Sunburn for 7/17 – 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: On this day in 1955,  Disneyland opened for business in Anaheim, California. Sixteen years later, Walt Disney brought his idea to Central Florida and opened the  world-renowned Disney World Resort.

Now on to the ‘burn…

LIBERALS ASSESSING 2016 RACE AS CLINTON WEIGHS BID via Ken Thomas of the Associated Press

As Hillary Rodham Clinton promotes her book, liberals in the Democratic Party are elbowing into the 2016 presidential conversation, pitching a populist message on the economy and immigration.

Potential Clinton rivals like Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are in the middle of a summertime tour of Democratic constituencies and campaigns, drawing contrasts to Clinton as she weighs a heavily anticipated second presidential bid.

Biden and Warren were addressing Generation Progress, an organization of young Democratic activists, on Wednesday and speaking at the annual Netroots Nation conference later in the week, putting them before liberals who form a core of the Democratic base. O’Malley has been exploring a presidential campaign for months and made a splash last weekend when he said the Obama administration should not turn away Central American immigrant children crossing the border without due process.

Clinton, who dominates early 2016 polls, may avoid a significant primary challenge if she runs for president. Biden has kept all options open, Warren has repeatedly denied interest, while O’Malley promotes his record in Maryland as a model in the party. But the jousting shows an interest in an alternative, and preparations in the event Clinton doesn’t run.

Biden has been a leading advocate for President Barack Obama’s agenda, backing unsuccessful efforts to raise the minimum wage and curb gun violence. The vice president has maintained ties to the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and projects a blue-collar image in contrast to the former first lady’s recent stumbles over discussions of her family’s wealth.

During a White House summit on working families last month, Biden said he had been the “poorest man in Congress” and didn’t own a single stock or bond – even though financial disclosures show he had a small savings account and owned mutual funds. Biden’s remarks came as Clinton faced criticism for saying her family was “dead broke” when they left the White House in January 2001 because of hefty legal bills fending off GOP-led investigations. The Clintons paid off their debt and became multimillionaires within a few years.


It was one of Jeb Bush’s signature initiatives as Florida governor: Require third-graders to repeat the year if they flunked a reading test.

Bush promoted the policy aggressively, and, within a decade, 15 states and Washington had adopted it. Ever since, tens of thousands of 8- and 9-year-olds across the country have been treading water at third grade, some for as many as three years.

But now, political pressure to dilute the policies is building — in part, because new, more-challenging Common Core exams will be rolled out in many states next spring. In states that have already tried Common Core exams, as many as 70 percent of students failed, raising fears of mass retentions among teachers, parents and children.

Lawmakers are scrambling to respond. In Oklahoma, the Legislature just tweaked the state’s law to let students who have failed the reading test advance to fourth grade if a team of parents and educators approves. In North Carolina, lawmakers softened the retention law to give districts more flexibility. In New Mexico, Democratic legislators have repeatedly thwarted the governor’s attempt to enact a Florida-style policy.

And in Ohio, the law has even become a campaign issue being used against Republican Gov. John Kasich.

The laws are designed to end the practice of “social promotion,” or letting kids advance a grade just because they’re a year older. The goal is to give struggling students more time to improve basic reading skills before they move up into classes that will require them to understand more advanced texts.


Rubio has been booked as the keynote speaker at Rep. Jeff Duncan’s annual Faith and Freedom Barbecue in Anderson on August 25, a GOP source familiar with the plans told CNN.

It’s Rubio’s first trip to South Carolina, which holds a pivotal presidential primary every four years, since he addressed a South Carolina GOP banquet in 2012. Much of Rubio’s political activity this year has been geared toward helping Republicans take back the Senate in 2014. But this trip appears more directly aimed at shoring up support on his right flank ahead of a possible presidential bid next year.

Duncan represents South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, a hotbed of tea party and social conservative sentiment that could be considered the most conservative House district in the state.

As an added twist, Duncan was a fierce opponent of the comprehensive immigration reform package that Rubio backed in the Senate in 2013 but later backed away from.

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Saying that increased drawbridge closings to accommodate the planned All Aboard Florida passenger train could have “potentially disastrous effects to our maritime community,” U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has asked the U.S. Coast Guard to hold hearings in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast so boaters and others can air their concerns. Murphy made the request in a letter to the Coast Guard’s Miami district office.


U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered her take on Democratic chances to flip the U.S. House in November — and said it comes down to Florida.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Pelosi said that she sees a way for Democrats to pick up 25 seats from Republicans and flip the chamber. Pointing to a decision from Judge Terry Lewis last week that ruled the seats currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster do not pass constitutional muster, Pelosi said it could help Democrats in the Sunshine State.

“Florida, you know is big for us,” Pelosi said. “We’ll see how it goes. We have a few and we won that [legal] decision. Now we’ll see what the judge says about where we go from here, for now and for the future, but it really was necessary. It was a major involvement all around. But worth it.”

“I want 25, so how do we get 25?” Pelosi continued. “Well, it depends on how we do in Florida.”

“How many do you think are in play now in Florida that they’ve made that ruling?” Ed O’Keefe from the Post asked Pelosi.

“It depends on the judge,” Pelosi answered. “He’s called in the lawyers. That’s what I read in the papers. What I’ve read in the papers is that he’s calling in the lawyers, and I don’t know what he’ll do next. Could be three seats, but what it does is, even if it’s not three seats, it’ll make our others easier.”

SPOTTED: CD 2 candidate Gwen Graham being named a Q2 fundraising winner by the Washington Post. The daughter of Bob Graham, outraised incumbent Rep. Steve Southerland $573,000 to $421,000 in the battleground House district.

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A mysterious Nigerian businessman whose empire is under scrutiny for its ties to a jailed, corrupt African politician has emerged as one of Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist‘s biggest campaign donors, Gossip Extra has learned exclusively.

Onajite Okoloko, an oil executive turned fertilizer manufacturer with a sprawling property in Boca Raton, has donated $100,000 to Democrat Crist’s campaign so far this year, according to state campaign records.

Okoloko, 48, dropped $25,000 into the former governor’s coffers in January, then again in February, May and June, the records show.

Thing is Okoloko, who spends little time in his $5.4 million mansion near the beach in Boca, is also tied to another former governor.

And that one, James Ibori, is currently living in a maximum security prison in London!

Okoloko first surfaced on the Gossip Extra radar as early as 2008, at a birthday party for the then-Gov. Crist at The Breakers in Palm Beach.

Okoloko and dozens of supporters paid $5,200 for a candle on Crist’s birthday cake, a campaign fundraiser.


Crist wants his old job back because he wants Florida back. And it shouldn’t be a surprise he switched parties to try to do it.

“It’s a unique race, obviously, for a lot of reasons,” Crist told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board in a wide-ranging discussion. “To be running as a Democrat is a lot more fun for me, frankly, because I feel more at home.”

The former Republican said he hadn’t considered running for re-election after his 2007-11 term. He figured he could best serve Florida as a senator in Washington, though he lost that bid to Marco Rubio. But Gov. Rick Scott’s actions on high-speed rail, education funding, the environment, ethics, Medicaid expansion and a host of other topics convinced him that he must run.

Touting a spirit of working together in his prior administration — “it was not bipartisan, it was nonpartisan” — Crist said he would set to work reversing the course on which Scott has set the state. He would clear out appointees for the Department of Environmental Protection, regional water management districts and the Public Service Commission, all of which are full of Scott allies who are from the industries those agencies regulate, Crist said.

He also said he wanted to revisit plans for managed growth and work to address global warming and mass transit, all topics Scott has opposed.

“This administration is not competent. It’s not competent,” Crist said. “Not only doesn’t he (Scott) answer questions, they can’t do anything right.”


Scott, who ditched his adopted rescue dog Reagan after the 2010 election, and who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times in a deposition, once again finds himself all over the Web and cable as the rest of the world discovers what Florida already knows.

He doesn’t like to answer questions.

Climate change. Problems with the state’s jobless claims website. How a sex offender slipped through the cracks and got a state license as a massage therapist. Amendment 1, the land and water proposal on the November ballot.

His dilemma is that being ridiculed by national media outlets probably is not a surefire path to re-election. When networks use a big-state governor as a pinata, they’re also making fun of the voters who put him in office and perhaps planting seeds of doubt in their minds.

Scott made CNN’s “RidicuList,” as Anderson Cooper said Scott’s evasiveness “insults everybody’s intelligence.”

MSNBC, with its endless fascination for Florida politics, awarded him a place in its “Canned Response Repetition Hall of Fame.”

Both channels ran the same video clip of Scott, eyes open wide, a frozen smile fixed on his face, dodging Tampa TV reporters asking why uniformed, on-duty sheriff’s deputies were at a Tampa event promoting his re-election last week. It is illegal for public employees to engage in such activity, and illegal for anyone to coerce them into doing it.


Gov. Scott said his administration would be “happy to meet” with 10 scientists from Florida universities who want to talk about climate change, a subject he has been reluctant to address.

A letter from the scientists was delivered to Scott’s office. Scott and other Republicans have been skeptical of global warming and the governor has worked with the GOP-controlled Legislature to dismantle climate change initiatives.

When a federal report earlier this year highlighted Florida – and Miami in particular – among the parts of the country most vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, Scott said: “I’m not a scientist” when asked about it.

In a statement about the letter, Scott said he was “focused on solutions we can implement to protect our land, water and families.”

The letter was signed by experts in marine systems, atmospheric sciences and other climate change-related fields at the University of Miami, Florida State University, Eckerd College and Florida International University.

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People from up North love to pretend to be afraid of Florida because of its crazy conservatives, dangerous gun laws, and general WTF-ness. But according to a new study, Florida really is the scariest state in the U.S. — for far different reasons.

Real estate blog Estately published a ranking of the scariest states in the nation Tuesday, and yep, the Sunshine State landed in the lead, beating out Texas (#3), Louisiana (#4), and Mississippi (#5).

The list is based on statistics related to common fears: “bears, clowns, going to jail, hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning strikes, shark attacks, meth labs, murderers, volcanoes, lightning strikes,” for example.

Here’s your silver lining: Florida’s ranking isn’t due to clowns and meth labs — at least not substantially. According to Estately, “Florida earned top spot due to high rankings in these categories: hurricanes (1st), shark attacks (1st), tornadoes (1st), lightning (3rd), and spiders (9th).”

First place for meth labs? That honor goes to Missouri. First place for clowns? North Dakota. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the vast stretch of land separating Missouri from North Dakota.

Fine, so Florida is a terrifying place to be. But on the upside, maybe Florida can turn this into an opportunity for Halloween tourism. Florida-themed haunted houses could be this year’s big trend.

FLORIDA AMONG MOST POPULAR STATES FOR WORKERS via Susan Lundine of the Orlando Business Journal

Here’s another reason companies should move to Orlando: Apparently, people really love to work in Florida — and many more would love the chance to do so.

That’s according to a Yahoo Finance story based on data from job search site

Florida is the No. 2 state for job seekers, behind only Texas, while the least popular states to seek jobs are South Dakota, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Vermont and New Mexico, said the story.

Florida also is the No. 2 state that people least likely want to leave for a job somewhere else, again, behind only Texas. Other states people are least likely to want to leave are Michigan, California and Georgia.

Meanwhile, the states most people want to leave to find work elsewhere are Washington, D.C., Wyoming, West Virginia, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

Two main reasons for people seeking to work in another state: the economy and the weather, according to Yahoo Finance.


Florida ranks last in the country in per-person funding from the Affordable Care Act, a new study shows, and that doesn’t even include the billions of dollars the state is forfeiting by saying no to Medicaid expansion.

The Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation at the University of Michigan performed the analysis of ACA grant totals between the time the law was signed in March 2010 and the end of September 2013.

Judging by the grant totals of other states, Florida appears to have forfeited at least $100 million and and possibly $300 million or more.

Over the study period, the average nationwide funding per person was $47.67, the Center’s charts show. By contrast, Florida’s per-capita funding was just $18.04.

The reason for Florida’s low grant totals can be traced to November 2010, when Rick Scott was elected governor and other staunch conservatives backed by the Tea Party took control of the House. One of their first orders to state agencies was not to participate in ACA-funded programs.

Some of the grants that Florida did not apply for are well-known, such as those funding state-run health exchanges and ramped-up insurance regulation.  Others are less so, including those to  help the frail elderly and disabled remain independent, explain to confused consumers how insurance works, send health professionals to areas of critical need and finance more training slots for primary-care doctors.

Consider: Florida as of 2013 had about 19.6 million people, same as New York.  The latter brought in $1.1 billion over the study period, more than three times as much as Florida.

MIAMI LAND FETCHES $100 MILLION AN ACRE via Martha Brannigan of the Miami Herald

A 1.25-acre site on the Miami River at Biscayne Bay changed hands for a stunning $125 million, a record high for a property of its size in South Florida, according to CBRE, the listing broker.

The buyer is Riverwalk East Developments LLC, a newly formed Florida limited liability corporation managed through several other corporate entities by German and Gloria Coto. German Coto is the son of Argentine businessman Alfredo Coto, whose family is best known for its prominent Coto supermarket chain; Gloria is Alfredo’s wife.

The seller was D&P Property Holding, a Florida corporation managed by Miami developers Ugo Colombo and Diego Lowenstein.

CBRE began marketing the property in April, and touted it in a May press release as “downtown Miami’s last vacant waterfront site.’’

The property fetched keen interest from suitors in Miami, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, according to CBRE.

CBRE said the grassy site, next to the EPIC Residences and Hotel, “holds the potential for over 2 million square feet of gross building area with spectacular views of the bay and downtown. In addition, the property has access to the only private dock downtown capable of accommodating mega-yachts.”


The judge who threw out Florida’s congressional map as unconstitutional has scheduled a hearing today aimed at determining what steps should be taken to revise the state’s electoral boundaries.

Leon Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is expected to hear from attorneys for the Florida Legislature and the coalition of voters’ groups which challenged the map drawn by state lawmakers in 2012.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have said they will not appeal the judge’s decision.

… But while not fighting the ruling, attorneys for the legislative leaders have filed a motion asking that Lewis allow the invalid map be used for this fall’s elections.

Anything else would throw the election season into chaos, legislative attorneys said, with overseas ballots already being sent to service personnel in advance of the Aug. 26 primaries.


The Economic Estimating Conference is scheduled to discuss information about Florida’s economy. 117 Knott Building, the Capitol. 9 a.m.


The Florida Transportation Commission will meet and discuss issues such as transportation authorities and wetland mitigation banking. J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes Orlando, 4040 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando. 8:30 a.m.


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SPOTTED: The Florida Medical Association team raising money for Sen. Jeff Brandes during a reception at St. Pete’s Vinoy Renaissance Resort.


Candidates in state House District 65 are expected to appear at the North Pinellas Republican Club. Conservative Action Center, 3150 Tampa Road, Oldsmar. 6:30 p.m.

APPOINTED: Thomas Burke and Enrique Miguez to the Board of Pilot Commissioners.

LOBBYING STORY I AM NOT HIGHLIGHTING —Buffalo Wild Wings Comes to Washington


Brittany Birken: Florida Children’s Council

Dean Cannon, Capitol Insight: Cox Media Group

Mercer Fearington, Clark Smith, Southern Strategy Group: Rayonier Advanced Materials

Rheb Harbison, Cynthia Lorenzo, Richard Reesves, Alan Suskey, Capitol Insight: Central Florida Expressway Authority

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On Context FloridaPeter Schorsch gets “fist-shaking angry” every time there is a careless, reportedly distracted parent leaving a child in a vehicle. In the summer. With the windows up. Like comedians that have run out of jokes, now we have the downward trend of veteran politicians Hillary Clinton and Charlie Crist, says Mark O’Brien. Conservatives would be smart to offer proposals to improve Obamacare rather than trying to kill it, writes Marc YachtRebekah McCloud, after chatting with a young woman with blue hair during a ride on the new SunRail, also got an earful of prejudice from other passengers criticizing the woman’s hair color choice.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Almost always, it’s the next one, the one I’m working on.” — Lucy Morgan, when asked by Columbia Journalism Review what is her favorite story.

TSA’S INSANE INSTAGRAM FEED via Daily Beast’s Nina Strochlic

About a year ago, the organization’s social media team, led by a 12-year veteran of TSA named Bob Burns, launched an Instagram feed. Over its run so far, the filtered, captioned, and heavily hashtagged feed has morphed into an incredible trove of photos documenting the most absurd things people try to bring on planes. [such as] … gun and bullet with Jesse James’ face on it. … two 6.5 inch throwing knives … [a] terrifying-looking Improvised Explosive Device … a couple suitcases filled with 81lbs of marijuana. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to SaintPetersBlog contributor Phil Ammann and lobbyist Joe McCann. Also celebrating today is former Representative Chris Dorworth.

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.