Sunburn for 9/1 – 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 firm best known for smart, strong and strategic counsel across the diverse and ever-changing media landscape: It’s Labor Day, an occasion that can turn Floridians’ thoughts to more than just honoring the workforce. It was on this date in 1935 that a hurricane formed in the Atlantic; one day later it would forever become known as the devastating “Labor Day Hurricane,” during an era in which human names were not yet attached to these fierce storms. It was the most intense hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States at that time. The Category 5 Labor Day Hurricane destroyed the Overseas Railroad connecting the mainland to the Florida Keys, claimed more than 400 lives in the Keys and caused unprecedented damage. All that, and it doesn’t even get a proper name.

Now, on to the ‘burn…


Hampered by low approval ratings and an unfriendly electoral map, President Barack Obama enters the fall campaign as a liability to some vulnerable Democrats and a target for Republicans trying to fire up conservatives and appeal to disillusioned independents.

Mindful of his precarious political position, Obama is charting a midterm election strategy intended to help where he can and, perhaps most importantly, do no harm to Democrats.

Thus far, that has meant embracing his status as the party’s most prolific fundraiser. While Democrats have grumbled in past election cycles about Obama’s level of commitment to the party’s success, the president has been an aggressive fundraiser during the 2014 campaign, headlining 40 money events this year, with more to come this fall.

Obama is also expected to do targeted outreach as Election Day nears, using radio interviews, online appeals and other strategies to encourage young people and African-Americans to vote.

White House officials say Obama probably will campaign in October for individual candidates, namely those running for the House, as well as gubernatorial candidates in contested states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Yet the president will be largely sidelined in nearly all of the races that will determine November’s biggest prize: control of the Senate for the remainder of his presidency.

The most competitive Senate contests are in states where Obama has never been popular or has fallen out of favor with voters. Those states include Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, and North Carolina.

2016’ERS JOCKEY EVEN BEFORE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS via Steve Peoples and Ken Thomas of the Associated Press

One set of elections ends in early November and another begins when presidential hopefuls cross the unofficial starting line in the 2016 race for the White House.

With control of the Senate at stake this fall, the months leading up to the midterm elections offered a clearer window on a crowd of potential presidential candidates already jockeying for position from Nevada to New Hampshire.

Look for these would-be contenders to road-test rhetoric, expand coalitions and consider their own political flaws, and keep close watch on each other.

Democrats want Hillary Rodham Clinton to carry their flag. The Republican field remains crowded and wide open.

The jousting will be most apparent in states such as New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary and the site of closely watched races for governor, Senate and the House.

Whichever party controls the Senate after the Nov. 4 balloting — Republicans need a six-seat gain to win the majority — will say much about what President Barack Obama can accomplish in the final two years in office and the tone of the race to succeed him.

BRACE YOURSELVES: CAMPAIGN CASH BUYING TONS OF ADS via Philip Elliott and Catherine Lucey of the Associated Press

Election Day is just two months off and the national tab for the 2014 campaign already stands at $1 billion. Before it’s all over, the bill for the first midterm election since both Democrats and Republicans embraced a historic change in campaign finance is likely to grow to $4 billion or more.

For most voters, the deluge is inescapable.

TV ads try to reach the few who are able to be swayed and willing to vote. In the closest Senate races, that translates into a price per vote that could double that of the 2012 presidential election.

Even though both political parties are tapping outside groups for seemingly unlimited spending, turnout in the primaries has been at near historic lows. Enthusiasm shows no sign of changing come November.

That means that each vote is going to be more costly than ever before.

The most expensive race, so far, is Kentucky’s Senate race, at $36 million and counting. The ads stack up heavily, with dueling appeals to female voters from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

In North Carolina, the tab now tops $28 million.

SURLY 2014 ELECTORATE POISED TO ‘KEEP THE BUMS IN’ via Donna Cassata of the Associated Press

A surly electorate that holds Congress in even lower regard than unpopular President Barack Obama is willing to “keep the bums in,” with at least 365 incumbents in the 435-member House and 18 of 28 senators on a glide path to another term when ballots are counted Nov. 4.

With less than 10 weeks to the elections, Republicans and Democrats who assess the midterm contests say the power of incumbency trumps the sour public mood and antipathy toward gridlocked Washington.

That leaves many voters angry, not only with the political reality but their inability to change it.

The voter disgust is palpable, evident in blistering comments at summertime town halls and middling percentages for incumbents in primaries. Yet no sitting senator has lost and only three members of the House got the primary boot. Come Election Day, only a fraction of the electorate will be motivated enough to vote, if history is any guide.

Congressional hopefuls are whipsawed by the two dynamics.

Republicans are laser-focused on gaining the six seats to grab the Senate majority and control Congress for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. Five Democratic retirements give the GOP a clear shot to capture control. So do races in conservative-leaning states such as Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas, where white Southern Democrats are rare.

The Democratic Party is using reminder pledge cards that say “1 million votes for 2014,” which is the number they say decided 65 competitive House races in 2012. Democrats maintain that they had a shot two years ago, but Obama’s miserable performance in his first presidential debate doomed his party’s chances.

MARCO RUBIO’S NEW TUNE ON IMMIGRATION via Peter Sullivan of the Hill

Sen. Rubio is singing a new tune on immigration as he eyes a possible 2016 presidential run, but it may not be enough to win over disaffected conservatives just yet.

Rubio was a leading champion of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year. But in a letter to President Obama and a series of four media interviews, he made clear that he now favors additional measures to secure the border before there is even talk of a pathway to legal status for those in the country illegally.

Even in the spring of 2013, when the Senate bill was moving forward, supporting the measure was a risky move for the rising star. Conservative National Review ran a cover showing Rubio laughing and standing next to liberal Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), behind the headline “Rubio’s Folly.”

After the bill passed in June of that year, Rubio plummeted in early presidential primary polls he once led and has remained in single digits. He was the runner-up in the 2013 straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but fell to 7th place with just 6 percent this year.

In October, he sent signals he was starting to reposition on immigration and came out against having a conference committee to reconcile the bill he supported with any House version.

But Rubio pivoted even further.

Rubio says he still supports eventually finding a solution for dealing with people in the country illegally, but citing an “incredible distrust of the federal government,” he now says people first need to see that the border has been secured and the legal immigration system has been reformed.

PATRICK MURPHY INTERNAL POLL HAS HIM UP 54%-33% via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Murphy’s campaign says its internal polling shows him with a big lead over Republican challenger Carl Domino as the general election campaign gets underway for a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional seat.

Murphy pollster Keith Frederick surveyed a Republican-heavy sample of 400 likely voters and found Murphy with a 54-to-33 percent lead over Domino, said Murphy strategist Eric Johnson. Domino won a crowded GOP primary last Tuesday. The poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday and has a 4.9 percent margin of error, Johnson said.

… Murphy’s poll was taken after he had been on TV for more than two weeks with positive ads depicting him as a bipartisan problem-solver. Domino had also been airing TV ads, including one criticizing Murphy. But Domino was also the target of negative ads, mail and automated phone calls from his Republican rivals during the run-up to the primary.


Now that the courts kicked the redistricting can down the road to 2016, U.S. Rep Daniel Webster is focusing his energies on re-election to Florida’s Eighth Congressional District.

On Saturday, Sept. 6, the Winter Garden Republican hosts a General Election campaign kickoff and cookout at Newton Park by Lake Apopka. The event begins at 10:30 a.m. with a precinct walk-through, followed by a cookout at 12:30 p.m.

“I took on Washington because the status quo is unacceptable,” Webster’s invite says. “I need your help to continue the fight to protect our founding principles.”

The invitation goes on to touch upon Webster’s GOP priorities, including a dig at Barack Obama, who “refuses to enforce our laws” as well as a call for “balanced budget and responsible spending.”

Webster is seeking a third-term in CD 8, which was the focus of a successful legal redistricting challenge by the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The LWV successfully sued the state over political maps drawn by Republican state legislators that violated the Florida’s “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2010. Although Judge Terry Lewis approved the new districts created by a special session of the Legislature – including changes Webster’s district — ruling the map would not go into effect until the 2016 election cycle.

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In midterm after midterm after midterm after midterm, Democrats have done an extraordinary job of suppressing (more like repressing, in a psychoanalytic sense) their own vote. Florida Democrats excel at being mediocre stewards of democracy when there’s a governor’s race.

That’s doubly true if you’re a South Florida Democrat.

Look no further than the Tuesday primary.

Fewer than 840,000 of nearly 4.6 million registered Democrats cast their ballots in the primary — an 18.2 percent turnout — in which Crist beat longtime Democrat Nan Rich by a whopping 48.7 percentage points.

After the win, SurveyUSA’s tracking poll for WFLA-Tampa indicated Crist moved marginally ahead of Scott, 45-43 percent. That’s essentially a tie, with Libertarian Adrian Wyllie pulling 4 percent of the vote.

… “Republicans turned out organically to re-elect Governor Scott,” the Scott campaign’s deputy manager, Tim Saler, wrote in a memo released to the media, “while the Crist campaign spent precious dollars trying to coax Democrats to vote — and the Crist campaign still failed.”

Well, not quite. While it’s true that Crist did some pre-primary stumping, Crist‘s campaign has remained focused on the general election almost as much as Scott’s has. And the level of Republican enthusiasm for Scott is debatable. Compared to Democrats, Republicans had 19 more races for state House, state Senate and Congress combined on Tuesday’s ballot. That drove turnout. Not only did the total ballots cast for the Republican candidates in the state House, state Senate and congressional races exceed the total ballots cast by Democrats — the margin between Republican and Democratic ballots in each type of legislative race exceeded the Republican-over-Democratic margin in the governor’s race. That indicates thousands of Republicans were more fired up for their local candidates than for Scott, who didn’t have a true primary challenger of note. MAPPING THE PATH FOR CHARLIE CRIST TO BE ELECTED FLORIDA GOVERNOR AGAIN via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist’s political fortunes have been hitched to President Barack Obama, for better or worse, since their man hug five years ago helped sink him in the Republican Party.

So it may seem counterintuitive that as the Crist campaign plots its path to victory over Gov. Scott, the benchmark is not Obama winning Florida in 2008 or 2012. Rather, it’s Alex Sink’s narrow loss to Scott in 2010.

The plan essentially boils down to matching Sink’s performance — the former chief financial officer lost to Scott by 1.2 percentage points, less than 62,000 votes — and then, through sophisticated computer modelling, analytics and voter targeting, to modestly improve on her showing among various voter groups that make up Florida’s complicated electoral mosaic.

The Crist victory map, on the surface, seems simple enough to achieve. Crist need not do dramatically better than Sink, just improve on the margins here and there.

Based on interviews with senior members of the Crist campaign team, here are some opportunities and goals the team is focused on: win 42 percent or more of the white vote, compared to the 41 percent Sink won, according to exit polls. That includes matching or exceeding the 44 percent of white women Sink won in 2010; win 49 percent of the Tampa Bay region, compared to the 46 percent Sink won; Win at least 52 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to the 48 percent Sink won; win more Republican voters than Scott wins Democratic voters; win at least 93 percent of the African-American vote and strive to increase black turnout from the 11 percent of the electorate it represented in 2010 toward the 14 percent it represented in 2012.

Some of the advantages for Crist are organic as Florida’s population and electorate steadily grow less white and thereby less Republican. That’s particularly true in the increasingly Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade.


Gov. Scott’s campaign promises this year are a U-turn of sorts from his first run for the job, where his policy proposals were geared to outsize his challengers and not tethered to the state’s economic realities.

This year, they’re tightly tethered: more classroom and environmental spending, and more highway, airport and port expansions.

Both Scott and Charlie Crist can pledge more spending for classrooms and college-tuition programs this fall because the national and state economies are recovering, meaning more tax dollars will be available next year.

Florida government is expected to have $1 billion more to spend in the fiscal year that just started July 1, and $1.1 billion more than that next year. There are many potential places to spend those dollars, but the ones that get highlighted in election years are usually tied to votes.

In 2010, Scott promised massive tax cuts that the Legislature couldn’t afford. This year, Scott is pitching construction projects that have been on the books for years, which any governor would be able to afford, many of which were pushed or envisioned by lawmakers or locals.

This isn’t a knock: It’s evidence of political pragmatism, the recognition that governors have to work with lawmakers to set spending policy, not try to mow over them. And comparatively, Crist has so far rolled out more photo ops than meaty policy proposals.

Scott’s adjustment is also a tale of two political economies: payback for business groups now helping to fund his campaign that are more interested in restarting or ramping up brick-and-mortar projects stalled during the Great Recession.

GOV. SCOTT’S REBOOT CATERS LESS TO TEA PARTY via William March of the Tampa Tribune

For four years, since he withdrew from the Republican Party and eventually became a Democrat, Crist has taken heat from Republicans as a political chameleon who changes colors to serve ambition and expediency.

But Crist isn’t the only candidate in the race to be governor who has undergone a change.

The tea party champion Rick Scott who harshly blasted the Republican establishment and promised to shrink Florida’s government when he ran for office in 2010 has become the consummate GOP political insider.

Today, he wheels and deals with the dealmakers he once said would be “crying into their cocktails” over his election, and he scores campaign points for increased spending on education and environmental restoration.

Big political donors Scott denounced in 2010 now pour six-figure contributions into his campaign, and Scott has powerful lobbyists and veteran political operatives as his closest advisers and backers.

“He certainly has changed. He’s moderated his stances on a number of issues, including Obamacare, the environment and education,” said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican.

The tea party “is not the power that it used to be. Scott is adjusting his positions in response to that political circumstance,” Paulson said. The Republican establishment is on board, he said, because “Scott’s the horse they have to ride.”


Gov. Scott is promising voters a $1 billion package of tax and fee cuts in a second term, including new limits on property tax increases and another cut in auto tag fees.

Every one of the proposals Scott will roll out in a two-week statewide tour would require the approval of the Legislature, which previously has been lukewarm to Scott’s call for a phase-out of the state corporate income tax and a sales-tax break for manufacturers.

Scott’s most ambitious tax cut idea would require approval of 60 percent of voters: a constitutional amendment to prevent property tax increases on homesteaded property if a home’s value stays level or goes down.

Property taxes are the backbone of all local government in Florida, and they increasingly carry the burden of paying for public school operations. The ability local governments have to keep up with growth during economic upswings is already hampered by the Save Our Homes amendment, which caps annual property tax increases at 3 percent. The Scott proposal would limit cities’ and counties’ ability to collect revenue during economic downturns as well by prohibiting tax increases if the assessed value of the home goes down.

Take a home bought 10 years ago for $150,000. The assessed value is now $200,000, but because of the Save Our Homes cap, the owner might be paying the artificially low taxable value of $170,000. So that means if that home’s value drops to $198,000, its taxes would still climb by 3 percent because the taxable value, after years of caps, is “catching up” to its appraised value.

Scott’s proposed amendment, however, would eliminate that “catch up” mechanism.

SCOTT’S PROPOSED BOOST TO ENVIRONMENTAL LAND-BUYING COMES AFTER THREE YEARS OF DISMANTLING LAND-BUYING DIVISION via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times When Gov. Scott unveiled a proposal this month to revive Florida’s popular environmental land-buying program, to the tune of $150 million a year, the news caught Greg Brock off guard. “I was kind of shocked,” said Brock, who recently retired from the Division of State Lands. That’s because Scott’s administration has spent the past three years dismantling the division of the Department of Environmental Protection that’s in charge of assessing and acquiring environmental land, according to Brock and other former DEP employees. Their funding was cut, their staffing numbers were trimmed back, and their focus was shifted away from buying property to trying to get rid of it, they said. The remaining employees were told that their objective “was changing from a goal of protecting conservation land to more of ‘We own land and we can’t afford to manage it, so we should look around for buyers,’ ” Long said. Scott’s DEP proposed, and the Legislature authorized, a drive in 2013 to sell off $50 million worth of its park and preserve property and then use the money raised to buy more land. The proposed sell-off created statewide controversy as waves of people objected. The DEP ended up abandoning the effort without having sold a single parcel. “That was just crazy,” said Judy Warrick, who retired this year after 15 years, 10 of which she spent piecing together a complex series of land deals for a major Everglades restoration project covering 50,000 acres. “They didn’t perceive that it was as important as it was to the public.” WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE WANTS YOU TO REMEMBER – REGISTRATION FEE CUTS TAKE EFFECT

A law that reduces vehicle-registration fees will take effect. The law, pushed by Gov. Scott and Republican legislative leaders, will roll back fee increases approved in 2009 as the state grappled with budget shortfalls.


Officially, Attorney Pam Bondi was the first to issue the debate challenge to George Sheldon.

It was just minutes after Sheldon had won the Democratic nomination for Attorney General on Tuesday night when Bondi’s campaign blasted an email stating that Bondi “calls for general election debate.”

“The voters will have a clear choice between candidates in this election and they deserve to hear directly from us on the distinct difference in visions and leadership that each candidate will offer,” the email stated. “This can be accomplished through thoughtful and respectful dialogue worthy of our great state.”

While celebrating with supporters at a Tallahassee wine bar, Sheldon accepted, and then some.

“I’ll debate her five times if she’s up for it.”

To emphasize that, Sheldon’s campaign blasted its challenge to Bondi on Friday: Five debates over the next two months.

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A coalition of voters’ groups appealed a judge’s ruling upholding new congressional district boundaries drawn by the Republican-led Legislature earlier this month.

But the appeal also could reopen Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’ original order in July, which overturned the 2012 map approved by the Legislature. Lewis found that two districts were specifically cast to help the Republican Party retain its overwhelming command of the 27-member congressional delegation.

During a 12-day trial earlier this summer, the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and several Democratic voters had presented a case accusing Republican leaders of using similar strategy in many more districts, including three in Palm Beach County.

Lewis, however, rejected those claims, a decision the voters’ groups said in their appeal that they could look to revisit. The coalition said it wants the matter “fully litigated in time for the 2016 elections.”

The coalition also is asking that the 1st District Court of Appeal turn the case over to the Florida Supreme Court to decide.

Lawmakers in special session this month redrew the boundaries of those seats and five adjoining districts in North and Central Florida. Lewis endorsed that plan last week.


The race to be Speaker of the Florida House in 2020-21 is essentially over.

Central Florida state Representative Eric Eisnaugle has won enough pledges from incoming and/or likely members of the House Republican caucus that he has locked up the race, says several knowledgeable sources familiar with the leadership race, including Republican legislators.

Eisnaugle’s position was already in a strong position after Tuesday’s primary elections, when his allies in House District 40 and 74 won their elections, although those pick-ups weren’t enough for Eisnaugle to declare victory.

What’s changed is the defection of two presumed supporters of Chris Sprowls, Eisnaugle’s leading rival for the Speakership. Those two defections have broken the back of Sprowls’ candidacy.

Additionally, the incoming and/or likely members of the House from the Miami-Dade region have also moved into Eisnaugle’s column.

TWEET, TWEET: @ChrisLatvala: Great night w my brothers @GovGoneWild@DannyBurgessFL@JamesGrantFL at the @ChrisSprowls wedding. #Cowboys

TWEET, TWEET: PYoung8712: @CWBill2 , Lions do not lose sleep over the opinions of sheep … or #Cowboys.


Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg declined an award from the Florida School Boards Association on Friday — one day after the organization announced plans to challenge the school voucher program in court.

“It is now apparent to me that the association’s stance on educating low income students and access to choice in education is too conflicting with my own,” Legg wrote in a letter to FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton. “It saddens me that the FSBA would take a position that looks to eliminate customization in education, an approach which is widely viewed to be essential to improving student learning.”

The FSBA named Legg its Legislator of the Year on July 1.

His notification letter included a hand-written message from Blanton: “Thanks for all you have done for us. Your support of technology is greatly appreciated by all of the school districts.”

Legg, a Trinity Republican and longtime supporter of school choice, declined the honor.

“It is my sincere hope that the FSBA will abandon this hostile view toward low income students and customization,” he wrote. “While in the past, we may not have agreed on every issue, we nevertheless maintained a healthy respect while working to resolve our differences for the betterment of all students. I hope the FSBA will redirect its efforts for the advancement of all our students and I look forward to working with you to that end.”


A Pinellas County lawmaker is asking Gov. Rick Scott to block the corporate takeover of Florida condominiums as owners in a Boynton Beach community fight to keep their properties.

In a letter, Rep. Carl Zimmerman said Scott has the power to order the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to stop approving condo terminations — a legal maneuver that allows companies to buy out condos, giving owners only fair market value for their units.

About 235 condominiums have terminated statewide since a 2007 change in state law allowed for the takeovers. Under the amendment, a condominium can be dissolved if 80 percent of owners agree to its termination.

About 20 owners in the 364-unit Via Lugano condominium in Boynton Beach filed a lawsuit in June trying to stop a Newton, Mass.-based company from using the condo termination law to force them to sell at prices under what they paid during the real estate boom.

The firm, Northland Lugano LLC, has purchased an estimated 93 percent of the condominium’s units. The June lawsuit claims owners were “threatened” and “scared” into believing that if they didn’t sell before a termination plan was filed, there would be no money left to distribute to holdouts.

Scott’s office referred questions about Zimmerman’s letter to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which said it has “no authority to regulate condo terminations.”


In the final days before the election, voters in Florida House District 31 got campaign mail aimed at thwarting 23-year-old Jennifer Sullivan, who had surged past her much older and better-financed opponents.

“Wisdom comes with age,” the attack ad read. “Can a 23-year-old, still living at home, truly represent us?”

Voters in the district that covers northern Orange and Lake counties answered yes at the polls, electing by six percentage points the home-schooled daughter of North Lake Tea Party founder Patricia Sullivan to a two-year term.

She was widely viewed as the most conservative choice in the five-candidate race, which included Randy Glisson, whose father, Jim, had served in both the Florida Senate and House; Terri Seefeldt, who received the endorsement of former Rep. Bryan Nelson of Apopka; and Belita “B” Grassel, former head of the teachers’ union in Lake County.

The election, initially a Republican primary, turned into the only race for the seat when Democrats failed to offer a candidate who could challenge the GOP winner in November. All voters, regardless of party affiliation, could vote in the primary — a fact that Lake County political blogger Vance Joachim thought would hurt Sullivan.

Sullivan said she learned from her mother’s unsuccessful run for Congress in 2010 and more fruitful campaigns for which she has volunteered, including the 2008 referendum that banned gay marriage in Florida.


For the Florida Legislature, time is a valuable – and scarce – resource.

Early organization of a lawmaking schedule leads to efficient use of workdays, especially in the hectic start of the state’s annual 60-day session.

Republican House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, in an effort to maximize time management, has released a tentative interim committee schedule for the 2015 legislative session.

The House Organization Session – the preliminary administrative event — will convene on Tuesday, November 18, with training for new House Members and district staff set for the week of December 8.

As for pre-session committee meetings — which maintain short sessions and part-time legislative schedules — meetings will held the weeks of January 5; January 20 (which begins on Tuesday for observance of the Martin Luther King Holiday),  February 2, February 9 and February 16.

Note that committee meetings are not scheduled for the second week in January, when the Florida State Seminoles football team is expected to contend for the national championship.

The 2015 legislative session begins Tuesday, March 3.

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Florida Republicans are on the road this Labor Day for two away-game fundraisers supporting its House campaign arm.

The RPOF makes its way to the Big Apple for two special sports-related fundraising events: Today at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament at Flushing Meadow in New York City, followed by a baseball game between two teams popular in Florida — the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees — on Tuesday, September 2 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

APPOINTED: Brian Ramos to the Board of Pilot Commissioners.


In commemoration of Labor Day Weekend, let’s take a moment prior to embarking on our long weekends to think about what the holiday means for Floridians, and to feel gratitude for having said long weekend at all.

Labor unions were an absolute necessity in the graduation of our nation from barbaric employment practices to a far safer society for workers, but in our modern context, this role that has become more debatable. (Insert your moment of private reflection here).

Your thoughts on “right to work” and its policy cousins aside, let’s take a look at what organized labor means politically in Florida through the lens of our state’s professional lobbyist corps.

The first difficulty in doing so is to determine exactly which “associations” represented by lobbyists before Florida’s legislative and executive branches are indeed unions.

For some — such as the AFSCME Florida Council 79, with the three-person lobby team of Patrick BellClay Dickey, and Jeanette Wynn — the determination is easy.

But for others, such Florida’s mega teacher’s union, it is a lot harder to tell without an insider’s eye. Case in point, the Florida Education Association (FEA) is the largest union in Florida, with 137,000 or so members, and with a lobbyist list 15 members long. Among these teacher’s union lobbyists are Albert BalidoTina DunbarPatsy DixRonald MeyerAmy RodmanAndrew FordJeff Wright, and Jacqueline Sisto.

Miami-Dade County teachers also have six lobbyists, including Karyn CunninghamFedrick Ingram, and Joseph Minor, representing their interests through the United Teachers of Dade. And, the faculty of Miami Dade College can get its lobbying done through Ana Alejandre Ciereszko.

Then, there’s the Florida Police Benevolent Association with its team of 13 lobbyists, and no shortage of political clout, either. I don’t know for sure, but I think this lineup of lobbyists may be the largest number of in-house lobbyists for a single organization in Florida. None of the 13 lobby for another organization. They include Matthew PuckettMike McHaleGene JohnsonErnest GeorgeGary Bradford, and John Rivera.

Other membership unions in Florida approach the political process with fewer hands on deck. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has David Lavery as its solo lobbyist; the International Longshoreman Association Local #1416/1922/1526/1408 lobbies through David Caserta; the International Union of Police Associations works exclusively with Jeffrey Edmiston on its political efforts; and the International Union of Office and Professional Employees has lobbyist Bob Levy on their case.

Then there’s the SEIU — the Service Employees International Union — whose purple and yellow presence is regularly felt through the halls at 400 S. Monroe Street — but who have just two registered lobbyists: Alexander Samuel Ring and Ronald Bilbao.

Finally, the United Transportation Union has lobbyist Andrew Trujillo registered for its cause; and the Teamsters Joint Council 75 & Affiliates work with Missie Timmins and Ron Silver to work its political agenda with Florida lawmakers.

So, then, just how many folks do these lobbyists work on behalf of? (Yes, I know, union advocates’ answer would be “everyone’s.”)

In 2011, Florida’s union membership share of total employment (6.3 percent) was just more than half that of the nation (11.8 percent), and these ratios are comparable still today. Union membership’s share of total Florida employment was 6.3 percent in 2011, up from 5.6 percent in 2010.

Overall, union membership in Florida increased to 460,000 in 2011, up from 392,000 members in 2010, an increase of nearly 18 percent. Perhaps this jump in union membership is due in part to the 20,000 correctional, probation and parole officers with the Florida Department of Corrections who voted in 2011 to join the Teamsters Union.

However, union membership shares dropped a bit by 2013 — to 5.4 percent of employed Floridians being members of unions and 6.9 percent being represented by unions regardless of membership.

In 2011, among the ten most populous states, Florida (6.3 percent) ranked fourth lowest behind North Carolina (2.9 percent). New York had the highest union membership rate, accounting for nearly one in four workers there.


Bruce Douglas, Nicole Fried, Katherine Webb, Colody Fass: Grandiflora; Marc Meisel

Tom Gallagher, Colodny Fass: People’s Trust Insurance Company

David Ramba, Ramba Consulting: Village of Wellington

John Ray: Seychelles Organices


On Context FloridaMartin Dyckman reminds us the Internet is only a tool in the service of both good and evil, making no pretense of balance. The advantage goes to those who get there first. When Adam Weinstein looks at the presidential search process at Florida State University — the encroachment of politics and business into student life — it becomes clear his alma mater is about to embark on an exciting new experiment: What happens when you turn an institution of higher learning into an annex of the Legislature and lobbyists? Student loan debt is crushing the American Dream for far too many Floridians, posing a significant threat to our nation’s economy. Mark Ferrulo offers a simple, common sense solution to this problem: refinancing. Marc Yacht commends Lee County for the courage to “just say no” to high-stakes testing. Last week, the Lee County School Board voted to end all state-required testing in the county’s public schools. Schools boards must stand up, whatever the cost, to protect public schools in Florida and across the nation.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Patrick Slevin of SL7 Communications interviews author & UCLA Prof. Ed Walker who has published his new book: Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy.  The interview reveals surprising research on traditional lobbying, astroturf campaigns, the rise of C4 associations and how citizen participation is mobilized to influence public policy. Go to for the featured interview. 

MANATEES MAY LOSE ENDANGERED SPECIES STATUS via Jennifer Kay of the Associated Press

Florida’s manatees need even more stringent protections than their listing on the federal endangered species list, Groff said, adding that boaters should go elsewhere if they don’t like speed limits in waters where manatees swim.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered.

As part of the lengthy review process, the agency is seeking public comment on its finding that a petition to reclassify the manatee has merits. A decision on whether a change is warranted won’t be made until the agency completes its review, which could take a year.

Manatees, also known as sea cows, are vegetarian giants that average nearly 10 feet long and 2,200 pounds and live near the shore and in coastal waterways around much of Florida. The animal’s biggest threats are boats, cold water, toxic algae blooms and fishing debris like discarded lines and ropes.

Critics of the manatee’s current endangered listing say manatees are important to the state’s tourism industry and environment, so everyone wants them to thrive, but the species has recovered sufficiently over the last 47 years to be reclassified. Florida’s manatee population has grown from several hundred in 1967 to over 4,800 in this year. Under current regulations, boaters must avoid manatee areas or obey tight speed limits and fishermen can’t use some equipment.

Save Crystal River Inc. and the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the government in 2012 to reclassify the manatee, citing a 2007 federal review that recommended listing the species as threatened since the population is recovering. They say if the federal government followed its own rules, the reclassification should be automatic.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Dr. Ed Moore. Celebrating today is John McBride and Judi Spann.

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.