A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
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DRIVING THE NAT’L DISCUSSION – 6 MILLION HAVE ENROLLED IN OBAMACARE
The White House said more than 6 million Americans have signed up for private health coverage through state and federal exchanges since they opened in October, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The number, released just days ahead of the March 31 deadline for most people to enroll for this year, is still short of initial projections for 7 million people to obtain their coverage through the exchanges for 2014. But it means the administration has now passed a revised estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office earlier this year that concluded 6 million people would enroll in private health plans for 2014.
The closely watched figure shows how many people have completed an application for coverage and picked a plan. The administration has referred questions about how many people have paid their first month’s premium, the final step in enrolling in coverage, to insurers, who have so far generally declined to give firm numbers.
>>>Reuters: Ten days ago, the administration had pegged enrollment at more than 5 million people, and enlisted celebrities and top government officials to try to convince more uninsured people – particularly the young and healthy – to sign up.
REPUBLICANS COULDN’T STOP FLORIDA FROM BECOMING AN OBAMACARE SUCCESS STORY via Kelli Kennedy of HuffPost Politics
Florida’s Republican leaders have fought the Affordable Care Act at every turn, banning navigators from county health departments, offering no state dollars to boost outreach efforts to 3.5 million uninsured and leading the fight to repeal the law. Yet the state has emerged as a tale of what went right with President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
More than 440,000 Florida residents had been enrolled through the federal marketplace through the end of February, putting Florida on pace to exceed the federal government’s initial projections by the time enrollment closes March 31.
The numbers are impressive for a state where Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature. By comparison, Republican-leaning Texas has enrolled 295,000 through the federal site, even though its population is about a third larger than Florida’s.
Florida’s success is due partly to infrastructure created in the swing state by Democratic-affiliated groups during the last three presidential elections, along with continued investment by the Obama administration and nonprofit advocacy groups in the diverse state that will likely be competitive in November’s midterm election.
Groups helping customers enroll in ACA-related health plans have used many of the same people who ran Obama’s presidential campaigns, giving them five years of deeply entrenched relationships in communities, data to pinpoint the uninsured and veteran volunteers to track them down. The state narrowly went for Obama in 2012.
The successes and failures of the Affordable Care Act also carry more political weight in a battleground state such as Florida where the new law will fuel election campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats.
IN LAS VEGAS, JEB BUSH STUMPS FOR BETTER SCHOOLS AND MAYBE A WHITE HOUSE BID via Laura Myers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal
Visiting Las Vegas, Bush urged Nevada educators to “be big or go home” when it comes to updating the education system to allow students to learn digitally on-line and at their own pace.
“One of the things that’s important is to have high, lofty expectations,” Bush said during a forum at Advanced Technologies Academy, Nevada’s top high school. “In too many places in our country the expectations are dumbed down instead of starting with the premise that everybody in this classroom has a God-given ability and let’s maximize it.”
Bush, chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education that he founded, toured the campus to see how technology and digital learning tools have helped the magnet school become the top Nevada school.
A potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, Bush also is in town to meet with Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who’s throwing a VIP party at his private hangar at McCarran International Airport. Bush will be the featured speaker.
At the education event, Bush spoke to about 200 students from the school. He was joined on a panel with State Board of Education member Mark Newburn, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, Clark County Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and Principal Deborah Kral and a student, Anton Skorkin, who studied law at the school.
When Bush was governor of Florida, the education system improved as he supported more innovative programs and encouraged more school choice, which allows students to choose public or private schools.
MARCO RUBIO AND THE INVISIBLE PRIMARY via Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman of POLITICO
If the 2016 starter’s pistol fired tomorrow, at least a few contenders would be able to jump into action almost immediately. Marco Rubio, now halfway through his first Senate term, has surrounded himself with presidential-level strategists and policy advisers from the outset. His political operation is run by South Carolina operative Terry Sullivan, while the Rubio PAC Reclaim America brought on former Bush-Cheney and Fred Thompson fundraiser Dorinda Moss to manage the money flow.
A closer look at Rubio’s finance reports reveal an even more sophisticated operation at work. In addition to several vendors long associated with Rubio — the TV firm Something Else Strategies and the pollsters at North Star Opinion Research — Rubio has paid hefty sums to more specialized political consultants, including $150,000 to the Republican data analytics firm 0ptimus. Also working for Rubio is digital consultant Mike Harinstein, a former Americans for Prosperity digital guru now at the firm Core Focus Consulting.
And Rubio’s political machine isn’t just waiting for the “go” order. Reclaim America ran TV ads last year for Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, while his pollster was paid for multiple surveys. If Rubio runs, he’ll have plenty more hiring to do — especially in the early states — but the core of his national operation is perhaps the strongest in the field.
Giving Rubio an early run for his organizational money is Bobby Jindal, who has formed two independent groups to push his national message: a federal PAC, dubbed Stand up to Washington, and the policy nonprofit America Next.
Like Rubio, he has a core set of consultants experienced in presidential politics. They include the pollsters and ad men at OnMessage Inc., a Virginia-based firm that has worked for Jindal for a decade and employs former Jindal campaign manager Timmy Teepell.
And the Louisiana governor has been aggressively courting national finance types, making four trips to New York City in this calendar year to compete on turf where Christie was once the overwhelming favorite, as well as trips to other major cities, like Chicago.
Neither Rubio nor Jindal has caught fire in the earliest rounds of horse-race polling, a reality that supporters say counts for little this far out.
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STATE TO SUSPEND ALL EFFORTS TO ‘PURGE’ NON-CITIZEN VOTERS via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times
Facing overwhelming resistance from county election supervisors in a busy election year, Gov. Scott’s administration will suspend all efforts in 2014 to comb the Florida voter rolls of suspected non-citizens.
Scott’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, held conference calls with supervisors Thursday, during which he said the state is reluctant to move forward due until it can evaluate new changes to a federal homeland security database, known as SAVE.
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon: “As we’ve stated since our initial lawsuit challenging the voter purge, there was never any evidence that there was a problem that the purge would fix, but that the purge was simply another voter suppression tool justified by the ginned-up phantom of ‘voter fraud.’ It now appears that the very database that Secretary Detzner and Governor Scott pinned their hopes on and that we had warned was too unreliable to be used for elections is ultimately the voter purge’s undoing.”
League of Women Voters: “Florida voters should be delighted by this news. Independently elected Supervisors of Elections are already standing sentry on making sure that only eligible citizens are voting. Programs like ‘Project Integrity’ have proven time and time again to disproportionally impact minority voters and erroneously disenfranchise those that are eligible.”
BREAKING OVERNIGHT — GOV. SCOTT QUICKLY RESCINDS OFFER TO NEW FINANCE LEADER via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News
Days after Gov. Scott’s campaign finance chairman resigned in frustration, the campaign offered the job to another GOP rainmaker before abruptly rescinding the offer, six people with knowledge of the situation say.
Scott’s campaign declined to comment Thursday, so it’s unclear why Scott offered the post to John Rood, a nationally known Republican donor, and then quickly changed his mind. A call placed to Rood’s cell phone seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.
Those who spoke to the Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau did so on condition of anonymity because they didn’t have the campaign’s permission to discuss the move publicly.
LONGTIME MDX BOARD MEMBER RESIGNS OVER TREATMENT OF MIKE FERNANDEZ BY GOV. SCOTT’S CAMPAIGN TEAM via the Miami Herald
Gonzalo Sanabria, a longtime Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board member, announced he was resigning from his appointed post to protest the “disparaging and disrespectful” treatment of Mike Fernandez, the former co-finance chair of Gov. Scott’s campaign.
“Since he has been treated in such a disparaging and disrespectful manner by your [campaign] staff and ignored in his advice, it is obvious that there is a great deal of dysfunction and disconnection of which I want to have no part nor can I render my support any longer as you are governing from a weak and flawed platform,” Sanabria wrote in an email to Scott’s staff.
Fernandez had recommended that Scott re-appoint Sanabria to the MDX board. Sanabria has served on the MDX board under former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush.
The board oversees the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which manages several major highways, including the Airport Expressway, Dolphin Expressway and the Gratigny Expressway
“The Hispanic Community of South Florida is a key component of this great State’s vibrant socio-political fabric and treating us as you have is a grave mistake as it pains me to tell you what you will find out to the chagrin of us loyal Republicans,” wrote Sanabria. “Good Luck Governor, I’m not a fan any longer.”
CRIST LAUNCHES ATTACK AD, SCOTT’S TEAM RETURNS FIRE ON TUITION INCREASE via Devin Derby of the Sunshine State News
Crist is going on the attack with a new video trashing Gov. Scott. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November. “Florida can’t trust Rick Scott” is the theme of the new ad.
The Scott team fired back by insisting Crist raised tuition during his time in office and pointing to a report from Bay News 9.
“Charlie Crist is releasing a new ad this morning, but it was his response to Governor Scott last night in Sarasota that should raise eyebrows,” Matt Moon, a spokesman for the Scott campaign, emailed the media on Thursday. “In Tampa on Wednesday, Scott said that ‘we have to reduce the tuition increases that happened while Charlie Crist was governor.
“Charlie Crist’s response?” Moon asked before pointing to the Bay News 9 report. “As the reporter said, Charlie Crist ‘didn’t deny raising tuition for college.’ Only one conclusion can be made from that: Charlie Crist doesn’t care about students.”
DEMS ASK STATIONS TO PULL ‘FALSE’ SCOTT ATTACK AD OF CRIST via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times
The Florida Democratic Party sent a letter to 67 television stations in all 10 media markets asking them to refrain from airing the “patently false” attack ad from the Scott campaign featuring Crist’s support of Obamacare.
The $2 million ad campaign was launched last week by the governor’s “Let’s Get to Work” committee and features former Gov. Charlie Crist being asked by CNN if he thought Obamacare has harmed Floridians and he replies “I don’t think so at all. I think it’s been great.” The ad also repeats statements about the impact of Obamacare that the Associated Press and PolitiFact have demonstrated are inaccurate.
The Republican Party of Florida called the letter “another example of amateur lawyering by Florida Democrats.”
This is the second time the party has asked television stations to take down an ad by the governor’s campaign. Two weeks ago, the party said the governor’s first ad of the campaign titled “Families” violated Florida law because it failed to prominently indicate that it was paid for by the governor’s campaign because it said only that it was “sponsored by Let’s Get to Work.”
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GOV. SCOTT AND CABINET HAVE A CHANCE TO DO THE RIGHT THING FOR FELIX GARCIA Full blog post here
Felix Garcia, a 52-year-old deaf Floridian whose brother and sister framed him for murder and have since admitted to doing so, has been behind bars for 32 years. Behind bars with a 7-hour alibi that places him six miles away from the crime scene with his girlfriend, their 6-month old daughter, and his girlfriend’s mother, and — at least briefly — with a Domino’s Pizza delivery man. But Garcia, sitting deaf in a Tampa courtroom in 1983, did not know to say so.
He could not understand the proceedings. He was not provided with a sign language interpreter. He had a fourth grade reading and comprehension level. He experienced the entire trial as noise. He answered, “yes” to indicting questions, which he could not hear, because he thought his cooperation would speed up the trial, so he could go home sooner. When Felix saw his sister Tina take the stand, he assumed she was doing so to come to his defense. On that, too, he was wrong.
The only piece of evidence against Felix: a pawnshop ticket that his brother Frank asked Felix to sign. It was for a ring that Frank had stolen from the murder victim, Joseph Tramontana Jr. Knowing nothing about the ring’s origins and willing to oblige, Felix’s license was filed with the ring at the Tampa Gun and Pawn Shop. He was given 99 years for armed robbery and a life sentence for murder.
Over time, Frank and Tina each came clean. In 1989 and again in 1996, Frank admitted under oath that Felix had nothing to do with the shooting or robbing of Tramontana Jr. In 1996, Tina did the same. But those attempts to absolve Felix were in vain. Today, Felix’s case has rallied the attention and support of some big players: Pat Bliss, a retired paralegal, has been working to secure Felix’s freedom for 17 years; Reggie Garcia, trial attorney extraordinaire, has taken on the case pro bono; Ballard Partners and Sachs Media Group have joined the team as pro bono advocates to see that the right thing is done.
Gov. Scott and Florida Cabinet hold the only keys to exoneration for Felix Garcia. They should take mercy, remedy this injustice, and free an innocent man.
APPOINTED: Arango O’Doski to the Board of Architecture and Interior Design.
APPOINTED: Cheryl Phipps to the Board of Pilot Commissioners
APPOINTED: David Gilson and Steven Bassett to the Florida Building Commission.
REAPPOINTED: Kathryn McInnis to Florida Gateway College District Board of Trustees
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will participate in a ceremonial ribbon cutting for the I-595 Express Project. Davie Police Department, 1230 South Nob Hill Road, Davie. 1:00 p.m.
GOV. SCOTT TO ANNOUNCE JOB NUMBERS Titan Metal Service, 1906 Maritime Boulevard, Tampa. 9:30 a.m.
REAL ESTATE NEWS YOU SHOULD KNOW – ADAM HOLLINGSWORTH SELLING HIS JACKSONVILLE HOME, HAS NO PLANS TO LEAVE TALLAHASSEE via Matt Dixon of PoliticalFixFlorida.com
Adam Hollingsworth, the top staffer for Gov. Scott, has put his Jacksonville house on the market and has no plans to leave Tallahassee.
His 2,532 square-foot house has been on the market for two days, according to the Fred Miller Group, which is listing the house. Hollingsworth is asking $699,000 for the four-bedroom home, which he has owned in since 2005. It is located in Jacksonville’s Ingleside Heights neighborhood.
Hollingsworth and his family moved to Tallahassee in July 2012 when he became Scott’s chief of staff. He had originally planned, though, to return to Jacksonville after his time in Scott’s office.
SHOT – “Jacksonville on top for transparency” – Florida Times-Union editorial on 3/26
CHASER – Alexis Lambert is the city’s public accountability officer. (Perhaps Gov. Scott should consider hiring Lambert away from Jax)
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BILL TO INCREASE HIGHWAY SPEED LIMITS ON WAY TO FULL SENATE VOTE Full blog post here
Floridians can soon be driving a little faster — legally — as the State Speed Zones bill passes its final committee, now on its way to a full Senate vote.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations committee approved SB 392 Thursday, filed by State Sen. Jeff Brandes. If passed, it would mandate a review of certain roadways by the Florida Department of Transportation to determine if increasing speed limits would be appropriate.
Florida law institutes varying speed limits on a variety of roadways statewide. Current limits of 70 miles per hour for interstates, 65 miles per hour for highways with a divided median, and 60 miles per hour could be increased by 5 MPH if determined safe by the FDOT.
>>>Progressive Choice Florida invites you to join the celebration of choice that exists for parents and children within Florida’s public school system. Let’s support our public schools and continue to fund and expand their innovative achievements.
SENATE COMMITTEE ADDS $2 MILLION FOR USF ST. PETE’S BUSINESS SCHOOL BEFORE PASSING BUDGET via Matt Dixon of the PoliticalFixFlorida.com
An additional $2 million was added to the Senate’s spending-plan for the USF St. Petersburg business school as members of a budget panel considered a total of 53 amendments.
The Senate’s budget now includes $15 million for the school, which tops the House’s proposed funding level by roughly $5.5 million.
USF St. Petersburg had $5 million in the current year budget for the College of Business. The school, though, needs an additional $20 million.
The $2 million was taken from Indian River State College, which originally had the money allocated to it for classroom renovations.
SENATE PANEL WANTS 4-YEAR DEGREES PUT ON HOLD AT STATE COLLEGES via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post
Florida Senate budget-writers agreed to end a decade-long trend of expanding bachelor’s degree options at state colleges, saying the programs have proliferated and the current system no longer works.
Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron said lawmakers were only pushing the “pause button” to take stock of how the college and university systems interlock. Under the legislation (CS/SB 1148), only the 175 four-year degree programs now in place at the 25 colleges offering them would continue.
The state Board of Education would be barred from offering any new B.A. degree programs until the Legislature decides differently.
The measure cleared the Appropriations Committee 18-1, with Sen. Jack Latvala the lone opponent.
The Senate’s push for reining in college degree programs would be a major change of course in Florida and redirect a wave that began with St. Petersburg College offering the first bachelor’s degree programs in 2001 in nursing, education and information technology.
SPEAKER DOESN’T LIKE SIMMONS PLAN FOR STADIUM-INCENTIVES via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel
Speaker Weatherford said he didn’t support a plan that could allow Orlando’s professional soccer backers to secure state tax dollars for a stadium as soon as this summer.
Both the House and Senate are nearing floor votes on plans to require stadium tax subsidies to go through a new competition process for annual sales tax rebates where they apply to the state’s jobs agency and are evaluated based on their economic impact.
Central Florida senators, including Sens. David Simmons and Andy Gardiner, along with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and other Major League Soccer backers are pushing a change to the bill to let projects like the future Orlando City Soccer Club MLS team compete for state dollars without requiring the Legislature to later sign off on the tax breaks.
The time difference is critical for Orlando’s $85 million Major League Soccer stadium, which is slated to be under construction by 2015. If the project can secure the $2 million annual sales-tax rebate sooner, it can proceed with a larger, $110 million soccer palace with more amenities.
But Weatherford told reporters he didn’t favor the idea.
FRIDAY’S LEGISLATIVE AGENDA IS A QUIET END TO A HECTIC WEEK Full blog post here
After a hectic week of committees and budget deliberations, the House meets for a morning session on Friday, with only one House committee meeting.
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FLORIDA DRAGS DOWN U.S. ON AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S GLOBAL DEATH PENALTY REPORT via Nico Hines of the Daily Beast
Florida has joined North Korea and Iran as a major concern for Amnesty International’s death penalty campaigners.
At the launch of its annual report on global execution rates, Amnesty said the state’s law putting an express lane on death row was deeply troubling. “One of the biggest concerns we had this year was the adoption of legislation in Florida that aims at streamlining executions,” Amnesty death penalty campaigner Chiara Sangiorgio told The Daily Beast.
The Timely Justice Act signed into law by Gov. Scott is designed to get inmates into the execution chamber as quickly as possible once their appeals have been exhausted. Florida surpassed Texas in the number of death sentences handed down in 2013. The Sunshine State also holds the record for convicted death row prisoners turning out to have been innocent (PDF). That may be because it is the only state in the union that allows a simple 7-5 verdict by a jury to consign someone to death.
Overall the number of executions in the U.S. fell last year, but America retained its position among the globe’s top five executioners alongside Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Only 22 of the world’s 206 countries carried out any executions in last year, according to Amnesty. The U.S. was the only one in the Americas.
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LOBBYING NEWS HEADLINE OF THE DAY via POLITICO Influence: “Beekeeper Group Adds To Their Hive”
NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS
Realph Arza, Mountain Moving Strategies: Education Elements; Florida Schools of Choice Advocacy, Inc.; KarbonStream
Laura Boehmer, Southern Strategy Group: Florida Med Trans Network LLC
Jim DeBeaugrine, Marnie George, Michael Harrell, Pennington, P.A.: Integral Health Plan, Inc.
Ron Pierce, Sara Michelle Gross, RSA Consulting Group: Community Champions; Environmental Professionals of Florida, Inc.; Tampa Family Health Centers
Julia Juarez, JEJ & Associates: City of St. Augustine
Andrew Katchel: Department of Environmental Protection
Frank Morris: UPS
Diana Ragbeer: The Children’s Trust
Sharon Spratt: Enterprise Florida
THE NEW BUSINESS OF LOBBYING via David Gura of Marketplace.org
What does the word “lobbying” connote? Maybe a smoke-filled room somewhere, or multi-course meals, charged to an expense account. Well, “government affairs professionals,” as they like to call themselves, say the job has changed.
I persist, arranging to meet Rich Gold, a partner with the firm Holland & Knight, at the Round Robin & Scotch Bar in the Willard Hotel.
According to lore, the term “lobbying” was coined there. Back in the 1870s, Gold’s professional forebears plied President Ulysses S. Grant with cigars and booze. So, as a waiter approaches, I wonder if Gold is going to pick vodka or gin.
Gold has been lobbying for two decades, and he says the culture has changed.
Gerry Sikorski is one of Gold’s colleagues. He heads the government section at Holland & Knight. For a decade, he represented Minnesotans in the House of Representatives. We meet in a cafeteria on Capitol Hill – where martinis aren’t on the menu, by the way.
Sikorski says a lobbyist can’t fundamentally reinvent himself, but he can adjust, and many lobbyists have had to. Increasingly, what firms want in a lobbyist is expertise in a particular subject matter.
Lawmakers are spending more time away from Washington. Last year, there were just 159 legislative days, when the House of Representatives was in session. And Congress isn’t passing many bills. In 2013, just 87 became law.
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CONTEXT FLORIDA: ADAM PUTNAM, HISPANIC STUDENTS, HATING CHILDREN AND THE SANDWICH GENERATION
On Context Florida: Adam Putnam just might be the only grown-up in Tallahassee, writes Cary McMullen. In 1998, when Florida embraced higher standards and increased accountability, Florida’s Hispanic students were scoring 25 points below the average for white students, says Peter Schorsch. Because Florida “flat out refuses” to support public schools, Linda Cunningham comes to an obvious conclusion — we hate children. Rebekah McCloud is a proud member of the “sandwich generation,” the people who care for aging parents while helping to support their own children.
Facing Florida with Mike Vasalinda: Bill Cotterell
Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on Miami’s CBS 4: DCF Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo
Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Steve Bousquet, Adam Goodman of The Victory Group, Rita Ferrandino of the Sarasota Democratic Party, and Dr. Susan MacManus
Political Connections on Tampa Bay’s BayNews 9: Al From, Democratic Leadership Council
The Usual Suspects which airs on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Steve Vancore, Gary Yordon, and Sen. Jeff Brandes.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY this weekend to lobbyist extraordinaire Louis Betz