Sunburn for 2/18 — 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.


It isn’t every day a person gets to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods. Likewise, it isn’t every day a person gets to play a round of golf with the president of the United States. Both are happening on Sunday as President Barack Obama and Tiger Woods are playing golf together for the first time.

Word came late Sunday morning that world champion golfer Tiger Woods and the owner of the golf resort where President Obama is vacationing this Presidents Day weekend, Jim Crane, were waiting for President Obama to arrive on the course. The course is in Palm City at the Floridian Golf and Yacht Club – an exclusive resort.

While it was previously announced this weekend that Obama was going to play with Tiger Woods’ golf coach Butch Harmon, there was no word about Woods joining the outing.


Fighter jets intercepted three small planes that violated flight restrictions set up in Florida for President Barack Obama’s visit.

The first, a Cessna 152, entered the restricted airspace just before noon Saturday near the Palm City resort where the president is staying, according to Army Lt. Col. Mike Humphreys. … Five hours later, F-16s intercepted a Lancair 320, a smaller craft that seats two passengers, the defense command said. … The third plane, another Cessna general aviation aircraft, was intercepted near Palm City at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sunday and landed at Okeechobee Airport, where it was also met by local authorities.


 A draft of a White House immigration proposal obtained by USA Today would allow illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents within eight years.

“The bill is being developed as members in both chambers of Congress are drafting their own immigration bills. In the House, a bipartisan group of representatives has been negotiating an immigration proposal for years and are writing their own bill. Last month, four Republican senators joined with four Democratic senators to announce their agreement on the general outlines of an immigration plan.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that many Republicans and some Democrats have cautioned Obama “to keep his distance from the process for fear of driving away potential GOP support.”

Marco Rubio called the proposal “half-baked” and predicted it was dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

TWEET, TWEET: @learyreports: WH last night reached out to Rubio office and other #immigration leaders, saying it was “unfortunate” bill language got out.

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BUILDING THE MARCO RUBIO BRAND by Alex Leary and Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

… (B)ehind the scenes is a relentless, methodical effort to build the Rubio brand, aided by a team of strategists and media handlers positioning the 41-year-old Floridian for an expected presidential run.

… Last year, his PAC spent more than $1.7 million, with the vast majority going toward staff and fundraising, and about $110,000 going to other candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

… For broad messaging strategy, there is the roguishly charming Todd Harris who knows practically everybody in the political media and is never shy about excoriating reporters. … The Senate staff includes Alberto Martinez, who goes back to Rubio’s days as speaker of the Florida House and can anticipate where critics might attack Rubio, and Alex Burgos, another Rubio campaign alum and true believer who pushes back at any hint of negativity in Rubio coverage.

TWEET, TWEET: @RonSachsFla: Rubio Team Behold: History shows ‘frontrunners’ seeking WH too early often fade long before  primaries #sayfie


In a statement posted on Saturday to his website, Senator Marco Rubio announced that he’s leaving today for Israel and Jordan. “Today, I am departing to the Middle East on an official trip in my capacities as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Foreign Relations Committee. I will be visiting Jordan and Israel,” writes Rubio. “This will be my first visit to Jordan and my second to Israel.”


Beth Reinhard: “No matter that he’s only punched up the old script, swung back and forth on immigration policy, and never shepherded major legislation through Congress. What Rubio brings is the star power, adoring fan base, and command of the national media unmatched these days by anyone in Washington outside of the Oval Office. It’s the same aggressive product placement that has made the 41-year-old a top-tier presidential contender just two years after his swearing-in. Rubio is the GOP’s Barack Obama, minus the intellectual heft intimated by two Ivy League degrees and a law-school faculty post. A Generation X-er with a name that sounds like change. The author of an American Dream-laced memoir that, audiences are frequently reminded, helped pay off his student loans. A former state lawmaker and a Senate short-timer with a thin binder of achievements but perhaps blessed with the greatest rhetorical gifts in politics today.”

David Letterman has the top 10 things going through Rubio’s mind as he lunged for a drink of water during his State of the Union rebuttal last week.

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While the IRS says it has detected cases in every state except North Dakota and West Virginia, the fraud’s epicenter is Florida, and it is mostly concentrated in Miami and Tampa.

Miami has 46 times the per-capita rate of false tax refund claims than the rest of the country, and 70 times the national average in dollar terms, Ferrer told Reuters.

“For whatever reason, we always tend to lead the nation when it comes to fraud,” he said, noting that his office has been battling massive Medicare fraud in recent years that has since spread to other parts of the country.

Florida’s high proportion of older residents, who can be more vulnerable to fraud, may be one reason for the high levels of fraud in the state.


The State Board of Education meets Monday in Orlando and up first on its agenda is a review of Gov. Rick Scott’s education budget. The governor has proposed a $1.2 billion increase in K-12 spending, including a nearly half billion dollars for higher teacher salaries. The board also gets an update on the move to the national Common Core Standards, a new assessment system being put in place in Florida and elsewhere. The board will have to take action on approving a list of critical teacher shortage areas, and a number of new regulations and rule amendments. The full agenda, with the specific rules being amended, is here.


“The governor used to say expanding Medicaid would cost the state tens of billions of dollars. Once that argument was discredited, Scott has been mostly silent.

“… Republican governors have said Medicaid expansion made sense from both a financial and a compassionate standpoint.

“In Florida, we’re still waiting to hear. … Waiting to hear a legitimate reason why we shouldn’t proceed with a plan that independent experts say will save the state money, reduce the burden on emergency rooms and keep our citizens healthier and more productive.”


Bradenton Herald – Galvano, Boyd craft masterful economic development measure

“Two Bradenton Republican legislators are advancing a simple proposal that begs the question: Why isn’t this already on the books? Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jim Boyd are sponsoring legislation that gives manufacturers the ability to create multifaceted master plans for future site growth, gain local approval and then be set for years. Companies would not have to return to government agencies to win approvals for every step in the master plan. That lends certainty to a business. The worry, expense and time that separate approvals take would disappear. The political whims of future city councils, county commissions and state agencies would no longer matter.

The Miami Herald – Million dollar giveaway

“More than a decade ago, when Florida and the nation sought to help low-income students get the support they need to soar in school, private tutoring subsidized by the government became one way to ensure an equal playing field with middle-class students whose parents can afford to pay a tutor. Unfortunately, experience now shows that the state failed in its most basic duty to protect the taxpayers’ money. In response to a three-month Tampa Bay Times investigation exposing poor state oversight of private tutoring contractors, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett this week vowed to crack down on these private firms. The Times’ investigation found that more than a handful of tutoring firms are run by criminals, corporate lackeys and swindlers trying to make a quick buck. Florida will now require criminal background checks for those who lead these tutoring companies, but much more needs to be done.” 

Orlando Sentinel – State should grab chance to expand, improve care

“Health care is almost always one of the most important issues confronting Florida lawmakers. Their health policies affect millions of state residents and determine how billions of taxpayer dollars are spent. But this year — when lawmakers face a decision on whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program — is critical for health care. Other facets of this issue also cry out for attention in the legislative session that begins next month in Tallahassee. Medicaid: The health care program for the poor, jointly funded by the state and federal governments, currently covers 3.3 million Floridians at an annual cost of $22 billion — almost a third of the entire state budget.” 

Tampa Bay Times — End Florida tutoring scheme

“Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett moved quickly last week, promising to clean up a privatized tutoring scheme two days after the Tampa Bay Times disclosed how the arrangements had enriched criminals and cheats by millions of dollars with no proof it had helped students. But the real solution would be for the Florida Legislature to stop bowing to a disingenuous special interest and abolish the program, as the federal government agreed the state could do a year ago. Lawmakers should redirect the millions flowing to a corrupt, privatized education plan to the state’s 67 public school districts that can best decide how to provide help to poor students. The idea sounded innocuous enough a dozen years ago when it was included in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law: Use public money to pay for private tutoring for poor students attending failing public schools. But as the Times’ Michael LaForgia reported last week, the federally funded program in Florida has such lax regulation that it enables criminals, cheaters and profiteers to collect millions in taxpayer dollars without even proving they helped a single student learn. Cynically wrapping themselves in the same cloth as civil rights groups, tutoring firms have pushed their cause in Tallahassee and elsewhere. All the while they are collecting inflated payments far more lucrative than what public schools would have received for similar services.” 


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Politico reports that for the last few days GOP leaders “have met behind closed doors to both craft an agenda that confronts the ghosts of Congresses past and figure out a way to sell it to the American people.”

There is agreement on sanding down “the party’s rough edges” and to stop talking “like the world is going to end.”

But the GOP leadership “has become increasingly alarmed at how many lawmakers in the meeting think the party has a messaging problem, not a policy problem.

COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN SEEK TO REASSERT POWER IN CONGRESS by Paul Kane with Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post

Rep. Dave Camp, … chairman of the … House Ways and Means Committee, … is part of … chairmen in the House and Senate trying to reassert themselves … Tired of watching as flailing leadership negotiations fail, … these senior lawmakers hope that a return to … subcommittee hearings and bill markups, floor amendments and conference reports may offer a path forward on everything from immigration to a long-term budget plan. ‘We’re all frustrated. We all wish there was more legislating and less messaging,’ said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Some chairmen … have created their own vote-counting operations.”

JOE MARTINEZ SAYS HE WILL CHALLENGE JOE GARCIA FOR CD 26 via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald

Joe Martinez, the former Miami-Dade Commission chairman who lost his bid to become county mayor last year, said Friday that he intends to run against Congressman Joe Garcia in 2014.

“I’m meeting with different people and feeling them out, seeing what the level of support will be there,” Martinez told The Miami Herald shortly after announcing his intentions on Facebook. He wants to get in the race, Martinez said, “to shake it up.”

Martinez’s name has been floated in political circles in connection with the 26th Congressional district since Garcia, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Rep. David Rivera in November. The district extends from Kendall to Key West.

Martinez, a Republican, said he sees himself as a pragmatist in tune with residents’ needs after his 12 years on the County Commission, including two terms as chairman. He gave up his seat last year to unsuccessfully challenge Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Martinez said Friday that he has since opened a public relations and business development consulting firm.

MACK’S GONE BUT HIS PLAN LIVES ON IN D.C. by Brett Batten of the Naples News

Connie Mack is gone from Congress but not forgotten.

Not entirely, anyway.

The Mack Penny Plan, the blueprint the former Southwest Florida representative put forward to balance the federal budget, was featured prominently Tuesday night in Sen.Rand Paul’s tea party response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Only he omitted mention of Mack, who quit the U.S. House to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat, a challenge that was ultimately unsuccessful.

But Mack confirms that the Penny Plan Paul was talking about is in fact the same plan that once carried his name.

“He and I have worked on this together. He came on pretty early (as a co-sponsor) and was a vocal supporter of the plan.”

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Q: So your domestic partnership bill is finally going to get a hearing Tuesday.

SOBEL: Well, it’s been about four years since I thought that individuals who are gay or heterosexuals who are living together should have the same rights as married people in terms of financial situations, funerals, personal situations, hospital visits.

That bill was referred to my committee. The Senate president gave me the green light, in essence, to hear that bill because it was sent to my committee immediately, the first stop. So he’s willing to listen to the dialogue, that conversation in terms of these issues. I think it’s a very important bill, and I hope it passes out of my committee and that we can address this fairness issue.

To me it’s a fairness issue. We have the Defense of Marriage Act here in the state of Florida that gays and lesbians cannot get married. But this is not about getting married. This is about civil union, about registries, about a lot of people who would benefit from equal protection under the law.


The Florida Retirement Security Coalition issued a stinging rebuke on Saturday of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s efforts to reform Florida’s pension system.

Ok, that’s hardly news coming from an outfit managed by the AFL-CIO. It’s no secret the group opposes HB 7011, which would force all public employees hired by agencies enrolled in the state’s $136 billion pension plan to sign-up instead with 401-k plans after January 2014. The coalition has even published a 19-page report arguing that the plan is fiscally sound and needs no major overhaul.

But the group pegged Saturday’s lament on a report released Friday that had been ordered by Weatherford to study the economic impact of the reform. It surely wasn’t Weatherford’s hope that the report would be used as ammo against his proposal.

The study was done by Milliman, a Vienna, VA firm that is among the world’s largest providers of actuarial services.  It warned that the traditional pension plan, which Weatherford has vowed would remain intact, would rely on a shrinking payroll base on which contributions to retirees are made. This would require the contribution rates to increase as a share of payroll. 

How to pay for the growing gap? Workers could pay more in contributions, which are now capped at 3 percent, or local governments and agencies would need to kick in the difference. They might have to kick in more money to make the plan fiscally sound because of the plan’s diminished capability of making long-term investments as the number of contributors erode over time, the report surmised.

That was the opening the coalition needed.

“There is clearly a significant cost associated with this plan,” said Gary Rainey, president of Florida Firefighters. “But the legislature apparently thinks price is no object – probably because they don’t intend to be the ones footing the bill.

TWEET, TWEET: @WillWeatherford: Shocker that they are against pension reform!


The Legislature is in a full-throated “show me the jobs” mood over Gov. Scott’s plans to give $278 million in new tax dollars to corporations who pledge to create jobs. But lawmakers are also rushing to line up more tax perks for companies and sports teams.

In a half-dozen House and Senate hearings this month, legislators have peppered Scott’s jobs team with tough questions about whether Florida’s generous economic-incentives programs are creating jobs.

But at the same time, lawmakers are floating a dozen bills to create new tax breaks for corporations. In just one committee last week, House lawmakers advanced bills creating new enterprise zones in the cities of Lake Worth and Delray Beach. Florida has 65 enterprise zones for high-poverty areas, which allow local governments and the state to give incentives to companies that move there.

The panel also passed HB 135 by Rep. Tom Goodson to designate that city’s regional airport/industrial park a “spaceport” to get a tax exemption on machinery purchases. Another, HB 4013 by Rep. David Santiago would eliminate the $7 million cap on tax refunds through the state’s Qualified Target Industry and Qualified Defense and Space Flight Business tax-incentive programs, just as Lockheed Martin and Fidelity National Financial of Jacksonville near the lifetime caps.

And then there’s always the sports teams.

GIFT BAN MAY GET SOME TWEAKS, SAYS SEN. TOM LEE by Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press

Lee plans to submit an amendment to a Senate ethics bill (SB 2) to allow some exemptions to the gift ban such as allowing lawmakers to attend functions by an organization and to accept food and beverages of nominal value. He also would require lawmakers to submit a public notice of plans to attend an event and report attendance afterward. It would cap how much a lawmaker can accept per group.

LEGISLATIVE BRIEFS via the News Service of Florida

In the House

The House Select Committee on PPACA also meets Monday afternoon and will hear presentations on Medicaid expansion in other states and from Florida hospitals on their concerns. The Department of Health and the Florida Center for Nursing will make presentations. 

In the Senate

The special Senate committee created to study gambling for a year hears presentations from casino-resort operators. The idea of mega-resorts built around gambling was the centerpiece of gaming debate last year, but legislative leaders have said this year, they’ll take the year off from new gaming laws and have the committee study the issue. The panel also plans to take public testimony. 

The Senate Select Committee set up to examine Florida’s choices and obligations under the new federal health care law looks at the law’s impact on state group health insurance. The director of state group health insurance, Barbara Crozier, and legislative economic analyst Amy Baker present. The committee also hears from the Office of Insurance Regulation. 


Senate Bill 278 by Senator Garrett Richter is on the agenda for the Senate Health Policy Committee meeting on Thursday. The Florida Optometric Association supports this proposed legislation to ensure greater access to quality, affordable eye care for all Floridians by allowing optometrists to prescribe approved oral medications for the treatment of eye diseases and conditions.


Joshua Freeman has joined the staff of Sen. Maria Sachs as a legislative assistant, according to the Directory of the Florida Senate.

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APPOINTED: Dr. Timothy E. Underhill to the Board of Optometry (re-appointed).

4TH FLOOR FILES talks to Marc Dunbar of Jones Walker about all things gaming. Here’s the file on Marc.

FUNDRAISER TONIGHT FOR SW FLORIDA DELEGATION: There is a fundraiser tonight in Tallahassee benefiting Representatives Matt Caldwell, Dane Eagle, Heather Fitzenhagen, and Ray Rodrigues. The event is being hosted by the Florida Retail Federation at their offices at 227 Adams Street. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. 

IF YOU ARE IN PANAMA CITY BEACH: There is a fundraiser for Jimmy Patronis’ 2016 Senate campaign at the Capt. Anderson restaurant at 5551 N. Lagoon Drive. The event begins at 5:30 p.m.

LEGISLATIVE LOBBYING FEES TOP $120 MILLION IN 2012 via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida

Lobbyists collected at least $120 million to represent businesses and other clients before the Florida Legislature in 2012, with companies such as AT&T and the gambling industry spending heavily, according to reports filed with the state.

Some lobbying firms earned millions of dollars as they represented sprawling rosters of clients before the House and Senate. At least 51 companies, groups and government agencies spent $250,000 or more on lobbyists during the past year.

The telecommunications giant AT&T appeared to spend the most, at about $1.35 million, according to a compilation of lobbyist financial information posted on a state website Friday.


For 2012, Ballard Partners finished with $5.4 million in fees for legislative lobbying, well ahead of Ron Book ($4.84 million ), GrayRobinson ($4.03 million) and Southern Strategies ($3.84 million).

In 2011, Smith & Ballard and Ballard Partners brought in a combined $4,560,916 in legislative lobbying fees. Yet, in 2012, Ballard Partners sans Smith took home the aforementioned $5,429,897. That’s an increase of over $868,981. This healthy 19% increase occurred in a year, mind you, when Ron Book’s numbers stayed flat, GrayRobinson’s dropped off and Southern Strategies increased by about $280K. 

In other words, parting ways with Jim Smith may have the best business decision ever made by Brian Ballard. Then again, maybe it was the hiring of Tony Boselli.  


Jon Costello, who stepped down last year as Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative affairs director, has compiled a roster of 20 legislative lobbying clients as the 2013 session nears, according to a state lobbyist-registration website. Costello’s clients include Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, HCA Healthcare, Miami-Dade County and MillerCoors LLC.


You’re invited to Quorum — Tampa Bay’s not-too-political happy hour — beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday at Cassis American Brasserie (170 Beach Drive Northeast, St. Petersburg). Enjoy a cocktail in a bipartisan environment. Rep. Jamie Grant is the special guest with other local politicos, including Senator Jeff Brandes, Representative Kathleen Peters and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker also RSVP’ing. The event is hosted by Peter Schorsch, Michelle Todd, Steve Cona and Alan Suskey and is sponsored by the Associated Builders and Contractors – Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Rep. Mark Danish (Friday) and Betsy Fischer Martin (Sunday). Celebrating today is POLITICO’s James Hohmann.


The News Service of Florida is losing long-time reporter Mike Peltier, who is going to work for Citizens Property Insurance. Peltier, 52, has also worked as a free-lancer for Reuters and Time Magazine, and began regularly working with NSF when the start-up wire service began publishing in 2008. Peltier also is a former Tallahassee reporter for Scripps newspapers and started his career in Florida in 1988 with The Ledger of Lakeland. He’s a Litchfield, Minn., native and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. Peltier starts work at Citizens Feb. 25.

WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCES 2013 EASTER ROLL: The President and First Lady announced … that this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll will be held on Monday, April 1st. The event will feature live music, sports courts, cooking stations, storytelling and, of course, Easter egg rolling. In support of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative,… the activities will encourage children to lead healthy, active lives. The White House will open its South Lawn for children ages 13 years and younger and their families. White House Easter Egg Roll tickets will be distributed through an online lottery system, allowing guests from across the United States to participate in a tradition that dates back to 1878. The lottery will open for entries on [Thursday] at 10:00 a.m. and close on February 25th at 10:00 a.m. Tickets are free … and are non-transferable.”

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.