Sunburn for 1/14 – 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.***

IF YOU READ ONE THING – 140,000 FLORIDIANS SIGNED UP FOR OBAMACARE IN DECEMBER via Kelli Kennedy of the Associated Press

Federal health officials say about 140,000 Floridians signed up for the new federal health insurance program last month. That’s nearly eight times the roughly 18,000 others who signed up in October and November combined.

Of the 158,030 enrollments thus far, about 55 percent were women and 45 percent were men. Roughly 20 percent fell into the crucial 18 to 34-years-old demographic and about 60 percent were 45 to 64-years-old. And 83 percent of those who purchased plans qualified for a tax credit. The data was released Monday by the Health and Human Services Department.

Florida continues to lead enrollment efforts among the three dozen states relying on the federally run marketplace, one of the main tenants of the Affordable Care Act.

CONGRESSIONAL LAWMAKERS REACH DEAL ON $1 TRILLION IN SPENDING BILL

House and Senate negotiators “unveiled a $1.012 trillion bill to fund the federal government for the next eight and a half months, a compromise that marks a temporary cease-fire in the budget wars that have rocked Congress and the economy in recent years,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The compromise restores some of the funding cut last year from domestic programs such as the National Institutes of Health and Head Start, but keeps overall discretionary spending lower than when President Obama took office in 2009.”

The Hill: “The series of votes this week creates opportunities for disagreements that could lead to a shutdown, particularly given the secretive talks on the bill and the possibility that members of either party will object to spending provisions.”

***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.***

HAPPY ELECTION DAY

GOP voters in Florida’s 13th Congressional District head to the polls today for a special primary.

Three Republicans are squaring off to determine who will move on to the general election in March.

The election is being held to fill the U.S. House District 13 seat, which was vacated when Rep. C. W. Bill Young died in October.

The candidates are David Jolly, Kathleen Peters and Mark Bircher.

Jolly, the son of a pastor from Dunedin, started working for Rep. Young after college. Over 20 years, he became one of Young’s closest aides.

A state representative, Peters is a 30-year Pinellas resident who started her political career with the city of South Pasadena’s planning and zoning board, the city commission, and then served as mayor of South Pasadena.

Bircher is a retired Marine with nearly 40 years of service and a former Blue Angel. Currently, he works as an attorney and commercial airline pilot.

The winner of Tuesday’s special election will take on Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the general election.

MORE THAN 31K BALLOTS ALREADY CAST Full blog post here

Pinellas County voters have so far cast more than 31,000 ballots in the days leading up to today’s GOP primary.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office reported as of Jan. 12, 31,417 of the 78,531 ballot requests have returned, 40 percent of all vote-by-mail requests to date.

In addition, 365 voters have cast ballots in early voting.

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HOW THE CANDIDATES WILL BE SPENDING ELECTION DAY

Mark Bircher

Bircher plans on doing a little bowling at Seminole Lanes Bowling Center on the southeast corner of Park Boulevard and Starkey Road in Seminole from 6-9 p.m.

Kathleen Peters

After Monday’s all-day phone call blitz and sign waving rally at Tyrone and 66 Street, Peters will join supporters Tuesday morning beginning at 7 a.m. for a contingent at the corner of Roosevelt Blvd. and Carillon Pkwy.

At 9 a.m., the Republican will cast a ballot in her precinct at South Pasadena City Hall, 7047 Sunset Drive South.

After that, Peters will be staffing phones for the remainder of the day, and then — weather permitting — holding another sign waving rally towards the end of the day, at a location yet to be announced.

Her election night party will be at Bascom’s Chop House at 3665 Ulmerton Blvd. in Clearwater

David Jolly

Starting at 8:30 a.m., Jolly greets supporters for breakfast at the Frog Pond, 16909 Gulf Boulevard, North Redington Beach, before moving to a noon lunch at the American Legion Post 273, 600 American Legion Drive in Madeira Beach.

Jolly’s Election Day schedule will peak at an Election Night Party scheduled to begin 6:00 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, 12600 Roosevelt Boulevard North in St. Petersburg.

For reporters hoping to cover Jolly’s potential victory, doors open at 5:00 p.m. for media only. Scheduled remarks will be on site at the Election Night Party and journalists are encouraged to attend the election night event for interviews.

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ALEX SINK WAITS IN THE WINGS via Alex Isenstadt of Politico

More than a dozen operatives and officials from both parties interviewed … were almost unanimous that Sink, her party’s 2010 nominee for Florida governor, has emerged as the unambiguous favorite in the race.

Democrats need to gain 17 seats to win the House majority in November. An early win in Florida would give the party ammunition to argue they‘re in for a better year than political handicappers expect. A loss, on the other hand, would be widely seen as a serious blow: On Thursday, political analyst Stu Rothenberg penned a piece in Roll Call titled, “The Race Democrats Can’t Afford to Lose.”

But at a time when the national environment favors Republicans, many Democrats aren’t convinced Sink is a sure thing. In mid-December, a national Democratic group commissioned a poll that projected the pool of special election voters would be mostly white, Republican and older — a potentially ominous sign for the party.

SINK: “IT’S NOT LIKE I MOVED FROM MIAMI”

Sink defended herself against claims that she is a carpetbagger, saying in an interview here that she has years of business experience in the 13th district and a good knowledge of the area.

“It’s not like I moved from Miami,” she said.

Sink moved into the district — which lies just west of Tampa — shortly after launching her campaign last fall, triggering criticism from opponents. She had lived in Thonotosassa, some 30 miles away.

“There’s my business experience here for 25 years [and] the fact that I had the privilege or representing the people of this area when I served in Tallahassee,” she said.

MEANWHILE … GWEN GRAHAM HAS RAISED $1.3 MILLION FOR INCREASINGLY HEATED CD 2 CONTEST Full blog post here

The race for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District between GOP incumbent Rep. Steve Southerland and Democratic challenger Gwen Graham is heating up with the release of powerful fundraising numbers in a contest that is garnering national attention.

Graham announced that her campaign has collected has over $1 million cash on hand. Her campaign calls the sizable fundraising a “message of bringing north Florida’s commonsense, problem-solving values to Washington is resonating with Florida families.”

According to Federal Election Commission filings, during the fourth quarter of 2013, Graham’s campaign collected in excess of $474,000 for a total of $1.3 million — with more than $1,049,000 cash-on-hand — since entering the contest April 2.

Graham’s fundraising puts her at the top of the list of Congressional challengers nationwide.

Southerland raised $839,854.98 in the 2014 election cycle, spending $302,773 as of his October FEC filings. At that same point, Graham had raised $830,608 and spent $164,620.

“I’m so grateful for the hundreds of Floridians who have stepped up to support our campaign,” Graham said in a statement. “This is yet another key milestone showing that our message of bringing Republicans, Democrats and Independents together to focus on solving problems is resonating with residents across north Florida.”

STAT OF THE DAY – FLORIDA STATE OFFICIALS ELECTED TO CONGRESS AT HIGHER RATE THAN IN MOST OTHER STATES

An above average ratio of Florida’s congressional delegation served first in the state legislature, according to a study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts. About 59 percent of Floridian senators and representatives were previously elected to the Florida House or Senate. This compares with a national average of 50 percent.

For a few states, 100 percent of Congress members were first state officials: Hawaii, Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho. In North Dakota and Delaware, however, no current member of Congress had been first elected to state office.

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CARLOS LOPEZ CANTERA TO BE NAMED RICK SCOTT’S NEW LG via Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Times/Herald

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s long search for a new lieutenant governor ends Tuesday when he’s expected to appoint Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former state legislator who is Miami-Dade County’s elected property appraiser.

Scott plans to make the announcement at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday — 10 months after the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

Lopez-Cantera, 40, would be the first Hispanic to hold the largely ceremonial job. His presence on the 2014 Republican ticket would add diversity and could boost Scott’s standing among Hispanic voters, especially in the state’s largest county.

… Scott and Lopez-Cantera have been together at least twice in recent weeks. They met Sunday after Scott attended the annual Three Kings Parade, and took part in a Dec. 6 boat ride along the Miami River to survey a port dredging project.

Lopez-Cantera, of Coral Gables, has a track record of seeking to lower property values, thus reducing property taxes, and has a positive image in a county with a reputation for political chicanery. But he’s virtually unknown outside of Miami-Dade.

He served in the House from 2004 to 2012, the last two years as majority leader and had only write-in opposition in 2008 and 2010. He narrowly defeated Pedro Garcia in a county-wide nonpartisan primary in 2012 to become Miami-Dade’s second elected appraiser.

Lopez-Cantera is also part of the inner circle of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who defeated Crist in 2010 and who served as state House speaker when Lopez-Cantera was a state representative.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If anything, I want to help beat Charlie Crist.” – CLC, last month.

RIDICULOUS ANALYSIS OF THE DAY: “If Lopez-Cantera is picked for the job, the political calculous (sic) changes significantly. Republicans would then have a well-versed, articulate, “white Hispanic” with a hyphenated last name to boot.” — Javier Manjarres of The Shark Tank.

DEMOCRATS BRACKET CLC

“Carlos Lopez-Cantera is the poster child for what is wrong with Tallahassee today, an ultra-partisan career politician who spent his time in Tallahassee putting big corporations and wealthy special interests ahead of middle class families. By choosing a partisan product of the pay-to-play culture of Tallahassee in Lopez-Cantera as Florida’s Lt. Governor, Rick Scott is proving that he is exactly the type of politician he promised he would never be — more interested in scoring political points than commonsense solutions to the problems facing Florida.” – Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant.

TWEET, TWEET: @LGLopezCantera: Let’s do this @ScottforFlorida! #ItsWorking

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APPOINTED: Rosa Richardson, Oliver J. Bradley, Isham “Ben” Harris, Karen Johnson, Shirley Joseph, Howard Phillips, and James Sale III.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce “an historic commitment to protect Florida’s children in the ‘It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.’” Children & Families Department, North Tower, 10th Floor, 401 NW 2nd Ave., Miami. 9:30 a.m.

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: @FLGovScott wants to spend nearly $32 million and hire nearly 400 more child abuse investigators in coming year

GOVERNOR WANTS SPENDING BOOST FOR PORTS AND ROADS via John Kennedy of thePalm Beach Post

Keeping with a theme, Gov. Scott on Monday said he plans to propose an increase in state transportation spending when he unveils his state budget plan in coming weeks.

Scott last week announced he was looking to boost spending on tourism to $100 million, up from $63 million currently. In transportation, in an event at the Port of Jacksonville, Scott said Monday that he’ll recommend $8.8 billion in state spending — a $200 million boost from the 2013-14 budget.

Within the set-aside, Scott said $138.9 million should go to seaport improvements.

“From construction jobs to increased trade opportunities, transportation projects provide tremendous job and economic benefit,” Scott said. “This investment will enable our state to remain competitive for many years to come.”

After years of budget cutting, Florida is on track for a $1.1 billion surplus in the coming election year. Scott looks poised to spread the cash around, having already recommend $500 million in tax and fee cuts.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING – FLORIDA’S FISCAL STRENGTH LAGS MOST OTHER STATES REPORT FINDS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

More than four years after the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, the financial condition of Florida and most other states is improving but it remains far from where it was on several key measures of fiscal health, according to a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis.

The report examined tax revenues, employment rates, debt ratios and reserve funds and compared the fiscal health of each of the states. Florida fared worse when it comes to tax collections and employment but better in terms of reserves and debt.

According to the report, Florida collects 21 percent less in tax revenue’s as of June 20, 2013 than it did during its pre-recession peak, giving the state significantly less spending power than it had seven years ago. Only Alaska and Wyoming are further behind in restoring their tax collections to pre-recession levels, the report found, while Arkansas saw the least dip in its tax collections of any other state, followed by Illinois and Minnesota.

Florida’s employment rate is also among the worst in the nation, the report found. The report measured the number of people ages 25-54 in the work force before the recession and again in 2013. It found that the 2007 employment rate in Florida was 81.1 percent and, in 2013, it was 74.8 percent, the third largest drop of any other state, behind only Nevada and New Mexico. Nationally, the average drop was 4.1 percentage points.

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BLOG POST OF THE DAY – FAU SETBACK UNLIKELY TO HAMPER JEFF ATWATER’S FUTUREvia Jeff Henderson of Sunshine State News

Despite not becoming the next president of Florida Atlantic University, Jeff Atwater remains a heavy favorite to keep his position as Florida’s CFO.

Atwater is 55 and he should have his chances down the road but the FAU decision was a bit of a setback, especially as he didn’t make the final cut even though another politician — George LeMieux — did. Future primary rivals like Adam Putnam and Will Weatherford might use the flirtation with FAU against Atwater but it will be close to being forgotten by 2016 or 2018.

In the meantime, while Democrats like Jeremy Ring and Jeff Clemens could entertain the thought of running for CFO with no Republican incumbent, now it’s a different story. Atwater made it clear after he did not make FAU’s final cut that he was interested in running for a second term. With more than $1.1 million already in the bank and the way he dispatched Ausley in 2010, Atwater remains in excellent shape despite the FAU setback.

While he might not be FAU’s next president, Atwater will be a force for Republicans in 2014 and beyond. Despite the FAU setback, Atwater remains a major player in Tallahassee and Florida politics.

MY TAKE

This past weekend, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater was tagged the loser of the week because he did not make the cut as a finalist for the Florida Atlantic University president’s job.

“To add insult to injury, another politician wowed the selection committee: former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux,” wrote The Buzz.

Obviously, Atwater will not be the next president of FAU, but is he a “loser” for simply applying for the position? What did he lose? A little shine off the hood? Sure. But not enough for him to be called a “loser.”

Atwater is still the Chief Financial Officer for the state of Florida. He still has $1.1 million raised for a sure-bet election bid. He’s still the former President of the Florida Senate. He’s still, by almost all accounts, a good person and great guy.

So what if he risked just a little bit of his political capital to dare greatly? Isn’t that what President Theodore Roosevelt was talking about when he made his famous “Man in the Arena” speech?

The credit belongs to the man who … strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…

Jeff Atwater strove valiantly, came short, but failed while daring greatly. That’s what defines greatness. It certainly does not make one a loser.

DEM AG CANDIDATES SHELDON, THURSTON STRUGGLE TO RAISE MONEY

Democratic attorney-general candidates George Sheldon and Perry Thurston combined to raise less than $19,000 in December for their campaign accounts.

Sheldon, a former Department of Children and Families secretary, collected $6,525 during the month, bringing his total to $58,332. Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is the House minority leader, raised $12,315, giving him a total of $33,815. Bondi, meanwhile, raised $116,105 during December and had a total of $642,556. Two Bondi-aligned political committees also have combined to raise a total of about $1.2 million.

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A CONVERSATION WITH MARSHALL CRISERhere, including:

Q: There is ongoing debate about whether students should attend college with the intent of getting a high-paying job after graduation versus pursing their interests and curiosities. What do you think is the balance between the two?

Criser: “When you think about it, it is the student who pursues the degree and makes decisions about what they want to study. It ultimately will be the student who decides what point they want to enter the workforce and what type of career that they want to engage in. And so that is what makes it a very natural discussion to think about the connection between higher education and workforce. I think it’s also important to understand that young people today aren’t like people like me who spent 33 years with one company. Many times, they may pursue different types of jobs in their lifetime and may have several different employers.”

STUDENTSFIRST RELEASES POLICY REPORT CARD TODAY

Lane Wright emails: “We’re releasing our national education policy report card tomorrow. I’ll be sending out a press release around 7:30, but this site will be updated to the 2014 report card starting at midnight tonight. If you go there now, you’ll see the report card from 2013.

“This is our 2nd annual report card. Last year Florida ranked 2nd in the country behind Louisiana.

“The big news out of this, besides the rankings, will be the education policies Florida needs to implement to improve education for our kids and what StudentsFirst Florida will be pursuing in the 2014 legislative session.”

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DISNEY, DARDEN, OTHER BIG BIZ THROW WEIGHT BEHIND BILL TO END LGBT DISCRIMINATION via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel

A coalition of some of Florida’s biggest and most influential businesses — including Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants — on Monday threw their considerable weight behind long-stalled legislation to prohibit discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.

The businesses, uniting under an umbrella organization called the “Florida Business Coalition for a Competitive Workplace,” said such a law would help Florida companies better compete for workplace talent against employers in other states and countries that have adopted similar anti-discrimination policies.

“The link between strong anti-discrimination laws and the ability to draw the best and brightest is the reason that 84 percent of the nation’s largest companies have adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity,” the companies said in a joint statement.

Other businesses that have joined the coalition include health insurer Florida Blue, railroad operator CSX and banking giant Wells Fargo.

Advocates hailed the announcement as a monumental step forward for the legislation, which has struggled for years to gain any traction in Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Variations of the measure, which would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and other public services on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, have been filed in Tallahassee every year since 2007 — but the legislation has yet to pass a single committee.

POLICY NOTES h/t the Florida Current

1ST DCA & BARREL RACING: The 1st District Court of Appeals hears oral arguments at 9 a.m. today through Thursday. Cases include Florida Quarter Horse Track Association v. State of Florida over the state’s decision to deny a pari-mutuel permit to Fort Myers Real Estate Holdings. The agendas for all three days can be found here.

THE FLORIDA HEALTH INSURANCE ADVISORY BOARD: Will hold a conference call and is expected to discuss legislative topics. 2 p.m. Call-in number: 1-866-200-9760. Code: 4288083#.

BOB GRAHAM CENTER FOR PUBLIC SERVICE: Will hold a panel at 6 p.m. in Gainesville to discuss recent anti-government protests in Ukraine. Speakers include Sergiy Balan, a Fulbright Scholar visiting from Ukraine, and Paul D’Anieri, dean of the University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The event will be held in Pugh Hall on the University of Florida campus.

VISIT FLORIDA: The Finance Committee and Marketing Council Steering Committee meet in Palm Beach. The Finance Committee will review financial statements at 1 p.m. and the Marketing Council Steering Committee meets at 3 p.m. for marketing and advertising updates. The meetings will be held at The Breakers, 1 South County Road.

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KEEP AN EYE ON …

Keyna Cory, the President of Public Affairs Consultants, executive director of the Florida Recycling Partnership and a member of the board of directors of Keep Florida Beautiful will coordinate a presentation to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee on recycling efforts in Florida

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REP. MARYLYNN MAGAR SUFFERS STROKE, IS SAID TO BE RECOVERING WELL

In Tallahassee, early last Wednesday morning, Rep. Magar suffered a mild stroke and was successfully treated at a hospital in Tallahassee. She was released on Saturday and has returned to the district where she will receive physical therapy over the next several weeks.

Prior to the stroke, Rep. Magar enjoyed excellent health and had none of the risk factors associated with strokes, according to a release provided by her legislative office. Her physicians were very pleased with her immediate response to treatment and are expecting a full recovery.

Magar will remain in the district for the next several weeks while she works through physical therapy and will request absences for upcoming committee meetings, although she says she is remaining in close communication with the Speaker, House leadership, and the chairs of those committees on which she serves. She will return to Tallahassee in time for the beginning of the legislative session.

In addition, Rep. Magar’s legislative and district staff remain fully engaged in advancing the legislation she has already sponsored and are engaging in responding to the priorities of her constituents without interruption.

“I want to thank God for a loving family, a great team of health care professionals, and very supportive colleagues in the State House,” said Rep. Magar. “As I begin this sprint toward recovery, I am already looking forward to my return to Tallahassee. No one wishes for this kind of injury, but God has a plan in all of life, and there is no doubt that I will be uniquely qualified to understand the struggles of those who deal with much larger disabilities than mine. Until then, I appreciate your prayers and support and look forward to seeing you in service very soon.”

TWEET, TWEET: @BrettDoster: .@MaryLynnMagar already recovering and in great spirits. Wish her well as she gets ready to come back for session.

TWEET, TWEET: @WillWeatherford: Our thoughts and prayers go out to @MaryLynnMagar – a special member of @MyFLHouse. Look fwd to having her back in Tally soon!

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RED LIGHT CAMERA COMPANIES SPENDS BIG TO BUY POLITICAL INFLUENCE via Noah Pransky of 10 News

s efforts to reform to Florida’s red light camera laws pick up momentum, one of the largest red light camera companies pumped more than a quarter-million dollars into political coffers in 2013.

Scouring state campaign records, 10 Investigates found private company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and its subsidiaries made 56 donations to candidates, parties, and political action committees at the state level. The $258,000 in contributions do not include separate contributions to city- and county-level candidates.

While 39 of state-level contributions came in the form of $500 donations to legislative campaigns, the majority of the cash went to the Republican Party of Florida ($130,000) and the Florida Democratic Party ($55,000). All of the Democratic money came in 2013′s final months, while almost all of the Republican Party’s donations came in the first half of the year, prior to increased efforts by conservative lawmakers to repeal the technology.

ATS also donated more than $50,000 to various political committees, such as: $10,000 to the Florida Leadership Committee, a PAC run by State Sen. Jack Latvala; and $10,000 to Innovate Florida, a PAC run by former State Rep. Shawn Harrison.

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: JAMEIS WINSTON, GRADUATION RATES, PSYCHOPATH POLITICIANS AND VETERANS VERSUS THE UNEMPLOYED

Martin Dyckman begins by posing several questions for the Tallahassee police in the aftermath of the Jameis Winston rape accusations — whether the police took the case seriously and what standard they set for women in the same “he said, she said” situation. Finishing college is as important as completing passes, Peter Schorsch writes. In the wake of Florida State University’s national championship, Schorsch looks at graduation rates for black college athletes, with FSU coming in last out of all bowl championship teams at 37 percent. Being a psychopath is probably useful when seeking public office, says Linda CunninghamSteve Kurlander finishes with the battle waged by conservatives against the chronically unemployed.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

NEW YORK FEEDING FLORIDA GROWTH via Kevin Wiatrowski of the Tampa Tribune

Late last month, the Census Bureau reported that Florida was poised to overtake New York after nipping at its heels for more than 20 years in the ranking of the country’s most populous states.

Assuming Florida’s growth held steady, the state probably has already surpassed New York, said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C.

“It should be any day now,” Mather said last week.

New Yorkers have been moving to Florida since the days a century ago when New Port Richey was a playground for silent film stars. Back then, Florida had barely 2 million people.

Today, it has more than 19.65 million people, if demographers like Mather are right.

Florida and New York have long swapped citizens, with New York consistently getting the shorter end of the demographic stick. The most recent IRS figures show that as of 2010, New York sent more than 40,000 people to Florida and got less than 30,000 Floridians in exchange.

As South Florida has become more crowded, the Gulf coast and center of the state look more inviting for migrating New Yorkers, who continue to shift the state’s politics toward the liberal end of the spectrum, said political science professor Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida.

RAINS HELP APALACHICOLA BAY OYSTER RECOVERY via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat

After wide-reaching droughts throughout the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin between 2009 and 2012, record rainfall is now flooding the freshwater-depleted region, which could bode well for the ailing oyster population in the Gulf.

Researchers say the primary reason the oyster population declined in Apalachicola Bay during 2012 was the persistent low-water flows. Oyster harvest landings declined 60 percent over the past year, resulting in a 44 percent drop in revenue.

Florida State Climatologist David Zierden said Florida, South Carolina and areas of Georgia north of the Jim Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee have seen near-record rainfall in the last six months of 2012 and throughout 2013.

Zierden said the rebound really started during December 2012 as North America came out of a La Nina weather pattern that cast dry, cooler air over the Southeast and continued through the past summer. Helen, Ga., at the headwaters of the basin, which drains down to Apalachicola Bay, had more than 101 inches of rain last year, he said.

The change was even more dramatic in December 2013, with flows from the dam on average about 25,000 cfs, compared to 8,500 cfs in 2012. Flood warnings were issued by the National Weather Service on the Apalachicola from Blountstown downstream during the first week of January.

“If there are flood statements being issued,” Zierden said, “that’s a pretty good bet that we’re doing OK as far as flows on the Apalachicola go.”

***The 2014 Florida Health Care Affordability Summit, taking place in Orlando, Fla., on January 29-31, 2014, will once again bring some of the most knowledgeable stakeholders in health care to the table – from experts on health plans, hospitals and providers, to our elected officials and some of Florida’s best employers – to participate in an open forum and continue the conversation on how we can make Florida healthier based on the guiding principle that quality health care should be affordable and accessible to all. To register to attend or for more information, please visit www.healthcareflorida.com.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Public Affairs Consultants’ Erin Daly and my friend Chris Sprowls.

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.