Sunburn for 2/3 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

***Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.***

FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

What kind of fireworks will be seen during Monday’s nationally televised debate among the candidates running in the special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district? Republican David Jolly, Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby square off before moderators Amy Hollyfield, Al Reuchel, and Adam Smith at 7 p.m.

How soon until state Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto announces her plans about running in the special election in Florida’s 19th congressional district? Who else will jump into the race to replace former U.S. Rep Trey Radel?

What kind of reception will Governor Scott’s budget receive from the several legislative committees hearing presentations from the governor’s staff? On Tuesday, Scott’s aides will go before House appropriations panels to present parts of the governor’s nearly $74.2 billion budget proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Former Governor Charlie Crist’s book drops on Tuesday. Will it sell? What will the Florida GOP’s creative response be? How will Crist perform on national TV while hawking his book?

Fundraising reports are due by February 10, so we’ll start seeing some numbers later this week. Which candidates will post impressive numbers?

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HILLARY TOPS JEB, MARCO IN FLORIDA, ACCORDING TO NEW Q-POLL via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Florida voters prefer Democrat Hillary Clinton over any hypothetical Republican presidential candidate — even Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — in the 2016 presidential race, a new Quinnipiac University poll says.

Clinton is the clear favorite to win a Democratic primary in the Sunshine State, getting 64 percent to 9 percent for Vice President Joe Biden.

Bush is the top pick among Floria Republican voters. Bush is favored by 25 percent of GOP voters, with 16 percent supporting Sen. Rubio, 11 percent backing Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz getting 9 percent apiece.

In hypothetical 2016 general election match-ups, Bush would be the strongest Republican challenger to Clinton in Florida, losing to her by a 49-to-43 percent margin. Clinton leads Rubio by 10 points, Paul by 13 points, Ryan by 13 points, Christie by 16 points and Cruz by 20.

WHY JEB BUSH IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST QUESTION MARK OF THE 2016 SWEEPSTAKES via Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post

There are two simple reasons why. 1) No other top tier Republican has the potential to alter the landscape of the primary as broadly as the former Florida governor. 2) No other top tier Republican has broadcast as much genuine uncertainty about his plans.

… To begin with, Bush’s prospects of winning the Republican nomination look better than most. So if he doesn’t run, he’ll leave a large pool of likely voters up for grabs. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll … shows Bush near the top of a wide open field. He has the support of 18 percent of Republicans, second only to Rep. Paul Ryan, a well-known figure who has run for vice president and has been in the news a lot lately. Ryan clocks in at 20 percent.

Bush occupies a unique spot in the 2016 sweepstakes because of his appeal to both the GOP establishment (we’re talking donors and other traditional power-brokers) and the conservative grassroots. One of Bush’s signature issues is education, a hot topic among movement conservatives.

On the establishment side, Bush would compete for many of the same donors that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would go after. If Bush doesn’t run, Christie, should he run, will have an easier time rounding up their support. If Bush does run, then, well, things could get awfully interesting in the money chase.

Then there’s Rubio. Bush mentored Rubio as he rose through the ranks and it’s an open question whether Rubio would run if Bush does. If Bush doesn’t run, it becomes much easier to see Rubio entering the mix.

Now to the second point. Compared to Christie, Rubio, Sen. Paul and Gov. Walker, who have each taken steps to raise their profiles and have done little to tamp down speculation they will run, Bush really seems like he is in the midst of a tough decision-making process.

“I’m deferring the decision to the right time which is later this year,” Bush said last week.

The fact that the will-he-or-won’t-he questions continue to surround Bush in a way they don’t surround other potential candidates has solidified his position Variable No. 1 in the potential campaign.

SALLY BRADSHAW ON JEB’S THINKING via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post: “I don’t know that his position today is any different than it was six months ago,” said Bradshaw, who was a campaign manager and chief of staff for Bush and has remained in contact with him. “He’s going through the very thoughtful process of considering a race. What the outcome of that will be I don’t know and I don’t think he knows.”

MEANWHILE … RUBIO RAISED $1.1 MILLION LAST QUARTER via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio raised $1.1 million for his re-election campaign and his PAC in the last quarter, an aide reported.

That brings his total 2013 haul to an impressive $8 million.

Terry Sullivan said Rubio has $2.3 million cash on hand for the 2016 re-elect and $307,000 cash in the bank for Reclaim America PAC.

In a sign of Rubio’s efforts to grow a national fundraising base (which would come in hand should he run for a different office in 2016) Sullivan boasted on Twitter: “Over 69,000 donors from 50 states contributed to @marcorubio in 2013.”

AND THE THE HILL HAS THIS GLOWING ASSESSMENT OF RUBIO’S 2016 PROSPECTS via Alexander Bolton

A group of Republican fundraising heavyweights and wise men in Washington’s business community are solidly behind Rubio, and see him not only as someone who could win the White House, but someone they can work with.

The fundraisers include Bill Paxon, a former New York lawmaker who is now a senior adviser at Akin Gump; Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Wholesalers Association; and Wayne Berman, a big-time donor with a knack for picking winning candidates in presidential primaries.

All three are a party of the business wing of the Republican Party that has clashed with the Tea Party. Their support for Rubio suggests they seem him as a possible ally going forward.

Political strategists think Rubio’s chances of winning the GOP nomination in 2016 are looking better because of the bridge scandal embroiling New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) decision to forego a White House bid to aim for the gavel of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

“Marco Rubio is very much in the top tier of potential Republican candidates. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t looked at any data and doesn’t understand the dynamics of the Republican primary,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who counts Rubio as one of his clients. “Look at who votes. It’s very difficult to make the case that Chris Christie has a better chance winning the primary than Rubio.”

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NAT’L CAMPAIGN COMMITTEES RAISE ALMOST $500 MILLION via The Associated Press

The major campaign committees collected almost a half-billion dollars in 2013 — a year when just two states chose governors, two had special Senate elections and six House districts had unplanned races — and spent most of it.

That eye-popping sum doesn’t capture the millions raised and spent by the candidates themselves or the outside groups and advocacy organizations that plan to play a major role in 2014′s federal elections, which could tilt the balance of power in the Senate and perhaps the House, and races for governor in 36 states. Friday’s reports to the Federal Election Commission hint that November’s elections will be awash with cash.

The two political parties’ federal campaign committees raised $371 million for federal races and spent just shy of $300 million. Add in the governors, and the total haul grows to almost $450 million.

Friday’s top-line numbers put Democrats slightly ahead of Republicans, but not by a margin that would decide the fate of candidates in 2014. Taken with the Democratic National Committee’s almost $16 million debt and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s $3.75 million in red ink, they are roughly even.

The DNC started 2013 with $20 million in debt. The DSCC started its year with $15.7 million in debt.

CD 13 SPECIAL ELECTION

DEBATE NIGHT!

Sink vs. Jolly is a dead-heat race at this point, even as Sink lately has overwhelmingly outspent Jolly on TV ads. … (A)ll this makes Monday’s Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 debate (live on Bay News 9 at 7 p.m.) a potentially pivotal moment in the campaign. Non-Brighthouse customers can watch it live on CSPAN 3.

DEMOCRATS DELIVER ‘DAVID JOLLY DONUT HOLES’ TO PROTEST CALLS TO END OBAMACARE Full blog post here

David Jolly’s campaign workers received a little morning snack Friday, courtesy of the Florida Democratic Party.

Protesting the GOP Congressional candidate’s repeated calls for revoking the Affordable Care Act, an FDP volunteer delivered four boxes of “donut holes” to Jolly’s Clearwater campaign headquarters Friday morning.

If Jolly were successful in overturning the ACA, the FDP insists Pinellas seniors could pay more in the gaps in Medicare prescription coverage — known as the “donut hole” — eliminating $186 million in savings for 226,000 Florida Medicare beneficiaries.

Morano continues by arguing that Jolly worked with the Tampa-based Free Enterprise Nation, an “extreme group” whose CEO supports privatized Social Security system.

She also adds that the same organization applauded the budget proposals of Rep. Paul Ryan, which turns Medicare into a “costly voucher program” which balances the federal budget “on the backs of Pinellas seniors” with tax breaks for corporations and the ultra-wealthy.

JOLLY’S LOBBYING WORK HAS STRONG TIES TO LITTLE-KNOW CONSERVATIVE MILLIONAIRE via Curtis Krueger and Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

As a lobbyist-turned-congressional candidate, David Jolly has repeatedly been attacked by Democrats who say he pushed for oil drilling off Florida’s coast and represented a client who wanted to privatize Social Security — politically toxic issues in Florida.

The group, Free Enterprise Nation, was founded by St. Petersburg businessman James MacDougald, who has quietly become a major campaign donor in Florida and is co-chairman of Jolly’s finance team.

In another instance of blurred lines, Jolly blogged for Free Enterprise Nation to keep readers abreast on plans to make military veterans pay more for health care — a politically dicey issue — and referenced “FEN conversations with appropriations committee staff,” suggesting he played an active role.

MacDougald said the reason he hired Jolly as a lobbyist was simple: “It was to get me in front of people I needed to talk to.” And the reason he wanted to talk to members of Congress was “so I could convince them that we need transparency from every level of government.”

But Jolly did more than make introductions, working for MacDougald over several years, first with the large firm Van Scoyoc Associates and then when Jolly opened his own lobbying firm Three Bridges Advisors. FEN paid $60,000 to Van Scoyoc and $30,000 to Three Bridges.

In a 2011 disclosure on behalf of FEN he wrote under “specific lobbying issues” legislation called “A Roadmap for America’s Energy Future,” which included proposals to expand oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Jolly says that he put it there out of abundance of caution after the legislation arose in a conversation. Jolly said he supports the current oil drilling ban in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and supports oil exploration in the central and eastern Gulf. MacDougald said his group supported the Roadmap for America’s Energy Future but that Jolly was not paid to lobby for it.

JOLLY TO HOLD NEWS CONFERENCE

Jolly will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. at EEI Manufacturing, 703 Grand Central St., Clearwater.

CD 19 SPECIAL ELECTION

DATES SET

Gov. Scott announced the special primary and general elections for Florida’s 19th Congressional District to replace disgraced Republican Trey Radel.

The primary will be April 22, and the election on June 24.

Lining up for the race are former State Rep. Paige Kreegel and CEO Curt Clawson, with State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto seen by many as a probable candidate.

Chauncey Goss, who lost to Radel in a crowded 2012 GOP primary, may also be considering another run.

SPECIAL ELECTION COST COULD BE $1.5 MIL via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of the Naples Daily News

Sharon Harrington, the Lee County supervisor of elections, said her staff will begin working immediately to make sure there aren’t any problems at the polls come election day.

“We’re going to be very proactive,” she said. “We’re going to be sending out letters to voters. We’re trying to do the best we can to not have long lines.”

Harrington said she expects there will be eight days of early voting in advance of the special elections. She didn’t yet have the specific early voting dates Friday evening.

The congressional district includes most of Lee County and much of Collier County.

Harrington said she told state officials the special elections could cost between $750,000 and $1 million in Lee.

Jennifer Edwards, Collier County’s supervisor of elections, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. However, Dave Carpenter, the county’s elections qualifying officer, told the Daily News earlier this week a special election could cost Collier County between $500,000 and $750,000.

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ADAM SMITH WITH A MAJOR, MAJOR WALK BACK His post here

Originally Smith wrote:

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan has repeatedly insisted his push for a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for medical use in Florida has nothing to do with helping his employee Charlie Crist get elected governor. Really? Well, Morgan certainly did take in interest in in how his ballot initiative might impact the governor’s race.

Check out part of an internal polling memo we obtained that shows how Morgan’s pollster a year ago specifically examined how a medical marijuana might ballot initiative might be helpful to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate …

Smith then shares the polling memo.

Late Friday, Smith was forced to walk this story back, topping his blog post with this correction:

“We blew this report. John Morgan was not actually on board with the marijuana initiative at the time of this poll and says he never saw the polling memo. Ben Pollara, executive director of United For Care, commissioned the poll ‘well before it was even on John’s radar.’

Morgan emails: “If I wanted to help him (Crist) I would have given him 4MM and told him to run on that platform.”

CRIST TO APPEAR ON MORNING JOE, COLBERT REPORT, BILL MAHER THIS WEEK TO PROMOTE BOOK

With the release this week of his new book, “The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat,” former Florida Governor Charlie Crist will embark on a three-week, whirlwind promotional tour stretching from the television studios of New York City to the independent book stores of South Florida.

Crist’s book is being billed as a no-holds-barred memoir, detailing his opinion on how right-wing extremists captured the Republican Party.

Among the appearances Crist is scheduled to make: a Tuesday morning feature on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” followed by an appearance that night on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” On Wednesday, Crist is slated to appear on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.” After additional appearances on CNN,  Fox and MSNBC, Crist will wrap up the first week of his tour on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

The following week, Crist will crisscross Florida, appearing at book signings in several cities. Final locations, dates, and times are still being firmed up, according to publisher Dutton, but a first draft of the schedule has Crist marking the fifth anniversary of “The Hug” in Fort Myers, the city where the then-Republican governor famously embraced President Barack Obama and his stimulus program.

Crist writes in the book that at the time he thought the event was an “uplifting moment” in his political life, where a Democrat and Republican were working together and rising above the partisanship.

“I didn’t know it yet. But that high-spirited day in Fort Myers – meeting Obama (bad enough) and greeting him with a hug (even worse) – ended my viable life as a Republican politician.”

After a series of other signings, Crist will conclude the book tour on Feb. 22 at Haslam’s Book Store in St. Petersburg.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Carlos Lopez-Cantera will be sworn-in as Florida’s 19th Lieutenant Governor today.  At noon, Gov. Scott will host a luncheon in honor of Lopez-Cantera at the Governor’s Mansion with close friends, family and elected officials. Gov.Scott and LG Lopez-Cantera will be available for a media availability prior to the luncheon. Finally, at 5:00 p.m. the swearing-in ceremony will take place in the House Chambers.

SCOTT HAS ALREADY WON FIGHT TO KEEP TUITION DOWNvia Lloyd Dunkelberger for The Ledger

Not surprisingly, Scott’s $74.2 billion budget plan, which he announced this week, did not include any tuition increases for the coming year.

Last year, Scott vetoed a 3 percent boost for colleges and universities, which would have raised $45 million for those schools.

“I believe it is incumbent upon state leaders to ensure the cost of higher education remains accessible to as many Floridians as possible,” Scott said in his veto message, recalling how an affordable higher education allowed him entry into a successful business career.

Scott did allow an 8 percent tuition increase in his first year in office as he and lawmakers struggled to put together a budget with revenues suppressed by the Great Recession.

However, since that time, Scott has taken a much harder line on the issue.

In support for his current budget plan, Scott’s office said that during the last decade, the average tuition for the state university system has risen more than 113 percent from $2,887 in the fall of 2003 to $6,155 last fall.

Despite Scott’s opposition, legislative leaders last year advanced a tuition hike largely at the instigation of the House with the argument that the higher education system could use the extra funding.

But this year, legislative leaders have announced they will not support a tuition increase either. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, made the announcement on the same day that Scott unveiled his 2014-15 budget plan.

In fact, the legislative leaders went a few steps further. As part of their effort to “increase the value and accessibility of higher education,” Gaetz and Weatherford said they would oppose any tuition increase for the coming year as well as limit the ability of individual universities to raise tuition annually by adjusting a so-called “differential” rate.

SCOTT’S SQUISHY REPLY ON RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE via Jim Stratton of the Orlando Sentinel

I was writing about a new poll showing widespread support in Florida for an increase to the minimum wage. So I sent the folks at Gov. Scott’s office an email, asking if the governor supported or opposed the idea.

A little before 6 p.m., they provided this response:

“Governor Scott believes that Florida families need good jobs that lead to good careers. Even with a raised minimum wage in certain jobs, working families would still not be able to make ends meet. That’s why the Governor is focused on creating an opportunity economy that creates generational jobs for Florida families.”

Did you catch that bit of political jujitsu? You’ll notice it sort of suggests that Scott, a conservative Republican, opposes a mandatory wage hike (as expected). But it doesn’t definitively say that.

So I took another run at the issue, pointing out that the first response didn’t really address my question. Here’s the reply:

“This provides the governor’s insights into minimum-wage increases that you can use for your story.”

The governor is a pro-business, conservative Republican. Business interests and his Tea Party base, on balance, hate the idea of raising the minimum wage.

So why doesn’t his office just say he does too?

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AT&T-FLORIDA’S LEADERSHIP ALIGNED WITH BIG FCC MOVE

Some of the most fundamentally important policy changes that bring greater efficiency and growth potential to Florida, are invisible from the public. One such change was announced last week, when the FCC agreed to oversee industry-wide geographic trials for an all-IP broadband architecture. This announcement represented a huge victory for AT&T’s public affairs team, who had asked the FCC to oversee these trials almost 15 months ago — but are a greater victory for Floridians who will benefit from greater access to broadband connectivity.

 The technical details of these policy shifts are lost on most — but in shorthand, it means that the “Plain Old Telephone Service” (POTS) will overtime be phased out. In its place, an all IP Network will be dedicated to enriching economic growth and innovation. Florida’s political leadership has embraced this vision for some time already.

“Florida has benefited from the strong vision of our elected leaders such as Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford who have implemented economic policies that encourage investments by companies like AT&T,” said Joe York, President of AT&T-FLorida. “Many Floridians are now benefiting from the advanced products and services that our investment of almost $2.8 billion in our networks over the last three years is providing.”

The FCC’s pilot trials will be focused on ensuring that the transition protects public safety, affordable access, competition in the marketplace, and consumer protection. To York, Florida is prepared to take on these trials.

“Today’s decision by the FCC to move forward with geographic trials signifies a recognition that the future of America will be greatly enriched by economic growth and innovation that will be generated by the evolution to an all IP Network,” York said. “Florida is ready for this next step that is necessary to insure our future competitiveness and individual success!”

SPOTTED: The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Marian Johnson in this month’s edition ofFlorida Trend. “For many candidates Marian Johnson’s office at the Florida Chamber is the first stop on the campaign trail.”

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STATE REP. MARYLYNN MAGAR MAKING “STRONG PROGRESS” AFTER STROKE Full blog post here

Friends and family of State Rep. MaryLynn Magar credit her character for the “strong progress” in recovery after the House District 82 lawmaker was sidelined by a stroke several weeks ago.

“I already knew MaryLynn has strong character, and it has been on full display these past few weeks,” said husband Bob Stilley in a campaign update on Magar’s progress. “Family and friends have been greatly impressed by her hard work toward full recovery, and her conscientious concern for the people she represents.”

The Martin County Republican has been receiving physical therapy, and her medical team describes her as the “poster child” for how therapy aids in the rapid recovery of stroke victims, reports Magar’s office.

“She takes seriously the commitment she made to the people of this district,” Stilley added. “We believe God has a plan, and our faith has been greatly strengthened during this challenging time.”

Magar will soon switch from daily treatment to outpatient sessions as early as next week. She is on track to return to Tallahassee for the start of the upcoming legislative session in March.

BILL WOULD ALLOW SUPERMARKETS TO SELL HARD LIQUOR IN MAIN STORE via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

A bill filed Friday in the Florida Senate would allow shoppers at chains like Publix and Walmart to get liquor in the main store without having to walk out to a separate shop.

One representative of the alcohol and drug prevention community calls it an unnecessary “expansion” of alcohol’s availability.

Sen. Bill Galvano filed the measure, known as a repealer bill.

His bill (SB 804) would undo state law requiring retailers to have a separate store to sell spirits, such as whiskey, gin and vodka.

They now can sell beer and wine in their grocery aisles.

Galvano, who sits on the Regulated Industries committee, said Walmart representatives asked him to sponsor the change.

EDITORIAL: DECOUPLE DOG RACING AND POKER ROOMS via the Sarasota Herald Tribune

This is a requirement that no one seems to want. Neither the racing industry in Florida nor animal-rights groups publicly supports the mandate and, based on dramatic drops in attendance and betting at tracks, not even gamblers seem to care much about greyhound racing.

… The anti-racing group Grey2kUSA estimates that it costs Florida more to lightly regulate the racing industry than the $1.8 million in taxes and fees collected.

… Last year, “decoupling” bills tied to greyhound racing and card rooms were filed in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate. The bills would have eliminated the racing requirement to maintain card rooms. Unfortunately, the bills didn’t pass.

There are some signs that a decoupling provision could be part of a larger, broader revision of Florida’s gambling laws this year. Good.

So long as gambling at dog tracks is not expanded, we urge legislators — especially those from our region — to support decoupling. Requiring facilities to offer racing that the public no longer supports doesn’t make sense. Eliminating the requirement won’t hurt anyone, but it will help greyhounds avoid a fate they don’t deserve.

LAWMAKERS TARGET FUNDING FOR DIGITAL LEARNING EXPANSION via Sherri Ackerman of redefinEDonline.org

Two top lawmakers have joined together on supporting a bill that would target roughly $100 million a year for digital learning in public schools and require districts to build workable technology plans to take advantage of it.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg and Speaker Weatherford introduced the proposal during a press conference at Legg’s charter school, Dayspring Academy, in New Port Richey. Legg has filed the bill for the 2014 legislative session, which begins March 4.

A draft of the legislation shows that Weatherford and Legg want to create a new category in state education funding, known as the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), to drive technology. The category would be called “Florida Digital Classrooms” and draw up to 1 percent of the “base student allocation” as a funding stream. In this current year, that 1 percent would translate to $37.52 per student, or roughly $101.2 million statewide.

Senate Bill 790 calls for each district and the state to develop digital classroom plans that include technology purchases and teacher training and for those plans to be tied to student performance and measured against benchmarks established by the Department of Education.

“Results of the outcomes shall be reported at least annually and be accompanied by an independent evaluation and validation of the reported results,” says the bill draft.

LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND

Ashley Kitter has left her position as legislative assistant in the Senate President’s office.

TODAY IN THE LEGISLATURE

Panel dials up telemedicine: The House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation will receive a demonstration and discuss telemedicine. State officials are looking at increased use of telemedicine to help deal with a shortage of primary-care physicians. Morris Hall, House Office Building. 1 p.m.

Ante up: The Senate Gaming Committee will hear a presentation about the economic impacts of the horse industry and discuss possible issues to include in a gambling bill. 110 Senate Office Building. 1 p.m.

Hurricane tax holiday up for debate: The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will consider a proposal (SB 362), filed by Sen. Rob Bradley that would create a 12-day sales-tax holiday for hurricane supplies. 110 Senate Office Building. 4 p.m.

Another elections bill? The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will hold an initial discussion about issues that could be included in an elections bill. 412 Knott Building. 4 p.m.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Elizabeth Boyd, Stephen Burgess, Jay Etheridge, Patricia Jameson, Michael Kliner, Robert Kneip, Logan McFaddin, Paul Whitfield, Department of Financial Services

Vicki Butts, James Viggiano, Capital Collateral Regional Counsel – Middle

Theodore Mannelli, Chester Zerlin, State Attorney, 11th Judicial Circuit

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REST IN PEACE, CHARLES WHITEHEAD via Steve Bousquet and Lucy Morgan of the Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Whitehead, who was chairman of the Florida Democratic Party as its long heyday faded in the 1980s, has died.

Whitehead was a gregarious and well-liked party leader who was a long-time car dealer in Panama City at a time when Democrats were as dominant in state politics as Republicans are today.

For part of his tenure as chairman, his Republican counterpart was Tommy Thomas, who also was a Panama City car dealer (Thomas sold Chevrolets; Whitehead sold Fords).

“He wasn’t just a Democrat or a Republican. He was a Floridian, Mr. Integrity,” said former four-term state attorney general Bob Butterworth, who sought Whitehead’s advice when he first ran for statewide office in 1986. “He considered his role as party chairman to be a public service. He did it with dignity, grace and professionalism and he made you feel good to be in public service. He saw it as a calling.”

Whitehead had not been active in statewide politics for some time, but he endorsed Charlie Crist as an independent U.S. Senate candidate in 2010.

In a 2004 interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Whitehead traced the start of his party’s decline to the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980.

“Everyone he touched in Florida got elected, and it started to snowball. He built the Republican Party in Florida,” Whitehead told the newspaper. “From Pensacola to Jacksonville, that’s where he really killed us. Those are strong military areas, and he was strong on the military.”

REAX 

FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant: ”Florida has lost a great public servant, and the Democratic Party has lost one of its most committed leaders. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Charlie Whitehead, who never failed to be there when his Party or state needed him. For decades, Charlie was a happy warrior, always working for a better, more just Florida. He and his family are in the thoughts and prayers of countless Floridians today.”

FDP Vice Chairman Alan Clendenin: ”As a party leader, I stand on the shoulders of my predecessors; Charlie Whitehead provided a solid foundation of strategy, instinct, and political prowess. The Florida Democratic Party will forever be touched by his influence and legacy.”

Mike Hamby: ”Florida has lost a political Icon and I have lost a dear friend. Charles Whitehead was a true Democrat in every sense of the word. His tenure as Chairman of the Florida Democratic Party is legendary and his service is a model for future political party leaders. A larger than life figure who owned any room he entered and had an everlasting impact on Florida and national politics. His counsel was sought by Presidents and office seekers at all levels. He was always reliable for a great quote and the press always sought his take on the issue of the day. And most significant of all was how much he was respected and loved by all who knew him regardless of party affiliation. One of the highlights of my life was serving as Executive Director of the Florida Democratic Party for nearly five years under Charles Whitehead as Chairman. During this time I witnessed what a truly remarkable human being he was first hand. He was a terrific boss, a great friend, and an unequalled public servant.”

Screven Watson: “Mr. Charles Whitehead, “Mr. Ford”, “Florida’s Mr. Democrat” and a Father to me as well as many others, passed away at his home in Panama City last night. He was a great man, a caring mentor, and a great Floridian. I have so many wonderful memories and stories of our time together. But I have learned today – what I already knew- that EVERYONE whose paths intersected with Charles has the same wonderful memories and stories. Bob Butterworth and I spent an hour last night talking about Charlie and we laughed and talked about what a wonderful man he was. Jimmy Patronis said to me, “Screven he helped so many people that no one will ever know about”. That was the way he would have wanted it. I will miss him greatly. I will miss our talks of Politics, and Football (he pulled for FSU except when they played the Canes — he played for Miami). Our talks of his upbringing, being a Ford Dealer, the Democratic Party in Florida of the 70′s and 80′s. His service in the Korean War. But more than anything, I will miss that voice on the other end of the phone when I needed to talk to someone. He loved my family deeply and had a special place in his heart for my daughter Shelby who he got the biggest kick out of as she grew up. He would make paper airplanes for her and sail them off the balcony down to the pool as she swam. How Precious is that? Charles, I love you and will miss you. Godspeed my friend.”

FLASHBACK — FLORIDA’S WHITEHEAD: PARTY PEACEMAKER via Donna Blanton of theOrlando Sentinel

Whitehead’s influence and ability to serve as a peacemaker is unquestioned by other party leaders. Elected as Florida party chairman in April of 1980, he has served longer than all but one other state Democratic chairman.

”He’s absolutely the best party chairman in the country,” said Bert Lance, a top adviser to Jackson and a budget director in former President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

”Charlie and I talk all the time. I seek his guidance on everything.”

Whitehead’s friendship with Lance dates to the 1970s, when Whitehead was a key fund-raiser in Carter’s presidential bids. Whitehead was so close to the upper echelon of the Carter administration that his Panama City Beach condominium served as their secret getaway.

It was regular practice for Whitehead to leave a car at the airport with the keys to his condo in the glove compartment. Among those who took advantage of Whitehead’s hospitality were the president’s chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, and his press secretary, Jody Powell.

Whitehead’s reputation in party circles, both at the state and national levels, is one of peacemaker and conciliator. He is considered one of the few people who is regularly able to unite the various elements of such a diverse party.

***Madison Social – Tallahassee’s Hottest Spot – is your location for lunch, happy hour, and dinner. Catering for your meetings are also available. For lunch service, complementary valet is available so you can leave the office and return within one hour. To see our menu, please visit here.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the great Tom Gallagher. Also celebrating today is Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Carolyn Pardue.

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.