Sunburn for 3/14 – 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.***


Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who guided the state through a period of school busing to achieve integration in the 1970s, died early Thursday. He was 85.

Askew died surrounded by family members at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, Ron Sachs, a former aide and family spokesman, told The Associated Press.

Askew was admitted to the hospital Saturday, his family said. Over the past three months, he has suffered from aspiration pneumonia, hip surgery and, most recently, a stroke.

Askew rose from obscurity in the Florida Legislature to become the Democrats’ surprise gubernatorial nominee in 1970 and then beat the incumbent Republican, Claude Kirk.

His eight years in office coincided with the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate and dramatic social change across the nation. He was a liberal on racial issues and crusaded for overhauling the state’s tax laws, open government, environmental protection, ethics legislation and streamlining the courts and other governmental agencies.

Upon being elected governor, Askew immediately called a special session of the Legislature to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment for a corporate income tax. Askew stumped the state in support of the measure that voters adopted by a 2-1 margin.

In his first year, he also won passage of penal and judicial overhaul, including classification of alcoholism as a disease and the nonpartisan election of judges.

“His primary accomplishments were in the field of moral leadership, rather than building monuments,” said the late Allen Morris, a former House clerk who later served as state historian until his death in 2002 at the age of 92.



Should the Florida Legislature want to pay a truly meaningful tribute to former Gov. Askew, here’s how.

Not just with fulsome praise, but with concrete action to protect something he cared deeply about: the integrity of Florida’s courts.

In his eighth month in office, Askew signed an executive order creating nominating councils — now known as commissions — to recommend candidates for vacant judgeships.

His choice of a judge would have to be one of three people nominated for each vacancy.

He also wanted the nine-member councils to be beyond his — or anyone else’s — control.

The governor could appoint only three members. The Bar named three more members. Those six then selected three citizens who could not be lawyers.

The word to his staff was “hands off.” Askew didn’t even want to know who was applying for judicial vacancies.

Askew, the Legislature and the voters realized it was time to insulate the appellate courts from politics. A 1976 amendment provided for staffing the Supreme Court and district courts of appeal exclusively through appointment rather than election.

But in 2001, 30 years after Askew established the nominating commissions, an intensely partisan Legislature turned them into the functional equivalent of political patronage committees.

If Scott is re-elected this year, he’d be a term-limited lame duck in December 2018, but he could still replace three retiring Supreme Court justices.

That wouldn’t be so controversial if the commissions were still independent.


TWEET, TWEET: @SaintPetersBlog: Reubin Askew = Jeb’s boldness & policy chops + Crist’s populism + Chiles’ folksiness and wit + Graham’s progressivism. #Truth

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ANOTHER RUBIO COMEBACK STORY (h/t on the headline to Mike Allen) via Josh Green for Bloomberg Businessweek

As the media’s infatuation moved on to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, he began the painstaking work of trying to recast himself as a policy wonk. … Last month, Rubio rolled out a series of higher-education reforms aimed at broadening access and limiting costs. These include accreditation for free online college courses and other nontraditional forms of learning, as well as a proposal that would allow private investors to pay students’ tuition in exchange for a portion of their future income. And like presidents do when they encounter trouble at home, Rubio has looked overseas to revive his fortunes. …

Rubio’s transformation from rock star to professor is a work in progress. … As presidential strategies go, this is the opposite of campaigning through dramatic stunts, such as Cruz’s 21-hour speech protesting federal funding for Obamacare. It’s a self-conscious nod to the old notion that ideas, expertise, and experience are prerequisites for the White House — and a bet that, despite today’s poll numbers and headlines, voters will eventually come to agree.


Congress is sending President Barack Obama a bill to ease big flood insurance premium increases faced by hundreds of thousands of homeowners and allow below-market rates to be passed on to people buying homes with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

The measure breezed through the Senate and on to Obama’s desk Thursday on a 72-22 vote. The House passed it last week.

The legislation significantly rewrites a major overhaul of the flood insurance program passed two years ago. The 2012 changes were aimed at weaning hundreds of thousands of homeowners off of subsidized rates and required extensive updating of flood maps used to set premiums.

But its implementation has stirred anxiety among many homeowners along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in flood plains, many of whom are threatened with unaffordable rate increases.


Gov. Scott: “This is a victory for all Florida families who have been impacted by ongoing uncertainty and faced the possibility of paying devastating rate increases. Throughout this process I have been in communication with Sen. Rubio, Sen. Nelson, Speaker Boehner and President Obama. Though we saw little interest from the President on acting quickly to stop impending rate hikes, it appears he will sign this legislation and lift the burden that has been facing our state. With Florida contributing more than its fair share in flood insurance costs, today’s vote was overdue and much needed.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis: “I am proud to have been an integral part of this bipartisan, bicameral effort; this is how Congress should work. This bill’s passage is a victory for the American people. Leader Cantor showed tremendous leadership to get this legislation passed in the House,” Bilirakis said. “My constituents and Americans across the country need immediate relief. I am pleased the Senate swiftly passed the House legislation, which reduced the financial burden of the rate increases and kept in place the positive reforms to the National Flood Insurance program. The President should sign the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013 into law without delay.”

***Aggressive. Strategic. Creative. Sachs Media Group is Florida’s dominant independent communications firm. With offices in Tallahassee, Orlando and Washington, D.C., Sachs Media Group sets the pace in public relations, crisis management, branding, digital/social media, graphic design and video production.***


The House’s newest congressman struck a note of collegiality on Thursday after a bitter campaign to fill the seat.

Republican David Jolly declared the hard-fought race over moments after Speaker John Boehner administered the oath. Jolly edged out Democrat Alex Sink on Tuesday in a special election that Republicans cast as a referendum on President Barack Obama and his unpopular health care law.

Receiving a standing ovation and applause from Republicans and Democrats, Jolly said in his initial remarks that he believes “in this institution, the people’s house. … I believe in civility.” He stood in the well of the House, surrounded by members of Florida’s congressional delegation.

Jolly said the fight is for the country, “not a fight against each other.”

Jolly, 41, fills the open seat that had been held for decades by Republican C.W. Bill Young, who died in October. Jolly has long experience in Washington, first as an aide to Young and then as a lobbyist.

He mentioned his work for a man who left an “indelible legacy in the House.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of the delegation, highlighted Jolly’s progression from congressional staffer to lawmaker and said he would ensure that Young’s legacy continues. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., said Jolly had big shoes to fill.

Despite Jolly’s comments, the next campaign is just eight months away as he will run for the full two-year term.


DEM REAX: “Now the newest face of this Republican Congress is special interest lobbyist David Jolly, who made a career out of stacking the deck for big corporations and millionaires,” said Josh Schwerin of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  “Jolly will fit right in with the Medicare-dismantling, health care-repealing, big oil-subsidizing, insurance company-coddling Congressional Republicans who bend over backward for special interests at the expense of middle class families.”



Jolly put Obamacare in a larger frame, urging voters to elect someone to be a check and balance for Mr. Obama, rather than blindly support him. This cut well with independents, according to some private polls by outside groups. Mr. Jolly’s success depended upon convincing them he would go to Washington to make things work, not to blow it up.


• Canvassing app: The RNC has developed multiple smartphone and tablet apps for field staff to use to input data about prospective voters. The data is uploaded to the RNC’s main database in real time and is immediately available to the committee, the campaign and approved vendors, allowing them to make quick decisions on how to apply resources and whether to make strategic adjustments.

• Application programming interface: This is the fancy term the RNC is using to describe how it shares voter data with campaigns and approved vendors — and vice versa. Now each entity can share and synthesize its data through the interface, increasing its accuracy and ensuring that the RNC, the candidate’s campaign team and outside strategists are making decisions based on the same voter information.

• The email list: For the first time, the RNC was able to synthesize its list of email contacts with its voter file. It sounds simple, but an inability to do this previously had significantly reduced the number of prospective voters the committee was able to contact.

• Voter scoring: The more a party knows about prospective voters, the more efficient and effective its voter targeting. The committee now ranks prospective voters on a complex scale of one to 100, with each data point representing a piece of information about a voter that helps determine how best to talk to him or her and motivate him or her to vote.

• Dashboard: For the first time, all of the data gathered by the RNC minute to minute was available to view on-demand via computer.

TWEET, TWEET: @TheRickWilson: One of the real lessons of #FL13 is that we’re taking all kinds of new tools out of beta and into the field.

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “In Pinellas a Victory for Jim Crow Politics” via Edwin Enciso of Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now


Chalk this up as good news for a good person.

House Majority PAC’s communications director Andy Stone will be leaving the Democratic super PAC for a new job at Facebook.

In his new role at the social networking giant, Stone will be serving as policy communications manager in Facebook’s Washington office. He’s been at House Majority PAC for the past two years – helping get the communications operation of the super PAC off the ground.

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Over the last 15 months, Gov. Scott and his wife, Ann, through various entities, made more than $17 million selling hundreds of thousands of shares of Argan Inc., a publicly-traded company whose subsidiary, Gemma Power Systems, does business in Florida.

The Scotts’ Argan profits were magnificent, more than quadruple their investment.

Gov. Scott’s blind trust sold 140,976 of those Argan shares worth $2.54 million on Dec. 20, 2012. After the sale, the blind trust retained more than 520,000 Argan shares worth $9.43 million.

You aren’t supposed to know that. Gov. Scott isn’t supposed to know it either.

Yet the governor’s blind trust, and Florida’s qualified blind trust law, has been ineffective. They have not prevented public disclosure of Gov. Scott’s personal riches.

Millions of dollars of assets placed in the Richard L. Scott Blind Trust – securities, partnership interests and the like – are not veiled as the law intended. They are visible to Scott or anyone else who knows where to look. They are a matter of public record.

The reason: Florida’s blind trust law is trumped by the public reporting requirements of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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APPOINTED: Kahreem T.D. Golden to the Tobacco Education and Use Prevention Advisory Council.

REAPPOINTED: Carolyn Williams to the Palm Beach State College District Board of Trustees.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will make a water quality announcement for Central Florida at the Orange County Regional History Center. Orange County Regional History Center, 65 East Central Blvd. Orlando. 10 a.m.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will be joined by the University of Miami Health System to highlight cancer research funding in the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,” at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Pediatric Oncology Ward, 1475 Northwest 12th Avenue, Miami. 3:30 p.m.

CHATTER LINKS THRASHER TO FSU TOP JOB via Doug Blackburn of the Tallahassee Democrat

A presidential search advisory committee at Florida State University is scheduled to hold its first meeting on March 21.

But if you listen to the chatter at the Capitol — a mesmerizing pastime, especially when the lawmakers are in session — the man the search committee will recommend is state Sen. John Thrasher.

Thrasher, a Republican from St. Augustine, holds two degrees from FSU and is one of the university’s most passionate champions in the Legislature. He was chair of the FSU Board of Trustees in 2002 when it selected T.K. Wetherell to be FSU’s 13th president.

But even Thrasher is a bit baffled, as well as flattered, by all the buzz linking his name to the top job at FSU.

Thrasher told the Democrat on Wednesday that he has already filed for re-election for his Senate seat. He is also the campaign chair for Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election effort.

Allan Bense, chair of the FSU board, dismissed the rumors — yes, the former House speaker hears them regularly — as Capitol chatter.


Will Weatherford released proposed allocations for spending next year, and the plan is clearly boosted by revised forecasts giving lawmakers $150 million more general revenue to spend next year.

The biggest headline is that Weatherford’s proposed $10.8 billion in pre-K-12 education is $165 million more than what Gov. Rick Scott’s proposing in his proposed budget and $335 million more than this year. In higher education, Weatherford is hoping to spend $3.6 billion or about $500 million more than Scott does.

Among Weatherford’s goals: Provide historic general revenue tax relief, maintain in excess of $1.2 billion in general revenue reserves, provide the largest FEFP in Florida history and in excess of a 3 percent increase in per student funding in our public schools, and provide strategic funding to ensure Florida’s children are protected and have enhanced assistance in our judicial system.

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Floridians could spend less on auto registration fees in 2014 through a new proposal introduced today by the House Finance & Tax Subcommittee.

If passed, the cost reductions would take effect on September 1, 2014.

PCB FTSC 14-04 significantly cuts taxes, fees, and surcharges that Florida drivers pay for motor vehicle registrations —an estimated reduction of $25.05 for heavy weight vehicles, $21.55 for medium weight vehicles, and $18.55 for light weight vehicles.

The proposal would save taxpayers $309 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year, and as much as $395 million every year afterwards.


Some Florida residents may be using EBT cards to buy liquor, which is illegal.

Amid the federal backdrop of rising welfare entitlements, Florida lawmakers made it illegal a year ago to use the electronic benefit transfer cards at strip clubs, casinos and establishments licensed under Florida’s Beverage Law that sell distilled spirits.

That includes all liquor stores, according to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Records obtained by show nearly $25,000— from April 2013 through January 2014 — was withdrawn from liquor store ATM machines using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families EBT cards. compiled ATM withdrawal figures only from establishments with “liquor” in their store titles, and we limited the review to Florida’s eight most populous cities.

Point-of-sale machines, or electronic cash registers, were blocked from accepting EBT cards at prohibited locations in October.


Additional restrictions on pharmacy audits passed a Senate committee Thursday, despite objections from the managed-care industry.

Sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, SB 702 — supported by the Florida Pharmacy Association and Walgreens Inc. — addresses audits conducted by pharmacy-benefit managers, who work for health plans.

According to Bean, the bill establishes rights such as making sure pharmacies have adequate notice before audits. Several in the pharmacy industry have protested, saying that audits often lead to financial penalties for minor things such as clerical errors.

But Joy Ryan, who lobbies for pharmacy-benefit manager Prime Therapeutics, whose customers include the Florida Blue healthcare plan, said pharmacy audits are meant to focus on issues such as costs, quality and potential fraud.

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SUPREME COURT TOSSES MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CAPS via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press

Caps placed on how much money people can receive in cases where a doctor’s mistakes led to a patient’s death were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.

The lawsuit limits were part of a law then-Republican Gov. Jeb Bush pushed in 2003 in an effort to lower the cost of malpractice insurance rates and to keep doctors from moving out of state. Supporters at the time called skyrocketing insurance rates a crisis.

In a 5-2 decision, the court said the caps in such cases violate the equal protection guarantee in the state’s constitution.

“The cap on non-economic damages serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members,” the court wrote.

Thirty-five states have some type of cap on medical malpractice awards, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida becomes at least the seventh state to declare medical malpractice award limits unconstitutional. The ruling doesn’t affect other states because it is based on the Florida constitution.

The case involved a lawsuit filed against the federal government by the parents of Michelle McCall, who died after giving birth in 2006 while being treated by U.S. Air Force doctors at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. A jury awarded her parents and son $2 million, but a federal court lowered the award to $1 million, citing the state law.


Florida Medical Association President Alan Harmon, M.D., released the following statement regarding the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate medical liability reforms capping the amount of money for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases:

“The FMA is extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision. This decision imperils our considerable efforts to make Florida the best state in the nation for physicians to practice medicine and for patients to receive care.

“The Florida Legislature enacted these caps in 2003 to counter the out-of-control litigation that was driving physicians out of the state and discouraging new physicians to locate in Florida. The caps have helped begin to stabilize the medical liability climate in Florida. Insurance premiums, while still high compared to other states, have started to level off since the caps were put into place.

“Thanks to the Florida Supreme Court, we can be sure that patients will face an intensified access to care crisis. The likely outcome will be that trial lawyers will refocus their sights on physicians, meritless lawsuits will clog our courts, and physicians will move to states with a more favorable litigation climate, like Texas. Patients should expect longer wait times and reduced access to specialists like OB-GYNs, neurosurgeons, and general surgeons. This is the last thing Florida patients and physicians need.”

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Since TFS launched, we have repeatedly cited John Kirtley, a Tampa venture capitalist and the force behind the national pro-voucher group “All Children Matter” as a malign force that was able to use campaign contributions to possibly influence the thoughts of many Democrats on the school “choice” issue.  In 2012, Kirtley and his allies poured money into the Democratic primary campaigns for State Senate of Rep. Ron Saunders and Rep. Mac Bernard. Fortunately for public school advocates, strong progressive voices Rep. Dwight Bullard and Rep. Jeff Clemens were elected to the Senate instead, which blocked the push by voucher groups to gain a majority of support in the upper-chamber of the Florida Legislature.

Voucher advocates have had for years trouble corralling moderate Senate Republicans but recently have scored numerous successes in the House even among Democrats. As we discussed, recently many Democrats in the House have sacrificed support for public schools in the last few sessions for various reasons, be they campaign contributions, to curry favor with the House GOP leadership or because of a lack of Democratic leadership on this issue.

Today it is critical that all elected Democrats and those seeking election in Florida stick together on this fundamental constitutional issue. However, this cycle the aforementioned John Kirtley donated to the re-election campaigns of five sitting House Democrats, perhaps once again increasing his ability to influence the House Caucus deliberations on this issue.

Reps. Bruce Antone, Katie Edwards, Shevrin Jones, Bobby Powell and Clovis Watson all accepted  $500 checks directly from Kirtley in this cycle. These checks were accepted by the members just as voucher legislation was beginning to make its way through the process on the House side.

As school “choice” legislation continues to progress this session, we will be closely tracking the votes and statements of Democrats on this matter of the greatest importance to our state and our children.

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Michael Abrams, Monica Rodriguez, Ballard Partners: Shands Healthcare

Doug Bruce, Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb PA: Association of Support Coordination Agencies; Gold Coast Distributors

Demian Pasquarelli: FL Assn for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas FAVACA


The Senate fine-tuned a high-priority ethics bill with a new lobbying restriction that observers say is aimed directly at former Senate President Ken Pruitt, who works as a Tallahassee lobbyist while also serving as St. Lucie County’s elected property appraiser.

Pruitt was a well-liked Republican Senate president from 2006-08, but his high-profile lobbying practice in Tallahassee (15 clients, including Florida Crystals Corp. and the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office) doesn’t sit well with senators.

The amendment, by another former Senate president, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, won a unanimous vote in the 19-member, Republican-dominated Senate Appropriations Committee. Lee’s amendment would prohibit constitutional officers such as sheriffs, state attorneys and property appraisers from lobbying for compensation. The restriction would take effect after the next election.

“If I had my druthers, you’d have to pick which side of this equation you want to be on,” Lee said. “You either want to be an elected official and represent the people or you want to be a lobbyist and represent special interests.”

Lee said his amendment would not prohibit local elected officials from lobbying on behalf of their boards or statewide associations, such as a public defender testifying on behalf of a statewide group.

Lobbyists tracking the ethics bill (SB 846) openly refer to Lee’s amendment as “the Ken Pruitt amendment.” Pruitt’s hometown newspapers on the Treasure Coast havespotlighted his lucrative sideline as a lobbyist. The Florida Commission on Ethics has ruled that nothing in Florida law prohibits a constitutional officer from also working as a lobbyist.


On Context Florida: Alex Sink snatched defeat from the jaws of victory once again in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, says Daniel Tilson. That’s not a big surprise. More guns in school, in the form of armed “school marshals,” is a lousy idea, says Rick Outzen. David Jolly’s “convincing” win in CD 13 was a national referendum on the status quo in Washington, according to former GOP State Sen. John Grant. The protest against “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws in Tallahassee may have sent a powerful message, but ultimately one that has little impact on the issue, writes Andrew Skerritt.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Facing Florida with Mike Vasalinda: Lauren Book, Steve Schale

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on Miami’s CBS 4: State Sen. Chris Smith and state Rep. Erik Fresen.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times; Dr. Darryl Paulson, Professor Emeritus of Government, USF-St. Petersburg; Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long; Bill Bunting, Republican State Committeeman for Pasco County.

Political Connections on Tampa Bay’s BayNews 9: I don’t know because Adam Smith is not talking to me right now.

Political Connections on CF 13: Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli.

The Usual Suspects which airs on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Steve Vancore, Gary Yordon, Sean Pittman, and Sen. Pres. Don Gaetz.


Cory Guzzo emails the details … Saturday will mark the 4th annual version of SmithAPalooza.  It will be from 3:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the Fifth Avenue Tap Room in Tallahassee. This year, there will be a great band from Nashville called Ocean Street as the main entertainment.  The planning committee consists of myself, Kevin Reilly, Jon Yapo, Dan Dawson, and, of course, Ryan Smith. $10 is collected at the door from each person and 100% of proceeds benefit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Big Bend. The event started four years ago as a birthday party for Ryan Smith (one of SaintPetersBlog’s 30-under-30 choices and each year there is a different cinematic theme, complete with a custom made logo that is displayed on the coozies that are handed out for donating to the charity. This year’s theme is James Bond and don’t be surprised to see some dressed in everything from tuxes and suits to jeans and a t-shirt. The first SmithAPalooza was held at a house in Midtown but after multiple visits from the local authorities due to noise complaints, it was decided that the next year the event would be moved to the Tap Room. The event is known to attract mostly legislative staffers, lobbyists, and the occasional Representative or Senator. It is still held to celebrate Ryan’s birthday (March 8th), but we have expanded it to become a charity event and a way for politicos to get together and socialize at the beginning of Session. This year was going to be the first year that SmithAPalooza was going to be on his actual birthday but the special election forced us to move it to March 15th. The week after the party, we go down to the Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters across from Leon High School and present them with the donations. Last year we raised over $2,000 and this year we expect to raise more. Let me know if you need anything else or have any other questions. Take care buddy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to my friend Chris Mitchell, former state Rep. Scott Plakon, and Sachs Media Group’s Ryan Cohn. Celebrating today is man-about-town Andy Graham and Seth Platt.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.