#25 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — John Legg

Top 25 25A list regular for years (14 on last year’s list), the GOP lawmaker from Trinity chaired the influential Senate Committee on Education Pre-K-12. He’s effectively killed several education bills simply by not scheduling hearings for them.

Legg’s legacy on education policy will be extensive when he calls it a career in Tallahassee. He spent five years working on creating end-of-course exams. He helped rewrite the state’s school grading system, and advocated for a greater connection between teacher evaluations and student test scores.

“Senator John Legg has made education the hallmark of his legislative career,” said Mike Fasano, now Pasco County Tax Collector after a career of more than 20 years in the Legislature. “I am most impressed with his philosophy that Tallahassee should not dictate a one-size-fits-all approach to education, because he recognizes that each school district is unique, with their own challenges and needs. He has demonstrated that Tallahassee should provide and support the needs of the districts, without mandating their actions and decisions.”

Legg was ranked 14th in the 2015 survey.

***

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who comprised the panel that assembled it, please read here.

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Jeb Bush to appear at RPOF fundraiser in Tampa on Friday

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will be in Tampa on Friday night for a fundraiser, but it’s not for his own struggling presidential campaign.

The GOP presidential contender will be appearing at the Centre Club in Tampa in an event for the Republican Party of Florida.

Among the Republicans who are scheduled to attend include Jeff Brandes, Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran, Bill Galvano, Jack Latvala, and Wilton Simpson.

Honorary co-hosts are House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, Senate President Designate Joe Negron, and legislators Denise Grimsley, John Legg, Kelli Stargel, Jamie Grant, Chris Latvala, Kathleen Peters, Chris Sprowls and Dana Young.

The event calls for a general contribution of $1,000.

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“Unsure” leads new GOP Florida Senate poll — David Jolly next at 11.9 percent

Rumors still float that there could be more candidates to enter the Florida U.S. Senate race, and a new survey of that race out on Wednesday from St. Leo University Polling Institute shows why that rumor persists.

A majority of voters surveyed — 56.5 percent — say they are unsure who they prefer in the race, which doesn’t go before voters until the end of August of 2016.

Next on the list is Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly at 11.6 percent. Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera is next at 8.2 percent. Former CIA contractor Todd Wilcox is tied with “someone else at 6.8 percent, Congressman Ron DeSantis is at 6.1 percent, and Ilya Katz is at 4.1 percent.

On the Democratic side, there are slightly fewer people unsure, but still the vast majority — at 46.9 percent.

Next up is Jupiter Representative Patrick Murphy at 16.9 percent. Alan Grayson is at 7.1 percent, which St. Leo’s says is essentially tied with “someone else,” which comes in at 7.7 percent.

Lateresa Jones is at 6.3 percent, and Pam Keith gets 4.4 percent.

St. Leo’s University Polling Institute polled 531 adults in Florida. 147 were Republicans, and 160 Democrats. The margin of error is plus or minus 8 percent with Republicans, and 7.5 percent with Democrats. The survey was conducted November 29 to December 3, 2015.

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St. Leo University Florida presidential poll out shows Donald Trump with 31% — Marco Rubio 15% — Jeb Bush 14%

Donald Trump continues to lead in the GOP presidential race in Florida, according to a new poll released on Wednesday by St. Leo University Polling Institute.

The NYC businessman is at 30.6 percent, up nearly 5 percent points from a similar survey conducted in October. Marco Rubio is in second place with 15 percent, a drop of over 6 points over the past two months. Jeb Bush is at 14.3 percent, a drop of 1 percent since October.

Ben Carson slips to fourth place with 10.9 percent, compared to 14.7 percent in October. And Ted Cruz is now at 10.2 percent in the poll, up from 4.9 percent in October.

It should be noted that only 147 Republicans were contacted in this survey. Overall, 531 Floridians were polled by the institute from November 29 to December 3, 2015; a national survey of 1,007 adults was conducted in parallel during the same time frame. The margin of error for answers from the above subgroup is plus or minus 8 percentage points.

On the Democratic side, it’s not much of a contest at all. Hillary Clinton gets 58.8 percent of the vote to Bernie Sanders 26.9 percent. The margin of error on Democratic likely voter responses was plus or minus 7.5 percentage points. The subgroup numbered 160.

When asked who would be the best candidate would “likely mount the strongest and most effective effort against terrorists worldwide while protecting Americans at home?” the winner was Trump, with 25.2 percent support. Clinton was a close second with 22.8 percent. No other candidate received more than 10 percent support.

However, Clinton leads every Republican in the survey, and would also win in a three-way race with Trump running as an independent.

  • Clinton, 48.9 percent, vs. Trump, 41.2 percent.
  • Clinton, 48.9 percent, vs. Rubio, 41.2 percent.
  • Clinton, 51.2 percent, vs. Carson, 39.1 percent.
  • Clinton, 47.3 percent, vs. Bush, 37.9 percent.
  • Clinton, 53 percent, vs. Cruz, 34.7 percent
  • Clinton, 55.2 percent, vs. former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, 29.7 percent.

Three-Candidate Presidential Race Projections from Florida

Likely voters in Florida were also asked whom they would choose if there were a three-way presidential ballot with Trump running an independent candidacy, with Clinton running on the Democratic ticket, and with each of the major current Republican candidates emerging as the party nominee. In all scenarios, the results broke in Clinton’s favor, shown below in descending order:

  • Clinton, 47.5 percent; Fiorina, 12.9 percent; Trump, 30.7 percent.
  • Clinton, 46 percent; Cruz, 21.3 percent; Trump, 26 percent.
  • Clinton, 45.5 percent; Carson, 20.3 percent; Trump, 27.7 percent,
  • Clinton, 44.8 percent; Rubio, 21.8 percent; Trump, 28.2 percent.
  • Clinton, 41.8 percent; Bush, 19.1 percent; Trump, 33.4 percent.
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Patrick Murphy calls on Congress to vote to ban those on terrorist watch list from buying guns

South Florida Congressman and Democratic Senate hopeful Patrick Murphy announced Tuesday his support for legislation that would ban people put on the terrorist watch list from being able to buy firearms in the U.S.

That’s the same legislation that the GOP-led Congress rejected last week in both the House and the Senate, coming in the same week of the massacre in San Bernardino. Two Florida Republicans running for Senate, David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, voted against the bill in the House.

“This bill isn’t perfect and there’s going to be too many people on it,” Murphy said in a conference call, reciting the argument that most Republicans sussed last week in rejecting the legislation. “Let’s have a simple conversation about how you improve the legislation, get it up for a vote immediately, and show not just Americans but the world that we are going to act.”

The normally mild-mannered Democrat blasted Congress for refusing to act in the wake of another mass shooting, saying that there are too many politicians “willing to do nothing” and sit on the sidelines because of threats from the National Rifle Association.

“They are rejecting the most basic safety measures because they’re intimidated by the gun industry, so I think it’s an embarrassment to our country, and an embarrassment to those folks not willing to support this that they will cave to these special interest groups on something so common sense,” he said.

Murphy said the issue is one of common sense and shouldn’t be partisan. However, it has become partisan over the years, and Republicans have been mocking President Obama, congressional Democrats, and news organizations like The New York Times for talking about gun control when they say the U.S. is at war with radical Islamic terrorists.

As has been well documented, there have certainly been mistakes made by the Department of Homeland Security in compiling the terrorist watch list. Murphy says, however, that’s not a good enough reason to not act. “It’s not some arbitrary list,” he said. “This list is based on some serious evidence, serious investigation done not only by the FBI, CIA and many agencies and working with our allies around the world to develop a list of those we think suspected of nefarious activity. To me, it’s completely common sense that we keep people who are suspected terrorists from buying a gun.”

In supporting his opposition to the legislation last week, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said there are “700,000 Americans on some watchlist,” but that number was wildly overstated, something that fact checking organizations called him out on. Murphy said the same thing on his conference call. “This proposal does not affect all of the estimated 700,000-800,000 people that are on that terrorist watch list. Because the legislative proposal doesn’t actually require the Attorney General to use the watch list, the No Fly List, or any other list. He or she has flexibility.”

Overnight David Jolly, one of those Republicans running for the same senate seat that Murphy hopes to capture next November, issued a statement blasting Donald Trump for his comments that the U.S. should bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on” after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino.

Murphy said he stands with Jolly on that front, saying, “We’ve been agreeing with what Jolly said and denouncing those comments. It’s nice to see bipartisan support for Donald Trump to get out of this race.” He also said what Trump is doing was “McCarthyism all over again.”

Murphy says he wants Jolly, DeSantis and the two other GOP Senate candidates — Todd Wilcox and Carlos Lopez-Cantera — to support the proposal.

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Pam Bondi’s office says Hillsborough PTC can decide whether to hire lobbyists

(UPDATED)

The Florida Attorney General’s office has decided it’s up to the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to decide whether it wants to hire lobbyists. The decision came at the request from St. Petersburg GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes for an opinion on the issue.

In a letter to Brandes on Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Ellen B. Gwynne wrote, “This is not a matter that the Attorney General may presently comment on.” She went on to quote the AG’s website, which says that questions related to the powers and duties of a public board or commission should be requested by a majority of the members of that body.

In other words, the PTC board, which voted this year to pay $120,000 to Tallahassee lobbyists Corcoran and Johnston to represent them, is being asked to vote whether they should retain them.

Brandes said he wants to see the PTC take that vote again, with the eyes of the Tampa Bay area watching.

I call upon the Commission to promptly approve such a request to the Office of the Attorney General so that this lingering question of impropriety may be settled,” he said in a prepared statement. “The public deserves answers, and now the Public Transportation Commission needs to act.”

Earlier in the day Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher  told Attorney General Pam Bondi that the county’s Public Transportation Commission does have the authority to hire lobbyists.

His response was prompted last month by Brandes‘ request for Bondi’s legal opinion about whether the agency could hire lobbyists, after learning about it from a TV news report.

“I was shocked to learn that the PTC was spending $120,000 per year of public funds on lobbyists without the legal authority to do so,” Brandes said last month. “The PTC already has a reputation tarnished by scandal. Once again, the PTC finds itself mired in controversy over questionable practices. These circumstances deserve a full review by the Attorney General.”

Noting that Brandes has made it clear that he’d like the PTC to be eliminated (and in fact will proposing such legislation at the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation next week), Fletcher says it would be inappropriate for the AG’s office to offer any opinion.

“Based upon information provided in the Attorney General’s website, Attorney General Opinions should not be sought to ‘arbitrate a political dispute between agencies or between factions within an agency … Nor should an opinion be sought as a weapon by only one side in a dispute between agencies,'” Fletcher said in letter to Bondi. “Therefore, it would effectively place your Office in a political dispute, at a time when it is being debate in the Legislature.”

As Fletcher notes, the PTC pays the lobbyists Corcoran & Johnston $120,000 annually, but is not with  taxpayer dollars. The PTC is funded exclusively by regulatory fees assessed for the certificates and permits paid by the taxi cab industry it regulates.

Fletcher also notes that Brandes’ request for an opinion “cannot be considered in a vacuum,” since there about 1,026 so-called “special districts” created by the Legislature throughout the state. In the Tampa Bay area, those would include the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, the Port Authority and the Sports Authority, just to name a few. All utilize lobbyists.

The PTC has used lobbyists since at least 2007, when Victor DiMaio was hired by then PTC Chairman Kevin White to lobby in Tallahassee. White was later indicted on federal charges that he abused his position as chairman of the county’s Public Transportation Commission, taking bribes in return for favors to a towing company.

WTVT Fox 13 reported last moth that three different attorney general opinions showed that entities created by the state cannot spend money on state lobbyists without specific authorization. One of those opinions was written by Bondi to Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher in February 2014. The case was whether the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board was allowed to lobby. Bondi’s office ruled it was not.

However, Fletcher writes that such an opinion was based on the “very limited purpose” of the Civil Service Board. He contrasts that with the “much broader purpose” that the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission has.

Brandes and other Tampa Bay area state legislators have been at war with the PTC for the past two years, much of that enmity having to do with the PTC’s regulations of ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

The Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meets next Tuesday to go over a variety of bills, including Brandes’ bill that would effectively kill the PTC as an agency.

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Bill that would regulate fracking in Florida advances in state House

A bill that would create a new regulatory framework in Florida for the controversial practice known as fracking  passed a House panel Wednesday, despite overwhelming public testimony against it.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee approved the bill (HB 191), filed by Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues and Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican, on a 9-3 vote.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, allowing natural gas and oil to be released. The bill would set up a state permitting process for fracking and require oil and gas companies to register the chemicals they use on a national website. And it would set aside $1 million for a study on the impact of fracking.

Representative Rodrigues said the study would intend to answer five questions about hydraulic fracturing:

  • What is the effect on the underground structure?
  • What is the impact on ground and surface water
  • What will happen to the use and reuse of recycled water
  • What is an appropriate setback from an abandoned well. How far away do you have to be
  • What to do with well stimulation fluid

The bill would also pre-empt local control, a major factor in why 20 counties and nearly 40 cities in the state have passed regulations banning fracking. “You’re taking away home rule,” complained Deborah Johnson.

The bill would also require the companies to inform the state Department of Environmental Protection of chemicals they inject into the ground — but after the fact, not before, which is a problem, said Madison resident John Dicker.

Despite those concerns, amended language of HB 191 does include a provision for chemicals injected to be listed in the application submitted to the department:

“In addition to providing such information … as part of the permitting process, a service provider, vendor, or well owner or operator shall report, by 670 department rule, to the department, at a minimum …. Each chemical ingredient that is subject to 29 C.F.R. s. 1910.1200(g)(2) and the ingredient concentration in the high-pressure well stimulation fluid by mass for each well on which a high-pressure well stimulation is performed.”

Kim Ross, from Rethink Energy Florida and a former DEP staffer, said that the DEP would not have sufficient time or money to conduct an adequate study. “If the project could be done primarily in-house, DEP would have already begun this task,” she told lawmakers. “So it seems to me that DEP will outsource a good portion of that study, and that is why HB 191 allocates a million dollars.” She added that the agency won’t get the money until mid-March probably, and then will have to go through the process of hiring an independent vendor that will take several months.

Fracking has actually occurred previously in Florida. A well in Collier County was successfully drilled in 2013 by the Dan A. Hughes Company, who was later fined $25,000 for violating its permit.

One Republican on the committee who supported the bill, Vero Beach’s Debbie Mayfield, said she still had a number of concerns about the proposal, and reserved her right to oppose the measure when it comes to the entire House next year.

Republicans Ray Pilon from Sarasota and Neil Combee from Lakeland both said that if needed, they would support giving the DEP more than the $1 million listed in the bill for a study.

Miami Democrat Jose Rodriguez said he was very opposed to the legislation.

“In my view, passing this bill would effectively lay out a welcome mat for the fracking industry, ” he said. “I the effect is 100 percent opposed to what I believe what my constituents, which is no fracking in Florida.”

There is a Senate companion bill being sponsored by Naples Republican Garrett Richter.

Editor note: The article has been updated to reflect amended wording of HB 191.

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Bobby Jindal to be on Florida GOP ballot for president next year, but not George Pataki

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia delivered a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Monday with a list of 14 GOP presidential candidates who have qualified to be on the Florida presidential preference primary next March.

The letter lists Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rand Paul (shown in photo signing forms in Orlando two weeks ago at the Sunshine Summit putting his name on the ballot), Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.

Jindal dropped out of the race on November 17, but his name will remain on the ballot.

The only Republican candidate who is (allegedly) still in the race who will not be on the ballot is former New York Governor George Pataki, who failed to qualify on the ballot.

The RPOF’s executive committee voted in late September that GOP candidates for president could qualify for the March 15 presidential primary in Florida by doing one of three things: Get at least 125 signatures in each of the 27 congressional districts, pay $25,000 as a qualifying fee — or attend the party’s Sunshine Summit in mid-November.

All of those candidates, save for Pataki, took up the third option, and attended the two-day event in Orlando earlier this month.

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Former Secret Service agent and Md. Senate candidate Dan Bongino says he’s thinking of entering Florida U.S. Senate race

Republican Dan Bongino, the former Secret Service agent who nearly defeated an incumbent Democrats in race for Congress in Maryland last year, says that he is considering entering the Republican race for Senate in Florida, and will probably make up his mind by the beginning of 2016.

Bonging moved to Palm City earlier this year, which immediately led to speculation that he was interested in the open 18th Congressional District seat in 2016 currently held by Patrick Murphy, who is running for the Senate on the Democratic side.

“I’m keeping my options open,” Bongino said on Tuesday, saying he definitely is contemplating getting into the race.

When asked about the current state of the Republican race, Bongino is quick to say that he believes that all four of the major candidates: Carlos Lopez-Cantera, David Jolly, Ron DeSantis and Todd Wilcox — are all “great guys.”

“There’s not a lot of excitement out there,” he says of the contest to date. “We’re a year away,” he says of the election for U.S. Senate. “In political dog years, that’s right around the corner and, we have people polling in the single digits here,” he says, basing that opinion on his trips around the state as a public speaker.

Bongino, who will turn 41 next month left the Secret Service in 2011 to run for Senate in Maryland, where he won the nomination before losing out to incumbent Democrat Ben Cardin. Last year, he lost out by two percentage points to incumbent Democratic Rep. John Delaney.

He’s the author of the Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked away from it All, published in 2013, and his next book, The Fight: A Secret Service Agent’s Inside Account of Security Failings and the Political Machine, is due out next January.

When asked if he’ll have the resources to run a competitive statewide election, Bongino said he would.

“It’s about volunteers, media and money,” he says about what it will take to have a winning campaign. Bongino says he was a 100-to-one underdog against Cardin, and about a 60-to-one underdog to Delaney in his two respective runs for office in Maryland, and said he was able to have all three assets in hand in both campaigns.

Bongino says that he quit a six-figure salary with great job security as a secret service agent to run for office against Cardin. When asked why he did that, he said it’s the perilous times that we live in that compelled him to run for office in 2012.

“We are clearly living with an ideologically driven president who puts the best interests in the country a distant second to his own ideologically pure pursuits, ” Bongino says of Barack Obama. “It’s time to get off the couch.”

In addition to publishing his second book, Bongino keeps busy contributing as a contributing editor to The Conservative Review website, as well as hosting a podcast which he maintains is at the top of the iTunes charts when it comes to news and political programming.

Bongino says he knows it sounds like a cliché, but it’s not about him as he contemplates entering the senate race. “I just want to see some of the energy out there where we can push a good candidate in a high turnout year over the finish line. And if that happens, great, I’ll be there to help.”

Either way, Bongino says he’ll let the public know by early in the New Year.

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Martin O’Malley to make rare Florida fundraising stop next month in Miami Beach

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, languishing a distant third in the Democratic race for president, will make a rare appearance in Florida next month, at a fundraiser in Miami Beach co-hosted by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Rena and Richard Florida.

That’s urban development guru and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida.

The event takes place Dec. 2.

“I got to know Governor O’Malley when I was mayor of Miami and he was mayor of Baltimore, and I am confident that he is the best shot our party has to keep the White House,” Diaz wrote in an email announcement. “We need your help to get him there.”

O’Malley has been spending virtually all his time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that will go first in the Democratic elections beginning in February.

Except for a speech in Fort Lauderdale at the end of July at the National Urban League’s annual meeting (an event also attended by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders), O’Malley has not campaigned at all in Florida.

The Florida Democratic presidential primary is scheduled for March 15.

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