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.

CONGRATULATIONS to Claudette and Joel Silver on their nuptials. “A beautiful wedding through a torrential downpour,” notes Christina Johnson.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY this past weekend to Senator Kelli Stargel, Kathy Salerno and new FAMU board of trustees member Glen Gilzean. 

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND: @DaneEagle: Go Gators! Go Eagles! #FGCU

THE WEEK AHEAD

Lawmakers take a break this week for the religious holidays, Passover at the beginning of the week and Good Friday at the end – with work scheduled at the Capitol only on Wednesday and Thursday. 

By the end of the week, the Senate, at least, will have a published general appropriations act, which is expected to be out by Friday, after the Appropriations Committee’s meeting on Thursday. The bill will be before the committee for a vote the following week. 

The News Service of Florida offers a comprehensive preview here.

Today’s Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms. You need their team on your side during this Legislative session for media, grassroots and netroots support. Visit TuckerHall.com to read about their team and how they can help you.

WHITE HOUSE BACKING ALTERNATIVES TO MEDICAID EXPANSION via The New York Times

The Obama administration is encouraging states that are interested in offering subsidized private insurance as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

That could help the Florida Senate, which began moving forward Thursday with a plan that would rely on federal money to offer private coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents. The Times reported that the Obama administration is negotiating with Ohio and Arkansas about proposals to use federal Medicaid money to pay premiums for private insurance. The details of the Ohio and Arkansas proposals are somewhat different than the Florida Senate approach, because they would offer the coverage through new health-insurance exchanges, which will be online insurance marketplaces.

The Florida proposal would use an already-existing state program, the Florida Healthy Kids Corp., as a vehicle to offer private coverage.

The Times quoted a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as saying, “Our goal in working with states has been to be as flexible as possible within the confines of the law.”

MARCO RUBIO BRINGS HOPE TO HISPANICS BUT DOUBTS REMAIN by Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Interviews with voters in Hispanic-rich New Mexico, which Obama won twice, and Texas, a Republican bastion inching Democratic, suggest that Rubio could inspire goodwill and pride among minorities who shunned the GOP in the past two presidential elections.

… The question is whether he can trump some of the conservative policies that separate him from the Hispanic community — his opposition to Obama’s health care plan and to higher taxes on the rich, for example.

He’s already addressing one key gap. Not long ago Rubio’s hardline position against illegal immigration led critics on Spanish-language radio in Las Cruces to dismiss him as “anti-Hispanic.” Now he is the face of immigration reform, dropping the no “amnesty” posture he adopted in his tea party-tinged 2010 Senate run to champion a proposal that would allow millions of undocumented residents to eventually become citizens.

… Democrats point out that Cubans, whose special immigration status is a point of contention for other immigrants, are but a tiny slice of the Hispanic population and question Rubio’s appeal to a broader community, let alone his hold on younger Cubans, who drifted away from the GOP.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: SEQUESTER STARVING CONGRESSIONAL STAFFERS via the Washington Times

Automatic federal cuts are bringing staffers to the brink of starvation, suggested Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, at a recent House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.

Restaurants on the House side of Congress are increasing in cost so much that aides are being “priced out” of a good meal, she said, as Fox News reported. The comments came by way of a discussion about the impacts of the sequester on lawmakers’ office budgets. Rep. Jim Moran said he may be forced to lay off a staffer — and then Ms. Wasserman Schultz weighed in with her tale of hard times.

Just to clarify: An 8-ounce bowl of Ham and Bean soup at the Cannon Office Building’s carry-out café costs $2. A gourmet wrap or sliced bread sandwich sells for about $5. And in the Longworth Building’s sit-down cafeteria, a serving of stuffed chicken, asparagus and mashed potatoes sells for about $7, Fox News finds.

Meanwhile, Wasserman Schultz’s staffers earn between $60,000 and $160,000 per year, Fox News reports.

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DESPITE CAMPAIGN PROMISES, GOV’T HAS GROWN UNDER SCOTT via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Scott pledged to implement an “accountability budget” that would take a bow-to-stern approach to looking for government waste, and cut $5 billion from a roughly $68 billion budget.

… Today, Florida’s budget is bigger than when Scott took office, at about $70 billion. And the governor just proposed a $74.2 billion budget – the biggest in state history. But Scott sees the spending increases as the result of his policies since taking office in 2011.

“What I ran on was economic growth and job creation,” Scott said recently to the Orlando Sentinel editorial board. “I made the tough choices to get our economy back. We cut taxes and controlled the size of government. We made a lot of tough choices.”

But the distance between Scott’s actual budget policies and what he pledged on the campaign trail is a wide one.

His “accountability budgeting” called for implementing a biennial budgeting process instead of an annual one; transforming traditional line-item budgets into “outcome-based” ones where managers in state agencies would have more flexibility to achieve public benefits; returning government spending to the same level it was relative to the economy in 2004; and “refus[ing] temporary funding from the federal government.”

With the exception of rejecting federal dollars for a high-speed train between Orlando and Tampa, none of those goals have been met. The $5 billion budget cut Scott called for on the campaign trail was scaled back to $4 billion in his first budget, and lawmakers largely ignored it.

CHARLIE CRIST: LICKIEST POLITICIAN IN AMERICA via Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman of POLITICO

The party-switching ex-Republican governor’s name had largely become a punch line in Florida political circles, but he’s now not only seriously pursuing a new gubernatorial campaign, each day new obstacles seem to almost miraculously fall out of his path.

His most formidable potential Democratic primary opponents – former state CFO Alex Sink and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz – have quietly signaled they are leaning against running. In Sink’s case, that reluctance heightened after her husband, the well-liked Tampa attorney and former gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride, succumbed to a heart attack in December.

Crist has the admiration – and appreciation – of a White House that considered his 2012 endorsement key. And if party-jumping often leads to political oblivion, Crist is proving that timing is everything; not only does he seem to be cruising to the nomination, he would face an increasingly beleaguered incumbent, Gov. Rick Scott, who suddenly seems eminently beatable.

“It’s hard at the moment to imagine any scenario where Charlie Crist is not the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who was President Barack Obama’s senior adviser in Florida in 2012.

CRIST OR BUST via Joy Reid of the Miami Herald

Democrats are starting to clear the decks for Charlie Crist, the longtime Republican who became an Independent who became a Democrat. Crist, who skipped out on a second term as governor in order to mount an ill-fated run for the U.S. Senate, appears poised to try and get his old job back in 2014.

In his favor: a current occupant of the governor’s mansion who is singularly unpopular, and not just with Democrats. Rick Scott has angered his former allies in the tea party by bowing to his real friends in the hospital lobby and saying he’d be fine with taking that dirty Obamacare money to expand Medicaid.

Scott’s Medicaid gambit, which has already been rebuffed by the Republican-dominated Legislature, led the tea party’s most colorful has-been, former U.S. Rep./musketeer Allen West, to question his “backbone” and to declare the governor “vulnerable” for reelection; not that West is necessarily looking to “primary” him.

DON’T COUNT OUT ALEX SINK

Don’t count out Alex Sink yet.

At least, that’s what La Gaceta publisher (and keeper of the Sink flame) Patrick Manteiga writes (there is no online version of La Gaceta):

“She’s starting to act more and more like a candidate. She was recently in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of Emily’s List, a major fundraising organization for women. We saw her this week with Emily’s List muckety-mucks in Ybor City talking about the governor’s race. 

“Last week, she was in St. Petersburg speaking to the Pinellas County Democrats Club. 

“When we are with her, people are constantly asking her to run for governor. 

“We asked her if she’s going to run and she coyly responded that it’s not yet time for her to announce her intentions.”

NELSON VS. SCOTT IN 2014? MAYBE by William March of the Tampa Tribune

n response to questions about the possibility this week, Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin issued a statement carefully worded to suggest Nelson isn’t pursuing the idea but isn’t rejecting it either.

“We’ve been getting lots of calls from supporters urging Sen. Nelson to consider running for governor,” McLaughlin said.

“Right now he’s just focused on doing his job in the Senate and not envisioning a circumstance under which he’d do so. Still, he remains very concerned about the state’s future.”

Advisers who confer with Nelson regularly but didn’t want to be quoted by name confirmed he has taken note of the calls from backers.

Major Democratic donors and Nelson backers differ on whether they consider it a good idea.

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RACE FOR FORD’S SEAT HEATS UP via Louis Cooper of PNJ.com

Potential candidates, some familiar to voters and others with deep political roots, are considering a run for the state House District 2 seat held by Rep. Clay Ford until his death from cancer on Monday.

Mulling the race, among others, are Mike Hill, chairman of the Northwest Florida Tea Party; Pensacola City Council member Larry B. Johnson; longtime office holder Lois Benson; and attorney Frank White.

… Former Pensacola City Councilman Jack Nobles, who is rumored to be considering a run, wouldn’t comment, also citing respect for Ford.

Two current officeholders whose names come up in conversation about the District 2 seat — ECUA member Dale Perkins and Pensacola City Councilwoman Megan Pratt — say they do not plan to seek the office.

ED GRAY ANNOUNCES HE INTENDS TO RUN FOR HD 2

Gray, 61 and a Republican, said he will bring leadership and experience to the race that he has not yet seen in the other potential candidates.

“I’m not saying I’m the best person,” Gray said, “but I think I can be better than the names we’ve seen so far in print.”

(But what about the names we’re seen online, Mr. Gray?)

Gray was a Gulf Breeze City Council member from 1980-84, Gulf Breeze mayor from 1984-92 and a Santa Rosa County School Board member from 2002-10. Today, he’s the executive director of Gulf Breeze Financial Services and the Capital Trust Agency. 

SPOTTED: Frank White, walking the halls of the Capitol last week, talking up several respected Republican consultants about a possible run.

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HOUSE OFF TO FEROCIOUS START

“I’m exhausted,” is all 33-year-old Speaker of the Florida House Will Weatherford could manage to say to me in a text responding to a question about how his Friday had gone.

Weatherford could have blamed this feeling of exhaustion on the fact that h is the father of a five-month old (in addition to two other wonderful young children). But Weatherford’s exhaustion, undoubtedly short-lived, was due to the flurry of activity which took place in the House on Friday — a ferocious agenda of major legislation passed only three weeks in to the 2013 legislative session. 

As Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel tweeted, “Easy to get myopic and incremental, but dang, the House passed some big bills today.”

In the spate of four hours and ten minutes, the Florida House of Representatives: approved on party lines a controversial plan (B 7011) to close off the Florida Retirement System’s traditional pension plan to future public employees; voted 108 – 7 to ban the machines used for games in Internet cafes (HB 155); passed a series of measures related to the funding of campaigns (HB 569); and unanimously passed HB 7065, a bill spelling out the process for Everglades cleanup going forward. 

Were the House to come to an agreement with the Senate on just these measures, along with the passage of a budget, the Legislature could adjourn and declare the 2013 session a success.

There is, however, a lot of clock left in the game. Coming to agreement with the Senate on any, much less all, of the legislation passed on Friday is a tall order. And drafting a budget is a Herculean task in its own right.

Weatherford and his colleagues should be credited for pursuing such an ambitious agenda. Instead, because what the media giveth, it also takes away, Weatherford’s star has been dimmed.

MUST-READ: HOUSE’S PENSION PLAN FOLLOWS NATIONAL CONSERVATIVE GROUP’S LEAD via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

(R)oots of the controversial reform effort are deep and stretch far from Florida’s Capitol.

Critics trace the campaign back three years — to New Orleans, where dozens of Florida lawmakers gathered for a conference hosted by a controversial advocacy group that helps corporations and conservative interest groups write bills for legislatures across the country.

Jonathan Williams, a policy director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, told The Palm Beach Post that the organization’s three days of meetings in August 2011 helped affirm the need among many legislators to take a hard look at public employee benefits.

… For his part, Rep. Jason Brodeur, House sponsor of the pension bill, downplayed ALEC’s influence.

“I really truly believe this was probably has a genesis of, we watch other states, we watch how Europe’s going broke and we just want to put ourselves in the best position,” Brodeur said. “Those ideas come from everywhere.”

“The momentum for pension reform is stronger today because many governments are still seeing the effects of the recession on investment returns,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a long time before things improve. Florida legislators are aware of this.”

SMITH TAGS WEATHERFORD HIS ‘LOSER OF THE WEEK’: Weatherford “could never live up to the extraordinary bipartisan optimism and enthusiasm for his speakership,” writes the Tampa Bay Times‘ Adam Smith in his state round-up column in which he names the Wesley Chapel Republican his ‘Loser of the Week’ in Florida politics. “Weatherford has managed to scrape off the sheen awfully fast, starting with painfully misleading personal anecdotes about why he opposes Medicaid expansion in Florida. Weatherford also flies in style aboard a lobbyist’s plane, and between his preening before right-wing party activists in Washington last weekend and his approach on overhauling Florida pensions, he’s in danger of looking more like an ideologue than a leader.”

WEATHERFORD’S OFFICE PROTESTED ON SATURDAY via Mitch Perry of Creative Loafing

Members of Organizing for Action (OFA) marched half a mile down SR54 Saturday afternoon to House Speaker Will Weatherford’s office in Wesley Chapel with signs reading “Where’s there’s a Will, there’s no Way,” and “Patients over Politics.”

They were there to protest Weatherford’s outspoken advocacy against accepting the Medicaid expansion plan offered by the federal government — a key part of the Affordable Care Act — that would pay all costs for Florida to expand their Medicaid rolls by up to a million people for three years, and then a 90-10 federal/state match after that.

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HOUSE, SENATE CLOSE ON BUDGET NUMBERS, POLICY, NOT TIMELINE via Gray Rohrer of the Florida Current

The House and Senate budget allocations revealed this week show the two chambers aren’t far apart on overall funding for education and health care, but differ significantly on specific policy proposals in those areas, as well as taxes.

The House funds education at a little more than $14 billion; the Senate adds $173.7 million more. Health and human services comes in at $7.82 billion in the House, $74.3 million more than the Senate. The two chambers are $40 million apart on funding for courts and criminal and civil justice. Overall, the two sides are $104.6 million apart in their general revenue allocations.

… Senate leaders are developing a plan to accept federal money originally slated for Medicaid expansion to use in premium assistance programs. …

… Gaetz’ chamber is not nearly as enthusiastic about Scott’s plans for $141 million in manufacturing tax cuts and business incentives. …

… (Joe) Negron said this week he wants to eliminate a $220 million tax break for the insurance industry to pay for the reduction in license and vehicle fees. …

… Both chambers, however, are on the same timeline to get their versions of the budget completed. Negron said the Senate Appropriations Committee plans to vote on a budget on April 3. Weatherford said the House plans to “track with the Senate.”

HOUSE EDUCATION PANEL MOVES CHARTER BILL

Legislation about charter schools is en route to the House floor after passing the House Education Committee on Friday.

The measure (HB 7009) is aimed in part at standardizing the process for opening new charter schools and cracking down on a few problem charters. It passed 12-6, with most of the panel’s Democrats hesitant about a portion of the bill that would allow buildings that had been schools but are no longer being used as schools to be turned over to a charter school on request. Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, has said he is willing to work on the language about buildings. 

IMMIGRANT TUITION BILL HEADS TO HOUSE FLOOR via the News Service of Florida

A measure allowing some children of undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition is headed to the House floor after passing its last committee stop Friday.

The measure (HB 7051), sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nunez was unanimously approved by the House Education Committee. The bill allows students who are citizens and attended high school in Florida for three years to be eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of their parents’ immigration status. The measure largely follows the outline of a federal court decision last year striking down a state law requiring those students to pay the higher, out-of-state tuition rates. Supporters say the bill is still significant, in part because it covers groups beyond immigrants, including veterans.

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ALACHUA COMPANY LANDS $360 MILLION DOD CONTRACT via the Gainesville Sun

An Alachua-based biotech company has landed a Department of Defense contract that could be worth as much as $360 million over 10 years to develop manufacturing processes for drugs to treat bioterrorism and radiological threats.

Nanotherapeutics plans to build a $150 million, 145,000-square-foot expansion and add as many as 150 new employees with an average salary of $90,000 as a result of the contract, according to a 2012 application for tax rebates.

Company officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Nanotherapeutics currently has 45 employees at an office in Progress Corporate Park in Alachua.

The University of Florida Foundation was working with the company to build its new manufacturing facility in a 280-acre corporate park established last year on farmland adjacent to Progress Corporate Park.

Nanotherapeutics received the award Wednesday and announced it on its website Friday.

DUKE ENERGY BEGINS NEW LOGO ROLLOUT TODAY

Duke Energy will start rolling out its new logo, a product of last year’s merger with Progress Energy, on Monday and continue for several months.

The changeover on company signs, vehicles and locations will start in parts of the Carolinas that Duke served before last year’s merger, as well as in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. The rollout will begin in areas of the Carolinas served by Progress, and in Florida, on April 29.

Also in April, Progress Energy Carolinas will become Duke Energy Progress and Progress Energy Florida will be known as Duke Energy. The nation’s largest utility serves 7.2 million customers in six states.

The logo will be changed on 450 offices and operation centers, 5,500 substations and 11,500 vehicles. Shareholders will pay for the changeover.

STATE FILES TO BLOCK INJUNCTION AGAINST NO-FAULT AUTO INSURANCE LAW 

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty is asking a court to allow continued enforcement of the new Personal Injury Protection law, appealing an injunction a Tallahassee circuit court judge issued.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled the law that Gov. Rick Scott signed last May illegally prevents accident patients from using PIP claims to pay for treatment by acupuncturists and massage therapists. He also found fault with the law’s lower limit on how much it will pay for non-emergency medical care. The Office of Insurance Regulation, in its filing on Thursday, sought a stay of the injunction pending its appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal. The law was expected to eventually lower rates 14 percent to 24.6 percent, but the savings have been slow in coming. The bill was considered a last ditch effort to maintain the no-fault coverage that requires motorists to carry $10,000 in medical coverage. The alternative would be to replace the system with bodily injury insurance, which could put medical coverage into the courts as the injured party seeks to recoup expenses from the at-fault motorist. 

Scott, who pushed for the PIP changes, promised to fight for the new law. “Our personal injury protection legislation was designed to stop the high costs passed on to Florida families by car insurance companies because of excessive lawsuits, waste and fraud,” Scott said in a statement after Lewis’ ruling. “Since our legislation, more than 70 percent of the insurance rates approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation have either decreased or held steady, compared to a majority of rate increases before our reforms. Our reforms are working to lower insurance costs for Florida families and we will continue to fight special interest groups to keep them in place.”

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4TH FLOOR FILES talks to David Ramba about his his children, the Kentucky Derby, and reporters. Here’s the file on David.

APPOINTED: Arthur Wotiz to the Board of Directors of Scripps Florida Funding Corporation.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Andrea Becker, Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Jeff Hartley, Smith Bryan Myers: Clearwater Marine Aquarium; Florida Health Care Association

Travis Blanton, Melanie Brown, Amy Christian, Jeff Johnson, Johnson & Blanton: Bridging Freedom

Paul Bradshaw, Electra Bustle, Lindsey Perkins, Southern Strategy Group: M&R Strategic Services, Inc

Ed Mitchell, Stacey Webb, Southern Strategy Group: Leon County School Board

Eliakim Nortelus, Akerman Senterfitt: HULT International Business School

Robert Shave, Capitol Energy Florida: Florida Association of Sinkhole Specialists

PARTICIPANTS SOUGHT FOR SCULPTURE HONORING HOUSE SGT. SUMNER via Mark Landreth

Michael Jernigan, familiar to all as the “Sculptor of the Fourth Floor” is seeking to honor House Sergeant-at-Arms, Earnie Sumner. Sumner plans to retire June 30, 2013, after 44 years on the House staff.  Jernigan, whose sculpting has honored fallen first responders to political figures to the military (he was embedded with an infantry unit in Afghanistan) is world renown for his lifelike works. If you would like to participate, he is looking for 20 individuals to coalesce as a group around the bust of Sumner. Each share is $800, but you can take on more shares should you want to honor “the Sarge.” For more information, contact Michael at 850-877-4332, or email him at mdjernigan@portraitsculpture.com.

PLEASE CONSIDER HELPING 

Donations to help offset Ken Plante’s medical expenses are still needed. Send your contribution to the “Kenneth A. Plante Trust Fund” P.O. Box 11238, Tallahassee, 32302. 

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VOTING IN FIRST ROUND OF TALLY MADNESS ENDS TONIGHT AT 11;59 P.M.

It appears there’s more at stake in the match-up between #7 seed Jim Magill and #10 seed Allison Carvajal than just determining who moves on to the second-round … Some Tally insiders suggest Carvajal vs. Magill is a proxy fight between Avenue Eat and Drink restaurant, where Carvajal is a dedicated regular, and The Governors Club, where Magill is known to hold court. Reportedly, bartenders and waiters at both restaurants have been pulling out their iPhones to vote for their favorite patrons. As of late Saturday night, Carvajal had a 10 vote lead over Magill — giving Carvajal a 50.2 to 49.8 percent lead.

Like Joe Namath before Super Bowl III, underdog Marc Reichelderfer promised he’d pull off an upset … “I may end up without a thumb, but he’s going down,” swore Reichlderfer. The “he” Reichelderfer is referring to is #1 seed Brian Ballard, so the chances of an upset may be slim. However, as of Saturday night, Reichelderfer has pulled ahead — by just one vote at last count — of Ballard in their first-round face-off. That lead, Reichelderfer worries, may be difficult to hang on to.

Ron Laface staging furious comebackFor a moment there, it was looking pretty dicey for Capitol City Consulting’s Ron LaFce. Facing-off in a #3 vs #14 first-round match-up vs. Patrick Bell, LaFace had fallen far behind Bell after the first three days of votingHowever, with 48 hours left in first-round voting, LaFace has staged a furious comeback, moving ahead of Bell behind a flurry of votes on Saturday. As of late Saturday night, LaFace led Bell 53.6 to 46.7 percent with over 5,000 votes cast in just this one bracket.

There’s just something special about those #15 seeds. On the same weekend #15 seed Florida Gulf Coast University knocked off #2 seed Georgetown as part of March Madness, #15 seed Monica Rodriguez is all but tied with #2 seed Bill Rubin in their first-round TallyMadness match-up. The Rubin vs. Rodriguez match-up was the most trafficked face-off on Saturday, with more 2,200 votes cast during the day. At last count, Rodriguez has the narrowest of leads over Rubin, 50.1 to 49.9 percent.   

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.