Sunburn for 3/17 – 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.***

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

THE WEEK AHEAD

Florida will pay a final tribute during the coming week to former Gov. Reubin Askew, who died Thursday at age 85. Events are planned in Tallahassee and Pensacola, which Askew represented in the Legislature before getting elected governor in 1970. Also during the coming week, lawmakers will start focusing heavily on budget proposals for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THIS WEEK

1. What will the fallout be from the Miami Herald‘s series of investigations into the state child-welfare system which began on Sunday?

2. Where’s the, um, pork? Three appropriations subcommittees discuss budget issues on Monday, then several more meet throughout the week as the Senate prepares to release an initial 2014-15 spending plan.

3. Will the (somewhat) good economic news in Florida continue?  The state Department of Economic Opportunity will release unemployment numbers for January this week.

4. Will it snow in Miami? Probably not, but will the standoff between Speaker Will Weatherford and Sen. Greg Evers defrost? Or is this the beginning of chilly relations between the House and Senate?

5. How nasty will it get in the CD 19 special election? With the special election in Pinellas County put to bed, all eyes turn to Southwest Florida where Curt Clawson and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto are engaged in an increasingly bitter GOP primary.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: REUBIN ASKEW MEMORIALS SCHEDULED THROUGHOUT THE WEEK

This week, a number of services in both Tallahassee and Pensacola will remember former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who passed last week at age 85. Askew, a Pensacola native, was one of the most influential politicians in Florida history.

On Tuesday, Askew’s body will lie in state Florida’s Historic Capitol from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Among the dignitaries honoring the former governor are Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Cabinet, Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford.

A memorial service is Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Tallahassee Faith Presbyterian Church.

Askew’s body will lie in repose at his home church, First Presbyterian Church Pensacola, on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. CT, located at 33 East Gregory St. An honor guard escort provided by Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan will accompany the casket.

Burial with full military honors will be Friday at Bayview Memorial Park, 3351 Scenic Highway, Pensacola, beginning with a graveside service 11 a.m. CT.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Children’s Home Society of Florida, the Tallahassee Lafayette Presbyterian Church or a charity of the contributor’s choice.

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OBAMA: ENOUGH HAVE ENROLLED FOR STABLE HEALTH CARE via The Associated Press

President Barack Obama says enough people have signed up for health care to make his signature law work.

Obama tells medical web site WebMD that the 4.2 million people enrolled for this year, “is already large enough that I’m confident the program will be stable.”

The president acknowledged in an interview posted Friday that the mix of people who sign up is actually more important than the number. More young and healthy people need to enroll to offset the cost of caring for older, sicker patients.

Obama’s 30-minute interview with the health information web site is part of his campaign to get more Americans to enroll before the March 31 deadline to get coverage for this year.

OBAMA TO VISIT ORLANDO LATER THIS WEEK via Mark Matthews of the Orlando Sentinel

President Obama is headed back to Orlando Thursday for an “event on the economy,” according to a two-sentence announcement by the White House.

The administration provided no other details, other than to say more information would be available about the trip in the coming days.

In recent months, the president has focused his economic policies on the issue of income inequality while taking small steps to increase the minimum wage and overtime pay for some workers. But there is no indication that this topic will be the focus of his visit.

But it’s a destination he’s getting to know well; as a candidate and president, Obama repeatedly has visited Central Florida.

Notably, he used Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom as backdrop in January 2012 to announce a new effort to make it easier for foreign tourists to visit the U.S. cities and hotspots. And in April 2011, he traveled to Kennedy Space Center to try and watch the take-off of space shuttle Endeavour, though the launch was scrubbed that day.

POLL: JEB STRONGEST AGAINST HILLARY BUT HUCKABEE LEADS GOP via Alexandra Jaffe of The Hill

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the strongest potential GOP contender against prospective Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a new poll — but he’s not the pick of Republicans.

The survey, conducted by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling via both telephone and online polls, shows former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee leading the GOP pack, with 18 percent support to 15 percent for Bush, 14 percent for both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul, and 11 percent for Sen. Ted Cruz.

The other Republicans tested —  Sen. Marco Rubio , Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — all take less than 10 percent.

But Bush is Clinton’s toughest opponent at this point, trailing her by 3 points, with 44 percent support. Clinton takes 46 percent to Christie’s 42 percent support, and Paul and Ryan lag her by 5 points.

The former Secretary of State maintains a commanding lead in the Democratic field, with 66 percent support, while Vice President Biden comes in a far second with 11 percent support.

The Republican field remains largely unchanged from previous polls, though Christie’s support — which had cratered over the past two months as details surrounding the George Washington Bridge scandal ensnared his administration — appears to have leveled off.

While Christie’s favorability ticked up slightly, he’s still seen the least favorably of any of the potential GOP presidential contenders.

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COMMON CORE HOT ISSUE IN CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN via Ledyard King of News-Press.com

The wide-ranging education-reform bill state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto co-sponsored last year advanced a number of conservative priorities: merit pay for teachers, lower college tuition costs, and more flexibility for students in pursuing career education.

The measure also included language codifying Common Core, a standards program developed by states and championed by the Obama administration that many conservatives believe invites federal oversight of local schools.

That was enough for one of Benacquisto’s rivals in the upcoming Republican congressional primary. Paige Kreegel blasted Benacquisto for enabling “a federal takeover of our children’s education.”

Benacquisto says she never backed the program. And she quickly distanced herself from any association with Common Core by touting her co-sponsorship this year of legislation that would block its implementation.

Championed by former Gov. Bush, Common Core has become a radioactive issue among Tea Party-leaning conservatives in Florida and other parts of the country.

Former corporate chief Curt Clawson called it a “disaster,” while businessman Larry Driekorn blasted it as “federalization of our K-12 system, no doubt about it.”

Despite the harsh rhetoric, Common Core is not a federal mandate but the product of a collaboration among governors and state school superintendents. Florida and 44 other states and the District of Columbia voluntarily adopted the program.

PAIGE KREEGEL CALLS OPPONENT TO SAY SUPER PAC ATTACK IS COMING, RAISING QUESTIONS via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

“Yeah, Curt,” the voice message began, “Paige Kreegel.”

Kreegel was calling Curt Clawson. They are GOP opponents in the CD 19 special election.

“If you don’t already know, I just read or heard that the PAC people are going to spend so much negative on her and so much negative on you. It’s not something I wanted, and not something I can prevent. Anyway, that’s the way it is.”

How did Kreegel know?

Though the Values are Vital PAC is pro-Kreegel, he is barred by law from coordinating with the group.

The questions surrounding his ties to the group add to a larger story of the murky walls between campaigns and a growing number of outside groups. Values are Vital is run by Anthony Farhat, who was Kreegel’s finance director in 2012. It is one of two Super PACs that are playing in the race, the other apparently backing Benacquisto.

But two former campaign staffers say Kreegel discussed setting up an outside attack group in the 2012 race, which was won by now former Rep. Trey Radel.

The aides say Kreegel refused to go negative on Radel in the GOP primary, just as he has done in this race. “But he wanted to do it through a third party. He wanted to set up a Super PAC to hit Radel,” said Matt Dobler, who managed the 2012 campaign.

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CRIST’S OBAMACARE CONUNDRUM via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Opposed to Obamacare when he was a Republican, Crist is now a Democrat and is all for the Affordable Care Act.

Such flip-flops and evolutions and pirouettes make Crist’s relationship with the unpopular law one of the most-complicated in the nation.

Now it might be one of the riskiest.

Yet Crist has little choice but to embrace the law right now. Running in a primary against Nan Rich, Crist needs to prove his Democratic bona fides. The Democratic base approves of the law.

“I think it’s been great,” Crist said in a CNN interview last Sunday.

It wasn’t great for Crist’s fellow Democrat Alex Sink, who narrowly lost a special election Tuesday for a congressional seat based in Crist’s home county, Pinellas.

Obamacare wasn’t the only issue in the race. But conservatives made the law a major point.

Gov. Rick Scott is doing the same in the governor’s race. His team Friday released a web ad highlighting Crist’s support for the law and President Obama’s latest backtrack on the law when he admitted some people might not be able to keep their doctors, despite the president’s prior promise.

CRIST RENTS PLACE IN FISHER ISLAND via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Crist has been spending so much time in South Florida — from where most of the big Democratic campaign money comes — that he and wife Carole Crist have rented a place on tony Fisher Island near Miami’s South Beach. Mrs. Crist used to own condos there but sold them after marrying the former governor.

ENVIRONMENT BECOMES AN ISSUE IN THE GUBERNATORIAL RACE via Kevin Darby of the Sunshine State News

With a tough election looming in November, Gov. Scott looked to showcase his commitment to the environment while his chief rival went on the attack this week.

Scott, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Herschel Vinyard and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs held a media event on Friday to announce 11 wastewater and stormwater projects are getting more than $27 million in loans from DEP’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

Three projects are getting the bulk of the money with Cocoa Beach getting $6 million for sewer rehabilitation and stormwater improvements, Orange County’s Eastern Water Reclamation Facility in Orlando getting the same amount for improvements while a sewer project in Lake Wales is also getting $6 million. Other communities are getting less money, with Cape Canaveral getting $3.9 million, Daytona Beach getting more than $2.2 million for two projects, $1.5 million headed to Gulfport, Umatilla receiving $800,000, two projects in Tavares getting $700,000 and South Daytona receiving $160,000.

Earlier this week, Crist pointed to a PolitiFact story focusing on Scott’s commitment to spending on the environment and went on the attack. The former governor maintained Scott was more concerned with padding his record for November than actually caring about the environment.

SLOW GOING ON TALKS BETWEEN SEMINOLE TRIBE, GOV. SCOTT’S OFFICE TO RENEW REVENUE-SHARING DEAL via James Rosica of PolitcalFixFlorida.com

Although meetings have begun to renew a gambling revenue-sharing agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Gov. Scott hasn’t been at the table.

Neither has Barry Richard, the tribe’s outside counsel in Tallahassee.

But even at this early stage, Richard says there’s little room for the state to negotiate more money out of the arrangement because of strict federal regulations.

Lawmakers – including Weatherford – have said a proposed statewide gambling overhaul hinges on Scott renegotiating the “exclusivity” provision of the Seminole Compact.

The Compact guarantees income to the state – $1 billion over five years – from the tribe’s gambling revenue in return for the ability to exclusively offer blackjack and other card games at locations including Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

The card-game part of the deal expires in mid-2015.

Indian gambling is governed by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a 1988 law. That law says that tribes can’t pay states more than the cost of regulation, Richard said.

But the U.S. Department of the Interior has interpreted the law to mean that a tribe can give a cut to a state in return for exclusive rights to a game, he added.

MEANWHILE … SEMINOLE TRIBE APPEARS TO BE PLANNING MAJOR EXPANSION IN COLLIER COUNTY via The Naples Daily News

The Seminole Tribe has been quietly planning another expansion of its casino in the northeast Collier County town with agricultural roots. This time, it would include a long-rumored hotel, possibly a Hard Rock.

While the tribe has yet to publicly announce its latest plans, casino employees have shared details of the project with the Immokalee Water & Sewer District, which recently approved new meters and hookups to support the expansion.

“They want to break ground on the hotel in April and finish in December,” said Eva Deyo, the district’s executive director. “They are also expanding the casino at the same time.”

The district’s board recently approved new meters and water-sewer lines for the casino, which will cost the tribe more than $75,000 to install.

Plans call for an estimated 110-room hotel, said Fred Thomas, the district’s board chairman.

“They are planning to put up a four-story hotel,” he said. “It’s going to be up against the back of the casino.”

The tribe, he said, hopes to open the hotel by Christmas.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce Florida jobs numbers and make a jobs announcement. 420 South Orange Avenue, Suite 190, Orlando. 9:30 a.m.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott and Stanley Tate will discuss tuition and college affordability at Barbara Goleman Senior High School. Miami Lakes. 3:30 p.m.

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BEER DISTRIBUTORS, BREWERS FIGHT OVER GROWLERS via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press

Florida allows craft breweries to fill and sell unlimited amounts of gallon- and quart-sized beer jugs, popularly called growlers. But half-gallon growlers, the most-popular size in the 47 other states that allow them, are banned.

That has long vexed the typically small Florida craft beer makers, who ask: Why does the Legislature refuse to change a law it can’t explain and that seemingly goes against its opposition to overregulation in other industries?

“I don’t know,” Senate President Gaetz said recently.

But the Panhandle Republican, who says he’s a free-market, anti-regulation, pro-business legislator, knows why the repeal is facing long odds again this year: a friend and major GOP donor, who happens to be a Budweiser distributor, asked him to support a bill that includes several provisions that the craft beer industry says will slow their rapid growth and could cause some to close.

While that sounds at odds with his principles, Gaetz acknowledged he will support whatever Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor Lewis Bear tells him to support.

On top of that, political committees supported by Anheuser-Busch distributors and run by their lobbyist Mitch Rubin have donated about $1 million to candidates and political committees over the years, to both Republicans and Democrats.

HELP FOR THE EVERGLADES FACES $100 MILLION HURDLE via Andy Reed of the South Florida SunSentinel

Delivering help for the Everglades and relief for polluted coastal waterways requires squeezing $100 million a year of public money out of the Florida Legislature, South Florida officials said last week.

Cost concerns remain a huge hurdle for the Central Everglades plan — which could get more Lake Okeechobee water flowing south to the Everglades instead of draining it out to sea and hurting coastal fishing grounds.

Florida officials are trying to persuade Congress to split the nearly $2 billion total cost of the new Everglades project, but must first show how the state would pay for its share.

The South Florida Water Management District — which leads Everglades restoration — disclosed that it anticipates needing $100 million a year for about 20 years from the state’s Save Our Everglades Trust Fund to pay for the Central Everglades plan and other ongoing restoration efforts.

But the Everglades Trust Fund isn’t as trustworthy a funding source as it sounds, with state lawmakers ultimately deciding how much of that money flows to Florida’s famed River of Grass.

REPORT: FLORIDA HAD SECOND-HIGHEST PROPERTY INSURANCE RATE HIKES LAST YEAR via Gary Rohrer of the Florida Current

A report released by the Perr & Knight insurance consulting firm shows Florida’s property insurance rates climbed by 11 percent in 2013, the second-highest increase in the country, after Oklahoma with 12.1 percent.

At first glance, the report would seem to contradict a recent analysis from Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty showing that rates are “trending downward” in the state.

The discrepancy between the two reports is due to timing and the types of companies analyzed. The Perr & Knight report looked at 2013 rates based on 2012 rate filings from all companies in Florida, including state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. McCarty’s report only focused on the 30 private companies in the state with the most policies and looked at 2013 rate filings that are just now hitting the market.

The Perr & Knight report shows why Gov. Scott and lawmakers didn’t jump on McCarty’s analysis, bragging to voters their policies are bringing rates down. Again, McCarty’s report didn’t include Citizens, the largest company in the state, whose customers will see a statewide average increase of more than 6 percent this year. The “statewide average” term is key as well – many people around the state continue to see rate hikes. Plus, even those with lesser rates won’t see them until they renew their policies this year.

In other words, homeowners are still reeling from years of rate hikes following the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when a series of storms swept across the state. One major hurricane this year would likely see a return of rate increases for most private companies.

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LAWMAKERS STRUGGLE TO DEFINE THEIR TERMS WHEN IT COMES TO GAMBLING via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

What’s an “expansion of gambling”?

It all depends on how you read a proposed constitutional amendment (PCB 14-01) now being considered by the Florida House.

The Select Committee on Gaming chewed it over on Thursday, starting with a back-and-forth between Reps. Matt Gaetz and Jim Waldman.

The text of the amendment says expansion “means the introduction of gambling other than” at places where it’s currently allowed.

It also “includes the introduction of additional types or categories of gambling at any facility or location.”

“That means, if you’re authorized to have 50 slot machines and you currently have 49 slot machines, adding the 50th would not be an expansion of gambling,” Gaetz said.

But what if a casino, say, adds another 50 slot machines to the 50 it has now, doubling the number of machines, asked Rep. David Richardson. Isn’t that an expansion?

Not according to the amendment, Gaetz answered.

LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND via The Florida Current

Senate President Don Gaetz has hired Emily Badraun as a legislative assistant in his district office. Badraun is a University of California graduate and has worked for the California State Assembly and the Young America’s Foundation.

PUBLIC RECORDS LAWS MAY GET TEETH UNDER FLORIDA SENATE BILL via Steve Miller of PNJ.com

A measure aimed at strengthening Florida’s public records laws moved easily through a Senate committee, coincidentally the same day former Gov. Reubin Askew died.

He had led the campaign to pass Florida’s 1976 Sunshine Amendment, which required financial disclosure by all public officials, candidates and employees.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeremy Ring, pleases open government advocates as an ambitious effort that would limit fees for record searches, define which records are confidential or exempt in keeping with existing court decisions and require private contractors for government agencies to inform that agency before it denies a public records request.

The bill (SB 1648) also requires public agencies to train all employees on the state’s open records laws.

Most of the bills moving through the Legislature seek exemptions to the Sunshine law rather than to enhance it, adding to the nearly 1,000 exemptions already in place.

EDITORIAL OF THE DAY – HELP US CHAMPION OPEN GOVERNMENT via the South Florida SunSentinel

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, a chance to highlight the importance of laws that allow us to keep an eye on how government spends our money, manages our business and protects our communities.

But this year, rather than highlight the attacks that should be squashed, let us spotlight the bills that should pass.

First on our list is SB 1648, which would let you request records verbally and force an agency to cite a statute that requires you to put a request in writing. This legislation also would help rein in the hyper-inflated costs some governments now charge for copies of records. No longer could City Hall charge you for high-level staff time — or the cost of employee benefits — in fulfilling your records request. More than anything, this bill would start to make public access a little more affordable.

Then there’s SB 718, which complements a law passed last year that requires government to provide citizens a reasonable right to be heard on issues to be voted upon by additionally requiring they place on the agenda any item expected to draw a vote or other action.

And HB 1153, which would shine a light on Direct-Support Organizations that raise cash for government entities and operate under a cloak of secrecy. The bill would require agencies that benefit from DSOs to report basic information, including a list of officers, salaries and income sources.

Sunshine laws are a cornerstone of democracy. But they take maintenance and an ever-watchful public eye.

Open government laws work for you. Help us be their champion.

REVAMP OF STATE’S PHARMACY BOARD IN WORKS via Steve Miller of the Associated Press

The Legislature is considering a bill that would change the composition of the state’s Board of Pharmacy to increase representation for smaller and larger pharmacies.

The measure would raise from one to three the number of seats reserved for pharmacists representing both small operations and large chain stores. The number of at-large spots, reserved for people with pharmacy licenses, would be reduced from five to one. Two people would continue serving as consumer representatives.

The legislative proposal by Sen. Denise Grimsley follows an outcry by some in the pharmaceutical community against a measure that would have increased the number of pharmacy technicians who can be overseen by a pharmacist from three to six.

That proposal proved controversial because many in the industry felt that the Board – not the Legislature – should have the authority to make such a change.

According to a 2012 survey by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, 17 states have no restrictions on the number of technicians a pharmacist can oversee. Florida is one of 13 states with a 3-to-1 ratio. Current law says a licensed pharmacist may not supervise more than one technician unless the board gives permission. The maximum is three.

The Florida Retail Federation is opposed to giving the Pharmacy Board the power to increase the technician ratio, in part because it has been without an executive director since October, said Melissa Joiner, its director of government affairs.

The Pharmacy Board now has the authority to grant a pharmacy’s application to increase its technician ratio.

IN TALLAHASSEE’S WARPED WORLDVIEW, WEAPONRY TRUMPS ALL via Michael Mayo of the South Florida SunSentinel

Another year, another round of gun law lunacy in Tallahassee.

This time, legislators might allow teachers and principals to pack heat in schools. They might loosen the already loose Stand Your Ground law to allow gun owners to fire warning shots if they feel threatened in public. And they don’t want to revisit a 2011 law that prohibits local regulations on guns and punishes local elected officials who enact gun ordinances stricter than state law.

So now, we have an absurd and frightening landscape where a backyard gun range can sprout in a dense residential area, and local officials would be powerless to stop it unless they risked being thrown out of office and fined by the state.

In Florida, local governments can regulate petty things like where you can plant a home garden or what kind of fence you can have, but not where a homeowner’s bullets might fly.

If the standard definition of a liberal is somebody who thinks problems can be solved with money, the emerging definition of a conservative is somebody who thinks problems can be solved with guns.

Legislators have also shot down efforts to undo the controversial Stand Your Ground law after the high-profile shooting deaths of two unarmed youths, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, in separate incidents. Stand Your Ground, enacted last decade, expanded the right to use lethal force in public places without a duty to retreat. Floridians already had that right in their homes under the self-defense law known as the Castle Doctrine.

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NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Christopher Hansen, Ballard Partners: Walgreens Company

Matt Bryan, Daniel David, Jeff Hartley, Jim Naff, Andrea Reilly, Smith, Bryan & Myers: Health Network One/HN1

Michael Cantens, Corcoran & Johnson: Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc.

Beth Gosnell, bg & associates international: Florida Association of Wholesale Distributors, Inc.

Burt Saunders, GrayRobinson: Collier County Board of County Commissioners; Cooperative Services of Florida, Inc.; LeeSar

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CONTEXT FLORIDA CONTRIBUTORS SOUND-OFF ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY

CATHERINE DURKIN ROBINSON: IRISH-AMERICANS WERE ONCE DESPISED IMMIGRANTS via Context Florida

My ancestors, immigrants from Ireland, faced religious ignorant nativists to fight for a better life for themselves and their descendants. For me and my kids, essentially. We owe them a commitment to never forget that sacrifice.

St. Patrick, the man we celebrate today, was a slave for a time. He broke free from bondage and never bitterly formed a terrorist organization or right-wing blog. Imagine that? Instead, he devoted his life to ending slavery.

He wasn’t completely successful. Between 1641 and 1652, the British killed more than half a million Irish and forced another 300,000 into servitude while taking over the country.

In the 1800s, the Irish endured The Great Famine, which killed hundreds of thousands because the potato, a main source of food, suffered a fungus. Meanwhile, the British exported most of the edible food to Great Britain — leaving the Irish to starve.

At the same time, Ireland lost most of its greatest source of strength – its people – to America. Many of the millions who didn’t flee perished, hungry children and their parents with mouths stained green from the grass they tried to eat while dying.

Irish immigrants used church, pubs, civic organizations, political involvement, intelligence, honor and humor to rise above their sad conditions, encouraging their children to study and work hard so that future generations wouldn’t have the same struggles.

That is also what we celebrate today.

ED MOORE: ST. PATRICK’S DAY: THE ONE DAY EACH YEAR WHEN EVERYONE IS IRISH via Context Florida

At least one day a year everyone is Irish, St. Patrick’s Day, and some of us are lucky all year long.

It is a day that has become a cultural holiday in the U.S., especially if you live near many of the large American cities like Chicago, Boston and New York where Irish immigrants settled in huge numbers starting in the pre-Civil War era and then in several waves over the next 100 years.

The Irish brought much of their culture with them. They proved to be model immigrants and shared their survival skills with waves of new Americans who arrived starting in the 1890s. They were mostly Italians, Germans and Jews from all over Europe.

The key cultural construct during the era of Irish assimilation was the Catholic parishes — the center of all things Irish. The new Americans carried with them their faith and the holidays and rituals associated with that faith.

The Irish diaspora brought not only St Patrick’s Day, but a host of other holidays, including what became Halloween. It originally was called Samhain by the Celts. The religious holidays became so ubiquitous that governments eventually had to rein them in. There were so many that they disrupted businesses and schools.

But one that stayed and grew was St. Patrick’s Day, named after the Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Padraic. March 17 is a national holiday in the Republic of Ireland. Ostensibly in the U.S. it is also a day of remembrance, but in the modern era it has become an excuse to party.

But the legend is all good – and this day, of all days, you just have to celebrate the man, the legends, and the country! But be careful out there and while guzzling a Guinness take a moment or two to think about the power of faith and a belief in something far greater than ourselves. Slainte’!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran and Adam Goodman. Celebrating today is St. Pete City Councilman Steve Kornell, House candidate Sean Shaw, Florida TaxWatch’s Robert Weisert, and our friend Frank Wells.

HOW TO WIN BUFFET’S $1 BILLION BASKETBALL CONTEST via Jack Hough of Barrons

Registration has started for the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, offered by Quicken Loans and backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Fill out a perfect March Madness bracket, predicting the winner of all 63 games in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, and Buffett will hand you $1 billion-sort of. He’ll actually hand you either $500 million now or $25 million a year for 40 years, for a total of $1 billion. The latter deal is like getting an annuity with a 4.2% yearly return. … A monkey’s odds of getting every game right would be akin to flipping heads on a coin 63 consecutive times. That works out to about one in nine quintillion.

But even a monkey knows not to bet against a top-seeded team in the first round, or even a No. 2 seed. After that it gets more difficult. … The most important [predictor] is the strength of a team’s schedule during the regular season. Between two teams with similar win percentages, favor the one that has played the tougher opponents. Recent wins are more predictive than early-season ones, in the same way momentum stock traders favor shares that are hitting new highs now rather than ones that are up big over the past year but have backed off in recent weeks. Next, look for teams that have done well on the road. And favor ones that have put together long strings of consecutive wins.’

When judging teams on average margin of victory, use a cap of, say, 15 points, because coaches often send in second-string players rather than run up the score. … ESPN has held a bracket tournament for 16 years with over 30 million entries. The number of perfect brackets? Zero. The number of games it took last year to reduce the field of entries to one winner? Just 24.

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.