Sunburn for 5/29 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

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The Florida Current, the online news site published by LobbyTools, is significantly downsizing its operations, while jettisoning two reporters and abandoning its efforts to offer free-to-the-public news coverage.

Managing Editor James Call, who was only recently elevated to replace the fired Bill Prescott, will remain ashore at the Current. However, well-regarded reporters Bruce Ritchie and Gray Rohrer have reportedly been let go.

Bill Cotterell, who had been freelancing for the site, will no longer be stringing for The Florida Current. And reporter Arek Sarkissian did not have his contract renewed after the conclusion of the 2014 legislative session.

Launched in 2010, The Florida Current was touted as “a news site that aims to provide concise, neutral, and accurate reporting on politics and policy in the Sunshine State.”

EMAIL OF THE DAY: “The Florida Current is now Legislative IQ”


I returned from my vacation and Memorial Day weekend on Tuesday to find that I was being laid off by The Florida Current along with the two remaining reporters there who I was working with.

I appreciated the opportunity to work for The Current and with the staff at its parent company, Lobbytools. But our coverage struggled for recognition even amid declining coverage by the other major Florida newspapers.

… I’m deeply troubled by the trends in journalism. They seem to be taking me far away from my soul as a daily newspaper guy doing regional and state journalism.

…I’m especially discouraged by the lack of coverage of local and regional environmental issues, except when a publication wants to parade out its big package as a scoop after years of ignoring the decisions that are made on a daily basis.

I’ve learned that unemployment is tough on the soul. And I’ve learned that bloggers don’t have the budget to really go cover the news. If they try to, their coverage is often scooped up, overshadowed or stolen anyway by one of the big newspapers.

But this is inside baseball. And I’m not going to let it stand in the way of a career that I’m proud of, and a beat that I consider to be crucial for journalists to cover in this time of growing population and depleting resources.

Five years ago, I filed my first story on within 10 hours of my layoff. Yesterday, I did the same within nine hours of getting the bad news again.

I plan to keep doing my job and to keep working through these feelings just as I did yesterday, and five years ago.

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GOP political consultant Pat Bainter has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the order by the Florida Supreme Court over the release of documents in the ongoing redistricting trial.

Florida’s high court ruled 5-2 late Tuesday that 538 pages of emails, maps and planning documents of Bainter and his Gainesville-based political consulting firm must be allowed into the record – but only if the courtroom is closed. The ruling came even before a written opinion had been completed by the First District Court of Appeal and Bainter claims the forced disclosure of what he considers “trade secrets” will have a chilling effect on his First Amendment rights.

On Wednesday, Bainter’s attorney appeared in trial court and asked that the testimony of Bainter and GOP political consultant Rich Heffley wait until next week to give the federal court time to rule. Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis said no. The Florida Supreme Court ordered the courtroom closed  when Bainter’s documents are entered onto the record.

“If it’s not relevant, it’s not admitted,” Lewis told attorney Kent Safriet. “…Your interest in not having it admitted is not the same as whether something is relevant or not. If somebody doesn’t object, then obviously the thing is relevant whether you think it’s relevant or your client thinks it’s relevant is not the issue.”

Safriet argued in a 31-page appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that disclosing the documents will violate Bainter’s First Amendment rights and force him to disclose trade secrets. The information he wants kept from disclosure includes “names, contact information, and internal deliberations” of Bainter and his team as well as their employees, clients, and “other like-minded individuals regarding the redistricting process.” Other documents include “data, analysis, and impressions crucial to [Data Targeting’s] business as political consultants” as well as “grassroots members” and insight into his direct mail capabilities.

He argued that disclosure would harm Bainter’s financial interests because competitors could “pick off” clients and cause irreparable harm. He also suggested that Bainter may not be able to answer “questions related to these privileged and confidential materials” and could therefore be held in contempt of court.

“Disclosure of the privileged and confidential documents at trial (regardless of whether the proceedings are temporarily sealed) would chill the Applicants’ ability (along with that of other concerned citizens) to organize and participate with others in an effort to petition their government generally, and participate in Florida’s decennial redistricting process specifically,” Safriet wrote in the emergency request.

TWEET, TWEET: @fineout: Hmm. So I wonder the last time Judge Terry Lewis had a case he was handling wind up before a SCOTUS judge.


The former House Speaker says he sanctioned a secret meeting between legislative employees and Republican operatives because he wanted the 2012 re-drawing of political boundaries to be above reproach.

… He was asked by plaintiff lawyer David King repeatedly about a December 2010 meeting between top House redistricting staffers like Alex Kelly – whom Cannon hired to oversee redistricting – House lawyer George Meros, and GOP operatives including Marc Reichelderfer, another Cannon associate tasked with consulting for GOP legislative campaigns.

“I thought it was appropriate to determine … the roles people inside and outside the process would play, because it was new and untested,” Cannon testified.

… The meeting at RPOF headquarters was for the purpose of deciding roles for all the partisan actors who had traditionally been involved in redistricting.

“The purpose was to figure out what this meant,” Cannon said. “I thought it was important that everybody knew what the rules were and how it would be carried out.”

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Gov. Scott can officially file for re-election next month while keeping his wealth in a blind trust because a judge won’t decide quickly on whether blind trusts are legal.

Circuit Judge John Cooper agreed with Scott’s administration that no emergency requires him to rule on the constitutionality of the blind trust law before June 16, when the week-long qualifying period begins that requires candidates to disclose their finances.

“This is not an emergency,” Assistant Attorney General Allen Winsor told the judge. “This is not a new statute. This is not a new issue.”

Cooper set oral arguments in the case for June 19.

Scott currently is the only elected official in Florida who has placed his assets in a blind trust, managed by a former business associate whose investment decisions are shielded from Scott to prevent conflicts of interest because he has stock in companies regulated by the state.

Scott formed his blind trust in 2011, with the approval of the Commission on Ethics, before the Legislature passed a 2013 law regulating blind trusts.


A warning to anyone who holds an event for a major candidate for Florida governor: There will be trackers, the video camera-wielding politico-paparazzi on the lookout for gaffes or drama.

And they’re always recording.

The Miami-Dade Justice Association’s president, attorney Andrew Moss, learned that the hard way when he smacked the smartphone camera out of the hand of a Republican tracker stalking Democrat Charlie Crist, who was speaking to his fellow trial lawyers at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove.

The Republican Party of Florida posted the video hours later on YouTube.

Moss said the tracker, whom he identified as Francisco Chamorro, lied about being an attorney. Chamorro couldn’t be reached. He arrived at the event’s sign-in desk with a Rick Scott campaign-affiliated attorney, who is not a member of the group. Moss told both to leave before Crist spoke.

Moss, who said he was acting independently of Crist, acknowledged he shouldn’t have hit the tracker’s smartphone – even though, he says, the man was trying to secretly record him.

Trackers follow Scott, too. During a Miami event, a citizen-activist who wouldn’t give his name shouted questions to the governor about climate change. A Scott campaign staffer tried to keep him away from the governor, but never touched his equipment. American Bridge, a nationwide Democratic group that tracks GOP candidates, shot video of Scott’s press gaggle as well.


Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, speaking to a Republican Club of the Palm Beaches lunch today, told GOP faithful that the stakes are high in this year’s race between Gov. Scott and Charlie Crist.

Florida, Putnam said, has bounced back from the economic meltdown of 2008 by embracing Republican policies of low taxes and less regulations.

“That culture is fragile,” Putnam warned.

“If we lose the governor’s mansion, we look more like Michigan and Ohio and New York than like Texas and the slide begins where we lose House and Senate and congressional seats. We can’t afford to do that. It’s all about the mansion,” Putnam said.

“Hillary Clinton wants a Democrat in the governor’s mansion so that the 2016 race is affected by having a top political leader on her team. She’s probably already blowing in Charlie’s ear about being her vice president, because apparently that works.”

As a Republican governor in 2008, Crist handed a key endorsement to John McCain before the Florida presidential primary and was later mentioned as a potential running mate.

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THE VENDOR-DRIVEN $77.1 BILLION BUDGET via Gary Fineout of the Fine Print

Gov. Scott has until June 4 to decide which items he plans to spare, and which spending items he plans to veto from the $77.1 billion budget that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed earlier this year.

Yes, there’s a lot that came with the new 2014-15 budget: More money for education, more money to hire additional child protection investigators, to start projects to help clean water pollution around the state. It’s no doubt that Scott will find a lot to praise when he signs it into law in the next few weeks.

There’s already been quite a bit of ink written about funding for a variety of hometown projects including money for a Miami observation tower, a Brevard County gun range, to money for a dog park for a upscale neighborhood located in Jacksonville. Senate budget chief Joe Negron and other legislators have been quite vocal about their constitutional right to appropriate money to these projects.

One business-backed group that makes an annual list of hometown projects that it says should be vetoed rolled out its own list late last week.

But that list barely had any mention that this year’s budget is a treasure-trove for private vendors and consultants.

Every year a great deal of state money is outsourced — whether to juvenile justice providers to information technology expenses to the vast array of health care providers who provide health care services as part of Florida’s Medicaid program.

But spread through the budget are orders from legislators to hire outside companies to do everything from drawing up a data security plan, conducting a study on whether to upgrade the statewide law enforcement radio system, and a study to look at splitting up the joint engineering college run by Florida A&M University and Florida State University.

THE POLITICS OF BUDGET VETOES via Jim Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

Gov. Scott is walking a political tightrope as he considers what to approve and what to cut in the $77.1 billion state budget passed by lawmakers earlier this month.

Scott is running for re-election in November. If he uses his red pen too much, he risks alienating a broad spectrum of voters who could benefit from millions in various projects and programs.

Not enough, and he could anger his cost-cutting conservative base.

This year, the budget is chock full of projects benefiting the Tampa Bay region.

It’s an area that Scott has been courting politically: He visited eight times from December to April to make spending and policy announcements.

Complicating matters, about a third of this year’s budget “turkeys,” according to a taxpayer watchdog, are slated for the bay area, including the Port of Tampa Bay’s $12 million gantry crane project.

Scott’s deadline to act on the budget is next Wednesday.

Greater Tampa Bay area projects also include $3.5 million for the Hernando County Nature Coast Education Plaza, $2 million for the All Children’s Hospital/Johns Hopkins Pediatric Research Zone in St. Petersburg and $1.15 million in funding for the Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing Skills Initiative.

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Miami officials joined All Aboard Florida executives to reveal designs for All Aboard Florida’s new multimodal hub in Miami.

The hub, which was planned and designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, encompasses about 3 million square feet and would span two sites: a nine-acre building in downtown Miami just east of Miami-Dade County Hall and a two-acre site in Overtown.

The downtown Miami site would include residential, office, commercial and retail space. It would also connect All Aboard Florida’s passenger and Miami’s current public transportation systems.

The Overtown site would have retail, commercial and parking space.

All Aboard Florida is a planned passenger rail service that would connect Miami and Orlando with stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

In Miami, the passenger rail system will be elevated 50 feet to align with existing public transportation systems, with retail spaces beneath the tracks, to allow streets to remain open to traffic.


I mean, who calls a limousine to a supposedly covert meeting?

Who utters sentences like: “Are you telling the vice chairman no?”

One of the key scenes detailed in the report takes place at a beer bar in Baldwin Park, where investigators say Batterson, the indicted former vice-chairman, tried to arrange a quid pro quo.

Not some hip, sleek ultra lounge, mind you. Or some out-of-the-way dive. A high-traffic beer bar named CaddyShanks where yuppie Baldwin Parkers walk by with their labradoodles to see and be seen.

Key attractions at CaddyShanks include trivia, virtual golf and Five Guys burgers that can be ordered and delivered from across the street. The bar’s about four blocks from Batterson’s house.

According to investigators, Batterson summoned an engineering-firm exec to the bar and dangled a multimillion-dollar contract before him — though Batterson also stressed he wanted some of his friends to get in on the action.

“Did you feel it was a quid pro quo?” the investigator asked the CH2M Hill vice-president Mark Callahan.

“Yes,” replied Callahan.

But Batterson wasn’t alone at the bar that night. In this political thriller, there were cameos aplenty.

State Rep. Jason Brodeur and former Rep. Chris Dorworth were there — and departed in a limousine … from the Baldwin Park beer bar, mind you.

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Republican State Sen. Jeff Brandes is asking friends and supporters to join him Thursday night for a “Brews with Brandes” event in St. Petersburg’s Edge District.

The party — billed as a “relaxing evening” with the senator, along with former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker as special guest— will begin 5:30 p.m. at the Green Bench Brewing Company.

Green Bench is at 1133 Baum Ave., St. Petersburg. It is one of hottest craft breweries, located in the city’s emerging Edge District, between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street to 16th Street, along Central Avenue and First Avenues north and south.


Rep. Renuart is holding a Tallahassee fundraiser today for his re-election effort in House District 17.

The reception begins 11 a.m. at the offices of the Florida Retail Federation, 227 South Adams Street in Tallahassee. HD 17 covers parts of St. John’s County, including the city of St. Augustine.

Renuart faces Rebecca Sharp, who is running with no party affiliation.

RSVPs are with Heather Manso at (954) 461-7201, or also by emailing


State Representative Peters is holding a South Pasadena tonight for her House District 69 re-election effort.

The event begins 6 p.m. at the home of attorneys Charles and Kathryn Scott, 7004 South Shore Drive South

St. Petersburg-based Central Imaging Open MRI will sponsor the meet and greet reception. Live music will be provided by the group Forecast, featuring Stacey Knights.

Peters faces Democratic attorney Scott Orsini and Randy Taylor of the Libertarian Party of Florida.

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APPOINTED: Dorene McShea to the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees.


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NEW ON THE TWITTERS: @BallardFirm, the handle for lobbying shop Ballard Partners.

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CAN ANDREW SULLIVAN RE-CONQUER WASHINGTON? via Sophie Gilbert of the Washingtonian

For almost a quarter of a century, or most of his career, one pundit or another called Andrew Sullivan the future of journalism. Twenty-three years ago, when he was appointed editor of the New Republic at age 28 — a Brit, no less — the Washington Post noted that “there’s a heap of future in Sullivan’s life, and not much past.” In 2009, after more than a week in which his blog curated the best global coverage of the Iranian “green revolution” pretty much nonstop, the Week magazine declared, “The future belongs to Andrew Sullivan.”

Two years later, Tina Brown acquired Sullivan’s blog for the Daily Beast and extolled his “trailblazing journalism,” writing: “Andrew almost single-handedly defined the political blog and has been refining it as a form of journalism in real time nearly every day for the past decade.”

Sullivan is 50 now. After an openly miserable 18 months in New York that began while he was at the Beast, he’s back in Washington permanently—and thinking hard about the present.

The weight of the attention that was lavished on Sullivan’s future is ironic, mostly because 20 years ago he didn’t think he had one. In 1994, he bought a home in Provincetown, a gay haven on Cape Cod, so he’d have a place to go and die. The year before, he’d been diagnosed as HIV-positive and had seen his best friend and a number of acquaintances succumb to AIDS. He wrote a book, Virtually Normal, assuming he wouldn’t survive to see it published. But he did, and then he wrote another, Love Undetectable, in which he analyzed his own HIV status along with the fact that he might survive after all.

It didn’t matter that Sullivan wasn’t so focused on where his own life was headed. Because all that time he was pretty good at predicting what was to come for everyone else. In the ’80s, he started raging on behalf of marriage equality, writing a 1989 New Republic cover story advocating for gay marriage that was more than two decades ahead of its time. Beginning in the ’90s, he fought an immigration policy that barred HIV-positive aliens from traveling to or taking up residency in the US. In 2010, the ban was lifted.

Then there was his innovative medium. Sullivan basically created the political blog, spawning a new ADD-style, exhibitionist way of life on the Internet and a generation of journalists who aspired to his cult of personality. He took his brand, the Daily Dish (now just the Dish after a Daily Beast-mandated name change), from one marquee news outlet to another before trailblazing all over again last year, when he departed the Beast and launched his own site.

And so, 20 years after his death seemed imminent, the only question to ask about Andrew Sullivan’s future at present may be: What now?


On Context Florida: “Sea change” may be at hand at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the second largest bureaucracy in the country, says Rick Outzen.  On May 24, the VA announced it would allow more veterans to get health care outside its facilities, something the bureaucracy had resisted for years. As someone who drew and submitted Congressional district maps, some of which were accepted by the Legislature, Fort Walton Beach Tea Party founder Henry Kelley is “bemused” by the efforts to focus on the politics surrounding the creation of the maps, but not on the actual results. Florida has an excellent balance of both private and public institutions working in the service for the people of Florida, writes Ed Moore. Unfortunately, graduates today face fewer opportunities for employment than there used to be. Rebekah McCloud recently lost a friend she talked to every day and traveled with to 40 states, two U.S. territories and two countries. As her death was sudden and so unexpected, it made McCloud contemplate getting her own “papers” in order.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to a great guy, Scott Ross. Also deserving of a belated shout-out are state House candidate Richard DeNapoli and lobbyist Clark Smith. Celebrating today is my dear friend, Helen Levine.

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.