Sunburn for 6/24 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the state’s dominant public affairs PR firm: Today is Chuck Taylor’s birthday! The former basketball player helped make a name for Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-Stars – the most successful selling basketball shoe in history.


The 21 groups at the core of the Democracy Alliance’s portfolio intend to spend $374 million during the midterm election cycle … to boost liberal candidates and causes in 2014 and beyond, according to internal documents obtained by POLITICO. While growing sums of that cash are being spent vilifying … Charles and David Koch over their own network’s political spending, the documents reveal the extent to which the Democracy Alliance network mirrors the Kochs’ – and is obsessed with it.

Conservatives, particularly the Koch Brothers, are playing for keeps with an even more pronounced financial advantage than in recent election cycles, reads the introduction to a 62-page briefing book provided to donors ahead of April’s annual spring meeting of the DA, as the club is known, at Chicago’s … Ritz Carlton hotel. The briefing book reveals a sort of DA-funded extra-party political machine that includes sophisticated voter databases and plans to mobilize pivotal Democratic voting blocs, air ads boosting Democratic candidates, while also – perhaps ironically – working to reduce the influence of money in politics.

It makes public for the first time details of the complete organizational flow-chart of the big-money left, including up-to-date budget figures and forecasts, program goals and performance assessments for the 21 core DA groups, including the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, America Votes and the Obama-linked Organizing for Action. It also includes a “Progressive Infrastructure Map,” with 172 other groups to which the DA recommends that its rich liberal members – including billionaire financier George Soros and Houston trial lawyers Amber and Steve Mostyn – donate.

“DA board members were warned before the meeting in Chicago that the press might stake out the meeting and were given a list of about 20 journalists – including photos – to watch out for. POLITICO obtained the list, which included four of its own journalists, including this reporter, as well as Jennifer Haberkorn, Tarini Parti and Byron Tau. Others identified included Huffington Post Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim, a trio of Chicago newspaper scribes, and 11 reporters from the conservative Washington Free Beacon (two of whom made the trip to the Ritz Carlton).”

JEB BUSH NOT POLLING WELL IN IOWA via Mitch Perry of Creative Loafing Tampa

We’re more than a year and a half away from the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, but of course that won’t stop political reporters from writing stories about that first-in-the-nation exercise in presidential politics. So with that qualifier out of the way, the most conclusive news coming out of a new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa voters released this morning is that they’re not so keen on Jeb Bush as a potential 2016 nominee.

Bush trails Hillary Clinton in a potential one-on-one matchup by 13 percentage points, 49-36 percent. But the bigger news is that among the five Republicans listed in terms of their favorability rankings, Bush comes dead last, with a negative 28-36 split. Amongst independents in Iowa, his ranking is also underwater at 22-35 percent.

Bush’s reputation among conservatives has certainly taken a hit in 2014 for his unflinching support for the national educational standards known as Common Core. That education initiative has proven so toxic among the conservative wing of the GOP (and among some liberals) that GOP governors in South Carolina, Louisiana and Oklahoma have dropped the standards altogether, while Bush has doubled down in embracing it.

But his support of Common Core doesn’t explain why independents are so down on the former governor, who hasn’t served in office going on 12 years now.


Well, at least it is in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. A special election is being conducted to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned from his Southwest Florida congressional seat after being arrested on a cocaine-possession charge.

Republican Curt Clawson won a GOP primary in April and faces Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood in CD 19, which includes Collier and Lee counties.

EPILOGUE FROM CD 13 via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Here’s a number worth putting on record: $14 million.

That’s how much money was spent in the Congressional District 13 showdown between Alex Sink and David Jolly. The tally comes from theSunlight Foundation and breaks down like this:

– Total candidate spending: $5,345,591
– Total outside spending: $8,909,487

Some of that includes minor candidates but by and large it was for/against Sink and Jolly. Most notable is the nearly $9 million in outside spending, showing how little control candidates have over their message.

In all, 184,063 Pinellas County residents voted. For each vote, $76 was spent.

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Late Monday, Greg Blair, a spokesman for the Rick Scott campaign, titled his email, “Response to Charlie Crist Campaign Event.”

“Florida’s government has over 150,000 employees – and, in a system that large, there are always bound to be employee conflicts,” Blair wrote.

“But in typical trial lawyer fashion, Charlie Crist and his campaign are doing what they’re good at – using lawsuits for partisan political purposes.”


“It’s not shocking that the Rick Scott administration cover-up would continue, despite an independent agency and a jury siding with the whistleblower. However, it seems very inappropriate for the Rick Scott administration to be directing state whistleblower lawsuit questions to his political campaign. Doing so only reinforces that this is a top down corporate coverup culture built by Rick Scott.” –Keisha Rice, attorney for Parcell

It happened this way once before — a whistleblower, a liability pushing two billion. And Rick Scott was pushed out.

We are still learning details, but on the surface this new whistleblowing case seems really, really bad.

A lone whistleblower noticed that about 97 people were inadvertently sent to the wrong collections agency. It turned out to be about 19,000.

That means that Rick Scott’s administration likely made it harder for these Floridians to keep a car, house, or education loans during the great recession.

When the error was noticed by the whistleblower, it wasn’t the employee who was not abiding by checks and balances that was let go. It was the whistleblower.

But not before some of the same people that recently massively messed up the Connect Florida unemployment portal attempted to cover it up and make the whistleblower the rogue employee.

Just like the website, there are a lot of directions to point for fault. It wasn’t Rick Scott who pushed the buttons, but it seems more than likely it was his culture that kept it hidden and worse.

And it’s telling that when one Floridian took action and demanded $100,000, the state quickly settled. Let’s do the math. Rick Scott’s private sector fraud cost $1.7 billion. And his public section mismanagement may cost $1.9 billion. Add that to his high speed rail and Medicaid tab, please.

It’s a big, big, deal.

You do remember what happened last time? The people on the board pushed Rick Scott out.

Let’s see if the people of Florida do the same.

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It was a simple question, but as is often the case with Gov. Scott, there was no simple answer.

Three times in recent days, Scott has been asked about Amendment 1 on the November ballot. Three times, Scott danced around it in an abdication of leadership.

Amendment 1 would set aside one-third of an existing tax source for 20 years to protect land and water. The money, about $600 million next year and up to $10 billion over 20 years, would come from doc stamp taxes on property sales. State economists say it won’t raise taxes.

Supporters include the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Trust for Public Lands and 1000 Friends of Florida.

Opponents include Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, who say it’s bad policy to remove budgeting authority from lawmakers and to lock programs into the state Constitution.

If you think Florida should do more to protect land and water, you’ll vote yes on Amendment 1. (Passage requires a 60 percent majority.)

Scott …  long ago came out against Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana, saying he’ll vote no out of concern that drug use can hurt families. Whether you agree with Scott, at least he’s taking a stand — as a governor should.

But when it comes to setting aside money for land and water, Scott is his bobbing and weaving self.


Gov. Scott signed into law a sweeping overhaul of Florida’s long-troubled child welfare agency, discarding a decade-old policy that gave priority to the rights of parents — even as hundreds of infants and toddlers died preventable deaths.

The measure, which passed through the Florida Legislature unanimously in May, contains major changes to virtually every facet of Florida child welfare policy, and is designed to stanch what had become an epidemic of child deaths, particularly among very young children. The new law was written in response to a series of stories in the Miami Herald, called Innocents Lost, which detailed the deaths of 477 children whose families had been known to the state.

In a prepared statement, Gov. Rick Scott said the measure will strengthen the state’s safety net for children, and increase spending “to protect children from abuse and neglect.”

Among other things, the new law created a new assistant secretary for child welfare at the Department of Children & Families, develops a “Critical Incident Rapid Response Team” to hasten the investigation of child deaths among families known to DCF, and overhauls the state’s use of so-called “safety plans” that often were no more than unenforceable promises.

The law also “codifies that the foremost goal of the department is to protect the best interest of children,” Scott said


The Republican Party of Florida is asking television stations to take down a Florida Democratic Party ad that contains “false, misleading and defamatory information.”

In a retread from the 2010 campaign, state Democrats are hitting Gov. Scott for taking the Fifth Amendment 75 times during a deposition.

The ad, though, uses news clips to imply Scott was taking the fifth in a case related to a federal Medicare fraud investigation aimed at his former company, Columbia/HCA hospitals chain.

Scott did plead the fifth 75 times, but in a separate case involving the Nevada Communications Corp., which alleged that a contract between the company and Columbia/HCA was breached.

“As you know, your station’s obligation to serve the public interest requires you to decline to air false and misleading advertising,” read the RPOF letter, written by Jason Torchinsky, a party attorney.

It’s certainly a detail not lost on state Democrats. The party likely just decided that the trustworthiness-related hit was worth the risk.


These days, the Florida Democratic Party is manufacturing jollies by jabbing Gov. Scott’s extensive use of the Fifth during a 2000 deposition. Here’s the deal: Democrats want you to believe his evasions were linked to a federal investigation of Medicare fraud by Columbia/HCA, the healthcare provider he used to run.

In a willfully misleading TV commercial that airs incessantly, including, no doubt, during reruns of various “Law & Order” spin-offs, FDP puts Scott’s invocation of the Fifth at 75, a figure not worth disputing.

The total could be 75 times 75, and it would make absolutely no difference, because the deposition in question was part of a breach of contract civil lawsuit that had nothing to do with the feds’ pursuit of Columbia/HCA.

Saying the ad contains “false, misleading and defamatory information,” the Republican Party of Florida has demanded TV stations stop airing it. A letter from RPOF attorney Jason Torchinsky said, in part, “As you know, your station’s obligation to serve the public interest requires you to decline to air false and misleading advertising.”

Again, Scott was never charged in the Columbia/HCA scandal, and was never, in fact, interviewed by the feds. Karp’s central allegation, then — Scott used the deposition to dodge questions about Medicare fraud — is a lie. Flat-out. Plain and simple. The only reasonable conclusion, then, is Democrats are willing to twist, shade, manipulate, camouflage and otherwise sculpt the truth to benefit their desired ends.

Which — OK, sure — makes them a political party. But whatever else it is, politics shouldn’t the art of seeing what you can get away with (like accusing a presidential candidate of giving your wife cancer). In the case of Rick Scott and the Fifth Amendment, FDP’s blatant matching of a subject with an unrelated predicate goes too far.

DEM REAX: “This is a laughable and canned campaign tactic. Rick Scott pled the fifth 75 times, period. Rick Scott knows it. The RPOF knows it. But rather than answer the questions surrounding the largest case of Medicare fraud in our nation’s history, Rick Scott once again tries to avoid the questions and hide behind this bogus letter. After all, he’s cut special deals with campaign donors and spent his entire time as governor while refusing to release the transcripts of his depositions. If Rick Scott wants to give Floridians the truth, he should stop pleading the fifth about his own sordid legal past.” — Josh Karp, Florida Democratic Party

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Crist, who capped his change of heart over the Cuban embargo with the news last month that he would visit the Communist nation this summer, will not go there after all, his campaign said.

“If at some point after the election there is an opportunity to travel there to learn from the people of Cuba and help find opportunities for Florida businesses, the governor will go,” Crist spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said.

The statement did not explain why Crist changed his mind and the campaign would not answer questions.

… Crist appeared in February on the HBO political show “Real Time with Bill Maher” and declared he opposes the embargo. … That position hasn’t changed, Gilfillan said.


The Florida Police Benevolent Association has endorsed Charlie Crist in the Florida governor’s race, but is backing incumbent Republicans for the state’s three Cabinet seats — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The PBA is a police union with about 24,000 active law officers as members that provides legal representation as well as collective bargaining.

The endorsements were made by the organization’s governing board, which consists of representatives from each of its 16 chapters, said Executive Director Matt Puckett.

The votes on all the endorsements were unanimous, he said.

Puckett said Crist and Nan Rich appeared for the screenings, but Gov. Scott did not. He said Scott’s campaign told the group he had a schedule conflict. Under the group’s bylaws, that made Scott ineligible for the endorsement.

Democratic opponents of some of the Cabinet incumbents, including Attorney General candidates George Sheldon and Perry Thurston, appeared for interviews, he said.


A shadowy political group called “Progressive Choice PAC” is airing a racially tinged ad on black radio stations in Orlando accusing Crist of siding with the gun lobby and imposing sentencing and drug policies that disproportionately impact African-Americans.

“The punishment fits the crime. It’s enshrined in our Constitution — the essence of American Justice, unless you live in Florida and happen to be black,” the radio spot opens.

“Under Gov . Charlie Crist, the NRA called the shots in Tallahassee, giving Crist big money and an ‘A’ rating, stopping even the most sensible gun control bills, allowing weapons to flow into our cities, even permitting concealed guns at work.

“But while Crist was coddling the gun lobby, he was cracking down on us — passing maximum sentencing laws, signing the nation’s harshest marijuana laws, and enacting the country’s strictest penalties against non-violent offenders, many of whom just happen to be black.”

Crist did embrace the NRA agenda when he was a Republican governor, reveling in his nickname “Chain-Gang Charlie” during his 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Florida also enacted stricter sentencing laws for non-violent offenders under his watch.

But the ad goes on to say that “It’s time Charlie Crist answer to Floridians for his record, for a lost generation of African-Americans and for trampling on the ideal that the punishment fit the crime.”

That claim — causing “a lost generation” of blacks — has many Democrats fuming. The Crist campaign responded by calling the radio spot “a new low for Rick Scott and his special interest donors.”


The Editorial Board asked this almost two months ago and asks again after Herald writer Kathleen McGrory’s June 22 front-page story on Democrat Nan Rich’s grassroots quest to get traction in the race for the governor’s mansion.

Rich is an accomplished former state senator from Weston and a true-blue Democrat. She’s also the underdog, the long shot. But for some reason, Crist, a newly minted Democrat who’s running hard to regain his job as governor, is also running the other direction when it comes to stepping up and debating Nan Rich for all the world to see.

As the presumptive Democratic nominee — a phrase that seems to ratify the primary outcome before voters have a say — Crist has been straining at the reins to have a go at the Republican incumbent. But he has barely acknowledged Rich’s presence in the primary race. She has a tiny fraction of the campaign money that the former governor has raised. She hasn’t cracked $400,000 in funding, while Crist has almost $12 million.

As a politician, however, Crist has a lot for which he has to answer — and Rich, no doubt, would have a long list of questions for the former governor. Many Democrats still look askance at Crist’s late arrival to the party — that is, the Democratic Party. Was it a sincere move by a long-time Republican once known at “Chain-Gang Charlie” in his tough-on-crime days in the Legislature, or an opportunistic shift after his “Obama embrace,” literal and figurative, made him a pariah among Republicans in 2009? He was branded as too moderate for the right-veering GOP, an accusation that could be of help in this purple state.

Crist might think that he’s acting in his own best interest, but he’s not. And he’s definitely cheating state Democrats, who make up the majority of voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Not only is his rebuff of a Crist-Rich debate unseemly, it has handed the Republican Party of Florida the ammunition with which to attack him. Makes no sense. Neither did the trial balloon he sent up a few weeks ago, announcing that he was considering a trip to Cuba. He has postponed it. Now that he has a little extra time, he should deign to debate Nan Rich.

CRIST IN D.C. FOR MEETINGS AND FUNDRAISERS via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Crist is in Washington for political meetings and a fundraiser with young professionals.

A campaign spokesman says Crist attended “political meetings” on Monday. The fundraiser is Tuesday night.

Also, Crist is scheduled to attend an event by Human Rights Campaign.


Party-line Democrats’ Twitter-announced blog — the one concocted to “stop the lies” about Democratic Party mistakes — appeared at a few minutes after 6 p.m. on Monday.

If anybody was expecting clever, cutting payback prose aimed at party “traitors,” they probably got the surprise of their lives.

The one blog piece on cited no party enemies, no stats or evidence to support its claims, and no real harm done — at all. What it did do was cheer relentlessly, gushingly for party Chairwoman Allison Tant and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

It did include a party ad zinging Gov. Rick Scott for promising jobs he forgot he promised.

You might want to call a work in progress. Actually, a work in progress with a long way to go to be effective.

The folks behind it could start by running their blog past a copy editor.

TWEET, TWEET: @SaintPetersBlog: @NotSqueezed says @Fl_Political_Sq & I are wrong to make it as “Democrats were losing everything.” All 59 members of Fla. Leg. prob agree.

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Now it is clear just how far a major Florida university has to sink into the political morass and embarrass itself before higher education leaders raise their voices. Even the Board of Governors declared that Florida State University’s worldwide presidential search for Sen. John Thrasher looked bad. For a board that buckled to political pressure to go along with the creation of an unneeded new university in Polk County pushed by another powerful state senator, that’s saying something. There is even a chance that some good can come from FSU’s mismanaged search for a new president.

Board of Governors member Dean Colson bluntly said the mismanagement of FSU’s search “damaged the national reputation” of the university, and he’s right. FSU started its search for a successor to Eric Barron, who returned to Penn State University, and immediately started flirting with Thrasher. The powerful state senator and former House speaker steered millions in public money to the school and pushed the creation of its medical school through the Legislature. It was so clear that the fix was in that the private consultant coordinating the search recommended that the process be suspended until Thrasher was interviewed, then resigned amid the uproar. What the consultant, Bill Funk, really ought to do is return the $61,000 he was paid for helping create a mess.

To be fair, FSU did not just invent the cross-pollination of power politics and university presidents. Some of the university’s previous presidential searches were dominated by political figures. Some failed, and some — such as former state legislator Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte and former House Speaker T.K. Wetherell — became presidents of the university. But unlike Thrasher, they had proven academic credentials. Governors also have played roles over the years in hiring, firing and keeping university presidents at the University of Florida and elsewhere.

Against that backdrop, Board of Governors chairman Mori Hosseini has made some reasonable suggestions for reforms that university system Chancellor Marshall Criser will help refine and bring back to the board in August. They include putting more members of the Board of Governors on presidential search committees, creating common job descriptions and qualifications, establishing benchmarks to standardize searches and creating guidelines for compensation for university presidents. All of these are worth exploring to restore some integrity to presidential searches across the state, and they would rein in the boards of trustees at individual universities who are more easily swayed by powerful alums.

IN VICTORY FOR HCA, JUDGE UPHOLDS FLORIDA PLAN TO EXPAND TRAUMA SYSTEM via Kris Hundley and Alexandra Zayas of the Tampa Bay Times

Over the objections of long-established Florida hospitals, a judge has upheld a state proposal that paves the way for a costly expansion of the trauma care system.

The order by Judge R. Bruce McKibben is the latest chapter in a contentious battle for seriously injured patients who can generate high payouts from health and auto insurers.

A group of longstanding trauma centers, including Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg and Tampa General and St. Joseph’s hospitals in Tampa, had challenged the state Department of Health’s trauma center plan, saying regulators overstepped their authority and that the rule was “arbitrary and capricious.”

But McKibben, a judge with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, rejected that argument in a 71-page order that concluded the state’s rule is based on “facts, logic and reason.”

McKibben affirmed a rule that would allow new centers to be opened in areas of the state that meet certain criteria for population, transport times and volume of severely injured patients.

The new rule also gives an applicant credit if the hospital has “community support” from local officials. Existing trauma centers said they feared this criteria would further politicize the site approval process.

The judge’s decision is a blow to hospitals that have argued increasing the number of trauma centers means each center will see fewer seriously injured patients so doctors and nurses won’t get the experience they need to give the best care. Especially at a time when competition is keen for the best medical talent, duplicating services also will drive up costs, they argued.

The ruling is a victory for HCA Healthcare, the for-profit hospital chain that has opened six trauma centers in the state since 2009 and wants to add more.

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SLOW ELEVATOR SINKS A SCHOOL BOARD RUN via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Republican Geoffrey Fisher’s campaign for the Sarasota School Board came to an inglorious end partly due to one unexpected obstacle.

A really slow elevator.

Fisher said he knows he had over a week to file his paperwork to qualify for the District 1 School Board contest.

Still, he waited until Friday morning to hit the bank and then get over to the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections office to file his paperwork.

But an unexpected delay at the bank, and a little traffic had Fisher cutting it a little closer than he expected. Still when Fisher made it to the Terrace Building in downtown Sarasota to file his papers, he had a few minutes to spare.

When he got to the bank of three elevators in the 1920s era building, one of the elevators was out of service. Fisher said he started to get nervous.

When one of the elevators finally lurched and dragged him up to the 7th floor to file, the doors opened and the clock said it was noon.

Problem is, the deadline was at noon.

Assistant Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner said candidates had all week to file their papers and the state law clearly states candidate must file by noon, not 12:01.

Turner said state law has nothing about making exceptions.

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On Context Florida: When qualifying for state offices closed in Florida last week, Martin Dyckman notes that more than a third of the candidates for the Legislature — nine out of 20 running for the Senate and 41 of 120 in the House — escaped without opposition on the ballot. The lack of choice for voters is worse than even those figures make it seem. With qualifying week over, Peter Schorsch offers 11 takeaways for this fall’s elections, including one that says Tampa Bay will continue to become the epicenter of this year’s legislative campaign cycle. Gov. Rick Scott may routinely ignore the needs of middle-class and working families, but Mark Ferrulosays that there are legislators willing to stand up to moneyed corporate lobbyists and fight back. Earlier this month Progress Florida and America Votes recognized 15 members of the Florida Legislature as “Champions of Florida’s Middle Class” for their unwavering support of Florida’s working families. John Thrasher is focused, smart, driven to success, and humble, says Ed Moore, which is why he believes Thrasher would be the perfect choice for the next president of Florida State University.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Firefighters in Bakersfield, California, had to rescue a pit bull from a tight spot.

The puppy had its head stuck through the hub of an automobile wheel when its owner brought it to a Kern County fire station.

Fire Department spokesman Brandon Hill says two firefighters used vegetable oil to ease the dog’s head out of the hole.

The little pooch, named Junior, has returned to live with its owner and seven siblings.

CONGRATS to Brigita and Richard DeNapoli on the news that they are expecting their second child. Cool announcement pic here.

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.