Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 9.22.17 – NRSC does Bill Nelson wrong; Debris politics; Tim Tebow lends a hand; Ashley Moody’s big get; Last wknd in SD 40 spec. elex.

in Peter by

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

We like Katie Martin, the National Republican Senatorial Committees communications director, and usually enjoy her sharp-tongued releases. But her Thursday missive to the press, trying to link Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to the deaths of nine South Florida nursing home residents amid Hurricane Irma, strained credulity, to say the least.

Sen. Bill Nelson speaks with Kimberley Clayton and her son, Austin Rice, on Sept. 21, 2017, in front of the Percy Peak Gymnasium in Fort Pierce, one of the remaining shelters open for those displaced by Hurricane Irma. Photo credit: Patrick Dove.

— “Bill Nelson doesn’t want you to know that he has ties to Jack Michel, the owner of Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home,” she wrote. “The connection between the two goes way back with Michel giving Nelson a campaign donation in 2012.”

— We’re sure if you scour the contribution records of Nelson, or any Florida pol, you’ll find all kinds of post hoc nefarious connections, or just head scratchers. In politics, today’s friend can be tomorrow’s enemy (or headache), and vice versa.

— That’s not to say Nelson is above reproach. As the Tallahassee Democrat’s Bill Cotterell points out: “Just as the Republicans tried for years to make Benghazi an albatross around Hillary Clinton’s neck, Nelson will remind voters that Scott fired the (state’s long term care) ombudsman and made ‘regulation’ a dirty word.”

— To wit, “Nelson said this week that ‘all the phone calls that had been made that were not answered, both to the government as well as to the power company’, would surely ‘come out in the criminal investigation’ of the nursing home deaths,” referring to accusations that Scott didn’t return the nursing home’s calls for help.

— And let’s not forget President Donald Trump, who said, “I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate” in 2018, during a visit to Florida after the storm. Way to stay focused on the tragedy. Mr. President. As Cotterell put it, “Would a Florida politician exploit a ghastly tragedy to look good, or to make an opponent look bad? … Has a bear got hair?”

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

— @Fineout: @PoliticsTBTimes asked 4 potential GOP candidates for governor their position on Graham-Cassidy. None of them answered.

@SenBillNelson: Spoke with Gov. of Puerto Rico yesterday. Offered to help however we can, as our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico.

@MarcoRubio#PuertoRico estamos contigo. Vamos a hacer todo lo posible para que reciban la ayuda que necesitan pronto #HuracanMaria

— @SunSentinel: 10th person dies in Hollywood nursing home tragedy

— @BryanAvilaFL: Enjoyed visiting residents @MiamiSpringsFL Senior Center, where I informed them of the available post-Hurricane Irma assistance programs.

— @Fineout: 11 days after #HurricaneIrma hit nearly 25k homes and businesses remain w/o power. 19k are in Lee & Collier counties in southwest Florida

— @SteveBousquet: Are debris removal firms engaged in price gouging? Attorney General Pam Bondi wants to know

— @RichardCorcoran: Revealed: Hours after Hurricane Irma hit, Miami-Dade County issued 857 known notices that could result in fines. Outrageous.

— @LegIQ: .@MiamiHerald endorses @josefelixdiaz in upcoming special election

@10NewsWTSP: Tomorrow (today) is the first day of fall in #Florida. Do you know what that means? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. It’s still 90° outside.

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— RECOVERY —

Donald Trump extends emergency declaration for counties hardest hit by Irma” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – President Trump has extended his Major Disaster Declaration to 21 Florida counties hit hardest by Hurricane Irma. The declaration makes it easier to get federal reimbursements for repairs to buildings, roads and bridges, water control facilities and utilities. The original emergency declaration from the Trump administration was approved on Sept. 10.

Health Secretary Tom Price’s trip to Florida raises new questions about spending” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Price joined Gov. Scott in the Keys to see Hurricane Irma recovery efforts. How he got there is unclear, but if practice holds, there’s a good chance he did not fly commercial … Price “took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel.” Those flights were to Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Price, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, is a fiscal conservative and has criticized not only government spending in general but the use of private planes. In a CNBC interview in 2009, he bashed House Democrats for trying to spend hundreds of millions on eight passenger jets. “This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now,” Price said. “Isn’t this guy a fiscal conservative? What the hell is he thinking?” conservative blogger Allahpundit asked of Price. “We would have feasted for days on a story about some entitled, out-of-touch bureaucrat jet-setting around the country on the taxpayer dime during the Obama era.”

National guard arrived after Irma. There was nowhere to put them” via Brian Ballou of the Sun-Sentinel – They spent their days cleaning up Hurricane Irma’s mess, but at night there was no place to house them. So hundreds of National Guard troops camped at the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, some sleeping on stadium chairs, others on the ground. They went without showers and air-conditioning. Then, Lauderhill officials arrived at the park to ask for help and offered something in return — accommodations for at least 600 Guardsmen at its performing arts center, a school and a fire station.

Debris mounts, and so does anger: Counties snubbed by removal firms” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Officials in six counties – Alachua, Hendry, Indian River, Manatee, Orange and Sarasota – all complained to the state about problems with companies that refuse to haul debris. “We‘ve also been told that our contracted rate of $5.50 a cubic yard is not going to cut it with the subs (subcontractors),” Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman said, “and  we may be looking at a price, or a change order, being presented to us for as much as $8 a cubic yard. It would be nice if we had cash to play, but we don’t.”

Tourism recovery could take time in Keys” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida – Gov. Scott would like to see storm-battered Key West “open for business” within two weeks, but tourism officials marketing the southern end of U.S. 1 indicate it could take longer. Some tourism hot spots have started to reopen in the Lower Keys, as electricity is back for more than 90 percent of Monroe County. However, the Keys’ tourism website at midday Thursday continued to advise travelers with “near-term” reservations to contact airlines and hotels to change plans.

The Key West area is starting to get some good news towards its recovery. Royal Caribbean International announced Thursday that its cruise ships can start making calls into Key West starting Sunday. Also, commercial air service was restored for residents and relief workers Wednesday at Key West International Airport.

Assignment editors: Gov. Scott will meet with state and local officials in Monroe County to discuss Hurricane Irma recovery efforts in the Florida Keys. Marathon City Hall. 12:45 p.m.

Marco Rubio, Tim Tebow in Big Pine Key” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – Florida’s junior senator and the former Heisman Trophy winner served lunch and handed out ice at a drive-through distribution center. “We can’t repair everything in a day. You probably can’t do it for a little while,” Tebow said, according to Miami ABC affiliate WPLG. “But you can let people know that they’re cared for, that they’re prayed for and they’re not in this journey alone, and that’s special.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was joined by Tim Tebow in Big Pine Key, where they met with local officials and volunteers, and helped distribute food to residents in the area affected by Hurricane Irma. Photo credit: Rubio’s office.

Lineman dies working to restore power after Hurricane Irma” via WFTS – Scott Christopher Reid, Jr., 26, died Sunday in Fort Lauderdale while working storm damage due to Hurricane Irma. “Chris was an avid Gator fan, enjoyed fishing, riding 4 wheelers, being a jokester and just having a good time. He loved line work and his job with T & D Solutions. Chris also loved spending time with his family, especially his daughters,” his obituary reads.

“PSC enters hurricane recovery debate” via Florida Politics – The chair of the state’s Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, says her board also has started “thinking” about how it can help get power back on quicker after major storms. Julie I. Brown released a statement Wednesday morning, more than a week after Hurricane Irma knocked out electricity to millions of Florida homes and businesses: “…The public should be aware that the PSC plans to review Hurricane Irma’s impacts on electric utility infrastructure and the utilities’ post-storm restoration performance as soon as reasonably feasible … After an intensive fact-based review, the PSC will identify opportunities to improve utility practices and procedures.”

Assignment editors – Staff members for U.S. Reps. Dennis RossDarren Soto and Thomas Rooney will host a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recovery assistance event to answer aid-related questions and assist residents in disaster relief. Session will be from 3 to 5 p.m. at Polk State College, Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center, 310 Technology Dr. in Bartow.

Jack Latvala, Chris Sprowls organize North Pinellas produce giveaways – State Sen. Latvala, state Rep. Sprowls and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, along with the nonprofit Farm Share, will distribute free fresh Florida produce to North Pinellas County citizens in Tarpon Springs. Distribution begins 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM at the Shepherd Center, 304 S. Pinellas Ave. in Tarpon Springs. No documentation is required, and produce will be donated while supplies last.

Actual press release – “Beef Jerky Outlets recognizing first responders of hurricane cleanups”

“Irma may speed the end of orange juice, America’s biggest source of ‘fruit’” via Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post – Hurricane Irma plundered Florida’s orange belt, leaving a trail of uprooted trees, downed fruit and flooded groves worse than anything growers say they have seen in more than 20 years. It could even be the knockout blow for a product — orange juice — that has been slipping in popularity among Americans, although the beverage still ranks as the country’s favorite “fruit.” The most recent estimates of the widespread damage to Florida’s orange trees put the statewide losses as high as 70 percent. That could lead to orange shortages, price hikes and, for farmers, lost harvests — all on top of a debilitating plant disease called citrus greening and a long-term national decline in orange juice consumption. “Significant is not the right word,” said Shannon Shepp, the executive director of the growers’ group Florida Department of Citrus, describing the damage to Florida’s orange juice industry. “It’s somewhere between significant and catastrophic. And that’s a big word — I don’t use it lightly.” It could have implications not only for Florida agriculture but for the American diet.

Ag. Commissioner Adam Putnam served breakfast Thursday at Beauclerc Elementary School in Jacksonville to raise awareness about free school meals in 48 counties affected by Hurricane Irma.

Florida sugarcane farmers ready to ‘grow again’ post-Irma” via Florida Politics – Florida farmers may have just experienced the biggest crop loss event in state history, but Florida Sugar Farmers is determined to bounce back. “Our rural farming communities will recover, replant and we will grow again after #HurricaneIrma,” the group said in a Facebook post. Florida Sugar Farmers included a video that intercut descriptions clips of USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and other public officials describing the record damage Irma brought to Florida’s agriculture industry. “The devastation of this storm was probably greater and more catastrophic across this state than anything we’ve ever seen, and that’s what we want to come her to rectify,” Purdue said in the video. “We’ve flown over from Orlando down to see all the groves and the vegetables and the shade houses destroyed and roofs off dairy barns and things like that.”

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— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

DSCC launches digital ads attacking Rick Scott on health care via Florida PoliticsThe Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching new Google search ads highlighting how the GOP’s health care plan fails “The Jimmy Kimmel Test” by gutting coverage for pre-existing conditions and making health care more expensive for Floridians. “The ads will reach targeted voters in Florida who are utilizing Google search terms like ‘Jimmy Kimmel,’ ‘The Jimmy Kimmel Test,’ ‘health care,’ and ‘repeal’ … following Kimmel’s statement Tuesday night opposing the GOP’s plan, as well as voters searching for information online about Scott’s health care record and the GOP’s health care agenda,” a press release said. The ads direct individuals to the DSCC’s health care spot “The Price,” and are part of an ongoing six-figure digital buy.

Click on the image below to watch the ad.

Flood of trial lawyer money to Richard Corcoran may help shape GOP governor’s race” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The money represents the unique political juxtaposition inherent in the public profile of the Land O’ Lakes Republican. His brand, and the political lane he would run in for governor, is that of an uber-conservative Republican favored by many in the Koch brothers-type national networks. But he’s also an attorney who served briefly as a Florida Justice Association board member. Through that lens, he’s seen as a powerful advocate for FJA’s trial lawyer membership, which often support access to the court system over partisan affiliation. Watchdog PAC, the political committee Corcoran started in May, has quickly raised $4 million, of which at least $1.1 million has come from attorneys or law firms. Not everyone within FJA’s ranks is supportive of putting so much money behind Corcoran, but the group’s political action committee board has so far pledged to give at least $2 million to Corcoran’s political committee.

Irma scrubs Sarasota Dick Cheney lovefest” via the News Service of Florida –  Due to the “suffering of so many in our region,” the Sarasota County Republican Party has postponed its annual “Statesman of the Year” dinner – honoring former Vice President Cheney and his daughter U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney – from Oct. 7 to “later” … “Hurricane Irma has been a difficult event for our region for residents and businesses, and devastating for our friends to the south” said state Rep. Joe Gruters, who is also chairman of the county party. “We want everyone to be able to focus on recovery efforts for themselves and others.” Tickets for the $175-a-plate – $275 for couples – event at the downtown Westin will be honored on the TBA rain date, the party noted.

Big get – “Matt Gaetz endorses Ashley Moody for AG” via Florida Politics – Republican U.S. Rep. Gaetz of northwest Florida has endorsed fellow Republican Moody to be elected the state’s next attorney general in 2018. “Florida needs an Attorney General with the experience to make headway against the dangers we face as Floridians, the courage to stand up for law enforcement, and the fortitude to defend our Constitutional rights,” Gaetz said in a statement. The former Florida House member’s name had been floated briefly as a possible AG candidate himself. “I’m proud to endorse Ashley Moody who with her years of experience as a prosecutor and judge will bring insight and fresh perspective to the incredibly important role of Attorney General,” he added.

– “Mike Miller gets Mel Martinez’ endorsement in CD 7” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

“Joe Biden endorses Annette Taddeo” via Florida Politics – Former Vice President Biden has recorded a call to announce his support of Democrat Taddeo in next Tuesday’s Senate District 40 special election, her campaign announced Wednesday. “We have a real shot to elect a strong Democrat and proven leader, Annette Taddeo, to the state senate,” the longtime Democrat says in the 50-second recording. “If you believe we need stronger schools, protect access to affordable healthcare and stronger communities then you need to make your plans to vote for Annette Taddeo.” … Taddeo said she was “truly honored to have the support of Vice President Biden,” adding, “This is a people-powered campaign and I am thrilled that he has joined us as we fight for higher-paying jobs, better public schools and affordable healthcare in Miami-Dade.”

Save the date:

— STATEWIDE —

“Court to DirecTV, others: Pay up in taxing case” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – An appellate court ordered satellite-television companies to pay legal and other costs in a long-standing tax case they lost earlier this year. After DirecTV and Dish Network sued, the Florida Supreme Court in April decided satellite TV can be taxed at a higher rate than cable TV. The case was remanded to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which now has ordered the companies to pony up costs to the Florida Department of Revenue, the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association and others.

Judge refuses to toss out ex-lawmaker’s conviction” via the News Service of Florida – A federal judge refused to acquit or order a new trial for former state Rep. Dwayne Taylor, who was convicted of wire-fraud charges stemming from allegations that he improperly used campaign cash. U.S. District Judge Carlos E. Mendoza issued a five-page order rejecting arguments by an attorney for the Daytona Beach Democrat, who was found guilty by a jury Aug. 31 on nine counts. Defense attorney A. Brian Phillips filed a lengthy motion last week asking Mendoza to issue a judgment of acquittal or to require a new trial. But Mendoza’s order, in part, said prosecutors used ATM video recordings of Taylor moving money from a campaign bank account to a personal account. It is illegal in Florida to use campaign contributions for normal living expenses. “In several of the recorded video transactions, defendant would withdraw cash from his campaign account using a clearly visible blue ATM card that was issued solely for official campaign use,” Mendoza wrote. “Within minutes, defendant would deposit the same or similar amount of cash, using the same ATM, into a private bank account using a clearly visible red ATM card issued to defendant for his personal bank account.”

Highway bill would honor Greg Evers via the News Service of Florida – A 13-mile stretch of State Road 4, a highway that cuts through the Blackwater River State Forest in the Panhandle, would be named after the late former Sen. Evers, under a measure filed by Rep. Jayer Williamson. Under Williamson’s proposal (HB 171), State Road 4 would be designated the “Senator Greg Evers Memorial Highway” between Munson Highway and State Road 189 in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. Evers, 62, died Aug. 21 in a single-vehicle accident near his home in Okaloosa County.

Public records violations in Lake Point case still stinging Martin County taxpayers” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News– Martin County, already down $371,802 for violating Florida’s public records laws, was ordered this week to pay Lake Point rock mine near Lake Okeechobee another $130,107. In a 19-page ruling filed Sept. 18, Circuit Judge William Roby said Lake Point, the company that sued Martin County for allegedly canceling a contract to use land to clean polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, was entitled to its additional attorney fees and costs plus interest of $130,106.67 incurred between Feb. 8 and July 11. (After the county objected to Lake Point’s initial claim of an additional $158,281.97, Roby reduced it.) As public records violations go, this case has been categorized as one of Florida’s most egregious. Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, said in February it “rises to criminal … and we’re seeing this as an alarming trend – cases where governmental officials are using private emails and private common devices in an attempt to avoid disclosure under the public records law.” Roby’s ruling brings the rock mine and restoration project’s total award from sanctions against the county for violating public records laws to $501,908. And that’s only so far.

— THE MOVEMENTS —

“Disaster relief concerns get ready for session” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Companies that deal in disaster relief and clean-up have begun lobbying up for the 2018 Legislative Session, lobbying registration records show. Among others, AshBritt Environmental, a “rapid-response disaster recovery and special environmental services contractor” in Deerfield Beach, has hired Chris Finkbeiner and Bill Rubin of The Rubin Group, and lobbying legend Ron Book. And Sarasota’s Ceres Environmental Services, “dedicated to improving communities and helping them recover from disasters,” hired Ashley Kalifeh of Capital City Consulting.

“Personnel note: Daniel Sohn joins Farm Share” via Florida Politics – The one-time Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner announced on Facebook that he is becoming Director of Grants and Funding for Farm Share, the Homestead-based nonprofit that distributes surplus food to the needy for free. Sohn, formerly an aide to Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Pat Edmonson, withdrew from the Ag. Commissioner’s race in May, citing health problems at the time. R. David Walker is the lone declared Democrat now in contention, Division of Elections records show. Also running are Republicans Matt Caldwell, Denise Grimsley, Paul Paulson and Baxter Troutman.

“Personnel note: Joe McCann to Pittman Law Group” via Florida PoliticsMcCann, a former House Democratic Office staff director, has joined the Pittman Law Group as Senior Policy Director, the firm announced. He will work alongside attorney Sean Pittman to direct the firm’s lobbying efforts. McCann was a founding member of Ballard Partners, where he served as senior executive vice president. “We are very excited about Joe McCann joining our team,” Pittman said in a statement. “Joe was instrumental in helping to grow one of Tallahassee’s most successful firms, and we look forward to him bringing that experience and expertise.”

“Personnel note: Richard Reeves opens RLR Consulting” via Florida Politics – Lobbyist Reeves, a month after departing GrayRobinson, has set up his own shop, RLR Consulting. “I have a proven track record of working successfully with individuals and issues across the political spectrum, and I look forward to promoting good public policy before the legislative and executive branches,” Reeves said in a press release. He originally was with Dean Cannon’s Capitol Insight, which merged with GrayRobinson. Reeves became GrayRobinson’s Senior Director of Government Affairs in Tallahassee after the merger. The 46-year-old began his career in Florida politics working for now-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, during Nelson’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

— WEEKEND TV —

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: Sarasota County Branch NAACP celebrates its 32nd Annual Awards Banquet with board members Cynthia Howard and Shavon Reed.

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

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include Amy Hollyfield, deputy managing editor for Politics and Features at the Tampa Bay Times; PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman; Democratic environmental activist James Scott and Republican political consultant Mark Proctor.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: The topic is gambling expansion in Florida with state Reps. Mike Miller and Amy MercadoJon Sowinski, president of No Casinos, and Michael Soll of The Innovation Group.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Hurricane Irma response, health care legislation and congressional approval ratings with analysts Frank Kruppenbacher and Dick Batchelor. Also scheduled to appear is House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a potential gubernatorial candidate for 2018.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancorewill speak with Miami Herald political reporter Mary Ellen Klas.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC) In Miami-Dade: Co-hosts Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg will talk Hurricane Irma recovery and the lessons learned from the devastating storm. Guests include chief administrator for Monroe County/Florida Keys, as well as the weekly roundtable.

— ALOE —

Legoland to add virtual reality to coasters” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – The first coaster will open in late 2017 at Legoland Malaysia Resort, followed by openings next year at Legoland Florida and Germany’s Legoland Deutschland Resort. The Great LEGO Race will adapt three existing Project X roller coasters into virtual reality experiences. Guests can choose to ride with or without the VR headset. A preshow video will demonstrate the experience with side-by-side views of the physical coaster track and virtual reality environment. Guests will don VR headsets to experience the action up, down, forward, backward. The coaster’s queue will resemble a pre-race area, where pit crews for each of the five LEGO racers prepare for the competition, plus interactive, hands-on elements to entertain waiting riders. During the ride, Bluetooth technology will sync the virtual visuals with the roller coaster’s twists, turns, drops and climbs.

Pricey Epcot festival meals now include table dining” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – For the first time, diners can sit down and enjoy their meal at the annual Party for the Senses at Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. But the privilege comes with a cost that ranges from $179 to $329 a person. Party for the Senses features culinary giants, master sommeliers and live entertainment for the festival’s priciest E tickets in town. The cheapest ticket, $179, includes dinner at a communal table for 24 people. Pony up an extra $20 for a single table. The premium Wine View Lounge ticket, which already sold out at $329, includes reserved seating at the Eat to the Beat concert series. The outdoor events begin Saturday and also will be held Oct. 7, 14 and 21, and Nov. 1 at the World ShowPlace Events Pavilion.

Happy birthday to Mario Bailey, Chris Clark, and William Stander (shhhh). Celebrating this weekend is Al Lawson, Javi Correoso, John Fox, and Nicole Hagerty.

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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.

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