A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
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REST IN PEACE, AL AUSTIN via the Tampa Bay Times
Al Austin, a game-changing civic leader and developer and a prominent Republican fundraiser, has died at age 85.
A businessman who caught Florida’s development boom at the right time, Austin ingratiated himself with new businesses in Tampa, always seeking to enhance the city’s image. His efforts paid off in the West Shore business district he helped build and the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Austin died of a heart attack in his sleep Wednesday night, said his assistant Bobbi Villar.
“He believed in his country, his party, and the importance of public service. His decades-long effort to bring the Republican National Convention to Tampa will continue to pay dividends, and it would not have occurred without his hard work and faith,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a statement.
“From his contributions to the University of Tampa to his work on behalf of MacDill Air Force Base, Al always put his city first. I will miss his guidance and remain grateful for all of he has done for Tampa.”
Announcing Austin’s death at the Tampa City Council, Chairman Charlie Miranda said Austin died about 2:30 a.m. and called him “Mr. Everything.”
Austin was a go-to leader for the city of Tampa. Over the years, he worked to stave off cuts to MacDill Air Force Base and served as head of the board that runs Tampa International Airport. He was once named the Tampa Metro Civitan Club’s Citizen of the Year.
FLASHBACK: “RNC 2012 might be Al Austin’s biggest Tampa project yet” via Michael Kruse of the Tampa Bay Times
HOW AUSTIN’S DEATH PLAYED Tampa Tribune, Tampa developer, GOP heavyweight Al Austin dies – died in his sleep of a heart attack Wednesday night. He was 85. Austin was best known for Republican political activism, having been the state party finance chairman and a nationally known fundraiser for Republican candidates… Tampa Bay Business Journal, Tampa Bay civic leader Al Austin dies at age 85 – He was a key player during the Republican National Convention in 2012, and provided business and civic support for various projects in Tampa… Bay News 9, Tampa developer, civic leader Al Austin dies at 85 – was also behind the development of the Westshore business district starting in the 1960s. He served as the head of the board that runs Tampa International Airport and was once named the Tampa Metro Civitan Club’s Citizen of the Year… Tampa Bay Times, Civic leader Al Austin, Tampa’s “Mr. Everything,” dies at age 85 – Austin was a go-to leader for the city of Tampa. Over the years, he worked to stave off cuts to MacDill Air Force Base and served as head of the board that runs Tampa International Airport. He was once named the Tampa Metro Civitan Club’s Citizen of the Year.
COMPILATION OF REACTIONS FROM NOTABLE FLORIDIANS here
TWEET, TWEET: @WillWeatherford: “Al Austin was a titan for the Tampa Bay community and for the Republican Party. He will be missed by all”
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2016 WATCH – JEB BUSH HOSTS CORAL GABLES FUNDRAISER FOR IOWA GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD
Jeb Bush is playing Iowa politics without leaving home. He did a fundraiser Thursday evening in Miami for Gov. Terry Branstad. Ann Herberger, a longtime Bush fundraiser, tweeted this photo with the caption, “My two favorite Governors!”
SPOTTED: Ambassador Al Hoffman, Ambassadors Sue & Chuck Cobb, congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo, lobbyist Slater Bayliss, Joe Caruncho, Anna Navarro.
MARCO RUBIO SHUT DOWN ON VA ISSUE via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times
The House overwhelmingly voted to approve Rep. Jeff Miller’s bill that would make it easier for the VA chief to fire top workers at the troubled agency. Sen. Marco Rubio tried to ride that momentum with a call for a swift vote. But he was shut down on the Senate floor by the lawmaker overseeing the VA committee.
The failed attempt illustrates the limits of Rubio’s power. Rubio has been proposing legislation at a rapid pace but has little to show for in concrete accomplishments (there’s that immigration bill but, shhh, we won’t talk about that.) As the Florida Republican looks at a run for president, more attention will be paid to his record.
Rubio has obvious challenges as a member of the minority, so a thin record isn’t surprising. As his allies point out, no one has really done much lately. The VA bill, however, was an easier target given the widespread attention to the issue. Miller’s bill passed the House 390-33. Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont who votes with Democrats, said he agreed in general with Rubio’s bill but that it had not gotten a proper hearing.
Sanders also said the VA deserved a broader look.
He and Rubio went back and forth, each implying the other side was looking to score political points. Sanders objected to unanimous consent, blocking Rubio.
“I was surprised to see Senate Democrats block this important, bipartisan bill,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a quickly-issued statement. “There’s no reason for us not to pass it quickly here in the Senate. And the President should call for its passage right away too.”
TWEET, TWEET: @MarcoRubio: My colleague from #Florida @SenBillNelson first Democrat to cosponsors #VA Accountability bill. Thank you. #creditwhereitsdue
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DAYS UNTIL THE ELECTION: 165
BILLIONAIRE’S CLIMATE ACTION PAC TO FOCUS ON RICK SCOTTFull blog post here
Billionaire liberal Tom Steyer is mounting an on-the-ground campaign to aid Democrats and attack Republicans in seven key Senate and gubernatorial races, part of a $100 million effort to put climate change a prime issue in the November midterms.
Steyer, a former hedge fund executive, formed the NextGen Climate Action Super PAC, which will target the governor’s races in Florida, Maine and Pennsylvania as well as Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire.
NextGen officials released the range of the organization’s strategy, which could be one of the most expensive pro-environment campaigns ever, reports Andrew Restuccia of POLITICO.
Steyer’s push will be the biggest test yet of whether Democrats can handle the outside spending frenzy unleashed by Citizens United, previously relegated to Republican supporters such as billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. His involvement will also inflame the GOP, which is already launching its own counterattack against Democrats, calling them hypocrites who look to seek support with Steyer, but vilify the Kochs.
NextGen’s targets are Senate races with Democratic-held seats with serious Republican challenges, but perhaps most of all is with Gov. Scott.
The group is aggressively pursuing Republican candidates like Scott for disputing climate science, maintaining that these deniers are not acting in the best interests of their states. One move will be to focus on donations from fossil fuel companies as a way to raise questions about integrity.
CHRIS CHRISTIE SAYS HE’LL BE A REGULAR ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL FOR SCOTT via Yvette Hammett of PoliticalFixFlorida.com
Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, tagging along with Gov. Scott during a campaign stop at Port Tampa Bay on Thursday, said he plans to stump with Scott throughout the summer.
Flanked by Christie and a dozen shipyard workers at the Port Hendry shipyard, Scott visited the Tampa center to announce his ongoing initiative to improve Florida ports and to create more and better-paying jobs for Floridians.
He called Christie a “close friend and a great competitor for job creation.”
THE FORMER RICK SCOTT-FLA GOP VENDOR THAT WENT TO CUBA ‘…AND CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK.’ via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald
After Crist said he wanted to go to Cuba, Gov. Scott condemned the move.
“When spends money there, he’s helping the Castro regime,” Scott said recently in Miami.
But more people, business leaders and politicians are heading to Cuba these days – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a consulting company that, over the past decade, has done $368,000 worth of web services for Scott, top Republican lawmakers and the Republican Party of Florida over the past decade.
“It was the trip of a lifetime, and we can’t wait to go back,” Sandi Poreda, senior public relations specialist at Taproot Creative wrote on its blog May 8, the day after Scott criticized his opponent’s Cuba-travel plans.
Florida Democrats drew attention to Poreda’s blog and how it mirrored some of Crist’s justifications for wanting to go in stating “Any good researcher knows that seeing something for yourself is better than hearing someone else tell you about it.”
Scott’s campaign and the Republican Party of Florida pointed out that Taproot no longer works for the governor’s campaign or the party. Scott’s political committee paid the Tallahassee-based firm $2,575 in 2013. RPOF paid it just $912.
Scott’s campaign also didn’t weigh in on the latest controversy over Cuba travel that involves one of the party’s biggest boosters: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also plans to visit Cuba.
BLOG POST OF THE DAY – DON’T WORRY, CHARLIE, THE MEDIA HAVE YOUR BACK via Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News
First paragraph from Steve Bousquet of the Times: “For the second time in a week, Gov. Rick Scott has decided not to share a spotlight with his leading Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist.” Really? Charlie Crist, the candidate who refuses to debate Nan Rich, his primary opponent, member of his own party? Shame on you, media, for letting Crist, hypocrite of the highest order, make fools of you.
Would Barack Obama have debated Mitt Romney while Romney was still battling Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire?
Would Bill Nelson have debated Connie Mack IV before Mack had sorted out George LeMieux and Dave Weldon?
In 2010 Scott cheerfully debated Alex Sink — a real Democrat with real convictions — when most of Tallahassee, led by the media, were ready to boil him in oil. Charlie, meanwhile, doesn’t have convictions, he has a bum gubernatorial record and a playbook of talking points. What makes anybody in Pressworld think a meeting with Crist, comparatively speaking, could be anything for Scott but a walk in the park?
RIDICULOUS PRESS RELEASE OF THE DAY: Healthcare Providers to Governor Rick Scott: “Governor it’s time to take your own medicine: Resign” via the Service Employees International Union of Florida.
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Crist invites young professionals to join him for a St. Petersburg fundraiser at 5:30 p.m., followed by a general reception at 6 p.m.at the Calypso Rum Bar, 217 Central Ave, St. Petersburg.
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COURT BLOCKS EVIDENCE AT REDISTRICTING TRIAL via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press
A Florida appeals court blocked the release of documents that are supposed to be key evidence in an ongoing trial to determine whether state legislators broke the law when drawing up new political maps.
The groups suing the Florida Legislature had obtained documents from a Gainesville-based political consulting firm and wanted to use them to show that legislators drew up congressional districts in 2012 in a way that would help Republicans.
But lawyers hired by the Republican Party of Florida to represent Data Targeting and consultant Pat Bainter argued that the documents are trade secrets and should remain confidential. Judge Terry Lewis disagreed and ruled that they could be used in the redistricting trial that started this week.
But in a one-page ruling the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned Lewis and said the evidence cannot be used. The three judges on the panel, all of whom were appointed by Republican governors, said they would explain the decision later.
Mark Herron, a Tallahassee attorney representing a group of voters suing the Legislature, said it would take a day or two for the groups to “consider and assess all of our options.”
COURT WEIGHING HOW MANY TRAUMA CENTERS STATE SHOULD HAVE via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune
Lawyers and witnesses trudged along in a long-lasting, stop-and-go fight over just how many trauma centers Florida should have.
Administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben resumed a hearing in a disagreement specifically over how the state Health Department OKs new centers, which have the specialized staff and equipment to treat severely injured patients.
In a nutshell, established health-care concerns don’t want to compete with newer kids on the block.
St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and UF Health Jacksonville have opposed new trauma centers, including at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson and Blake Medical Center in Manatee County.
Those in the windowless Tallahassee courtroom talked in terms of lives saved and medical ability, but the legal battle is just as much about the business of health care.
Trauma doctors and staff need a certain volume of patients, up to 1,000 yearly, to keep up their expertise and pay the bills.
The hospitals that operate older trauma centers say having more centers dilutes the pool of patients and also causes a strain on available medical specialists.
DJJ SEC’Y WALTERS TO RETIRE FROM STATE GOV’T IN JUNE via The Tallahassee Democrat
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters will retire from state government on June 30, she confirmed Thursday.
Walters has led the department since Gov. Scott appointed her in January 2011. She is responsible for a number of innovations, including the use of civil citations as an arrest alternative for juveniles who commit misdemeanor crimes, and her strategies have been credited with helping to reduce the juvenile-crime rate statewide and the number of youths in detention.
“Secretary Walters’ legacy is that she managed, in her time there, to completely change the culture of the Department of Juvenile Justice for the better,” said Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley. “She switched its focus to investment and prevention services, and we?ve already seen the results of her vision and her work with record low crime rates for juveniles.”
Walters said Thursday she does not have plans to accept another position in the near future. She and her husband, Cliff, plan to settle in Tallahassee.
“I’d just like to spend a little time with my family,” she said.
TIMES EDITORIAL: DONT RIG THE GAME FOR FSU’S NEXT LEADER
A public university with ambitions to be ranked among the best should not be run like a private club. Yet the fix appears to be in at Florida State University for John Thrasher, one of Florida’s most powerful lawmakers and an FSU alumnus, to become the school’s next president. Thrasher may be an attractive option for a university that needs to raise more money, but he should have to compete for the job.
… Thrasher’s supporters argue there is precedent. Former FSU president T.K. Wetherell, for example, had been House speaker. Former Florida Atlantic University president Frank Brogan had been lieutenant governor. But both men had also had prominent education careers. Former University of South Florida president Betty Castor had served as the state’s elected education commissioner.
But in each instance, search committees required all three to go head-to-head with other candidates. Thrasher, 70, is a lawyer and former chairman of FSU’s Board of Trustees who may be a good fit. But the game should not be rigged, and he should be measured against other qualified candidates.
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad is expected to discuss transportation projects during a Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Holiday Inn Daytona Beach-LPGA Boulevard, 137 Automall Circle, Daytona Beach. 7:45 a.m.
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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Florida TaxWatch will announce its annual report of state budget turkeys, the 2014 Florida TaxWatch Budget Turkey Report at 10:30 a.m. at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.
TOM LEE LOBBIED FOR WIFE’S JUDGESHIP, TEXT MESSAGES SHOW via Matt Dixon of NaplesNews.com
State Sen. Tom Lee reached out to the governor’s office in an effort to help his wife secure a Tampa-area judgeship, text messages show.
Lee, a former Republican Senate president from Brandon, reached out directly to staff in early 2012 and used lobbyist Ron Pierce to inquire about who he needed to reach out to in order to help his wife, Laurel, get a gubernatorial appointment to the Hillsborough County Circuit Court.
“Tom Lee’s wife Laurel Lee has been nominated … for a judgeship in Tampa,” wrote Pierce in a March 8, 2012 text message to Carrie O’Rouke, a former top aide to Gov. Scott. “President Lee wants to know who in the governor’s office (he should) call and (send) letters of support.”
Less than two weeks later, Lee again reached out to the governor’s office for help.
“Can you please call Tom Lee. His wife is up for a judgeship appointment and he wants direction on who he needs to speak with,” wrote O’Rourke in a May 18, 2012 text message to Chester Spellman, the governor’s former director of appointments.
“Certainly!!!” Spellman responded one minute later.
Laurel was not appointed on her first attempt in 2012, but did get the post in May 2013 on her second try. During the first attempt, Lee was not a member of the Senate, but won election back to that chamber in November 2012. He was in office when his wife was appointed.
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BILL YOUNG II — DROPS THE ‘II’ FOR THE BALLOT via Tony Marrero of the Tampa Bay Times
His friends call him Billy, he’s officially Bill Young II, but voters will see simply “Bill Young” on the ballot.
Why? “That’s my name,” said Young, the son of the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
Young, whose full name is Charles William Young II, is running as a Republican for the state House District 68 seat held by Democrat Dwight Dudley. Young, 29, said he has heard grumbling about him trying to capitalize on his late father’s name and called that theory “ridiculous.”
Though his friends and family have called him “Billy” since he was a boy, Young said he’s “Bill” in the professional world. He’s “Bill Young II” on Twitter and Facebook, but he said he’s not including “II” on the ballot or in his campaign material because “people don’t address me as Bill Young the second.”
He also noted that his father appeared on the ballot as “C.W. Bill Young.”
“If I was trying to pull something at the ballot, I would have put ‘C.W.’ on there,” he said. “My name is my name, and I’m not changing it for an election because my opponents are potentially intimidated by the strong family name I have.”
ERIC EISNAUGLE ENDORSES SHAWN HARRISON IN HD 63 Full blog post here
Newly re-elected state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle announced that he is endorsing his former colleague Shawn Harrison in his quest to reclaim State House District 63.
The Tampa Republican faces incumbent Democrat Mark Danish in the district representing parts of north Hillsborough County. Harrison lost to Danish in 2012 after serving a single term in the House.
Harrison responded by calling Eisnaugle an “excellent chairman and a skilled attorney.”
PAUL RENNER QUALIFIES FOR BALLOT BY PETITION IN HD 15
Jacksonville Republican Paul Renner has qualified by petition to run for the open seat in House District 15.
Renner is running to replace term-limited state Rep. Daniel Davis in the area that covers much of Duval County. The military veteran and former prosecutor submitted 1,000 verified signatures, more than the 973 required to qualify and appear on the ballot for HD 15.
Renner’s campaign noted that supporters gathered all of his petitions by hand, by knocking on doors throughout the district.
HD 38 HOPEFUL DANNY BURGESS TO HOLD MEET AND GREET MAY 29
Burgess is inviting friends and supporters to a “Wine & Cheese Meet & Greet” in Wesley Chapel next week. The event begins 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 29 at the Seven Oaks Clubhouse, 2910 Sports Core Circle in Wesley Chapel.
TRAVIS HUTSON TO HOLD TALLAHASSEE FUNDRAISER MAY 29 FOR HD 24 RELEECT
State Rep. Travis Hutson is holding a Tallahassee fundraiser for his House District 24 re-election effort. The event will be Thursday, May 29 from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Governors Club Library Room, 202 South Adams Street. Among the hosts will be Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli and Speakers-to-be Richard Corcoran and Jose Oliva.
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FEDERAL LOBBYISTS, TAKE NOTE: SEN. BENNET PLANS TO REINTRODUCE LOBBYING REFORM BILL
Sen. Michael Bennet is planning to reintroduce his lobbying reform bill this Congress. Bennet’s office is still finalizing the details of the bill, but expects to introduce it when the Senate returns from recess – or shortly thereafter. The Close the Revolving Door Act of 2014 would permanently ban members of Congress and senators from lobbying for life. For senior staff, committee staff and leadership staff, the bill would increase the cooling-off period from one year to six years. For lobbyists, the proposal would prohibit them from working in Congress for six years from the date of their last lobbying registration. The proposed bill would also increase the disclosure threshold to include consultants who were former members or top staffers – a big loophole in the current law. Lobbying disclosure penalties would increase from $200,000 to $500,000. And finally, the bill would overhaul the current disclosure system, by combining the House and Senate disclosure websites into a new lobbyists.gov portal.
Bennet’s proposal has been floating around for a few years now. He introduced the bill the Congress before last and then filed it as an amendment last year. If history is any guide, it usually takes a major scandal to get Congress to act on either lobbying reform or campaign finance reform. But if Congress were to tackle lobbying reform in earnest at some point down the road, the proposal could be a major cornerstone of that effort.
ICYMI: TSAMOUTALES STRATEGIES SLIDE IN LOBBYING REVENUES COINCIDES WITH AUDIT THREAT Full blog post here
The firm’s Q1 2014 estimated maximum earnings are $404,981 in legislative fees, $384,982 for executive advocacy — for a total of up to $789,963. That’s more than 45 percent down from the same time last year, when it was $625,989 each in legislative and executive — for a total of up to $1,251,978.
Tsamoutales’ Q1 earnings also pale against the final quarter of 2013, where revenues were $552,987 each for executive and legislative services, totaling $1,105,974— a nearly 30 percent plunge. It certainly does not bode well for a Tallahassee lobbying house leading into the first crucial weeks of the legislative session.
MEGA LOBBYIST AL CARDENAS STEPS DOWN FROM ACU POSITON via George Rasley of ConservativeHQ.com
The Washington Times carried the surprise announcement that Al Cardenas, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, is stepping down after more than three years leading the nation’s oldest grass-roots conservative organization.
Cardenas, regarded as a top GOP strategist and fundraiser with close ties to former Governor Bush, announced his decision in a letter he sent to board members Tuesday, saying he needed to focus more of his time and attention on his day job after the recent death of a law partner.
NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS
Stuart Brown, SKB Consulting Group: Navient
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CONTEXT FLORIDA: HIGHER EDUCATION, HURRICANES, PENSACON AND LOOPHOLES
On Context Florida: The cost of higher education has become a top issue in federal government circles, writes Ed Moore, but what is really needed is a robust and detailed discussion about why things cost more today than they did even a decade ago. It has been more than eight years since Florida experienced a catastrophic hurricane or tropical storm, says Donovan Brown, and new residents may not be aware of the sheer destruction and disruption resulting from such a catastrophic storm. Remember, it only takes one storm to transform a community, neighborhood or individual life completely. Pensacon is the sci-fi, comic book, fantasy, horror and gaming pop culture convention that packed the Pensacola Bay Center in its first year, pumping $1,408,108 into the local economy during tourism’s slow season. Shannon Nickinson says if Pensacola is smart, the city will help it stay there. According to Gary Stein, the “Vote No on 2” may be unwittingly helping Amendment 2 to succeed.
FORECASTERS PREDICT SLOW ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON via Meghan Barr of the Associated Press
A slower-than-usual hurricane season is expected this year because of an expected El Nino, federal forecasters said, but they warned that it takes only one storm to wreak havoc and urged Americans to be prepared.
The El Nino, which warms part of the Pacific every few years and changes rain and temperature patterns around the world, will likely reduce the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in New York City.
Cooler temperatures on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean compared with recent years will also lower the probability of hurricane formation.
Officials expect about eight to 13 named tropical storms and three to six hurricanes. One or two major hurricanes with winds over 110 miles per hour are forecast.
The six-month storm season begins June 1.
Facing Florida with Mike Vasalinda: Pete Dunbar
Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Steve Bousquet, Ernest Hooper, Darden Rice, Bill Bunting
Political Connections on Tampa Bay’s BayNews 9: U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross
Political Connections on CF 13: John Morgan and Frank Kruppenbacher
The Usual Suspects which airs on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Steve Vancore, Gary Yordon, Dara Kam, and Dr. Ed Moore
HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to our dear friend, Rep. Dane Eagle, as well as Jordan Raynor and Eileen Stuart. Celebrating this weekend are the inimitable Marian Johnson, Rob Johnson,Dan Krassner, Ashley Ross, and Jason Wilson.
QUORUM — TAMPA BAY’S NOT-TOO-POLITICAL HAPPY HOUR — TONIGHT
The next Quorum is slated for tonight at 5:00 pm. It will be at the familiar location: Cassis American Brasserie on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg. The special guests are state House candidates Chris Latvala and Bill Young II. Perhaps even more important, one of St. Pete’s favorite sons, Alan Suskey, will be in town to help Michelle and I co-host. There will be a $250 bar tab and hors d’oeuvres.
For more information, click here.