Sunburn for 1/13 – 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.***

FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

Will David Jolly hang on to the lead shown in recent polls and win Tuesday’s GOP primary in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District? Or will General Mark Bircher or Rep. Kathleen Peters pull an upset?

Will the 2016 legislative session begin in January? The House Government Operations Subcommittee will take up a proposal, HB 9 by Rep. Jeanette Nunez, that would lead to legislative sessions in even-numbered years starting in January. Sessions now start in March, except in redistricting years.

Will there be drama about trauma? As television ads airing throughout the state attempt to convince viewers (and lawmakers) of the value of more trauma care centers, the House Health Innovation Subcommittee will receive a presentation on Wednesay by the Department of Health about the state’s trauma system.

What news will come of the Florida Chamber’s annual insurance summit, which begins on Thursday at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Gov. Scott, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, Citizens Insurance CEO Barry Gilway and several laawmakers are scheduled to take part in the two-day confab.

Will Lemieux get lucky … again? The former U.S. Senator is among three finalists for the presidency of Florida Atlantic University. FAU board of trustees will interview the candidates on Friday, when a decision could come about who will lead the school.

PROGRAMMING NOTE

Michelle and I will be celebrating our second wedding anniversary on Wednesday, so Sunburn will be off on Thursday.

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OBAMA’S PROPOSED MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE WOULD HELP A MILLION FLORIDIANS via William Gibson of the Sun-Sentinel

Florida’s minimum wage rose by 14 cents on Jan. 1, which makes it 68 cents higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 but still leaves hundreds of thousands of workers in the state hovering near the poverty line.

Now President Obama wants to give them and millions of others across the country a raise to $10.10 an hour by 2016 through a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage. More than a million Florida workers would benefit because they now make less than $10.10 an hour, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

… The impact would be especially significant in Florida, which has the second-largest number of people making minimum wage after Texas, mostly because of the large numbers of workers in hotels, restaurants and other service industries.

Obama’s proposal, part of a pitch to confront income inequality, revives a long-contentious debate about the minimum wage and its impact on jobs.

Proponents say it would not only bolster the working poor but indirectly benefit those who make more than the minimum wage by putting upward pressure on the salary scale.

… But critics say the minimum wage discourages hiring and dries up some entry-level jobs, which give inexperienced workers a chance to gain skills that lead to better- paying employment.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: SEBELIUS IN TAMPA TODAY TO TALK OBAMACARE

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will appear with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to make an announcement about health-coverage enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. Loretta Ingraham Center, Tampa. 12 p.m.

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MILLIONAIRES CLUB – MORE THAN HALF OF MEMBERS OF CONGRESS ARE MILLIONAIRES via Derek Wallbank of Bloomberg

[F]or the first time, more than 50 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress are millionaires, according to the Center for Responsive Politics … The median net worth … was $1,008,767. That’s the first time the median has exceeded $1 million, the center found … There are 268 current members [out of 530] who had a net worth of $1 million or more, up from 257 members, or 48 percent, a year earlier. … Senators and representatives earn a base annual salary of $174,000, not counting benefits, though lawmakers in leadership positions can earn more. Permissible outside income is capped at just more than $27,000. 

THE RISE OF THE SIX FIGURE CHECK via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union

New Year’s Eve is a night filled with Champagne bottles popping, funny hats, and a famous ball descending 141 feet in New York City’s Times Square. This year, that list could include an additional item: big political checks.

Six campaign contributions worth $100,000 or more – five to a committee supporting Gov. Rick Scott – were cashed on the final day of 2013, campaign finance records show.

Though the one-night haul represents a happy New Year’s Eve for Scott, it is also emblematic of the explosion of six-figure campaign contributions in Florida politics. For example, there were a total of five six-figure campaign checks given through this point during the first 12 months of the 2000 election cycle, less than were given on one night this year.

There have been 195 contributions of $100,000 or more so far during the 2014 campaign cycle — from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2013. That’s more than double the 87 given through this point during the 2012 election cycle, and a bigger jump yet over the 76 given through this point in the 2010 cycle.

“Each electoral cycle sees more money flowing into politics,” said Tim Baker, a Republican political consultant who works on races across the state. “That’s especially the case when statewide officers are on the ballot.”

Leading the way is Let’s Get to Work, a committee supporting Scott’s re-election. It has received 55 checks of $100,000 or more. His largest was a $1 million check from South Florida health care executive Mike Fernandez.

The biggest individual donors that have given $100,000-plus individual contributions are Florida Power & Light, which gave seven contributions worth $1.5 million; Publix, which gave six worth $890,000; and Progress Energy, which gave five checks worth $800,000.

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RICK SCOTT’S ACTUAL CAMPAIGN COLLECTS JUST $13K IN IN-KIND CONTRIBUTIONS

If it wasn’t clear before that Governor Rick Scott plans to run his re-election campaign through the “Let’s Get To Work” committee, the first campaign finance report for Scott’s actual campaign should end any confusion.

Scott’s campaign — not LGTW and its ability to raise contributions in an unlimited amounts, but his actual campaign — raised just $13,391 during the month of December, according to the Florida Division of Elections. And that was an in-kind contribution from the Republican Party of Florida. Scott collected no cash contributions and expended no funds from his campaign.

Some will describe this as the new reality of Florida campaigns, others will see it as a cynical effort to flaunt the spirit of Florida’s campaign finance regulations.

But when you are dealing with a political figure who could write a $100 million check and not blink, does it really matter how much he “raises” for his in-name-only campaign?

CHRIS CHRISTIE TO HELP RAISE MONEY FOR SCOTTvia Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Engulfed in a media firestorm over the traffic blockade on the George Washington Bridge, the New Jersey governor might be eager to get out of town — especially to sunny Florida.

He’s scheduled to visit next Saturday for a series of fund-raising appearances on behalf of the Republican Governors Association to benefit Gov. Scott’s re-election campaign. … Christie is scheduled to appear with Scott at events in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. “I just hope he (Christie) doesn’t snarl up the traffic on the Pensacola bridge,” Senate President Don Gaetz quipped.

RPOF chair Lenny Curry said the state GOP welcomes Christie and that his problems at home won’t be a distraction.

“It’s a New Jersey issue. He addressed it directly, and we’ll see when he gets to Florida,” Curry said. “I think any Republican governor — or any Republican, for that matter — who’s high profile and has experienced some success who’s willing to come in here and help us raise money and get elected is certainly an asset. We welcome it.”

DEMOCRATS PREBUT CHRISTIE’S TRIP

From Josh Karp, Communication Director of the Florida Democratic Party: “On behalf of Democrats across Florida, I’d like to extend a big welcome to Chris Christie.  … You might think it’s a bridge too far for Christie to attend fundraisers while mired in scandal. But we think it’s heartwarming that scandal-plagued governor Christie would take a break from political damage control to raise money for his scandal-plagued colleague, Rick Scott. … As they say, sunshine is the best disinfectant. Welcome to the sunshine state, Governor Christie.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will make a transportation budget announcement at JAXPORT Cruise Terminal. 2 p.m.

ICYMI – A BIG SUNDAY READ FROM BOUSQUET ON SCOTT’S COMMUNICATIONS STYLE 

When it comes to answering questions, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is an artful dodger.

He bobs. He weaves. He changes the subject. He walks away with “have a great day” after enduring the part of his job that he seems to like least.

Politicians famously parse their words, switching to talking points as they strive to “stay on message.” Scott claims he’s not a politician, but he dodges questions so often that it prompts questioners to voice exasperation, even on live TV

In Orlando, Scott recently sidestepped questions about why it’s taking so long to fix a new state website that handles unemployment claims.

“For the fourth time, he did not answer our questions,” WFTV’s Lori Brown told viewers.

When she asked about the botched website, Scott said his priority was to help people get jobs, so Brown waited for Scott to walk to his car and asked if it was his job to fix the system. But all she got was an “excuse me” as Scott walked past.

Scott’s closest adviser, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, said the way Scott fields questions reflects his priorities.

“The governor is on a mission,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s to create jobs, grow the economy, improve the education system and attract new business. … His answers to questions are reflective of that.

SCOTT SAYS GOP WILL ‘WIN BIG’ IN NOVEMBER via Bill Cottrell of the Florida Current

Gov. Scott told loudly cheering Republicans on Saturday the party will “win big” in November by contrasting Florida’s job growth during his tenure in Tallahassee and appealing to conservative ideals of personal responsibility and economic opportunity.

In his 20-minute pep talk to the Republican Party of Florida state committee, the governor did not mention former Gov. Charlie Crist, his predecessor who is now running against him as a Democrat. Scott, though, pointedly noted that “it always is easier to campaign than it is to govern.”

“This is going to be a big election year,” Scott said. “We are going to win big in the state.”

RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry opened the annual meeting with a line that touched off an ovation: “I want to begin with two words — Rick Scott.”

“We’ve got one hell of a story to tell,” Curry said. “Make no mistake: The Democratic establishment will go out of its way to poke holes in our triumph. Don’t buy any of their nonsense.”

“We’ve had this big turnaround in our economy, from losing 832,000 jobs to generating 446,000 jobs,” Scott said. “We’ve got lower taxes, we’ve cut 2,800 regulations, we’ve streamlined the permitting process.”

“I don’t want the government telling me what to do, just give me my shot,” Scott said. “That’s our belief personal freedom.”

MEANWHILE … CRIST RAISES JUST OVER $1 MIL DURING DECEMBER 

Charlie Crist and an affiliated committee collected about $1.04 million in December, bring their combined overall totals to slightly more than $4 million. Crist and the committee, known as “Charlie Crist for Florida,” have raised the money since the former governor formally entered the race in November. The political committee raised $732,700 in December, bringing its total to $2,931,700. Crist raised $307,284 for his personal campaign account, boosting its total to $1,085,209.

>>>Crist is raising money tonight in Winter Park. 229 Alexander Place, Winter Park. 6 p.m.

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WEEKEND SHOCKER: ATWATER OUT OF, LEMIEUX IN THE RUNNING FOR FAU PREZ via John Lantigua of the Palm Beach Post

Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and two academics were named finalists for the presidency of Florida Atlantic University.

Not on the list was Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who had been considered a front-runner due to his past political success in Palm Beach and Broward counties and his experience as a banker in the region.

The candidate with most votes was John W. Kelly, vice president for economic development for Clemson university in South Carolina. He received 13 out of the 14 votes cast.

LeMieux received nine votes, as did Christopher Earley, dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University in Indiana. They tied for second.

A final decision is expected by Friday.

FACEBOOK STATUS OF THE DAY via CFO Atwater

“As I said to my staff about accepting an invitation to apply, my passion for serving as Florida’s CFO and my commitment to working with my great colleagues for years to come remains undiminished.”

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR ATWATER?

Dick Schmidt, a local businessman and benefactor to the school, made clear that he opposed Atwater. He said that Ronald Vogel, an associate vice chancellor of the California State University system who had withdrawn his candidacy, old him earlier in the day that he had withdrawn because, after reading press coverage of FAU, he had decided that Atwater’s selection had been preordained.

“He came to conclusion that this was a political inside job,” Schmidt said. “I wonder if that’s the perception out there?”

Schmidt said donors to the school, like his family, would not support Atwater.

“The philanthropic community will not support him” Schmidt said.

Those statements angered Anthony Barbar, chairman of the committee and of the Board of Trustees. He objected to Schmidt’s insinuation that the vote was “fixed.”

Schmidt denied saying the vote was fixed, but only that the impression was “out there.”

Several committee members defended Atwater, a North Palm Beach resident and a former Florida Senate president. They praised his character and his ability to help FAU with his contacts in Tallahassee. But other committee members criticized him for overly general responses to questions.

One member, Jay Weinberg, noted that Atwater’s resume and letter of application were much shorter than other applicants and accused him of “noblesse oblige.”

LeMieux, on the other hand, was called “surprisingly, amazingly prepared” by committee member Fabiola Brumley.

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GENTING’S PROMISE, ONCE VAUNTED, NOW UNDER FIRE via Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald

The casino giant that promised a major boost to Miami’s economy now sees its business plans coming under fire on multiple fronts.

Genting, which three years ago proposed bringing a massive casino resort to the Miami waterfront, recently acquired a racetrack license it says allows for a modest 2,000-machine slot parlor on its land holdings. Its plans to start construction on a new hotel and condo complex at the old Miami Herald headquarters are now at least a year behind schedule.

The Malaysian-based company sued the federal government this fall in an effort to continue using foreign labor for a Miami-based casino ship offering overnight gambling cruises in international waters. On Friday, a federal judge ruled against Genting‘s request to overturn orders by immigration officials to either stop the cruises or hire U.S. workers as crew.

In 2011, Genting paid about $400 million for the old waterfront Miami Herald site and the nearby Omni commercial complex. With South Florida still reeling from the recession and an idled construction industry, Genting pledged 100,000 jobs at a new $3 billion Resorts World Miami, with 50 restaurants, 5,200 hotel rooms and some 8,000 slot machines.

When lawmakers balked at changing state gambling laws to allow the project and a similar Miami casino sought by Las Vegas Sands, Genting began pursuing other options. Last spring, Genting said it would move forward with a large hotel and condo towers on the 14-acre Herald site. Demolition of the newspaper’s former building was slated for the end of 2013.

The plan quickly drew fire from Genting foes. “Slot machines are not compatible with the cultural climate of the area,’’ Miami Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat, wrote in a letter Thursday to Senate President Don Gaetz.

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LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND h/t The Florida Current

Off: Christoper Lazo and Ken Winker have left the Senate Minority Office.

On: Brenda Johnson has joined Sen. Jack Latvala’s office as legislative assistant.

BILL TAKES ON WATER UTILITIES via Laura Kinsler of the Tampa Tribune

Water customers could petition the state’s Public Service Commission to shut down private, for-profit water and sewer utilities if a new bill sponsored by Sen. Wilton Simpson wins approval in the Florida Legislature this session.

Simpson sponsored the Consumer Water Protection Act in October but said he has rewritten the bill, which is slated to go before the Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities committee Tuesday.

“I wanted to file a bill to put the private utilities on notice,” Simpson said. “I want this to become law — it’s important that it does.”

Under the new provisions, the PSC could cancel a utility company’s certificate of authorization to operate a water or sewer system if 65 percent of its customers sign a petition. If the utility cannot prove it’s operating in the public interest, the PSC could place the system in receivership until it’s sold to another operator.

The bill also allows the commission to issue fines and deny rate increases for utilities that don’t meet certain standards related to the taste, color, odor and corrosiveness of drinking water.

The commission approved a 20 percent rate increase for Utilities Inc. in November even though busloads of residents from New Port Richey’s Summertree neighborhood traveled to Tallahassee and testified for 10 hours about the poor quality of the drinking water.

An earlier version of the bill would have made it illegal for private companies to charge higher water and sewer rates than government-owned utilities in the same county. “I really liked the language in the earlier version, but considering what we’re asking the PSC to do, we wanted to be sure it’s something that is legal and can be enforced,” Simpson said.

PENSION REFORM TALK IS BACK FOR 2014 SESSION via Travis Pillow and Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat

When the Legislature last adjourned, Speaker Weatherford and Senate President Gaetz congratulated themselves under a banner signaling they hadn’t given up on one piece of unfinished business.

The banner read, “FRS Reform: To be continued …”

Last year, legislation that would have closed the Florida Retirement System pension plan to new hires easily passed the House with Weatherford’s backing. It died in the Senate amid uniform opposition from Democrats, who were joined by eight Republicans who voted down a scaled-back version of the proposal.

Now, as they head into the legislative session set to begin March 4, they are preparing to revive a legislative push to overhaul the pension benefits for new teachers, state workers and other public employees.

“I think from our perspective, you do have to win over every senator,” said Sen. Wilton Simpson, the sponsor of last year’s measure. “The truth of the matter is, if you can’t get to 21 senators, the bill shouldn’t pass.”

He and other lawmakers have taken interest in cash-balance systems, which he describes as a hybrid between 401(k)-style plans and traditional pensions.

For employees, cash-balance plans look like a 401(k). They have individual accounts that grow each year of their careers, but they are protected against investment risks. Losses on Wall Street would not impact their guaranteed benefits when they retire.

TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING BAN LACKS TEETH CRITICS say via Keith Morelli of the Tampa Tribune

Drivers who blast down the road with one hand on the wheel and the other punching away at a cellphone keyboard are everywhere. That’s why Florida lawmakers last year made texting while driving a civil offense.

But critics say legislators didn’t go the full measure when they made the infraction a secondary offense rather than a primary one.

That could explain why so few texting-while-driving tickets have been written since the law went into effect in October.

In the first three months after the law went into effect on Oct. 1, only 17 texting citations have been issued in Hillsborough County, which has a population of almost 1.3 million. Across the state’s 67 counties, about 400 people have been given tickets; in Hillsborough County, the fine is slightly more than $100.

Sen. Maria Sachs has introduced a bill in the Senate that would make the texting ban a primary offense.

Of more than a quarter of a million traffic crashes on Florida’s highways in 2011, nearly 5,000 involved drivers who were texting or using some sort of “electronic communication device,” according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Still, Florida lawmakers debated the issue for four years before passing the ban in 2012. Each time, proposals fell to the opposition of House Republicans, whose conservative members voiced concerns about government intrusion into people’s lives.

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DATES SET FOR SPECIAL ELECTION IN HD 44

Gov. Scott set a special primary election date in House District 44 for March 11 and the general election date for April 8. However, if there is no need for the second election, the replacement can be chosen on March 11.

House District 44 covers a large swath of Orange County west of Orange Blossom Trail and south of Florida’s Turnpike.

The qualifying period for this race is 8 a.m. Jan. 28 through noon Jan. 29.

FIRST IN SUNBURN – FORMER REP. ERIC EISNAUGLE TO FILE TODAY

Look for Eisnaugle to file today for the HD 44 special election.

“As a conservative, I believe government needs to be smaller, more efficient, and should foster private-sector opportunity.  I also believe elected officials are there to serve their constituents, not the other way around.” said Eisnaugle.  “Those are the values I will fight for every day.”

Eisnaugle previously served four years in the Florida House … (he) chose not to run for a third term when, during redistricting, he was drawn into the same seat as a fellow Republican. Eisnaugle remained active in the community as a member of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce and as a Guardian Ad Litem (advocate for abused and neglected children), among other things.

WITH REP. STEVE PRECOURT RESIGNING, DON WILL WEATHERFORD OPENS UP THE BOOKS

With Precourt resigning to become executive director of the Orlando expressway authority, Don Will Weatherford – the boss of bosses – has opened up the books and upped three members of the Florida House to fill slots previously occupied by Precourt.

According to a memo distributed Friday afternoon, Don Weatherford has upped Representative James Grant to membership on the powerful Appropriations Committee, while Reps. Frank Artiles and Jim Boyd have been made caporegimes, err, chairmen of the Government Operations Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee, respectively.

JOCKEYING CONTINUES IN 2021 SPEAKER’S RACE (YES, 2021) via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union

If anything, the Florida House of Representatives likes to plan.

Take, for instance, Orlando attorney Eric Eisnaugle.

The former representative stepped aside in 2010 after he was drawn into a district with state Rep. Steve Precourt, who was the incoming majority leader. Last week, Precourt himself resigned after being offered the director post at the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.

The opening makes for an easier run because Eisnaugle will be a so-called “redshirt” freshman. If he wins a special election to replace Precourt, he’ll have additional time to establish himself and develop clout in the House.

It also gives him the opportunity to campaign and raise money for those running for election in November. It’s a classic way to gain other lawmakers’ loyalty, and important because the 2014 freshman class of House members will vote on the 2021 speakership.

In addition, there is another lawmaker likely making a “redshirt” bid to become speaker in 2021. State Rep. Mike Hill, won a June special election to replace state Rep. Clay Ford, who died from cancer.

It’s believed that Hill and Eisnaugle are the top contenders for the 2021 speakership. Also, most expect the Tampa region to put but up a candidate. But, again, we are talking seven years from now.

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CRISAFULLI’S MONEY GOAL: SOME REPUBLICANS MET THE MONEY MARK — OTHERS DIDN’T via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union

In an email to incumbent House Republicans and their political consultants, Crisafulli, whose job it is to run Republican House campaigns, said his caucus’ fundraising numbers trailed the pace set during the 2012 election cycle.

“I would like to stress that individual Republican Member fundraising is actually declining on average as compared to this time in 2011,” the email read. (bold was his)

In August, Crisafulli asked each incumbent GOP House member to have $35,000 in the bank. When his email was sent, 42 members were short of that mark.

They had time, however, to get back on Crisafulli’s good side. The email said he wanted his members to have raised $50,000 by the end of the year.

The results have been mixed.

According to recently filed campaign finance reports, 24 members who missed the $35,000 goal passed $50,000 or came within less than $500 of it by the end of the year, while 18 fell short.

Crisafulli said he’s happy with the numbers.

“I’m pleased that the members of our caucus are working hard to raise money for their campaigns, and I’m here to support them in any way possible to help them be successful in their reelection efforts,” he said in a statement.

FUNDRAISER LINE UP

Get your checkbooks ready, PAC chairs and Tallahassee uber-lobbyists, there are a handful of fundraisers for legislative candidates planned for this week, the latest committee week in advance of the legislative session.

Senate Republican leaders are hosting a reception on Tuesday for Sens. Thad Altman, Nancy Detert, Bill Galvano, and Rene Garcia. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at The Governors Club.

The events for House campaigns begin with a fundraiser for redshirt freshman Rep. Mike Hill hosted by Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli, Speakers-to-be Richard Corcoran and Jose Oliva, and the Florida Realtors. The reception begins at 5:00 p.m. at the Realtors’ office at 200 S. Monroe Street.

Also on Tuesday is a fundraiser for Rep. Lake Ray hosted by the Crisafulli-Corcoran-Oliva triumvirate as well as Eric Criss, Dale Calhoun, and Keyna Cory. The reception begins at 5:30 p.m. at the offices of the Beer Industry of Florida at 110 South Monroe Street.

On Wednesday, there is a reception benefiting Rep. Dan Raulerson. The event begins at 4:30 p.m. at The Library of The Governors Club. RSVP to Clay at Clay@FLCapitol.com.

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CAPITOL INSIGHT LURES RHEB HARBISON AWAY FROM CARLTON FIELDS Full story here

Coming with Harbison are more than a dozen of Harbison’s clients including the Associated Industries of Florida; SantaFeHealthCare and its affiliate companies, AvMed Health Plans, Haven Hospice and SantaFe Senior Living; The Villages; and PepsiCo (including its brands of Frito-Lay, Inc., Gatorade, Pepsi Bottling Company, Pepsi Cola North America, Quaker Foods & Beverages and Tropicana Products, Inc.).

Not that Capitol Insight’s six man roster of Cannon, former Speaker Larry Cretul, Cynthia Lorenzo, Kirk Pepper, Richard Reeves, and Alan Suskey was hurting for clients.

CI already reps HCA, AXA Equitable Life Insurance, IMG College, and Millennium Laboratories – the firm’s five top-paying clients last quarter — along with AT&T, Centene, Walt Disney World Resort, the Conservation Campaign, the Florida Association of Realtors, and a few dozen others.

“Rheb Harbison is known for his vast public affairs experience, having worked alongside three Chief Justices of the Florida Supreme Court and former Florida Governor Bob Martinez,” said Cannon, president of Capitol Insight.  “We are excited to have him as a part of our expanding team of exceptional public affairs professionals, and look forward to the opportunities on the horizon for our clients as a result of Rheb’s invaluable insights and experience.”

DAVID BECKHAM, INVESTORS HIRE BALLARD PARTNERS FOR MIAMI MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER PUSH via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald

David Beckham and his investors pushing for a Major League Soccer franchise and new stadium in downtown Miami have hired a Tallahassee lobbyist to help the potential team secure state funding.

Brian Ballard will work on behalf of Miami Beckham United to seek a state sales-tax subsidy similar to what other professional sports teams across Florida have received for building stadium facilities.

Several franchises tried for funding last year, but legislation went nowhere after the Dolphins’ proposal to receive an additional funding to renovate Sun Life Stadium crashed and burned in the Florida House of Representatives.

Already a long shot for their request last year, the Dolphins appeared to have since poisoned the well for any other team to get state assistance -– much like the Miami Marlins did locally when they received a generous public-financing deal for their Little Havana ballpark.

But Ballard said a Miami soccer franchise could be successful because it wouldn’t be asking for any different than other teams received — unlike the Dolphins, which wanted additional help.

Beckham’s investment group has also boosted its odds by saying it would pay for a new stadium with private dollars and not seek local taxes – unlike the Marlins in the past and the Dolphins last year.

“You can succeed in Tallahassee if you have a reasonable, responsible request,” Ballard said. “You don’t try to over-ask. You don’t try to demand too much.”

HEARING that Michael Sevi, Gov. Scott’s Director of Cabinet Affairs, is entertaining offers from the private sector. It will be interesting to see where this talented operator lands.

SPOTTED: Ballard Partners’ Chris Dorworth at the lobby bar of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in the ‘burg on Saturday night.

TRIMMEL GOMES HANGS OUT HIS OWN SHINGLE Full blog post here

Trimmel Gomes has one simple goal for his new firm: helping people tell their stories in a rapidly evolving media landscape.

Gomes Media Strategies – described as a new innovative enterprise by the veteran communicator — will support companies and organizations in all things news, through the convergence of  conventional, social and hybrid media.

“With stories breaking on non-traditional media like Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube,” Gomes said in a release, “the sooner we embrace how we share news and information, the sooner we’ll all be ready for the media innovations of the future.”

“More than a decade in news and reporting, including managing the oldest public radio network in the United States, means clients will benefit from the type of experience that really matters,” he added.

As a former award-winning statewide news director of Florida Public Radio, Gomes also performed a variety of roles at National Public Radio, PBS and the New York Times. His most recent position was that of public affairs and news executive for Sachs Media Group.

“Trimmel Gomes has established himself as a leader in understanding the variety of ways people communicate in the modern world, and Gomes Media Strategies will put that expertise to work for its clients,” said Ron Sachs, President and CEO of Sachs Media Group. “We expect to collaborate with Trimmel on many projects.”

***Representatives from Florida’s aerospace industry will visit Tallahassee on March 12, 2014, to participate in Florida Space Day and share with legislators the opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation’s space program. During Space Day, industry leaders and other aerospace supporters will meet with House and Senate members and Governor Scott, to discuss  growing areas of the state’s $8 billion dollar space industry, and determine the best strategies for leveraging these markets for Florida’s benefit in the years ahead.***

DISNEY HOPES BIG ANIMAL KINGDOM EXPANSION KEEPS VISITORS IN PARK LONGER via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel

On New Year’s Eve, one of the busiest days of the year at Walt Disney World, three of the giant resort’s four theme parks stayed open until 1 a.m. or later.

The fourth — Disney’s Animal Kingdom — shut down at 8 p.m.

The contrasting holiday schedules underscore what has become a persistent problem for Animal Kingdom, the 15-year-old park that combines a handful of marquee rides and shows with a collection of more than 1,700 animals. Although the park draws plenty of people through its gates each morning — nearly 27,400 a day, on average — it doesn’t keep them very long. Some fans dismiss it as a “half-day” park.

To fix that problem — and to better compete with Comcast Corp.’s rapidly growing Universal Orlando —Walt Disney Co. last week broke ground on an estimated $800 million renovation and expansion of Animal Kingdom. The goal of the multiyear project, whose centerpiece will be a lavishly themed new land based on the ”Avatar” film franchise, is to transform Animal Kingdom into a full-day destination that can command crowds’ attention well into the evening.

Disney says Animal Kingdom is home to three of Disney World’s 10 highest-rated attractions: Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Festival of the Lion King. According to the Themed Entertainment Association, Animal Kingdom drew 10 million visitors in 2012. That was about 90,000 more than Disney’s Hollywood Studios and 2 million more than Universal’s Harry Potter-powered Islands of Adventure.

Disney has so far disclosed only a few details about its Animal Kingdom work. Additions will include an evening show combining live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery, along with a revamped, nighttime version of its Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. The “Avatar” land, which will be the final phase and will open sometime in 2017, will feature floating mountains, lush jungle scenery and a ride meant to evoke riding a “banshee,” a birdlike predator featured in the film.

THE ‘BURG LANDS ON NY TIMES 2014 TRAVEL LIST via TampaBay.com

Making a list or two here or there is always good for a city’s ego. Making the New York Times’ list of 52 places you should go in 2014 out of all the thousands of great spots in the world is likely going to be good for the city’s tourism industry if it can capitalize on it.

In a list that featured such places as Scotland, Croatia, South Africa and New Zealand among others, St. Petersburg clocked in at No. 49. It was one of nine U.S. cities that made the list. The others were Nashville, downtown L.A., downtown Atlanta, Niagara Falls, a new national lands park in Northern California, Indianapolis, Tahoe, Calif., and Aspen, Colo.

In singling out the reason for people to visit, the Times cited “a redeveloped waterfront, a stunning Dali Museum, and sophisticated restaurants in place” and said ” the downtown energy is now heading up historic Central Avenue, thanks in part to the craft beer scene.” It also mentioned Cycle Brewing, Green Bench Brewing and the Hollander Tap Room.

***Madison Social – Tallahassee’s Hottest Spot – invites you to a special Session Sneak Peel Happy Hour on Jan 14. Live music, Happy Hour specials, and menu samplings to show off what Tallahassee’s newest spot has to offer. For more info, click here.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my good friend Tony Collins. Also celebrating today are good guys Marco Pena and Chester Spellman.

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.