Sunburn for 7/28 – 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 1896, Miami was officiallyincorporated as a city, with a population of just over 300. Orlando may have the “Magic,” but Miami has the cool nickname of “The Magic City” – not to mention back-to-backSuper Bowl titles, two World Series championships and three NBA titles.

Now, on to the ‘burn…

THE WEEK AHEAD IN FLORIDA POLITICS 

A Quinnipiac University poll on Amendment 2 is to be released at 6 today. Look to see if the opposition’s “de facto legalization” line of attack has reduced support for the initiative allowing doctors to use marijuana to treat patients.  Previous results indicated 82 percent of respondents voting yes in November.

Then on Friday, the Department of Health holds a second workshop on proposed regulations for the Charlotte’s Web law. Starting in January, doctors will be allowed to order a cannabis extract for patients.

“We’re on the runaway on the calendar with this thing” said Kerry Herndon, one of 55 growers interested in landing a Charlotte’s Web license to grow and process marijuana.  “It takes 10 weeks to mature a crop to flower then you have to dry it and process it. There are certain things we need to know.”

This week, Fair District supporters will be watching for word from Leon County Judge Terry Lewis. Lewis had ruled July 10 that the congressional district map for the November election violated the state constitution. It is now unclear what happens next. The suit was brought by the League of Women Voters who now wants Lewis to delay the congressional election and redraw the map. Lewis said he will have a ruling by the end of this week.

“I have to tell you, I’m extremely skeptical that I can do what the plaintiffs want me to do,” Lewis said during a hearing on Thursday.

Tax money is on the table for two reasons this week. State economists will gather in room 117 Knott for a series of conferences to review revenue numbers on a variety of issues, including transportation, early learning and the state employee insurance fund.  And a three-day back-to-school  sales tax holiday begins Friday.

Also this week, former Senator and Gov. Bob Graham goes on the campaign trail with daughter Gwen, the Democratic candidate in the 2nd Congressional District. The Grahams kick off an 8-day 14-county swing Wednesday in Tallahassee.

TODAY IS DEADLINE TO REGISTER TO VOTE IN THE AUG. 26 PRIMARY via The News Press

Floridians face a deadline today to register to vote in the Aug. 26 primary elections.

The highest-profile primary pits former Gov. Charlie Crist and former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Also, Democrats George Sheldon and Perry Thurston will compete to become the party’s nominee for attorney general. Down the ballot, primaries will decide the winners of various elected offices through the state.

There are many races at the state and county level on the Aug. 26 ballot, including some open primaries that mean members of all political parties can vote.

Mail-in ballots were sent out starting Tuesday. You can request a mail-in ballot through Aug. 20 for return by Election Day.

The registration deadline to vote in the November general election is Oct. 6.

DAYS UNTIL THE ELECTION: 99

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CNN POLL: MITT ROMNEY TOPS BARACK OBAMA BUT LOSES TO HILLARY CLINTON via CNN

If a rematch of the 2012 presidential election were held today, GOP nominee Mitt Romney would top President Barack Obama in the popular vote, according to a new national survey.

But a CNN/ORC International poll also indicates that if Romney changes his mind and runs again for the White House, Hillary Clinton would best him by double digits in a hypothetical showdown.

According to the poll, if the 2012 election were somehow held again, Romney would capture 53 percent of the popular vote, with the President at 44 percent. Obama beat Romney 51 percent to 47 percent in the popular vote in the 2012 contest. And he won the all-important Electoral College by a wider margin, 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206.

Romney has said numerous times that he won’t run for the White House again. But what if things changed and he ended up as the GOP nominee in 2016? The CNN poll indicates that 55 percent of Americans would support Clinton, with Romney at 42 percent.

The poll also indicates the race for the 2016 GOP nomination remains a wide open contest with no obvious frontrunner among the potential Republican White House hopefuls.

Thirteen percent of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP say they’d likely back Christie, with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, each at 12 percent. Perry – who ran for the White House last time around – and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee – are both at 11 percent.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas are both at 8 percent, with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 6 percent, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin at 5 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who battled Romney deep into the 2012 GOP primary calendar, at 3 percent.

GOP IMPROVES ODDS OF TAKING U.S. SENATE via The Upshot:

With the addition of the YouGov estimates to our model, the overall outlook for the Senate remains roughly the same. The Republicans appear to have a slight advantage, with the most likely outcome being a Republican gain of six seats, the minimum they need to finish with a 51-49 seat majority. But we, like many other forecasters, would not be surprised by a gain of anywhere from four to eight seats.

Summing up the possible outcomes, our model gives the Republicans a 60 percent chance of taking control, up from 54 percent on April 1.

ONE OF THE MOST AWKWARD EXCHANGES YOU WILL EVER SEE via Philip Bump of the Washington Post

Rep. Curt Clawson who less than a month ago was elected to succeed Rep. Trey Radel, hasn’t yet had much of a chance to make a name for himself … until now, when he used his turn at the microphone during a House hearing to speak glowingly about India to two witnesses who he apparently believed were from that country. They were not. Both are U.S. officials, and had been introduced as such.

“I am familiar with your country,” he begins and … well, watch. If you can stomach this without cringing, kudos.

The worst moment is the smile that Clawson offers immediately after saying this:

Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there. I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?

It’s a smile that he certainly intended as encouraging, but acts instead as a horrifying exclamation point.

The two witnesses, who handled the moment with tremendous grace (though some in the audience appeared to be a bit horrified), were Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and Arun Kumar, who holds multiple senior titles with the Department of Commerce. They appeared at the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific to discuss the new prime minister of India. If you are curious, as we were: Only about one-tenth of 1 percent of Clawson’s constituents are of Indian descent.

TWEET, TWEET: @NishaBiswal: Honest mistake by new Member of Congress -but the strength & beauty of America is its diversity.  Proud to represent my country & Prez Obama

LOOK FOR “Don’t blame me, I voted for Lizbeth” bumper stickers to sprout up soon in Southwest Florida.

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CHARLIE CRIST: “I’M NOT A SCIENTIST EITHER BUT I CAN USE MY BRAIN AND I CAN TALK TO ONE” via James Call of FloridaPolitics.com

Crist knows how to work a storyline.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who as a Republican governor in 2007 said global warming was “one of the most important issues that we will face this is century,” was handed an opportunity to highlight a difference between himself and Gov. Scott when Scott said, “I’m not a scientist,” in response to a question about climate change.  Friday, Crist met with one of the scientists who has offered to meet with Scott and discuss the issue.

“I’m not a scientist either but I can use my brain and I can talk to one,” said Crist, arriving for a 25-minute presentation by Professor Jeff Chanton of the Florida State University Earth and Atmospheric Science Department.

A consequence of global warming, which Chanton said correlates with an increase in the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon and methane starting with the industrial revolution, is rising sea levels.

… Scott’s campaign didn’t directly answer questions about whether the governor believes climate change exists and whether humans are causing or contributing to it.

“Charlie Crist may have perfected the art of publicity stunts, but his record on the environment is one of empty promises,” Matt Moon, the Scott campaign communication director said in an email. “While Rick Scott has kept his commitments to restoring the Everglades, safeguarding our springs and protecting the Florida Keys, Charlie Crist was more committed to advancing his own political career.”

CRIST FLIES TO ENVIRO PRESS CONFERENCE ON PLANE OF DEVELOPER FINED FOR POLLUTION via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Crist flew to an environmental press event on the private jet of a developer fined for pollution.

Almost as soon Crist stepped off the 2005 Cessna 560XL, Gov. Scott’s campaign had photographed its tail number and traced its ownership to developer James Finch, whose company Phoenix Construction was fined at least twice for violating environmental rules.

Scott’s campaign quickly informed reporters awaiting Crist at his press conference concerning climate change.

Crist, not commenting about the irony of flying to an environmental press conference on the plane of someone busted for violating environmental rules, partly blamed his troubles on the remoteness and difficulty of traveling to Tallahassee.

“Listen, I’m trying to win this race and Florida’s a big state. And if the Republicans don’t think that I should be allowed to fly and have to drive everywhere when their candidate has his own private airplane that he got from the ill-gotten procedures he had at Columbia HCA, I got another thing coming for ‘em,” Crist said. “I’m going to fly and I’m going to get around Florida as fast as I can to talk to as many people as I can to tell them the truth about what this guy isn’t doing on climate change and education and other issues.”.

Was there a better way to travel to Tallahassee?

“Perhaps there is, but that’s really not the issue of today,” Crist said. “The issue of today is who really cares about Florida.”

ANNETTE TADDEO: MINORITY VOTERS TAKEN FOR GRANTED BY DEMS IN 2010, WON’T BE IN 2014 via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Minority voters were “taken for granted” and “insulted” by Democrats in the 2010 governor’s race, but Crist won’t make the same mistake, Crist running mate Annette Taddeo pledged to a largely minority audience Saturday.

Taddeo visited a “People’s Forum” that drew about 80 people to hear a variety of candidates, including U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings. …

Taddeo, speaking to the group later, said: “I, more than anyone, as a minority, as a small business owner, as a mom, understand how we have been left behind so often. And honestly, we all know this, in 2010 the minority vote was taken for granted. Completely taken for granted. And I personally believe, at many times, insulted. And we are not going to do that.”

In 2008, when Barack Obama carried Florida, 76 percent of the state’s black voters cast ballots and voted overwhelmingly Democratic. But only 43 percent of blacks voted in 2010, when Scott  narrowly won the governor’s race over Democrat Alex Sink.

In an interview, Taddeo said, “I believe the African-American vote was definitely taken for granted (in 2010). There were some instances that we all know well, that were well-documented, when we didn’t go to specific events where it clearly showed we were not paying attention to a very important part of the Democratic base, in addition to the Hispanic vote.”

TAMPA TRIB ENDORSES CRIST IN DEM PRIMARY Full blog post here

In the face of assertions of “flip-flopping,” a valid claim, the Tribune also makes an alternative argument for Crist — he will do whatever he feels is right, regardless of popularity.

As a true populist, Crist seeks to please Floridians, making him unlikely to launch daring, but unpopular, proposals outside of range of public sentiment.

There may have been numerous political about-faces; there is also a degree of consistency to Crist, as a member of the state Legislature and former education commissioner, attorney general and governor.

Crist called himself a “live-and-let live” Republican — a fiscal conservative who shied away from bold social issues. Tough on crime, Crist also worked to restore voting rights former felons. Generally, he has supported education, and environmental and consumer protection issues. These stances make Crist palatable to moderate Democrats.

For that, the Tribune recommends Crist for the Democratic primary for governor.

PROUD LIBERAL NAN RICH KEEPS GOING via Mitch Perry of Creative Loafing Tampa

A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich trailing Scott in a one-on-one matchup 41-34 percent, her worst performance in that poll since Quinnipiac began listing her in their Florida surveys over the last year. Perhaps more damning was the fact that a walloping 83 percent of voters surveyed said they still didn’t know that much about Rich, who represented Broward County in the Florida Legislature from 2000-2012.

But Rich keeps on keeping on. On Thursday night she spoke at the Pinellas County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Marriott, where she demonstrated her Democratic Party bona fides that frankly should intimidate Crist supporters if the two ever got into a debate, which appears increasingly unlikely a month before the Aug. 26 primary.

“My opponent has an A plus (grade) from the gun lobby, I have an F, and I’m proud of it,” she said of her ranking from the NRA. She boasted about how her record was graded lower than fellow Democrats in the Legislature like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Anne Gannon and Susan Booker, and once asked lobbyist Marion Hammer why that was the case. “She said ‘you file bills. You stand up and file amendments and talk about it,’” Rich recounted with pride.

Crist’s “evolution” on a number of core issues that concern Democratic voters provides plenty of cannon fodder for other candidates, and the former Senate Minority Leader refers to what she calls flip-flops with ease. “You need a governor who is pro-choice through and through, not changing their positions, but in their heart and soul,” she said with obvious conviction.

Regarding the environment under Rick Scott and the Republicans, Rich said, “I’ve been appalled by what’s happened with growth management laws. SB 360 was a horrible piece of legislation that rolled back growth management.” That 2011 bill reduced state oversight on development approvals, giving cities and counties more control over development decisions and whether to charge developers for roads, parks and schools.

YOU GOV POLL: RICK SCOTT 48%, CRIST 43% via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

A new New York Times/CBS/YouGov poll (cross tabs below) has Gov. Scott leading Crist by a 48-43 margin.

The poll is notable for a few reasons.

First, it’s the largest lead Scott has seen in any round of public polling. A barrage of ad buys has helped Scott cut into once was a large deficit, but public polling data has mostly had the race within the margin of error.

A Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday had Crist up 45-40, a margin that dropped that lead to 39-37, which is within the margin of error.

Second, the poll was Internet only, a method that is the subject of some debate among pollsters. Some remain skeptical of the accuracy of Internet polling, but it’s a growing tend.

The polling data dump that included the latest Florida numbers also included numbers from other gubernatorial races across the country. Because many of those results were different than other public polls, Nate Cohn, who writes for the New York Times’ data site The Upshot, Tweeted out this disclaimer about the new numbers.

@Nate_Cohn Many of these YouGov results, particularly in well-polled KS and FL, are at very much at odds with other surveys. I’d interpret with caution

A lead is a lead, however, and Republicans will understandably view the new poll as good news. The poll is quickly making the email rounds in Republican circles, but there has not yet been a public email blast from the state GOP.

INTERNAL MEMO: WITH 100 DAYS OUT, SCOTT IS “LOCKED IN” Read full memo here

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THREE STATE CABINET OFFICERS GET NEARLY $1 MILLION IN CAMPAIGN PUBLIC FINANCING via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

A slate of incumbent statewide candidates got a nearly $1 million, taxpayer-financed boost to their already large campaign war chests.

The payments are doled out under Florida law that allows gubernatorial candidates and the state’s three Cabinet officers to seek public financing for their campaign. If candidates agree to limit their spending — this year the cap is $25 million — the state matches contributions up to $250. Contributions above that amount also receive a $250 match.

The first rounds of weekly payments were disbursed to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam ($351,113), CFO Jeff Atwater ($332,285) and Attorney General Pam Bondi ($265,440). Each candidate is a Republican.

Putnam doesn’t have a primary opponent; he will face Democrat Thad Hamilton and write-in candidate Jeffrey Obos in the general election. Those two collectively have $7,020 cash on hand. On top of the more than $350,000 in taxpayer money, Putnam’s campaign and two committees supporting it have $1.7 million in the bank.

Atwater has raised $1.2 million, making his campaign eligible for the more than $330,000 in taxpayer financing. His opponent, Democrat Will Rankin, gave a personal loan of $10,600 to his campaign, which currently has $1,677 in the bank.

Bondi and committees supporting her have $3 million in the bank above the more than $265,000 in taxpayer money her campaign received. In a statement responding to questions from the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau, Bondi’s campaign didn’t answer the question about why she decided to take public financing.

MY TAKE: THE BEST JOKE OF THE PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCE SYSTEM Full blog post here

What’s really funny is that Bondi … received from the state of Florida a check for $265K, which is actually larger than what one of her chief Democratic opponents, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, has raised for his ENTIRE campaign ($169,859). It’s almost as much as the $285,861 George Sheldon has raised to-date for his campaign.

In other words, the public campaign system designed to level the playing field between well-financed candidates and those which are not just unbalanced the playing field between Bondi and her two Democratic rivals like no check from a special interest could do.

In fact, one could argue that the “special interest” most invested in Bondi’s campaign is a do-gooder government program that’s doing the opposite of what was intended.

POT POLL TO BE RELEASED Poll results available here after 6:30 a.m.

Quinnipiac University is expected to release a poll today about Florida voters’ views on medical marijuana. A proposal on the November ballot would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

POLL: MORE THAN 7 IN 10 VOTERS CONCERNED ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, BACK EPA ACTION PLAN via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Nearly eight in 10 likely Florida voters want limits on carbon pollution from power plants and as many as 71 percent say they’re concerned about climate change, according to a new poll conducted for an environmental group during the hotly contested governor’s race.

“The takeaway from this poll is simple: People think carbon pollution is a problem, and they think our political leaders should take action and fight pollution,” said Susan Glickman, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sponsored the 1,005-likely voter poll by SurveyUSA.

Asked about the severity of climate change, 47 percent of the respondents said it was “very” serious and another 24 percent said it was “somewhat” serious. Taken together, it indicates 71 percent of likely voters find it’s a serious issue, compared to 27 percent who indicate it’s not that big of a deal.

Compared to Democrats and independents, Republicans are the least concerned about the issue, with 53 percent saying it’s serious and 45 percent saying it really isn’t. Republicans are evenly split when it comes to being most or least alarmed, with 26 percent saying it’s a very serious issue and another 26 percent saying it’s “not serious.”

Asked what concerns them most about climate change, 30 percent said rising seas, followed by stronger storms (27 percent), flooding (14 percent) and higher temperatures (12 percent). Everglades, coral reefs and drought each ranked in the single digits.

About 25 percent of respondents said the carbon-reduction plan should be prioritized to produce the lowest costs; 34 percent want it to target reducing pollution and 38 percent want it aimed first at renewable energy sources.

Nearly half — 48 percent — said they’d prefer to use solar power; 22 percent favored natural gas first; 10 percent wanted nuclear power; 8 percent chose wind, and 5 percent opted for coal.

As for how the state should meet the carbon-reduction rules, renewable energy is the most favored, receiving 54 percent support. It’s followed by natural gas (22 percent); energy efficiency (15 percent) and nuclear power (6 percent).

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APPOINTED: Brian Donovan to the Board of Landscape Architecture.

REAPPOINTED: Rosa Richardson and James Sale III to the Madison County Health and Hospital Board.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BAN STRUCK DOWN FOR MIAMI AREA via the Associated Press

A Florida judge overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling that applies to Miami-Dade County, agreeing with a judge in another county who made a similar ruling last week. Still, no marriage licenses will be issued for gay couples in either county any time soon to allow for appeals.

The ruling by Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel mirrors the decision made earlier by Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia. Both found the constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2008 discriminates against gay people. They said it violates their right to equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The effect of Garcia’s ruling was put on hold when Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi filed notice of appeal. Zabel also stayed the effect of her ruling indefinitely to allow time for appeals, which could take months, and Bondi promptly followed up Friday by filing an appeal notice in the Miami-Dade case. The county of 2.6 million people is in the top 10 in population in the U.S.

Both judges were appointed by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and have been re-elected.

The legal battleground will next shift to the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal for both cases, and most likely after that to the state Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the ruling was cause for celebration for gay couples across the Miami area.

Same-sex ban supporters argue that the referendum vote should be respected and that Florida has sole authority to define marriage in the state. The Florida amendment defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Those rulings remain in various stages of appeal. Many legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately have to decide the question for all states.

REAX via ACLU of Florida LGBT rights staff attorney Daniel Tilley: “Every court decision finding that Florida’s ban on the marriages of same-sex couples is unconstitutional brings us closer to the day when all Floridians have the same chance to marry the person they love.”

FEDERAL COURT UPHOLDS FLA.’S DOCS VS. GLOCKS LAW via the Associated Press

A Florida law restricting what doctors can tell patients about gun ownership was deemed to be constitutional by a federal appeals court, which said it legitimately regulates professional conduct and doesn’t violate the doctors’ First Amendment free speech rights.

The ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned a previous decision that had declared the law unconstitutional. An injunction blocking enforcement of the law is still in effect, however.

The 2011 law, which had become popularly known as “Docs vs. Glocks,” was challenged by organizations representing 11,000 state health providers, including the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians

Doctors who break the law could potentially be fined and lose their licenses.

By a 2-1 decision, the appeals court upheld the law as a protection of patient privacy rights and said that the limits imposed by it were “incidental.”

REAX via Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida: “We are astounded that a court would allow the legislature to override the free speech rights of doctors and medical personnel. It’s a sad day when judges tell doctors what is in the best interest of their patients. This unconstitutional law gags doctors and prevents them from talking to their patients about measures to help parents protect children from guns in the home. The only thing that makes this discussion ‘bad medical practice’ in the view of two federal judges is the fact that it has to do with guns.”

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GOP OFFICIALS ENJOY SUGAR INDUSTRY RANCH TRIPS via The Associated Press

 Top Florida Republican officials including the governor have enjoyed hunting trips to South Texas’ historic King Ranch thanks to the Sunshine State’s sugar industry, but they aren’t talking about them.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday that an analysis of records shows the trips were financed all or in part by the Florida sugar industry (http://bit.ly/1nDD1Y2).The lack of disclosure could enable officials and sugar lobbyists to avoid scrutiny about discussions on a host of important issues such as state agriculture policy, water pollution and Everglades protection.

Under a 2006 ban, lawmakers can’t accept free meals, drinks or trips from donors, but a legal loophole allows parties and political committees to do so. They can then pass on these gifts without detailing who gives or receives them — as long as the donations are considered to have a “campaign purpose.”

The Times analysis shows that in the last three years, U.S. Sugar paid nearly $100,000 to the Republican Party of Florida for at least 20 weekend trips. The destinations were not made public, but they all occurred within days of more than a dozen Florida politicians registering for Texas hunting licenses.

Republican Party Spokeswoman Susan Hepworth says the party follows the letter of the law but declined to discuss the trips.

FLORIDA HOSPITALS DROP CHALLENGES TO HCA TRAUMA EXPANSION via the Tampa Bay Times

The contentious battle over the expansion of trauma care in Florida ended quietly as Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, Tampa General and St. Joseph’s hospitals dropped their legal challenges against new trauma centers owned by Hospital Corporation of America.

The move ends a fight that began when HCA was allowed to open trauma centers in its hospitals in Manatee and Pasco counties in late 2011. Existing trauma centers said the state had acted illegally. They challenged a new rule devised by the Florida Department of Health to allocate trauma resources, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

In late June, however, a judge upheld the state’s plan, saying it was based on “facts, logic and reason.” The deadline for an appeal passed with no action.

There are 27 trauma centers in Florida, including two freestanding children’s hospitals. They treat severely injured patients who can generate high payouts from health and auto insurers.

Under the new guidelines, state officials will consider applications for additional trauma centers in five areas, including Hernando County.

INSTA-LOOPHOLE: IN FLORIDA, HIGH-COST LENDER SKIRTS THE LAW via Paul Kiel of ProPublica.org

When Florida lawmakers banned high-interest car title loans in 2000, then-Gov. Jeb Bush proclaimed that the new law would protect Floridians from lenders “who prey on the desperate.”

But in the past three years, the largest title lender in the country has swept into the state, offering a new version of the loans that effectively allow it to charge the sort of sky-high rates the law was supposed to stop.

TMX Finance, which has opened 26 InstaLoan stores across Florida, skirts the ban on triple-digit interest rates by offering loans larded with costly and nearly useless insurance products.

TMX is clearly violating “the spirit of the law,” said Alice Vickers of the Florida Consumer Action Network, a Tampa-based nonprofit advocacy group. Florida regulators should be cracking down, she said, instead of “giving them a pass.”

TMX’s refashioned loans are yet another example of how the nation’s high-cost lenders have modified their offerings to circumvent city, state and federal laws designed to limit them. After Ohio prohibited excessive interest rates on short-term loans in 2008, payday and auto title lenders used a loophole to offer nearly identical loans under different state laws. In Texas, TMX subsidiary TitleMax has offered customers cash for free as part of a ploy to get around city ordinances.

From its Georgia base, the company now operates more than 1,470 stores in 18 states with plans to grow by more than 20 percent each year through 2017, according to a presentation made to a rating agency last year and obtained by ProPublica.

In a basic 30-day title loan, consumers hand over the title to their cars for a loan ranging from $100 to several thousand dollars. At the due date, the borrower can pay just the interest and renew the loan for the principal. In Georgia, TMX’s TitleMax stores often charge about 150 percent annual interest, according to contracts reviewed by ProPublica. If the borrower defaults on the loan, the lender can auction off the car.

LOFTY GOALS FOR NEW FLORIDA POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY via Kyle Hightower of the Associated Press

The curiously oval-shaped structure at the new Florida Polytechnic University, designed by noted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is a symbol of the state’s latest higher-education experiment.

It is the centerpiece of what will soon-be Florida’s 12th state university and the only one dedicated almost exclusively to producing science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, degrees.

With early challenges like recruiting students, no immediate accreditation and no tenure for professors, the school’s viability is still a question. It will open with 500 students, less than half the 1,200 it eventually needs.

Opposition was swift when the idea was first broached for USF Polytechnic to separate into an independent university. It seemed radical to USF officials because other universities in the state already offered STEM studies.

But it got a boost in 2012 when President Barack Obama set a national goal of increasing the number of undergraduates receiving STEM degrees by 1 million by 2025.

Florida’s “STEM gap” is well-documented. According to figures released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 9 percent of Florida workers between ages 25 and 64 worked in science, technology, engineering and math jobs. Another 12 percent were in related fields, like architecture or health care management.

LEGISLATIVE CHANGES, DWINDLING CASH FORCE ENVIRO GROUP TO CUT BACK via Jennifer Sorentrue of the Palm Beach Post

A statewide environmental group created more than 25 years ago to push for growth management regulations has closed its Palm Beach County office and scaled back its operations in Tallahassee because it has not been able to raise money to pay for its work.

The non-profit 1000 Friends of Florida laid off its Lake Worth-based community planner, Joanne Davis, this spring as grants and other funding dried up. Charles Pattison, the group’s longtime executive director, has left his post and is now working as a part-time consultant for the group.

The cutbacks come three years after lawmakers in Tallahassee unraveled the state’s 1985 Growth Management Act — the set of regulations the non-profit was created to protect. The legislative changes approved in 2011, which eliminated state oversight of most local planning, have made it difficult to find donors, said Nathaniel Reed, one of 1ooo Friends’ founders and its chairman emeritus.

Davis’ departure has raised particular concern among local environmentalists, who fear a renewed push to build on rural lands. The economic downturn caused a temporary lull in development in the county, but as the housing market heats up again, pressure is mounting to build in the county’s western reaches.

Avenir Holdings plans to build on the 4,763-acre Vavrus Ranch site, one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in the county, and Minto Florida has proposed 4,549 homes and 2 million square feet of nonresidential uses on the 3,800-acre former Callery-Judge Grove citrus farm.

Legal challenges filed by 1000 Friends led county commissioners in 2006 to scrap plans to build for The Scripps Research Institute on the 1,920-acre Mecca Farms property located near the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area west of Palm Beach Gardens. The commission later moved the biotech project eastward to Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens.

The non-profit also was one of three environmental groups in 2008 to successfully challenge the county commission’s decision to allow three rock mines in the rural Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. The groups — 1000 Friends, the Sierra Club and the Florida Wildlife Federation — argued the mining operations could harm Everglades restoration efforts and pollute the county’s water supply.

LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND

With a hat-tip to LobbyTools, here is latest on who is on and who is off the legislative staffing merry-go-round.

On: Benjamin Durgan is Sen. Joseph Abruzzo’s new administrative assistant.

Off: Hilary Webb is no longer be a legislative assistant to Sen. Denise Grimsley.

On: Daniel Bruno is now legislative assistant to Sen. Gwen Margolis.

Off: Laura Jimenez is no longer Sen. Maria Sachs’ legislative assistant.

On: James Rusciano has replaced Jimenez in Sachs’ office.

Off: Rynelle Emhof McKim is no longer Speaker Will Weatherford’s executive assistant.

Off: Mark Hollis has left his position as the House Minority Office communications director.

Off: Brandy Wright is out as legislative assistant to Sen. Audrey Gibson.

Off: Mayra Hernandez is no longer the district secretary for Rep. Debbie Mayfield.

On: Camilo Alvarado as as district secretary for Rep. Kione McGhee.

On: Barbara Calvo is the new district secretary for Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez.

On: Bryan Roberts has joined as staff for Rep. Cynthia Stafford as a district secretary.

On: Ruben Feliciano is the new district secretary for Rep. Victor Torres.

On: Michael Geren is the new district secretary for Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

SPOTTED: Lobbyists Richard Reeves and Alan Suskey in the ‘burg.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The decline in my net worth is forcing me to make economies. I’m afraid I will have to cancel some newspaper subscriptions.”—Senate President Don Gaetz, who is worth $26 million despite reporting a $140,000 drop in his fortune in 2013.

***The RSA team produces results for its clients through its extensive knowledge of the legislative process, longstanding relationships with elected officials and community leaders and strong work ethic. RSA is a full service consulting firm specializing in community and government affairs, fundraising & event planning. RSA clients receive personal attention and commitment from a team of seasoned lobbyists, led by Ron Pierce. Learn how we can help your business, visit www.rsaconsultingllc.com.***

PLEASE READ: TAKING A SECOND LOOK AT POLLS IN SD 34 & HD 69 Full blog post here

I’m about to do something you rarely see a pollster (or someone who commissioned a poll) do, especially before an election.

I am going to attempt to walk back the results of the two polls we commissioned, specifically in the races for Senate District 34 (Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff vs. Democrat incumbent Maria Sachs) and House District 69 (Republican incumbent Kathleen Peters and Democrat Scott Orsini).

… In the first round of polling, our samples mirrored an enhanced measure of the voter registration numbers in the district. This second round of polling uses a sample of voters that have a history of voting in both 2010 and 2012. Only those voters who said they were likely to vote in the upcoming election were included.

There is increasing evidence, based primarily on national trends in midterm elections which have already occurred, that suggests there will be record-low turnout this fall.

… With this in mind — and at the suggestion of some of the “brightest minds in Florida politics” with whom I rely on for guidance and advice — we re-ran the polls in SD 34 and HD 69. Like I said, the results are significantly different.

Previously in SD 34, we had Maria Sachs with a 14-point lead over Ellyn Bogdanoff. The second-look poll, which still has a heavier Democratic sample, pegs the race at Sachs 48 percent, Bogdanoff 45 percent.

It’s important to note that these numbers are more consistent with some of the internal polling to which I’ve been made privy.

Previously in HD 69, we had Kathleen Peters and Scott Orsini in a virtual tie. And while those numbers still hold true in a poll of all voters, once a screen for participation in the 2010 midterm election is added, Peters lead increases significantly, as she leads Orsini 50 percent to 41 percent.

It’s too late now to go back and put the first set of poll numbers back in the bottle. Nor do I really want to, because conducting those polls prompted us to do more research than normal about the state of the electorate. But now that we have new information, we knew we had to share it as soon as possible with our readers.

JAY TRUMBULL REPORTS BLOCKBUSTER TWO-WEEKS, $26,500 IN HD 6 RACE Full blog post here

Trumbull added a blockbuster $26,500 in the reporting period of July 5-18 for the crowded Aug. 26 Republican primary in House District 6.

The Panama City Republican now brings his total to $182,320, and with major media spends of more than $42,000 in two weeks, still has $105,092 cash-on-hand.

To date, Trumbull’s fundraising performance has outpaced all other candidates seeking to replace term-limited Rep. Jimmy Patronis in the region of southern Bay County, Panama City, Panama City Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base.

Among the other active GOP opponents — Tho Bishop, Melissa Hagan and Thelma Rohan – Hagan came in a distant second in the two-week reporting period, with $2,725 in donations for a total of $60,591. After earlier loans of $20,500, she now has $67,343 on hand.

Former educator Rohan received $440 for just over $32,450 and $36,384 in her war chest. Bishop raised $1,300 for $8,000 total.

JOHN SHANNON ADDS $4,700 IN TWO-WEEK FUNDRAISING FOR HD 40 BID Full blog post here

Republican John Shannon added $4,700 from July 5-18 in his race for House District 40.

However, during the same time, Shannon’s GOP primary opponent Colleen Burton took the lead in fundraising, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Burton, the well-known former executive director for activist group Polk Vision, raised $9,745 in the same two-week reporting period — for a total of $133,870. With $54,108 spent to date, Burton now has $79,762 on hand.

Lakeland attorney and Marine Corps veteran Shannon, mounting an aggressive advertising campaign, has raised a total of $97,610. After spending $65,110 so far — including recent large  media buys — Shannon has cash on hand of $32,500.

SHAWN HARRISON BREAKS $112K MARK IN BID TO RETAKE HD 63 Full blog post here

Former state Rep. Harrison banked another $1,350 in fundraising July 5-18 for the money lead his campaign to retake the House District 63 seat.

In the same period, Harrison also received just under $1,200 of in-kind support from the Republican Party of Florida. The Tampa Republican now has a total of $112,241, and $46,688 cash on hand.

Harrison faces Democrat incumbent Rep. Mark Danish in the race to represent north Hillsborough County.

In the two-week reporting period, Danish added $4,080 – plus another $1,625 in-kind donation from the Florida Democratic Party — for an overall total of $78,497. The incumbent spent $4,306, leaving him with just over $55,378 cash on hand.

 CHRIS SPROWLS AT $168K RAISED FOR HD 65 BID Full blog post here

Sprowls is maintaining his fundraising lead, adding another $8,525 in the reporting period of July 5-18.

Sprowls brings his contributions to $168,401, keeping his substantial cash on hand to nearly $110,000, in his bid to oust incumbent Democrat Rep. Carl “Z” Zimmermann. House District 65 covers Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and East Lake.

During the same period, Zimmerman raised only $1,535, with an additional $1,750 of in-kind donations from the Florida Democratic Party for “cost of campaign staff.” This brings the incumbent’s total to $74,016 — 43 percent of the amount raised by first-time candidate Sprowls.

Zimmerman spent $1,034, for total expenditures of $9,546, leaving $64,570 cash on hand, less than two-thirds that of his chief GOP opponent.

CHRIS LATVALA BREAKS $180K MARK IN HD 67 RACE Full blog post here

Latvala continues his fundraising dominance with another $6,900 from July 5-18, according the Florida Division of Elections.

The Largo Republican, son of state Sen. Jack Latvala, reached $180,165 in his effort to succeed term-limited GOP State Rep. Ed Hooper to represent northeast Pinellas County.

At the same time, Latvala received in-kind donations of $2,925 from the Republican Party of Florida for research and spent $19,812 in expenditures, leaving him nearly $99,807 cash on hand.

Latvala’s chief Democratic opponent, activist Shawna Vercher, raised $2,550 for the two-week period, bringing her total to $22,290. The author, public speaker and radio talk show host also spent $2,742, giving her just over $4,400 on hand.

***The Public Affairs Consultants Team of Jack Cory, Keyna Cory and Erin Daly Ballas guide their clients through the legislative, state agency and local government process. They do so by providing governmental consulting, lobbying and professionally coordinated grassroots programs for businesses, professionals, non-profits, local governments and associations. Recently named a Leading Association LobbyistThey Cover Florida Like the Sun.***

CONTEXT FLORIDA: PAM BONDI, HAMAS TUNNELS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF MOVING ON

On Context FloridaStephen Goldstein says there are three types of politicians: the first works mostly on behalf of the people they serve; the second works chiefly on behalf of their own interests, and a third tries to impose ideology on others. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is a two and three; for her, there is none of the first type. If the people of Gaza are to live in peace, Martin Dyckman writes that they need to get rid of Hamas. In 2007, Palestinian leaders elected Hamas — a designated terrorist organization — to lead them into the future. Instead, Rachel Patron writes that Hamas feverishly dug tunnels so they could smuggle in rockets and send militiamen out to attack Israel, leaving people above ground in poverty. Melody Bowdon talks about two friends who were traveling nurses taking short-term jobs at hospitals around the country, often dealing with patients and family members pushed to their physical, mental, and emotional limits. They taught Bowdon the importance of giving people a break when we can, let things go, laugh things off, and move on.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

GOOD READ – FORT CAROLINE WAS LIKELY IN GEORGIA, NOT JACKSONVILLE via Gordon Jackson of the Brunswick News

The author of a new book, “Fort Caroline, The Search for America’s Lost Heritage,” says all the evidence points to the French fort being in Southeast Georgia, not Jacksonville.

Richard L. Thornton said he participated in a seven-year study of Native Americans in Southeast Georgia when he came to that conclusion.

Thornton joins others, including a team that is searching for the site, who believe Fort Caroline was in Georgia. It is the first fort built in what today is the United States.

“Until late 2011, we assumed that because everyone said Fort Caroline was in Jacksonville, it must be so,” Thornton said. “However, nothing made any sense. The memoir of Fort Caroline’s commander, Rene de Laudonniere, was obviously describing Indian tribes in Georgia.”

Thornton said he was helping former National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy write a book on 16th century North America with him doing research on architecture.

Thornton said he spent about 3,500 hours researching the subject before writing the book.

He said he didn’t want to give away all the details in his book, but said much of the evidence comes from families who lived in Coastal Georgia dating back to the Colonial days. Many of them told stories about both the French and Spanish trying to colonize the region.

MARC CAPUTO KICKS SSN’S BUTT here.

There is no IRS “investigation,” federal law-enforcement sources confirmed to the Miami Herald. Also, the story drips with hyperbole, misleading innuendo and, in one case, a statement that Walters said is “totally inaccurate.”

… The IRS wouldn’t consider this case worthy of an “investigation” because that usually refers to a criminal matter — this matter is a civil issue that, if taken up by the IRS, would lead to what is called an “examination” or audit, said Jeffrey Nieman, a top South Florida tax attorney and former U.S. Department of Justice tax-case prosecutor.

“There are criminal investigations and civil examinations,” said Nieman, a self-described “nonpolitical” registered Republican. “This would be a waste of time to start an audit because it doesn’t look like anything’s there.”

The same goes for what the Sunshine State News wants to call “news.”

***CoreMessage is a full-service communications and issues advocacy firm with the experience, relationships and expertise to help you get your message out. Connected at the state capitol and throughout Florida, the CoreMessage team unites issues with advocates, messages with media and innovative solutions with traditional tactics to get results. Follow CoreMessage on Twitter and visit them on the Web at www.coremessage.com.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the venerable Bill Cotterell.

PIC DU JOUR: Steve Schale, Running Man here.

TWEET, TWEET: @JoeCulotta: This is the last Sunday without football. Yep, that’s not a typo.

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.