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Sunburn for 3.23.17 – Pepi’s sweet spot; Cruz’ talking points; whiskey & Wheaties coming together; Semblers spotted; Congrats Matt Hunter!

in Peter/Top Headlines by

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

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


It’s that time: Heading toward the end of the Legislative Session’s third week, the Capitol cognoscenti like to handicap which bills are going to be part of the budget calculus.

No doubt one will be this year’s gambling legislation, ready for the floor in the Senate (SB 8) and heading to the Commerce Committee in the House (HB 7037). A hearing there hasn’t been scheduled.

Indeed, the issue of gambling is getting to be like abortion—no middle ground. The chambers are again at odds, the House looking to hold the line on games of chance, and the Senate in favor of expanding slots and card games.

Stuck in the middle is the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A new blackjack agreement depends on some form of legislation passing, with the state expecting $3 billion in revenue share over seven years.

Otherwise, the Tribe can offer cards till 2030 without having to pay the state a dime. (They are still paying the state a cut of the blackjack take each month, however, as a “sign of good faith.”)

The Tribe sent a letter to the Senate, objecting to its bill and saying it “would require higher payments … (and) would add numerous additional exceptions to the Tribe’s exclusivity while broadly expanding gaming in Florida.”

And an advisory letter from the federal government’s top Indian gambling regulator said the feds would be “hard-pressed” to approve the proposed new blackjack agreement as is.

Now House Commerce Committee chair Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican, is the man in the hot seat. The House’s point man on gambling said he’s been in “constant” but informal communications with the Tribe.

“They told me they were going to write a letter; I wasn’t blindsided by that,” he said in an interview after Wednesday’s floor session. “They do think our bill is a lot closer to where they’d like to end up. But it’s not perfect (for them). We don’t give them roulette or craps.”

With a plethora of competing interests pulling on both chambers, including the Tribe and the state’s pari-mutuels, Diaz admits “there is no sweet spot.”

Diaz also noted that under President Trump, there’s new leadership at the U.S. Department of Interior, which regulates Indian gambling. Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL, now is secretary.

“So there’s a new interpreter” of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, he said. “Now, I don’t know what the new (leadership) at Interior will accept or not accept, but I know what can and cannot pass the House, and that’s what I’m working on.”

But Diaz, keeping hope alive for a 2017 deal, says there’s “varying degrees of recalcitrance on gaming” in the Legislature. “There’s a lot of people in the middle. And they’ll vote based on what their gut tells them.”

But don’t expect a reckoning until the final week, he said.

“Gaming is one of those bills that’s left for the end,” Diaz said. “Even in a best case scenario, if there’s some reasonable middle ground, if it exists, and the Seminoles would sign off on it, it’s not going to pass next week. It’s too important to too many people, and it has too many repercussions for the budget. There’s a lot of money at stake.”

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DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 10; NFL Draft – 35; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 42; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 42; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 163; Election Day 2017 – 228; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 266.

RICK SCOTT CALLS OUT RICHARD CORCORAN, PINELLAS LAWMAKERS via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – Scott‘s tour defending his key agencies, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, landed him at Allen Sports Center in Seminole, where 75 business officials greeted him. “It’s shocking to me that the House of Representatives and many of your local House members voted to eliminate Enterprise Florida and limit Visit Florida,” Scott said. “I mean, this is about people’s livelihood and their jobs.” … he read from a sheet of paper, where the names of the House members who voted against his agencies were written in black marker. The names that Scott mentioned: House Speaker Corcoran, and local Reps. Chris LatvalaChris SprowlsLarry Ahern … Jamie Grant … Amber Mariano and Danny Burgess.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a roundtable discussion with business, economic development and tourism leaders about Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida at 9 a.m. at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, 1842 Patterson Ave in DeLand. Scott will then highlight his K-12 education budget during a press conference at 2 p.m. at Coral Way K-8 Center, 1950 13th Ave in Miami.

— “Tourism advocates raise specter of Rick Scott’s veto in Visit Florida fight” via Florida Politics

CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE BETWEEN SCOTT AND CORCORAN, GROUP FIGHTS FOR SURVIVAL via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – A 187-page bill passed by the Florida House earlier this month that kills two dozen tax credits includes a clause that wipes out the Florida Defense Alliance, a mostly volunteer advocacy group created in the 1990s to work with local communities to protect the state’s 20 remaining military installations, including MacDill Air Force Base. … The fact that the Alliance could be in jeopardy is surprising to Tim Ford, CEO of the Association of Defense Communities, a nonprofit that helps communities protect their bases. … Florida House spokesman Fred Piccolo said the Florida Defense Alliance is redundant. He said the House is leaving alone the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which gets $2 million a year from the state to help the state respond to needs of military installations. (Click on the link below to watch a video of Scott making a defense of the Defense Alliance.)

DEMOCRATIC TALKING POINTS: SIDING WITH CORCORAN TO ABOLISH ENTERPRISE FLORIDA IS GOOD POLITICS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – House Democrats are circulating a new set of talking points making the case that it’s good politics to side with Corcoran in his feud with Gov. Scott over economic development … The new talking points make the explicit case that the vote will have implications for 2018 when Scott is expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democrat’s only statewide elected official. “A vote against HB 7005 is a vote for the governor’s agenda and hurts Senator Bill Nelson,” read the talking points. Minority Leader Janet Cruz… said that the talking points were created so members knew her position on the bill, not to pressure them to vote a specific way. “Decisions in the Democratic Caucus are not made from the top-down,” said Anders Croy, the communications director for the House Democratic Office, in a statement. “However, many members had questions about the conversation and underlying issues surrounding the vote on HB 7005 that they brought to Leader Cruz individually.

BUSINESS GROUPS JOIN FORCES TO OPPOSE SENATE TAX PROPOSAL via Florida Politics – Eight of the state’s leading business organizations — including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Florida United Business Association — sent a letter to Sen. Anitere Flores on Wednesday urging here to “support lowering the sales tax currently charged on all business leases without removing the insurance premium tax credit as proposed.” … (E)liminating the insurance premium tax credit as a way to reduce the business rent tax does not solve the problem. In fact, it will likely make the problem worse as insurance companies increase insurance premiums on all Florida insurance holders, including homeowners and business owners,” the letter reads. “In Senate Bill 378 you are effectively swapping a tax cut for a tax increase that will end up costing Floridians more in the end.”

SENATE BEGINS DISCUSSION OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA IMPLEMENTING LEGISLATION via Florida Politics — Sen. Rob Bradley indicated he is willing to support opening up the medical marijuana market more than he first proposed, but continues to believe vertical integration is the right system for Florida. Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, filed one of five medical marijuana implementing bills this Legislative Session. His proposal (SB 406) would, among other things, allow for the growth of the industry once the number of registered patients hits certain thresholds. Bradley said he has come to believe his bill is “too restrictive based on the feedback (he) received.” Instead, he said he would support a measure that finds a balance between his proposal and one sponsored by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon. “We’re going to have a population group (where) there isn’t enough competition to make sure the pricing is reasonable,” said Bradley during a Senate Health Policy workshop on medical marijuana implementation bills.“The more people we have growing and selling, it provides different voices and ideas on how to treat things. One treatment center might have a specialty. That’s something that will develop organically.”

SPOTTED: Ambassador Mel and Betty Sembler, along with lobbyist Alan Suskey, visiting with several lawmakers on Wednesday on behalf of Drug Free America.

BY TWO VOTES, HOUSE ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ BILL CLEARED FOR FLOOR via Florida Politics – In another squeaker, the House version of a bill to allow retailers to sell liquor in their main stores cleared its last committee by just two votes. The House Commerce Committee on Wednesday OK’d the legislation (HB 81) on a 15-13 vote. It’s now ready to be considered by the full House … “Any time you have an issue that revolves around alcohol, you’re bound to expect it to be somewhat controversial for some of the members,” bill sponsor Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, told reporters after the hearing … Avila amended the bill to make it nearly identical with the Senate version (SB 106), which goes to a final vote in that chamber Thursday.

LAWMAKERS AIM TO CREATE JOBS BY CUTTING OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING RED-TAPE via William Patrick of – If you want to earn money or start a business in dozens of job categories, Florida requires a state approved license – and they don’t come cheaply. A bill that would rollback red-tape for nearly two-dozen professions passed an important House appropriations subcommittee … The bill was approved with bipartisan support, 12-2. “We’re trying to lower barriers in order to create jobs,” said Rep. Halsey Beshears, the bill’s sponsor. The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, pegs Florida as the fourth most restrictive state in the country with respect to occupational licensing regulations. In a study called License to Work, it identified 45 of 102 low-and-moderate income jobs as having burdensome licensing requirements. “Occupational licenses, which are essentially permission slips from the government, routinely stand in the way of honest enterprise,” the nonprofit firm says. “Instead, they are imposed simply to protect established businesses from economic competition.”

MOVE TO CURTAIL PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS ADVANCES via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – Rep. Scott Plakon’s HB 11 would almost certainly result in decertification of chapters of groups representing a wide range of workers from university professors to school bus drivers. Plakon said his bill is simple. Two pages long. And that it is about democracy. If fewer than 50 percent of eligible workers refuse to become dues-paying members then the union can no longer represent the workers in collective bargaining. A United Faculty of Florida chapter sent out an alert stating if the bill becomes law it would put academic freedom at risk and UFF would lose the ability “to ensure equity in terms of course work.” Frank Watson, the Florida Education Association lobbyist, pointed out what he saw as a flaw in Plakon’s logic. He noted that in 1980, Ronald Reagan claimed the presidency in a landslide with 60 percent of the vote. That actually translated into only 27 percent of eligible voters, said Watsons, whose union represents public school employees.

— “Bill banning steroids for greyhound headed to House” via Florida Politics

— “House committee sends pair of ethics bills to chamber floor” via Florida Politics

— “Linda Stewart pushing ‘Orlando United’ speciality license plate” via Florida Politics

— “Senate bill to increase Supreme Court reporting requirements clears second committee” via Florida Politics

— “Senate committee approves bills on beaches, plastic bags and Indian River Lagoonvia Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida

— “With little debate, Senate advances Greg Steube’s courthouse carry gun bill” via Florida Politics

JOE NEGRON ADDS TO COMMITTEES’ STRENGTH DURING DOROTHY HUKILL’S RECOVERY via Florida Politics – While Sen. Dorothy Hukill recovers from cervical cancer, Senate President Joe Negron has named additional members to committees on which she serves. In a memo dated Tuesday, Negron said Sen. Anitere Flores will help out in the Education Committee, which Hukill leads. “Sen. Hukill will remain the chair of the Committee on Education,” Negron aide Katie Betta said. “Under the Senate rules, the chair designates a senator on the committee to serve in her absence on a week by week basis.” Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala takes a seat on the budget Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto will serve on the Health Policy Committee. And Ben Galvano will sit on the Transportation Committee. The appointments take effect immediately, Negron said. “I appreciate your willingness to take on this additional responsibility on behalf of the Florida Senate,” he wrote. “Sen. Hukill is still on all of these committees,” Betta said.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Perry Thurston, the chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, will discuss State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision regarding the death penalty and Gov. Rick Scott’s interference with her prosecutorial independence during a press conference at 8:30 a.m. on the plaza level of the Florida Capitol.

***There are two gambling bills in the Florida Legislature. One holds the line; One is a massive expansion. WATCH to learn more.***

FLORIDA AMONG THE BIGGEST POPULATION GAINERS LAST YEAR via Mike Schneider of the Associated Press – Three metro areas in Florida were among the nation’s 10 biggest gainers in population last year, and another three Florida metro areas were in the top 10 for growth rates. Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday show that the Tampa area had the nation’s fifth highest population gain from July 2015 to July 2016, adding more than 58,000 residents.

South Florida, stretching from West Palm Beach to Miami, had the nation’s seventh highest gain, adding about 48,000 residents. The Orlando area added almost 47,000 residents, placing it at No. 8. The Villages retirement community northwest of Orlando had the nation’s highest growth rate last year at 4.3 percent.

Fort Myers had the fifth highest at 3.1 percent. Punta Gorda’s 3 percent rate placed it at No. 8.

STATE INVESTIGATING WHETHER GRAD RATES WERE MANIPULATED via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – Commissioner Pam Stewart said that late last year the state began taking a closer look at students in 10 counties who were switching to alternative schools in their senior year but now the probe has been expanded statewide. The investigation will look at all students who were in the 12th grade but somehow weren’t included in data used to determine graduation rates. The disclosure of the investigation is unusual, especially since Florida leaders, including Gov. Scott, have continually touted the state’s rising graduation rates over the past few years. The state’s graduation rate was reported at 80.7 percent for the school year that ended in the summer of 2016. The rate was just over 59 percent in 2004 while Jeb Bush was governor and the state was pushing ahead with sweeping changes that ranked schools based on student performance.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION SCHEDULES FOUR STOPS IN STATEWIDE TOUR – Chairman Carlos Beruff announced the committee would hit the road beginning next week for the first four stops in the commission’s “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour. “I am proud to announce our ‘Floridians Speak, We Listen’ tour, where we will get input from Florida families on the issues that matter to them,” said Beruff in a statement. “This historic process gives Florida voters an opportunity to change the framework of our government and I encourage all interested Floridians to attend a public hearing and make their voices heard.” The commission will hold its first public hearing at 5 p.m.Wednesday at the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center at the University of Central Florida, 12676 Gemini Blvd. N in Orlando. Members will travel to the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, 10975 SW 17th St in Miami for a public hearing at 5 p.m. on April 6. They’ll stay in South Florida, attending a public hearing at 9 a.m. on April 7 at the FAU Stadium Recruiting Room at Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road in Boca Raton. A public hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts at the University of West Florida, 82 Service Road in Pensacola on April 12.


Beruff, chair of the Constitution Revision Commission, the panel that will undertake rewrites of the state’s governing document, says the first hearings for public input will be next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County.

Did you catch it?

Let me give you a hint: Five of the commission’s members, including the House Speaker Pro Tempore, are current members of the Legislature. Many others are intricately involved in The Process.

And, well, we’re in the middle of the 2017 Legislative Session, which doesn’t end until May 5th.

So, does Beruff – the Manatee homebuilder who lost a U.S. Senate bid to Marco Rubio last year – expect the lawmaker members not to attend those early CRC hearings?

Or conversely, does he expect them to miss important meetings at the Capitol during session?

Here’s the more realistic answer: He hasn’t even considered any of that before he rushed to start setting up hearings.

Indeed, why the rush? Why not take the time to give ample notice to members of the public in those areas who might want to attend the hearings?

As one person told me, “Beruff is trying to run a railroad when he’s never even been a passenger on a public policy train.”

AT CHAMBER GATHERING, A VIGOROUS DEFENSE OF ECONOMIC INCENTIVES via Florida Politics – Florida is, too, open for business, representatives of the state’s economic development arm and business leaders insisted during a panel discussion organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. “We’re a high performing business that’s open for business. We’ve just temporarily shut down the marketing and sales department. What we’re trying to do is make sure that’s not a permant situation,” said Mark Wilson, the Chamber’s president and CEO. … The mere debate has already served notice that Florida is withdrawing the welcome mat. Mike Grissom, interim director of Enterprise Florida, said the office recently lost a key prospect over fear of “instability in government.”

OP-ED – VISIT FLORIDA PUTS PANDHANDLE GEMS ON MAP via Adam Putnam for the Pensacola News-Journal – Agriculture and tourism have grown up together in our state. I guess you could say Ponce de Leon might’ve even been the first tourist when he set about looking for the Fountain of Youth. Tupelo honey, roadside stands, orange blossoms and world-class fishing continue to enchant visitors to Florida. So it shocks me that a move is afoot to end support of tourism promotion and the business it generates for all our local businesses. Last year, more than 112 million visitors came to Florida and spent $109 billion during their time in the Sunshine State. These dollars are spent at hotels, restaurants and attractions, among other Florida businesses, where more than 1.4 million Floridians are employed. This record was, in part, achieved by the reputation of our white, sandy beaches, family-friendly attractions and warm hospitality. But many of Florida’s destinations would have remained unknown without the advertising and promotions by the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida, under the focused leadership of Governor Scott. Visit Florida has helped put the gems of Northwest Florida on the radar of curious tourists looking for lesser known places to explore and enjoy while recharging their batteries during their annual vacation. Places like the Perdido River Paddling Trail and Pensacola Beach Boardwalk don’t always come to mind when families are brainstorming where to go. These destinations are highlighted as go-to places by Visit Florida’s promotions, along with many other special, yet lesser known parts of Florida.

CHAMBER LAMENTS THE RISE OF TRIAL BAR’S INFLUENCE WITH LEGISLATURE via Florida Politics – The business community believes trial lawyers hold the upper hand in the Legislature for the first time in years. The business community is not happy about that. “Their bills are on rocket fuel and are moving through the process,” Mark Delegal, a partner at Holland & Knight, said during a panel discussion at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s annual Capitol Days symposium. … “This prejudgment interest bill symbolically represents the turning of the tide, and the ongoing march of the trial lawyers to decrease the already low, 44th, ranking we have in legal climate in the United States,” Quentin Kendall of CSX Transportation said.

DOCTORS IN THE HOUSE –  The FMA welcomed a diverse group of residents and fellows (physicians in training) from over a dozen different residency training programs to Tallahassee Wednesday. These young physicians talked to legislators about the importance of graduate medical education funding. They also addressed scope of practice issues and educated lawmakers on the extensive hands-on training they receive as opposed to lesser trained health care professionals.


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DOE ‘STAR’ BRIAN DASSLER MOURNED via Ryan Dailey of the Tallahassee Democrat – The death of 38-year-old Dassler in the early hours of Tuesday morning has many in the state department of education mourning the loss of a public education superstar who had an “unrivaled passion for students.” Dassler, DOE’s deputy chancellor of education, had dedicated his entire life to education, particularly on students’ progress. Tallahassee Police Department spokesman Officer David Northway said Dassler died of natural causes. At Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart spoke at length about her colleague and friend. Dassler was scheduled to be recognized at the meeting for logging 50 hours as a mentor to students in the last half of 2016. He had come to DOE from New Orleans, where he was the founding principal of a charter school and the chief academic officer for Louisiana’s Arts Conservancy.

ERIN ROCK NAMED INTERIM DMS SECRETARY via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott appointed Rock, currently chief of staff for the Department of Management Services (DMS), to serve as head of the department effective March 31 until a replacement is hired. Former Secretary Chad Poppell quit earlier this month “to pursue interests in the private sector,” the department said. “Erin has played an integral role in managing the daily operations of DMS and keeping the cost of government down for taxpayers … I am confident she will continue her great work as Interim Secretary,” Scott said in a statement. Before becoming chief of staff last May, she was Deputy Secretary for Business Operations. Rock has worked in state government since 2003.

MICHELLE SUSKAUER ELECTED PRESIDENT-ELECT DESIGNATE OF THE FLORIDA BAR via Florida Politics – West Palm Beach attorney Suskauer has been chosen as president-elect designate of The Florida Bar, according to a Wednesday press release. Suskauer, 50, is a criminal defense attorney in a two-lawyer office in West Palm Beach. She’s married to Judge Scott Suskauer of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County. She prevailed over Lansing “Lanse” Scriven, of Tampa, receiving 12,993 votes to Scriven’s 10,188 votes in the first contested election for Bar president since 2011. Suskauer will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s annual convention in Orlando on June 23, when current President-elect Michael J. Higer of Miami becomes president. Suskauer will begin her term as Bar president in June 2018.


Melissa AkesonMatthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Children First Specialty Plan

Jason Allison, Foley & Lardner: CA Technologies; Conduent, Inc. and its Affiliates; Palm Beach County Tax Collector

Jim Boxold, Capital City Consulting: South Florida Regional Transportation Authority; Whitaker Contracting Corporation

Katie Flury, GrayRobinson: Target Corp.

Christopher Hagan: City of Lake Worth; Richard Woodward

Mike Haridopolos: Mutualink, Inc.; REFG

Nick IarossiAshley KalifehRon LaFace, Capital City Consulting: Indivior, Inc.

Dean Izzo, Capital City Consulting: Pure Storage, Inc.

Lila Jaber, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart PA: Promise Healthcare, Inc

Jessica Janasiewicz, Mixon & Associates: Florida Academy of Physician Assistants; Independent Funeral Directors of Florida

Allison Mawhinney, GrayRobinson: Modern Canna Science, LLC

Bob Pritt, Roetzel & Andress: Glades Correction Development Corporation

JONATHAN KILMAN OF FOLEY & LARDNER ON FAILURE, REVENUES, AND HIS ADVICE TO ASPIRING LOBBYISTS via Patrick Slevin of SL7 Consulting — Kilman, the co-chair of Foley & Lardner’s Florida public affairs practice, sat down with Slevin on March 22. The two men talked about everything from attracting talent and growing the practice to what advice Kilman, a Harvard Law grad, would give to aspiring lobbyists. On failures: … “As I’ve learned to embrace my flaws and not be ashamed of them, my friendships and professional relationships have become stronger. I have no regrets because of the wisdom I’ve gained since that acceptance.” … On whether quarterly revenue rankings matter: “As a lobbying practice within a law firm, we generate significant revenue in ways unavailable to a lobbying boutique. It’s a different business model that gives our clients an integrated offering of government relations and legal services, which has been very successful for us. Using lobbying revenue reporting is a short-sighted benchmark that doesn’t make much sense in measuring our firm’s success.” … On advice to aspiring lobbyists: “(T)here is no one single path to success as a lobbyist. The character trait that matters most is grit. Luck can certainly play a role but I don’t know any great lobbyist who has succeeded for long on luck alone.”

GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – Italian is the day’s lunch fare at the Governors Club Thursday with tomato basil soup; roasted eggplant salad; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; Caesar salad – hearts of romaine, parmesan cheese, Kalamata olives, Caesar dressing – shrimp bucatini Pomodoro; roasted garlic chicken; parmesan garlic risotto; cauliflower & plum tomatoes and eggplant parmesan.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sen. Kelli Stargel. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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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