Sunburn for 3/25 – 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.***

2016 RACE HANGS IN THE AIR AS JEB AND HILLARY SHARE BILLING via Philip Rucker of the Washington Post

Jeb Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s joint appearance at an education conference underscored their shared status in the early 2016 presidential sweepstakes — two dynastic candidates who are the preferred picks of elites in their respective political parties.

Neither Bush nor Clinton has declared a run for president, and neither is expected to announce a decision until the end of this year at the earliest. But if the Republican and Democratic establishments have their way, the 2016 general election could pit Bush — the brother and son of former presidents — against Clinton, the wife of a former president.

Bush and Clinton are substantive leaders with long records of public service — he as a two-term governor of Florida, she as a senator from New York and a secretary of state. They both have centrist views on many policy issues, and have shown the potential to appeal broadly to the nation’s diversifying electorate.

As they weigh possible campaigns, however, Clinton is in the stronger position: She is the Democrats’ overwhelming favorite and major party donors are funding an array of super PACs built to prod her to run.

On the Republican side, meanwhile, the race is wide open, polls show. Bush would compete for attention and support with at least half a dozen other prospective candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.

BUSH WON’T DECIDE UNTIL 2015

People close to Bush “said he has not formally begun to consider a presidential campaign but plans to decide no later than early 2015,” the Washington Post reports.

“People who thought he was not looking at this race six months ago were underestimating his interest, and people who think he’s made a decision and is moving forward to run right now are exaggerating where his thinking is,” said Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw.

CAN MARCO RUBIO GOOGLE AND UBER HIS WAY TO THE YOUTH VOTE? via Dustin Volz of the National Journal

Sen. Marco Rubio wants regulators to stop interfering with your travel choices after a long night out on the town—and he hopes you’ll think of him the next time you hitch a ride through a ride-sharing service.

“What regulation should never be is a way to prevent innovation from happening,” Rubio said during an event in Washington hosted by Uber, an on-demand car transportation service. “It should never allow government … to protect established incumbents at the expense of an innovative competitor.”

Rubio’s focus on wonky, tech-centric issues signals a noticeable departure from his advocacy for immigration reform, which he helped pass out of the Senate last year before the House drove the issue off the table.

Rubio stuck to script, pointing to how startups like Uber are inspiring examples of the American dream at work. He largely deflected a question on whether an issue like ride-sharing regulation could be used to attract young voters.

Several large cities across the country are grappling with how, or whether, to change their taxi codes to address the growing encroachment of alternative transportation companies. Last week, Seattle became the first city in the country to pass a law limiting the allowable number of such drivers on the road at any given time. Three big players—UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar—are capped at 150 concurrent drivers each, marking a sizeable reduction of the collective fleet of 2,000 drivers the companies estimate are currently operating.

DEMOCRATS TO NATE SILVER: YOU’RE WRONG via Alex Roarty of the National Journal

In an unusual step, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a rebuttal to Nate Silver’s prediction that Republicans were a “slight favorite” to retake the Senate. Silver was wrong in 2012, the political committee’s Guy Cecil wrote in a memo, and he’ll be wrong again in 2014.

“In fact, in August of 2012 Silver forecast a 61 percent likelihood that Republicans would pick up enough seats to claim the majority,” Cecil said. “Three months later, Democrats went on to win 55 seats.”

But the comprehensive pushback from Cecil, the powerful committee’s key staffer, is a testament to both the influence Silver wields and the sensitivity of Senate Democrats to the perception they’re losing their grip on the upper chamber. Other outlets have suggested similar odds on the Senate, but none have earned this kind of rebuttal.

In truth, Silver’s suggestions that Republicans are favorites to win the Senate matched the assessment of most analysts in Washington. A map that has Democrats defending seven red states (Republicans would need to win six to reclaim the majority), President Obama’s sliding approval ratings, and the multimillions of dollars spent by outside groups led by the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity have combined to give the GOP a clear opportunity at the majority.

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FERNANDEZ-GATE

LOPEZ-CANTERA SAYS ‘NO BASIS’ FOR CLAIM SCOTT STAFFERS USED MEXICAN ACCENTS via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said on Monday there is “no basis” for a Miami Herald report that staffers for Gov. Scott‘s re-election campaign joked in a “cartoon-style Mexican accent” while heading to an event at a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables.

The incident was cited as one of the frustrations expressed by health care executive Mike Fernandez before resigning as Scott’s finance chairman last week. With Scott and Republicans trying to improve upon the GOP’s dismal standing with Hispanic voters, Democrats pounced on the report over the weekend.

Lopez-Cantera participated in a conference call with reporters to tout a new $2 million statewide TV ad purchase by the pro-Scott “Let’s Get To Work” committee that hits likely Democratic rival Charlie Crist for supporting the Affordable Care Act. But the call ended after three reporters asked about Fernandez’s departure and the Mexican-accent controversy.

“Mr. Fernandez left to spend more time with his family,” Lopez-Cantera said in response to a query from PostOnPolitcs.com. “This is a diverse organization that we have here and I am confident that there’s no basis for any of that…This is a diverse organization and we don’t tolerate inappropriate comments and I don’t believe they even happened.”

When a second reporter raised the issue, Lopez-Cantera said: “There is no validity that we can find to any of those comments or what was written.”

When a third reporter asked, Lopez-Cantera said he was there to talk about the new ad and “I have already answered the questions on the other Herald thing.”

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: Campaign of @FLGovScott shuts down press call after 3 straight questions about departure of Scott campaign finance chairman

WERE RPOF STAFFERS JUSTON JOHNSON AND TIM SALER “IN THE VAN”?

According to an extremely well-placed anonymous source who has intimate knowledge of the events in question, the two staffers at the center of this controversy are RPOF executive director Juston Johnson and Tim Saler, the deputy campaign manager for Gov. Scott. Also in the van was a driver, two FDLE staffers, an associate of Fernandez and Johnson and Saler.

The associate of Fernandez is the individual who informed the Miami billionaire about the incident.

For its part, the Scott campaign is denying most of the details about the incident or that it prompted Fernandez to resign from the Scott campaign. But in their denials, the Scott campaign unwittingly gave away a key detail — that the incident happened in the van — that the media did not yet have.

“Mike was not in the van,” Scott’s campaign manager, Melissa Sellers, said in an email to theHerald.

The only trouble with that statement is no one had yet asked about the van.

“I spoke to every staffer in the van,” Sellers wrote. “If something was said in an accent, no one remembers what it was. We are a diverse organization and we do not tolerate inappropriate comments.”

Why ask staffers about an incident that supposedly didn’t happen?

The Republican Party of Florida’s Susan Hepworth responded to my inquiry about whether Johnson and Saler were in the van and said, “No comments were made. I’ll refer you to the statement from Melissa.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Former Republican state Representative Ana Rivas Logan and Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo will hold a conference call with the media to discuss what a release describes as “Rick Scott’s failed Hispanic outreach.” 10:30 a.m.

SCOTT CMTE. DROPS $2 MIL AD BUY ON CRIST via Scott Powers of the Orlando Sentinel

Gov.  Scott’s independent campaign for re-election, Let’s Get To Work, released its second TV commercial, and this one turns from the warm-and-fuzzy approach of the first commercial to a bare-knuckles battering of likely Democratic opponent Charlie Crist and his support for the Affordable Care Act.

The new commercial, “Great,” pulls from a March 9 interview in which Crist  said he did not think the Affordable Care Act had “irreparably harmed” Floridians, and declared “I think it’s been great.”

The ad then claims that 300,000 Floridians “lost their insurance plans” — a figure disputed by Florida’s largest insurer, Florida Blue — and charges that “seniors are losing their doctors due to Medicare Advantage cuts, and job creators are being hit with higher taxes and burdensome regulations”

Let’s Get To Work took out a statewide $2 million TV buy, about the same as it did for the first commercial, “Family,” which touted Scott’s humble beginnings. “Family” still is playing. “Great” will begin appearingThursday.

CRIST REAX: “When after four years, you have no record and no vision, you spend millions attacking your opponent. It’s the Rick Scott playbook and Floridians have had enough.”

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CRIST BACK IN SARASOTA ON WEDNESDAY via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Crist is back in Sarasota this week to help raise money for his newest political campaign and drum up some sales for his new book.

On Wednesday night at 6 p.m. Crist, a Democrat, is scheduled to attend a private fundraiser where donors are expected to pay $500 per person to attend. The host committee for the fundraiser includes former Democratic candidates for Congress Keith Fitzgerald and Christine Jennings.

Crist is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. If he wins the Democratic primary, he would take on Gov. Scott in November.

Before that fundraising event, Crist will be signing copies of his new book in downtown Sarasota. Starting at 5 p.m. Crist will be at Bookstore1 Sarasota, 1359 Main Street, Sarasota.

CD 19 SPECIAL ELECTION

FLORIDA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION PAC ENDORSES LIZBETH BENACQUISTO FOR CD 19 Full blog post here

Florida’s leading advocate for doctors and the medical field is endorsing Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto in the special election for Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

“Lizbeth has consistently worked to make Florida a better place for physicians to practice medicine, including supporting efforts to bring fairness to Florida’s medical liability system,” said FMA PAC President Ralph Nobo. “At the federal level, Lizbeth has fought Obamacare and seeks an immediate repeal of the legislation, which puts government between physicians and their patients.”

“FMA PAC physicians are on the front lines each and every day protecting the relationship between physicians and patients,” Benacquisto responded, “so that Floridians can make the best possible health choices for themselves and their families.”

NAPLES DAILY NEWS ENDORSES PAIGE KREEGEL here.

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AIF SUPPORTS UBER LEGISLATION

Associated Industries of Florida commended the Florida House Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee for advancing House Bill 1389 by Representative James Grant relating to chauffeured limousines.

HB 1389 will create a new category of public transit under chauffeured limousines, define those services and give authority to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to oversee the licensure and regulation of chauffeured limousines, services and drivers. HB 1389 is now slated to advance to the House Economic Affairs Committee.

HOUSE PANEL APPROVES ANY SIZE BEER GROWLERS via the Associated Press

A bill that would legalize half-gallon beer growlers passed a House committee after language craft brewers said would hurt them was stripped from the legislation.

The House Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee approved the bill Monday that would allow beer growlers in any size. Florida allows the refillable beer jugs only in quart and gallon sizes – not the 64-ounce containers that are sold in 47 other states.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues originally contained regulations that craft brewers opposed, such as banning sales of their product in kegs, bottles and cans at the breweries.

Gabe Grass plans to open Grasslands Brewing Company in Tallahassee in July. He said the original bill was “scary” for small startup brewers, and he was pleased with final version.

LAWMAKER SEEKS TO REVAMP FLORIDA’S MEDICAL MALPRACTICE SYSTEM via Tonya Alanez of the South Florida SunSentinel

Within days of the Florida Supreme Court eradicating medical-malpractice damage limits, a Central Florida Republican laid out his vision for turning the entire system on its ear.

Trial costs would be eliminated, and so would accusations of negligence or medical malpractice. Cases would be resolved within six to nine months. More patients would get their claims heard. And doctors wouldn’t be driven to order unnecessary tests to protect themselves from liability.

“This is a big, different idea … It is significant, groundbreaking and some have even suggested, radical,” Rep. Jason Brodeur told the House Judiciary Committee. “It will save billions for Florida taxpayers and millions for businesses and create thousands of jobs.”

Brodeur’s plan, partially modeled after workers’ compensation, would put claims before a panel of doctors who would determine if “avoidable medical harm” had occurred, and compensation would follow a formulated schedule. Reduced litigation costs would lead to reduced insurance costs, he says.

Opponents – and there are many — say claims would snowball, taking insurance rates with them, physicians would flee the state and the state’s high court would deem the measure unconstitutional.

OSCEOLA BALKS AT CENTRAL FLORIDA EXPRESSWAY MERGER via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

A House lawmaker said Monday that Osceola County officials are still hesitant to embrace a plan to merge its tollway authority with those in neighboring Orange, Seminole and Lake counties.

Rep. Bryan Nelson got his merger bill, HB 311, through the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, but not before signaling to the panel that the version teed up for final Senate passage does not sit well with the county.

That objection surfaced briefly last week when the Senate bill was on the floor. Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat whose district includes Osceola, offered and withdrew an amendment which would have allowed the county’s authority to stay alive until it had completed construction of the Poinciana Parkway.

That long-planned $150 million toll road is one of four major expressway projects on the books for the county, where officials fear their needs could take a back-seat to Orlando-Orange County road projects like the Wekiva Parkway and SunRail.

TUESDAY’S TALLAHASSEE AGENDA RUNS THE GAMUT Full blog post here

Tuesday’s legislative agenda runs the gamut of Florida issues — from the contentious (trauma centers, nurse practitioners, Sharia law and needle exchanges) to the outright strange (the “pop tart” bill).

A Senate committee will take up the “pop part” bill, which removes punishments for schoolchildren who use partially eaten pastries as a play gun, and a change in community service requirements for Bright Future Scholarships by adding internships and work on political campaigns. Another will consider having high school students take a personal finance course before graduation.

The Senate Health Policy Committee will also consider two hotly contested measures: one that expands the scope of advanced nurse practitioners and the other that modifies the rules for approving trauma centers.

House committees will consider new restrictions on pharmacy audits, reforming child protective services and a method to convert water control districts to “community development districts.”

Also in the House is a measure creating a pilot program in Miami-Dade County for needle and syringe exchanges.

For the fourth year in a row, Sen. Alan Hays attempts to pass legislation banning the use of Sharia laws in the court system; the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear SB 386 – referred to as the “anti-Sharia” law—prohibiting foreign laws that infringe on constitutional rights. The bill will allow people to file a waiver if they want to abide by the laws of their country or religion.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: A press conference on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Awareness will take place at 11 a.m., tentatively scheduled for the courtyard of the Florida Capitol.

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APPOINTED: Bette Brown to the Board of Governors, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

APPOINTED: Robert Wyatt to the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota District Board of Trustees.

REAPPOINTED: Donnie Ellington and Ronald Howse to the Florida Transportation Commission

REAPPOINTED: Patrick Allman III to the Tampa Port Authority.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will highlight cancer research funding in the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,” at the UF Proton Therapy Institute. UF Proton Therapy Institute, 2015 N Jefferson St., Jacksonville, 10 a.m.

FLORIDA CHAMBER AD POINTS OUT HIGH COST OF LAWSUIT ABUSE Full blog post here

Florida families spend thousands more on goods and services due to the high cost of lawsuit abuse on the state’s court system, according to a new ad co-produced by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“Jars” is a new 30-second spot from the Chamber and the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform claiming families pay as much as $3,400 a year from the “detrimental effect that plaintiffs’ trial lawyers have on the state’s court system.”

On the ILR website, the group says its primary focus is controlling the “unfettered litigation” that inhibits the creation of new products and companies, kills jobs, and drags down the entire U.S. economy.

FOUR FLORIDA CITIES ARE IN TOP 10 LEAST ECONOMICALLY SEGREGATED METROS IN U.S. 

There are many terms and measure that describe how people within similar geographic areas live relative to each other: economic mobility, economic inequality, and economic segregation are a few.

When opening a new study published by Atlantic Cities, I expected to find Florida at the top of the list for most economically segregated. I was wrong.

In fact, four of the top 10 least economically segregated cities in the U.S. belong to our state. The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area leads the nation in having the least economic segregation; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ranks at No. 3 least segregated; Jacksonville at No. 5; and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach at No. 6.

The study, led by the Martin Prosperity Institute, measured the distribution of poverty across more than 70,000 Census tracts in more than 350 metro areas in 2010. Through this, a measure of “dissimilarity” was developed to mark how evenly distributed the poor are compared to the rest of the population. In other words, the study measured the “spatial concentration of poverty.”

Interestingly, the study  found only slight correlation between economic segregation and economic inequality.

FLORIDA MARKETING DOLLARS ATTRACT TOURISTS IN RECORD NUMBERS via Shaun Bevan of the South Florida Business Journal

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said the state is enjoying a $79.34 RevPAR (revenue per available room) rate, which is above the national average of $68.69. Growth in revenue is 8.3 percent for Florida in 2013 over 2012 versus 5.4 percent in the U.S.

Florida consistently has led the nation when comparing hotel occupancy rates, average daily room rates (ADR) and RevPAR statistics. RevPAR is calculated by room revenue divided by rooms available. The data compares hotel occupancy rates from 2010-2013 with the national average, which shows Florida consistently in the lead.

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BECKHAM HEADS TO TALLY, SEEKS STATE AID FOR SOCCER STADIUMvia Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald

David Beckham heads to Tallahassee today in a bid for state aid for the soccer stadium he hopes to build at PortMiami.

“I love a challenge,” the soccer star told reporters Monday after confirming the trip to the state Capitol.

Beckham wants Florida legislator to grant his proposed team the same kind of yearly stadium subsidy the state in the past has awarded to new sports stadiums. Both the Miami Heat and the Miami Dolphins receive about $2 million a year from Florida, as compensation for construction of the basketball arena in 2000 and retrofitting the Dolphins’ football stadium for baseball in the 1990s.

“We want to be treated like the other franchises,” Beckham said during a press conference at Miami Dade College.

TWEET, TWEET: @GrayRohrer: What’s the over/under on the amt of lawmaker selfies w/ Beckham tomorrow? I’m going with more than the votes for what he wants.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Jeff Ryan, All Florida Solutions: Florida Crystals, Florida Independent Spirits Association

TWEET, TWEET: @towsonfraser: I like it when those who waive in support also actually wave in support #legislativegeekery2014

WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE OF GOOGLE’S SKY-HIGH LOBBYING BUDGET? via Aimee Duffy of the Motley Fool

Google was in the top five for lobbying spending out of all publicly traded companies. Of the $3.21 billion spent on lobbying last year, $15.8 million of it came from Google.

Let’s not kid ourselves: $15.8 million is a ton of money for a company that “does no evil” to spend on an activity considered by many to be quite terrible. But as with any number, it means nothing without some context. If we look at Google’s spending history and it doesn’t jibe, maybe we can dismiss 2013 as an aberration.

Google has fully embraced lobbying over the past decade. Clearly, the company sees value in lobbying Washington, but perhaps this sort of spending is a hallmark of the tech industry?

To test that theory, we can look at the spending of other tech giants like Facebook, Yahoo!, and AOL. Google easily outspends the other three companies here. It’s not a perfect comparison to begin with — these companies are all substantially different than each other — but the huge disparity is still surprising.

An academic paper out of the University of Mississippi  concludes that there is a direct link between lobbying activity and shareholder wealth, with the authors writing, “Our results suggest that stocks of lobbying firms significantly outperform non-lobbying firms.”

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: SLAVERY REPARATIONS, VACCINES & AUTISM, CIVILITY AND LOTS OF PATIENCE

On Context Florida: Slavery reparations have lately been getting some attention in the Caribbean, says Andrew Skerritt, demanding a full formal apology for slavery, repatriation to Africa, a development plan for the native Caribbean peoples and funding for cultural institutions. Reparations won’t right past wrongs, he writes, but an honest debate is an important start. Julie Delegal discusses the long-suspected, but largely disproven, link between vaccines and autism. The right to express one’s opinion unhindered stands at the top of the list of citizen rights, says Bob Sparks, but the government fostering civility must not be confused with defining it. The Pensacola Technology Campus’ road to becoming a technology-based business finally may be cresting, writes Shannon Nickinson, but like all investments civic works projects, it requires smart land-use codes, streamlined building permitting and lots of patience.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

MEET THE LOCAL PAPER THAT’S ‘RAISING HELL’ TO KEEP GOVERNMENT OPEN via Susannah Nesmith of the Columbia Journalism Review

The Jacksonville-based Florida Times Union is a rare outlier these days, a mid-sized regional paper willing to fight big open-government battles even as most media organizations cut back on the resources they devote to forcing officials to do their work in public.

The paper has been aggressively using the state’s Sunshine Law, going to court in three cases over the past year to compel officials to open meetings and court proceedings and release records.

At times, the paper has mounted these battles to get key information for a major article. In other cases, they took on a fight even when editors and reporters expected no story would result. They did it on principle.

This is the role that newspapers, with their fat profit margins and focus on accountability journalism, traditionally played. But in the face of dramatic revenue declines over the past decade, papers have become choosier about the fights they take on.

The Times-Union, with a daily circulation of about 82,000 that makes it the seventh-largest paper in the state, sometimes punches above its weight and delivers stories with statewide impact just by footing the bill for public-records requests. But the paper is not shy about going to court either, and it’s scored a string of recent victories.

SAY WHAT?! RED STATES HAVE HIGHEST CONCENTRATIONS OF STATE WORKERS

Here’s another headline that made me look twice: “Government Workers More Prevalent in Red States.” The study, published in Governing Magazine, found that Republican-leaning states are home to those with the highest concentration of public employees. Go figure.

“With a few exceptions, states with lower concentrations of government workers are more left-of-center politically,” the report reads. So how does this add up? Are states with high ratios of state employees self-hating? Do they have experience with big government that they are dissatisfied with?

Florida has the 20th lowest ratio of public employees per resident, at 228 per 10,000 residents, just below the national average of 237. Florida equals the national average in its ratio of corrections employees and financial administration employees ; has the 4th highest ratio of fire protection employees in the U.S.; and has the 7th highest ratio of police protection employees in the nation. Florida has the 7th lowest ratio of elementary and secondary education employees in the nation — but is tied with Massachusetts for having the 8th highest ratio of higher education employees.

DCF take note: Florida is tied with Indiana for having the 2nd lowest ratio of public welfare employees in the U.S., with eight such employees per 10,000 residents. The national average is 16.

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.