Sunburn for 1/23 – 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.***

BIPARTISAN ELECTION COMMISSION RELEASES LIST OF SUGGESTED FIXES via Scott Wilson of the Washington Post

A bipartisan commission appointed by President Obama to study barriers to voting recommended a series of steps Wednesday, including several to take advantage of technological advances, to make casting ballots simpler in the next election.

Concluding a six-month review, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration said in its report that jurisdictions should expand online voter registration and early balloting, update electronic voting equipment as first-generation voting machines grow obsolete, and share voter registration records across state lines to protect against fraud.

The 112-page report also suggests improvements in the more traditional ways Americans have cast ballots. Those include increasing the number of schools used as polling places, simplifying voting for members of the military and other Americans living overseas through better access to state Web sites and insuring that polling places are close to voters’ homes.

The election commission, criticized by some members of both parties when Obama announced it last year, left aside the issue of race in assessing access to voting places and wait times for casting ballots.

But it did say that bilingual poll workers should be available “to any polling place with a significant number of voters who do not speak English,” a suggestion likely to concern Republicans who have complained that the commission is a way to drive up traditionally Democratic votes. Latino voters, who now comprise 10 percent of the electorate, favored Obama by more than 40 percentage points over Mitt Romney in the last presidential election.

But the commission nodded cautiously in the direction of more technology in recommending “reforms of the standard-setting and certification process for new voting technology to address soon-to-be antiquated voting machines and to encourage innovation and the adoption of widely available off-the-shelf technologies.”

FMR. PRES. BUSH TO SPEAK IN PALM BEACH via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Former President George W. Bush is scheduled to make a rare visit to Palm Beach County next month when the Anti-Defamation League honors him at a Feb. 6 dinner at The Breakers in Palm Beach.

Bush will receive the ADL’s America’s Democratic Legacy Award at the $600-a-plate dinner.

Also to be honored that night: Jeff Greene, the Palm Beach billionaire who made an unsuccessful bid for the 2010 Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. Greene and wife Mei Sze Greene will receive the ADL’s Haym Salomon Award.

The dinner is part of the ADL’s annual National Executive Committee meeting.

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RICK SCOTT WITHIN 2 POINTS OF CHARLIE CRIST, ACCORDING TO NEW PPP POLL

The latest Public Policy Polling survey finds Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican incumbent Rick Scott separated by just two points.

Crist leads Scott, 43 percent to 41 percent, with 15 percent of respondents saying they are undecided. That is a dramatic change to PPP’s last two surveys of Florida which showed Crist with double-digit leads over Scott. Of course, those polls were taken before Crist formally announced his campaign for governor.

Driving these numbers are the candidates’ mixed approval ratings: just 34 percent approve of Scott (compared with 51 percent who disapprove), and 36 percent view Crist favorably (compared with 46 percent who view him unfavorably).

Crist’s rival for the Democratic nomination, former Senator Nan Rich, should be able to find some comfort in PPP’s new survey. She trails Scott by only 6 points, 40-34, in the poll, indicating that in the unlikely event she were to defeat Crist, she would be viable against Scott. At least that’s what this poll says.

HOW THE PPP POLL PLAYED

Huffington Post, Charlie Crist Is Pretty Much Tied With Rick Scott In Florida Governor’s Race – according to a poll released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling … CBS Miami, Crist Leads Scott By Just 2 Points – in a hypothetical race between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, the former governor may pull out a very narrow victory… Bradenton Herald, Poll shows Charlie Crist’s lead over Florida Gov. Rick Scott is shrinking – Crist’s 58-30 percent lead in September is now 43-41 … Palm Beach Post, Crist’s lead over Scott shrinks to within margin of error in Democratic firm’s new poll – Scott defeats the other Democrat seeking the governorship, former state Sen. Nan Rich, by a 40-to-34 percent margin … Tampa Bay Times, Charlie Crist 43%, Rick Scott 41 % – Forty six percent of those polled had an unfavorable view of Crist and 36 percent favorable. Thirty four percent approved of Scott’s performance and 51 percent disapproved … NewsMax, Crist Pins Hopes on Obama in Florida Governor’s Bid – It is also possible that Crist’s association with Obama could backfire, given the president’s low approval ratings in the state … Miami New Times,Charlie Crist and Rick Scott Statistically Tied in Latest Poll – Gay marriage is supported by a plurality of Floridians, 47-44… Creative Loafing Tampa¸Shock poll: Rick Scott has nearly caught up with Charlie Crist –  Rick Scott has virtually eclipsed the sizable lead that Charlie Crist has had on him for months … Sunshine State News, Charlie Crist’s Numbers Drop With Democrats in PPP Poll – finds Crist taking 58 percent of likely primary voters while Rich garners the support of 16 percent.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “As said in this space time and again: It ain’t the topline, it’s the trend. Right now, the trend is toward Scott.” — Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

TWEET, TWEET: @CharlieCrist Poll shows Scott’s special-interest $ is helping him gain ground,we know it can’t drown out the ppl

TWEET, TWEET: @bsfarrington: Wonder how closely @SenBillNelson is looking at today’s PPP FL gov’s race poll

WHAT ABOUT CRIST’S “DREAM TEAM”?

There’s a piece in the Washington Post about Jim Messina and other former Obama campaign staffers signing up on Crist’s gubernatorial campaign.

In the story, a Crist campaign spokesman is quoted as saying that Crist has ”…brought together a dream team of talent…” to help the former Republican turned Democrat return to the governor’s mansion.

Having a dream team is a lot like having grace. And to take a line from Seinfeld, you either have grace or you don’t … Grace isn’t something you can pick up at the market.

Dream teams can’t be picked up at the market, either. They come together, they are not assembled.

It’s actually a tad irresponsible for the Crist campaign to be throwing around terms like “dream team” when it just last month lost its high-profile campaign manager as well as a deputy finance director.

Win a few games first, fellas, before declaring yourself a “dream team.”

After all, the only dream team that lived up to the hype starred Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Now that was a Dream Team.

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FLORIDIANS LUKEWARM ON NELSON & RUBIO, OPPOSED TO OBAMACARE

Republican Senator Marco Rubio job performance rating is slightly under water at 43 percent approve/45 percent disapprove, while Senator Bill Nelson is still in the black at 40 percent approve/35 percent disapprove.

Opposition to the Affordable Care Act stands at 49 percent of Florida voters, while 40% approve of Obamacare. Going inside the numbers, few Florida voters consider the rollout of the ACA a success. Just six percent deem it “very” successful, while a full 42 percent believe the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has been “very unsuccessful.”

If there is any surprise in this PPP poll, especially one that shows Republican Governor Rick Scott down just two points to Democrat Charlie Crist, it’s that 62% of Florida voters support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour. That’s fairly broad support for what is considered a very progressive policy.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA INITIATIVE SUPPORTED BY 65% OF FLORIDIANS

Sixty-five percent of voters approve of using marijuana for medical purposes, while 23 percent are opposed and 12 percent say they are undecided.

These latest numbers do not show the same eye-popping level of support a recent Quinnipiac poll found. That survey showed that 82 percent of Floridians supported medical marijuana, but the poll question was also phrased to suggest that use would have to be prescribed by a doctor.

Going inside the data, it shows that the initiate enjoys support from all quarters, including conservatives. Sixty-two percent of those who describe themselves as “somewhat conservative” approve of the initiative.

Still, it’s not a lock that the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana will make it on the ballot.

With a surge of petitions before a Feb. 1 deadline, backers of the medical marijuana initative had submitted 542,211 valid signatures to the state as of mid-day Tuesday, according to the Florida Division of Elections website. People United for Medical Marijuana must reach 683,149 valid signatures by Feb. 1 to get the proposal on the November ballot.

The group also still needs Florida Supreme Court approval of the proposed ballot wording, which has drawn opposition from Attorney General Pam Bondi and Republican legislative leaders.

PAM BONDI IN FOR TOUGH RACE?

Despite a massive fundraising advantage over her opponents, Attorney General Pam Bondi appears to be in for a tough re-election campaign. At least that’s what the latest survey from Public Policy Polling finds.

Bondi, a Republican, leads her Democratic rivals, Rep. Perry Thurston and George Sheldon, by just two and three points, respectively.

Bondi leads Thurston 37 percent to 35 percent, with 28 percent undecided; she leads Sheldon, a former Department of Children and Families secretary, 37 percent to 34 percent with 29 percent undecided.

Sheldon and Thurston have struggled to raise money for their campaigns. The two candidates combined to raise less than $19,000 in December for their campaign accounts, while Bondi continued to widen her huge financial lead. Sheldon collected $6,525 during December, bringing his total to $58,332. Thurston raised $12,315, giving him a total of $33,815.

Bondi, meanwhile, raised $116,105 during December and had a total of $642,556. Two Bondi-aligned political committees also have combined to raise a total of about $1.2 million.

Based on these numbers, Bondi will need every dollar she can raise to hold off the eventual Democratic nominee.

***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.***

CD 13 SPECIAL ELECTION

JOHN MCCAIN ENDORSES DAVID JOLLY Read full blog post here

Now that David Jolly is the official GOP candidate to replace U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in the House, the big guns are beginning to line up.

Even bigger than Bob Barker.

Jolly announced today that U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain — in one of the most influential national GOP “gets” — is endorsing his run for Florida’s Congressional District 13.

“The United States Congress needs principled leaders like David Jolly,” said the longtime Arizona Senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee. Jolly’s commitment to veterans, something that marked the more than 40-year House career of Young, is what drew McCain to the Pinellas County Republican.

“His experience ensures he will be effective for the people of Pinellas County on day one,” McCain added. “David has strong convictions and also believes in civility and working together to get things done. And, his support for America’s men and women in uniform, our veterans, and particularly our wounded warriors is more than just a campaign promise – he’s lived this commitment through service at our military hospitals, at our VA centers and with multiple veterans organizations.”

OUCH: “PolitiFact found a 2011 lobbying disclosure in which Jolly said he worked for Free Enterprise Nation on legislation that would indeed have expanded oil drilling. Jolly then explained that the disclosure he filed was a case of “overcomplying” and that he hadn’t really lobbied for the bill. … Overcomplying, eh? Sounds as if Jolly is overreaching. But his victory shows that, in the Republican Party, corporate influence is again overarching.” — The Washington Post‘s David Milbank

NEW NRCC AD CASTS ALEX SINK AS “TAX AND SPEND” LIBERAL Full blog post here

The National Republican Congressional Committee once again attacks “tax and spend liberal” Alex Sink with a new TV ad released today in Florida’s Congressional District 13.

Highlights of the ad, which pokes fun at Sink’s TV spot featuring her father, include claims that the former Democratic state CFO and 2010 candidate for governor has a “record of supporting higher taxes for Florida families so big government can continue to spend, spend, spend.”

The ad is a $230,000 media buy of an overall $725,000 to be spent by the NRCC in the next few weeks.

The NRCC also touches upon one of the main hot button issues in the CD 13 campaign, Sink’s “continued” support of the Affordable Care Act, which the GOP claims is “causing pain for Pinellas County families and seniors.”

The ad is also available on YouTube.

SINK CAMPAIGN PUSHES BACK

“These are the same discredited, Rick Scott style attacks that have already been rejected by Pinellas residents,” said Sink spox Ashley Walker. “As Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink earned a reputation as a fiscal conservative who worked to cut wasteful spending and made government do more with less.  It’s already clear that D.C. groups are willing to say anything, regardless of the facts, to prop up Washington lobbyist Jolly because they know that in Congress lobbyist Jolly would put special interests over Pinellas families .”

SINK LAUNCHES “TAKE YOUR VOICE TO WASHINGTON” FOR CD 13 VOTER FEEDBACK Full blog post here

Sink launcheD a “campaign within a campaign” in her bid for Florida’s Congressional District 13.

“Take Your Voice to Washington,” is a new program to give Pinellas residents an avenue to share thoughts on key issues, with the purpose of providing Sink information to become an “effective, problem solving representative for them in Congress.”

The campaign is featured on a page on Sink’s website: www.AlexForCongress.com/Take-Your-Voice-To-Washington. Individuals will be able to submit videos, send feedback or choose an issue they believe Sink should focus on.

Sink’s campaign will soon be holding “Take Your Voice to Washington” house parties throughout Pinellas County, where her campaign will invite community members to information sessions and discussions.

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SCOTT SEEKS $130 MILLION FOR GLADES PROJECTS via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott said Wednesday he will ask the Legislature to include $130 million in the next state budget for Everglades-related projects in an effort to improve water quality and lessen the impacts of discharges from Lake Okeechobee on estuaries.

The money includes $40 million to speed up completion of the C-44 Stormwater Treatment Area for Martin and St. Lucie counties, Scott’s office said, in addition to $30 million for a three-year installment for the Tamiami Trail project to provide water to Everglades National Park, $32 million as part of the governor’s Everglades Water Quality Restoration Plan and funds to complete Kissimmee River restoration. The final dollar amount will be set by the Legislature in the session that begins March 4.

Scott’s second environmental announcement in as many days took place at a meeting of the governor and Cabinet in Kissimmee. On Tuesday, Scott called for $55 million to protect springs from the polluting effects of septic tanks, wastewater and runoff.

REAX

Robert Coker, U.S. Sugar: “Governor Scott’s budget recognizes the importance of working together to preserve, restore and maintain Florida’s Everglades and the communities it supports.”

Eric Draper, Audubon Florida: “We are seeing real progress on the Everglades. Governor Scott deserves credit for following through on projects to get water clean and delivered to the natural system.”

Eric Eikenberg, Everglades Foundation: “Governor Scott understands the importance of improving the Everglades ecosystem, which is evident not only with his water quality plan but also with his $130 million investment for improving America’s Everglades.”

Pepe Fanjul, Jr., Florida Crystals, “There is no better testament of Gov. Scott’s leadership abilities than the fact he has been able to successfully kick-start Everglades restoration, including the financing and construction of important water projects.”

TWEET, TWEET: @ProgressFlorida: 1st year in office, Rick Scott dismantles agency (DCA) that protected Everglades. Now, re-election year, he pledges to help save Everglades.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will make an “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” funding announcement regarding high skill/ high-wage job training, according to a release. Greencore, 13949 Alvarez Road, Suite 105, Jacksonville. 9:05 am.

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A ZINGER FOR CRIST, A ZINGER FOR SCOTT

SHORT MEMORY: CHARLIE CRIST HAD HIS OWN “SPECIAL INTEREST CHECKBOOK” IN 2006 via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union

Since announcing his candidacy for governor in early November, Democrat Charlie Crist has had a common refrain: I don’t have Gov. Rick Scott’s “special-interest checkbook.”

The term has cast Scott as a puppet of some of the state’s largest political donors, and justified why Scott continues to widen his fundraising lead. The deep-pocketed special interests, after all, are going to fund a helpful governor, the Crist camp contends.

On its face, the message has merit. Let’s Get to Work, a committee supporting Scott, has $22 million in the bank. Much of that has come from some of the state’s largest political donors.

The talking point, though, fails to mention that special interests also helped give Crist’s last gubernatorial campaign, in 2006, its own special-interest checkbook.

Of the nearly $28 million raised by Crist, then a Republican, and committees supporting him, one out of every three dollars came from groups characterized as special interests, according to a Times-Union analysis of campaign-finance records.

The number includes money from donors clearly labeled as lobbyists, political-action committees, fundraising committees, political consultants, and contributions from the Republican Party of Florida. Because the analysis includes only contributions clearly from groups that fit the traditional definition of a special-interest group, the actual total is assuredly higher.

In addition, the state GOP sent $4.4 million directly to Crist’s campaign, but no doubt spent much more helping him win. It’s the top priority for both state political parties to win the governor’s mansion. As a result, much of their resources are spent on that race, even if they are not sent directly to the campaigns.

GOV. SCOTT QUICK TO TAKE CREDIT, DEFLECT BLAME via Paula Dockery for the Lakeland Ledger 

During Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, I can find areas where I agree with his actions and numerous areas where I don’t. And on some issues on which he has reversed himself, I’ve had the opportunity to do both.

But, despite how any of us feel on any particular position, what has become a disturbing trend in the Scott administration is his propensity for claiming credit for anything good happening in the state, whether or not he had a direct role in the outcome — while simultaneously distancing himself or completely ignoring anything that goes wrong, even when he or his agencies have had a direct role.

As voters, however, we expect and deserve to know what is happening and what our chief executive is doing about it. We want to know he is aware, engaged and determined to fix any problems that happens on his watch.

Shortly after that botched rollout, Florida had one of its own. The launch of CONNECT, Florida’s attempt to modernize its jobless-claim-payment system, was far from smooth. The 235,000 claimants who use the system were met with long wait times, slow speeds, error messages and being kicked out of the system.

Not only hasn’t Scott come forward to accept responsibility for this debacle but also he seems strangely detached from the pain it is causing many Floridians.

When asked if it’s his job to fix the faulty system, he deflects by saying that it’s his job to bring jobs to Florida. When reporters press him to take some responsibility for the problem and its consequences on people forced to do without, he cheerily tells them to have a good day.

Huh? That’s it? Have a good day?

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FLORIDA CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY HUNTING FOR SKILLED WORKERS IN 2014 via Jeff Harrington of the Tampa Bay Times and Marcia Heroux Pounds of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

Florida’s construction industry is ramping up for a strong year of hiring in 2014 — if it can find the skilled workers it needs.

That’s according to an annual survey released Tuesday by the trade group Associated General Contractors of America.

Florida’s construction industry was hit harder than any other during the Great Recession, with a 700,000-strong workforce cut in half. In 2012, Tampa Bay had the dubious distinction of losing more construction jobs year-over-year than any other metro region in the country.

But construction has since rebounded, playing a strong role in pushing down Florida’s unemployment rate. Over the past year, the state has added more than 24,000 construction jobs, a 7 percent increase.

More than 80 percent of Florida’s general contractors hired six to 15 employees during 2013, according to the survey. And 33 percent said they would add workers – four to five – in 2014.

Forty-two percent of contractors in the state report paying a higher base wage to specialty workers such as welders and masons; 36 percent are paying higher salaries to professionals, according to the group’s survey of 800 industry members.

Sixty-nine percent of surveyed contractors said they expect it to become more difficult to find and hire skilled craft workers this year while 46 percent anticipated it will become harder to find and hire professional workers.

SMART REAX – Donovan Brown, counsel for State Government Relations at PCI: The 2012 PIP reforms were intended to stop criminals and better protect Floridians from the damage and rate shock caused by those focused on lining their pockets at the expense of consumers. Today’s report from OIR is a positive indicator that the PIP reforms, once fully implemented and given adequate time to work, may continue to provide Floridians with much needed relief.  If the reforms are not further delayed by additional court challenges, PCI and its members are cautiously optimistic that consumers will benefit from continued suppression of the upward pressure on auto insurance costs caused by unchecked fraud and abuse.

***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.***

BEER BATTLES IN LEGISLATURE PIT DISTRIBUTORS AGAINST CRAFT BREWERS via Gary Rohrer of the Florida Current

Craft breweries in Florida want to get to a place where everybody knows their name. They think a few bills pending before the Legislature will help them get there.

The craft beer craze, which has seen smaller brewers grow rapidly in the last few years, has transformed the marketing of beer. Now, breweries cater to customers who select the types of beer, such as a pale ale or wheat beer, before selecting the brand; much in the same way wine drinkers opt for merlot or pinot noir.

In Florida, craft breweries are piercing the three-tiered system of distribution in which manufacturers make beer, wholesalers distribute to retailers and retailers sell it to a thirsty public. The system was intended to prevent integration between the tiers – wholesalers can’t be manufacturers or retailers or own stake in them, etc. – but through exceptions in the law, brewpubs make craft brews and sell it onsite.

Now craft brewers want to change the law to allow them to offer free tastings and sell beer in 64-ounce containers. Current state law only allows for beer to be sold in 32-ounce containers or less.

A pair of bills to allow breweries to offer free tastings (SB 470) and sell 64-ounce installments, known as growlers, (SB 406), are before lawmakers but a clash between craft brewers and the large distributors threatens the bills’ progress.

The tasting bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Regulatory Affairs Committee on Thursday but the growler bill was postponed.

SECRECY ON LEGISLATIVE AGENDA via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

Every year, state lawmakers try to make more public information secret.

There are roughly 300 exemptions to the public records and open meetings statutes, known as “sunshine laws,” though a “sunset” provision allows for exemptions to expire after five years unless renewed.

Among the bills filed for the upcoming legislative session starting March 4, some would make secret:

The names of people applying to be president, provost or dean of a state university or college.

Email addresses obtained by tax collectors to send paperless tax notices.

The names of people who apply for concealed-weapon licenses at tax collectors’ offices. The exemption already applies to those who file directly to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The First Amendment Foundation, based in Tallahassee, serves as a watchdog for proposed exceptions to the records law.

Barbara A. Petersen, the foundation’s president and a lawyer, is “neutral” on many in this crop of bills, though some have merited letters of concern from her to their sponsors.

The problem with many exemptions is that they’re the beginning of a slippery slope, as she put it. If names of college president applicants are made confidential, it’s a short jump to shutting out the public from city manager searches, for example.

REP. LARRY METZ ENDORSES HD 35 GOP HOPEFUL BLAISE INGOGLIA Full blog post here

Blaise Ingoglia received another major GOP endorsement as Rep. Larry Metz announced his support of the Republican running for State House District 35.

Metz is the two-term Republican representing much of Lake County in Florida House District 32, including the cities of Groveland, Yalaha and Leesburg.

Ingoglia, vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, faces Democrats David Welsh and Rose Rocco in the race to replace term-limited Rep. Rob Schenck for the seat covering much of Hernando County.

“I’m pleased to join the growing list of my colleagues with my endorsement of Blaise Ingoglia for the Florida House,” Metz says in a statement released today. “Blaise understands the importance of limited government, low taxes, balanced budgets, and more personal responsibility. He is a conservative voice that will represent the people of District 35 well in Tallahassee.”

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MIKE HARIDOPOLOS JOINS TSAMOUTALES STRATEGIES BUT WHERE’S CAMERON YARBROUGH?

Surprising few, former state Senate President Mike Haridopolos has joined Tsamoutales Strategies, the lobbying firm announced on Tuesday.

Fourth Floor observers have been expecting Haridopolos to eventually join his close friend Frank Tsamoutales since the two were linked in a 2011 profile that revealed that one of Tsamoutales’ clients and closest friends paid Haridopolos $5,000 a month — $60,000 a year — for amorphous consulting duties. Haridopolos was admonished by the Senate for failing to disclose the source of that income.

Tsamoutales and Haridopolos’ bond is also personal, wrote Adam Smith in 2011: Kim Tsamoutales, Frank’s wife and the daughter of former Orlando Magic coach Brian Hill, has cystic fibrosis that led to a double lung transplant. Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, Mike’s wife, was her doctor and friend, and Tsamoutales said she helped save his wife’s life.

While Tsamoutales is hardly among the most recognized lobbyists in Tallahassee, he has turned heads recently with some eye-popping compensation disclosure reports.

Tsamoutales Strategies brought in over $1 million in legislative lobbying compensation fees during the second quarter of 2013, in addition to as much as $999,999 in executive lobbying fees. It posted similar numbers during the third quarter.

The firm also reported some staggering numbers regarding the size of its contracts with some of its 36 clients in Florida, including Honeywell International at a whopping $620,000 for legislative and executive representation during one quarter; Harris Corporation at $324,000; InfraManagement Group at $246,000; International Speedway Corporation at $174,000; and Butler Enterprises at $150,000.

Media reports of Tsamoutales’ outsized paydays are often cited as one of the reasons why legislative leaders have agreed to kick-start legally required audits of lobbyists paid to bend the ears of lawmakers and Gov. Rck Scott’s office.

A former Senate president joining Tsamoutales Strategies will likely only increase the size of those paydays.

In addition to Haridopolos joining the firm, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been promoted to “director of strategic initiatives.”

The firm also hired Amy Bisceglia, a former aide to Haridopolos and controversial former Scott chief of staff Steve MacNamara, as a government relations consultant.

Not clear in all of this is where is Cameron Yarbrough, the well-liked colleague of Tsamoutales, who was often viewed as the accessible contrast and man-about-town to the more aggressive Tsamoutales.

It’s not confirmed, but the word on Adams Street is that Tsamoutales and Yarbrough parted ways in early January after Yarbrough requested a larger bonus.

So where, oh where, are you Mr. Yarbrough?

***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.***

CONTEXT FLORIDA: MARRIAGE EQUALITY, UNIFIED GOP, RICHARD SHERMAN AND KEY WEST TREE HUGGERS

On Context Florida: there is little doubt that marriage equality is coming to Florida, says Daniel Tilson. Although a group called Equal Marriage Florida is trying to get a marriage equality amendment on the 2014 ballot, the courts seem a better bet for moving Florida forward, Tilson writes. Who is going to unify the GOP, asks Jamie MillerSteve Kurlander sees Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman as a “troll” and not a professional after his on-camera tirade in the moments right after the Seattle won the NFC Championship. Urban forestry manager Karen DeMaria is a true “Key West tree hugger,” says Linda Cunningham, and she is not kidding.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Senate President Designate Andy Gardiner and conservative smart guy Jacob Perry.

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.