent, then joined the Democrats.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is the newest addition to join the GOP under the state party’s “Project Majority Red” initiative, “which seeks to increase the number of Republican registered voters throughout our state, in order to overtake the Democrats in voter registration,” Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement.

“Michelle has honorably served her constituents for the past eight years and has a history of siding with Republicans on several issues,” he added. “I believe she has been a great public servant for the State of Florida and led efforts for a more robust economy, lower taxes and an increase in job creation.  We welcome Michelle to the Republican Party and we look forward to working with her.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who represented the House District 9 seat now held by Democrat Loranne Ausley, told FloridaPolitics.com last year she had “always worn the mantle of ‘Democrat’ very lightly.” She once called President Donald Trump “fascinating,” but said she did not vote in the Presidential Preference Primary.

“I have never felt good in a partisan space, where people feel they have to knock down the other party,” she said. “I just try to do what’s right for my constituency.”

Yet she also has followed her own beat, on one hand supporting a bill to allow guns on college campuses, saying she had used a handgun to defend against an attacker when she was a college student, but on the other filing legislation to get rid of Florida’s death penalty.

“It’s not a surprise—she was never a vote you could count on,” former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said in an interview last year.

And current House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, also in an interview last year, surmised that Rehwinkel Vasilinda “has higher political aspirations that require her to be more conservative.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is a New York native who got her undergraduate and law degrees in Florida. She’s now a professor of Legal Studies and Applied Ethics at Tallahassee Community College, and married to capital reporter and broadcasting veteran Mike Vasilinda.

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SolarCity’s questionable business practices a warning for Florida solar debate?

A familiar narrative in the debate over solar energy in Florida follows a “David and Goliath” theme.

Cast as Goliath are the state’s largest utilities; playing David are “little guy” rooftop solar companies trying to make it in the utility’s shadow.

However, a recent New York Times article rejects that account, exposing some of the “diminutive” players in Florida’s solar industry for what they really are – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations which engage in highly questionable business practices to lure consumers.

In one case, these practices echo big bank mortgages from a decade ago, methods which led to the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008.

SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea; a 20-year lease for those signing up for its solar panels.

Reporters Danielle Ivory and Diane Cardwell found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered such long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity submitted paperwork to the government.

The situation got to the point where Mohammed Ahmed Gangat, an attorney for SolarCity had to file documents and a New York State court asking for an extension after the company was, as the Times reports, “inundated with hundreds of lawsuits in New York, and thousands across the country, all of which have named SolarCity as a defendant in a residential foreclosure action.”

Later, a statement from SolarCity representatives clarified Gangat’s statement, saying that there were only 139 cases out of “more than 305,000 installed customers.”

Either way, the figures pose a problem: If the attorney (who SolarCity pointed out was not an employee) cited incorrect figures in his filing, he would be subject to ethical disciplinary action. On the other hand, if the number of cases is indeed “in the thousands,” Ivory and Cardwell suggest SolarCity – now owned by automaker Tesla – could face a “threat to its financial performance that it has not disclosed to the government and investors.”

To consumers, the basic premise of SolarCity is simple, install solar panels and save on electric bills.

The company offers to pick up installation costs, an average of $25,000 to $30,000, and charge customers a flat rate for electricity produced by the panels, usually at rates 10 to 15 percent below that of utilities.

Customer gets cheaper power, SolarCity gets regular monthly payments.

But in the past few years, SolarCity lowered its requirements for entry into the program – using a 650 FICO score cutoff, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.

As Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit reporting agency Experian, told the Times: “For a consumer with a sub-700 score, it’s likely that there are already some indicators of risk there, but not a severe one to that particular lender, I guess, at that point.”

Relying on a single credit score – one that could change for the worse at almost any time – calls into question SolarCity’s business practices, especially considering the expensive hardware that will be sitting on foreclosed homes, which could number in the hundreds (or even thousands).

Adding to the confusion are courts that will have a difficult time determining the true ownership of installed solar panels.

Of course, SolarCity is not the only solar company facing these problems, but it is one of the largest.

“SolarCity needs to contest every foreclosure to have any realistic chance of getting either paid for or the return of their solar panels,” Connecticut attorney Christopher McCormick said. After a decade representing banks, McCormick now works with homeowners facing foreclosure.

“Those panels are pretty valuable,” he told the Times. “It makes sense that the company would not want to lose them.”

A massive corporation, mired in potentially thousands of foreclosure suits, is certainly not the image groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy want to promote in its effort to expand solar power throughout Florida.

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James Madison Institute says Lake O land buy could cost economy $695 million

Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee could cost the Florida economy 4,148 jobs and $695 million a year, according to a new report from conservative think tank James Madison Institute.

The report, titled “$ticker $hock,” estimates the land buy would have a direct negative impact of $345 million and 1,915 jobs lost, with an additional $350 million and 2,233 jobs lost indirectly.

Negron’s plan, found in SB 10, would have the state purchase 60,000 acres of mainly agricultural land to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges by building a reservoir. The plan would cost the state $1.2 billion.

The plan is most heavily opposed by U.S. Sugar, which owns most of the land in question. Since Negron made the issue a priority, the company has downplayed the role its operations play in the discharges, and offering up its own studies showing that the allegations are not supported by science.

The JMI estimate includes a statewide loss of nearly $110 million in household income and $42 million in tax revenues for federal, state and local governments.

About 45 percent of the job losses would happen in Palm Beach and Hendry counties, while the same counties would absorb more nearly 60 percent of the economic dip.

The towns surrounding the land buy area – Belle Glade, South Bay, Clewiston and Pahokee – would be the hardest hit.

The report emphasized the importance of agriculture as one of the “Big Three” economic drivers in the state while also saying that protecting “our state’s most cherished natural treasure, the Everglades, is vital to Floridians.”

The group concluded that this and a JMI previous study “clearly illustrate that using taxpayer dollars to declare eminent domain on 60,000 acres of agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee would not only fail to help address the challenges present, but would in fact have devastating effects on the economies of the local area, the communities that rely on the land for their livelihood, and the state of Florida.”

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Sunburn for 2.23.17 – Scott’s sky-high approval ratings; Corcoran says ‘hell no’; Bill Nelson targeted

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

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

STORY MORE IMPORTANT THAN POLITICS: 7 EARTH-SIZE WORLDS FOUND ORBITING STAR; COULD HOLD LIFE

For the first time ever, astronomers have discovered seven Earth-size planets orbiting a nearby star — and these new worlds could hold life.

This cluster of planets is less than 40 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, according to NASA and the Belgian-led research team who announced the discovery Wednesday.

The planets circle tightly around a dim dwarf star called Trappist-1, barely the size of Jupiter. Three are in the so-called habitable zone, where liquid water and, possibly life, might exist. The others are right on the doorstep.

Scientists said they need to study the atmospheres before determining whether these rocky, terrestrial planets could support some sort of life. But it already shows just how many Earth-size planets could be out there — especially in a star’s sweet spot, ripe for extraterrestrial life.

The takeaway from all this is, “we’ve made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” said the University of Cambridge’s Amaury Triaud, one of the researchers. The potential for more Earth-size planets in our Milky Way galaxy is mind-boggling.

Now, back to politics on Planet Earth…

FLORIDA REPUBLICAN HAVE A GREAT FEELING ABOUT THE HOME TEAM

Gov. Scott is enjoying sky-high approval ratings, while Attorney General Pam Bondi continues to be a rock star. And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam may have a future in this business.

With just a few weeks until the start of the 2017 Legislative Session, Associated Industries of Florida surveyed 800 likely Republican primary voters. The survey looked the direction of the state, the approval ratings of statewide elected officials, and took at stab at gauging public consensus on a couple of key policy debates.

And of course, no survey would be complete without mulling a hypothetical 2018 gubernatorial match-up.

So, what did AIF find? Here’s five takeaways from the February 2017 report:

Scott’s approval rating soars

Being the middle of a high-profile feud with the Florida House might suit Scott. The survey, conducted by phone from Feb. 14 through Feb. 17, showed 81 percent of likely Republican primary voters polled said they approved of the job the Governor was doing.

According to the polling memo, 41 percent of those surveyed said they strongly approved of the job he was doing. “In essence,” the memo reads, “the Governor enters his second to last session with the highest marks from Republicans that we have tracked during his term.”

Bondi is a rock star

As Attorney General, Bondi has received top marks for most of her time in office. And, according to the polling memo, that makes total sense, considering the “among of earned media she has received over her time on the Cabinet.

But after a few months of bad headlines, the news that 54 percent of the Republican base approve of the job she’s doing as Florida’s attorney general must have come as a relief. In fact, Bondi had the third highest job approval rating, behind only Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Speaking of Cabinet members, 38 percent of GOP primary voters said they approved of the job Putnam was doing as agriculture commissioner. AIF didn’t include CFO Jeff Atwater in image testing, since he’s leaving his post at the end of session.

Too early for 2018

We may love covering the horserace, but Republican voters don’t appear ready to start thinking about 2018.

Associated Industries of Florida tested hypothetical ballot tests for Governor and the Cabinet and, according to the polling memo, “low name ID’s are obviously forcing ballots that are largely undecided.”

In a hypothetical four-way race between Putnam, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala and businessman (and alligator ‘wrassler’Ron Bergerson, 71 percent said they would be undecided. Putnam, however, had an 18-point lead over Corcoran, 22 percent to 4 percent.

No love for land buy 

GOP voters aren’t thrilled about the idea of the state buying private land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

Sixty-four present of respondents said they disagreed with the statement “The state should continue to buy private farmland for environmental purposes and take it out of production, even if that means the state must borrow the money to purchase bonds.”

The poll found 65 percent did not believe the state should use eminent domain to buy privately owned lands for environmental uses.

Under a bill (SB 10) moving through the Senate, the South Florida Water Management District would have until the end of 2017 to find a willing seller of 60,000 acres of land, upon which the state could build one or more water storage reservoirs.

If the water management district can’t find a willing center, the state can decide to buy 153,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar, under an existing option in a contract signed by the state and company in 2010. The bill, however, does not propose use eminent domain to acquire land.

Incentive debate just too darn complicated

AIF tried to ask voters about the ongoing debate over whether to dismantle economic incentive programs and tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, but concluded the issue was too complicated for voters to comprehend.

“Overall awareness on these debates is low in this survey, regardless of how the question is tested,” said Ryan Tyson, AIF’s Vice President of Political Operations. “Furthermore, the nuances of the policy points used to better describe ‘incentives for job growth’ vs. ‘corporate welfare’ are far too complex for decisive support for either position in this survey.”

AIF said no matter the phrasing, the results for the incentives debate were contradictory “and talking points can easily get a voter to one side of the argument or the other.

RICK SCOTT’S PAC SLAMS HOUSE SPEAKER RICHARD CORCORAN AS “CAREER POLITICIAN” IN NEW VIDEO via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – It’s the latest in the back and forth policy battle between the two Republican leaders over the future of state job incentive programs and the state’s tourism marketing agency. Last week, Corcoran used a closed-door meeting with Republicans to release a video slamming Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida as agencies that waste tax dollars. That video specifically highlight two job incentive projects – Sanford Burnham and Digital Domain – approved by previous governors that have since failed, but the ad did not explain that they came before Scott took office in 2011. The Let’s Get to Work video specifically takes on that point, criticizing the video as misleading and saying both projects occurred under then-Gov. Charlie Crist. But that also isn’t accurate. The Sanford Burnham project was approved when Gov. Jeb Bush was still in office in 2006.

ON SCHOOL SPENDING, RICHARD CORCORAN HAS TWO WORDS FOR RICK SCOTT, FLORIDA SENATE: ‘HELL NO’ via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Corcoran says he won’t compromise on the question of whether the Legislature should write a budget that includes nearly $500 million more in local property taxes from Florida homeowners to hit Scott‘s target of a K-12 spending increase, under a program known as required local effort. Scott and Senate President Negron don’t consider that a tax increase because the property tax rate would stay the same. The extra money would come from rising property values paid by homeowners and businesses. “The governor has in his budget a $450-plus million property tax increase,” Corcoran [said]. “That’s a hell no. That’s a hell no. We’re not raising property taxes to fund government waste. We’re not raising taxes on property owners to give it to business owners. It’s a non-starter. It’s nonsensical.”

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BILL WOULD EXTEND TIME TO SUE ABORTION DOCTORS via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – Women who have abortions in Florida would find it easier to sue the doctors who performed the procedure, under a contentious bill now moving through the House. But it’s unclear if the legislation … opposed by some Republicans … will become law since there’s no companion measure moving through the Senate. A House panel narrowly approved a bill that would give women more time to sue physicians for physical or emotional injuries stemming from abortions. Most legal claims arising from medical procedures must be filed within four years, but the bill would allow lawsuits to be filed for up to 10 years following the abortion. But the legislation is opposed by those who support abortion rights as well as groups that represent Florida doctors.

STAND YOUR GROUND BILL PASSES HOUSE COMMITTEE via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Even before the House took a single vote on the bill, which would put the burden of proof on prosecutors to refute defendants’ self-defense claims, 42 members had signed on as primary or co-sponsors. That represents more than two-thirds of the votes needed to pass a bill in that chamber. “The bill places the burden of proof where it belongs, on the prosecution, and is consistent with the foundation of our criminal law that a person is innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Rep. Bobby Payne … one of a trio of Northeast Florida lawmakers serving as the main sponsors of this legislation.

SENATE FINANCE & TAX APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE OK’S ‘TAMPON TAX’ EXEMPTION via Florida Politics — The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a proposal (SB 176) to make feminine hygiene products, like tampons, exempt from state sales and use tax. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, now heads to the full Appropriations Committee. … If approved, the Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the exemption would reduce general revenue receipts by $3.8 million in fiscal 2017-18 and by $8.9 million on a recurring basis. It would reduce local revenue by $1 million in fiscal 2017-18, and then by $2.3 million each year after.

BILL WOULD STRIP TRI-RAIL OF FUNDING, CONTRACTING AUTHORITY via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The Bay County Republican’s Senate Bill 1118 … would force the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to decide between the ten-year, $511 million operations and maintenance contract it is awarding to a sole qualified bidder, or the $42 million in state funding it expects each year. The bill also would require state approval for any future SFRTA contracts for the South Florida commuter rail system that would be paid for with state money. Tri-Rail provides commuter rail service through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority provisions are buried in what is a much broader transportation bill from Gainer that covers everything from bridge inspections to natural gas vehicle regulations.

CRAFT BEER DEBATE INCLUDES … CHANCE THE RAPPER? via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Senate Regulated Industries Committee cleared the measure (SB 554) on a 6-3 vote. The measure would allow smaller craft brewers to distribute their own beer. It would create an exception to Florida’s “three-tier system” born after Prohibition, which requires separation of alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers to avoid price-fixing. [OscarBraynon explained that Chance, who won three Grammy Awards this year, first independently distributed his own music before getting “multimillion-dollar offers for distribution deals.” The bill “would allow small brewers to do just what Chance the Rapper did,” Braynon said. “So, I’m going to give this (bill) a chance—thanks to Chance the Rapper.”

HOME RULE FIGHT BREAKS OUT AS PANEL APPROVES REGULATION REFORM BILL via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The bill, HB 17, is sponsored by Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, and would not allow local governments to regulate issues that are not already allowed under state statute … He says it comes down to a philosophical approach: increased regulations hurt businesses and job creation. “Regulations, which smother businesses, should be hard to create,” he said. Democrats on the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee were joined by Rep. Shawn Harrison … in opposing the bill. They argued it took too much control away from the elected officials closest to the people and would require any regulatory change to go before the Legislature, which meets far less than local governments. “I think this is simply a bridge too far,” said Harrison, who represents a Democratic-leaning seat.

HOUSE TRANSPORTATION AND TOURISM PANEL BEGINS VETTING MEMBER PROJECTS via Florida Politics – The House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee began voting on nearly $500 million in member project bills Wednesday, as its chairman warned that the panel’s approval does not guarantee a project will make it into the final House budget bill. “Our point here is to try to vet these to the extent we can in the time that we have,” Rep. Clay Ingram told committee members. … Ingram said he had sidelined some projects that he knew just wouldn’t fly.

HOUSE WON’T CHANGE NURSING HOME REIMBURSEMENT FORMULA THIS YEAR via Florida Politics – The House won’t pursue a proposal to change the way the state reimburses nursing homes caring for Medicaid patients — at least, not this year. … “Although we like the idea of a prospective payment system … perhaps the calculations that were done in that study don’t meet all the needs,” Jason Brodeur, chairman of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, told members Wednesday. A plan by Navigant Consulting Inc. … would pay nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated based on four components. “One of the things I think we could probably do as a committee is maybe commit ourselves to a more intellectually disciplined approach,” Brodeur said.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUDGET CHAIR FAVORS VOCATIONAL TRAINING AS VOTING BEGINS via Florida Politics – The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee OK’d eight member requests for state funds Wednesday, including programs boosting technical training … and a veterinary lab at the University of Florida. … Chairman Larry Ahern is particularly interested in vocational projects — apprenticeships, internships, other forms of nonacademic training. … For example, the panel approved $200,000 for a partnership with car dealers to train young people for relatively high-paying jobs in auto shops. … “There is a demand for those jobs, but they’re not able to train enough young adults to fill these jobs,” Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., said.

JURY UNANIMITY BILL PASSES HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Bills that would require juries to be unanimous in recommending the death penalty [come] on the heels of a Florida Supreme Court decision came in that lifted a hold on current death penalty cases. HB 527 by Rep. Chris Sprowls passed the House Judiciary Committee 17-1 and will be discussed on the House floor. Sen. Randolph Bracy’s SB 280 was unanimously vetted by the Senate Rules Committee and is now ready to be heard by the full Senate.

LAWMAKERS TARGET CRIMINAL UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, DESPITE CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald –  A controversial plan to impose more prison time on undocumented immigrants who commit severe violent crimes in Florida narrowly passed its second Senate committee … but it’s unlikely to advance much further without buy-in from the House. The measure (SB 120) has drawn a litany of criticism and questions about its constitutionality from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocacy groups, because it would impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants than U.S. citizens or legal residents would otherwise face for the same offenses. “What is it about their immigration status that makes the crime more heinous?” asked Sen. Jeff Clemens … “The fact that somebody is here without papers, how does that make the rape or the murder worse?”

PROPERTY TAX CAP SAILS THROUGH FIRST COMMITTEES via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools –HJR 21, put forth by Rep. Colleen Burton … would permanently instate a 10 percent cap on non-homestead property assessment increases, a constitutional regulation set to expire in 2019. The bill passed the House Ways & Means Committee 16-1 and has one more committee stop. A similar Senate version (SJR 76) by Sen. Tom Lee … passed unanimously Wednesday in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax. The cap would not apply to property taxes levied by school districts under the two bills.

STADIUM FUNDING BILL PASSES FIRST HOUSE COMMITTEE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – HB 77, which would prevent sports teams from building or renovating stadiums on public land, passed the House Government Accountability Committee 14-5 … The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Avila, said the bill “protects taxpayer funds from being used to subsidize already successful businesses.” The bill would also require a stipulation in future contracts between sports franchises and state and local governments that compels franchises to pay any outstanding debt the state acquired for construction on sports facilities if the franchise permanently leaves the facility. Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, who voted against the bill, questioned whether the bill would impede the overall economic boost sports teams create.

— “Senate moves ahead with changes to ‘estoppel’ certificate standards” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida

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ANITERE FLORES PROPOSES COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP FOR 50 CHILDREN OF FARMWORKERS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The amendment to SB 2, the Senate’s higher education reform bill which will be up for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, authorizes children of migrant workers who meet the criteria of the award, including meeting the state’s residency requirements, to receive the scholarship annually. The scholarship would be administered by the Florida Department of Education and students would be required to have a 3.5 weighted grade-point average, have at least a 90 percent attendance rate and complete at least 30 hours of community service. Flores, who as a House member helped establish the First-Generation Matching Grant program a decade ago, expects the annual cost will be about $1 million.

SENATE ADDS BINGO, DOPING, ADW TO ITS 2017 GAMBLING BILL via Florida Politics – On a first read, the strike-all’s most significant changes are: A new bingo provision for charitable organizations. A provision that appears to outlaw a form of gambling called advance-deposit wagering (ADW), “in which the bettor must fund his account before being allowed to place bets,” according to Investopedia, adding “racetrack owners, horse trainers and state governments sometimes receive a cut of ADW revenues.” The amendment makes a third-degree felony out of accepting such a wager, but only “on horseraces,” not dog races. Toughening testing standards for race animal “doping,” the giving of performance-enhancing drugs to a racehorse or greyhound. In other sections, the strike-all also changes the proposed “Office of Amusements” that would regulate fantasy sports to an “Office of Contest Amusements.”

SHOULD LOCAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE LESS POWER? SOME STATE LAWMAKERS THINK SO via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Lawmakers are pushing a bill (HB 17) that would prohibit cities, counties and other arms of local government from passing any regulations on businesses unless they have been given specific permission from the state Legislature. The same proposal would repeal existing rules governing businesses in 2020. The stated goal: eliminating confusion for people trying to start a business in multiple cities or counties. “Imagine being someone who wants to try to build their business and doesn’t want to hire lawyers and doesn’t want to hire lobbyists,” said Rep. Randy Fine. “The intention of this bill is to try to make it easier for those folks to do that.” But local elected officials, Republican and Democrat alike, see it as an attack that would limit their power and harm their residents. “Why don’t they just abolish local government?” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn … “This is by a group of allegedly conservative people who during campaigns will say less government is better and the government closest to the people governs best, and that’s local government.”

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee will consider its proposed committee bill when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in 212 Knott. The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee will discuss a bill that revises the list of documents lenders can use as an admission of bankruptcy by defendants in mortgage foreclosures when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee will get a presentation about free speech on college campuses when it meets at 10 a.m. in 306 House Office Building. The House won’t be the only chamber rolling the dice on gambling Thursday. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to discuss its wide-sweeping gambling bill during its meeting at 9 a.m. in 412 Knott. In addition to the gambling bill, the committee is also scheduled to hear his “Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Rene Plasencia will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. outside the Senate Chamber on the 4th floor of the Capitol to discuss the public school recess bills. They will be joined by representatives of the Florida PTA and “recess moms.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The James Madison Institute will hold a press call to release its study regarding current proposals being considered by the Florida legislature surrounding the Everglades Agricultural Area. Call is 9:30 a.m., 800-371-9219/PIN: 9714346.

***The quality of nursing home care is better in states like Florida that use a certificate of need process. You can help protect Florida’s most frail seniors by urging legislators to keep CON for Florida’s outstanding skilled nursing centers. Learn more from the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) at cqrcengage.com/ahcafl/CONProcess.***

HAPPENING TODAY – LAWMAKERS HOST FUNDRAISERS ACROSS TALLAHASSEE — House Majority, the fundraising arm of the House Republicans, will hold a fundraiser for Reps. Danny Burgess and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen at 11:30 a.m. at Clyde’s and Costello’s, 210 South Adams Street. Members of the Senate are also getting in on the fundraising action: Sen. Debbie Mayfield will hold a fundraiser for her Senate District 17 re-election campaign at the Governors Club Boardroom, 202 ½ S. Adams Street; while Sen. Travis Hutson will hold a fundraiser at 5 p.m. at the Governors Club Library. Both fundraisers are scheduled for 5 p.m.

HAPPENING TONIGHT:

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AGENCY FOR STATE TECHNOLOGY AUDIT SCRUTINIZED BY HOUSE PANEL via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – The House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee discussed a January Auditor General report about the Agency for State Technology and State Data Center operations. Despite the findings of that report, which included issues with user access privileges, accounts kept active despite being unused, and other such seemingly-exploitable security glitches, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee showed little interest in the kind of specific, drill-down inquiry about remedies for these issues one might have expected … in the House was a different matter. Arthur Hart, audit manager for Information Technology Audits in the Office of Auditor General, addressed the audit. “I think there is reason for some concern about some findings in the audit,” Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said by way of introducing Hart.

— “DCF files roundup: Tony Dungy, adoption, false reports and a new trend – falling asleep in cars, high and with kids” via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics

HOW FLORIDA’S WELL-CONNECTED MEDICAL MARIJUANA CHIEF GOT HIS JOB, DESPITE LITTLE EXPERIENCE via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – In July 2015, former Surgeon General John Armstrong signed off on a memo from current Surgeon General (then deputy health secretary) Celeste Philip asking that the department not advertise the open job for director of the Office of Compassionate Use on the basis that Christian Bax was “the best candidate for the position,” making the assertion that he had “several years of experience in navigating medical marijuana regulations.” But it turns out Bax was the only candidate who applied for the position, and on his job application he claimed to have only about 15 months experience working part-time as a consultant in Boston doing application work for medical cannabis firms in Washington and Nevada. Department spokeswoman Mara Gambinerirefused to address the contradiction. She insists that “based on Mr. Bax’s policy and rulemaking knowledge and experience, the department determined he was the best candidate for the position” — even though Bax was the sole candidate to apply. Soon after Bax was hired in July 2015 as the director of OCU, his office was beset by legal disputes alleging the method for awarding medical marijuana licenses was arbitrary. Now the office is plagued by a growing pile of legal bills.

VISIT FLORIDA’S BREAKUP WITH PITBULL ALMOST COMPLETE via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – But when new Visit Florida leader Ken Lawson stood before a Florida Senate committee earlier this week there was a strong acknowledgement that the highly controversial (and for the longest time secret) $1 million contract with Pitbull to promote state beaches will never happen again on his watch. “A great Floridian who’s made his way,” Lawson said of Miami music start Pitbull. “But anytime we use a celebrity or any person, we need to make sure it fits the brand.” Lawson said in the future any use of celebrities would have to “fit our program” and require “commonsense.”

WE TOLD YOU SO; EYEBALL WARS SET TO BEGIN ANEW via Florida Politics – Nearly four years have passed since the truce was called in the decades-long “eyeballs war” between Florida optometrists and ophthalmologists … that fragile peace seems all but finished. Optometrists are seemingly going back on their word, working behind the scenes to file legislation to allow them to perform surgery … the FOA and associated parties have given more than $2.1 million to committees and candidates statewide — and is bolstering its Tallahassee lobbying roster, specifically through Michael Corcoran, brother of Speaker Corcoran. And in his 2016 Legislative Update, FOA chair Dr. Ken Lawson issued the clarion call. “Our ability to be heard in the Florida Legislature could not be more paramount to the success or failure of our profession than in this very moment in time … I can assure you the 2017 legislative session will be a pivotal point in the future of Florida Optometry.”

***The 2017 Florida Blue Foundation Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards are coming to Kissimmee April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. The two-day event – with the theme “Creating a Culture of Health” – will feature several Florida-based, regional and national health professionals. The symposium will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about health care culture, purpose built communities and communities of health. Discussions will center on health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Network with 400+ executives from a range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more. To view agenda and register, click here***

ONE NATION LAUNCHES AD CALLING FOR REPEAL OF OBAMACARE — The political organization launched 30-second spots in nine states, including Florida, Wednesday calling on federal lawmakers to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. The advertisements are part of a $3 million ad campaign to take place over three weeks in 11 states, and will be followed by radio, digital, print and mail campaigns. In Florida, the ad calls Obamacare a “failed mess created by Sen. Bill Nelson’s vote” and urges Floridians to “tell Sen. Bill Nelson he was wrong to vote for Obamacare.”


NRSC OUT WITH DIGITAL AD COMPARING BILL NELSON TO ELIZABETH WARREN — The National Republican Senatorial Committee debuted a new digital ad campaign Wednesday to “inform Florida voters of Nelson’s liberal record in Washington to that of the new face of the far left, Elizabeth Warren.” The ads will run on Facebook and are part of a national campaign targeting Senate Democrats in states won by President Donald Trump. “Bill Nelson has positioned himself squarely on the left, voting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 92% of the time,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Bill Nelson may try to pose as a moderate as the election approaches, but his record shows that he has more in common with Washington liberals than with Florida voters.”

STORY YOU WON’T READ IN SUNBURN – “With N-word sign, Florida man tries to scuttle Tampa mayor’s gubernatorial hopes — but there’s a twist” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida. It’s not that this isn’t a story sure to drive clicks and it’s one that Caputo tells well, but anyone who has been to downtown Tampa has seen these ridiculous, offensive signs. Local media has rightly chosen to ignore this gadfly. Unfortunately, with Caputo’s article, he now has a national platform.

TOM GRADY EYES AG, CFO NOW THAT FGCU PRESIDENT IS OUT via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – No longer in the running to be Florida Gulf Coast University’s president, former Naples’ state representative Grady is eyeing state Attorney General and maybe even the state’s chief financial officer position. And to get either office, he might rely on the help of a friend, his neighbor and former constituent Gov. Scott, who could find himself appointing interim officials to both positions soon. “I speak with the governor often about many things, especially where I have some expertise and can be helpful,” Grady said. He declined to disclose his private conversations with the governor. Grady was not among the finalists announced last week for the FGCU position. The university’s board is in the process of selecting a new president from four finalists.

***Sen. Jack Latvala is fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala you support him and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at protectflbusiness.com.***

FIRMS RANDOMLY PICKED FOR LOBBYING COMPENSATION AUDITS via Florida Politics  Even as some lawmakers have questioned its necessity, legislative and executive branch lobbying firms were again randomly selected Wednesday for audits of their compensation reports. The firms picked for legislative lobbying audits are: Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Buigas & Associates, David R. Custin & Associates, Ericks Consultants, Hopping Green & Sams, Lewis Longman & Walker, Lisa Aaron Consulting, Luis E. Rojas, McGee & Mason, Redfish Consulting, Ronald R. Richmond, Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, Smith & Smith, The Labrador Co. The ones picked for executive lobbying are: Andrew J. Liles, Calhoun Management & Consulting, Capitol Insight, Carr Allison, Champion Consultants, Janet Llewellyn, Lester Abberger, Lindstrom Consulting, Pruitt & Associates, T.B. Consultants, TC Wolfe, Wilson & Associates. 

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: National Council of La Raza

Douglas Bell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Preserve Vision Florida

Wayne Bertsch Jr., Civility Management LLC: Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors

Charles Cliburn, New Capitol IT LLC: Gentis Solutions DBA Interlink

Jon Costello, Rutledge Ecenia: Citizens for Judicial Process; Florida Academy of Physician Assistants, Inc.; Pinnacle Housing Group, LLC

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies: Miami Children’s Health System

Jim Horne, Strategos Public Affairs LLC: Academica

Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting LLC: Sebastian Ferrero Foundation

Gary Rutledge, Rutledge Ecenia: Citizens for Judicial Process; Pinnacle Housing Group, LLC

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Florida Association of Health Plans; Florida East Coast Industries LLC; Florida East Coast Railway, LLC

Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Southern Company Gas

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of our besties, Amanda Taylor.

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PSTA to purchase pair of electric buses

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority voted 9-5 Wednesday to buy two electric buses.

The cost of the new vehicles comes in at about $2.2 million, with each bus costing $840,000 and the charging equipment and infrastructure making up the rest of the outlay, though the contract allows the PSTA to order up to 20 more buses if funds become available.

Los Angeles-based manufacturer BYD, which bills itself as the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer, won out against bids from fellow manufacturers New Flyer and Proterra.

The battery-powered, zero-emission buses measure in at 35 feet long and have a range of 160 miles on a full charge. The buses would also be the first fully electric buses in Pinellas County.

The decision to purchase the buses dates back to June, when PSTA voted to approve a pilot program if Pinellas County would chip in $589,000 for charging station infrastructure from its BP settlement funds. The county agreed to the deal in December.

The new buses are expected to be delivered in early 2018.

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We told you so; Eyeball Wars set to begin anew

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Nearly four years have passed since the truce was called in the decades-long “eyeballs war” between Florida optometrists and ophthalmologists.

But with the Legislative Session approaching, that fragile peace seems all but finished.

Optometrists are seemingly going back on their word, working behind the scenes to file legislation to allow them to perform surgery, a proposal that scientific research suggests may not be a good idea.

Several signs indicate optometrists had become progressively uneasy since April 2013, when a compromise was reached after years of lobbying by the Florida Optometric Association (FOA) and Nova Southeastern University’s College of Optometry, which is one of the largest optometry schools in the nation.

House Bill 239, initially applauded by the industry, expanded the scope of practice by allowing optometrists to prescribe a limited number of oral medications and expressly prohibits optometrists from performing surgery “of any kind.,” providing a clear definition of surgery modeled after the guidelines of the American College of Surgeons.

Optometrists also cannot prescribe Schedule I and II controlled substances, and must complete 20 hours of additional training, pass an examination and carry medical malpractice coverage at the same level as medical doctors.

HB 239 also required optometrists to report all adverse medical incidents — the same as ophthalmologists and other practitioners. Optometrists are also mandated to refer patients with severe glaucoma to an ophthalmologist within 72 hours.

Over the past year, however, FloridaPolitics.com has noted a growing push to renew the Eyeball Wars. Representatives for optometrists have been increasingly active, especially in the last election cycle.

For example, the FOA and associated parties have given more than $2.1 million to committees and candidates statewide — and is bolstering its Tallahassee lobbying roster, specifically through Michael Corcoran, brother of current Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

According to state lobbying records, Michael Corcoran will represent some of the biggest players in a renewed Eyeball Wars: the FOA, Nova Southeastern and the Florida Optometry Eye Health Fund. Corcoran is only one of a dozen lobbyists working on behalf of optometrists. In contrast, ophthalmologists only have three.

At the same time, new Speaker Richard Corcoran has ushered in a host of changes for 2017, many which could have a substantial impact on a resurgent Eyeball Wars. No longer can House members text lobbyists during official meetings, enter formal business deals with registered lobbyists or fly on planes owned by lobbyists — which some consider an apparent swipe at highflying groups such as optometrists.

Interestingly enough, the greatest clue that Wars will soon heat up is OD-EYEPAC, the political arm of the Florida Optometric Association.

Last year, OD-EYEPAC gave more than $1.1 million to committees and candidates through July 29. The Florida Optometric Association also gave $535,000; while the Florida Optometric Eye Health Care Fund gave $260,000.

And in his 2016 Legislative Update, FOA chair Dr. Ken Lawson issued the clarion call.

“Our ability to be heard in the Florida Legislature could not be more paramount to the success or failure of our profession than in this very moment in time,“ Lawson wrote. “I can assure you the 2017 legislative session will be a pivotal point in the future of Florida Optometry.”

After connecting the dots, it appears organized optometry is going against its word and once again attempting to gain surgical privileges in the state of Florida.

Despite the agreement passed in 2013, optometrists have decided to push for unwarranted expansion of their scope through relationships with lawmakers, not by going to medical school, completing the required four-year residency in ophthalmology, and actually completing a fellowship.

That said, one could only assume that they decided it is easier to buy something than to earn it.

Be warned; nothing has really changed — and the Eyeball Wars will soon begin anew.

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Pam Bondi still a rock star with Florida’s GOP voters, new AIF poll shows

Florida’s top lawmakers and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are struggling with low name identification among likely Republican voters, but that isn’t the case for Attorney General Pam Bondi according to a new poll from statewide business advocate Associated Industries of Florida.

The AIF poll of likely Republican voters obtained by FloridaPolitics.com found that 54 percent approve of the job the second-term Attorney General is doing, while just 12 percent have an unfavorable view and 17 percent said they had no opinion.

Among Florida’s top elected Republicans, Bondi’s ratings only trailed Gov. Rick Scott, who had a net 67 percent approval rating, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who netted 57 percent approval.

Putnam, who is considered an early frontrunner to take over for Scott, scored 38 percent approval from the same crowd, with 3 percent voicing disapproval and 20 percent saying they had no opinion.

Putnam did come out on top in the mock ballot test for the Republican primary for Florida governor with 22 percent support, though 71 percent said they were undecided. The next highest vote-getter was House Speaker Richard Corcoran with 4 percent support.

AIF also tested the waters for the cabinet positions opening up in 2018, though each scenario featured “undecided” winning over 80 percent of the vote.

In other words, “there’s no news here,” notes Ryan Tyson, Vice President of Political Operations for AIF.

The low level of support for Corcoran likely stems from the fact only 44 percent 0f those polled knew who he was. Of those, 16 percent said approved of the job he was doing, while 4 percent disapproved and 24 percent had no opinion.

Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala had even lower name ID than the House Speaker, with just 41 percent and 25 percent recognizing their names, respectively.

Still, both enjoyed relative approval from the Republican base: Negron had a plus-11 approval rating and Latvala came in with plus-8.

AIF surveyed 800 likely Republican voters who had voted in at least one of the last three Republican Primaries, but not the presidential preference in 2016. The group said 81 percent of those polled were over 50 years old and 90 percent were white.

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