Sunburn for 4/1 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

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OBAMACARE SITE STRUGGLES AGAIN via Sam Baker of National Journal

Much as in its Oct. 1 launch, the Obamacare website failed to keep up with traffic as visitors tried to sign up for health care plans by yesterday’s deadline. Glitches took the site offline in the morning and around noon. The Obama administration already announced last week that it would extend the deadline for those who tried to sign up but couldn’t.


Faced with a strong prospect of losing control of the Senate in November, Democrats have begun a high-stakes effort to try to overcome one of their party’s big weaknesses: voters who don’t show up for midterm elections.

The party’s Senate campaign committee plans to spend $60 million to boost turnout. That’s nine times what it spent in the last midterm election in 2010.

The Democratic National Committee has begun to make the sophisticated data analysis tools developed to target voters in the 2012 presidential campaign available to all the party’s candidates.

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Barack Obama has America on the run” via Allen West


Across the country, immigrant-rights advocates report mounting disillusionment with both parties among Latinos, enough to threaten recent gains in voting participation that have reshaped politics to Democrats’ advantage nationally, and in states like Colorado with significant Latino populations. High hopes — kindled by President Obama’s elections and stoked in June by Senate passage of the most significant overhaul of immigration law in a generation, with a path to citizenship for about 11 million people here unlawfully — have been all but dashed.

Latinos mainly blame Republicans, who control the House and have buried the Senate bill, but they also have soured on Obama. The federal government has so aggressively enforced existing immigration laws that one national Hispanic leader recently nicknamed the president “deporter in chief” for allowing nearly 2 million people to be deported.

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Miller, in his seventh term, has been a member the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence since 2009, and is also chairman of the VA Committee. Florida, with Centcom being based in Tampa, might give Miller an advantage. But he’ll face competition from several other Republicans, including Reps. Peter King of New York and Devin Nunes of Californi and Mike Pompeo of Kansas.

Rogers shook up Washington on Friday by announcing he would not seek re-election, and has taken a talk-radio job.


Conservative bloggers are sounding alarms about a moderate Republican group’s retreat set for next weekend on Amelia Island.

The Republican Mainstreet Partnership PAC event is reportedly attracting about two dozen Republican lawmakers, including high-ranking Reps. Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy. Speaker John Boehner was going to attend but backed out, according to reports.

The PAC is an offshoot of the Main Street Partnership and was started by former Rep. Steve LaTourette, to promote GOP candidates over more hardline tea party rivals.

That’s stirred significant backlash among tea party groups, who accuse LaTourette of being a RINO. The Florida getaway, to be held at the Ritz-Carlton, has lit up conservative blogs.

“Notice within their description of ‘what we do’ they very specifically state that they are working for the ‘greater good,’ “read a post on Tea Party News Network. “Those words and that ideology, the ‘greater good,’ are not only code words for Progressivism; they are as well for Communism.”


“I know this doesn’t mean you don’t care,” “Today,” “We’re not even close,” “We’ll have to make some hard decisions, Peter” – Barack Obama; “Woot, woot!” “Who are you gonna call” – OFA; “Minority Majority Leader Mitch McConnell” — Debbie Wasserman Schultz; “#Gamechanger” – House Majority PAC;  “My mom,” — Curt Clawson; “You’d be shocked,” “You’re name came up” – Dorothy Frankel; “Spreadsheet” — Gwen Graham; “FEC Deadline,” “Only 5 Hours Left” – David Jolly Campaign; “50 percent + 1,” “Before tonight’s deadline,” “Just a few hours to go,” “Monday’s deadline” – Charlie Crist Campaign; “The Last Time” — Nan Rich; “Tonight” — George Sheldon; “It’s on us,” “We’re about to close the books” – Florida Democratic Party; “1 day to go,” “I have to do this,” “We need you today” – Ben Pollara, United for Care; “We’re so close” — Senate candidate Judithanne McLauchlan

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Anyone who’s paying close attention to the legislative session knows exactly what Scott should do, even though it would rile some conservatives.

Rather than waiting for the Legislature to act, he should lead the charge to guarantee passage of a law offering in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers. … (I)t’s not clear whether the Senate will take it up, and a strong push from Scott would change the dynamics.

In his ever-cautious manner, Scott has tiptoed his way toward supporting the idea, as long as lawmakers also get rid of a 15 percent tuition differential, an additional amount universities can impose without legislative approval.

Scott backs a Senate bill that would abolish tuition differentials and offer in-state tuition rates for Dreamers. The House bill preserves a 6 percent differential, backed by Speaker Will Weatherford.

Scott could visit Florida International University in Miami and the University of South Florida in Tampa, two of the state’s most diverse universities, and make a firm declaration that … well, listen to Weatherford, who calls it a moral and economic issue and whose conservative credentials are unquestioned.


Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Gov. Scott released a new 15-second campaign ad contending that Florida’s economy is on the upswing during his watch.

Called “540,000,” it is a quick message about how the state’s economy is “on a better path,” by creating 540,000 new jobs since December 2010, and ends with his new tagline “Let’s Keep Working.”

Like so many of the web ads coming out of Scottworld, this spot just feels off. First of all, the man shown most in the ad — other than Scott — is Spencer Geissinger, a former Scott staffer and Governor’s Office employee. In other words, Scott is talking about creating jobs with one of his former employees.

The spot ends with an awkward voice-over by Scott while a picture of him shows on screen. Huh?


Allegations of misconduct aimed at Florida Gov. Rick Scott are just the latest GOP “scandals” to be blown out of all proportion.

The big scandal in Florida politics these days is the resignation of Scott’s top fundraiser, health care executive Mike Fernandez, and the emails he sent complaining about the campaign’s approach to Hispanic voters. “But what do I know, I have only made over a billion selling to this population,” Fernandez groused. He clearly got upset when Scott’s operatives blew him off, and his plaintive emails do make for amusing reading: “Trust this: My net worth exceeds $3B, and I made it because I am not stupid and I can sell!”

Fernandez thought clueless Anglos who didn’t understand Florida were controlling the Scott campaign. “Would you hire me to manage a campaign in Mississippi for a country bumpkin?” he asked.

I’m not usually sympathetic to my Tea Party governor, but Fernandez sounds like a jerk, an egomaniacal CEO who thought his money entitled him to call the political shots. His juiciest allegation—that some staffers on a Scott campaign van were mocking Mexican accents—was pure hearsay. Anyway, I’m not sure the guy dissing “country bumpkins” should be griping about cultural insensitivity.

The larger point is that this “scandal” tells us nothing about Scott’s fitness for a second term. It’s just more gotcha grist for the American political umbrage-a-thon. It is not about Scott’s early support for tougher immigration laws, or his relentless opposition to Obamacare, or any other policies that affect Hispanics and everyone else in Florida. It’s just about optics. It’s a pseudo-scandal, and there seem to be a lot of them percolating these days, mostly involving Republican candidates. Democrats apparently see these made-for-media flaps as their best chance to avoid getting clobbered in November, but there’s something pathetic about that.

But making stuff up and hyping stuff up are both the kind of things parties do when they have no confidence in their ideas. This makes sense for the Republican Party, which currently believes all kind of wrong and unpopular things about the role of government in American life.

YES, CRIST OWNS A ROLEX, BUT IT’S USED via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Crist isn’t making any apologies for owning a Rolex watch despite a Republican Party attack that implies the time piece shows he’s not really “a man of the people.”

“Yes it is a used Rolex,” Crist said.

Crist said in 1986 he got the watch as a reward after he won a big wrongful death lawsuit.

He said it’s laughable that people backing Scott’s campaign are trying to suggest he is too rich, given how wealthy Scott really is. Crist’s net worth has been pegged around $2 million, while Gov. Rick Scott’s is more than $80 million, according to financial disclosure reports.

“Yes I have a used Rolex watch, but I don’t fly around in a private jet,” Crist said of Scott who Democrats say owns two private jets.


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APPOINTED: Mike Moore, John Neal, Robert Sebesta, Scott Sheridan, Mary Yeargan, and Timothy Schock to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Region 8.

ASSIGNMENT EDITOR:  Gov. Scott will be joined by Senate President Gaetz, Speaker Weatherford, legislative leaders and advocates to sign Senate Bills 522, 524, 526 and 528 to “protect vulnerable Floridians,” according to a release. Cabinet Room, Florida State Capitol. 2:30 p.m.


Florida agency heads have been lying to reporters, spinning like dreidels, and withholding public records since the Chiles administration.

So let’s give Rick Scott’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner points for breaking new ground with his prior restraint on journalist, author, Florida State University (FSU) professor and all-around state treasure Diane Roberts.

Roberts is an eighth generation Floridian whose family tree includes the late Supreme Court Justice B.K. Roberts, for whom the FSU law school is named, and 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Clay Roberts.

Detzner’s portfolio includes managing state properties like Mission San Luis, where Roberts had been scheduled to give a lecture this Thursday. Her talk had been trumpeted by Detzner himself in a breathless press release that sang Roberts’ praises so loudly that it might have been written by her own adoring mother.

In fact, it was the work of Detzner’s state-paid publicist Brittany Lesser and it made a convincing case for the “public and press” to come out on a weeknight to hear Roberts render an opinion on “A Dream State Environmental Nightmare and What You Can Do About It.”

Detzner apparently lost his sense of humor after reading an opinion piece Roberts wrote for her hometown paper, the Tallahassee Democrat. Detzner proved Roberts’ point by pulling the plug on her microphone at Mission San Luis.


Adam Hollingsworth, the chief of staff for Gov. Scott and one of the most important people in Scott’s inner circle, doesn’t really use email for official business.

A random check of his official emails shows that Hollingsworth routinely uses his Outlook account to schedule meetings and perform some of the management functions — such as signing on performance reviews — of his staff.

But texting?

It looks like some official business was done through texts at one point.

But recent emails and messages would suggest that the Executive Office of the Governor has adopted an official policy to discourage the use of text messages.

Consider this Jan. 10 text from Hollingsworth: “EOG staff does not conduct public business via test messaging. You may contact me at 850-488-5603 or”

A Feb. 10 email from Dawn Hanson, director of administration for EOG, which was eventually forwarded to newly installed budget director Cynthia Kelly, states: “The COS has a no texting policy for the EOG. This practice has been in place for quite a while and we are in the process of actually turning off the texting features on state phones.”

When asked this past week, however, Frank Collins, a representative for Scott, said no such policy was in place.


Florida’s economy is showing signs of continued recovery, but a new analysis prepared by state economists also points to some problems.

State economists released a 29-page snapshot looking at everything from wages to housing prices and unemployment.

The good news: Florida was ranked 13th in 2013 in personal income growth and had a rate that exceeded the national average. Growth rates also are returning to more typical levels and consumer confidence is improving, as is building permit activity.

But the effects of the Great Recession will still linger for a few more years. Economists estimate that “normalcy” will not occur until 2016.

The report, for example, noted that Florida’s average wage is dropping further behind the average wage in the United States. Economists said that Florida’s average wage dropped to 87.7 percent of the average U.S. wage in 2012.

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BILL TARGETS WEBSITES THAT DON’T REMOVE MUG SHOTS via Steve Miller of the Associated Press

The Legislature is pushing through a bill that targets websites that charge individuals a fee to remove their mug shot. The bill targets companies that obtain booking photos from law enforcement agencies and put them online along with the person’s name.

The companies then charge arrestees up to hundreds of dollars to remove them or face continued embarrassment.

Under the proposed law, an individual could obtain a court order for removal, and the website would be subject to a $1,000-a-day fine if it doesn’t comply.

Florida is trailing several states in addressing the practice by such websites as

Mug shot companies, as well as media outlets, use Florida’s strong open records laws to obtain content for their sites.

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PROPOSED PECO FIX MAY BE IN PERIL via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times

It’s become one of the perennial fights in the Florida Legislature.

In one corner: cash-strapped school systems with aging facilities and billions of dollars tied up in debt service.

In the other: charter schools looking to build and refurbish facilities of their own.

Both want dollars from the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) trust fund, an ever-shrinking pot of money generated by a disappearing tax on cable TV and landline telephones.

This year, the Senate, House and Gov. Scott all want to split the K-12 portion between charter schools and traditional school districts. It’s a departure from recent years, when only charter schools landed the funds. The wrangling has already begun.

There is some common ground: Both charter schools and school districts support a bill that would shift revenue from an existing tax on commercial energy consumption to the PECO fund.

But the bill may be a tough sell to Scott.


(A)fter more than a decade of micromanaging public schools to ensure uniform accountability across the state, legislators are zealously pushing an agenda to hand over your tax dollars to private schools that are completely immune to accountability.

Is this fair? No.

Is it logical? No.

Is it an example of fiduciary responsibility from the most conservative members of your state Legislature? Heck no.

Supporters of vouchers will point out that scholarship students at private schools have been taking a standardized test similar to the FCAT, but that argument is hollow.

Unlike public schools, a poor score on the test does not necessarily mean a student at a private school is in danger of being held back. It doesn’t mean the student’s teacher is in danger of a poor job evaluation and possible termination. It doesn’t mean the school is in danger of losing funding because of a low mark on the state’s school grading system.

A standardized test with no ramifications is not accountability. It’s window dressing.

Of course, the problems do not end there.

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GEOGRAPHY INFLUENCES REDISTRICTING IN FLA. via Mike Schneider of the Associated Press

Florida is a politically divided state. The Republicans have won the last four gubernatorial elections, but the Democrats have carried the state in the last two presidential elections. One U.S. senator is a Republican, while the other is a Democrat. The Democrats hold a slight edge in voter registration.

But that narrow divide becomes a chasm in Florida’s congressional delegation and in the Legislature. Sixteen of Florida’s 26 U.S. representatives are Republicans, with one vacancy that will almost assuredly be filled by a Republican. Republicans also hold a 26-14 advantage in the Florida Senate and a 76-44 margin in the state House.

Some Democrats argue that the discrepancies are caused by “gerrymandering” — the Republican-controlled Legislature drawing districts to give the GOP an unfair advantage, which would be illegal under Florida law.

But two political science professors say the discrepancies aren’t so simple or nefarious — they have used the state to popularize their argument that large concentrations of Democrats living in cities have given Republicans a redistricting advantage not just in Florida but nationwide.

Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan and Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University say no amount of reforms to eliminate gerrymandering are going to change an inherent bias based on where people live.

“Human geography plays a far greater role in generating electoral bias in the United States than commonly thought,” they wrote in an influential 2013 paper.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA FORUM BRING OUT PROS AND CONS via James Rosica of the Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau

Democrats and Republicans put on a united front for medical marijuana at a Monday night forum, but the lack of “the other side” unsettled Tampa’s leading anti-drug crusader.

“You can’t set a policy by just listening to parents that are saying they think something’s going to help their children,” said Ellen Snelling, chairwoman of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition and the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance.

“As a state, we have to set policy based on real science and research,” said Snelling, who drove from Tampa to Tallahassee to attend the forum. “And we need more research on cannabis.”

The forum, moderated by political commentator Justin Sayfie, featured Reps. Katie Edwards, Matt Gaetz, and Sen. Jeff Clemens.


On Context Florida: There is an ominous dissent from the minority wing of the Florida Supreme Court when setting aside death penalty cases, writes Martin Dyckman, something that could mean more executions if Gov. Rick Scott gets to pack the court with conservatives. Florida agency heads have been lying to reporters and withholding public records since the Chiles administration, says Tallahassee-based attorney Florence Snyder, but Secretary of State Ken Detzner breaks new ground with his prior restraint on journalist, author, and Florida State University professor Diane Roberts. The Seminole Tribe of Florida believes that point-of-sale lotto transactions would violate the gambling Compact with the state, to cost as much as $172 million in revenue sharing, writes Peter Schorsch. Will the pause in Rick Scott’s voter roll purge help him with Hispanic voters, asksAndrew Skerritt.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

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The nation’s largest title insurance company is lobbying the Legislature for a controversial tax break that could save its industry more than $5 million a year.

If lawmakers sign off, the measure would allow Jacksonville-based Fidelity National Financial Inc. to employ a tax-avoidance strategy that a Florida court ruled illegal just six months ago.

Fidelity has also begun making larger campaign contributions. Records show Fidelity has handed out $150,000 to various legislators and political groups since losing its court case in September – including $25,000 to an organization set up by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Republican from Pasco County who is carrying the legislation through the Senate.

Opponents question whether consumers would see any benefit from the tax break. Title insurance rates are regulated by the state, so the tax savings would not directly translate into lower premiums. But Fidelity, which could save more than $1 million annually by itself, defended the legislation, framing it as an issue of tax fairness for the title-insurance industry in Florida.

In Florida, insurance companies are generally required to pay a 1.75 percent tax on the total premiums they collect from consumers. The state’s “insurance-premium tax” applies to most types of policies, including life, health, property and title.

Fidelity is lobbying lawmakers to exempt a big chunk of title-insurance premiums from that tax. Specifically, the company does not want to pay tax on the portion of its premiums that go to third-party title agents with whom Fidelity contracts to sell policies on its behalf. The portion paid to title-insurance agents ranges from 60 percent to 70 percent of the total amount that consumers pay.


 A new Master’s degree program at The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management will focus on preparing students for careers in global governance and policy influence. The 39-credit Advocacy in the Global Environment degree is designed to meet today’s global emphasis among corporations, organizations and associations. It will be offered both on campus and online and includes a weeklong study abroad in key international cities.

Graduates will learn to lobby before legislatures of foreign countries, create advocacy plans for multinational corporations, non-profits and NGOs and advise clients on regulatory and policy changes for a foreign country or region.

“Whether you are seeking commerce or a cause, learning advocacy in a global environment is an essential skill to really be successful,” said GSPM Director Mark Kennedy. “This is the first program that will teach students not just how to engage your own state capital or Washington, but how do you engage Beijing, Brussels or Brasília.”


The first days of Spring saw a flurry of personnel moves in the world of government and politics. Continuing this occasional series, we update you on who’s in the Departure Lounge.

Friday was Michael Sevi’s last day as Director of Cabinet Affairs for Gov. Scott. He’s left the public sector for professional services firm Marsh & McLennan. Karl Rasmussen is filling in for Sevi as Gov. Scott’s liaison to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Turning to the private sector, well-liked veteran lobbyist and former lawmaker Fred Dudley put in his lobbying withdrawal papers last week. Dudley’s son, Chris, tells me that his dad and two other lawyers have started a firm focusing on construction law and licensing issues.

A name with influence behind it in Tallahassee, Tampa Bay (and beyond) is Patrick Baskette. He’s left powerhouse public affairs firm Mercury. Prior to joining Mercury, Baskette ran his own grassroots and public affairs firm, and previously served as president of Troutman Sanders’ Public Policy Group and as a principal with Dewey Square Group.

One more personnel move of note in the Tampa Bay area: Tony Collins is no longer with Tucker/Hall, where he was a Senior Vice President. The mercurial, but affable fixer is now splitting time between D.C. and Tampa Bay.


Florida’s school voucher movement has stepped on its own toes a few times in the past, but never as grossly as last week’s revelation that the Step Up for Students “waiting list” on which advocates banked their proposal doesn’t actually exist. This story came just as the controversial school choice measure was ramped up in the House. The measure’s big haul will be in the Senate, considering that the sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano, withdrew the bill after considering new information that came to light. As in, he wasn’t so keen on tax dollars going to schools that have little if any accountability to standards. 

Lobbying for John Kirtley’s American Federation for Children are four notable names: Travis Blanton, Jon Johnson, Denise Lasher, and Al Lawson, Jr. If successful in reviving a voucher bill in the Senate, this team will earn the “cat came back” award for 2014.


Former lieutenant governor Jeff Kottkamp is leaving his post with Messer Caparello P.A. and venturing out to lobby and practice law on his own. The launch of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A., becomes official today. In doing so, Kottkamp joins the growing cohort of former officials who use their experience and clout on behalf of political clients. At the last filing, Kottkamp was registered to represent the Children’s Campaign, Cooperative Services of Florida, Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, Florida Greyhound Association, Florida Right to Know Alliance, and FTTE. Some or many of these clients will be sticking with the former LG.

TWEET, TWEET: @CSDudleyFLC: Looking forward to seeing local municipal officials from around the state for FLC Legislative Action Days on April 1-2


A Central Florida man who led an unsuccessful effort to unseat the last three Florida Supreme Court justices appointed by a Democratic governor announced Monday that he is running as a Republican for an Orlando-area House seat.

Jesse Phillips, a health care technology director, is challenging Rep. Joe Saunders, who made history in 2012 when he and newly elected Rep. David Richardson became the first openly gay members of the Legislature.

Phillips led Restore Justice 2012, which sought to defeat Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince in that year’s merit retention elections. Phillips’ campaign was supported by the Florida Republican Party, but the justices and their allies spent $5 million on a campaign that led to their easily winning new six-year terms.

The district Phillips is running in is one of Florida’s youngest, including eastern Orange County and containing the University of Central Florida, Valencia Community College East and Full Sail University.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to former Pinellas County Commissioner and my friend Neil Brickfield.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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.