Sunburn for 2/20 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

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BIG CROWD EXPECTED FOR TED CRUZ IN SARASOTA via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Fresh off forcing fellow Republicans into a painful vote on the debt ceiling – solidifying his status as the most loathed member of the caucus and a hero to conservative activists – Sen. Ted Cruz will head to Sarasota tonight to be honored as “statesman of the year.”

The Sarasota GOP says more than 1,700 people have said they will attend the dinner, surpassing last year when Sean Hannity was given the award.

ON BREAK, MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TOUT CITRUS FUNDING IN FLORIDA via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Members of Congress from Florida are taking their week away from Washington as a chance to tout what they have been doing to help the state’s endangered citrus industry.

Over the next 24 hours, U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Tom Rooney and Dennis Ross are all holding events touting money they helped secure in both the farm bill and in the federal budget to research greening, the disease that is infecting Florida’s orange harvests.

Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is at Mixon Fruit Farms around noon to talk about the issue. Ross holds an event in Lakeland on Thursday with Rooney to talk about the funding. And then Rooney has two more events on Thursday in Lake Alfred and Sebring to talk about the congressional efforts.

Specifically what they are celebrating is $125 million seat aside in the finally passed Farm Bill that is designated to research greening, which has spread througout Florida. There is another $125 million in discretionary funding also to combat greening.

“Finding a cure for this destructive disease is essential to maintaining a strong economy and protecting jobs in Sarasota and Manatee Counties,” Buchanan said about the funding efforts.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: U.S. Rep. Rooney will address the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida, starting noon at the Sheraton Orlando Downtown, 400 West Livingston Street, Orlando.

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MORNING MUST-READ:  SURVIVAL OF A SALESMAN: FORMER FLA. GOVERNOR CHARLIE CRIST TRIES TO GET BACK WHERE HE WAS via Ben Terris of the Washington Post

Charlie Crist doesn’t take to bed when he gets sick. He takes three Red Bulls, two cups of coffee, a glass of Mountain Dew, Sudafed and cough drops. Then, he discards the box of Mucinex his 81-year-old father suggested he take, pushes through the back door of a Fort Myers restaurant and wraps his arms around his Democratic supporters.

“I can’t help it; I have to hug,” he says afterward, when asked if he worries about passing on his cold to voters. “Can you even imagine not hugging?”

Crist certainly couldn’t imagine it back on Feb. 10, 2009. Five years ago to the day, in this very town, the then-Republican-governor introduced Barack Obama to a roaring crowd, threw his support behind the $787 billion stimulus bill and then — in classic Crist style — embraced the president in what Stephen Colbert dubbed a “terrorist nipple bump.”

“It was the kind of hug I’d exchanged with thousands and thousands of Floridians over the years,” Crist writes in a 341-page campaign document that doubles as his memoir. “But that simple gesture ended my career as a viable Republican politician.”

“The hug that killed me is now maybe the hug that saved me,” Crist says these days to anyone who will listen. Meet the new Charlie Crist, same as the old, only completely different. The message is working so far, as Crist leads in the early polls against the budget-cutting Gov. Rick Scott. Of course, this is before the Republican governor spends upwards of $100 million to pick Crist apart in what is one of the most widely watched governor’s races in the country.

Still, there’s a thought in Florida that if Crist, 57, could just meet every single voter in Florida, he’d win.

Crist has perfected the art of being liked. He’s got small talk for everyone’s home town, (“You’re from Mulberry — that’s where the phosphate museum is!”), a way with older women (“I’ll call you Charlie’s Angels!”) and of course an undying affection for everyone he meets (“No, I love you more!”).

So when Crist ran for the Senate instead of reelection for governor in 2010, it was because it looked like a sure thing. But that was the year the tea party reached its peak, with Rubio riding the crest. Crist got swallowed under, became an independent and lost the election by 19 percentage points. Suddenly, there was nobody to hug him back.

WITH NO PUBLIC SCHEDULE, RICK SCOTT KEEPS CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA WELL-HIDDEN via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

How do you say “invisible” in Spanish? (In-vi-SEE-blay).

After a 10-month search for a new lieutenant governor, Gov. Scott announced the selection of Carlos Lopez-Cantera with much fanfare last month. But since taking office Feb. 3, Lopez-Cantera has been largely out of sight, and Scott’s office appears to want it that way.

Lopez-Cantera is the first LG in memory whose daily schedule is kept private. After waiting nearly two-and-a-half weeks, The Times/Herald asked Tuesday that starting Wednesday, Feb. 19, his schedule be made public. It wasn’t. Communications director Frank Collins and deputy Monica Russell gave no reason why his schedule remains a state secret.

“He’ll do a great job,” Scott told reporters on Feb. 3. Really? How do we know?

Lopez-Cantera apparently has so little to do that his schedule isn’t worth circulating or Scott’s people want his activities kept from public knowledge. The lieutenant governor did appear at a Wednesday breakfast with Palm Beach County Republicans and a luncheon with Miami GOP women Tuesday — events that were publicized by the Republican Party of Florida.

Scott’s office routinely provided the schedule of Lopez-Cantera’s predecessor, Jennifer Carroll.

BEST NEWS YOU’LL READ TODAY –  GEORGE ZIMMERMAN CHASED BY ANGRY MOB IN MIAMI via Adrienne Cutway of the Orlando Sentinel

George Zimmerman was reportedly forced to leave Miami early after an angry crowd harassed him and his girlfriend at a local beach, TMZ is reporting.

Zimmerman was in South Florida last week filming TV interviews with Univision and Fusion.

Zimmerman taped an interview last Tuesday with Univision and Fusion, and then took his girlfriend, her kid and his brother to the beach.  While they were catching some rays, people noticed him, started harassing him, and then someone shouted out George had a $10,000 bounty on his head.

We’re told it freaked him out and they all retreated to the hotel, but the crowd followed them.

Security swept their room to make sure no one tampered with their stuff and then stood guard throughout the day and night.  We’re told Zimmerman did his CNN interview early the next morning and then beat it … literally fleeing Miami.

RUMOR DU JOUR: JOHN THRASHER AS NEXT FSU PREZ?

The rumor du jour in Tallahassee is that state Senator John Thrasher realllyyy wants to be the next president of Florida State University. And why not? The FSU presidency is one of the best gigs in the state.

FSU’s Board of Trustees must decide if it wants an academician or a politician in the top spot. If it goes in the direction of a politician, Thrasher makes sense. He’s a former Speaker of the House and a former chairman of FSU’s Board of Trustees. He’s one of, if not the, most prominent FSU boosters in the Legislature. In fact, he practically built FSU’s medical school while serving in the House.

No, Thrasher’s not a statewide figure, but he’s as close as you can get without ever having run for statewide office. And in his past work as a lobbyist is a plus in the situation, as opposed to when it was perceived to be a negative when Thrasher was under consideration to be Rick Scott’s lieutenant governor.

However, as Jeff Atwater’s escapade with Florida Atlantic University provedthe trend may be moving away from making politicians into university presidents. If Thrasher does indeed want to be president of FSU, he should not burn his ships at the shore, as Atwater was prepared to do. Dare I say, Thrasher needs to be more like the maneuvering George LeMieux than the ambitious Atwater.

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FACEBOOK STATUS OF THE DAY via Jack Latvala: “I was happy to join my colleagues on the Senate Rules Committee this morning in passing a new Joint Rule requiring members of the Florida Legislature to live in the districts they represent. After months of bringing this issue to light, I am excited that we are working to give Floridians the kind of democracy they expect and deserve!”

HAS THE IMMIGRANT TUITION BILL FOUND A POWERFUL SENATE ALLY? via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald

A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida universities overcame its first hurdle Wednesday, winning the support of the House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

But the proposal may have also overcome a more significant obstacle: finding a powerful Senate sponsor.

On Wednesday, Sen. Jack Latvala told the Herald/Times he was “considering assisting” Speaker Weatherford in his efforts to pass an in-state tuition bill.

“I think’s the right thing to do,” Latvala said.

He would not provide any additional details on a potential proposal.

HOUSE PANEL ADVANCES IDEA OF TECH CZAR via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

The House budget committee Wednesday approved creating a new chief information officer for the state of Florida, consolidating a range of hardware and software  duties under a tech czar reporting to the governor.

The state currently spends $733 million annually on information technology without significant coordination, said Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland. Most agencies operate their own data centers and critics say the current set-up is costlier to taxpayers and has led to some major department misfires.

The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity has been battling with technology giant Deloitte Consulting LLP over the state’s $63 million unemployment web site, problem-plagued since its debut last October. While a high-profile tech snafu, DEO’s woes aren’t alone.

A state technology contract for recouping Medicaid overpayments also has been troubled in recent years. Even the Legislature has spent heavily on public information websites it later scrapped.

Rep. James Grant said the state not having a centralized technology department is laughable — something, he said that private companies in the 1980s saw a need for. Rep. Dennis Baxley also said the $70 billion-plus state government demands more efficiency.

“I can’t imagine a business the size of this business that doesn’t have an IT governance structure,” Baxley said.

The House proposal, labeled a priority by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, would create a 27-person Agency for State Technology, whose executive director would report directly to the governor. First-year costs would be $3.2 million.

SENATE PREZ SAYS GAMBLING OVERHAUL IN GOV’S HANDS via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

Don’t be surprised if the Florida Legislature makes no move toward a statewide gambling overhaul this legislative session, Senate President Don Gaetz said Wednesday.

Gov. Scott “holds the cards” because Scott is expected to renegotiate the revenue-sharing deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that funnels more than $200 million yearly into the state’s coffers, Gaetz said.

“He’s a great negotiator,” Gaetz said about Scott. “I think our job is to set the stage,” referring to a proposed bill in the works that could address destination casinos and a new state gaming commission.

“But when the Legislature would take up that proposal depends upon the governor,” Gaetz said. “If the governor, in his wisdom, says, ‘I think I want to hold off on this for a few months,’ … then I think naturally it would take a couple of sessions.”

With his latest comments, Gaetz joins his counterpart in the House – Speaker Weatherford – in laying the thorny question of what to do about gambling in Florida at the feet of the governor.

POLL SHOWS STRONG MIAMI-DADE SUPPORT, ESPECIALLY W/HISPANICS, FOR VEGAS-STYLE CASINOS via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

About 56 percent of likely Miami-Dade County voters want Las Vegas-style “destination resorts” casinos, according to a new poll that shows solid support across party lines.

Hispanics back the concept the most: 60 percent said they would favor a proposed state constitutional amendment to allow up to three of the proposed casino resorts in South Florida.

“The story here is that there’s a strong level of enthusiasm among Hispanics, among Cuban Americans and even among Republicans in Miami-Dade for high-end resorts like this,” said Tom Eldon, who conducted the survey of 400 of the county’s likely voters. The survey has an error margin of 4.9 percentage points.

Even if a proposed constitutional amendment made the ballot — one has been discussed but not drafted — support doesn’t appear strong enough to pass it statewide. It takes 60 percent of the vote to enact a constitutional amendment.

Eldon’s poll showed that a medical marijuana initiative, which will be on the November ballot, garners enough support — 64 percent in Miami-Dade — but that the gaming initiative falls just short of the supermajority threshold.

Under Florida law, gambling is limited to eight Indian casinos that offer Las Vegas-style gaming — except for craps and roulette. Thirty-one pari-mutuel facilities also offer some types of gambling.

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BUMPER STICKER DU JOUR: “SHE IS NOT ONE OF US” h/t Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

GOOD READ ON THE CD 13 RACE – POLITICS AS USUAL IF NOT WORSE via Larry Thornberry of the American Spectator

The special election campaign to fill the 13th Congressional District of Florida seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is no more raucous, hyperbolic, dishonest, and all around incoherent than most. In fact, it’s about average, which means it’s very dishonest and incoherent indeed.

And as this race, rightly or wrongly, is considered to have national significance since it will say something about the national mood (whatever that is), lots of money is pouring into this one from all points.

Republican candidate Dave Jolly doubtless overstates the case when he accuses Alex Sink, his Democratic opponent, of using a State of Florida aircraft to go on vacation in the Bahamas. She only took the plane to Miami and got the rest of the way on her own hook. If it was improper even to take the Tallahassee to Miami hop on the taxpayers’ dime, this is a minor abuse of the privilege of office, a misdemeanor. Jolly also accuses Sink of not managing the state’s money properly when she was Florida’s CFO. This is a hard one for voters to understand, and impossible to communicate in a 30-second ad.

Sink’s charges are wilder. They amount to outright distortions on important issues. In her ads and in the one television debate held so far she accuses Jolly of attempting to privatize Social Security and throw the future of senior citizens onto the stock market. He’s done no such thing. He has repeatedly said that the government must keep the promises it has made to everyone who is invested in the system.

So the accusations fly back and forth on television ads while Central Floridians build up slabs of callus on the thumbs they use on their mute buttons. But the ads and the debates may be for naught, or at least for very little. Polls, mostly done by local firms with questionable competency, are all over the place, ranging for a five-point Jolly lead to an eight-point Sink lead. Taking political temperatures is difficult enough in presidential years when large percentages of voters turn out. In off years it’s even more difficult to determine who the likely voters are.

ALEX SINK TOUTS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT WITH REPUBLICAN-TO-REPUBLICAN PHONE BANK Full blog post here

Sink joined local Republicans Wednesday to demonstrate bipartisan support.

The Democratic candidate enlisted Seminole Vice Mayor Thomas Barnhorn and business owner Alan Bomstein, both Republicans, in a Republican-to-Republican phone bank to speak directly with GOP voters.

“As a business leader and Florida’s Chief Financial Officer,” Sink said in a statement, “I never let politics get in the way of problem solving – and it’s these bipartisan, results oriented values that we need to return to Washington,”

“We have to take best the ideas from every party and start getting Congress focused on tackling the challenges that matter most to Pinellas,” she added.

“I’m a Republican, and I’m voting for Alex Sink,” said Barnhorn. “Alex is a fiscal conservative who has done more than talk about cutting wasteful spending – as our Chief Financial Officer, she’s actually done it.”

Republican supporters and volunteers hit the phones to reach out to Pinellas Republican voters, promoting Sink’s “commitment to fiscal responsibility and strong record of bipartisan problem solving.”

MEANWHILE … LIZBETH BENACQUISTO ANNOUNCES MORE THAN ENOUGH PETITIONS TO ENTER CD 19 RACE Full blog post here

Benacquisto announced on Wednesday that she has more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot via petition in the race to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned his House seat in January.

Candidates for Florida’s 19th Congressional District require a minimum of 1,107 verified signatures submitted by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

“While some continue to tout their ability to play games,” Benacquisto’s campaign said in a statement, the Fort Meyers Republican has collected more than 3,100 supporters for signed ballot petitions. It was a subtle swipe at her GOP primary opponent, former Purdue University basketball captain Curt Clawson.

As of Wednesday, the Florida Division of Elections reports Clawson, a past CEO of automobile-wheel manufacturer Hayes Lemmerz International, only has 109 verified petition signatures.

Benacquisto faces Clawson and former State Rep. Paige Kreegel in the April 22 GOP primary. The general election is June 24.

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TONIGHT’S FUNDRAISING LINE-UP

11:30 – 12:30 p.m. – Rep. Ben Albritton, Rep. Keith Perry, Rep. Elizabeth Porter at Governors Club

SPOTTED in the Governors Club on Tuesday: reporter Matt Dixon.

ALVIN BROWN LEADS GOP FOES IN NEW JACKSONVILLE MAYORAL POLL via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News

A poll from the University of North Florida (UNF) finds Mayor Alvin Brown of Jacksonville, who is running for a second term in early 2015, starts off his re-election bid in solid shape.

Brown garners the approval of 59 percent of those surveyed while 22 percent disapprove of the Democratic mayor. While Brown’s numbers are good, that is a slip from where he stood last February when 70 percent of those surveyed in a UNF poll approved of him.

Matched up against possible Republican candidates, Brown starts out in the lead. Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford comes closest but Brown still bests him 41 percent to 35 percent. Brown does better against Duval County Property Appraiser Jim Overton, beating him 42 percent to 31 percent. Brown takes 43 percent when matched up against City Councilman Bill Gulliford, 43 percent to 28 percent. Matched against Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), Brown has his biggest lead, routing him 45 percent to 25 percent.

EMILY’S LIST ENDORSES VAL DEMINGS FOR ORANGE COUNTY MAYOR

EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, endorsed Val Demings for Mayor of Orange County.

“Val Demings has a proven record of protecting the women and families of Orange County as Orlando’s top cop,” said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List. “Our country needs more women like Val in executive leadership positions, and the EMILY’s List community – now more than three million members strong – is eager to help this outstanding public servant become the next mayor of Orange County.”

ROY JONES JR. TO RUN FOR MAYOR OF PENSACOLA

Just in case the 2014 election cycle in Florida could not get any zanier, now comes word that former boxing champ Roy Jones Jr. will run for mayor of Pensacola. 

45-year-old Jones — the first former middleweight champion to win a heavyweight title in 106 years back in 2003 — tells TMZ he plans to run for Mayor of his hometown Pensacola at the next election.

And he’s serious too — the HBO analyst says he’s already prepared all the necessary paperwork … and got TEN TIMES the required number of signatures to make himself eligible (nearly 5,000 to be exact).

As for his policies — Jones says he wants to focus on children, telling us, “A lot of kids don’t have proper leadership at home. I’m willing to try and be that person for them.”

How great a fighter was Jones Jr.? The best definition of Jones dominance was his 1996 title fight against Eric Lucas.

On the same day that Jones would defend his International Boxing Federation super middleweight title against mid level opponent Eric Lucas. On the very same day, Jones would participate in a basketball match. Yes, you read right. Roy Jones Jr. got up in the morning, at which point we assume he ate his breakfast of a protein shake with fairy dust sprinkled on top and before spending the entire morning playing a basketball match and then spending the evening beating up on Eric Lucas, stopping him in the eleventh round.

It doesn’t matter who you are, no man other than Jones Jr is or ever will be athletically gifted enough to pull of such a feat. And no man will every be as confident (or arrogant depending on your view point) to think that they can defend a championship title after playing a full basketball match up.

The question now is is Jones Jr. tough enough for politics?

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: GOP’S POPE FRANCIS, CRIST RIGHT ON CUBA, POP TART BILL AND PENSACOLA BLANKET BAN

On Context Florida: The GOP needs someone like Pope Francis, says Mark O’Brien. The Republicans seem bereft of likable, innovative leaders, who — like Francis — walk the walk when it comes to core values. Charlie Crist’s “flip-flop” on the Cuba embargo was right, according to Steve Kurlander, and he is entitled to change his mind. Florida’s “Pop Tart” bill — children simulating firearms while playing will not be subject to discipline — is promoting preemption by the state, says Marc Yacht. It interferes with school authority and is wrong. Shannon Nickinson points out that Pensacola’s ban on blankets for the homeless – a law prohibiting camping in public places—highlights the “unknown consequences” arise when government tries to insert itself into the homeless issue.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

TALLAHASSEE POLITICO ORGANIZES FOLK MUSIC CONCERT TO BENEFIT ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT

Karen Cyphers, blog contributor and political consultant, is throwing a benefit concert featuring Peter Yarrow of the folk music group Peter, Paul & Mary. The show is Sunday, Feb. 23, in Tallahassee at The Moon. Doors open at 6 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the Alzheimer’s Project, Inc., and go toward caregiver support services and research. The show will begin with a kid’s sing-along followed by a full show and a VIP reception. Kids ages 2-10 free. Babysitting provided at no charge. Tickets are available here.

THROWBACK THURSDAY: FEB. 20 A DAY OF BIRTHS AND DEATHS IN BLACK HISTORY

Today, Feb. 20, has special meaning in Black history. On this day in 1895, Frederick Douglass died at the age of 78. Douglass escaped from slavery and became the leading abolitionist spokesman for almost fifty years. His prolific writings and “dazzling oratory”  are unparalleled in the anti-slavery movement.

This day also marks the birth of award winning actor and director Sidney Poitier, born in Miami in 1927; and the opening of Wallace Thurman’s play “Harlem” in New York in 1929. Willie Mays, the first African American to be named captain of a major league baseball team, signed a $100,000 contract with the San Francisco Giants on Feb. 20, 1963 — the very same day that marked the birth of NBA Hall of Famer and Olympic Gold medalist Charles Barkley.Grammy Award winning singer Rihanna was born on Feb. 20, 1988; and the NFL’s first black quarterback, Willie Thrower, died on Feb. 20, 2002.

It is also worth noting that on Feb. 20, 1864, Florida’s largest Civil War battle was fought in Baker County. The Battle of Olustee saw the clashing of about 5,000 Confederates with 5,500 Union soldiers, and left 93 and 203 dead, respectively. By percent of men lost, this was the second bloodiest battle of the War for the Union. The battle was a turning point for Union strategists who questioned whether it was worth investing further effort in the “insignificant state of Florida.” The reenactment of Olustee is an annual event, held in Osceola National Forest.

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.