Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 5.8.17 – Sine Die

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

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

The work of the people ended with a whimper Friday, as lawmakers agreed to extend the 2017 Legislative Session to complete the budget, killing a host of other legislation.

As the Legislature turned out the lights around 9:30 p.m., high-profile dead bills included efforts to overhaul workers’ compensation and assignment of benefits, and to implement the state’s medical cannabis constitutional amendment.

House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron confer during a budget conference in the Knott Building Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Phil Sears.

The House and Senate agreed to a concurrent resolution extending session to 11:59 p.m. Monday to pass the 2017-18 state budget and several other measures, including the annual tax cut package.

The General Appropriations Act wasn’t delivered until 2:43 p.m. Friday. With the state constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period, Monday afternoon is the earliest that the budget can be voted on.

Now it remains to be seen, with a budget that includes drastic cuts to Gov. Rick Scott‘s tourism marketing and economic development priorities, whether Scott will veto part or all of the spending plan.

John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times offers this stinging criticism – “Imagine how much better life could be without a Legislature – Why not get rid of the state Legislature? 1. Consider the evidence … Once again, the Legislature failed to come up with a new plan for gambling in Florida. If you’re counting … Not that it’s important, or anything. It’s only a billion-dollar industry. 2. More than ever, legislators have proven to be a spineless group of lemmings … Republicans are lap dogs for Corcoran, and Democrats seem to think whining is an actual strategy. Neither party has enough independent thinkers. 3. The most important thing they do — the one thing they are required by law to do — was apparently done without the input of 99 percent of the legislators. The budget was hammered out in private with negotiators from the House and the Senate, while the rank-and-file tried not to look like wallflowers. It’s almost comical when you think about it.


Speaker Corcoran’s hometown newspaper is already looking ahead to the Legislature vs. Gov. Scott:

Orlando Sentinel, Squabbling lawmakers to come back for final vote Monday – “House and Senate leaders did agree to many of their priorities, but they all but ignored fellow Republican Gov. Scott’s agenda, underscoring major rifts within the state’s ruling political party.” South Florida Sun Sentinel, The final countdown in the Florida Legislature – “Greetings from Day 60 of the 60 63-day legislative session … Lawmakers will return just to vote on the budget … But not me. Watching a single vote is no reason for me to stay in this town. So goodbye, Tallahassee.” The Daily Stampede, A Call To Arms: Florida Legislature Moves Goalposts To Screw USF. It’s Time For Bulls To Fight Back. – “This is a lot of legislative minutia, but the tl;dr is USF got screwed out of a ton of money last night, as well as “pre-eminent” status, in a legislative move that will guarantee even more money for UF and FSU.” Miami New Times, Here Are the Worst Ideas the Florida Legislature Proposed This Year – “A bill ratcheting up the drug war …  A half-billion cut to Medicaid, including a $157 million cut to South Florida hospitals … A ridiculous bill letting public-school parents object to the science in their children’s science books.” Sunshine State News, Ten big issues of the 2017 Legislative Session – “Budget … Death penalty … Economic development … Education … Gambling … Guns … Health care … Insurance … Medical marijuana … Water.” Daytona Beach News-Journal, Winners, losers during the 2017 legislative session – “Winners: Legislative leaders, universities, taxpayers, flows of green algae, charter schools. Losers: Hospitals, Florida Forever, Gov. Scott, casino operators, ethics and transparency, marijuana activists.” Miami Herald, In last-day surprise, Legislature loads education policy into pass/fail budget – “Crammed into a single mammoth bill  … With $414 million in spending attached  … The sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise … Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.”

Facebook status of the day via Sen. Jack Latvala, who lit up the Speaker:

What Richard Corcoran is reading –Looming departures would reshape powerful Miami-Dade legislative delegation” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – When Florida lawmakers return to the Capitol to pass a state budget in legislative overtime, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz will grab a microphone and say goodbye to the House of Representatives, a year ahead of schedule. Diaz is not the only influential Miami Republican likely on his way out. Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the prominent House budget chief and an early local Trump supporter, interviewed in Washington last month for a position as U.S. ambassador. In short: Diaz’s farewell speech could mark the beginning of the end of the most powerful House delegation that Miami-Dade County has seen in the GOP-controlled Capitol in recent years. The tight-knit Republicans on the delegation will leave a lasting legacy in the form of Rep. Jose Oliva, who is slated to become the next House speaker — Miami-Dade’s first since Marco Rubio concluded his term in 2008. Support for Oliva’s future speakership came from Republicans who like him make up the legislative class of 2012. But veterans from the class of 2010, like Diaz and Trujillo, laid the political groundwork for Oliva’s success.

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The House and Senate agreed to a concurrent resolution extending session to 11:59 p.m. Monday to pass the 2017-18 state budget and several other measures, including the annual tax cut package.

The General Appropriations Act wasn’t delivered until 2:43 p.m. Friday. With the state constitution’s required 72-hour “cooling off” period, Monday afternoon is the earliest that the budget can be voted on.

Over the weekend, lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters sifted through the $83 billion budget and, in some cases, were shocked by what they found.

State budget stuffed with local projects: USF center, water taxis and … Bernardo de Galvez?” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – One of the biggest items in the budget for Tampa Bay is, once again, USF’s Morsani College of Medicine … USF will get $12 million for the new downtown Tampa medical education and research center … Pasco County got $15 million for an Interstate 75 overpass to relieve congestion on State Routes 52 and 54. Hillsborough Community College won $10 million in construction money for a new Allied Health Center on the Dale Mabry Campus … And St. Petersburg College will get $6.5 million for its new Student Success Center at the Gibbs Campus …

— (T)he House and Senate appeared to strike a deal to send $400,000 to Forward Pinellas for its water taxi work. But when the budget printed out … Jack Latvala announced $1 million would go toward the taxis …

— A similar thing happened two funding for structural improvements for the Cuban Club in Ybor City … $1 million had been set aside for the project.

— Pensacola won $100,000 to build a statue of a Spanish sailor — Bernardo de Galvez — who defeated the British in 1781 in a battle in that city.

— Sarasota won $1 million for a circus conservatory and another $2.5 million for a rowing park.

— State taxpayers are helping build or repair fire stations for East Palatka, LaBelle and Wakulla County.

This is the issue that has the Tampa Bay delegation up in arms: Deep inside a massive higher education policy bill, lawmakers raised the four-year student graduation standard from 50 percent to 60 percent by 2018 for universities to reach “preeminent status” and qualify for more money and prestige, reports the Tampa Bay Times. USF, the only state school hurt by the change, issued an appeal to Tampa Bay lawmakers to “take action,” but it’s too late for the budget conforming bill to be changed.

— The four-year, 60 percent provision appeared in law for the first time Friday afternoon on page 232 of a 292-page higher education bill, Senate Bill 374, that will pass Monday as part of the state budget.

— This change was done at the behest of President Negron — and he’s not budging. “The mistake by some at the University of South Florida was assuming that the Legislature would adopt the 50 percent graduate rate to be immediately applied retroactively,” Negron said. “As everyone knows, legislation is changed throughout session.”

— Negron and Corcoran agreed to the change at a public meeting Friday — and no lawmaker from Tampa Bay publicly questioned it.

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more” via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – At the insistence of Speaker Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill … with $414 million in spending attached. All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one … when lawmakers vote on the annual budget. No changes can be made to the bill. If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Tweet, tweet:

It wasn’t a last-minute budget item, but the $2.8 million in taxpayers’ money paid to Visit Florida to produce a fishing show is a perfect example of the kind of spending issue Speaker Corcoran will use to buttress his arguments against funding both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News has the scoop Since the first deal was made in 2012, VISIT FLORIDA paid Pat Roberts $2.8 million in taxpayer money for the show and allowed him to keep all of the advertising and sponsorship revenue.

— VISIT FLORIDA agreed to pay Roberts $450,000 for the first season of “Bass 2 Billfish with Peter Miller,” including $10,000 for production of each of the 10 half-hour episodes and $10,000 to air each on the NBC Sports Network. The company also received money for re-airings, web articles and short videos, according to contracts provided by VISIT FLORIDA.

–VISIT FLORIDA paid $550,000 for the second season in 2014. The third and fourth seasons in 2015 and 2016 each cost $580,000, and this year’s season cost $600,000, the contracts show.

— Roberts also received a 36-foot boat from Bradenton-based Yellowfin Yachts in the deal, according to an October 2012 bill of sale that identified the transaction as advertising credit for the show.

— VISIT FLORIDA provided a ratings analysis … showing a 9-1 return on the taxpayer investment. But by giving up advertising and sponsorship revenue and having no way to determine what Roberts collected, it is unclear how much better Roberts did than the taxpayers of Florida in the deal.


… about the heroin crisis via Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post – Unlike recent years, when bills related to addiction and sober homes faced indifference and pious judgment, this year’s legislative session saw bipartisan bills flying through both houses unopposed. Some of the urgency is a response to the unrelenting, rising death toll from overdoses of heroin and other opioids. Bills breezed through seven committees in both houses unopposed. On the second-to-last day of the session, the Senate unanimously approved the House version, sending it to Gov. Scott for his signature.

The bill, which becomes law July 1, addressed three concerns: Marketing: Requires marketers of drug treatment services to be licensed by the state’s Division of Consumer Services. Criminal penalties: Allows the statewide prosecutor to investigate and prosecute patient brokering. Increases fines and prison time for higher volumes of patient brokering. Brokering up to 19 patients becomes a second-degree felony and a $100,000 fine. Brokering more than 20 patients is a first-degree felony with a $500,000 fine. Empowering Department of Children and Families: Significant increase in licensing fees. Operating without a license becomes a third-degree felony, carrying a maximum five-year prison sentence. DCF must draft rules for clinical and treatment best-practices, facility standards, qualifications for employees and staff ratios.

… about fantasy sports fails via The Associated Press – Late Friday, the Florida House rejected a proposal that fantasy sports are legal and not subject to regulation. The Florida Senate had added the provision earlier in the week to a bill repealing state regulation of several different types of jobs. This means the Florida Legislature won’t consider fantasy sports again until next year’s annual session.

… about transportation  – Despite last-minute amendments – a few withdrawn – a legislative package sought by the Florida Department of Transportation received final passage as the Session ended. Originally sponsored by Panama City Republican Sen. George Gainer, the legislation received six amendments Friday. The FDOT annual transportation bill, the FDOT sought to make it easier to modify its five-year construction plan to accommodate emergencies; giving the agency more control over bridge inspections, and improves the requirements for the process of accepting rapid response no-bid contracts for emergency construction, among other things.

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The Legislature failed to agree on rules to enact the medical marijuana amendment supported by 71 percent of Florida voters last November.

Who’s to blame for the issue’s collapse?

If you ask John Morgan the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care, an advocacy organization which was formed, in part, to lobby the Legislature on issues related to the expanded use of medical marijuana.

Over the weekend, Morgan and Pollara’s partnership exploded, with Morgan blasting Pollara in the media and social. scored the first interview with Morgan and it was a doozy.

–“Ben Pollara fucked the patients,” Morgan said Saturday morning. “The person who strengthened the cartels (a reference to the seven existing licenses permitted to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana in Florida and who have been on the opposite side of Florida for Care as the Legislature debated the implementation of Amendment 2) the most is Ben Pollara.”

— “The first thing I am going to do is make sure the people who helped me pass Amendment 2 know not to give Ben Pollara another red nickel,” Morgan said.

Pollara played defense all weekend.

— “The only compensation I have ever sought or received for work related to medical marijuana has been for political consulting and lobbying,” said Pollara. “I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations.”

Pollara told Sunshine State News their relationship began to crumble earlier this week in the midst of negotiations on retail facility caps. Morgan was not happy over the idea of capping dispensaries and made it clear the bill would fail if caps were part of the end language.

Be sure to read Allison Nielsen’s reporting on the 11th hour lobbying which led to the collapse of the medical marijuana legislation.

What’s next for Morgan and medical marijuana? On Saturday, Morgan called for the Legislature to be brought back to Tallahassee in a special session focused on cannabis, reports Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times.

— Asked Saturday if Gov. Scott would call a special session and what he wanted to see in health department rules, a spokeswoman said simply, “Our office is reviewing our options on this issue.”

— Health officials now go back to the drawing board to write sweeping public policy that patients, advocates, business interests and doctors are sure to scrutinize. “Regardless of what myself or Florida for Care does on it, it’s going to be ripe for challenge from the patient side and the physician side and the businesses,” Pollara said.

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This story from Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times is amazing:

Multiple sources report that about two weeks ago, House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo walked down to the Governor’s Office, met with Scott’s chief of staff, Kim McDougal and offered a compromise. The House would agree to give VISIT Florida $75 million, with $100 million for the dike project this year and $100 million next year, but Enterprise Florida would get no money. In addition, the House encouraged Scott to veto every single hometown project in the budget (which could still happen).

— A Capitol lobbyist with knowledge of the transaction urged Scott to take the deal and claim victories … but he didn’t.

— The sources said McDougal responded a day or so later with a counterproposal that was essentially what Scott wanted all along: $100 million for VISIT Florida, $200 million for the [Herbert Hoover] dike and $100 million for Enterprise Florida, all of which the House rejected.

Reality check: One lobbyist who is plugged into Scott’s office sent over these thoughts when nominating the EOG as one of the losers of the 2017 Session. “The Governor’s team got their behinds whooped up and down the Capitol and Adams Street. It is shameful to watch as a team allows its leader to be publicly embarrassed over and over and over and over. While the Legislature was shaming the administration, the administration was either hiding behind secured doors or entering the local pubs on Adams Street.”

If Scott vetoes budget, House Speaker says they have votes to override” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Speaker Corcoran is not sweating the idea that Gov. Scott could veto the entire state budget the Legislature is expected to pass …”If he vetoes the budget, we have the votes, we’ll override,” Corcoran told reporters … Scott has said that vetoing the entire budget is one of his options, but has stopped short of threatening it. “I’m going to look at my options,” Scott said.

Here’s our question: Why veto the entire budget and risk an override, when Scott can selectively veto hundreds of millions of dollars in member project, thereby doling out punishment to individual lawmakers?

Meanwhile, the campaign to pressure Scott to veto the ‘whiskey and Wheaties Bill’ is intensifying via The Associated Press – Owners of small, independent liquor stores in central Florida are asking customers to support their efforts urging the governor to veto a bill allowing the sale of spirits in grocery stores … “Whiskey and Wheaties Bill” (SB 106) … Independent liquor store owners opposed the bill, saying supermarkets and big box stores could drive them out of business … “Not only do they have a price and convenience advantage, but grocery stores will have the power to kick us out when our lease is up,” Bully’s Liquor owner Steve Park [said] “If our landlord had to choose between us and the grocery store next door, we would be gone.” The bill is the latest legislative proposal to change how beer, liquor and wine can be made, distributed and sold in Florida. For example, brewers and distillers now can sell their products directly to consumers in pubs and in takeout jugs called growlers.

Scott to hold rally in Miami to call for release of Leopoldo Lopez” via Florida Politics — The Governor’s Office announced Scott, a Naples Republican, will hold a Freedom Rally at 6 p.m., Monday at El Arepazo 2, 3900 NW 79th Avenue in Miami. … Scott joins other Florida Republicans in calling for López’s release. Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump in February, and has called for his release. So has Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who in February called López “one of many pro-democracy members of the opposition … that have been imprisoned for running afoul of the corrupt Maduro regime.” The governor’s decision to hold a rally is also notable for another reason: He’ll be far from Tallahassee as state lawmakers finish work on the 2017-18 budget, which doesn’t fund several of his priorities.

What the Governor’s Office is reading – “Lockheed Martin is moving ballistic missile jobs to Florida” via The Associated Press – Lockheed Martin Corp. plans to move about 300 ballistic missile program jobs from California to Florida’s Space Coast over the next two years … employees moving to Brevard County will work on testing and maintenance for the Navy’s Trident II D-5 Fleet Ballistic Missile … Lockheed Martin currently has nearly 1,000 employees in Florida. In January, the company completed renovations to a Cape Canaveral Air Force Station facility that had been built in 1961 for NASA’s first manned spaceflight program.

A year after her predecessor lost his job, Senate confirms Celeste Philip as surgeon general” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – On the final day of 2016’s Legislative Session, Philip became Florida’s acting surgeon general after the Senate refused to confirm her predecessor, Dr. John Armstrong. This year, as the Legislature prepared for a final set of votes … the Senate confirmed Philip to the job permanently. The surgeon general, appointed by Gov. Scott, is head of Florida’s Department of Health.

Mike Dew is a shoo-in for Transportation Dep’t top job” via Florida Politics Dew got a phone call from the Governor’s Office this week telling him the job was his. Dew, who put in for the top spot the morning of this Monday’s deadline to apply, was Gov. Scott‘s external affairs director in 2011-12. The Florida Transportation Commission, the department’s advisory board, scheduled interviews of applicants on May 11. The finalists are Dew, Florida Transportation Commissioner Ronald Howse, FDOT district secretary Phillip Gainer, former FDOT assistant secretary Richard Biter, and former North Carolina Department of Transportation Gene Conti. The panel will meet Wednesday, May 17, in Tallahassee to recommend three candidates for consideration by the Governor.

Sources: Noah Valenstein set to become next DEP head” via Florida PoliticsValenstein, Gov. Scott‘s former environmental policy coordinator, has the inside track to become the next secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection … Valenstein, now the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, is the top pick over interim secretary Ryan Matthews. Scott and the Cabinet in February OK’d Matthews to serve as interim department head to fill in for departing secretary Jon Steverson. He quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

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— 2018 ON THE MIND — 

Adam Putnam looks like Florida’s next governor, but lifelong politician tag will dog him” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times Putnam, the fellow who seems most likely to become Florida’s next governor, will stand on the steps of the old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow on Wednesday to kick off his campaign and lay out his vision. The two-term Republican agriculture commissioner, five-term U.S. House member and two-term state House member may be the best-qualified candidate for governor in Florida history. Trouble is, that’s also what they said about Hillary Clinton, who struggled to generate energy and passion as a presidential candidate. But what if after all this painstaking preparation, Putnam finds himself running at the worst possible time for a career politician? Trump won the presidency thanks to voters’ disgust with the status quo and establishment politicians, and on the eve of his campaign kickoff Putnam looks a lot more like Jeb Bushthan Trump. He already has a campaign war chest of more than $7 million to help scare off primary rivals. A play-it-safe campaign might be just the thing to help rivals in both parties paint him as another bland, lifelong politician.

Adam Smith ID’s the leading Republican AG candidates via the Tampa Bay TimesCorcoran has ruled out running for the office to be vacated after Bondi is term-limited in 2018, and other leading Republican contenders are now looking at other jobs … the likeliest candidates seem to be recently resigned Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, 42, and state Rep. Jay Fant, 49, of Jacksonville. The most prominent political figure in the mix is President Negron, who is still a big question mark. The Democratic side has been quieter on the Attorney General front. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler is a leading contender.

Miami-Dade Schools chief Alberto Carvalho explores run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO FloridaCarvalho — a voter with no party affiliation — says he has been deluged with calls from Democratic and Republican insiders and leaders who have urged him to look at the seat. “I am serious seriously dedicated and committed to Miami Dade public schools and my commitment is as strong as ever,” Carvalho said. “At the same time, based on the significant voices of people who have urged me to at least think about it, I owe it to them minimally to entertain their request for consideration.” One top Florida Democrat, however, said he spoke with Carvalho and that he “is strongly considering a run, and that if he does it, he would be the instant front-runner.”

Navy vet to run against Dennis Ross” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times Andrew Learned, a Bloomingdale Navy veteran who runs an academic tutoring business, says he plans to file to run as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in 2018. Learned, who’s 30 and single, hasn’t run for office before but said in an interview he’s always wanted to be in public service. Learned grew up in Valrico and was student body president at the University of Tampa on an ROTC scholarship, earning a degree in economics and political science. He was a boarding officer in a carrier strike group overseas and later stationed in Bahrain, starting his business in Valrico between deployments. He returned from Bahrain in late April and said he’s waiting for his separation date from the Navy to file candidacy papers. Learned said he disagrees with Ross most strongly on health care. Ross is a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act.

Outraged by health care vote, Pam Keith considers facing Brian Mast in CD 18 next year” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics Keith has formed an exploratory committee … making the announcement at the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting … just hours after Mast voted with the majority of his fellow Republicans for the American Health Care Act. “The response has been phenomenal,” Keith said. “People love that I am a veteran and feel that this helps to neutralize a lot of what Brian emphasized in his campaign.” Keith wanted to wait longer before making the announcement, but said Mast’s vote in support of the AHCA “really pushed me to get out there and test the waters.”


Lenny Curry declines consideration as CFO” via Teresa Stepzinski of the Florida Times-Union Curry said in a prepared statement that in light of ongoing media speculation, “I feel I must make clear my plans for the future.” Jacksonville remains his focus, he said. “I have stated many times in recent weeks that it is flattering to hear speculation about a statewide position that would allow me to do more for the state. And I always stand ready to work with Gov. Scott to make the future brighter,” Curry said. “But to stem the gossip and get the focus back on the city I love, I informed the governor … I am not seeking an appointment to CFO,” he said.

— With Curry out, the CFO job is Pat Neal’s to lose, right? RIGHT? Maybe not, we hear Joe Gruters is still in play, as is former Rep. Jimmy Patronis.

— We think Scott should reward his only real ally in the Senate — Jack Latvala — with the appointment.

“Constitutional review panel’s rules committee will meet” via Florida Politics – Even though it’s held several public hearings already, the Constitution Revision Commission has yet to agree on final rules governing its own work and deliberations. A “working group” will get together in Tampa on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the campus of Hillsborough Community College to hammer out those rules. The public will be given an opportunity to comment during that meeting. Then, the full commission will hold a public hearing for ideas on proposed constitutional amendments 5-8 p.m. in the same location, the DSTU Auditorium on the college’s Dale Mabry Campus. Both meetings will be live-streamed by The Florida Channel on

Assignment editors – Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga will be the keynote speaker at a Law Day event by Legal Services of North Florida, the Legal Aid Foundation of the Tallahassee Bar Association and the Florida State University College of Law. Event begins 5 p.m. at Florida State University, Turnbull Conference Center, 555 West Pensacola St. In Tallahassee.


RIP – “Self-taught Miami photojournalist and blogger Bill Cooke dies at 70” via David Smiley of the Miami HeraldCooke, a tough-as-nails photojournalist and blogger, died in the Miami Veterans Affairs hospice after years of battling pulmonary fibrosis. He was 70. A Vietnam veteran and notorious curmudgeon who taught himself to shoot a camera, Cooke built his career in Miami as a freelance photographer with a nose for news. He scored big in 1992 when he followed a crew sign pointing down a neighborhood alley and snapped Madonna naked in a backyard shooting stills for her book “Sex.” While working as a car valet, he got a gig at The Associated Press by walking into the Miami office with photos of Al Pacino shooting scenes for “Scarface.” “He’d managed to sneak in and get some really outstanding pictures,” said Phil Sandlin, a former AP photo editor who worked with Cooke for about a decade. “Bill was a hustler. And he was actually as good a newsman as he was a photographer.”

Political consultant, competitive grillmaster Josh Cooper competing to be Fox’s new MasterChef” via Florida PoliticsCooper is more than a skilled Florida politico; he’s also a widely respected Tallahassee grillmaster. And now Cooper, a founding partner of Strategic Information Consultants and a competitive barbecue chef, is hoping to become the next “MasterChef.” MasterChef, in its eighth season on the FOX Network, is a reality cooking show hosted by award-winning celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay that takes a batch of home cooks from around the nation, invites them to Los Angeles for the “Battle for a White Apron.” Throughout his career, Cooper had taken his skills — in both politics and grilling – from Washington to Tallahassee by way of Memphis, where in 2008 he became part of a competitive barbecue team called the Swinos. The eighth season of MasterChef begins Wednesday, May 31, (8:00-9 p.m. ET/PT) on FOX.

New and renewed lobby registrations

Edgar Castro, Southern Strategy Group: ofo US Limited

Julie Fess, Fess Consulting: First Manatee Tag Agency, Inc.

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— ALOE — 

 “Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter group has the money to buy the Marlins, source says” via Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald — A group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and ex-YankeeDerek Jeter has rounded up the investors to buy the Marlins. “They have the money,” a Major League Baseball source said. But the source said negotiations to purchase the Marlins are ongoing and that three groups are in the running to acquire the franchise from current owner Jeffrey Loria. A group led by Massachusetts businessman Tagg Romney is also in contention to buy the club, the source said, as well as a third “surprise” group that is a latecomer to the process. The Romney group also has the money to buy the team, the source said. An agreement could be reached within the next 10 days but would require approval from MLB owners. That final step might not take place until as late as August.

 “Snake fan hunts pythons in Florida to save other critters” via Jennifer Kay of the Associated Press — Florida is paying $8.10 an hour to hunt invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades, but Brian Hargrove says he’d work for free. He’s enjoying special access to state-owned wetlands and reliving his teenage years, when catching snakes gave him something better to do than join a Miami gang. It’s the best job ever for a man with a cobra tattooed over his heart. “I feel like I won the lottery, and I make minimum wage,” Hargrove said. But he must kill the pythons he finds. “The last thing I ever want to do is kill a snake,” he said. “I love snakes. It’s not their fault.” There is a long list of reasons why the pythons must die: all the animals they’ve eaten. It’s estimated 90 percent of many native mammals have ended up in pythons’ stomachs – they had never faced such a voracious predator before pet pythons escaped or were dumped into the Everglades. Hargrove, of Cutler Bay, is one of 25 hunters selected to kill pythons through June 1 for the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency overseeing Everglades restoration. Traps, snake-sniffing dogs, radio-tracking implants, occasional cold snaps and two public roundups so far have failed to significantly reduce the population of the giant constrictors. Florida’s wildlife commission announced Mondaynew prizes and plans to hire additional contractors to boost python removals from state-managed lands. “We’re trying to save the deer, the alligator, the rabbits, the rat snakes, the rattlesnakes – everything is slowly but surely disappearing,” Hargrove said.

Were Walt Disney’s dying words really ‘Kurt Russell’? As Disney’s ‘Guardians’ opens, the urban legend persists” via Michael Cavna of The Washington Post — The urban legend has persisted for decades: Were Walt Disney’s final words, whether written or spoken, actually “Kurt Russell”? … Russell, of course, was a child actor making a series of Disney movies — including 1966’s “Follow Me, Boys!” with Fred MacMurray — when Walt Disney died that same year. …Russell has said over the years that the legendary animator-filmmaker liked to ask him questions to get a sense of how a young mind works. The actor has said that Walt Disney reminded him of his own grandfather — inventive and creative and thoughtful — and so the teen actor was unintimidated by the mogul. Walt Disney, impressed by the young actor’s gifts, wanted him under contract for future Disney films — which might well explain why the words “Kirt Russell” were found scribbled on a note on the filmmaker’s desk when he died at age 65. … Russell himself was shown the sheet soon after the filmmaker died, when a Disney employee asked him about its possible meaning. Perhaps Walt had written the actor’s name weeks earlier, while planning a next picture for him? No one knows for sure. “It isn’t exactly a true story, that this was the last thing [Disney] wrote in his office,” (Jason) Gunn says.

Happy birthday belatedly to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Tracie Davis, Jennifer Edwards and Ken Littlefield. Celebrating today is the wonderful Elizabeth Ray and Ashley Walker, as well as Juan del Cerro and Dick Kravitz.

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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