Sunburn for 1/20 – 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.***


1. Will unemployed Floridians find some relief now that the feds have authorized payments while the state attempts to fix its UI claims system?

2. What will the reaction be to Speaker Will Weatherford’s embrace of in-state tuition rates for undocumented students?

3. With the state Board of Education meeting Tuesday in Miami-Dade County, what will Commissioner Pam Stewart have to say about comments the state received about controversial new educational standards?

4. Just how nasty will the special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district get? Supporters of David Jolly and Alex Sink are already flooding Tampa Bay’s airwaves with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contrast spots — and that was just the first week of the campaign.

5. How low will the state unemployment rate go? The state Department of Economic Opportunity will announce unemployment numbers on Friday.


Sunburn will be off tomorrow, but be back on Wednesday.

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Nearly 90 percent of the campaign consultants, activists, fundraisers, and lobbyists – these are Florida politicos who know Bush and Rubio the best – said Jeb Bush would be a stronger presidential candidate than Marco Rubio. We asked the same question two years ago, and 81 percent said Bush would be stronger.

It’s highly unlikely both would run, and it’s not certain that either will run. But what surprised Buzz is that our Florida Insiders think Bush is actually more likely to run for president than Rubio.

Only 44 percent expect Sen. Rubio to run, while 52 percent expect Bush will jump in. The Buzz’s hunch is that Rubio is much more likely to run, but the recent damage done to Christie’s image is likely to make some folks in the GOP establishment more skeptical about the New Jersey governor – and more interested in Bush.

Asked whether they expect Rubio will seek a second U.S. Senate term if he does not run for president, 97 percent said they did.

THE NEXT 12 MONTHS WILL SHAPE RUBIO’S CHOICE FOR 2016 via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio is facing the most consequential decision of his political career since entering the U.S. Senate campaign that made him a national figure: to seek re-election or to run for president.

The next 12 months will shape his choice and it comes with an intriguing twist because both offices are open in 2016. Florida law bars a federal candidate from appearing twice on the same ballot but Rubio can essentially chase the presidency without surrendering the safer re-election campaign.

The uncertainly belies a carefully planned, if not always seen, effort by Rubio and his team to position for a presidential bid. He has raised millions through his Reclaim America PAC, investing in consultants and growing a national donor base. Rubio also has been meeting with top fundraisers in New York, California, Florida and other moneyed states.

Rubio, 42 and a father of four, offers a third option, however unconvincingly, that he could drop out of elective politics altogether.

Rubio has been underestimated before. His 2010 Senate campaign looked like a fantasy against then-Gov. Charlie Crist. But Rubio resisted friends’ attempts to push him out of the race (he came as close as writing a speech explaining the decision to quit) and ascended with the tea party, a masterful confluence of intransigence, timing and message. He is a relentless political mind but publicly says he’s at ease with going slow this time.

“It would be a mistake for me to spend all day thinking about these things,” Rubio said. “It impedes your ability to do your job.”


The spokesman told CNN that Mrs. Bush feels misinterpreted by the media coverage of her most recent comments.

“Her point is the family feels no entitlement as it relates to the presidency,” said spokesman Jim McGrath.

***The 2014 Florida Health Care Affordability Summit, taking place in Orlando 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.***


HEARING that state Rep. Kathleen Peters will endorse David Jolly sometime in the next 24 hours. Was told it would happen today, but don’t know if the holiday will throw off the schedule.

DAVID JOLLY IS NO BILL YOUNG via Tim Nickens of the Tampa Bay Times

For a guy who planned for years to run for Congress, David Jolly lacks credibility in his pitch to succeed the late C.W. Bill Young.

… Jolly characterizes himself as a Bill Young Republican and wraps himself in the Young legacy. Voters should see through that.

First, earmarks are now banned in Congress. Nobody will be bringing home hundreds of millions for local projects like Young did because of the change in rules and a lack of seniority.

Second, Jolly’s pinched parochialism is at odds with Young’s regional view. Young brought untold projects and money to Tampa Bay, not just to his district. Where would the University of South Florida or MacDill Air Force Base be without Young? The marine science complex at USF St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Water Reservoir bear his name — and they are not in House District 13.

Third, Jolly sounds more conservative than Young and cannot be counted on to embrace his former boss’ positions. For example, Jolly says spending cuts must be made to reduce the federal deficit before any new programs are created. Young advocated a combination of spending cuts and new investment.


DIRECT MAIL ROUND-UP see the latest mailers here

MONEY STARTING TO FLOW IN DISTRICT 13 RACE via Kate Bradshaw of the Tampa Tribune

As the TV commercials, Web banner ads and mailers might suggest, dollars have begun to flow in the special election to fill Pinellas County’s open congressional seat.

As David Jolly’s Republican primary win on Tuesday signaled the start of Congressional District 13’s general election countdown to March 11, his Democratic rival, Alex Sink, started off with an obvious financial advantage amounting to more than $1 million.

Jolly, meanwhile, had only about $140,000 on hand as of his last campaign finance report. And as the two campaigns chase after dollars, outside groups are advocating are joining in, especially for Sink.

Then there’s the money expected to come from well-funded outside groups, which can add very nasty tones to an already competitive race. While ads funded by campaigns can stay positive because they are the only ones legally allowed to feature or mention the candidate, those funded by outside groups tend to go very negative.

Then again, the absence of special interest dollars could work to his advantage because it plays well into his campaign’s messaging, which casts Sink as part of the well-funded Washington establishment.

And if polling suggests Jolly and Sink are neck-and-neck, those PACs would be able to fire off an anti-Sink ad blitz the next day, which might be why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sounded the alarm last week, warning that groups funded by the likes of the conservative Koch brothers are going to try to “prop up” Jolly’s campaign.

STENY HOYER RAISING MONEY FOR SINK via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Democratic Congressional candidate Alex Sink Jan. 29 at the St. Pete home of Bloomin’ Brands CEO Liz Smith and her husband Chip Newton. Others on host committee include Home Shopping Network CEO Mindy Grossman, Bill and Jeanne Heller, Lindsey Jarrell, Craig Sher, Lorna Taylor, Scott Wagman and Beth Houghon.

And on Jan. 22, Sink will be at another fundraiser sponsored by Guy and Debi Burns, Raleigh “Lee” and Beverly Greene, Wally Pope and Christine R. Fredrick. Hosts include Todd Burg, Will and Stacy Conroy, Jay Fleece, Lucas Fleming, Brittany Maxey, Richard Zacur

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It was Jan. 8 when lobbyist Brian Ballard met with Adam Hollingsworth, Gov. Scott’s chief of staff.

Ballard, who served as the chair of Scott’s finance committee for his 2011 inauguration, is one of the most powerful lobbyists in Tallahassee, who bundles millions in campaign cash from clients for Scott and other Republicans.

What is noteworthy is what they discussed: Deloitte Consulting, a Ballard client.

Deloitte is the vendor of the state’s troubled $63 million CONNECT website, which since its debut in October has struggled with technical glitches, delaying unemployment benefits for thousands of recipients.

Since Dec. 20, Deloitte has been fined $15,000 a day until the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity deems the contractor to be in compliance with its contract.

On the day of the meeting, the DEO’s executive director, Jesse Panuccio, announced that another company, a rival that was beaten out for the job in 2010, was getting hired to consult on the project. Capgemini, a French company, would be paid $365,000 to serve as the state’s eyes and ears, looking over the shoulder of Deloitte programmers scrambling to fix the website.

“His purpose was to come and discuss Deloitte,” Hollingsworth said. “I remember him asking how we view the relationship. What I said was, ‘The relationship will improve when the system improves.’”

Ballard’s fundraising has never influenced how Scott has handled the issue, Hollingsworth said.


Heading toward a re-election bid this fall, it’s clear that tax cuts remain a central focus of the Scott administration and will be a major plank in his re-election campaign. It has been a consistent theme throughout his three-plus years in office.

But it’s also interesting to observe how his tax-cutting message has evolved from the hard-charging business executive who took over in 2011, promising to slash state spending and taxes, to the more experienced political leader now trying to position himself for re-election.

… It’s logical to assume being the promoter of the longest sales-tax holiday in Florida history is going to resonate a lot more with ordinary Floridians — and voters — than it would be to make the argument that the largest corporate tax cut would benefit Floridians in the long run.

Amplifying his message that tax cuts will help Floridians, Scott is putting his largest tax-cutting focus this year on rolling back motor vehicle fees that lawmakers raised in 2009 during tougher budget times. If approved by the Legislature, the rollback would mean a $401 million reduction in fees.

But unlike his evolution toward the sales tax holiday, Scott can rightly claim he has been a proponent of the vehicle fee rollback since he took office. It was part of his “Jobs Budget” in 2011, although lawmakers rejected it. This year, the Legislature seems to be ready to embrace it.


Lured by the sun, low taxes and a diverse workforce, an increasing number of companies are setting up corporate headquarters in South Florida.

Eighteen corporate headquarters have expanded or moved to Broward and Palm Beach counties since the recession officially ended in 2011.

Seven of those offices moved from other states or countries; 11 expanded here.

For residents and communities, the trend means hundreds of high-paying jobs, more tax revenue, real estate investment, contributions for charities and events, and an indirect boost to housing and consumer spending.

Twenty years ago, few large companies called this area home, but Broward County now counts 150 regional or national headquarters. Those include AutoNation and Citrix Systems, as well as Latin American headquarters for Emerson, Microsoft and Wendy’s.

Palm Beach County has about 60 headquarters, including Office Depot, ADT Corp. and newer entrant Garda World, the cash services base of a Canadian security company.

Economic officials downplay the role of incentives, saying they’re just part of the equation. But of the 18 companies that have moved in or expanded since 2011, about half were awarded some type of incentives, usually tied to job creation, according to state records.


According to an email obtained by SaintPetersBlog (but first alluded to by the Miami Herald‘s Marc Caputo), the RPOF and the Rick Scott for Florida re-election campaign are hiring at least nineteen new staffers just to man the party/campaign’s Communications and Digital departments.


The Florida GOP is looking for a “Media Affairs Manager,” a “Bracketing Manager,” a “Viral Marketing Manager,” a “Digital Insights Analyst,” and a linebackers coach. Well, not really. The RPOF is not hiring a linebackers coach, but it is hiring for all of those other positions, according to the email from Susan Hepworth, the current Press Secretary for the RPOF who soon will be taking over the Communications Director’s job.

Counting the nineteen positions referenced in Hepworth’s email, plus Hepworth and her deputy, plus Matt Moon, who is now the spox for Scott’s campaign, plus ten or so communications staffers in the Executive Office of the Governor and Rick Scott, the least communicative governor in Florida’s modern history, will have nearly thirty staffers ‘communicating’ for him.

No wonder why an unnamed Republican told Caputo, “The Democrats and Charlie Crist won’t know what hit them.”

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In the final frenzied days of the state’s legislative session, the Florida House speaker had a problem that only Carlos Lopez-Cantera could help fix.

Lopez-Cantera, the House Republican leader at the time, was one of the few lawmakers Speaker Dean Cannon trusted to defeat a worker’s compensation pharmaceutical measure pushed by the state Senate and powerful special interests.

The anecdote about Lopez-Cantera’s help back in 2011 has particular relevance these days: Cannon shared it with Rick Scott when the governor phoned him to vet Lopez-Cantera to be Florida’s new lieutenant governor.

On Tuesday, Scott formally announced he would appoint Lopez-Cantera — currently Miami-Dade County’s property appraiser — to the No. 2 slot. He replaces Jennifer Carroll, who resigned last March amid a scandal involving an illegal gambling operation. Carroll, never accused, was later cleared of wrongdoing by investigators.

Though a former House Republican leader, the Cuban-American Lopez-Cantera was well-liked by Democrats in the Legislature. Though conservative, he’s not rigidly ideological.

“Carlos will be a major part of our agenda to build an opportunity economy in Florida,” the governor said. “He has a history of serving Floridians with integrity.”

After the two men took a few questions, Scott’s press secretary wrapped up the news conference.

Then, in what will likely become a pattern for the running mates, Lopez-Cantera remained behind the lectern, taking questions in Spanish.


Lopez-Cantera is at the peak of his political career, but for the next few years, he may be headed for political obscurity.

… The pick is being well-received, but it looks transparently political, despite claims by Scott’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, that the new No. 2 would be a steward of Scott’s agenda of jobs and tax cuts.

… The consensus is that Scott made a politically wise selection, but that it won’t make a difference with voters who will choose a governor in November.

Longtime Florida political writer Brian Crowley blogged that the job of lieutenant governor is a “jinx,” because everyone who has sought higher office has failed. Crowley also noted that the job is highly confining because it does not allow for any public disagreement with the governor.

TWEET, TWEET: @WillWeatherford: The new LG knows how to get things done. A great pick by Gov Scott for Florida. Scott + Lopez Cantera = “Winning”

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STATE AGENCIES ARE CLOSED TODAY for the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.


Driven by her dream of becoming a doctor, Mariana Castro won a coveted spot in the neurobiological sciences program at the University of Florida.

A native of Peru who came to the United States illegally as a child, Castro doesn’t quality for in-state tuition. It doesn’t matter that she has lived in Florida since she was 10, or that she has temporary legal standing under a federal program for young immigrants. She must still pay the $28,548 in tuition and fees charged to out-of-state students, more than four times the amount charged to Florida residents.

While the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature has rejected similar bills for the past decade, there is reason to believe this year might be different: Speaker Weatherford has pledged his support.

Both Florida International University and Miami Dade College recently started granting partial tuition waivers to students who participate in President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program allows young adults brought to the country illegally before their 16th birthday to delay deportation for at least two years.

At UF and the University of South Florida, student leaders are pressing their trustees to adopt similar policies.

Even the national conversation has changed, especially as Republicans seek to broaden their appeal among Hispanic voters. Last month, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, of New Jersey, signed a bill making his state the 17th to offer in-state tuition to certain undocumented students.

Gov. Scott is also an unknown. A spokesman for Scott, who is running for reelection, said the governor would review the bill when it reaches his office.


On: Alex Bickley is Rep. Dennis Baxley’s new district secretary.

LOOK FOR Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen on Fox & Friends at approximately 7:20 a.m. to discuss HB 451, her anti-bullying legislation.


With projected revenue increases resulting in a $1 billion budget surplus for next fiscal year, state lawmakers have filed dozens of measures to reduce fees and taxes.

Legislators have another reason to jump on the tax-cutting bandwagon: Half the Senate and every state representative seat is up for election this year.

The proposal getting the most attention is from Senate budget chief Joe Negron which would roll back some auto fees to save motorists $12 per vehicle.

Also, many of the tax bills have been filed before. Some, like one reducing the communications-services tax, have been kicking around for several years.

Among those filed for the 2014 legislative session, various bills aimed at consumers and businesses would: Create a property tax exemption for certain mobile home lots; Remove the tax on security-system services; Suspend sales tax for two weeks in June on certain items, including lanterns and batteries, bought in preparation for the 2014 hurricane season; Establish a tax credit for hiring veterans and an additional credit for hiring disabled veterans; Create a gradual reduction, down to nothing, on tax on commercial property rentals and licenses; Reduce the tax on sales of communications services and direct-to-home satellite service; Create a sales tax exemption for some pet medicines and diet pet foods.

SPOTTED: Rep. Jimmy Patronis on Emeril’s Florida, a TV show on the Cooking Channel which highlights the Sunshine State through the eyes of Emeril on-location with a focus on food, cooking, events and activities around the state.

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On Feb. 28, 2012, then-state Rep. Brad Drake, a Panhandle Republican, stood on the House floor giving an hour-long going-away speech.

He was resigning his House seat rather than challenge fellow Republican state Rep. Marti Coley, a senior member who serves as the House’s No. 2. The Panhandle Republicans were drawn into the same district during the once-a-decade redistricting process.

Roughly two months later, the Republican Party of Florida paid Drake’s company $7,500 for “consulting” work. Over the next four months, the party and the campaign of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, paid the company, Southern Marketing Co., an additional $32,500 for “consulting.”

Drake’s company, which does marketing for construction companies, had never done political work before the $40,000 in consulting fees, campaign finance reports show.

The campaign payments were a big boon for the company. Between 2008-2011, Drake’s company never had revenue of more than $35,000 in a year. On financial disclosure forms filed as part of Drake’s exit from the House, it showed the company made $105,000 in 2012.

Gaetz said he hired Drake to reach out to constituents after Gaetz’ district was drawn into areas he had never represented, and had nothing to do with Drake agreeing to resign to avoid a GOP primary.

He “was hired by Senator Gaetz’s campaign to conduct grassroots work in those areas,” wrote Katie Betta, a Gaetz spokeswoman wrote in a statement. “He was responsible for a variety of grassroots activities designed to introduce President Gaetz to communities the Senator had not previously represented.”

Susan Hepworth, a Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman, said “no” to direct questions about whether the work was tied to Drake stepping down.


State Attorney Jeff Ashton said leaders could have broken the law in the months leading up to their selecting a state lawmaker to run the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.

In a letter to the expressway authority, Ashton asked the board to hold off on officially hiring Steve Precourt as executive director until the State Attorney’s Office has completed its investigation.

Ashton said he has questions about the events that led up to the board’s decision to hire Precourt.

This could be the second time a grand jury will investigate the expressway authority.

The first time the authority was investigated a grand jury found what it called a “culture of corruption,” but recommended no charges.

This time the Ashton said state transportation officials could also be involved.

The letter from Ashton that went out to the expressway authority Friday addresses phone and email records Ashton has gathered from the days leading up to the controversial “no confidence” vote by several board members cast against interim executive director Max Crumit.

In the letter Ashton said, “Those records raise in my mind a reasonable suspicion that Florida statutes may have been violated and that further investigation, which may involve the grand jury, is warranted.”

Ashton said he perceives a “lack of candor and questionable lapses in memory” from some witnesses, which reinforce his suspicions.

“I agree with this, I felt this way a week ago. I think this would have been better handled if it had happened before the board took the vote,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Ten days ago Jacobs and board chairman Walter Ketcham, whose concerns started the State Attorney’s investigation, voted against hiring Precourt to run the agency.

Precourt does not meet the minimum requirements advertised for the executive director position, but three other board members — Scott Batterson, Marco Pena and Florida Department of Transportation District Secretary Noranne Downs — cast the majority vote to hire Precourt anyway.


 ***The Florida Smart Justice Alliances invites you to its third Annual Justice Summit from January 27th – 29th at the Hilton Altamonte Springs. The Summit’s theme is “Smart Alternatives for a Safer Florida.” The line-up of speakers includes Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida Sheriff’s Association President and Polk Couty Sheriff Grady Judd, and nationally-renown criminal justice expert Prof. Ed Latessa from the University of Cincinnati. Panelists include Chief Judge Belvin Perry who oversaw the Casey Anthony case, among many other state officials and experts including about 20 legislators. Discussion panels will be held on incarceration levels, mental illness, juvenile justice, substance abuse treatment, recidivism, legislation, and more. Visit here for more information and to register.***


Republican candidate Leo Govoni announced hitting his January fundraising goal of $20,000 for the House District 69 race.

Govoni, president of Clearwater-based Boston Asset Management and a former board member of the Florida Bar Foundation, is running for the Pinellas County seat currently held by State Rep. Kathleen Peters.

Peters came in second to David Jolly in last week’s GOP primary for Florida’s Congressional District 13.

In the latest filing with the state Division of Elections, Govoni posted $50,815 so far, which puts him nearly even with incumbent Peters, who has raised $52,245 in total as of December 31.

***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.***


In Context FloridaSteve Kurlander starts by professing his admiration for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom he sees as the “last great hope” to take the GOP – as well as the American political system — to political viability. John Grant likens Florida’s political climate to its weather — if you do not like it, just wait a white, it will change. Illegal guns are not welcome in St. Petersburg, Ben Kirby writes. Mayor Rick Kriseman just signed the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Statement of Principles, joining 44 other mayors across Florida in an effort to increase the penalties for illegal guns. Speaking of guns, retired Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves should have never brought his gun into the Wesley Chapel theater where he shot Chad Oulson after an altercation, Cary McMullen says. “More guns mean less gun violence” is not the answer.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Making the list are the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas, the Tampa Bay Times‘ Steve Bousquet and Michael Van Sickler, the AP’s Brendan Farrington and Gary FineoutFlorida Times-Union reporter Matt DixonOrlando Sentinel’s Aaron DeslattePalm Beach Post’s John Kennedy, and Sarasota Herald Tribune’s Lloyd Dunkelberger.

Of course Bousquet and Klas deserve to be on the list, as do Fineout and Kennedy. It’s good to see Deslatte and Dixon make the list. In fact, for my money, Dixon is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the group, meaning he does the most with the least resources from his news organization (as opposed to Bousquet or Klas, who are backed by significant resources).

Interesting to see Van Sickler on this list, as opposed to other veterans who have been covering the capitol for years. Good for you, Mike!

Which reporters got snubbed?

I’m surprised the Florida Current’s/Tallahassee Democrat‘s Bill Cotterell is not on the list. Maybe the WaPo deciders think Cotterell retired when he said he was retiring.

The Tampa Bay Times‘ Tia Mitchell has a lot of fans and covers some aspects of Tallahassee that aren’t as easy to access as big-ticket items such as the Governor’s office.

I assume the WaPo deciders focuses solely on print reporters because there’s no one from a TV (Troy Kinsey, Mike Vasilinda), radio (Lynn Hatter) or web-only outlet (Bruce Ritchie).

Regardless of the snubs, congratulations to those who made the list. Florida’s capitol press corps is considered one of, if not, the best in the country.

***Madison Social – Tallahassee’s Hottest Spot – is your location for lunch, happy hour, and dinner. Catering for your meetings are also available. For lunch service, complementary valet is available so you can leave the office and return within one hour. To see our menu, please visit here.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the effervescent Jen Lux.


Superman and Batman fans will have to wait another two years before the two superheroes meet on the big screen.

Warner Bros. Pictures decided to delay the release of the so-far untitled movie until May 6, 2016, to give “filmmakers time to realize fully their vision, given the complex visual nature of the story,” the studio said Friday.

The Zack Snyder-directed production had been scheduled for release on July 17, 2015.

SPOTTED at Robert and Nancy Watkins’ beautiful Bayshore Boulevard home during the The Children’s Gasparilla Parade: Rep. Dana Young, Al and Beverly Austin, Ana Cruz (in the parade) Melissa and Kevin Dempsey, Tampa Airport’s Joe Lopano, consultant Anthony Pedicini, Mark Proctor, and, of course, Hizzoner, Bob Buckhorn.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.