Sunburn for 11/4 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

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A TWEET TO START YOUR MORNING: @chucktodd: In the year before a midterm cycle, since, 1997, if Miami wins, signals GOP will gain House seats. If FSU wins, Dems win House seats.

A LOOK AT THE WEEK AHEAD

While former Gov. Charlie Crist announces his hopeful comeback in St. Pete, Gov. Rick Scott will be in Japan on a trade mission and lawmakers will convene in Tallahassee for committee meetings. These meetings will foretell the tone on issues from gambling, lobbyist audits, education, prison release, voter purge, medical marijuana, capital cases, child abuse, PIP, Citizens, sexual predators, Lake Okeechobee, red light cameras and electronic cigarettes. 

Today starts the week strong: the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee will discuss guidelines for the auditing of lobbyist reports, the Senate Gaming Committee will hear testimony on the Spectrum Gaming study, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will appear before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee to discuss the state’s latest voting rolls purge, and the Financial Impact Estimating Conference will discuss the impacts of the medical marijuana amendment. 

On Tuesday, the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will discuss child-abuse deaths, the House will take up the renewed voter purge in Ethics & Elections Subcommittee, and the House Healthy Families Subcommittee will discuss the sexual predator program. The week only picks up speed from there.

5 QUESTIONS FOR THIS WEEK

1. Will Charlie Crist pull-off a successful roll-out of his campaign? What will the Republican Party of Florida’s reaction look like? What will Crist’s reaction be to the RPOF’s attacks? What will the RPOF’s reaction be to Crist’s reaction?  What will … OK, you get the point.

2. Will a Republican strong enough to genuinely challenge Democrat Alex Sink in the Special Election for Congressional District 13 emerge?

3. Konnichiwa, Rick Scott. The Governor is, perhaps conveniently, on a week-long trade mission to Japan. What’s the over/under on press releases to be sent from Enterprise Florida?

4. Will the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee reach a resolution to the challenge of implementing the law requiring lobbying firms’ compensation reports to be audited?

5. Oh yeah, it’s Committee Week #3 in Tallahassee. The sausage to be made during the 2014 legislative session is beginning to take shape. What kind of bad ingredients, i.e., bad legislation, is already in the mix? 

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OBAMA’S HEALTH LAW FINALLY GETS REAL FOR AMERICA via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, with Michael Rubinkam of the Associated Press

At least 3.5 million Americans have been issued cancellations, but … data is unavailable in half the states. Mainly they are people who buy directly from an insurer, instead of having workplace coverage. Officials say these consumers aren’t getting ‘canceled’ but ‘transitioned’ or ‘migrated’ to better plans because their current coverage doesn’t meet minimum standards. They won’t have to go uninsured, and some could save a lot if they qualify for the law’s tax credits. Speaking in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall this past week, Obama said the problem is limited to fewer than 5 percent of Americans … But in a country of more than 300 million, 5 percent is a big number — about 15 million people. …

A different prong of Obama’s coverage expansion seems to be doing fairly well. It’s an expanded version of Medicaid, embraced so far by 25 states and the District of Columbia. An informal survey of 14 of those states by AP hows that at least 240,000 people had enrolled in or applied for the expanded safety-net program as of the third week of October. … Expect [insurance] cutbacks to be blamed on the law. Sorting out whether that’s warranted may be difficult. 

MUST-READ: HEALTH.GOV: HOW A START-UP FAILED TO LAUNCH via Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post 

In May 2010, two months after the Affordable Care Act squeaked through Congress, President Obama’s top economic aides were getting worried. Larry Summers, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, and Peter Orszag, head of the Office of Management and Budget, had just received a pointed four-page memo from a trusted outside health adviser. It warned that no one in the administration was ‘up to the task’ of overseeing the construction of an insurance exchange and other intricacies of translating the 2,000-page statute into reality. Summers, Orszag and their staffs agreed. For weeks that spring, a tug of war played out inside the White House … On one side, members of the economic team and Obama health-care adviser Zeke Emanuel lobbied for the president to appoint an outside health reform ‘czar’ with expertise in business, insurance and technology. On the other, the president’s top health aides … argued that they could handle the job. …

The president had already made up his mind … Obama wanted his health policy team – led by Nancy-Ann De­Parle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform – to be in charge of the law’s arduous implementation. … Three and a half years later, such insularity – in that decision and others that would follow – has emerged as a central factor in the disastrous rollout … ‘They were running the biggest start-up in the world, and they didn’t have anyone who had run a start-up, or even run a business,’ said David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign, who was not the individual who provided the memo to The Washington Post but confirmed he was the author. … Inside the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the main agency responsible for the exchanges, there was no single administrator whose full-time job was to manage the project. …

[F]or months beginning last spring, the president emphasized the exchange’s central importance during regular staff meetings to monitor progress. No matter which aspects of the sprawling law had been that day’s focus, … Obama invariably ended the meeting the same way: ‘All of that is well and good, but if the Web site doesn’t work, nothing else matters.’ … ‘There wasn’t a person who said, “My job is the seamless implementation of the Affordable Care Act.”‘ … A [high-level] monthly meeting, intended to work through tough regulatory questions, was attended at first by Sebelius, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes. By late summer and early fall of 2010, the meetings petered out after some of the participants stopped attending …

CMS staff members struggled at ‘multiple meetings’ during the spring of 2011 to persuade White House officials for permission to publish diagrams known as ‘concepts of operation,’ which they believed were necessary to show states what a federal exchange would look like. … [T]he White House was reluctant because the diagrams were complex, and they feared that the Republicans might reprise a tactic from the 1990s … After the election, Cutler, the Harvard professor, renewed his warnings that the White House had not put the right people in charge. ‘I said, “You have another chance to get a team in place,”‘ he recalled. Nothing changed. … On Dec. 19, Obama met with roughly a dozen senior White House and HHS officials, including Sebelius. … The health-care law, he told the gathering, … was ‘the most important thing’ in his presidency. ‘We’ve got to do it right.”

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EX-GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA SEEKS OLD JOB IN NEW PARTY via Lizette Alvarez of the New York Times

As Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat and former Florida governor, sat outside his waterfront condominium here in his hometown recently, the “Go, Charlie” shout-outs never let up. A Lincoln Town Car pulled up and Mr. Crist leaned in and shook hands, doing what he does best. “Hey bro, what’s happening?” the driver asked. “I’m good, man,” Mr. Crist replied. When a Duke Energy worker recognized Mr. Crist, the former governor gave him an earful about solar energy. “You got my vote, buddy,” the man said. “There’s our next governor right here.”

Whether Mr. Crist, a man who sprinted from Republican to independent to Democrat in three years, can wrest the governorship away from Rick Scott is anybody’s guess. But on Friday he filed his paperwork to run for governor. And on Monday, with the enthusiastic backing of most leading Democrats, Mr. Crist, 57, is expected to formally announce his intention to reclaim the governor’s office in 2014.

Mr. Crist’s announcement is all but certain to kick off one of next year’s most expensive, contentious and rancorous governor’s races, pitting betrayed Republicans out for revenge against hopeful Democrats out for redemption. In an interview last week, Mr. Crist, who governed as a centrist from 2007 to 2011 before leaving after his unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate, said Floridians were “heartbroken” over issues like education, the environment, voter rights and Medicaid funding.

“I know we can right the wrongs,” said Mr. Crist, with his trademark tan and easygoing style. “I know it can be done. I know it in my heart. I know Floridians want it. They are very hopeful for a bright future. And I believe it’s coming.”

But, he said, he has no doubt about the intensity of the brawl that lies ahead: Governor Scott, a Republican and a multimillionaire, is expected to counter Mr. Crist’s charm offensive by focusing on claims that he helped turn around the Florida economy and raising a record $100 million to protect his job, a sum that he will begin spending on Monday when the first attack ads are scheduled to air.

“It’s kind of a daunting task to face,” said Mr. Crist, explaining why it has taken so long to come to a decision on the race. “It’s kind of like looking at a $100 million meat grinder, face first.”

Much of that money will be spent trying to portray Mr. Crist as an opportunist, a man willing to switch parties and positions on issues to suit his political ambition. Mr. Crist, as governor, fled the Republican Party in 2010 to become an independent after it was clear he would not win the Senate primary against Marco Rubio. Last year, he became a Democrat.

The Republican Party of Florida did not wait for Mr. Crist to join the fray. It began its assault weeks ago, highlighting his shift over the years on issues like gay rights and Obamacare. To that end, it opened up a Tumblr account and a Twitter feed titled “This day in Crist-ory.”

“Charlie had more positions than a gymnast,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant who once worked for Mr. Crist. “He will tell Democrats what they need to hear, and he will tell Republicans what they need to hear.”

But, Mr. Wilson added, Mr. Crist has “peerless skills in the actual game of politics,” which makes him a formidable candidate.

The campaign, one in which former foes are now friends and former friends are now flamethrowers, promises to be anything but dull. It comes ready-made with a history of slights and grievances on both sides toward both candidates. And it undoubtedly will offer up a vivid contrast in personalities: one man a centrist and inveterate crowd-pleaser who sidesteps dogma; the other a Tea Party conservative, a shy executive who prefers to steer clear of prying eyes and cameras.

Mr. Crist also will face an already-declared candidate, Nan Rich, a former State Senate Democratic leader who reminds voters at every turn that she is a “lifelong Democrat.” But, after months of campaigning, Ms. Rich’s candidacy has not gained much traction. For most Florida Democrats, any misgivings they may have had about Mr. Crist evaporated in a burst of pragmatism. Once Mr. Crist joined the party, he quickly became the most viable candidate to take on Mr. Scott and the conservative wing. Recent polling has shown Mr. Crist consistently ahead of Mr. Scott in a head-to-head race. Mr. Scott has struggled with low approval ratings throughout his tenure.

“THE ANNOUNCEMENT”

Here are the logistical details regarding Crist’s planned “major announcement” set for today.

The location has been moved to Albert Whitted Park, 480 Bayshore Drive SE, in St. Petersburg. The event begins at 10:00 a.m., but the media and public are asked to start arriving at 9:30 a.m.

It’s a tight fit at Albert Whitted Park, so I recommend getting there by 9:00 a.m; or at least finding a parking spot by 9:00 a.m.

The smart travelers should book the Hampton Inn on Beach Drive, shuttle over to the Hangar Restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport, have breakfast and then walk over to the presser.

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FOR A WINDOW INTO FLORIDA’S 2014 GOVERNOR’S RACE, LOOK TO VIRGINIA  via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times 

In a race between two candidates the public can’t seem to stand, Ken Cuccinelli has history on his side: Over the last nine Virginia gubernatorial elections, victory has gone to the party that does not hold the White House. But the Republican stands to lose Tuesday to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who has pummeled his opponent as a social conservative ideologue out of step with a diversifying state, which voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. 

“We can’t be putting up walls around Virginia. I want as governor to unite people,” McAuliffe said during a rally in Herndon, the populous area driving the political shift. “We’re with mainstream Virginia.” 

A Democratic win would highlight challenges the GOP faces as its tea party wing competes with an establishment wanting to reach a broader audience of younger voters, women and minorities. It’s a struggle certain to persist through the 2014 midterm elections where a number of congressional Republicans face primary challengers from the right. 

If McAuliffe can break the streak here, might the playbook apply to another diverse battleground state also twice won by Obama? Florida Democrats, who haven’t controlled the Governor’s Mansion since 1998, are plotting to characterize Gov. Scott as similarly extreme, reminding voters of his tea party ties and positions on immigration, abortion and voting rights. The goal is to turn off moderate Republicans and independent voters in Florida the way they are being repelled in Virginia. 

“Rick Scott will not be outspent 2- to 3- to-1 down the stretch,” said David Johnson, a Republican consultant in Florida who countered that Crist’s past as a Republican would blunt any attacks on Scott.

“Running on issues of choice, life, abortion, Crist has a long record of being a ‘Jeb Bush pro-life Republican,’ ” Johnson said. “I just don’t think it’s going to be successful.” 

Crist will have to answer to a number of past stances that conflict with his new platform. He could be portrayed as Florida’s McAuliffe, a soulless political operator who cannot be trusted. But Crist has already telegraphed his strategy, explaining his political switch as one driven by an increasingly rigid Republican Party — “extreme,” is the word he used for it when he endorsed Obama. (Never mind that he fled the GOP only when it was apparent Marco Rubio had overtaken him in the 2010 Senate primary.)

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HERE’S THE FIRST AD BASHING CRIST h/t to Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

The spot from Rick Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, starts airing across the state today. Watch it here. Here is the script:

Democrat Alex Sink says, “He failed to layout a business plan to get Florida out of its worst recession.”

Democratic chair Karen Thurman said, “He has done nothing to create jobs, his only core belief is personal ambition.”

“He’s an opportunist,” says Tampa’s mayor Buckhorn.

Congressman Kendrick Meek said, “He can’t be trusted.”

Al Gore said, “It’s a little unusual to have someone flip-flop and then flop-flip.”

Who are they all talking about?  This man, Charlie Crist.

PUSH-BACK

It’s unusual for an incumbent to start out a re-election campaign with an attack ad, said Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who is advising Crist.

“Most incumbents begin their campaign by making a case for why they should be re-elected,” said Schale, adding that it’s particularly unusual because Crist isn’t even a candidate yet.

GOP ALLEGES CRIST ALREADY VIOLATED STATE ELECTION LAW via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

A top Republican Party of Florida strategist filed a complaint Friday with the Florida Elections Commission alleging that Charlie Crist has violated state campaign law by accepting contributions before officially becoming a candidate.

In a seven-page complaint, Tim Saler attached screen shots of Crist’s campaign logo and website,charliecrist.com. They were dated Thursday, Oct. 31. Crist didn’t file to run until Friday. (Crist named Sanford Horwitz, a Coral Gables CPA as his campaign treasurer.) 

“It would seem impossible that the candidate logo and website were created without Mr. Crist making an expenditure (or accepting a contribution) to do so,” Saler said in the complaint. “If someone other than Mr. Crist created the candidate logo and website, something of value has been created that should be treated as a contribution to Mr. Crist’s campaign for Governor.”

Saler said Crist was in violation of Florida Statute 106.021. 

Serious complaint or a political stunt? 

STATE GOP MEMO WARNS MEDIA ABOUT ME via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union

t has likely been a good page view day for SaintPetersBlog, the well-known blog run by political consultant Peter Schorsch.

The Republican Party of Florida sent a memo to national reporters Friday with one message: take Schorsch’s St. Petersburg-based blog with a grain of salt. The state GOP explains that Schorsch will work for Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign.

“First, Schorsch, a longtime political operative, is unapologetically loyal to Charlie Crist and will be heavily involved in his upcoming campaign,” reads the memo, which was penned by RPOF Communications Director Matt Moon.

It notes that Schorsch’s wife, Michelle, is a former Crist aide and likely to also work on the campaign.

Schorsch shot back with a host of Tweets, including one listing his high-profile Republican clients.

.@FloridaGOP attacking moi? Hope clients Spkr. Weatherford, Sens. Brandes & Latvala, Reps. Eagle, Gaetz, Peters, & Young see that. #sayfie

Of the $75,900 Schorsch’s firm, Extensive Enterprises, brought in during the 20012 election cycle, nearly $60,000 came from Republican candidates. Most of that was for website design and ads on his blog.

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RACE FOR CD 13

BILL YOUNG, JR. WON’T RUN FOR FATHER’S SEAT via Curtis Krueger of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill Young II said he will not run for the congressional seat that was left vacant by the death of his father, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

Young said that in addition to coping with the loss of his father, he also has a 3-month-old and 3-year-old, which means “it’s not the best time for my family.”

He said he would remain active and that “there’s a ton of great people in Pinellas County” who can run. He said he hoped a conservative Republican would succeed his father.

RICK BAKER OUT, TOO

“I am thankful for the many friends who have encouraged me to run for Congress,” said Baker in a statement. “The honor is greater because of the respect I have for Congressman Bill Young and his long and accomplished record of public service.  I treasure my time as mayor and may likely  consider a return to public service at some point – but not now.”

Continued Baker, “After much prayerful thought I have decided that I will not run for Congress at this time. I intend to focus my near term efforts on my family and my work with Bill Edwards to make our great city and state even greater. I look forward to enthusiastically supporting the Republican nominee for this Congressional seat.”  

DAVID JOLLY IS IN, HAS SUPPORT OF BEVERLY YOUNG via Curtis Krueger of the Tampa Bay Times

Shortly after Baker’s statement, Republican lobbyist David Jolly announced he is entering the race.

Jolly is Young’s former general counsel and is close with the Young family.

“It’s something that I think I’m uniquely qualified for and I say that very humbly,” Jolly, 40, told the Times.

Beverly Young, the widow of Rep. Young, told the Times she supports Jolly “200 percent because it’s important to us that we try not to skip a beat in Pinellas County.”

Mrs. Young also made it clear she will not be entering the race because Jolly is running.

TWEET, TWEET: @BascomLLC … that is my cousin and a good man! 

FLORIDA DEMOCRATS TAKE THEIR FIRST SHOT AT JOLLY

“Washington lobbyist David Jolly built his career and his livelihood by trying to manipulate the dysfunctional politics of Washington in order to enrich himself at the expense of middle class families — and that’s exactly what Floridians hate about Congress,” said spokesman Joshua Karp. “If Jolly is the eventual Republican nominee — a big if — then Floridians will see a clear contrast between a proven problem solver with a record of getting results and a Washington lobbyist who would do exactly what lobbyists always do in Congress: make things worse.”

JESSICA EHRLICH STILL IN DESPITE ALEX SINK’S MOMENTUM

“I wasn’t afraid to stand up to the establishment and run against Bill Young and I’m not afraid to stand up to the establishment now.”

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GOV. SCOTT IN JAPAN via The Associated Press

Gov. Rick Scott left Saturday for a weeklong trip to Japan, marking the 10th time he has gone overseas to promote the state since he took office nearly three years ago.

Scott, along with his wife, Ann Scott, will lead a contingent of more than 20 people from the Sunshine State, including the head of the state’s largest utility company and executives from the state’s citrus industry.

The governor’s travel costs are picked up by Enterprise Florida, which uses private donations from large Florida-based companies.

While some have questioned whether the trips are successful, Scott has defended going.

Japan is a major trading partner with Florida and more than 270,000 Japanese tourists visit the state each year.

There are an estimated 119 Japanese companies employing 20,000 people located in the Sunshine State.

“Florida is undoubtedly the number one tourist and business destination and our upcoming trip to Japan will allow us to meet with Japanese business leaders and talk with them about why they should invest in Florida and create jobs for our families,” Scott said in a statement about the trip.

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FORMER FIU PREZ NOMINATED FOR CHANCELLOR JOB, AT&T’S CRISER ALSO APPLIES via Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times

It was the worst-kept secret in Tallahassee but now we know it to be true: AT&T Florida PresidentMarshall Criser III has his sights set on being the next university system chancellor. He and 17 others applied to lead the state’s 12 public universities, though many of these folks have seemingly thin resumes.

But there is a wild card: former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart wrote a letter nominating former Florida International University President Modesto “Mitch” Maidique for the job. Maidique has until Monday to decide if he will accept the nomination and formally apply.

He has the academic credentials that Criser lacks but is in his 70s and may not actually want the job.

Maidique served at FIU for 23 years until his retirement in 2009. FIU grew from a commuter school to a major research university under his tenure, and he was given much of the credit.

James “Jim” Purcell, commissioner of the Louisiana Board of Regents, may also be a leading candidate. Put another way, he is the state university system chancellor in Louisiana, just with a different title and on a smaller scale.

There were some who wondered if Florida Polytechnic University interim President Ava Parker would submit her name. She did not. Now folks will wonder if that means Parker is eyeing the permanent job at Florida A&M University.

KRISTIN JACOBS APPOINTED TO OBAMA CLIMATE TASK FORCE via David Fleshler of the Sun Sentinel 

President Barack Obama on Friday appointed Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs to a White House task force on climate change, as he issued an executive order telling government agencies to prepare for the impact of a warmer world. 

Jacobs, a longtime advocate of preparation for rising sea levels, is the only Floridian named to the 26-member White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. 

Task force members “will will use their first-hand experiences in building climate preparedness and resilience in their communities to inform their recommendations to the Administration,” the White House said in a statement. 

“I am honored to have been chosen by President Obama to work on such an important issue as climate change,” Jacobs said. “South Florida is particularly affected by climate-change issues and we have often been analogized as a canary in the coalmine for climate-related issues.”

MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISCUSSED

The Financial Impact Estimating Conference will discuss a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana. 117 Knott Building, the Capitol. 9 a.m.

SUPREME COURT SWEARS IN CLERK

Tallahassee attorney John Tomasino will be sworn in as the new clerk of the Florida Supreme Court, replacing Thomas D. Hall who retired after serving in the position since 2000. 9 a.m.

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BUSY DAY IN THE LEGISLATURE h/t to the News Service of Florida

Gambling Study Discussed: The Senate Gaming Committee will listen to public testimony about a study, produced by the Spectrum Gaming Group, that explores potential scenarios for expanded gambling in the state. 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol. Noon.

Panel discusses lobbying firm audits: The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee will discuss guidelines for auditing compensation reports filed by lobbying firms. State law requires firms to file quarterly reports about payments received from clients, but some lobbyists have raised questions about whether firms are filing accurate reports. 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol. Noon.

Prisoner release at issue: After the high-profile releases of two inmates who used fraudulent documents to walk out of prison, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee is scheduled to receive a briefing from law-enforcement and court-system officials. Authorities have been investigating the recent releases of Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins from Franklin Correctional Institution. Both men, who were later caught in Panama City, were released because of bogus court paperwork that indicated their sentences had been reduced. Walker and Jenkins are serving life sentences on murder charges from Orange County. 37 Senate Office Building, the Capitol. 4 p.m.

Ken Detzner gives update on voter purge: Secretary of State Ken Detzner is slated to go before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee to discuss the state’s latest effort to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls, an effort his agency calls “Project Integrity.” Such voter-purge attempts have been highly controversial for more than a year. 412 Knott Building, the Capitol. 4 [.m.

Update on unemployment system: The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will receive an update about a new unemployment benefits system, which has been plagued by technical problems. 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol. 4 p.m.

CASE COULD PUT A STOP TO RED LIGHT CAMERAS via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post 

Red light cameras, used by almost 80 Florida cities to fine errant motorists, are going before the state Supreme Court in a case that could affect the future of the controversial devices. 

Justices will be asked Thursday to decide whether cities were wrong when they started using cameras years before they were authorized by the Florida Legislature in 2010. 

Two appellate courts in the state have issued conflicting rulings in the matter. It’s up to the high court to resolve the clash. At stake is millions of dollars in fines collected from drivers slapped with tickets before 2010. But if justices rule cities jumped the gun by installing the devices, it could add heft to an effort gathering steam in the Legislature to repeal the red light camera law. 

“Cities are married to the revenue that these red light cameras pull in,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes, a leading Republican in the Florida House, which two years ago voted to ban the cameras.

The repeal push fizzled that year when the state Senate refused to go along. But next spring, another influential Republican, Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, has joined the charge in that chamber for repeal. 

“These have become a backdoor tax increase for cities,” Brandes said. “I think we still don’t know how effective these cameras are at stopping accidents. But there’s way too much money involved.” 

Senate President Don Gaetz has gone along with Brandes’ request that state analysts review red light camera use across the state and report back before the March 4 start of the Legislature. Still, it’s not just cities drawing dollars from the tickets for those caught on camera. The state splits the $158 ticket issued to violators with local governments, pulling $51 million into state coffers last year and more than $60 million into 77 cities and counties. Some local governments, though, say it’s not clear whether the cameras make them money or even reduce accidents. 

A report released in July by Palm Beach County’s engineering department showed that accidents at intersections where the county placed red-light traffic cameras fell by 2 percent, while nearby intersections without the devices saw a 12 percent drop in crashes. And county officials said the government hadn’t netted any money, after payments to the camera contractor. 

Several municipalities within the county also use the cameras, though at least one, Palm Springs, faced with hiring a magistrate to hear appeals of tickets for red-light violations, dropped them in July after also concluding they did not significantly reduce crashes and in some cases increased rear-end collisions. 

American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that contracts with local governments — including Palm Beach County — to install the cameras and commands about 80 percent of the Florida market, has 23 lobbyists poised to work state Capitol hallways next spring. 

ATS also is an active political player, contributing $160,000 to the Florida Republican Party and $95,000 to the Florida Democratic Party over the past two years. ATS and the Florida League of Cities are among those who have filed briefs in the case before justices this week. 

The case before the Supreme Court will decide whether cities were wrong to install the lights. But the ruling also could go a long way toward determining if the remaining cities, mostly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, are liable for millions of dollars in citations issued to drivers ticketed for running lights. Edward Guedes, a Coral Gables attorney representing the city of Aventura before justices, acknowledged that “there are real consequences to whichever way the court rules.” 

The 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld Aventura’s authority to ticket motorist Richard Massone in 2009, using equipment the city had installed two years earlier. The court in 2011 went along with the city’s argument that the violations were within its power to issue code infractions.

GAMBLING LOBBYIST GO ALL IN via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

The first shots have been fired in the public relations and lobbying battle over expanded gambling in Florida. 

It started with The New York Times reporting last week that Marvel Comics characters were being licensed for use on slot machines, including a Spider-Man-themed model at South Florida’s Mardi Gras Casino. 

The catch is that Marvel Comics is owned by family-friendly Disney, which has long opposed gambling in the state.

Quoted in the story bashing Disney was Michael A. Leven, president of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which has been angling to build a destination resort-casino in the state. They’re represented by Sachs Media Group, a Tallahassee-based PR powerhouse. 

Then on Thursday, Orlando-based No Casinos Inc. outed Sands, revealing that the company’s Florida lobbyist, Ana Cruz, “orchestrated” a busload of Tampa seniors to speak in favor of gambling at a public workshop held by state lawmakers in Lakeland. 

By its own admission, however, No Casinos has 23 paid lobbyists of its own and is adamant about not disclosing its funding sources. State records show at least 180 currently registered lobbyists for various gambling-related concerns.

“Nobody is less pleased than we are with the idea of having to hire lobbyists to defend Florida from the threat that casinos represent,” No Casinos President John Sowinski said in an email. “But this is the hand we were dealt, and we don’t intend to show up with a knife to a gun fight.” 

That same day, the Sands fired back with a poll it commissioned showing that 61 percent of Florida voters favor at least some new gambling opportunities, but 67 percent opposed Internet gambling, the bane of big casinos. 

“When it comes to destination resorts,” pollster Dave Sackett said, “the answer is an overwhelming yes.” 

The poll’s release also was organized by Sachs Media Group, named the Bulldog Awards’ 2011 “PR Agency of the Year.” 

So far, the gamesmanship is following the modern public relations playbook, according to the handful of professionals who agreed to be interviewed, on or off the record.

SEN. JOE NEGRON TO BACK PLAN TO SEND LAKE O WATER SOUTH, IF FEDS PAY FOR IT via Jonathan Mattise of the TC Palm

Negron will back a plan to ship discharged Lake Okeechobee water to the Everglades through agricultural land — sparing the St. Lucie River estuary — if the federal government covers most of the cost.

Negron said he wants to push Plan 6 by amending a report of the Senate committee on the Indian River Lagoon. Plan 6 would eliminate the need for the Lake O releases by sending polluted lake water south, away from the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

The federal government would need to cover 80 or 90 percent of the bill, which could range from $1 billion to $1.5 billion over five to 10 years, Negron said.

“I could envision President Obama and the administration announcing a plan to make a flow way south,” Negron said Friday.

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HEATHER FITZENHAGEN TO HOST WINE AND CHEESE SOIREE TONIGHT 

Join Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen tonight for a meet-and-support wine and cheese soiree from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.  at the Gulf Harbour Yacht and Country Club, 11470 Longwater Chase. RSVP to Allison at 239-839-2402 orallison@heatherfitzenhagen.com.

FUNDRAISER FOR REP. CHARLIE STONE TONIGHT

Get your checkbooks ready, PAC chairs and Tallahassee uber-lobbyists, nearly a dozen fundraisers for legislative candidates are planned for this week, the third committee week in advance of the 2014 legislative session.

It’s important to note that some of the biggest changes in a sweeping campaign-finance bill, approved last spring by the Legislature, took effect on Friday. That includes a boost in contribution limits to candidates. Statewide candidates and retention campaigns for Supreme Court justices will be able to accept $3,000 from each contributor for each election, while legislative candidates and other campaigns can take up to $1,000. The previous limit for both was $500.

The week begins with a fundraising reception benefiting Rep. Charlie Stone. Join him on Monday at 5:00 p.m. at the Florida Retail Federation (227 South Adams Street).

***Things will be great when you’re downtown at 101 RESTAURANT and MINT MARTINI BAR in Tallahassee. 101 Restaurant has been voted the best meal in the Capitol City featuring steaks, seafood, and specialty cocktails.  We offer $8.99 lunch specials all week long that include pastas, pizzas, and salads.  Mint Martini Bar is upscale and classy, and it’s the place to enjoy live music and a good vibe.  Located near the Capitol, 101 is open for lunch and dinner every day.  For reservations please click on www.101tally.com or call us at 850-391-1309 or by email at reservations@101tally.com.*** 

ALIA FARAJ-JOHNSON STEPPING BACK FROM SACHS MEDIA GROUP

Faraj-Johnson, who had previously served as former Governor Jeb Bush’s communications director and brought to SMG additional credibility with the Republicans who have come to dominate Tallahassee politics, informed her colleagues of her decision on Wednesday. 

“I have had 6 fantastic years working with Ron Sachs and the team at SMG and now I am looking forward to a new chapter  in my professional and personal life,” said Faraj-Johnson. “This new arrangement gives me the flexibility to take on accounts where I can provide high-level strategic counsel and yet maintain a long-term relationship with SMG working together with the PR pros on many shared accounts. Most importantly, this gives me more time to spend with my 4 year old daughter who is just growing up too quickly.”

Faraj-Johnson will remain in an “of counsel” position with SMG, but will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm.

As for the impact on Sachs Media Group, founder Ron Sachs is his usual sunny optimist, ”In our 18 years, we have grown from being a one-man shop to Florida’s dominant communications powerhouse. Our strength is our entire team, and we are pleased that Alia will continue to be a part of that in a new, more flexible role.  Our continued relationship with her will allow us to work closely together on many ongoing and future projects.”

MERCER FEARINGTON, CLARK SMITH JOIN SSG 

In a blockbuster deal certain to turn heads inside the insular, privileged world of Florida’s lobby corps, Fearington & Smith has been acquired by Southern Strategy Group, the state’s largest governmental relations firm.

Last week, Fearington & Smith’s headline partners, Mercer Fearington and Clark Smithwithdrew as lobbyists for the firm they launched and registered for Southern Strategy Group.

“The merger of Fearington & Smith into Southern Strategy Group creates a firm with new areas of expertise and broadens and deepens our connections to public officials at the state and local levels,” reads a very cool infographic release, which can be viewed below. With its acquisition, Southern gains access to Fearington & Smith’s book of business, which includes clients like BP America, Georgia-Pacific, and Koch Industries. Other terms of the deal have yet to be disclosed.

“Mercer and Clark are smart, energetic. and temperamentally a great fit for our firm culture,” said Paul Bradshaw, founder of SSG. “Their large client base consists of industries that mesh with our existing client base and produce valuable synergies.”

Continued Bradshaw, “More than one public official has made the unsolicited comment that ‘they’re good people,’ and they are. Effective professionals that make it look easy. That’s Mercer and Clark.”

According to the lobbyist compensation reports filed with the state, Fearington & Smith was compensated $250,000 to $499,999 for legislative advocacy during the third quarter of 2013 and the same amount for representation before the executive branch. That would mean SSG’s acquisition of Fearington & Smith represents the addition of at least $1 million in fees to its bottom line. This is on top of the $8.1 million SSG booked during 2012. This would clearly place SSG at the top of Florida Trend‘s annual rankings of the state’s largest lobbying firms. 

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Ellen Anderson, Oscar Anderson, Southern Strategy Group: Wallbridge Florida Group

Chelsea d’Hemecourt, Adams St. Advocates: Florida Coalition for the Homeless

Matthew Forrest, Ballard Partners: City of Boynton Beach

Jason King: AIDS HealthCare Foundation

Doug Mannheimer, Broad and Cassel: Stephen Basford d/b/a Basford Farms

Emily Nance: Bryant Miller Olive PA 

Jeremy Susac, Real Energy & Environment Strategies Group: Bostick Land Services

Charles Wells, GrayRobinson: Florida Justice Reform Institute

***Today’s SUNBURN is sponsored by Corcoran & Johnston Government Relations. One of Florida’s Top Lobbying Firms, Corcoran & Johnston has demonstrated the ability to navigate government and successfully deliver results for clients, time and again.  To learn more visit www.corcoranfirm.com.***

FPL, PARENT COMPANY SEE BOOST IN EARNINGS

Florida Power & Light and its parent company, NextEra Energy, Inc., enjoyed higher earnings during the year’s third quarter, as officials pointed to increased investment in the state’s largest utility. FPL on Friday reported third-quarter net income of $422 million, or 99 cents a share, compared with $392 million, or 93 cents a share during the same period last year. NextEra Energy reported third-quarter net income of $698 million, or $1.64 a share, compared with $415 million, or 98 cents a share, during the third quarter of 2012. On an adjusted basis, NextEra Energy earned $607 million, or $1.43 a share, during the recently completed quarter.

“At Florida Power & Light Company, increased investment in the business continues to improve reliability, reduce emissions, lower fuel costs, and enhance an already excellent value proposition for our customers,” NextEra Energy President and Chief Executive Officer James L. Robo said in a prepared statement.

WELLCARE REPLACES CHIEF EXECUTIVE via The News Service of Florida

Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans, a major player in Florida’s Medicaid system, announced that its board has replaced Chief Executive Officer Alec Cunningham.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, WellCare said the board “terminated” Cunningham effective Thursday. Also, it announced that company Chairman David J. Gallitano was appointed interim CEO.

Gallitano, 65, has been an independent director of the company since 2009 and has served as chairman since May. “As the company continues to expand and grow, the board felt that it was necessary to identify a new experienced leader to help write the next chapter for WellCare,” Gallitano said in a prepared statement. “I am looking forward to working with the management team to continue progress towards WellCare’s vision to be the leader in government-sponsored health care programs.”

WellCare has long been a leading HMO in the Florida Medicaid program and was recently awarded contracts in seven regions as part of a shift to a statewide managed-care system.

***SUNBURN is sponsored in part by Strategic Image Management – Florida’s premier one-stop shop for political campaigns, issue advocacy, legislative initiatives, & public relations. Visit www.simwins.com or follow us on twitter @SIMWINS and start winning today***

CAN’T WAIT TO READDouble Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. It’s out tomorrow. The New York Times reports the book confirms President Obama looked seriously at replacing Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton as his running mate.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Carlos Cruz, Angela Dempsey, and Joe Marino.

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.