Sunburn for 3/19 — A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

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OBAMCARE ENROLLMENT HITS 5 MILLION WITH TWO WEEKS TO GO via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO

The administration said 5 million people have signed up for coverage with two weeks to go until the March 31 deadline. The surging pace could revive White House hopes of enrolling 6 million by the end of the month.

MORNING MUST-READ: JEB BUSH IN THE WHITE HOUSE? HE’S CONSIDERING IT? via Michael Mishak of The Associated Press

Jeb Bush gets the question at just about every public appearance these days: Will you run for president?

The former Florida governor gives a well-worn answer: “I can honestly tell you that I don’t know what I’m going to do.” It’s an answer that won’t satisfy the GOP faithful for much longer.

The scion of the Bush political dynasty will likely be asked the question many times in the coming weeks as he raises his profile with appearances in Tennessee, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas — where he’ll bump into another possible 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Bush’s “yes” or “no” is one of the most significant factors looming over the 2016 Republican presidential contest. A White House bid by the brother and son of presidents would shake up a wide-open GOP field, attract a legion of big-money donors and set up a showdown with the influential tea party movement. Bush has said he’ll consult with his family this summer and make a decision by the end of the year.

… Friends and advisers say he is seriously considering a presidential run. His busy schedule will do little to quiet speculation.

This month, Bush is expected to visit New Mexico and Nevada to campaign for Republican governors there, even though both incumbents are widely expected to cruise to re-election. In Las Vegas, he’ll address leaders of the Republican Jewish Coalition, an influential political group backed by casino magnate and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

And in Dallas next week, Bush is scheduled to co-host an education conference where Clinton is also set to appear.

With no clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Bush’s standing is rising in early presidential polls and among donors. His popularity with wealthy insiders was on display last month at a Republican fundraiser in the gilded ballroom of Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Palm Beach estate. The night’s keynote speaker was a tea party firebrand, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, but a short video message from Bush received far more applause.

“Jeb is striking a chord amongst many thoughtful donors,” said Fred Malek, finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

“He’s a proven conservative,” Malek said. “But at the same time, he is not viewed as extreme or an ideologue and therefore can appeal to the moderate element of the party as well.”

Bush would carry both the benefits and the baggage of one of America’s most prominent political dynasties. Its patriarch, George H.W. Bush, was elected to one term in 1988; his son, George W. Bush, served two presidential terms beginning in 2001. The family’s vast fundraising network and political connections, in addition to Jeb Bush’s own constellation of donors and advisers, could fuel a formidable campaign. A senior adviser at the financial firm Barclays, Jeb Bush remains a favorite of the Wall Street set.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross will speak at the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce at the Florida Festival Fairgrounds Expo Building, 303 N. Lemon Street in Plant City.

DCCC HITS STEVE SOUTHERLAND IN CD 2

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a new paid campaign to highlight Steve Southerland’s record on health care, which it says “hurts the people of Florida at every stage of their lives.”

Sick N’ Broke – modeled after the Game of Life – features an online board game that tracks “the many costly games Congressman Southerland plays with Americans’ health care, from the cradle to the grave. “

“Whether it’s being able to afford an emergency C-section, making sure kids get the right nutrition, ensuring women don’t have to pay more for their care or guaranteeing Medicare’s future, Congressman Southerland and his Republicans play reckless games that hurt your health at every stage of life – all because they would rather stack the deck for their special interest buddies,” said Emily Bittner of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Now you can see just how much of a mess Congressman Southerland would make of your health care – but one spoiler alert: in this game, you can’t win.”

See the ad running in Congressman Southerland’s district below or play the game at www.RepublicanHealthGames.com

MAIL-IN BALLOTS BEGIN GOING OUT IN CD 19 GOP PRIMARY Full blog post here

Collier County begins sending mail-in ballots today for the April 22 GOP special primary for Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto faces former automobile-wheel manufacturer CEO Curt Clawson; defense industry expert Michael Dreikorn; and former State Rep. Paige Kreegel in the GOP primary set for April 22.

Collier County is overwhelmingly Republican, with more than twice the numbers of registered GOP than Democrats, according to the Supervisor of Elections figures; there are 91,372 Republicans and 43,410 Democrats, 40,584 No Party Affiliation and 4,496 “Other.”

Voters wanting to submit requests online can visit www.CollierVotes.com, and click on the “Vote by Mail” tab.

FLORIDA RANKS NO. 11 IN NATION AND NO. 1 IN SOUTH FOR GENDER EQUALITY IN THE U.S. HOUSE

Just out: a state-by-state quarter-century report card looking at gender equality in the U.S. House, looking at how each state has fared in such representation between 1989 and 2014. In looking at 5,325 congressional elections, the Smart Politics study finds that the number of female representatives has tripled over the last 25 years, but with lots of variation between states.

The study opens by noting the loss of Alex Sink last week — but notes that nevertheless, Florida fares quite well, particularly in the South, in its relative election of women. Florida ranks at No. 11 in the nation and No. 1 among southern states in its percent of female representatives, and for this, earns a B+ grade. Since 1989, 58 of Florida’s 290 contests (20 percent) have been won by a female.

‘SUPER PAC’ IS OFFICIALLY A WORD: Merriam-Webster determined that “independent expenditure-only committee” was probably not going to catch on.

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PUNCH: RPOF FILES COMPLAINT OVER MORGAN & MORGAN’S CHARLIE CIRST BILLBOARDS via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News

The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) lodged a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission on Tuesday regarding how trial attorney Morgan & Morgan are running billboards across the state featuring former Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist worked for Morgan when he left office after the 2010 elections.

The RPOF insisted the billboards are an “unreported in-kind contribution that far exceeds the statutory contribution limit of $3,000 per person.”

Juston Johnson, executive director of the RPOF, offered his take after filing the complaint.

“I guess it should be no surprise that trial lawyer Charlie Crist is being helped by his trial lawyer partners at Morgan & Morgan, but his campaign’s failure to report their help is a violation of the law,” Johnson insisted Tuesday. “Morgan & Morgan billboards, with Charlie Crist’s face on them while he was a declared candidate qualified as a reportable contribution. Failing to report the billboards is a clear breach of the law and a promise to work ‘for the people.'”

COUNTERPUNCH: MORGAN TO RPOF: NICE TRY via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

John Morgan, the personal injury lawyer and boss of Charlie Crist, says the Republican Party of Florida’s election complaint over his firm’s billboards featuring the Democratic candidate for governor is a misfire.

“The boards were ordered down by us many months ago. Many times boards remain up because the space is not sold. That obviously occurred here. They were not paid for,” Morgan said in an email. “I own a billboard company and know this is routine.”
Morgan said it was an “honest mistake by CBS Outdoor,” the firm that owns the billboard space.”We are flattered that the RPOF thinks that Floridians believe our firm is a positive in a statewide election. Maybe because my wife is such a loyal Republican!!” he said. “If I am asked to testify I will not take the fifth. Because we did nothing wrong.” 

JAB: FLA. DEMS ASK TV STATIONS TO PULL SCOTT AD

The Florida Democratic Party sent a letter to television stations in all 10 Florida media markets requesting that they refuse to broadcast Rick Scott’s first campaign ad because it violates Florida law.

The disclaimer on the ad states that it is “Sponsored by Let’s Get to Work.” This disclaimer could not be more clearly in violation of Florida law, which requires that all television ads “prominently state ‘Paid electioneering communication paid for by (name and address of person paying for the communication).'”

“[T]his political advertisement should not be allowed to air in light of its disregard for the requirements of Florida law,” the letter states.

“Following the law isn’t hard for most Floridians, but apparently Rick Scott just doesn’t care,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant. “Florida’s leaders need to set an example, and unfortunately Rick Scott is just an example of everything Floridians dislike about politicians. Rick Scott just doesn’t think the rules apply to him, and that’s why he’s lost the trust of Florida.”

TWEET, TWEET: @bsfarrington: Took months for Scott camp to complain about @JohnMorganESQ billboards featuring @CharlieCrist Perhaps distracted by Cafe Risqué billboards?

POSSIBLE REASONS UNF’S GUBERNATORIAL POLL IS GETTING DIFFERENT RESULTS THAN OTHER POLLS via Matt Dixon of the PoliticalFix.com

UNF’s poll was conducted over 10 days, which is a long time to be in the field. The longer the portion of time you are polling, the more a news cycle, thus public perception, can change. Each of the other polls mentioned were in the field for five days.

UNF employs this technique so it can get as many students as possible to conduct calls and get experience. UNF used 50 trained callers as part of its survey.

The partisan breakdown for UNF’s poll also is a closer representation of how the state’s electorate has – and is predicted by some to – perform.

The school’s sample includes a breakdown of 39-35-25(Democrat-Republican-no major party). The Quinnipiac poll used a 27-30-35 breakdown, while the Public Policy Polling sample used a 46-41-13 breakdown. The University of Florida poll did not publish detailed demographics.

Many pollsters think Republicans will slightly outperform Democrats in the 2014 cycle by anywhere from three to six points, and that those with no major party affiliation will be at roughly 20 percent. In 2012, with Democrat Barack Obama carrying Florida, the turnout was 40 percent Democrats, 39 percent Republicans

In most scenarios, the Q-poll overshoots and the PPP poll undershoots no party affiliation voters by wide margins. UNF’s sample is not perfect in that regard, but different than the other two examples.

TWEET, TWEET: @GrayRohrer: After today’s events I can predict the winner of the FL gov election: Lawyers.

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GOV. SCOTT’S ECONOMIC INCENTIVE PROGRAM GETS A BOOST FROM THE LEGISLATURE via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Gov. Scott could have a sizable increase in the 2014 budget for corporate tax incentives to businesses promising to create jobs in Florida.

Both chambers of the Legislature unveiled preliminary proposals for the July 1 fiscal year, each roughly doubling the size of incentives available to Enterprise Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity to dole out to interested companies.

At one time, Florida had as much as $300 million to spend in annual tax incentives, but the Great Recession curtailed many of those funds while existing incentives created too few jobs.

Only two years ago, Scott’s office was at $111 million for incentives. Last year, lawmakers whittled down the number to $45.5 million.

This year, however, the Senate Transportation and Economic Development committees released budget plans Monday that raised incentives to $89 million, just under the $95 million Scott requested.

HOUSE RELEASES PROPOSED EDUCATION BUDGET via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald

House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Erik Fresen on Tuesday released his $20.7 billion budget proposal.

Fresen is recommending that $6,988 be spent on each student in the K-12 system. That figure represents a $207.98 increase over the current level, or an increase of about 3 percent. (It is roughly $40 per-kid more than Gov. Scott wants to spend.)

The House proposal includes $404.9 million for Voluntary Prekindergarten programs — the same as this year, even though enrollment is expected to decline.

It boosts spending on state colleges by $69.8 million, and spending on the State University System by $120 million.

“I’m very encouraged by our budget proposal,” Fresen said. “We have significant increases in early learning, K-12 [education] and higher education. The budget clearly prioritizes our students — not systems — and significantly increases the funding for the disabled and the most vulnerable among us.”

Fresen’s committee also released a proposed “conforming bill” that would lessen the penalties for failing to comply with the Constitutional amendment that limits class size. School systems are currently penalized for each classroom that goes over the limit. If the language becomes law, districts would only be held accountable for the schoolwide average.

A similar legislative proposal seems to have stalled.

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LEGISLATORS OPENLY TARGET LAWYER JIM WILKES WITH NURSING HOME BILL via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

Jim Wilkes has a target on his back.

The Tampa-based trial lawyer whose success at suing nursing homes for neglect and abuse of residents has drawn millions in damages from the industry.

It has also brought their wrath — and they’ve turned to the Florida Legislature to stop him.

Wilkes’ model, which has been successfully employed in Florida and eight states where he has offices, is to not only target the owners and management companies — which can often be shell companies that shield the assets of owners and investors — but to target the investors, vendors and contractors, when he can show they have a role in the company’s decision-making. He also seeks large punitive damages.

In Polk County, where a nursing home shut down its management company after Wilkes sued, he won a $1 billion judgment in 2012 when the company didn’t put up a defense. In Pinellas County, a jury awarded $200 million to the family of a nursing home patient who died of neglect.

“They keep putting companies in bankruptcy and transferring assets, and we follow the assets and now the courts are able to go up the ladder,’’ said Wilkes, 63.

The result, the industry says, is having a chilling effect on investment income into nursing homes in Florida — at a time when older nursing homes want to update and retrofit in preparation for a surge in growth with the aging of baby boomers.

SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES BILL GRANTING IN-STATE TUITION TO UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of PoliticalFixflorida.com

A proposal to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students cleared the Senate education committee. Senate Bill 1400, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, extends in-state tuition to undocumented students by waiving the out-of-state fee.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. David Simmons. “I think these young people, these students, deserve the opportunity to get an education at the same rate as someone who has grown up, like they have, in this state.”

The measure cleared the committee with a 5-4 vote.

SENATE PANEL PLANNING $2.5 MILLION FOR IMG GROWTH via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

IMG Academy in Bradenton looks to be one of the early winners in the state budget this year, while money for the rowing complex at Nathan Benderson Park may be more difficult to come by.

A Florida Senate committee proposed spending $2.5 million to help expand IMG, the internationally-renowned athletic training center. No rowing funding was included in the committee’s budget, which also had allocations for the Florida Studio Theatre and Circus Sarasota.

The 15-year, five-phase project is expected to pump hundreds of millions into the local economy. Lawmakers set aside $2.3 million for the project in last year’s budget.

THIS SELFIE JUST BEGS FOR A MEME here.

TWEET, TWEET: @RepAmandaMurphy In the kitchen this morning with @LiveWithLoriTV discussing the 2014 legislative session.

VEHICLE FEE CUT ONE STOP FROM GOVERNOR’S DESK via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida

Lawmakers could park a bill on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to reduce vehicle registration fees — at an amount close to the governor’s election-year recommendation.

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously agreed to roll back a controversial 2009 hike on motor vehicle fees, while the House version (HB 7123) is lined up to go before the lower chamber.

The proposals would potentially save Floridians between $20 and $25 per vehicle registration, with the total depending on the size of the vehicle.

The reduction would collectively save motorists about $309 million during the upcoming 2014-15 budget year, with the new lowered rates going into effect Sept. 1. The savings would grow the following year to about $395 million, when they would be in effect for the full 12 months.

AIF PRAISES SENATE PASSAGE OF AUTO REGISTRATION CUTS

The measure by Sen. Joe Negron to reduce Florida vehicle registration fees passed its final Senate hurdle before going to the House.

The Associated Industries of Florida CEO Tom Feeney released a statement on SB 156 and Negron’s commitment to roll back the fees and surcharges set by the Legislature in 2009:

“AIF applauds the Florida Senate for passing SB 156 today off of the Senate floor. This good piece of legislation that provides $395 million in vehicle fee reductions will deliver relief to Florida businesses and their families.”

COURT DENIES BARREL RACING REHEARING via Jim Freer of Blood-Horse

A state appeals court has given Gretna Racing LLC what could be a final legal “no” in its bid to resume pari-mutuel barrel racing.

On March 17, the First District Court of Appeal denied Gretna Racing’s request for a rehearing of its recent ruling that will prohibit the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering from allowing Gretna Racing or any other Florida entity to conduct pari-mutuel barrel racing.
On Feb. 7, that court upheld an administrative court’s ruling from last May that said the Florida DPMW violated a state rulemaking process in 2011 when it granted  Gretna Racing a Quarter Horse license to hold pari-mutuel barrel racing.
In a one sentence statement March 17, the appeals court said: “Appellant’s motion filed February 24, 2014, for rehearing, rehearing en banc and clarification is denied.”
The Florida Quarter Horse Tracks Association, an affiliate of Gretna Racing, is the appellant.
Gretna Racing and its affiliate have the option of asking the Supreme Court of Florida to review the appellate court’s ruling.
Marc Dunbar, an attorney who represents Gretna Racing, did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.

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PUBLIC PAYS TRIBUTE TO REUBIN ASKEW via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

After the dignitaries had their private audience, members of the public paid their respects to Gov. Reubin Askew, who lay in state at the old Capitol on Tuesday.

They came slowly but steadily – a former student here, a retired state worker there – to say a final goodbye to a man many of them never knew, but whose deeds live after him.

Reubin O’Donovan Askew, Florida’s 37th governor from 1971-79, died Thursday at 85.

He is revered for continuing progressive efforts toward racial integration, fostering open government and access to public records and  bringing a new fairness in taxes and spending.

Randy Glisson, son of former state representative and senator Jim Glisson, traveled to Tallahassee from Lake County.

“My dad’s a Republican but always had a lot of respect for Gov. Askew,” he said. “He felt the governor was capable of reaching anybody.”

SOLEMN PICS: Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew’s body arrives at the Historic Capitol here; The flag-draped casket here. Casket escorted into Old Capitol by Gov. Scott here.

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TODAY ON CONTEXT FLORIDA: GERRYMANDERING, RUBIO REGULATION, BUDGETS AND IN-STATE TUITION FALLACY

On Context Florida: Turnout is the key to success in politics, says Martin Dyckman, and gerrymandering in Florida’s 13th Congressional District was drawn to establish a GOP victory. Common sense needs to be enacted to regulate regulations, says Steven Kurlander. Obama’s $4 trillion budget is both “disarming and alarming,” according to former State Sen. John Grant. A bipartisan push in the Florida Capitol to pass legislation granting in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants is wrong, in rationale, intent and ideology, according to State Rep. John Tobia.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY … actually, today is the right day to celebrate Eric Johnson’s birthday. Looks like I jumped the gun yesterday. Celebrating today is Allison North Jones.

NCAA SEEDS DON’T ALWAYS LINE UP WITH ODDSMAKERS Full blog post here

Thursday, about 1,000 people will line up for a seat at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino sportsbook at the start of the NCAA tournament. Although Michigan State is No. 4 seed this year, many at the LVH simply will not care — oddsmakers treat the Spartans like a No. 1 seed regardless.

No matter what the NCAA thinks, stats show the team will be favored against everyone (except Florida).

Power ratings do not always agree with seedings, but there’s more than enough for bookies to appreciate this year. This year the sportsbooks will do extremely well since there is not a primary favorite.

Florida not only is No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll, but also odds-on pick at book rooms all along the Las Vegas Strip.

Louisville is also an oddsmaker favorite, another team that didn’t get the expected seed. The Cardinals are under pressure to come out as No. 4 seed in the Midwest region to make it to the Final Four, and likely to be a favorite in every game Louisville plays in their region.

The reason is that Vegas bookies, unlike the NCAA, take in account recent performance as a better predictor of success — instead of looking at the entire season.

MEANWHILE … AN INTERESTING END TO A FIGHT OVER A RESTAURANT CONTRACT AT MIA via the Miami Herald

Miami-Dade commissioners opted not to dip into Miami International Airport’s hummus hullabaloo, approving without discussion a contract to operate a Mediterranean restaurant in Concourse D.

Pasha’s, a homegrown Mediterranean chain, protested MIA’s decision to recommend the restaurant slot go to Ice Box, a high-end cafe that wants to use the airport space to open its first Mediterranean restaurant.

The protest included a scathing opinion by a hearing officer who wrote he had no choice but to side with Ice Box, despite a bid request that seemed to favor an experienced Mediterranean operator. The officer, retired judge Charles Edelstein, called the matter “not one of the county’s finest hours.”

Ice Box won the contract by promising a guaranteed rent of $320,000 a year for its The Mediterranean Kitchen, almost double Pasha’s pledge.

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.