Sunburn for 10/29 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

***Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.***

THE LAST 24 HOURS

A federal judge has struck down Texas’s new restrictions on abortion, blocking the law one day before it was set to take effect. The Texas attorney general is expected to appeal the judge’s decision to block the law, which gained national attention following a high-profile filibuster from state Sen. Wendy Davis. Elsewhere, details continue to emerge about what went wrong in the run-up to the launch of HealthCare.gov. And the law’s proponents are growing increasingly concerned about how the website’s problems could torpedo larger, more important aspects of the law. 

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FRAGMENTATION AT ROOT OF OBAMACARE SITE WOES via the Wall Street Journal

From the start, the effort to develop HealthCare.gov lacked coordination, as separate teams in Bethesda, Baltimore and Washington worked without anyone overseing coordination. According to administration officials, “Divergent agency cultures, political directives that clashed with operational deadlines, a compressed timeline, and dispersed geography led to the federal site’s technical failures.” 

BUT THE WEBSITE IS JUST THE BEGINNING via Sam Baker of National Journal

Obamacare is more than a website, and the problems with it appear to extend beyond the virtual-registration portal. And if the young don’t end up enrolling en masse, the law could be severely undercut. 

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IMMIGRATION REFORM PITCH GETS AGGRESSIVE via William Gibson of the Sun Sentinel 

Expect more sit-ins, fasting vigils and demonstrations in coming months, as exasperated immigrants and their supporters in Florida turn to new, more aggressive tactics to demand legal status for an illegal population. Tired of waiting for Congress to act, some champions of immigration reform in South Florida are risking arrest while resorting to civil disobedience to draw public attention to their cause. 

An ongoing vigil in Broward County is part of an escalating series of pressure tactics.

“If it requires me to be disobedient, I will do it — and do it again,” said Pedro Alaniz, a chef in Lake Worth who went to Washington earlier this month to get arrested along with 207 others who blocked a street during a mass rally. 

“We are tired of the politicians just giving us promises and they don’t do anything,” said Alaniz, 42, a legal Mexican immigrant. “I left my fingerprints in Washington in black and white, but it was worth it. We will do that here in Florida. We won’t plan it. When we see a chance, we will just do it.”

The demonstrations are heating up as President Barack Obama tries to breathe new life into legislation in Congress that would legalize an estimated 825,000 immigrants in Florida and about 11 million elsewhere and give them a path to citizenship. Advocates for Florida’s vast immigrant communities are increasing pressure on Republican members of the U.S. House to consider a reform bill similar to one passed in June by the Senate. It would beef up enforcement at the borders, require employers to verify the status of workers and allow millions of immigrants to live and work in the U.S. legally after paying fines, learning English and passing a criminal background check.

Caught in the middle, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach County, already has been hit from both sides of the explosive debate, with reform backers waging a sit-in at his Doral offices earlier this month while opponents shouted and waved signs outside.

Diaz-Balart has been waiting for the right time to unveil legislation that can draw enough support from fellow Republicans to bring it to the House floor for a vote. Most Democrats have long been willing to vote for something similar to the Senate bill. He acknowledges that time is running out before next year’s congressional election season politicizes the debate and makes “what is already difficult even more difficult.” That means it must happen by the end of this year or the beginning of 2014.

But House Republican leaders have declared they will not consider a bill unless it’s backed by most Republicans. Diaz-Balart wants to lower the temperature, which he says is the only way to persuade wavering lawmakers.

MARCO RUBIO NOW OPPOSES GOING TO CONFERENCE WITH SENATE IMMIGRATION BILL via Matthew Boyle of Breitbart 

A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” said that the House should not pass individual piecemeal immigration bills in a “ruse” to get to a conference committee that would result in a comprehensive immigration bill. 

“At this point, the most realistic way to make progress on immigration would be through a series of individual bills,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said in an email. “Any effort to use a limited bill as a ruse to trigger a conference that would then produce a comprehensive bill would be counterproductive. Furthermore, any such effort would fail, because any single senator can and will block conference unless such conference is specifically instructed to limit the conference to only the issue dealt with in the underlying bill.” 

In taking such a stance, Rubio has now publicly opposed the procedural mechanism through which House GOP leadership and Senate Democratic leadership had planned to try to slip a backdoor amnesty through Congress and save the Senate bill. 

Rubio’s decision to come out against a conference committee on the Senate bill for which he served as a lead sponsor comes on the heels of him telling CNN on Friday that he thinks the House’s piecemeal approach is better than the Senate’s comprehensive approach. Rubio also told CNN he thinks it is acceptable for Congress to delay dealing with certain parts of immigration reform–presumably a pathway to citizenship or legalization–that do not have a “consensus” of support nationwide and in Washington.

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FORMER CONGRESSMAN FREY TOUTS THE NEED FOR CIVIC EDUCATION via Gerald Ensley of the Tallahassee Democrat 

Former U.S. Congressman Lou Frey will talk Tuesday at Florida’s Historic Capitol Museum. The talk is free and open to the public. It begins with a reception and refreshments at 5:30 p.m.; Frey will talk at 6:30 p.m. The numbers distress Lou Frey, the former U.S. Congressman from Central Florida. 

Florida ranks 46th in civic literacy. An amazing 43 percent of Floridians don’t know the three branches of government. Only 44 percent of the state’s millennial generation (ages 18 to 29) are registered to vote — and only 21 percent of millennials have voted. 

So Frey has spent the past 10 years continuing what he started 40 years ago while in Congress — when he co-authored legislation to lower the voting age to 18. He has tried to boost civic education in Florida schools and to boost political awareness among young people. 

Frey will share his concerns Tuesday evening at Florida’s Historic Capitol Museum. He will speak as part of a yearlong exhibit at the museum entitled, “Choosing To Participate: The Power of Civic Engagement.” 

Efforts to restore mandatory civics classes in Florida began in 2006. But it was not until 2010 that the Florida legislature passed the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act, honoring the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice who has promoted the cause. 

Florida seventh graders now take a class in civics and must pass an annual examination. Civics education also must be incorporated in other classes through 12th grade. Frey’s institute at UCF has trained 23,000 Florida teachers how to teach civics. And in three years, more than 200,000 Florida seventh graders have passed the civics test.

MITCH MALLETT MAY CHALLENGE VERN BUCHANAN via Jeremy Wallace of the Herald Tribune

A Democrat who has dubbed himself the “practical liberal” is planning to challenge U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan for re-election to Congress. Bradenton resident Mitch Mallett, who for nearly 8 years has been the host of a liberal A.M. radio talk show, said he plans to file to run for the 16th Congressional District, which includes all of Sarasota and most of Manatee County.

“I’ve been involved in politics for a long time,” said Mallett, who has been involved with the Manatee Democratic Party since 2000. “I think I would be a good congressman.”

Mallett, 57, said he has a good grasp of the issues and is convinced he can win voters over if he can get his message out.

One of his top issues Mallett said will be fighting for a higher minimum wage, which he said would reduce the need for working people to need food stamp programs to feed their families.

Mallett said he has filed his papers to run for the office, but the Federal Election Commission had not posted a statement of candidacy from Mallett as of Friday morning. A statement of candidacy and an official campaign account are required to run for federal office.

Mallett has never run for office before and will have a tough battle if he qualifies to run. Buchanan is a four-term incumbent who spent $2.6 million to win his re-election in 2012 against Sarasota Democrat Keith Fitzgerald. The district Mallett is hoping to win is considered a Republican-leaning district because registered Republicans outnumber register Democrats. The 16th District has about 210,000 registered Republicans compared to about 155,000 Democrats. Another 100,000 are registered to vote with neither of the two major parties.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will make a transportation funding and jobs announcement at the Melbourne International Airport. 3:00 p.m.

JOHN THRASHER AS SCOTT’S NO. 2? ‘NOT GOING TO SPECULATE ON THAT’ via Steve Bosquet of the Tampa Bay Times 

It has been nearly eight months since Jennifer Carroll resigned as Florida’s Lieutenant Governor, and Gov. Scott appears to be in no hurry to name her replacement. But speculation persists that Scott and his top aide have quietly settled on state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine as his new partner, and Thrasher won’t completely rule out his interest. 

“I’m not going to speculate on that. I’m happy being a senator,” Thrasher said Monday. About the chatter that he’s Scott’s No. 1 choice, he said: “It’s all news to me … I don’t know where the speculation’s coming from. Nobody has directly contacted me from the governor’s office.” 

As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Thrasher wields plenty of power in the state Capitol. But within a year, control of the Senate will shift to Sen. Andy Gardiner who last year survived an attempted coup by Thrasher to keep his grip on the presidency. It would surprise nobody if Gardiner has someone other than Thrasher in mind for the agenda-setting Rules chairmanship. 

Scott’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, told The Buzz last Friday that it would be “not true” to report that Thrasher’s selection is imminent. Scott’s office said nothing has changed as of Monday. The governor’s office dismissed the notion that Scott may want to announce his choice by Friday, just before leaving for a week-long trade mission to Japan, and in an effort to steal the spotlight from Charlie Crist’s candidacy announcement next Monday.

Thrasher has the respect not only of Scott, but especially Hollingsworth, a close friend who’s in charge of the search. Thrasher also is a consummate deal-maker and effective fund-raiser who played a pivotal role in orchestrating the ouster of former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, who was Crist’s hand-picked choice for party chairman.

But Thrasher, 69, a multimillionaire who lives in St. Augustine, would not help Scott expand his base: he’s a safe establishment pick who would appease centrists and help Scott govern, as opposed to enhancing his re-election prospects.

After leaving office, Thrasher made millions as a super-lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group, making him an easy mark as a symbol of all that’s wrong with Tallahassee and its revolving door culture.

Thrasher’s past controversies also will be gleefully recycled by Scott’s critics, too. He was twice punished for ethics violations and oversaw a $6 million refurbishing of the House chamber when he was speaker (1998-2000), but that’s ancient news.

Now, the plot thickens: Thrasher’s departure from the Senate would open his seat and demand a special election, so it could alter the balance of power for control of the chamber in the 2016-18 term, when Republicans Jack Latvala and Joe Negron are both seeking the presidency. (Thrasher is aligned with Negron).

The first reporter to publicly float Thrasher as a plausible L.G. was the Times‘ Adam Smith, in late August. Scott has to choose someone sooner or later. He’s being advised by Republican allies to choose an L.G. soon or wait until next May, after the 2014 legislative session ends, by which time the campaign will be heating up.

GOV. SCOTT OFTEN REJECTS FLORIDA BAR’S LISTS OF LAWYERS TO NOMINATE JUDGES via Steve Bosquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott, seeking to bring the court system more in line with his conservative outlook, has repeatedly rejected lists recommended to him by the Florida Bar of lawyers seeking to screen candidates for judgeships. Scott has rejected dozens of attorneys the Bar has nominated to serve on judicial nominating commissions, created decades ago to professionalize the bench and make merit and qualifications at least as important as political connections.

“He wants people with humility,” says Scott’s chief counsel, Pete Antonacci, “and he wants judges who will follow the law and not make it up as they go along.”

The Bar said Scott’s two predecessors, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, never rejected any of its nominees.

All 26 nominating commissions for the trial and appellate courts and the Supreme Court are composed of nine members. Scott appoints five members of his choosing and must appoint four others from lists provided by the Bar’s Board of Governors, some of whom are liberal Democrats who did not support Scott’s election.

The governor has rejected the lists 16 times and has never publicly given a reason and is not required to do so. Scott has sent back so many Bar-recommended names that the group keeps a five-page spreadsheet to track them. Lawyers who are registered Democrats, are aligned with left-leaning groups or who promote themselves as trial lawyers appear to have little hope of gaining the Governor’s favor.

“The Florida Bar is not an accountable organization in any electoral way,” Antonacci said. “The accountability in the process is with the governor.”

A spokeswoman for the Bar, Francine Walker, said: “The Florida Bar respects that the governor can reject nominees it submits.”

Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, criticized Scott’s frequent pattern of rejecting Bar-supported lawyers.

SCOTT IN ST. PETERSBURG TODAY FOR GOP FUNDRAISER 

Gov. Scott will visit St. Petersburg today, as he headlines a Pinellas County Republican Party fundraising reception Tuesday, October 29. The event begins 5:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, at 11 Central Avenue. Co-chaired by Jay Beyrouti and Jim Holton, the reception host committee includes a list of prominent Pinellas County GOP political and civic leaders, such as: Entrepreneur Bill Edwards, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, County Tax Collector Diane Nelson, Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, and State Reps. Kathleen Peters, Larry Ahern and Ed Hooper. To attend the event, the suggested minimum contribution is $100 per person. To RSVP, contact pinellasevent@gmail.com or call Pam Hinds at (727) 392-5636 or (727) 709-1679. 

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APPEALS COURT DENIES REHEARING IN TRAUMA BATTLE via The News Service of Florida

The 1st District Court of Appeal has rejected requests for a rehearing in a legal fight that poses a threat to the continued operation of trauma centers at Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County.

The hospitals, affiliated with the HCA hospital chain, sought a rehearing last month after a ruling by a three-judge panel of the appeals court. That ruling bolstered the legal position of four hospitals in the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas that have waged a long-running effort to shut down the trauma centers.

The Florida Department of Health allowed the trauma centers to open in 2011, despite a ruling by an administrative law judge that the department had used an invalid rule in approving the facilities. The department later denied an attempt by Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and UF Health Jacksonville to challenge the approvals, saying those hospitals did not have legal standing. But the three-judge panel last month rejected the department’s denial and said the challenges should be heard in the state Division of Administrative Hearings. 

CONTEXT FLORIDA

Steve Robinson opens with the sobering question of “where is the outrage?” regarding ongoing gun violence in schools; and Ben Kirby continues, sharing the social and economic costs of suicide and touting the advocacy of Jason Tompkins, chair of the newly chartered Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide prevention. Then, Julie Delegal pens a column warning that education reform will fail if poverty isn’t addressed, and Darryl Paulson begins the first of a two-part series on the problem with Obamacare, this time focusing on “the process.”

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

FLORIDA BRACES FOR CUTS TO FOOD STAMP PROGRAM via Margie Manzel of the Miami Herald

Florida’s food programs are bracing for cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that kick in Friday — while watching warily as U.S. House and Senate conferees prepare to negotiate a federal farm bill, which could have much more far-reaching consequences for hungry Floridians.

Food banks and other programs that help Florida’s 3.6 million food-insecure residents have known for years about the cuts coming this week. The cuts were built into the 2008 federal-stimulus package that temporarily added money to SNAP, also known as food stamps, during the depths of the economic recession.

But that won’t make the cuts any easier, say advocates for the food banks and other supplemental programs. The cuts amount to $36 monthly for a family of four getting the maximum benefit of roughly $668.

“That’s going to be a significant hit for families,” said Rebecca Brislain, executive director of the Florida Association of Food Banks. “We already know SNAP doesn’t last the whole month.”

The good news, said Brislain, is short-term: The state’s food banks have built their donor base and increased distribution since the recession began. Four years ago, they were collecting and distributing 72 million pounds of food a year; now, that’s up to 173 million pounds a year. But Brislain said the long-term problem is that Florida isn’t recovering from the recession fast enough, and the state’s many low-paying jobs don’t provide enough income to make ends meet.

All it takes is what some people consider a small family crisis — a flat tire, someone in the family getting sick — anything can stretch the circumstances to the point they need extra help, she said. There’s no discretion on your rent. Food is the one area that people can cut back on. Florida’s food hardship rate is more than 21 percent, meaning that one in five Florida households reported that in the past year they struggled to buy enough food for the family.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA ARGUMENTS SLATED FOR DECEMBER via the News Service of Florida

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments Dec. 5 about whether a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana should go before voters in 2014.

Justices on Monday issued an order scheduling the arguments, which will focus on the wording of the ballot initiative. Attorney General Pam Bondi last week filed a document arguing that the court should block a vote on the proposed amendment. Bondi contended, in part, that the ballot language could deceive voters about the extent of marijuana use that would be allowed.

Along with needing the Supreme Court to sign off on the ballot language, backers also must collect 683,149 valid petition signatures by Feb. 1.

POLICY NOTES h/t to The Florida Current

Revenue estimating on tobacco taxes: The Revenue Estimating Conference will meet to discuss state tobacco taxes at 10 a.m., 117 Knott Building, the Capitol.

Southwest Florida Water Management District: Board meets 9:30 a.m. at The Villages Savannah Center, 1545 N. Buena Vista Blvd., The Villages. The agenda can be found here.

Agency for Health Care Administration abortion hearing: Meeting to discuss the direct or indirect regulatory costs of requiring an ultrasound exam on a patient before an abortion can be performed. The agency has concluded costs will not exceed $200,000 and any rule change to comply with the ultrasound regulation will not require legislative approval. The meeting begins 10 a.m. in AHCA Building 3, Conference Room D, 2727 Mahan Drive. Tallahassee.

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A Q&A WITH REP. MATT GAETZ ON ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ ISSUE

Representative Matt Gaetz,  a self-proclaimed outspoken North Florida Republican, known for his tell it like is style and no holds barred delivery, was selected to lead the Stand Your Ground Task Force by House Speaker Will Weatherford.  Gaetz has made his opinion clear on the matter – saying that he believes Stand Your Ground is good public policy for Florida and that it puts the law on the side of victims.  And this November 7, he will have a chance to hear from Floridians, as well as his colleagues – many who will have differing opinions from his own – during the first hearing on the Stand Your Ground Law that he will be chairing. Ahead of this significant hearing, we wanted to ask Representative Gaetz a few questions about Stand Your Ground and how he envisions these hearings going. 

See his Q&A here.

SEN PREZ: DON’T CUT TAXES IN A ‘DRIB AND A DRAB’ via the News Service of Florida

Senate President Don Gaetz said he thinks the reductions should be focused in a couple of major areas.

During an interview last week on The Florida Channel’s “Florida Face to Face” show, Gaetz touted a Senate plan to roll back vehicle-registration fees that were increased in 2009 and also floated the possibility of reducing the state’s communications-services tax, which is charged on such things as cell-phone bills. He also emphasized that he thinks reductions should be targeted to help consumers. “I think if we do a dollar here and 40 cents there, you don’t really have much of an impact on people’s sense of how much money they have in their pockets,” Gaetz said. “I’d rather do two or three things right, and do them with impact, than do a lot of things in a drib and a drab.” 

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MEGA-FUNDRAISER SET FOR 9 GOP REPS TONIGHT IN TAMPA 

Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli, as well as Speaker Designates-to-be Richard Corcoran and Jose Oliva, along with VIP hosts Corcoran & Johnson, Florida Crystals, North Bay Health Associates, and Southern Strategy Group, have reserved the Oxford Exchange in Tampa for a reception to benefit the re-election campaigns of nine GOP representatives: Larry Ahern, Ben Albritton, James Grant, Kathleen Peters, Ray Pilon, JakeRaburn, Dan Raulerson, Jimmie Smith, and Ross Spano.  

Florida ALFA, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Florida Certification Board, Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, Jefferson Monroe, LLC, Johnson & Blanton, and John Kirtley are on the host committee for the event.

The fundraiser begins with a VIP reception from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m.; a general reception will follow. 

REMATCH LOOMING IN HD 2

Little more than four months after losing a special election, Democrat Jeremy Lau has opened a campaign account to challenge State Rep. Mike Hill in 2014. Lau filed paperwork Friday to run again in House District 2, which includes parts of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, according to the state Division of Elections website. 

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HILLSBOROUGH CIVIL SERVICE CONSIDERS TAX MONEY FOR LOBBYIST via Bill Varian of the Tampa Bay Times 

The Hillsborough County Civil Service Board this week will consider hiring a lobbyist to stave off efforts to sharply cut its powers over hiring and promotion decisions in local government. Civil Service chief Dane Petersen will ask his board Tuesday for permission to spend up to $75,000 to lobby legislators, who ultimately would have to approve any changes to his agency. Some of the officials seeking the changes are questioning whether Civil Service has the legal authority to use tax dollars to engage a lobbying firm. Whether it does or not, they say it would not be proper. 

“If it were legal, we still have a real problem with them taking the money we pay them to lobby against us,” said County Administrator Mike Merrill, whose organization is Civil Service’s biggest client. “It’s like you wanting to change accountants and your accountant goes out to hire a lobbyist to work against you.” 

If its board approves, Civil Service would be the second agency in recent months to hire lobbyists to thwart plans to dismantle some of its operations. The county’s Public Transportation Commission approved spending $70,000 on a lobbying firm this summer under threat of legislation that would do away with the agency that regulates for-hire vehicle operators. 

The difference is that Civil Service gets most of its money from tax dollars, while the PTC derives its revenue from fees it charges cab, limo, tow truck and ambulance companies to regulate them. Merrill said the county attorney and clerk’s offices are looking into whether Civil Service can use tax money to lobby. 

Under legislation being crafted by County Attorney Chip Fletcher, regulated agencies could opt out of most of what Civil Service does, except the grievance process. They would be on their own to make hiring and promotion decisions, or could hire private companies or even Civil Service, to do some of that work. 

Merrill and others, such as Tax Collector Doug Belden and Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, say Civil Service is an anachronism. They say its rigid rules make it unnecessarily difficult for them to make personnel decisions in an era that requires flexibility. 

Each said they have been appealing to Civil Service for years to make changes. While it has made some, they say persistent problems left no option but to seek legislative change.

MAJOR D.C. WASHINGTON LOBBY LAW FIRM IN MERGER TALKS via Casey Sullivan of Reuters.

Patton Boggs … is in talks to merge with a larger U.S. law firm … Reuters [reported] Friday that Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman were in advanced merger discussions to create what would be one of the top 10 largest law firms in the country. Two former Patton Boggs partners told Reuters the Washington firm, with nearly 500 lawyers and public policy advisers, is in merger discussions with Locke Lord of Dallas, which has more than 650 lawyers and consultants. … Patton Boggs said … Sunday that all law firms that recognize the rapidly changing landscape should be looking for ways to improve their platform for their partners and to better serve their clients. … Patton Boggs is also in merger talks with a law firm outside the United States … Locke Lord … is known for its energy, litigation and insurance practices.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of the best, Bascom Communications and Consulting’s Kristen Bridges. Also celebrating today are Alan Brock and Rivers Buford III. Belatedly, please let me wish Deborah Cox-Roush a very happy birthday.

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.