Sunburn for 5/7 – 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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BILL NELSON ‘WENT BACK AND FORTH’ ON GOV RUN, SAYS SENATOR WHO LOBBIED HIM TO STAY via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Nelson isn’t on the ballot in November, but the stakes are higher than his cakewalk 2012 re-election campaign: If Republicans take Senate control — a distinct possibility — Nelson will be denied a chance to chair the Commerce Committee.

“I think he’d do very well,” retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the current chair, said in an interview at the Capitol.

“I was afraid he was going to run for governor,” Rockefeller said. “He went back and forth.” Rockefeller said that Nelson considered challenging Gov. Rick Scott. “We talked a lot. And I was always lobbying him to stay here.”

Asked what Nelson’s argument for a gubernatorial bid was, he said: “Because he could be” governor.

“Crist is no gem,” Rockefeller added.

Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, has been incredibly difficult to nail down on his plans. He remembered the conversation a bit differently.

Rockefeller “wanted me to stay,” he said, “to take over the chairmanship. He’s been very gracious.”

CRIST PLAYS THE RACE CARD (AGAIN): SOME IN GOP BASH OBAMA DUE TO RACE via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Charlie Crist is playing the race card. Again.

In an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, the Democratic candidate for governor said a “big reason” he left the GOP was that he felt increasingly uncomfortable that the party opposed President Obama due to his race.

“I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president. I’ll just go there,” Crist said. “I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing. It was intolerable to me.”

Ramos said Crist left the GOP to run as an independent because he was losing the 2010 Senate Republican primary to Marco Rubio. But Crist denied it.

Crist has made race an on-again and off-again theme as he campaigns for his old job.

Black voters are particularly important to Crist. They comprise 28 percent of the 4.1 million active registered Democrats, and he still has to beat former state Sen. Nan Rich in a party primary before facing Gov. Scott.

In a general election, black voters are key for Democrats. Along with Hispanics, African-American voters have disproportionately stayed home during midterm elections, allowing more Republican-leaning white voters to dominate and elect GOP office holders. Black and Hispanic voters each account for about 14 percent of all active registered voters.

SCOTT CAMPAIGN UP WITH NEW SPANISH LANGUAGE AD THAT SAYS CRIST ‘LEFT US’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

The latest ad from the Gov. Scott campaign is a Spanish-language attack on Crist. The ad (it ran in English already) says Crist “abandoned” Florida to run for U.S. Senate. “He left us” is part of a $500,000 TV and on-line buy that will run in the Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando, and Miami markets, according to a release.

SIGNING STADIUM-SUBSIDY BILL POSES RISKS FOR SCOTT Full blog post here

One of the most closely watched issues of the 2014 legislative session was how to best streamline the process to allocate tax dollars to professional sports facilities.

HB 7095 was passed by the Legislature and allows money to be available annually for the major sports leagues, along with Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League, NASCAR, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, hosts of the Breeders’ Cup horse races and minor-league baseball facilities.

… Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email that the governor “looks forward to signing this legislation.”

… But by signing this legislation, does Gov.  Scott (further) risk alienating his Republican and Tea Party base?

Last year, one of the state’s major business organization polled the political ramifications of government money going to professional sports facilities — the numbers were not on the side of the Bucs, Dolphins, Jaguars and Co.

Asked whether they support “the use of public tax dollars for professional sport facilities, because it helps bring jobs to our communities,” only 41 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed. Fifty-six percent strongly or somewhat disagreed.

Going inside the crosstabs of this poll, it’s clear that conservatives/Republicans have an issue with subsidizing sports facilities. Only 38 percent of this demographic agreed that government dollars should be doled out to pro sports teams.

Despite these sentiments — of which I am confident Gov. Scott’s administration is aware — the stadium-subsidy bill is on its way to becoming law.

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EMAIL INSIGHTS: FLORIDA FOREVER TIRED OF THE SHORT END OF LEGISLATIVE BUDGET STICK

Florida Forever is tired of dealing with progressively stingy lawmakers — especially as the state faces a budget surplus.

Dismayed by the mostly low funding for the popular land conservation program, the environmental activists issued an email to supporters bemoaning the frugality of Tallahassee this year.

For example, while the Everglades came out ahead in the session, Florida Forever’s land conservation funding declined once again — down by 96 percent since 2009 to a meager $17.5 million.

As the state’s economy turns around, the email says, Florida’s commitment to protecting water resources, coastline and wildlife habitat remains fall far short of the levels truly needed.

Florida Forever funds this year as meant for water resource and military base buffering priorities, instead of the broader priorities set forth in the Florida Forever statute. Ten million dollars comes from new funds, along with $7.5 million in trust fund reallocation and interest on existing Florida Forever funds.

This leaves no money to meet the rest of Florida Forever’s agenda, such as urban parks and trails and wildlife management areas.

Faced with another budget disappointment in 2014, Florida Forever wants all citizens to understand the importance of resource protection, through a vote for Amendment 1 in November.

MATT GAETZ HOPES MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAW WILL COOL PUBLIC’S ARDOR FOR LEGAL POT via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News

Gaetz hopes passage of a bill legalizing use of non-euphoric cannabis for treatment of a multitude of adult and childhood diseases will stem the public’s apparent craving for medical marijuana.

“I hope passage of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act shows people we’ve done the responsible thing and that legalizing euphoric marijuana for functionally recreational purposes would be unnecessary and undesirable,” he said.

A Senate bill sought legalization of the CBD strain of marijuana for use with children suffering debilitating seizures from diseases like epilepsy, as it had been shown to be a successful treatment.

When it passed by a wide margin and arrived in the House, Gaetz amended the bill to include legalization for treatment to include adults with cancers, Parkinson’s disease, ALS and MLS.

That bill also passed and is expected to be signed by the governor.

What remains to be seen is whether what the Legislature has done will tarnish the enthusiasm for a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would legalize medical marijuana.

Amendment 2 will come before voters in November.

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FEDERAL JUDGE UPHOLDS STATE’S MERIT PAY LAW via Gary Fineout of the Miami Herald

A federal judge acknowledged that Florida’s contentious teacher evaluation law is unfair, but he still ruled that there was no legal reason to overturn it.

Seven teachers from three counties as well as several teacher unions contended that the 2011 law tying teacher evaluations and pay to standardized testing was unconstitutional.

But U.S District Judge Mark Walker, in an 18-page ruling, upheld the law and dismissed the lawsuit. He said he agreed with the teachers and unions that the law was unfair because teachers who did not teach the primary subjects tested on standardized tests had their evaluations based on test results anyway.

Legislators in 2011 passed the law that tied teacher evaluations and merit pay to the state’s standardized tests. Former Gov. Crist had vetoed the law the year before but Gov. Scott approved it. Since that time, there have been legal challenges mounted in both state and federal courts.

Seven teachers from Alachua, Escambia and Hernando counties along with the Florida Education Association and the National Education Associated filed a lawsuit last year in a Gainesville federal court.

MIAMI-DADE MAYOR ASKS DAVID BECKHAM TO CONSIDER NEW SOCCER STADIUM SITE

The mayor of Miami-Dade County has asked David Beckham and his investors to consider a new site for their proposed soccer stadium.

The Miami Herald reports Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent a letter late Monday to Beckham’s real estate adviser asking the group to consider filling a massive boat slip downtown between Museum Park and AmericanAirlines Arena.

Beckham’s team has been pushing to build their Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami. But the plan has provoked considerable backlash. An alliance led by Royal Caribbean Cruises says a stadium there would adversely affect cruise and cargo operations at the port.

Gimenez told the Miami Herald that PortMiami is still a possibility, as are other sites.

In a statement, Miami Beckham United said it would examine the feasibility of filling the slip.

NORTHROP GRUMMAN IS ‘MYSTERY’ PROJECT MAGELLAN COMPANY via Dave Berman and Wayne Price of Florida Today

State and local officials are expected to announce that Northrop Grumman Corp. is the company behind “Project Magellan,” which has been billed as one of the Space Coast’s biggest economic development projects ever.

The identity of the company has been kept confidential. But multiple sources with direct knowledge of the project have told Florida Today that Northrop Grumman is the company behind the project that could bring 1,800 jobs to Melbourne International Airport paying an average of $100,000 a year. The project also involves a $500 million capital investment.

Based on a combination of jobs and the payroll figures, this represents the nation’s largest economic development project in the last five years, local economic development officials have said.

Two key elements of the package that attracted Northrop Grumman to Melbourne involved state entities.

The project would be exempt from county, city and school taxes, as part of an agreement with Space Florida. This could be valued at more than $9 million a year, based on tax payments and savings related to another large project at Melbourne International Airport. The tax exemption could extend for 50 years.

The Florida Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved $20.8 million in state money through the state’s “Quick Action Closing Fund.”

The first phase of Project Magellan calls for the construction of a 216,000-square-foot building and creation of 300 jobs by the end of 2015. The second phase involves construction of a 500,000-square-foot building and 1,500 additional jobs by 2019, “if the company is successful in obtaining the desired business objectives.”

STAFF RECOMMENDS CABINET APPROVAL OF 2 TURKEY POINT NUCLEAR REACTORS

Staff members for both Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet are advising for the approval of Florida Power & Light’s proposal to build two nuclear reactors at Turkey Point in Miami-Dade County.

Among the recommendations is the approval of corridors for the lines, construction of support buildings and related electrical transmission lines.

On May 13, the recommendations go before Gov. Scott and the Cabinet, who will act as the power-plant siting board when they vote on the plan.

In December, Administrative Judge D.R. Alexander handed out an endorsement for Gov. Scott and the Cabinet to approve “certification” for the Turkey Point complex, with the construction and operation of the two 1,100-megawatt nuclear reactors.

Cabinet approval is the next step of an extended process — including gaining federal approval — that will lead up to FPL construction of the reactors. Once FPL gets the OK to build the reactors, it could be as long as a decade before the reactors will produce electricity.

WELLCARE REPORTS HIGHER PROFITS; PREDICTS MEDICAID GROWTH IN FLORIDA

On Tuesday, WellCare Health Plans reported rising profits during the first quarter of 2014, with additional growth under the new Florida Medicaid managed-care system.

The Tampa-based healthcare chain reported $44.1 million in net income during the first quarter, or $1 per diluted share, as opposed to $21.5 million, or $0.49 per diluted share, at the same period in 2013.

When adjusted, WellCare’s reported net income is $49.7 million, or $1.13 per diluted share, as compared $27.5 million, or $0.63 per diluted share, at the same point in 2013.

According to a news release issued Tuesday, WellCare said it expect to serve at least 500,000 Floridians by the end of the year, as the state proceeds with the Medicaid managed-care system.

The shift to managed-care system started across North Florida and parts of Central Florida on Thursday.

WellCare said it services 185,000 people in those regions, an additional 107,000 people from the time the new system took effect.

Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled in managed-care plans in the past, but now Florida requires enrollment for nearly all beneficiaries statewide.

WHERE DOES FLORIDA RANK ON LIST OF BEST STATES FOR WORKING MOMS? via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel

Florida earned a rank of 19th — not bad, but certainly not tops — on a new list of “best & worst states for working moms” released this week.

The list ranks Oregon as the best place for working mothers, and Louisiana as the very worst. Florida was in the top half with its 19th place ranking, according to the list by WalletHub, a “personal financial social network.”

The site ranked the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. based on nine “metrics,” including child care costs and quality, the gender pay gap and family leave policies.

Florida was ranked 5th best on the gender-gap rating, meaning its gap between men’s pay and women’s was smaller than that in most states.

But the Sunshine State had a poorer rating in the child-care and “work life balance” categories, pushing its overall rating down, WalletHub said.

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10 MAPS THAT EXPLAIN THE 2014 MIDTERMS via Kyle Kondik of Politico Magazine

What the Democrats wouldn’t give to swap this year’s Senate map for the one coming up in 2016. This year’s Senate class, filled with Democratic incumbents in hostile territory, would be difficult to defend any year—it’s especially so when there’s an unpopular Democratic president in the White House. But the next Senate map, coming in 2016, is filled with Democratic targets and Republican vulnerabilities. Simply switch them—leaving all else the same—and the 2014 midterm takes on a completely different character.

That’s obviously impossible, but it does get at an essential truth of American politics: For all the plaudits heaped on the winners and derision dumped on the losers after an election, structural factors controlled by neither side dictate the results to a significant degree. Big gains one year lead to big losses another; races won in certain environments would be defeats in others. Due to the mix of seats up for election this year, just 2 million voters across six states—0.6 percent of the U.S. population—could end up deciding the fate of the Senate.

What follows is an attempt to illustrate the structure of the current state of American congressional politics through a series of maps, some explaining the Senate, some explaining the House and some explaining where certain key races will be won and lost.

SPOTTED: Rep. Steve Southerland on Roll Call’s list of the 10 Most Vulnerable House Incumbents here

U.S. REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN ENDORSES REPUBLICAN CARLOS CURBELO IN CD 26 Full blog post here

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has endorsed Republican Carlos Curbelo in the race for Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District, which covers Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, and served as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee until 2013. She announced her endorsement of Curbelo on CBS4’s Sunday morning political talker Facing South Florida.

“Carlos represents a new generation of leaders in South Florida,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “His work on the School Board to make government more accountable to the people and dedication to our community are the marks of a true public servant. I know he will work diligently in Congress for lower taxes, fewer regulations, and a stronger economy.”

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CHECK OUT THIS COOL INFORGRAPHIC FROM HD 40 CANDIDATE JOHN SHANNON Full blog post here

Lakeland trial attorney John Hugh Shannon announced strong numbers in his effort for the open House District 40 seat.

“A Thousand Words” is an infographic released by Shannon’s campaign on Tuesday that shows the Republican qualified by petition, with 1043 signatures submitted, collected by knocking on about 2,900 doors in the district covering much of Polk County. The required number of signatures is just over 900.

In addition to his petition success, Shannon also raised $57,000 in the two months since announcing his candidacy, 70 percent of which came from donors inside HD 40.

Shannon is running to succeed term-limited Rep. Seth McKeel. He faces Colleen Burton in the GOP primary, and the winner will go up against American Independent Party candidate Franklin Shoemaker.

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: BILLS & BUDGETS, IDEOLOGY, DEATH PENALTY AND 3D SEISMIC SURVEYING

On Context Florida: Bills and budgets establish the records on which members of the Legislature run for re-election, says Bob Sparks, and Republican leadership prioritized passing HB 851, the bill granting in-state tuition for undocumented students. Who among Florida’s Congressional Democrats will break with their party leadership and get something done to save Medicare? Whoever limited the length of the Florida legislative session did so wisely, writes Andrew Skerritt. Humans have been imposing the death penalty for centuries, but Steve Kurlander points out that human mores have evolved. But in this quest to reduce the “cruel and inhuman” nature of the death penalty, he adds, society also reduces the pain, loss of freedom, and even loss of life that some say should be imposed for the kind of violence the unrepentant Clayton Lockett committed. Our country’s Atlantic Coast, including parts of Florida’s Atlantic coast, might have billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas available to lead America toward energy independence from unstable countries. That is why Nicolas Gutierrez calls for the federal government to approve conducting 3D seismic surveying in the Mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

LISTEN TO Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times discussing Florida politics, from an unusual governor’s race in 2014 to two favorite sons possibly making White House bids in 2016. Podcast here.

ONLY 7 PERCENT OF JOURNALISTS ARE REPUBLICANS via Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post

More reporters are unaffiliated than in previous decades, but there are still four times as many Democrats as Republicans in the media. 

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my friend, Rep. Matt Gaetz.

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.