Sunburn for 2/21 — A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics brought to you today by Sachs Media Group, representing a sweeping repositioning and rebranding of Ron Sachs Communications, to help corporate, government and nonprofit clients navigate a fast-changing media landscape.

OBAMA HITS 3-YEAR APPROVAL RATING HIGH AS GOP SINKS TO NEW LOW

A new Bloomberg National Poll finds President Obama enters the latest showdown with Congress with his highest job approval in three years and public support for his economic message, while his Republican opponents’ popularity stands at a record low.

Key findings: 55% of Americans approve of Obama’s in office, the strongest support since Sept 2009. Meanwhile, just 35% of the country has a favorable view of the GOP, the lowest since Sept 2009.

In addition, Americans by 43% to 34% say Republicans are more to blame than and Democrats for what’s wrong in Washington.

MITT ROMNEY TO SPEAK AT CPAC

Mitt Romney will appear at the Conservative Political Action Conference next month, National Review reports.

“After he lost the presidential election, Romney decamped to his beachfront home in La Jolla, Calif. But friends say he has become somewhat restless, and he’s eager to contribute to the national debate. Sources say he’ll likely focus on economic and fiscal issues, and that his message will be optimistic.”

RUBIO, NETANYAHU BREAK WATER via POLITICO

Who needs the Sea of Galilee when you’ve got Rubio water?

Sen. Rubio took a break from touring the Middle East this week to make a splash with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The duo shared in a water break reminiscent of the one Rubio took in his response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address — though this one seemed slightly less awkward.

“I appreciate your support. I appreciate the tremendous support of the American people — bipartisan support for our security and our quest for peace,” Netanyahu told Rubio during a public remarks of the two leaders meeting.

FEDERAL OFFICIALS GIVE OK TO CONTROVERSIAL STATE MEDICAID PLAN via Kathleen Haughney of the Sun Sentinel

The federal government gave Florida a preliminary OK to implement a controversial managed care Medicaid plan that would shift the majority of the Medicaid population into managed care plans run by HMOs or other doctor-operated networks.

“This is a great win for Florida, and it would not have been possible without the support of legislators who began the fight for this Medicaid flexibility many months ago,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “Improving the coordination of care in Medicaid means we will be able to better-manage chronic conditions and give more preventative treatments to help keep Florida families healthy.”

The state approved the change to the Medicaid plan in 2011, but because the federal government partly funds Medicaid, they had to approve the change. A few weeks ago, the federal government approved part of the plan dealing with senior care, but made no comment at the time indicating they would approve managed care for the broader Medicaid population.

The state must still submit more information including “data-driven achievable goals and strategies,” plans to monitor quality of care and evidence of public involvement in devising final plans. The Center said it was reviewing additional information recently submitted by the state.

 

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SCOTT SAYS FLORIDA WILL GO ALONG WITH MASSIVE MEDICAID EXPANSION UNDER OBAMACARE

Gov. Scott won’t block expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul, announcing that Florida should go along unless federal officials back away from a commitment to pick up the cost. It’s a reversal of position for Scott in the eyes of conservatives opposed to the health care law, known as “Obamacare.”

“While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care,” said Scott. “We will support a three-year expansion of our Medicaid program under the new healthcare law, as long as the federal government meets their commitment to pay 100 percent of the cost during this time. This legislation would sunset after three years and need to be reauthorized.” 

Continued Scott, “There are no perfect options. Our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying healthcare to our citizens or using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other healthcare reforms.”

“Expanding access to Medicaid services for three years is a compassionate, common sense step forward. It is not the end of our work to improve healthcare.  And, it is not a white flag of surrender to government-run healthcare. I am committed to working every day to improve access to affordable, high-quality healthcare in Florida, while also protecting taxpayers and keeping our economy growing to create more jobs – which ultimately fuels the dreams of every Florida family.” (The Governor’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are available here.)

WEATHERFORD RAINS ON SCOTT’S PARADE

Responding (almost prematurely) to Gov. Scott’s decision to implement a massive Medicaid expansion under the new federal health care law, House Speaker Will Weatherford released a statement reminding the Governor who’s the boss.

“Governor Scott has made his decision and I certainly respect his thoughts,” said Weatherford. “However, the Florida Legislature will make the ultimate decision. I am personally skeptical that this inflexible law will improve the quality of healthcare in our state and ensure our long-term financial stability.

Continued Weatherford, “The House of Representatives has a bipartisan select committee that is currently meeting regularly on this issue. I look forward to the recommendations that our select committee will bring forth in the next few weeks. I am confident that our actions will be based on principle and rooted in facts.”

POLL SHOWS MAJORITY OF FLORIDIANS OPPOSE MEDICAID EXPANSION Full poll here

Following Scott’s announcement in support of Medicaid expansion and Weatherford’s response, The James Madison Institute (JMI) released a poll showing that a majority of Floridians, 63 percent, are concerned that the federal government will eventually change the program, reduce the amount it reimburses to Florida, and add additional expenses to Florida taxpayers. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of respondents think the Governor and the Legislature should opt not to expand Medicaid, keeping taxes and spending on current trajectories. 

“The PPACA mandate will increase the cost of Medicaid already by increasing the number of enrollees that are currently eligible, but not enrolled. More than 50 percent of Floridians polled were less likely to support the expansion when they considered this fact. The federal share of their care is much less–about 56 percent–leaving the state to handle the additional cost,” said Bob Sanchez, JMI policy director. “The expansion of new Medicaid eligibles, combined with the addition of currently unaccounted for eligibles, both flooding the taxpayer subsidized program, could result in a shortage of providers willing to accept the low fees that Medicaid is expected to pay even under the managed care model for Florida.” 

TWEETS GALORE!

@Eric_Jotkoff: Bet @kristymcampbell ‘s head is exploding right now… 

@fineout: Judging from early responses, conservatives are very very displeased with @FLGovScott. AFP Fla. director tells AP he is “flabbergasted.”

@PamBondi: Concerned about consequences of greater fed control over healthcare, a major expansion of govt. At least FL lawsuit gave each state a choice.

@SenChrisSmith: Medicaid expansion, Obamacare, teacher bonuses who is this guy?

FLORIDA WAKES UP FROM ITS TEA PARTY EXPERIMENT via Mother Jones

For all of his tax cutting and Obamacare bashing, Rick Scott did not end up on the vice presidential short list. Nor is he considered a presidential contender in 2016. Instead he has become so unpopular that Mitt Romney’s campaign largely steered clear of him in a critical swing state; just after his first budget, his approval rating dropped to 29 percent, the lowest of any governor in the nation. This past November, the GOP lost its supermajority in the Florida Legislature, and voters ditched tea party icon Rep. Allen West. “The oxygen of the tea party is escaping,” says Christian Ulvert, a Democratic political consultant in Miami.

Not coincidentally, Scott has softened a bit, reversing course on some of his most radical budget cuts and restoring $1 billion in education funding. He is even negotiating with the Obama administration over the Medicaid expansion (but only, apparently, in an effort to turn the whole program over to private managed-care plans). He remains under fire for myriad other decisions—from shuttering a state hospital in the midst of the nation’s largest tuberculosis outbreak to cutting funding for rape crisis centers during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Polls have been showing Scott losing handily to a generic Democrat—and more than half of the state’s Republicans would like to see him face a primary challenge in 2014, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in December.

But even if Scott ends up a one-term governor, his legacy won’t easily be reversed. When he rejected the high-speed rail money, the state passed up an opportunity to upgrade its underfunded transit system that it may not soon see again. Florida’s internationally renowned mosquito control system took a half century to build, but only three years to decimate. Likewise with public health, says Nan Rich, who fought the cuts in the state Senate: “The infrastructure is being destroyed and responding to public health crises becomes more difficult,” she says. “I shudder to think if what happened with Hurricane Sandy had happened here.”

The tea party’s influence may be waning, but that might not matter in the end. “I don’t think it’s insurmountable to recover from dismantling 50 years’ worth of great government structures that made society in Florida better,” says Rep. Pafford. “But it could be a decade before we really begin to address some of these issues. It’s gonna take dollars.” Pafford thinks the biggest task ahead is “rebuilding the confidence of the average Floridian that an elected person like the governor can actually do good things.” What’s happened here, he says, “is really an incredible example of how government should not work. Hopefully people can learn from Florida’s tea party experiment.”

RICK SCOTT, TAX-AND-SPEND TEA PARTIER? by Stephanie Mencimer

Now that Scott is facing reelection next year, he’s  changing his tune about government spending. The budget he presented to the state legislature this month was nearly $10 billion larger than the one he unveiled (at a tea party rally) in 2011, and the largest ever proposed in Florida history. And for the past two weeks, Scott has been touring the state, campaign-style, highlighting all the  ways he wants to spend more taxpayer money.

… Scott’s sudden embrace of government spending has left his erstwhile supporters—who already viewed his previous budget as out of control—confused. Jason Hoyt, an Orange County tea party organizer and radio host told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this month, “What in the world happened with Gov. Scott’s budget proposal? It just baffles my mind.”

SCOTT’S TRADE MISSION TO COLOMBIA COULD GENERATE $40 MIL

Gov. Scott and Enterprise Florida announced that the participating companies on the trade mission to Bogotá, Colombia reported actual and expected sales in excess of $40 million as a result of the trip. 

It is great news that mission sales are on track to exceed $40 million, and with the recent ratification of the Free Trade Agreements,” said Gov. Scott. “I am confident Florida’s economic relationship with Colombia will continue to grow and benefit Florida families. Florida has an ideal location to trade with Latin America and beyond. We are committed to growing jobs for Florida families, and missions to international mark.”

TWEET, TWEET: @FLGovScott: Great News- not only is our oldest daughter pregnant- we just learned our youngest is expecting too. Congrats Allison&Pierre, Jordan&Jeremy!

***With offices in Tallahassee and Orlando, Ron Sachs Communications was named the nation’s “PR Agency of the Year” in its class in 2011 by the Bulldog Reporter. The move reflects the dramatic changes in how audiences are accessing information and better leverages the firm’s roots in the news business.***

IN SPEECH, CRIST SAYS HE’S SAME GUY — WITH NEW PARTY by Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist, the former “Ronald Reagan Republican” who now looks like the Democratic frontrunner for governor in 2014, says he’s pretty much the same guy he always was.

“I know what Floridians care about. People generally are not hard right. Nor are they hard left. They just want to get the right thing done for most people,” the former governor said Wednesday during a forum on leadership at the University of Tampa.

… Crist took every opportunity to tout areas where his agenda often coincided with Democrats — environmental protection, better-funded schools and teachers, voting rights and immigration reform that embraces people eager to move to America.

His convictions, he said, stem from the values his parents taught him and essentially boil down to common sense approaches to doing the right thing.

He never mentioned Republican Gov. Rick Scott, but gave a scathing critique of voting law changes embraced by Scott and Republican lawmakers that he said led to long lines and hindrances to many Florida voters in November.

DARRYL ROUSON NARROWLY WINS HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER POSITION

Rouson won the nomination to succeed Perry Thurston as the Democratic leader for 2014-2016.

But the 44-member House Democratic caucus actually had to vote twice, after the first vote resulted in a tie between Rouson and state Rep. Mia Jones.

Rouson thanked God and his wife when his victory of 23 votes against Jones’ votes was announced at 8:45 p.m. – the meeting began at 7:30 p.m.

“I believe that the divine just wanted me to pray a little harder,” he said. “I was a little disappointed in the first ballot but this is a unique caucus and I just had to be patient knowing that hard work, at the end, of the day would pay off.”

He said his job now is to recruit, raise funds, win seats and expand the power the Democrats in the House have. He also spoke highly of Jones and said he intended to reach out to her in his leadership capacity.

Jones, for her part, was surprised by the tie.

“Our caucus has spoken and we leave out of here today a united front committed to standing and fighting on behalf on middle class, those that are less fortunate and making sure that those who don’t have a voice, that they will be heard,” said Jones.

>>>Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant: “Tonight, Democrats elected a fighter for middle class families to lead House Democrats over the next few years. I congratulate Rep. Darryl Rouson on his victory and look forward to working together to hold Republicans accountable for their wrong priorities, which have wasted our tax dollars on handouts to corporate special interests and failed to invest in Florida’s education system.”

>>>Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli: “I offer heartfelt congratulations to my friend and colleague Darryl Rouson on his election as Democratic Leader Designate. He is a tireless public servant and powerful advocate for his constituents, and I look forward to working with him to advance good ideas for the people of Florida.”

***“The modern communications horizon today continues to widen, evolve and push forward to exciting new vistas and platforms, making it imperative for corporate, governmental and nonprofit sectors to rely on smart and able navigators,” said Sachs Media Group CEO and founder Ron Sachs. “Today, every organization, every company, every campaign needs to operate like a newsroom, giving the audiences they need to connect with the rich content they want.”***

GAMING NOTES

>>>Gaming Committees release Invitation to Negotiate two-part gaming study.

>>>SB 1030, Internet Cafe Moratorium Bill, available for review here.

HOSPITAL FUNDING, RESIDENCY CHANGES SCRUTINIZED via the News Service of Florida

Members of a House budget panel Wednesday questioned whether public hospitals and large teaching hospitals would suffer from a combination of funding changes in Medicaid and medical-residency programs. The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee received estimates that, for example, show Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami losing about $28 million. Others estimated to lose millions of dollars include Shands Hospital at the University of Florida and Tampa General Hospital. “It’s kind of hard to look at these numbers and not be angry,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who focused on the potential cuts at Jackson.

The changes stem, in part, from a new formula that is scheduled to take effect July 1 for making Medicaid payments to hospitals. Lawmakers last year approved the use of such a formula, known as diagnosis related groups, or DRGs, and it will lead to some hospitals gaining money and others losing money.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a plan that would increase funding for medical-residency programs but also could spread money more widely among hospitals that meet accreditation standards. That proposal would affect the complicated process of Medicaid funding for hospitals and was calculated into the estimates provided Wednesday. Karen Zeiler, a deputy chief of staff to Scott, said the potential reductions for some hospitals stem from the new DRG system. Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents public and teaching hospitals, urged the panel to postpone the DRG changes until July 2014.

SENATE PANEL LOOKS AT HIGHER PAY FOR COURT APPOINTED COUNSEL

Court appointed attorneys representing indigent defendants would see their fees raise for the first time in more than 30 years, under a proposal that has caught the attention of the a key Senate committee. The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday took testimony from the Office of State Court Administrator, which said it would cost $2 million in additional funding to provide increases in fees to raise the rates. Those fees were last increased in 1981.

Under the current pay structure, attorneys representing defendants facing life in prison get a flat fee of $2,500. That would increase to $5,000 under a proposal put forth by the court agency. Sen. Rob Bradle and chairman of the budget subcommittee, said he is very concerned that defendants are being represented by attorneys who are woefully underpaid. “It makes no sense that someone could be paid $2,500 to represent someone who is facing a life felony,” Bradley said.

SENATE WON’T PUT FORTH LEGISLATION ON EXCHANGE

Senate President Don Gaetz said Wednesday that the Senate will not pursue legislation this spring to create a state-run health insurance exchange in the future.

“I appreciate the Committee’s thorough consideration of this important component of the federal law,” Gaetz wrote in a memo to all senators. “Considering the extensive review and bipartisan consensus with which this recommendation was put forward, I intend to accept the recommendation of the Chair and Vice Chair. The Senate will not put forward legislation to create a state exchange during the 2013 Legislative Session.”

The committee, chaired by Budget Chair Sen. Joe Negron is still debating whether to expand Medicaid up to 138 percent of the poverty line, which would put about 1 million additional low income people into the state’s Medicaid pool.

Negron and vice chair Sen. Eleanor Sobel wrote in a letter to Gaetz that they believed Florida should participate in the federal health care exchange for the time being and monitor other states’ progress in creating exchanges before lawmakers consider a Florida exchange.

SENIORS, VETERANS & REP. BRYAN NELSON SEND MESSAGE TO STOP STOLI SCHEMES ON SENIORS

The STANDUP for Seniors Coalition, a group of senior advocates, veterans and concerned Floridians, joined Representative Bryan Nelson on Wednesday in the State Capitol in launching its effort to urge the Florida Legislature to protect seniors from predatory investors and reject any legislative attempts that would bolster the Stranger-originated Life Insurance (STOLI) market.  

In 2008, the Florida Legislature recognized the dangers of these predatory schemes and amended the insurable interest statute to help further protect seniors and their families. Across the nation, 29 states have laws in place to deter STOLI arrangements. However, today, some STOLI promoters are finding ways to evade these laws and are devising schemes to mask fraudulent practices. 

According to the coalition, the STOLI scheme works by seniors typically 65 years of age or older are encouraged to purchase large, unneeded life insurance policies. The speculators offer to pay the policy premiums. After two years, marking the end of insurers’ contestability period (the period in which an insurer can contest and act on a misrepresentation in a policy contract), the senior is asked to sign over the entire policy to a hedge fund or other investment group. The senior is typically compensated for his or her role in the scheme with no knowledge that these arrangements are considered insurance fraud. Once the senior signs over the policy, the investors plan to collect the death benefit when the senior dies.  Lured into this fraudulent scheme, the senior could be unexpectedly exposed to tax liability for the value of the two years of premiums paid for the policy, and they also could face other stiff government penalties. Further worsening the situation, some seniors are unable to qualify for additional, needed life insurance for their loved ones because their insurance capacity is consumed by the STOLI scheme.

SILLY PRESS RELEASE OF THE DAY: “Why is Florida Medical Association Not Standing up For Doctors” from the Florida Justice Association

TWEET OF THE DAY: @fineout: A Fla. House member just called out to freshman Rep. Ross Spano and asked him to come to podium for his “virgin presentation” on a bill

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POLICY BRIEFS via the News Service of Florida

A bill making a slate of changes to Florida’s school accountability system passed a House subcommittee on Wednesday despite concerns from some Democrats that it would allow outside organizations to access sensitive data. Many of the changes in the bill, which, among other provisions, deals with accountability for alternative schools and multiple schools sharing the same location, aren’t controversial, according to Democrats on the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee. But a handful of them dissented on the measure (PCB CIS 13-02) because it would allow outside groups to request information from a massive database of student data.

A bill that would change the reporting requirements for the financial position of local pensions has drawn together an unlikely pair of allies: the Florida League of Cities and unions, who oppose the measure for their own reasons. The bill (HB 599) would require cities to include in their analysis of pension plans an alternative measure using a more conservative growth rate for their investments. That could potentially increase the size of any shortfall that a retirement plan is expected to face in future years. The bill passed the House Government Operations Subcommittee on a party-line, 8-3 vote.

The House opened its examination of Florida’s gaming laws as a state senator gave more details on his plan for a moratorium on Internet cafes. The inaugural meeting of the House Select Committee on Gaming came a day after its Senate counterpart closed down for the session after a handful of informational meetings; lawmakers in the upper chamber are waiting for a study the Legislature plans to commission, and they hope to hold a few public meetings across the state. Much of the information House members received was similar to the information provided to the Senate panel in the early part of its deliberations, and Chairman Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, suggested his committee would also not take any immediate action on gaming. “We do not want more band-aid approaches to gaming in this state,” Schenck said after the meeting. “We want a full, comprehensive plan and that very well may take a year to develop if not longer.”

Lawmakers filed a bill aimed at breaking the cycle of recidivism in Florida prisons by beefing up the rehabilitation of non-violent felons in the last three years of their sentences. But the measure may face resistance from the top: Senate President Don Gaetz is skeptical. The “smart justice” measure by Rep. Dennis Baxley, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Thad Altman, a member of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, would prepare offenders for release with educational and vocational training and treatment for substance abuse and mental illness.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Senators John Legg, Jeff Brandes, Wilton Simpson,  and Jack Latvala will hold a news conference to address the issue of Nuclear Cost Recovery. 10:30 a.m. in front of Senate Chambers.

MORE ASSIGNMENTS: Speaker Will Weatherford will speak to members of the Florida Retail Federation during its “Retail Days” luncheon. 12:00 p.m. at the Hotel Duval.

MORE PRESS CONFERENCES

10:00 a.m. – Teleconference on the BP oil disaster case. With a February 25 trial date looming, BP and the U.S. Department of Justice will either reach a settlement or go to trial within the next few days. This teleconference with representatives from three of America’s leading conservation organizations will explore how much BP could be facing at trial, what this case means for restoring the Gulf of Mexico and what a just outcome for the American people would look like.

11:00 a.m. – Teleconference with Florida veterans and seniors will hold a press conference call to discuss “how Florida Republicans like Representatives Steve Southerland, Dan Webster and Bill Young voted to leave town and skip work instead of working to stop the draconian cuts known as the sequester from taking effect.” To RSVP, contact EConrad@FlaDems.com.

NEW DEPUTY MAJORITY WHIPS ANNOUNCED

Florida House Majority Leader Steve Precourt and Majority Whip Dana Young announced the appointment of Representatives Travis Cummings, MaryLynn Magar, Dan Raulerson, and David Santiago as deputy majority whips.

“It has been a privilege getting to know these new Representatives over the last several months and I look forward to working more closely with them this year in their new role,” said Rep. Precourt. “Each of these Members has demonstrated that they possess the qualities essential to being an effective leader and have a promising future within our office and Party. They each will be a great asset to the Majority Office in promoting our conservative values and keeping Florida on the right path.” 

Rep. Young added, “Leader Precourt and I congratulate Representatives Cummings, Magar, Raulerson, and Santiago on their appointments as Deputy Majority Whips for the 2013 legislative session. These four members have shown great promise as future leaders of the Florida House, and I am confident they will play an integral role in leading the innovative ideas of the Republican Conference through the legislative process.”

***With a senior management team led by former reporters, editors and news producers, Sachs Media Group has deep roots in journalism and operates as a multi-faceted communications newsroom with professional staff serving as content creators, audience/community managers, creative producers and editors. The full-service firm also provides its clients the added advantage of nimbly developing on-point messaging content across a wide media spectrum – an important distinction in an era of media convergence whether branding or rebranding a business, delivering a winning public affairs communications strategy, creating a beneficial public-purpose campaign or defending a client’s reputation during a breaking crisis.***

4TH FLOOR FILES features Sebastian Aleksander. His clients include Palm Beach County Firefighters, Novomatic (Austrian Gaming Industries), and Yahoo. Here’s the file on Sebastian.

ALLAN BENSE REAPPOINTED TO FSU BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Former state House Speaker Allan Bense was reappointed to Florida State University’s Board of Trustees this week.

The state Senate Education Committee voted 8-0 to reappoint Bense for another term, which ends January 2016.

Right now, Bense serves as the Board of Trustees’ chair, according to FSU’s website. He represented Florida’s 6th District in the House from 1998 to 2006 and was speaker from 2004 to 2006.

Bense earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from FSU, according to FSU’s website.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Preston Robertson, Florida Wildlife Federation

***“Shift happens and change is constant – and our experience and instinct compel us to seize the many upside opportunities in that by engaging audiences directly and measuring the results,” said Sachs Media Group CEO and found Ron Sachs. “It’s an exciting time to be in the communications business and chart a course for change for the benefit of our clients.”***

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.