A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
The story goes that the Roman Emperor Claudius II imposed a ban on marriages in order to boost his army. Only single men had to enter the army, and too many men were dodging the draft by getting married. Valentinus, though, in an effort to protect the sacramentality of Christian marriage, performed secret marriages, and when he got caught he was sentenced to death. While he awaited execution, he was showered with notes from young couples extolling the virtues of love over war. (Looks like John Lennon didn’t invent the slogan “Make love not war” after all.) These notes, if they ever existed at all, were supposedly the first Valentines. Poor old Valentinus was executed in February 14th, 269, a bloody end for the saint of love.
For the first time in my life, I have two valentines: My wonderful wife, Michelle, and my happy, healthy and beautiful daughter, Ella. I love you both.
For those of you in Tallahassee, the number for florist Elinor Doyle is (850) 222-1298.
Now, on to politics …
MOST WHO WATCHED LIKED OBAMA’S SOTU
A new CNN/ORC instant poll found that 77% of those watching President Obama’s State of the Union had a somewhat or very positive view of the address, while 22% had a negative response.
However, Obama was speaking to a relatively friendly audience. Of those who watched the speech, 44% were Democrats and 17% were Republicans.
Said pollster Keating Holland: “Tuesday night’s State of the Union audience is more Democratic than the nation as a whole, which is typical for a President Obama speech and indicates that the speech-watchers were predisposed to like what Obama said. When George W. Bush was president, his audiences were more Republican than the general public at that time, and his speeches were usually well-received for that same reason.”
OBAMA HINTS AT BUDGET COMPROMISE
Buried in this speech is something that the president didn’t want to advertise, but that was placed in there as a hint to Republicans at where he’s ready to compromise on the deficit: He called for cuts to Medicare equal to what Bowles-Simpson proposed. He never said the number (not popular politically), but he stated the goal. Folks, this is where the compromise in March could happen.
PREZ WILL VACATION IN PALM BEACH
President Obama will be enjoying a little R and R — and no doubt some golf — this weekend during a vacation in West Palm Beach.
The White House says he will leave Friday and he has no public events scheduled during the trip.
The Presidents’ Day getaway to one of the playgrounds of the rich and famous comes just days after he delivered his State of the Union address focused on the plight of the middle class.
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MARCO: “I NEEDED WATER, WHAT AM I GONNA DO?”
Rubio hit the TV news circuit Wednesday morning expanding on his State of the Union rebuttal. Naturally, the water gaffe came up. “I mean I needed water, what am I going to do?” he said on Good Morning America. “God has a funny way of reminding us that we’re human.”
TWEET, TWEET: @marcorubio: Picked up over 13,000 new followers on #twitter since last night! Im going to start drinking #water in the middle of all of my speeches!
RECLAIM AMERICA SELLING WATER BOTTLES
In response to the outrage over Marco Rubio’s decision to drink water during his response to the State of the Union Address, his PAC, Reclaim America, has begun selling water bottles.
“If you had an opportunity to watch Marco’s Response to the State of the Union last night, you were undoubtedly energized by his message of upward mobility, free enterprise and limited government,” writes Rubio’s PAC in an email.
“But don’t get angry at the liberals who want to bury what Marco said. Laugh at them. So in that spirit, we here at Reclaim America are launching the official line of Marco Rubio water bottles.
“Send the liberal detractors a message that not only does Marco Rubio inspire you… He hydrates you too.”
RUBIO’S SCHOOL VOUCHER PLAN SHOWS STRONG JEB BUSH TIES via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald
Rubio immediately followed his rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night by releasing a “school-choice” bill to allow taxpayers to subsidize private-school education for poor kids.
By putting legislation where his mouth is, Rubio wanted to reinforce the theme of his speech — that conservative policy is good for the poor and working class.
The legislation, which revolves around tax credits, also makes good on a 2010 Rubio campaign pledge, and reinforces his strong ties to former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, his friend and mentor whose nonprofit education foundation helped shape the legislation.
Bush passed a similar school-choice voucher program in 2001, which Rubio voted for while he served in the Florida House.
If Florida’s experience is any measure, though, Democrats, teacher unions and some church-and-state separatists will oppose the scholarship-voucher program, saying it indirectly uses tax money to fund private, and often religious education.
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SO WHY DID JIM GREER PLEAD GUILTY? by Lucy Morgan of the Tampa Bay Times
For three years, former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer denied doing anything wrong and promised a trial that would embarrass a lot of people. So why did he plead guilty to five felonies Monday facing the certainty of spending years in prison?
And who paid Hank Coxe, a widely respected criminal defense attorney from Jacksonville who parachuted in at the last minute and quietly negotiated the plea that brought the long-running soap opera to a close. Coxe was in the courtroom when Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges but did not speak and did not formally file a notice of appearance with the court.
For more than two years, Damon Chase, the Lake Mary civil attorney who represented Greer, hurled insults at party officials insisting the investigation was an attempt to destroy Greer. Chase even predicted that everyone would die in the end like a Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, Chase stood silently beside Greer as he answered, “Guilty, your honor’’ five times.
Chase said Greer “decided to fall on his sword rather than burn down the house.’’
Coxe stepped in a few weeks ago and reviewed the evidence, talking to prosecutors and Republican Party officials as he pushed for a plea bargain.
“Hank Coxe was critical to getting the deal done. He is a very experienced criminal defense lawyer and he concluded it would be in Greer’s best interest,’’ said Steve Dobson, a Tallahassee lawyer who represented the party in a civil suit Greer filed in an attempt to collect $130,000 the party promised him in severance pay.
TO DRIVE HIS AGENDA, RICK SCOTT TURNS TO LOBBYISTS by Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times
After winning election as an outsider in 2010, Gov. Scott initially refused to invite lobbyists into his Capitol office (only their clients). But in his first two years as Florida’s chief executive, Scott has steadily developed a closer relationship with the people whose connections, clients and money are virtually impossible to ignore in state politics.
That relationship has just reached a new level, after Scott and chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth quietly invited some of the Capitol’s most prominent lobbyists to the mansion over a couple of nights last week, where the governor made a strong pitch for the two prongs of his legislative agenda: a $2,500 across-the-board teacher pay raise and a $141 million sales tax break for manufacturers who buy equipment.
A partial list of the lobbyists invited to the mansion includes Brian Ballard, Ron Book, Paul Bradshaw, Dean Cannon, Steve Dial, Mercer Farrington, John French, Guy Spearman, J.M. (Mac) Stipanovich, James Harold Thompson and Steve Uhlfelder.
“The governor talked about his agenda and the focus on his top two priorities. ‘Hey, look,’ the governor said. ‘These are my two priorities for the session, and then he provided the framework for those priorities,'” Hollingsworth said.
DOT SECY ‘PERSONNALLY ALERTED’ TO NEED FOR SPEED STUDY via the News Service of Florida
A study that resulted in a raised speed limit on a Tallahassee stretch of road came after Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad was alerted the hard way to the possibility that the original speed was too low.
Television news bureau Capitol News Service reported Wednesday that Prasad was ticketed for speeding on the stretch of Thomasville Rd. just north of the mid-town area of the capital. The area has long been a locally notorious speed trap, a wide and busy stretch of several lanes where the speed limit used to be just 35 mph, but where traffic typically moves much faster. It recently went up to 45 mph after a DOT study that found the roadway in that area could handle traffic traveling up to 47 mph.
Prasad confirmed to Capitol News Service that he got the speeding ticket for going 44 mph when the limit was 35. “She wrote the ticket and I did the driver’s ed,” Prasad said. “All is good.” He also said he had received lots of calls about people getting ticketed on that particular stretch. City officials had objected to the change, saying they’re trying to make the city more walkable.
JOINT REPORT FROM FLORIDA TAXWATCH AND LEROY COLLINS INSTITUTE LOOKS AT MUNICIPAL PENSIONS
“Looking at Florida’s Municipal Pensions: How some Florida cities are dealing with pension funding issues” highlights the steps being taken by cities like Lakeland, Miami, and Jacksonville, among others, to reduce the burden on local taxpayers as a result of promised pension benefits to municipal employees.
“A number of Florida cities are faced with significant, almost crippling liabilities in their municipal pensions that bring into question the long-term sustainability of these pension systems,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President & CEO of Florida TaxWatch. “This Research Report shows that while some have chosen to kick the can down the road, there are some cities stepping up and making the hard, yet necessary choices on behalf of taxpayers. Some of these solutions show that it is not just a funding problem, it is a systemic problem.”
“This report examines accounts of what some cities are doing to address the funding challenges today and those looming in the future,” said Dr. Carol S. Weissert, Director of the LeRoy Collins Institute and Professor of Political Science at Florida State University. “City officials have worked with their employees and their employee unions to realistically address underfunding issues in ways that best meet their own situations.”
NEW TO THE TWITTERS: @PensionReformFL
LOTTERY SETS SCRATCH-OFF RECORD FOR A WEEK
The Florida Lottery announced Tuesday that it set a record for scratch-off sales for the week ending Saturday. Sales exceeded $63 million, the best in the lottery’s 25-year history.
5 QUESTIONS FOR JOE NEGRON here, including:
Q: Your legislative outlook seems to be inspired by the study of American history.
NEGRON: I was one of those dorky kids in high school with no girlfriend that sat in the front row and read a lot and helped other students study for their exams and read the Congressional Record at night. I do care about history, and I care about our founding principles as I understand them – and we all have different views of them.
That’s really one thing that informs me. The basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution are extravagant. They include freedom of religion, freedom of the press…the government can’t send soldiers to live in your house if you don’t want them there. It’s an enormously limiting document on abuses of government.
And we need – there’s a delicate balance. There’s a place for government, and government has a role, but I’m very committed to making sure we preserve what I consider to be uniquely American concepts and principles – and one of those is the supremacy of the individual.
BILL WOULD SUBJECT LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES TO PSC via the Florida Current
House bill was filed Tuesday that would make municipal utilities subject to regulation by the Florida Public Service Commission if they sell to provide services outside of their municipality.
There are 34 municipal electric utilities in Florida serving 3 million people, according to the Florida Municipal Electric Association. Jacksonville, Orlando, Gainesville, Tallahassee and Lakeland are among the cities with municipal electric utilities.
HB 733 by Rep. Debbie Mayfield would apply to municipal utilities that sell electricity or natural gas.
BRANDES BILL WOULD REQUIRE WARRANTS FOR CELL PHONE SEARCHES
Brandes filed SB 846 designed to preserve the privacy of Floridians in a continuously evolving world of digital technology.
“The Fourth Amendment protects Floridians against unreasonable search of their papers and effects,” said Brandes. “In today’s increasingly paperless world we are seeking to clarify that cell phones and tablets are the modern version of papers and effects.”
“Privacy is a fundamental right that we as legislators need to protect, and with technology changing rapidly I believe that we need to revise our laws to protect our citizens,” said Representative Carlos Trujillo, who is sponsoring the companion measure in the House of Representatives. “I look forward to working with Senator Brandes on this important piece of legislation.”
‘PARENT TRIGGER’ IS BACK FOR ROUND TWO by Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times
Sen. Kelli Stargel filed SB 862 today. It is similar to the final version of last year’s failed SB 1718. The proposal would allow parents at failing schools to choose a turnaround strategy for the school by signing a petition. One option, of course, is to convert the school into a charter school.
SB 862 allows local school boards to choose the option it thinks is best for students even if they disagree with what parents indicated. However, the state Board of Education can override that and side with parents. Stargel said she agreed to sponsored the legislation in the Senate (a House version is expected soon) because as a parent of five chilren she believes in its mission.
Noting how similar the bill is to last year’s version, she said she doesn’t plan any major changes in strategy for getting it passed. “Some of it was on the policy, a lot of it was based on politics,” Stargel said about last year’s failed effort.
>>>I disagree with Mitchell’s assessment that “There has since been turnover in both chambers with Democrats gaining seats. That makes ‘parent trigger’ an even tougher battle this session.” Doesn’t parent trigger have a better chance in a Senate without Paula Dockery, Mike Fasano and Dennis Jones.
TWEET OF THE DAY: @WillWeatherford: Yes “@SaintPetersblog: Actually, doesn’t ‘parent trigger’ have a better chance of passing this year?
VOTING CHANGES WIN BIPARTISAN APPROVAL FROM HOUSE PANEL by Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times
Democrats joined with Republicans Wednesday in a bipartisan vote in support of four changes to Florida’s voting laws prompted by the chaos and long lines last fall. The House Ethics & Elections Subcommittee passed the bill on a 12-0 vote.
Rep. Jim Boyd, the sponsor, called the bill a “collaborative effort to address the difficult experiences by many voters in the 2012 election.”
The changes, broadly supported by voters, election supervisors, Gov. Rick Scott and the state elections division, would undo two of the most controversial changes in a Republican-backed rewrite of the election laws two years ago. The bill would require early voting on a minimum of eight days and a maximum of 14 days with optional early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. It also would expand early voting locations to include county courthouses, fairgrounds, convention centers and civic centers.
Under the bill, a county could offer as little as 48 hours of early voting (six hours for eight days) but no Democrat on the panel raised an objection to the provision. The maximum early voting hours would increase from the current 96 to 168 hours, or 12 hours a day over a 14-day period.
The bill (PCB EES 13-01) also would limit ballot summaries to 75 words for constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature.
TWEET, TWEET: @adeslatte: Rep. Jim Boyd accidentally says he’d like to “spank” the House speaker for the elections bill. “If you’re watching, I’m sorry speaker.”
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APPOINTED: Glenn T. Shelby to the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court.
4TH FLOOR FILES features Carol Dover, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. Here’s the file on Carol.
BOB CORTES ALREADY LINING UP LOCAL ENDORSEMENTS FOR HD 30 BID
City of Maitland Councilman Ivan Valdes is the most recent Central Florida leader to throw his support behind Cortes. Valdes joins Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger, Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, former State Representative John Quinones, and former Seminole County Commission Chairman Fred Streetman in supporting Bob Cortes for House District 30.
“I’m supporting Bob Cortes because I’ve seen him in action standing up for our seniors, working for better schools for kids, and doing everything he can to keep our community strong,” said Councilman Valdes. “I know that Bob will be a great representative for our community in Tallahassee.”
Commissioner Valdes is a first generation Cuban American who was born and raised in South Florida. He is a retired U. S. Marine who has lived in Maitland since 1996. He is a founding member and managing partner at Elite Financial Partners in Maitland, an employee benefits, comprehensive insurance planning and investment advisory services firm.
>>>Judging by the press release, it looks like Cortes has signed up with Brett Doster.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Get your checkbooks ready, PAC chairs and Tallahassee uber-lobbyists, Senator Jeff Brandes has a fundraiser in Tallahassee lined up for Wednesday, February 20. The event will be at the Governor’s Club beginning at 5:00 p.m. Invite here (notice anyone’s name missing from the host committee on the invite?).
SPOTTED at fundraiser for House District 65 candidate Chris Sprowls: Sens. Jack Latvala and John Legg, Reps. Richard Corcoran, Ed Hooper and Mike Fasano, lobbyists Richard Gentry and Shawn Foster, and from Pinellas, Bruce Bartlett, Nick DiCeglie and Chris Latvala.
***The PA Team of Jack and Keyna Cory and Erin Daly would like to congratulate their new client, SmartWater CSI www.smartwatercsi.com who recently launched its product in the City of Fort Lauderdale. Mayor Jack Seiler and Rep. Perry Thurston attended the event where SmartWater CSI distributed their forensic marking system. SmartWater has proven to be extremely successful in helping catch criminals and stop pawn shops from buying stolen property. Its use has resulted in 1,200 convictions in the UK. The PA Team will be providing governmental relations and strategic marketing services to SmartWater CSI.***
DUKE ENERGY’S EARNING INCREASED IN FOURTH QUARTER
Duke Energy’s earnings rose in the fourth quarter of 2012, beating analysts estimates but still lower than the same period a year earlier. The utility today reported net income of $435 million, or 62 cents a share, compared with $288 million, or 65 cents in 2011.
VERIZON TO PUT FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING CENTER IN LAKE MARY
Verizon Communications will establish a finance and accounting center in Lake Mary that could create 750 jobs by 2016, Gov. Scott announced Wednesday. The project is expected to create the first 300 jobs in the Orlando suburb by the end of next year. “Verizon’s choice to locate their Center of Excellence in Lake Mary is great news for Florida families,” Scott said. “With the second largest drop in unemployment rate in the country, this addition of 750 new jobs with Verizon is more proof we have made the right choices over the past two years to keep our economy growing.”
There was an undisclosed economic incentive package included to lure the company to the Orlando area. “We have received a warm welcome from the state and local economic development partners, who aided in our decision process to locate in Metro Orlando,” said Michelle Robinson, vice president for the south area for Verizon. “The region’s talent pipeline, which is full of finance and accounting graduates, was an integral factor in Verizon choosing to invest in Central Florida.”
WELLCARE INCOME DOWN IN 2012 via the News Service of Florida
Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans reported Wednesday that its net income in 2012 and during the year’s fourth quarter dipped from 2011 levels. The HMO, which is a major player in Florida’s Medicaid system, had net income for 2012 of $184.7 million, or $4.22 per diluted share, down from $264.2 million, or $6.10 per diluted share in 2011, according to a news release. On an adjusted basis, the net income in 2012 was $215.6 million, compared with $291.4 million a year earlier.
The company also saw lower earnings levels during the final quarter of 2012, though Chief Executive Officer Alec Cunningham touted WellCare’s prospects for this year. “We began 2013 with the most-diversified portfolio of revenue and earnings streams in our history in a number of attractive markets that have sizeable government program growth prospects,” Cunningham said in the news release. “We intend to continue to capitalize on those opportunities.” Among the factors affecting 2012 earnings were increases in what are known as “medical benefits ratios,” which involve the percentages of premium dollars that are needed to pay for medical care.
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FUNNIEST ENDORSEMENT VIDEO EVER? Will Ferrell endorses Eric Garcetti for Los Angeles Mayor in a hilarious new ad.