Sunburn for 12/3 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics, sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.

THE LAST 24 HOURS

The White House is declaring victory on its Obamacare site fix-up job, but insurers and some customers remain unconvinced. The Supreme Court declined separate cases involving the Obamacare employer mandate and collecting sales tax from customers purchasing goods from online retailers. We already knew the 113th Congress might be the worst ever, but December provides new perspective as to just how unproductive this year has been.

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ADMIN: OBAMACARE SITE FIXED! INSURERS: FLAWS REMAIN! via the New York Times

The site can now handle 50,000 users at once and process 800,000 a day, but the federal online health exchange is still encountering problems, according to insurers.

SCOTUS DECLINES CHALLENGE TO EMPLOYER MANDATE via Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog

The Supreme Court rebuked a challenge from Liberty University to the law’s requirement that employers with 50 or more employees make insurance coverage available or face a penalty. The mandate, which has been delayed a year, has survived before SCOTUS, but still faces challenges in lower courts.

ELSEWHERE IN SCOTUS LAND, COURT REFUSES ONLINE SALES-TAX CASE via Robert Barnes of the Washington Post

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to get involved in state efforts to force online retailers such as Amazon.com to collect sales tax from customers even in places where the companies do not have a physical presence.

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RUBIO HITS LONDON

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio arrived in London on Monday for a three day official visit.

During his stay, Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, will meet with British government officials to discuss the future of the transatlantic alliance. On Tuesday, he will also deliver a major speech co-hosted by Chatham House and the Legatum Institute at 1 p.m. local time (8 a.m. EST). The speech will be live streamed here.

TAXPAYERS TO FOOT RADEL’S REHAB TAB via Frank Gluck of the News-Press 

We’ve all heard about those cushy perks that go with being a member of Congress, not the least of which are heavily subsidized health benefits. But how much of this taxpayer-supported largesse — aside from his annual $174,000 salary — will go toward the likely $658 daily bill Rep. Trey Radel is racking up at a Naples addiction treatment center? In short, no one but Radel can say for sure.

Radel enrolled in an inpatient program at Hazelden on Nov. 21, a day after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor-level cocaine possession charge in Washington. He blamed his alcoholism for the illegal drug use. His office confirmed that the congressman uses federal health insurance benefits, though it would not specify the policy he holds. Radel’s representatives also could not say if he is using the insurance to help pay for his substance abuse treatment in Naples.

The federal Office of Personnel Management, which oversees government benefits, offers this general rule in an alcohol abuse handbook for supervisors: “The cost of treatment is the employee’s responsibility. All Federal Employee Health Benefit Plans have some kind of coverage; however, that coverage is limited.”

Despite repeated attempts, the OPM media office refused to speak to me on the phone about this issue last week, citing Thanksgiving week scheduling conflicts.

OPM spokesman Edmund Byrnes did send me this general statement, which reads in part: “Plans … have a wide variety of benefit structures, including various provisions of in and out of network providers, and varying co-pays and co-insurance levels that apply to regular care as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment.”

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CD 13 SPEC. ELEX

ALEX SINK PICKS UP MORE ENDORSEMENTS

While Republicans David Jolly and Kathleen Peters scramble to win the GOP nomination in the special election in Congressional District 13, Alex Sink is solidifying her support among Pinellas’ Democratic-leaning elected officials.

On Monday, Sink announced that she had been endorsed by eight local pols, including Seminole City Council Member Jim Quinn, St. Petersburg City Council Member Amy Foster, Gulfport Mayor Samuel Henderson, Gulfport City Council Member Michael Fridovich, St.  Pete Beach Vice Mayor Lorraine Huhn, Belleair Bluffs Commissioner Jack Nazario, Safety Harbor Commissioner Nancy Besore, and former Clearwater Council Member Carlen Petersen.

These latest endorsements represent a larger trend, Sink said.

“Everywhere I go in Pinellas I hear the same thing: residents are frustrated with the dysfunctional, reckless politics of Washington and want a leader with a proven record of getting results in order to get Congress focused on growing our economy and helping businesses create jobs,” said Sink in a release. “I’m grateful for the support of these local Pinellas leaders who join a groundswell of Pinellas residents who share my commitment to bringing the values of bipartisanship and problem solving I practiced as a business leader and as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer back to Washington.”

SOE DEBORAH CLARK TO IGNORE ABSENTEE DIRECTIVE IN CD 13 RACE via William March of the Tampa Tribune

Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark says she’ll ignore a controversial directive on absentee ballot returns from Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

In a message to Detzner today, Clark said she’ll go ahead with plans to allow voters to drop off absentee ballots at eight sites in the county, not just at her own three offices, in the March 11 special election.

Disagreeing with Detzner’s interpretation of Florida elections law, she said the law authorizes the extra drop-off points; plus, she said, they add to voter convenience and save taxpayer dollars.

Clark said in the response that she was “disappointed the state of Florida did not consult the 67 supervisors of elections regarding this directive.” She said her emphasis on mail ballots—sometimes returned by mail and sometimes in person—has allowed the county “to increase voter turnout while decreasing the cost of elections.”

Clark, a Republican, described robust security measures she said protect ballots dropped off at locations other than her offices, which will include three tax collector’s offices and two public libraries for the March 11 voting. She said the Department of State has known about and sanctioned the practice in Pinellas elections going back to 2008.

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NEW STUDY ON STRATEGIC VOTING IN 2010 FORETELLS VOTING BEHAVIOR IN 2014 via contributor Karen Cyphers

University of South Florida political scientist Seth McKee knew there was something worth studying in 2010 when Charlie Crist became an independent to compete in the general election against Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

“Due to the strength of its two-party system, the opportunity for voters to strategically defect in favor of third party or independent candidates is rare in high profile American elections,” McKee and coauthor M.V. Hood, III, write for the December 2013 volume of Political BehaviorThe two continued, “Because this type of contest seldom occurs, in American politics there is scant empirical research on strategic voting under these conditions.”

McKee and Hood’s study surveyed a large number of Floridian voters prior to the general election to measure the extent to which Meek supporters engaged in strategic voting — i.e. defecting to vote for Crist if they expected him to finish ahead of Meek.To get at strategic voting, McKee and Hood asked respondents about their sincere candidate preferences as well as their expected order of candidate finish.

After controlling for various demographic factors, they found that among Democrats who thought Meek could win the election and/or finish ahead of Crist, there was virtually no defection to Crist. But among those who thought that Crist could win and/or beat Rubio, defection rates were especially high.

Their findings provide an interesting case study of Florida’s unique 2010 Senate race, but also foreshadow Florida’s 2014 gubernatorial primary, where Crist (a new Democrat) once again faces a lifelong Democrat in a statewide primary. This time Crist faces Nan Rich, whose main pitch to her base is that she’s a “real Democrat.” But as far as campaign grit, she’s “had only one race that counted” and in this, “could hardly pull off a win in her backyard while she was an incumbent.” That’s not compelling evidence that she’s fit to win statewide.

What McKee and Hood’s study suggests is the same as what early polls have shown for the 2014 race: Democrats’ desire to win in November will lead them to vote for Crist in the primary, even if they feel Rich better reflects their party.

THE GUBERNATORIAL RACE ON TWITTER via The Social Seer

The start of November saw Charlie Crist’s filing to run for Florida’s Governor as a Democrat. The announcement caused a splash on Twitter, and Crist managed to dominate the conversation for a few days. While Crist’s and Scott’s Twitter mentions bumped up and down through the month, Nan Rich’s mentions basically stayed low (along with those of Senator Bill Nelson, who is occasionally mentioned as a possible candidate). Nan Rich isn’t just getting fewer mentions than Scott or Crist, she’s getting an order of magnitude fewer.

Still, things aren’t all smooth sailing for Charlie Crist, even against Nan Rich.  Crist only gets Twitter buzz when there’s something big and newsworthy (like his announcement).  Shortly after the announcement Crist’s level of mentions dropped considerably; he has no real follow-through in terms of driving the conversation. After November 6th, there was only one day where Crist managed to (barely) outpace Rick Scott on Twitter.  In some ways, the two moved in parallel, but with Scott consistently doing better.

It can’t be good that Crist’s mentions have returned to their pre-announcement doldrums at the end of November; that increases the risk that social media is going to be impotent for his campaign.

People like to mention how high the current Governor’s negatives are.  And that’s true.  But if you look at Rick Scott’s use of Twitter (you can see an analysis of his account here), he is doing all the right things:  He posts frequently. His tweets have pictures — of other people with him.  He’s highlighting good news, accomplishments, events.  And he frequently mentions other people.  As a result, the Governor has managed to make Twitter a net positive for him, even in an otherwise hostile political environment.  When Scott, for example, goes to a ground breaking for Hertz, his tweet gets a handful of snarky remarks, but far more retweets and favorites.  It’s a win for him.

Crist, on the other hand virtually ignored Twitter until mid-October, and still has several mechanical problems with his usage. Net net, Charlie Crist is not creating “re-tweetable” content, while Scott is.

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SCOTT URGES COUNTIES TO OK TEACHER RAISES via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Gov. Scott tried to light a fire Monday under two dozen Florida counties, including Palm Beach, which still haven’t approved the teacher pay raises he made his top priority during last spring’s legislative session.

Scott said that 28 school districts have finalized teacher pay hikes, while another 15 have reached tentative agreements still awaiting a vote by school boards.

“We understand the local negotiation process that every district must go through in order to finalize teacher pay raise amounts,” Scott said in a letter Monday to Florida School Superintendents. “But we urge any district that has not yet reached a final agreement to contact Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart so we can offer any assistance possible to expedite this district-level process.”

Scott pushed the Legislature to approve $480 million for raises that were to range from $2,500 each for teachers rated “effective” and as much as $3,500 for those who earned “highly effective” grades. But negotiations between teacher unions and local boards have left many teachers waiting, while the raises in some counties also have fallen more around the $1,500 range.

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APPOINTED: Richard B. Davis, Jr. to the Bradford County Court.

BILL COTTERELL: SURPLUS WON’T NECESSARILY EQUAL RAISES via the Tallahassee Democrat

There are two legislative circumstances that can prevent state employees from getting a pay raise. One occurs when the state’s economists project a revenue shortfall. The other is when they project a surplus. A felicitous convergence of fiscal factors has caused the Revenue Estimating Conference to forecast a revenue surplus for fiscal 2014-15 — about $846 million.

You might think, when House and Senate members convene their 60-day lawmaking session next March, they will be in a jolly mood. Last spring, they had their first surplus in six years and produced a record $74.1 billion state budget, which included general raises of $1,400 for employees earning less than $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those making more than that.

They even ate the cost of increased health insurance for employees and put up $13 million to extend coverage (as mandated by Obamacare) to OPS employees. They could do it again, with all that new revenue coming in, right? Well, probably not.

Just for starters, Gov. Scott has promised $500 million in tax and fee reductions. He’s even printed up some lapel buttons with a piggy bank and a dollar sign on them, proclaiming, “It’s your money.” That’s a catchy slogan for an election year. The numbers, however, don’t dovetail neatly with the demand for state services.

This year’s revenue surplus was the first in six years. Over three previous years, including the start of Scott’s term as governor, legislators had to squeeze $9 billion in spending out of state agencies. Those agencies have a good way to go, recovering from lean year after leaner year.

Since Scott proposed his $500 million tax-cut goal, legislators have not said it can’t be done. But the House and Senate budget chiefs have said they have their own priorities. Besides the necessity of their budget projects, it will be an election year for all of the House and half the Senate, too.

In a campaign year, giving the staff a raise can’t measure up to, for instance, cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon or other polluted water bodies. Or opening mothballed prison space, or adding child-abuse investigators.

DUKE ENERGY SPOKESWOMAN IS NEW ORANGE MEDIA CHIEF via David Damron of the Orlando Sentinel

Ann Marie Varga is leaving Duke Energy Corp. to take over as Orange County government’s new communications chief. Varga held a similar top role at Rollins College before going to the nation’s largest utility. In coming to Orange, she would replace long-time communication manager Steve Triggs. Her new county job appointment, which is slated to go to commissioners for approval Tuesday, carries a $100,500 salary. If approved, as expected, she would start Dec. 9.

Triggs left in September after more than a decade in his high-profile post. The award-winning radio and television reporter took the county communication manager post in 2001, after a 19-year stint with WFTV-Channel 9 news. With Orange, Triggs served as the communications chief, key speech writer and, among other duties, oversaw the county’s two television stations.

POLICY NOTES h/t to The Florida Current

Florida Supreme Court on gaming and more: Will hear arguments in three cases, including a dispute about a 2009 law that could have led to additional card rooms in Palm Beach and Volusia counties. The 1st District Court of Appeal found the law unconstitutional, saying its narrowness made it an unconstitutional “special” law. Also, the court will hear arguments in an appeal by Death Row inmate Robert Bailey, who was convicted in Bay County of the 2005 murder of police officer Kevin Kight. 9 a.m., Florida Supreme Court, 500 South Duval St., Tallahassee.

Florida Public Service Commission: Is expected to consider a series of issues, including a proposed settlement that would lead to an increase in base electric rates for customers of Gulf Power Co. Among the other issues are proposed increases stemming from recent upgrade projects at Florida Power & Light nuclear-power plants. 9:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.

Florida Health Choices: Board of Directors will hold an annual budget meeting. Lawmakers created the Florida Health Choices program in 2008 to provide an online health-care marketplace, though it has been slow to get started. 11 a.m., Florida Health Choices, 200 West College Ave., Tallahassee.

Revenue Estimating Conference: Will consider what are known as “Article V” revenues, which are part of the state court system. 1:30 p.m., 117 Knott Building, the Capitol.

Florida School Boards Association Superintendents: Will hold their 68th annual joint conference from Tuesday to Friday at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, located at 2900 Bayport Drive, Tampa. More information can be found here.

STATE NOT PRODUCING ENOUGH SCIENCE GRADS, STUDY SHOWS

Florida’s public universities are producing a little more than half as many engineers, mathematicians, scientists and technicians than they need to in order to meet the demand of job growth in the next decade, according to a study presented to the Florida Board of Governors.

The report shows the state university system is way off the benchmarks set in the board’s strategic plan to increase the total number of degrees produced each year from 53,000 to 90,000.

Of greater concern is that the university system is 44 percent off its annual goal to produce 14,000 graduate degrees each year in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and 20 percent off its goal of creating 40,000 graduate degrees a year.

Now the board is wondering if those are realistic numbers. Board members are starting a dialogue they hope to resume when they meet again in January.

The board’s options are to maintain those goals or lower them to more realistic projections based on historical evidence.

“We need to get our arms around the strategic plan goals and see what adjustments we need to make,” interim Chancellor Jan Ignash said.

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MY TAKE: WEATHERFORD SEEKS TO CUT THE GORDIAN KNOT Full blog post here

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LEE COUNTY LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION MEETS

The delegation will meet to consider possible local bills and funding requests and to hear public comments. 9 a.m., Nursing Building at Edison State College, Fort Myers.

PROPOSAL TO KILL HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY’S CONTROVERSIAL PTC DIES AT LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION MEETING via Mitch Perry of Creative Loafing

No local government agency has received more scorn and ridicule than Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission. The PTC’s most recent embarrassment occurred over the summer, when its then executive director Cesar Padilla retired after being busted for moonlighting as a sheriff’s deputy while making $ 107,000 of public money for his commission job. It was just latest setback for the agency responsible for regulating taxis, limousines, vans and basic life-support ambulances in the county, the only entity of its type in Florida.

Because it was created by the state Legislature in 1976 by a special act, it would require lawmakers in Tallahassee to dismantle it. But a proposal to begin that process that was sponsored by Tampa Bay Area Republicans Jamie Grant and Jeff Brandes went down to defeat on Monday at the local delegation meeting of Hillsborough-area state lawmakers on the USF campus.

Although both lawmakers said that the agency’s antiquated bureaucracy was stifling innovation (a charge made by supporters of the alternative car-service Uber), too many other local legislators said they were concerned about who would take over the regulation aspect of the agency if it was dismantled.

“Whatever you make think of the PTC, it provides a regulatory structure,” said Brandon Republican Representative Russ Spano. “My concern is, what will replace it?”

That line of argument seemed to animate other lawmakers as well. Tampa GOP Representative Dana Young said a similar bill proposed in 2010 by former state Senator Ronda Storms died on the vine because nobody then stood up to pick up the regulatory powers currently held by the PTC. Passage of the bill in next year’s legislative session would not have been the last word on the issue. The bill would have mandated that the county voters decide its fate in a referendum.

Emotions ran high at times during the meeting. Louis Minardi, the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa, blasted Representative Grant for saying he had an “open-door policy” when in fact the door was closed to him to discuss the legislation. Grant later said he was offended by the comment.

Another strong supporter of maintaining the status quo was Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who currently chairs the PTC (Crist laid out his vision of reforming the agency in a CL story published back in September).

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CARLOS TRUJILLO ENDORSES RICHARD DENAPOLI FOR HD 74

“Richard DeNapoli is ready to solve Florida’s real problems. He will continue to inch our state economy toward economic recovery while protecting investments in programs benefiting seniors and our public education system,” stated Rep. Trujillo.

FUNDRAISER FOR SEN. JACK LATVALA TONIGHT

American Traditions and Bankers Financial are hosting a fundraiser for Sen. Latvala on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at 11101 Roosevelt Blvd in St Pete. RSVP to wlmartin@bankersinsurance.com.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Keith Perry.

THE SCANDAL THAT’S ROCKING TALLAHASSEE: MATT GAETZ’S DOG BITE MAN, MAN SUES GAETZ via The Associated Press

Christopher Kent filed a lawsuit last week in Leon County against Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Kent’s lawsuit alleges that Gaetz’s dog bit him last May. The lawsuit contends the dog bite left Kent in pain, disfigured and with injuries that ultimately forced him to withdraw from law school. He said part of the reason he quit the University of Michigan is that the treatment has forced him to take antibiotics that cause stomach problems.

The lawsuit asks for payment of medical bills and damages connected to the bite, but it does not list an amount.

Gaetz on Monday acknowledged that his dog, Scarlet, did bite someone. Gaetz said he does not know the dog’s breed because he rescued the 55-to-60-pound dog from a shelter about six years ago.

But he said he was unaware of the lawsuit until reached by a reporter. He said that he thought Kent’s attorney was trying to discuss the issue with his insurance company.

Gaetz would not discuss any details about what happened.

“We have a system that allows the courts to make those decisions,” said Gaetz, who is chairman of the House Criminal Justice subcommittee.

TWEET, TWEET: @MattGaetz: Hey @fineout @adamsmithtimes @MatthewBeaton – be real reporters and find a “man bites dog” story. #TeamScarlet

TWEET, TWEET: @ChrisDorworth: I’ve heard of “the dog ate my homework”, but the “dog ate my face” is a new one

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.