Sunburn for 3/28 — A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

A belated happy birthday to the Wolfman, Bob Levy.

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.

DOMA IS IN TROUBLE

SCOTUSblog: “If the Supreme Court can find its way through a dense procedural thicket, and confront the constitutionality of the federal law that defined marriage as limited to a man and a woman, that law may be gone, after a seventeen-year existence.  That was the overriding impression after just under two hours of argument Wednesday on the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

FADING SUPPORT FOR TOUGHER GUN LAWS

A new CBS News poll finds support for stricter gun control laws overall “has dropped since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School from 57% then to 47% now.”

REALLY? THIS EMAIL IN MARCH: “You can be damned sure this isn’t going to stop” – Jim Messina, BarackObama.com

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RICK SCOTT: FLORIDA TO BE BETTER ‘BRAGGERS’ THAN TEXAS via CNN

“Gov. (Rick) Perry’s always bragging about how great Texas is, well look, 230,000 people moved here last year,” Scott said on CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.”

During Perry’s campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the Texas governor often pointed to his state’s ability to largely weather the nation’s economic downturn in the previous few years. He’s also known for traveling to other states to lure businesses to Texas because of its emphasis on low taxes.

Scott, however, argued Florida is becoming the new haven for job growth.

Pointing to the decrease in unemployment since he took office in January 2011, Scott said Florida is “going to become better braggers than Texas about how we’re getting more jobs.”

SCOTT BLAMED BY NELSON FOR LOW RATE OF HELPING ‘HARDEST HIT’ MORTGAGES via Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida

Senator Bill Nelson said Wednesday that Gov. Scott is to blame for the state’s poor performance in helping homeowners who lost their jobs or part of their incomes during the recession.

Nelson said during a stop in Tallahassee that he has written the inspector general of the federal Troubled Assets Relief Fund, or TARP, to look into what he called “mismanagement and inaction by Florida officials” in administering a program called “Hardest Hit,” which was supposed to take federal money and help struggling homeowners. 

Nelson cited a story by the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month that said of the 18 states participating in the Hardest Hit program, Florida ranked last for the percentage of federal dollars distributed – $150 million of about $1 billion in federal recovery funds, or 15.7 percent of the pot over the past three years. 

“The implication in the Tampa Bay Times is that it was made at the administrative level in the Executive Office of the Governor,” Nelson said. “I have no evidence except to know exactly that – you can look at the statistics of the program. And as a result, the people of Florida have been hurt.” 

According to the Times, “Scott — a critic of federal stimulus programs — restricted efforts to publicize the Hardest Hit program and was instrumental in reducing aid when it went statewide in 2011.”

Scott’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

SCOTT: CRIST ‘CIRCUMVENTED’ INCENTIVE PROCESS by Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida

Scott took a shot at his predecessor … for the continuation of the state’s business incentive programs Wednesday. The governor’s assertions came in response to his inspector general’s report in how the failed Digital Domain Media Group received $20 million from Florida in 2009.

… The report from Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel found that there was nothing unlawful in how the money was awarded to bring the company to Port St. Lucie. 

However, investigators noted there were gaps in written documentation, conflicting recollections of events and unavailable key witnesses as they reviewed how the project was then successfully moved through the Legislature after the initial proposal failed to get a recommendation from Enterprise Florida.

“This Inspector General report shows two things – first, our current economic project vetting process is in place for a reason, and second, that process was clearly circumvented by the previous administration for the Digital Domain deal,” Scott said in a release.

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FLA. DEMS PRAY FOR CRIST’S RESURRECTION via the National Journal

“It’s like the perfect scenario for Crist,” Democratic consultant Screven Watson said. “I’m not ready to coronate him, but I think it’s damn close.”

There’s more good from Watson when asked about the possibility of a wealthy businessman — a Democratic Rick Scott — entering the race. Watson compared it to a unicorn. “I hear about it, but I’ve never seen it,” he said.

Of course, Steve Schale is asked for his opinion about the race. Schale said that with Crist looking at the race, he “didn’t know how much room” a potential primary opponent would have to “find a coalition” to run against Crist.

“I don’t know how Crist decides not to run,” Schale said. “If he says ‘I’m in,’ he’s probably pretty much assured of being the nominee.”

Schale acknowledged that some Democrats are hesitant to embrace Crist as the party’s nominee because he’s “the guy that some people spent 20 years trying to beat.” But he added for most Democrats “there isn’t that same angst. … They thought highly of him when he was governor, and they still like him.”

Democratic consultant Steve Vancore agreed. “It’s Charlie Crist’s to lose,” said Vancore. “At this point in time, I don’t see anybody who could really compete well in the Democratic primary.”

And then there is the seemingly bitter Robin Rorapaugh — bitter, I imagine, because there will be little room at the trough for her — who said Crist was a “viable Democrat” but added that “people who are deciding not to run for governor because they think Charlie Crist has the primary election … aren’t thinking very deeply.”

WHY BILL NELSON HAS NO INTENTION OF RUNNING via Michael Bender of Bloomberg

rom the outside, it could look tempting for Florida’s only Democrat in statewide office to run against Republican Governor Rick Scott next year. He could punctuate a long career in Florida politics by winning the state’s top elected office. He’s certainly a feared opponent by some Republicans close to Scott. (The opposition research on Nelson started months ago, just in case.) 

I asked Nelson, in Tallahassee for an unrelated press conference, if he any interest in the seat. 

“I’m not planning to run for governor. I have no intention of running for governor. I’ve got plenty to do as serving as the senator for this state,” he said. 

I asked if he would clearly say that he won’t run. His response: “I said what I said.” 

After the press conference, he elaborated: “I’ll tell you, to be… uh, I’m chairman of the aging committee now. In two years, if we still have the majority, I’ll be chairman of commerce. Look at the jurisdiction that they have. So I will be grateful for that.”

EMAIL OF THE DAY (Because of who it’s from): “Tell Bill Nelson it’s time to support marriage equality” – from Equality Florida

READ Democratic consultant Kevin Cate’s blog on the future impact of gay marriage politics. Here.

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BLOG POST OF THE DAY: FLORIDA MUST FIX BROKEN ELECTORAL SYSTEM via Mark Ferrulo for Florida Voices

Florida’s elections must be free, fair and accessible. But the 2012 election in Florida, where long lines forced many voters to wait several hours to exercise their fundamental civic duty to vote, once again made Florida the poster child for election disasters.

COLUMN: BRING BACK FLA’S RUNOFF PRIMARY from no less than Bob Graham and George LeMieux

Reinstating Florida’s second primary is not difficult, and by using existing technology neither cost nor burden should become an eliminating factor. To ensure our elected leaders actually reflect our values, we simply must follow an extended timeline for holding elections, just like Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and a number of other states. The Legislature could easily set the first primary, for example, in early June and the second for early September. This schedule would provide more than ample time for the electorate to process their choices.

Our view is the second primary process engages more of the electorate, makes our political parties more relevant, promotes more representative candidates, and honors majority rule, a core principle of representative democracy. It achieves these qualities by giving people more opportunity to review and evaluate candidates, and choose among those who they think will best reflect their sentiments in local government, Tallahassee or Washington. 

FLORIDA CONSUMER CONFIDENCE UP IN MARCH via the Gainesville Sun

Florida consumer confidence rose unexpectedly in March, bucking the national trend that saw consumer’s mood to spend drop sharply with the start of federal budget cuts from the sequestration process, according to University of Florida researchers.

The Florida confidence index rose three points in March from a revised 73 in February, according to the UF Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. U.S. confidence dropped six points, according to a University of Michigan study.

The Florida confidence level is benchmarked to a 1966 level of 100 and measures changes over time within a range of 2 and 150.

Other indicators show Floridians may be justified in their confidence. The unemployment rate in January dropped below the national rate for the first time since the recession, the median sales price of a single-family home is up 13 percent from a year ago, gas prices dropped 15 cents per gallon over the last three weeks and the stock market continues to reach new highs.

INCOME GREW 3.2 IN FLORIDA IN 2012 via the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Florida’s personal income grew 3.2 percent last year, above the inflation rate and another sign the state is emerging from the Great Recession, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Wednesday. Florida’s total personal income, which includes wages, dividends, interest and government benefits, increased to $775 billion in 2012, up from $755 billion in 2011.

ONE-TIME ORLANDO OFFICER NAMED FIRST FEMALE DIRECTOR OF THE US SECRET SERVICE via contributor Karen Cyphers 

Veteran federal agent and senior official Julia Pierson, just named the first female director of the US Secret Service, has roots in Florida where she began her career as an officer with the Orlando Police Department and continued on to the Miami field office of the Secret Service. Through a series of promotions she was transferred to Washington where she continued her rise through exemplary work. 

With 30 years experience with the Secret Service, most of the 3,500 agents know Pierson and have worked with her in carrying out the dual missions of protecting the president (as well as dignitaries, former presidents, and families), and investigating counterfeiting and fraud. 

Pierson’s appointment is a welcome announcement, and will make for much better press than the last major news that broke on the Service regarding the …fraternization habits of some agents while abroad.

MEDICAID EXPANSION (OR HEALTHY FLORIDA ALTERNATIVE) COULD IMPACT THOUSANDS OF FLORIDA VETERANS via contributor Karen Cyphers 

Nearly 42,000 uninsured Florida veterans and 13,400 spouses could gain access to health coverage through the expansion of Medicaid — or a state alternative — according to a report just released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

According to RWJF, the report, of the approximate 103,700 veterans living in Florida (ages 18-64), 32,300 fall below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, and 8.9 percent fall between 100 and 138 percent — meaning that about 41 percent of Florida veterans could benefit from the expansion of Medicaid coverage as proposed under the PPACA.   Similar numbers of Florida veterans stand to benefit under Healthy Florida, an alternative proposal forwarded by the Florida Senate which the Legislature is considering and Governor Scott, who supports Medicaid expansion, has also expressed interest in. Another 13,400 uninsured spouses of veterans in Florida would also become eligible for health coverage under PPACA or Healthy Florida. Florida is one of three states that has more than 30,000 uninsured veterans.

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EX-STATE GOP CHAIR JIM GREER SENTENCED TO 18 MONTHS by Michael Kruse of the Tampa Bay Times

Jim Greer, hand shaker, party thrower, power seeker, former head of the Republican Party of Florida, was sentenced here on Wednesday to 18 months in state prison.

“You’re now a convicted felon, sir,” Circuit Judge Marc Lubet said. “I feel that this crime deserves prison. You egregiously violated a position of trust.”

Greer, 50 and a father of five, last month pleaded guilty to money laundering and theft, admitting he had created a company called Victory Strategies to siphon to himself and an associate some $200,000 of party donations.

… RPOF attorney Stephen Dobson called the prison sentence “entirely appropriate.”

“He stole the money from the party so he should’ve done that” — referring to Greer’s payment this week of $65,000 in restitution. “I hope it’s a message to not only politicians but anybody out there

TWEET, TWEET: @SaintPetersblog: Jim Greer will be out of prison just in time for the 2014 general election!

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Speaker Weatherford will provide brief remarks at the Florida Board of Governors meeting at Florida A&M University. 9:30 a.m. Student Union.

EXPERT EVIDENCE BILL UP IN HOUSE JUSTICE APPROPS

The Florida Chamber’s Coalition for Legal Reform will be advocating for lawmakers to pass House Bill 7015, relating to expert testimony, as the measure will be up for a vote in the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee today.  HB 7015, if adopted, would update the state’s expert evidence standard by moving from the Frye Standard to the more modern Daubert Standard.  The Coalition is advocating for this change as part of a broader push to improve Florida’s legal climate, which currently ranks 41st worst in the nation. 8 a.m., 17 House Office Building

FUNERAL PROTEST MEASURE HEADED TO GOVERNOR

The Senate passed HB 15 which represents “a commitment to honoring our fallen men and women in uniform,” according to the bill sponsors. The Senate sponsor, Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto and House sponsors Representatives Pat Rooney and Dane Eagle sought to increase the safety measures afforded grieving military families during funeral services. “The loss of a family member or friend is an extremely difficult time for loved ones,” said Leader Benacquisto, “Unfortunately; across the country we have seen these solemn times repeatedly interrupted, often at funerals for our fallen heroes who have courageously served our country in the military.” 

The bill strengthens current law making the disruption of a military funeral a 1st degree misdemeanor, by adding a 500 foot protest barrier and during or within an hour before or after the ceremony. The legislation recognizes the meaningful balance between First Amendment rights and a family’s right to grieve in private, and only addresses the time, place, and manner of the protests, not the content of the protest. The United States 8th Appellate Court has previously upheld this language as Constitutional. 

“We live in a country where freedom of speech, no matter how despicable that speech may be, is protected,” said Leader Benacquisto. “However, we should also respect the rights of families to grieve without the interference of those who have no other purpose but to cause emotional harm. These bills provide that needed protection and reverence for the families and friends of our fallen heroes.”

HOUSE EDUCATION BUDGET PUMPS UP SPENDING, TUITION via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

The House would increase school spending by $395 per-pupil next year while also allowing Florida colleges and universities to boost tuition by 6 percent, under an education budget released Wednesday.

Education Budget chairman Erik Fresen said the spending plan is also likely to include $2,500 teacher pay raises — a priority of Gov. Rick Scott. Details are still being worked out.

“Right now, we are exceeding it,” Fresen said of the pay-raise effort.

But there are clear areas of friction.

Scott has recommended a $412-per-pupil increase — bringing spending to $6,800 for each of Florida’s 2.7 million students. That’s edging closer to the state’s high-water mark, $7,126 reached during the pre-recession 2006-07 school year.

Scott also reiterated his opposition Tuesday to tuition increases.

INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES BILL PASSES HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE UNANIMOUSLY

House Bill 1119, the Intellectual Disabilities Bill, unanimously passed the Healthy Families Subcommittee.  Lawmakers heard testimony from The Arc of Florida, which recently launched the End the R-word in Florida campaign. 

Self-advocates Moira Rossi from Jacksonville and Derrick Sneed of Monticello testified before the committee today, asking them to change references to “mental retardation” in state statutes to “intellectual disabilities.”   George King, from Fort Pierce, whose 19-year-old son George has Down Syndrome, shared a story with legislators that recently happened to him at a local fair involving the use of the word “retard.”  To watch George King’s story, click here.

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FOUR, SCRATCH THAT, THREE, ERR, FOUR CANDIDATES EMERGING – INCLUDING OLDER BRO OF MORNIN’ JOE – TO REPLACE CLAY FORD IN HD 2 with Rick Outzen

George Scarborough says he is ready to pull the trigger and get in the race. He placed a close second to the late Clay Ford in the 2007 special election, losing by 402 votes in an four-man race. His healthcare background with the Studer Group could be a plus as the state wrestles with the implementation of Obamacare. He is the older brother of Mornin’ Joe Scarborough. He is waiting for the election dates to be sure they don’t conflict with family commitments.

Ed Gray, III, is the former mayor of Gulf Breeze, former Santa Rosa School Board chairman, former vice president for AmSouth Bank and First State Bank and city president of People’s First. He currently manages the Gulf Breeze loan pools. He is the oldest in the race and the only one who has held public office previously.

Mike Hill ran against Greg Evers for state senate in 2010 and lost. He is a State Farm agent and heads the Northwest Florida Tea Party.

Frank White is in, according to his supporters who have already planned a series of fundraisers. The PYP member and 2010 IN Rising Star is an attorney and has a software company. He is also Chamber chairman Sandy Sansing’s son-in-law. He is the youngest candidate in the primary. Frank White is not running, according to both Outzen and my sources.

>>>Look for Jack Nobles, a 14-year City Councilman, to enter the race today. Nobles sister is a local judge. Announcement is planned for 11:00 a.m.

TWEET, TWEET: @GeoScarborough: Headed to Tallahassee to meet FL Rep @MattGaetz today

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APPOINTED: Elizabeth Fago Smith to the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees; Jason Dimitris to the Miami-Dade County Court; WesleyPoole to the Nassau County Court; and Cynthia Munkittrick to the Dixie County Court.

BUSINESS LOBBY PUSHES BACK AGAINST CORPORATE TAX REFORM via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel

Representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Retail Federation all appeared Wednesday before the Senate’s chief tax-writing committee to urge senators not to adopt one of several potential tax reforms.

At issue is the ability of multistate and multinational companies to reduce their income-tax bills by transferring money between corporate subsidiaries, moving profits out of Florida — and away from its 5.5 percent corporate tax — and into tax-haven states such as Delaware or Nevada.

4TH FLOOR FILES talks to Kevin Cate about his Christmas videos, Whitney Ray, and the rest of Cate clan. Here’s the file on Kevin.

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SECOND-ROUND VOTING IN TALLYMADNESS ENDS TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT; HERE ARE THE LASTEST SCORES

In the first bracket…

#9 seed Frank Mayernick is way ahead of #1 seed Nick Iarossi, 69% to 31%.

$5 seed Tracy Mayernick looks like she is on her way to second round, up big over #12 seed Missy Timmins, 65% to 35%.

#6 seed Steve Metz is leading #3 seed Robert Coker on light voting 73% to 27%.

#2 seed Chris Dudley is narrowly ahead of #10 seed Sean Pittman, 52% to 48%. 

In the second bracket…

#8 Seed Matt Bryan is up 58% to 43% over #16 seed Marc Reichelderfer

 #4 seed Katherine Webb is up 51% to 49% over #12 seed Richard Coates.

#3 seed David Ramba is doubling-up #11 Gary Guzzo. 68% to 32%

#15 seed Keyna Cory and #10 seed Rhett O’Doski are locked in a dead heat.

 In the third bracket…

#8 seed Clark Smith has a big, early lead over #1 seed Charley Dudley 74% to 26%.

#4 seed Claudia Davant is up 72% to 28% on #5 seed Mark Delegal.

#6 seed Tim Meenan is out to a big lead on #3 seed Joe York, 82% to 18%.

#15 seed Monica Rodriguez looks like she will continue her improbable run, up 59% to 41% over #7 seed Will McKinley.

 In the fourth bracket…

#9 seed Marion Hammer is leading #15 seed Donna Simmons in a bracket that has already seen over 6,000 votes, 51% to 49%.

#5 Gus Corbella is up two-to-one on #13 Dave Ericks 78% to 28%.

#11 Jon Costello, our leading vote-getter is in front of Ron LaFace, 52% to 48%.

#15 seed Adam Babington leads #10 seed Allison Carvajal 52% to 48%.

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.