Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 4.12.17 – Florida is on fire; Fundraising is cold; Jeff Atwater bids adieu; It’s Seersucker Day!

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.

RICK SCOTT DECLARES EMERGENCY AS WILDFIRES BURN AND FORECAST LOOKS DIRE

As more than 100 wildfires burn across the state of Florida, Governor Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency to ensure proper response to the danger of more fires.

Forecasts predict hotter and drier conditions than normal in Florida during the coming months.

Florida wildfires have already burned 250 percent more acreage during the first three months of 2017 than during the same time period last year.

There are currently more than 100 active wildfires across more than 20,000 acres in Florida.

“Much of Central and South Florida are approaching drought-like conditions and the chances for wildfires are continuing to increase with hotter temperatures and low rainfall. This may only get worse as we enter the hotter summer months and it is crucial that we take every action right now to be prepared,” says Gov. Scott.

“Wildfires are burning more than 20,000 acres in Florida right now, and we haven’t seen this active of a season since 2011. From St. George Island in the Panhandle to a wildfire just north of one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions in Orlando, we’re seeing that every area of our state is susceptible to wildfire. I thank Governor Scott for signing this executive order, which will ensure we have every resource available to us to combat these wildfires to protect life, property and wildlife,” says Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Since February, wildfires have swept across 68,000 acres of the state. That amount is higher than the average acreage burned over the past five years.

The largest blaze right now is the one known as the Cowbell Fire in the Big Cypress National Preserve, which has spread to more than 10,000 acres about a mile north of Alligator Alley.

A Hernando County brush fire apparently sparked by lightning on Saturday had widened to 1,100 acres by Monday.

The dry conditions mark sharp contrast to 2016, when the state was drenched by two hurricanes.

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MILLIONS DONATE TO FLA. POLS AMID 2017 SESSION via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – Some of the biggest companies involved in battles at the state Capitol showered campaign contributions to the state’s political parties and other top politicians in the first few months of the year.

Newly-filed campaign finance reports show that the Republican Party of Florida raised $2.46 million during the first quarter of the year, while a separate GOP campaign committee that raises money for state Senate candidates raised $1.43 million. The Florida Democratic Party raised slightly more than $843,000 during the same period.

— “Both major parties in Fla show tepid money-raising” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

— “Despite anti-Trump energy, Florida Dems struggle out of the gate with 2017 fundraising” via Kartik Krishnaiyer of The Florida Squeeze

— “Florida Democratic Party chair chips in $100K in first quarter” via Florida Politics

— “Richard Corcoran among top donors to RPOF during first quarter” via Florida Politics

RICK SCOTT SIDESTEPS QUESTIONS ABOUT MID-SESSION CHECKS FROM BIG DONORS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO FloridaScott’s political committee last month raked in more than $600,000 in contributions from companies with major bills before the Legislature that could end up on his desk next month to veto or sign into law. The largest amount, $100,000, came from U.S. Sugar … Others doling out $50,000 checks each to Scott’s Let’s Get To Work committee included Wal-Mart and Auto Nation … When asked about the large contributions during a Cabinet meeting, Scott would not directly respond to whether the large contributions would influence his decisions about legislation affecting the interests of some of his largest donors. “I look forward to seeing the budget,” Scott said. “I’ll go through every line item to make sure it’s good for the citizens of our state.”

DENISE GRIMSLEY RAISES $260K FOR AG. COMMISH BID via Florida Politics — Sen. Denise Grimsley raised more than $260,000 in just one week toward her 2018 Agriculture Commissioner bid, far outpacing the only other Republican candidate in the race. But state campaign finance record show Grimsley could face stiff fundraising competition from Rep. Matt Caldwell, whose political committee raised more than $224,000 in the same one-week period. State campaign finance records show Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, raised a combined $260,756 between March 1 and March 6, the eve of the 2017 Legislative Session. Grimsley brought in $85,008 to her official campaign account; her political committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland, brought in $176,000. … State records show Caldwell’s political committee — Friends of Matt Caldwell — raised $224,980 between March 1 and March 6, the day before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

— “Bill Galvano adds $500K in committee cash during March” via Florida Politics

— “Wilton Simpson tacks on $263K for political committee” via Florida Politics

 — “Jack Latvala raises more than $244K on eve of 2017 Legislative Session” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Dana Young raises $150K in March for Senate re-election” via Florida Politics

— “Jason Brodeur adds $50K to Senate campaign” via Orlando Rising

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RICK SCOTT WON’T END FIGHT FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, TOURISM FUNDING via Florida Politics With the House seemingly intent on gutting VISIT FLORIDA and eliminating Enterprise Florida, Gov. Scott suggested he won’t stop counterpunching. The governor, who spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, has been openly warring with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. He’s been out to kill state government’s business incentives programs. Corcoran counts Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization, and VISIT FLORIDA, its tourism marketing arm, as dispensers of “corporate welfare” … “We’re at record tourism numbers,” with close to 113 million tourists visiting the state last year. With thousands of jobs tied to tourism, “it’s important to me that we fully fund VISIT FLORIDA,” Scott said.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at USTA National Campus in the Champions Lodge Dining Area, 10000 USTA Boulevard in Orlando.

NO STATE OF EMERGENCY, BUT GOV. ANNOUNCES WORKSHOPS TO ADDRESS OPIOID CRISIS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s Department of Health, Department of Children and Families and Department of Law Enforcement will in the coming weeks begin workshops in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange counties. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi announced the initiative, a deal with drug companies to provide Narcan spray and their support for legislation related to the opioid crisis at an event in the state Capitol … An emergency declaration allows the governor to direct immediate spending to combat problems and allows public health officials to move quickly in response to a crisis. “We’re working through the Legislature, we’re doing the workshops,” Scott said Tuesday when asked why he hadn’t done the same for the opioid crisis. “We’re going to have these workshops and we’re going to see if there’s ideas that we can put forth that might have an impact. We’re going to see what we can learn, but all of us have to understand that we all have to be involved with this.” The workshops are a “starting point,” Scott said.

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: On the day @PamBondi talks about dangers of opioids there is buzz that a Pa congressman will bc Trump’s pick for drug czar

A DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCE OF FLORIDA’S EYEBALL WARS; THROWING GASOLINE ON THE STATE’S WILDFIRE OPIOID CRISIS via Florida Politics – It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths, with Florida emerging as an epicenter. Nevertheless, several Tallahassee lawmakers, albeit unwittingly, may soon contribute to this wildfire of a crisis, a casualty of the latest battle in Florida’s Eyeball Wars … As chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee, Cary Pigman – himself an emergency room physician – narrowly approved a bill that would add nearly 4,000 new prescription pads to Florida … the flip side of HB 1037 — giving optometrists power to prescribe an added group of medications, including opioids — has not received as much attention. And it could turn out to be just as dangerous. If passed, HB 1037 could fall under the category of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences by creating a surge in availability of opioids throughout the state, especially during a time when lawmakers struggle to find ways to curb access.

AYALA FILES CHALLENGES OF SCOTT WITH FLORIDA SUPREME COURT, FEDERAL COURT via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – In complaints filed by her attorney, Roy Austin Jr.of Washington D.C., Ayala contends that she legally exercised prosecutorial discretion in deciding not to pursue death penalty prosecutions in the 9th Judicial Circuit. Ayala was not found by guilty of any misconduct. Consequently, Ayala argues that Scott’s executive orders stripping 23 first-degree murder cases from her and reassigning them to another state attorney were only because he disagreed with her determination not to pursue death penalties. The state action, seeking a writ of quo warranto, asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders. Ayala’s petition cites Article V, Section 17, of the Florida Constitution, which declares that “the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in that circuit,” and contends that Scott has no legitimate grounds to overcome that.

GOV’S OFFICE AFFIRMED PROSECUTORIAL DISCRETION, STATE ATTORNEYS’ INDEPENDENCE, IN LETTER LAST YEAR via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Among material filed with Ayala‘s Florida Supreme Court challenge of Gov. Scott‘s executive orders stripping cases from her is a year-old letter from his office affirming her position – that her prosecutorial decisions cannot be overridden … almost exactly a year ago, April 21, 2016, Scott’s office wrote to support the prosecutorial discretion exercised by Ayala’s predecessor, then-9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton, whom Ayala beat in the election last year. The letter came from Warren Davis in Scott’s Office of Citizen Services. “Although we appreciate your concerns,” Davis wrote to concerned citizen in the 9th Judicial Circuit, “each state attorney is an elected official charged with certain discretionary duties, including the duty to determine whether or not to prosecute any particular crime committed within his or her jurisdiction. This decision is based on the quality and the quantity of the evidence of guilt shown, and in the best interest of justice.”

RANDOLPH BRACY, JACK LATVALA REACH COMPROMISE ON SENATE CUT TO ARAMIS AYALA’S OFFICE via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsAyala‘s office would take a much smaller budget hit this year under a compromise worked out by Bracy and Senate Appropriations Chairman Latvala. State Rep. Scott Plakon engineered the House cut of about $1.3 million, to transfer that money to the 5th Judicial Circuit, which is set to get the cases Scott reassigned from Ayala. Bracy, of Oakland, is one of the few Democrats who have actively come to Ayala’s aid. Under the arrangement agreed to by Bracy and Latvala, $569,000 of the proposed Senate cut would be restored, while $622,000 would be transferred to the office of the 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

SENATE, HOUSE SPLIT ON CAPITAL OUTLAY FUNDING via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – In the House bill (HB 5001), maintenance and repair projects are funded at $54.6 million for the Florida College System and $114.8 million for the State University System. The Senate’s offer (SB 2500) is $38.1 million for colleges and $45.6 million for universities. But the Senate budget includes another $122.2 million in construction projects for colleges and $178 million for university projects. The House’s proposal does not yet include any money for such projects. Altogether, the House is considering $360 million in capital outlay funding while the Senate is contemplating more than $616 million. This number includes PreK-12 public schools, colleges and universities.

HOUSE TO TAKE UP PENSION REFORM THIS WEEK via Sascha Cordner of WLRN – Among its provisions is changing the default retirement for newly hired state employees, who haven’t chosen a retirement plan. Instead of the more popular and traditional option known as the pension plan, the bill changes the default to the 401(k) style investment plan. Supporters of the proposal say the goal is to allow more employees to take their retirement earnings with them, should they leave their state job in a couple of years. But, opponents—mainly state employee unions—say the investment plan is less stable and more risky.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Shevrin Jones and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will hold a press conference to discuss the House’s “Schools of Hope” legislation and its impacts on Florida’s public schools at 10 a.m. outside the House chamber on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

HAPPENING TODAY – CARIBBEAN DAY AT THE CAPITOL — The 9th annual event, hosted by members of the House and Senate, is meant to give community members a chance to meet with their lawmakers and give the capital city a taste of the Caribbean. The day’s events include a luncheon on the 22nd floor from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Caribbean food and barbecue from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Capitol Courtyard.

CARY PIGMAN’S DUI SOBRIETY TEST ON FHP DASHCAM VIDEO via Niels Heimeriks of WPTVPigman, 58, who represents a district that includes parts of St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, was pulled over Thursday, March 23, around 10:45 p.m. on the turnpike near the Fort Drum Service Plaza. An open bottle of wine was found on the front passenger seat of his vehicle. When asked by the trooper Pigman denied having purchased the wine and denied drinking, though the trooper could detect a smell of alcohol coming from his mouth. During the roadside test the lawmaker had problems following instructions, he was so off balance that he almost fell during one of the tests.

— KEY OPINIONS —

DARLENE FARAH: PROSECUTORS RECOGNIZE DEATH PENALTY’S HARM TO VICTIMS’ FAMILIES via Florida Politics – For so long, prosecutors have repeated the mantra that the death penalty is needed for murder victims’ families and to provide them justice. This idea developed into an unquestioned assumption that guided many district attorneys in handling cases and crafting campaign messages. Yet the recent announcement by State Attorney Aramis Ayala of Orlando, Florida, to no longer seek death sentences challenges the notion that capital punishment helps victims’ families. Given the uncertain and painful process that capital cases put victims’ families — including my own — through, I applaud this announcement and hope other prosecutors will adopt a similar approach. There’s a vast disconnect between the theoretical death penalty championed by some officials — which they say is justice and brings closure — and what it looks like in reality. My children and I witnessed that reality firsthand after my daughter Shelby Farah was murdered in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 20, 2013.

DARRYL PAULSON: THE FILIBUSTER, THE NUCLEAR OPTION AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS via Florida Politics –  Now that the filibuster is dead in the nomination process, will it also fall by the wayside with respect to legislation? The answer is likely yes. The larger question is whether the filibuster is a good or bad part of the legislative process?  Many argue that the Constitution is premised on majority rights and the filibuster allows a minority to dictate public policy. In other words, it is undemocratic. Supporters of the filibuster contend that it serves a useful purpose. Its use forces legislators to compromise in order to secure passage of major legislation. On controversial issues such as civil rights, a supermajority vote ensures that the legislation has widespread support and its passage was critical. Critics of the filibuster … Argue the filibuster has been a tool to frustrate the will of the majority and to impede passage of important legislation. Supporters counter that the death of the filibuster will lead to greater polarization, although that is hard to imagine. They argue that a simple majority vote will allow a president to appoint more extreme nominees and will allow the Senate to pass more extreme legislation.

JOE HENDERSON: DEMOCRATS MAY FINALLY GET THE MESSAGE THAT THEY NEED, WELL, A MESSAGE via Florida Politics – Florida Democrats have become such a non-factor in state politics that the real drama frequently becomes which faction of the Republican Party will prevail on a given issue. Think about it. We have had knockdown, drag-outs between the GOP-controlled House and Senate. This year the main event has been the ongoing feud between Republican Gov. Scott and House Speaker Corcoran. It’s almost like Democrats don’t exist … Democrats are going to have to shout such things from the rooftop, with clarity and determination. It won’t be easy. Republicans have controlled the microphone for a long time now while Democrats have curled up in the corner with nothing to say. Are they up for this? Time will tell, I guess.

JIM DEBEAUGRINE: REVENUE FROM MEDICAL MARIJUANA FOR TREATMENT, PREVENTION WOULD BE MINIMAL via Florida Politics – If nothing else, the intense debate over how to implement legalized medical marijuana in Florida has given many of us a crash course in business economics, government regulation and medical protocols. Missing from this discussion, however, is the collateral damage of the drug trade – addiction, criminal behavior, broken families, unemployment, even death. Ironically, these collateral effects are the most likely to directly impact the average Floridian … the Legislature has a tremendous opportunity to make major progress toward addressing these unwanted side effects. Under current law, marijuana is subject to the state’s sales and use tax. This is, by the way, consistent with most of the states that have legalized medical marijuana. State economists estimate that tax collections will eventually rise to $24 million on an annual basis. This estimate, however, is based on assumed annual sales that are roughly one-quarter what a leading industry expert predicts. Either way, these funds represent an untapped resource that could be used to boost the state’s substance abuse education, prevention and treatment efforts.

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JEFF ATWATER GETS SENTIMENTAL SENDOFF AT CABINET MEETING via Florida Politics – The state’s CFO, who’s leaving after this legislative session to join Florida Atlantic University as a VP, got a surprise recognition at what is likely his last Cabinet meeting. “I don’t see this on the agenda,” Atwater said, laughing. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam gifted him with an orange juice decanter; Attorney General Pam Bondi gave him a mug, and Gov. Rick Scott presented him with a state flag in a case. “We’ll miss you; you’ve been just a joy,” Bondi told him. “We all started together,” she added—all four were first elected in 2010. “The band is breaking up.”

99 APPLY TO RUN FLORIDA’S DEP via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Already 99 people have applied to replace Jon Steverson, the head of DEP who resigned suddenly in January, according to the Florida Cabinet which has posted the names of all 99. Currently the agency is being led by Ryan Matthews, who had been the deputy secretary for regulatory programs before he was appointed as interim secretary back in February. Matthews is not among the people to have applied so far for the permanent job. The Cabinet has set a goal of having a final vote on a new DEP leader by May 23.

HUNDREDS OF CONCERNS AUTOMATICALLY SIGNED UP TO LOBBY CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD via Florida PoliticsThe list of companies, nonprofits and others who were registered to lobby the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) now stretches to 55 pages, according to the state’s Lobbyist Registration Office. But many, if not most, of those may be from the state automatically adding names to that lobbying registry—and from lobbyists who haven’t yet “unchecked” their box for the CRC. The commission, which convenes every 20 years to review and rewrite the state’s governing document, holds its next public hearing 5 p.m. Wednesday on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION ANNOUNCES MORE MEETING DATES via Florida Politics Carlos Beruff, the commission’s chairman, on Tuesday announced more dates and locations for public hearings: Wednesday, April 26 in Gainesville (Alachua County); Thursday, April 27 in Jacksonville (Duval County); Wednesday, May 3 in Bay County; Wednesday, May 10 in Lee County; Wednesday, May 17 in Hillsborough County. “This historic process gives Florida voters an opportunity to change the framework of our government,” he said in a statement. “You don’t need to be a policy expert to have a good idea.”

BLACKJACK APPEAL NOW ON HOLD TILL AFTER SESSION via Florida Politics – A mediation between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that was set for Tuesday morning was cancelled, the tribe’s attorney said. The state had appealed to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Seminoles to keep offering blackjack at their Florida casinos. The mediator agreed to hold off and to stay the appeal until the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. By then, the sides may know whether lawmakers pass omnibus gambling legislation, including a new blackjack agreement, that would “moot the appeal,” attorney Barry Richard said. “In a case like this, (mediation) is kind of meaningless, but they make you go through the routine anyway,” he added. Richard explained the state couldn’t agree to any mediated settlement in the case without legislative approval.

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IT’S SEERSUCKER DAY AT THE CAPITOL

The day you’ve been waiting for all session is here.

No, not the budget debate in the House and Senate. And it’s not Sine Die quite yet.

Nope, it’s Seersucker Day at the Florida Capitol. But once again seersucker aficionados are left with a dilemma: Break the rules and break out their favorite suit out of season or just wait a few more days?

Tradition dictates that seersucker should only be worn between Easter and Labor Day — or if you prescribe to the to the “fashion dos and don’ts” outlined by former Sen. Trent Lott, who started Seersucker Day in the United States Congress in 1996, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Florida lawmakers are known to bend the rules every once in a while when it comes to their love of this thin, all-cotton striped garb. In 2016, when the Legislature met from January to March the annual event was held in Feb 24. The average temperature that day was just 61 degrees.

And in case you were wondering, last year Easter was March 27. That means lawmakers celebrated all things seersucker a full month before the traditional start of seersucker season.

This year, the celebration of the Southern suit isn’t starting nearly as early. Easter is this Sunday, which means you’re only jumping the gun by a couple of days. And unlike last year, the high in Tallahassee is expected to be closer to 85 degrees, making a summer suit preferable.

Still feeling queasy about bending the rules? Style experts suggest pairing the jacket with a pair of dark pants, instead of wearing the full suit. Or maybe just wear a seersucker tie to get in the spirit. Women can pair their seersucker jacket with a darker skirt, or put a shirt under their dress to create a layered look.

But if you’re asking yourself WWJPD, you should know: It’s probably unlikely Jimmy Patronis, the former state Representative and a member of Florida Public Service Commission, will be wearing seersucker when the Constitution Revision Commission convenes at Florida A&M University tonight.

When asked about Seersucker Day on Twitter, Patronis responded “you can’t have it ‘til after Easter! Every good Southern Gentleman knows this.”

“I’m no longer on the BOD of Seersucker Day,” he continued. “I would encourage April 19 or 10, preferably a day the @MyFLHouse is in Session.”

Dare we suggest a Seersucker Day, part deux?

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY BUFFET LUNCH MENU Wednesday’s Governors club menu comes from the Pacific Northwest with smoked tomato soup; apple pear salad – celery, Granny Smith apples, pears, walnuts, dried cherries; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; smoked salmon & penne pasta salad – Pacific smoked salmon, penne pasta, scallions, capers, eggs, herb vinaigrette; rosemary peppered beef; chicken thigh yakitori; BBQ grilled salmon ; white & wild rice with apples & raisin and beans, lardon & sage.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

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CITRUS FORECAST GENERALLY HOLDS STEADY, USDA SAYS via Florida Politics – The bad news in citrus: “Grapefruit production declined.” The good news: “Florida orange production remained steady.” That’s the upshot of the latest forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, according to the Florida Department of Citrus. “The April report projects the state’s orange crop to stay at 67 million boxes for the 2016-17 season,” a Tuesday news release said. “The grapefruit crop was reduced by 800,000 boxes to 8.1 million.” The industry has been savaged by a citrus greening epidemic … In a separate statement, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the latest forecast “represents a more than 70 percent collapse in production of our state’s signature crop” since the 1997-98 season.

MICHAEL GANNON, WHO MADE HISTORY LIVELY, DIES AT 89 via Cindy Swirko of the Gainesville Sun – University of Florida history professor Gannon, a former priest, an expert on the state’s Spanish beginnings and a calming presence on campus during troubled times, died days shy of his 90th birthday. Gannon was remembered by former students and colleagues as an engaging and knowledgeable professor who spent part of his youth in St. Augustine, spurring his interest in Florida history. Among them was Carl Van Ness, UF’s historian and curator of the manuscripts and archives department. “It’s hard to say where to start with Mike’s involvement with the university. It just seems like he was involved with so many things,” Van Ness said. “He was funny and had a great sense of humor — very outgoing. He had a beautiful, beautiful voice.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our great friends, top Democratic fundraiser, Stephanie Lewis-McClung, and Richard Corcoran‘s vox, Fred Piccolo. Also celebrating today is Tampa airport’s Emily Nipps, Jared Rosenstein, and former  Rep. Joe Saunders.

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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