Sunburn for 4/10 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

***Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.***


Curt Clawson came to the press conference the other three district 19 congressional candidates hosted together about his relationship with a Utah man convicted of assault on a child.

Clawson said he lost track of the family involved for decades until they approached him with an investment opportunity.

He had no idea about the sex offender’s crime until the story broke, Clawson said.

In a joint statement, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Michael Dreikorn and Paige Kreegel called on the Bonita Springs Republican to explain his connection to Glen Borst. The Utah man was convicted of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child in 2004, according to the Utah Department of Corrections website.

TWEET, TWEET: @learyreports: Outside spending in #FL19 is up to nearly $1.5 million, driven by Super PACs supporting Paige Kreegel and Lizbeth Benacquisto.


U.S. Rep. Jolly would retain his congressional seat if a rematch with Democrat Alex Sink, according to a new StPetePolls survey.

The April 8 poll found that the Republican would take 48% of the vote — the same amount Jolly took in the March 11 special election to replace Rep. C.W. Bill Young., who died in October.

In the hypothetical matchup, Sink would lose to the incumbent by more than two points — receiving 46% — roughly the same size as she did in the March election, when she took 46.55 percent of the vote. Just over 6% of voters say they are unsure.

As expected, much of the vote would break down along party lines, with each candidate performing in the mid-70s from their base — Jolly with 75%, Sink with 72%.

However, in this matchup, Jolly would get slightly more Democrats from Sink than the past Florida CFO would take Republicans. Among Democratic voters, Jolly gets 22%, whereas Sink would bleed off only 20% of the Republican vote.

In the weeks after the special election, both local and national press have reported that Democrats are considering Sink for another CD 13 effort in the November midterms. Sink has not yet announced if she will run again.

The poll of 903 Florida registered voters was conducted on April 8 and has a +/- 3.3 percent margin of error.

UNSOLICITED ADVICE FOR ALEX SINK via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Dear Alex Sink,

We read the other day that you are still pondering whether to run against David Jolly again in Congressional District 13, after a narrow loss to the Republican newcomer in last month’s special election. You know, of course that the filing deadline is less than a month away and until you decide, the field of potentially strong Democrats – actually, that field doesn’t exist, so let’s just say the field of potential Democratic challengers – is frozen out.

You certainly didn’t ask for it, but here’s our advice: Don’t do it.

Now is the time to really ask yourself, do you truly want to serve in a dysfunctional, do-nothing, polarized Congress? And do you really want to go through another campaign? Your last campaign did a lot right, in terms of the nuts and bolts or voter targeting and messaging and absentee ballot chasing. But the hyper-cautious/scripted/secretive/inaccessible campaign you ran only signaled that you truly do not enjoy campaigning, but also antagonized a fair number of Pinellas elected Democrats and activists.

If you decide you have the fire in your belly for another run, then wait until 2016.

You just saw how severe the enthusiasm gap is between Republicans and Democrats. The electorate on March 11 included 44.6 percent Republicans, 36.5 percent Democrats, and 18.9 percent independent or third-party voters. Do you really think November is going to be a lot better for Democrats in Tampa Bay or anywhere else?

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Bill Clinton will be the star attraction at a Democratic Governors Association fundraiser next month in Florida, according to POLITICO.

Clinton is the ‘special guest’ at the May 6 event, according to a save-the-date notice sent by the DGA. The event will be in Miami Beach, although the specific venue was not listed.

The high-dollar event is open to donors who can cough up between $5,000 and $25,000.

TWEET, TWEET: @adamsmithtimes: .@CharlieCrist with Obama today in Houston for DNC and House and Senate Dems fundraiser


Cruise-industry giant Carnival Corp. has given Charlie Crist a bit of help in his quest to return to the governor’s mansion — in the form of $50,000 passed through a web of political committees.

We’ll start at the end: A little less than two weeks ago, Crist’s political committee — “Charlie Crist for Florida” — received a $50,000 donation from a different political committee, with the vague-but-reasonable-sounding name “Floridians for Fairness.”

State campaign-finance records show that Floridians for Fairness wrote that check on March 27. That was the same day it cashed a separate check for $50,000 that it was given by a third entity: the “Florida Cruise” political committee.

So where did Florida Cruise get its money? From a trio of sources: Holland America Line, which gave it $25,000 on March 10; Princess Cruises and Tours, which gave it $25,000 on Feb. 20; and yet another obscure group, the “Community Leadership PAC Inc.,” which gave it $180,000 between November and February.

Holland America and Princess are both subsidiaries of Miami-based Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator. And Internal Revenue Service Records show that the Community Leadership PAC’s money is coming almost exclusively from Carnival, too.

Carnival has a reason to be fond of Crist. Back in the fall of 2006, when Crist was Florida’s Republican attorney general and in the midst of his first campaign for governor, his office gave Carnival permission to begin charging its customers a controversial surcharge to cover skyrocketing fuel costs. Just days after Carnival reps and Crist staffers met to discuss that issue, Carnival –  through Holland America and Princess – gave $250,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, which was at the time bankrolling much of Crist’s gubernatorial campaign.


A number of prominent Tampa area Democrats have been puzzling over invitations they got to a fundraiser last week for Gov. Scott.

Heading the list was Charlie Crist. According to interviews and Facebook postings, others receiving invitations included current and former Democratic Party officers, candidates, campaign staffers and committed grass-roots activists.

None can explain why.

“I was surprised. The only other correspondence I’ve ever gotten from (Scott) was to tell me he was going to rescind my appointment to the Volunteer Florida commission,” said Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, a Democratic state House candidate, who got an invitation. “I’m a candidate for office because I’m disgusted with the status quo in Tallahassee. I’m not planning to support Rick Scott.”

Most of those who got the invitations said they’ve had some recent contact with the Governor’s Office or the Department of State, and some questioned whether that was how the Scott campaign got their names and addresses.

It’s illegal for a tax-funded agency such as the Governor’s Office to use its resources for a political campaign or coordinate activities with a campaign.

But it would be legal, said Tallahassee elections law expert Mark Herron, for a campaign to make a request to the Governor’s Office under Florida’s public records for records including a mailing list.

That apparently didn’t happen, though.

Scott’s campaign denied the mailing list came from the Governor’s Office or any other public agency. The campaign said Crist, a former Republican, got an invitation because he was on a list of people who had donated to Republican candidates in the past.

But the campaign wouldn’t say where the other Democratic names on mailing list came from, and those interviewed said they’ve never contributed to a Republican.


Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver is defending comments he made to Political Pulse after harsh reaction from Democratic and Puerto Rican leaders, bloggers and commentators.

Oliver, in responding to news that Orange County’s number of registered Republican voters had slipped behind “other,” attributed it to the fact that the region’s influx of Puerto Ricans were registering either as Democrats or “no party affiliation.”

In written comments he sent Political Pulse, he called Puerto Rico “a basket case” and said “If you like a semi-socialist government where the highest aspiration is a nice secure government job, Puerto Rico is heaven on earth.”

Then came the firestorm, branding Oliver for using “racially-tinged” and offensive language. Those accusations added to an already tumultuous spring for Florida Republicans because of other recent stumbles in the party’s efforts to appeal to Florida’s rapidly growing Hispanic base.

Oliver said his critics are taking his comments out of context. He stood by what he wrote, except to note he wished he had thought through how each sentence could be taken out of context.

“It didn’t occur to me in my wildest dreams that my comments would be interpreted the way they were interpreted,” Oliver told Political Pulse.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will highlight cancer research funding in the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,” at 21st Century Oncology. 7341 Gladiolus Drive, Fort Myers. 2:30 p.m.


Florida added 14,580 private-sector jobs in March, according to the ADP Regional Employment Report released Wednesday.

That compares with 12,496 jobs in March 2013. Jobs grew by 2.9 percent.

March’s biggest gains were in the service sector: more than 11,000 jobs.

Texas, California and Florida exceeded the national rate of job growth during the month, ADP said.

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HOUSE CUTS THE ‘EXPANSION’ OUT OF VOUCHER EXPANSION via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

A plan to further expand Florida’s school-voucher program was stripped of the actual “expansion” in the cap on how much tax money could be used to support low-income students in private schools.

But the larger House bill, HB 7167, still includes language increasing the income levels allowed for students to utilize the voucher system, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, in order to keep its enrollment growing.

After Senate Republicans declared the bill on life-support, House Republicans had salvaged the push to ramp up the “cap” for corporations funding vouchers in exchange for tax credits by merging it with a “learning-account” bill for parents of disabled children.

The bill would have allowed the $286.2 million cap on tax credits for companies sponsoring the vouchers to climb by $30 million more per year over what the law already allows – which is already set to grow to nearly $900 million by 2019. The program currently has 51,000 students enrolled and attending private, sometimes religious schools. But the extra $20 million annual cap increase was stripped on the House floor Wednesday.

The bill still contains language that allows families with higher incomes to qualify for partial scholarships – up to 260 percent of poverty, or households of four making $62,000 a year.

And Republicans beat back an amendment favored by the Senate, and offered by Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, to require that voucher students take the same education accountability testing as public-school peers. Voucher students currently do take standardized tests; just not the same FCAT test public students have taken.

TWEET, TWEET: @ShevrinJones: I respect my colleagues, but boy oh boy, there we’re some untold truths told about the voucher/disability bill!

IN-STATE TUITION BILL MOVES ON DESPITE CLOSE VOTE via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

he Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is moving ever closer to passing a contentious proposal to allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally.

With concessions to win over reluctant GOP legislators, the measure scraped through another vote Wednesday. A Senate panel voted 8-5 in favor of the bill as three Republicans joined with five Democrats to keep the bill alive.

Sen. Nancy Detert was among those opposed to the legislation, telling fellow legislators that children brought to the country illegally already get free public education through high school. She said they don’t deserve the additional break of paying a lower tuition rate than students from other states.

“No one is depriving you of an education,” Detert said. “We are saying, if you are here illegally, please pay out-of-state tuition. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

Sen. Jack Latvala responded by saying that children brought to Florida illegally by their parents should not punished for that action.

“At my age, I have the ability to look back at a lot of mistakes I’ve made,” the 62-year-old Latvala said. “I just thank God my children are not held responsible for all the mistakes I have made.”


By 7 clear percentage points in the new Sunshine State News-commissioned Voter Survey Service Poll — 52-to-45 percent — Florida voters say let’s allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay the same college and university tuition as in-state students.

But the real surprise in the poll-question response is where the strong resistance to the lower, in-state tuition rate is coming from.

It’s not coming from Northwest Florida and the Panhandle after all. The big opposition is in Southwest Florida.

According to survey results, 61 percent of voters in and around the Naples-Fort Myers area want children of undocumented immigrants who attended high school in Florida to pay higher, out-of-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities. That’s the heaviest opposition of any region in the Sunshine State.

That upends assumptions of some political analysts and even legislators who have maintained that Northwest Florida and the Panhandle pose the greatest opposition to any immigrant tuition bill succeeding this year in the Legislature. VSS poll results claim only 50 percent of Northwest Florida voters oppose in-state tuition rates for the children of undocumented workers — 11 points less than in Southwest Florida.

The SSN-VSS poll also shows that of Florida Republicans overall, 40 percent favor lower tuition for undocumented students, but 58 percent want to see those students paying the higher rate. Of Democrats, percentages are not only flipped, they’re more dramatic: 32 percent of voters think undocumented students should be paying higher rates, but a whopping 66 percent say it’s OK for these students to pay the lower, in-state rates.

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The Florida Faith and Freedom Coalition will hold its annual Legislative Prayer Breakfast today at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Tallahassee, from 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. The event will be held in conjunction with Florida Right to Life.Speakers include Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam; House Speaker Will Weatherford State Sen. Anitere Flores, Rep. Dennis Baxley, Florida Right to Life President Carrie Eisnaugle and Florida Faith & Freedom Coalition Chair Jim Kallinger.

The Grand Ballroom of The Doubletree Hotel is 101 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee.

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The law gives a reprieve from sharply higher flood insurance rates for many owners of older homes in flood-prone areas; what it doesn’t do is stop huge rate increases from hitting some owners of commercial properties and second homes.

For Eckerd, situated on a mile of campus waterfront along the Gulf of Mexico that means its flood insurance bill is scheduled to shoot up 25 percent in July, from $400,000 to $500,000. And unless the institution cuts back on coverage or agrees to pay more out-of-pocket for future flood damage, its premiums could more than double within five years, topping $1 million.

Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said she has identified 1,609 older commercial properties in Pinellas alone that could be dramatically affected by the flood insurance overhaul. They include 649 beachfront parcels with a median improvement value (which includes building value but not land value) of $157,000.

It’s a wide array of retail, industrial/warehouse; office; hotel/motel; and restaurants. For many, their value lies more in the land than the relatively modest buildings. Even the most expensive property types — hotels and restaurants — have median improvement values under $163,000.

Under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, older commercial buildings and second homes in low-lying areas that have received a lower-than-market flood rate for decades now face an annual maximum increase of 25 percent.

The impact is even greater for those who have bought an affected property since July 2012 . They’re losing their insurance subsidies immediately, raising their rates ten-fold in some cases.


This is why many people hate politics: Centene Corp, a Fortune 500 company already slated to take in billions in taxpayer dollars through Florida’s Medicaid managed care program, is asking taxpayers to chip in to help cover its private payroll, too. Yes, you read that right. Managed care giant Centene is seeking corporate welfare to … administer welfare!

According to reporting from the Jacksonville Business Journal and the South Florida Business Journal, Centene’s request, for $1.29 million in public incentives, would allow its subsidiary Sunshine State Health Plan to add about 265 employees to its Sunrise office. Another request of Jacksonville, for $375,000, would go toward covering 125 employees.

In its application, St. Louis-based Centene is apparently threatening that it is considering expanding in Missouri instead, if it doesn’t receive these incentive handouts in Florida. This isn’t your run of the mill out-of-state corporation looking for a new headquarters and shopping for the best deal. This is a cunning, politically connected corporation with a major Florida presence apparently looking to see if it can push the envelope to squeeze just to get a little more out of taxpayers.

Federal, state and local governments should demand that vendors like Centene focus on doing right by those they provide welfare for … not seeking corporate welfare for themselves with this nakedly twisted double-dipping scheme.

FLORIDA ORANGE PRODUCTION IS DECLINING via Tamara Lush of the Associated Press

This year’s Florida orange crop is approaching the fruit’s lowest harvest in decades, and experts say a deadly bacteria that’s infecting the trees is to blame.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released its citrus production forecast and the news isn’t good. The 2013-2014 orange forecast is 110 million boxes, down 4 percent from last month, and 18 percent less than last season’s final production figure.

Orange harvesting ends in June, and if the crop doesn’t decline further, it will barely exceed the 110.2 million orange boxes harvested in 1989-90 following the worst freeze in Florida citrus history.

Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for the Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, said that citrus greening disease is the reason for the crop decline.

“We’re in the middle of a real battle with citrus greening,” he said. “It’s putting stress on our trees.”

The bacteria, which is spread by an insect, causes trees to produce green, disfigured and bitter fruits by altering nutrient flow to the tree, eventually killing it. It threatens Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry. Growers and scientists suspect that many of Florida’s 69 million citrus trees are infected, with some estimates as high as 75 percent.

Greening affects all types of citrus trees, not just oranges.

“Citrus greening is an existential threat to Florida’s signature crop, and today’s revised crop estimate is evidence that the situation has reached a crisis point,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

Citrus is big business in Florida. Citrus growers gave Florida 66 percent of the total U.S. market share. About 95 percent of the state’s orange crop is used for juice.

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BATTLEGROUND POLLS FROM HD 65, HD 67, AND HD 68 Full blog post here

Two Democratic Pinellas County House incumbents could find themselves in difficult re-election battles come November, according to current voter polling from StPetePolls.

A third open seat is also extremely close, with the two leaders separated by only a few percentage points.

In House District 65, Republican newcomer Chris Sprowls is in a virtual tie with Democratic State Rep. Carl “Z” Zimmerman — 42% each — with 15% undecided. HD 65 covers covering the cities of Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and East Lake.

Compared to the other incumbent race, House District 68 Democrat Dwight Dudley has a slightly larger advantage over first-time Republican candidate Bill Young II, son of the popular former U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. There, Dudley takes a 5-point lead  with 44% versus Young’s 39%, with 17% undecided in the eastern Pinellas County district.

Dudley and Young each enjoy strong support from their base, getting numbers in the mid-60s — Dudley with 63% of Democrats and Young with 64% of Republicans. Both candidates takes about the same number of voters from the opposing party: Young gets 20% percent Democratic votes while Dudley takes 22% of Republicans.

In the open seat race, Chris Latvala, son of state Senator Jack Latvala, holds a slight lead over his Democratic opponent — radio talk show host Shawna Vercher — 41% to 40% to succeed term-limited Rep. Ed Hooper in House District 67. Latvala is another first-time Republican candidate.


Political candidates and committees face a deadline today for filing campaign-finance reports for the period ending March 31.

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BETTINA INCLAN JOINS MERCURY FLORIDA via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Bettina Inclan Agen, the savvy Miami native and former adviser to Rick Scott, the NRCC, and Mitt Romney, has signed on as a senior vice president for the public strategy group Mercury Florida.

“Bettina possesses a rare combination of communications experience, coalition building and regional ties that will be a great asset to Mercury Florida as we continue to build the state’s most talented team of high stakes public affairs professionals,” said Mercury CEO and founding partner Kieran Mahoney.  “Bettina has proven her ability to execute strategic and high-impact communications and political strategies to diverse demographics. We are excited to add Bettina’s wealth of experience to our growing team.”

Inclan is a seasoned communications and political strategist, bringing over a decade of experience in government, media relations, coalition advocacy and grassroots mobilization. Most recently, she worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) as Director of Strategic Initiatives and Coalitions. In 2010, Bettina served as Deputy Communications Director for Gov. Scott, where she helped the Governor win a majority of the Hispanic vote. She has held prominent roles with various campaigns and political committees, including the Republican National Committee (RNC), the Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign and is a former aide to Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

“As a Florida native I know the importance of my home state in shaping the national narrative and setting trends both in the public and private sector. I’m excited to join the team and am especially looking forward to using my expertise and unique skills set in my home state and at Mercury Florida,” said Inclán Agen.

Mercury Florida, a joint venture partnership between Mercury, a national bipartisan public strategy firm, and Floridian Partners, a statewide consulting and lobbying firm, announced its launch in 2013. The company is led by Mercury founding partner Kieran Mahoney, with leadership of Managing Director, Ashley Walker, who previously served as the Florida Director of Obama for America.

“We are excited to have Bettina join our team as we build the state’s premier bipartisan public affairs firm. Her experience and knowledge in Florida and the national arena will strengthen Mercury Florida’s capabilities to effectively serve our diverse clients, as well as expand our efforts to provide multicultural campaigns,“ said Walker.

“We launched Mercury Florida last year in order to create a new best-in-class public affairs consultancy in the state of Florida. I’m excited about our growth and the addition of Bettina Inclán Agen and her wealth of knowledge to our company as we continue the firm’s efforts to expand our team of talented professionals and services to our clients,” said Rodney Barreto, founding partner of Floridian Partners.


Fred Dickinson, PooleMcKinley: Smart Start, Inc.

Sally Jackson: Lee Memorial Healthy System

Kelsey Johnson: Grocery Manufactures Association

Patrick Johnson: Escambia County Board of County Commissioners

David Levy: Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Steve Uhlfelder, Toni Large, Uhlfelder & Associates PA: Nueterra

Todd Lewis, Lewis Consulting: Tri-State Archeological Society

Jamie Miller, Capitol Energy Florida: Florida Association of Sinkhole Specialists

Dale Patchett: Cora Health Services, Inc.

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On Context FloridaPeter Schorsch describes the circumstances around a potential rare December special session of the Florida Legislature, after Democrat Charlie Crist unseated Republican Rick Scott in the most expensive gubernatorial race in state history. Crime and punishment in Florida needs a “fresh look,” says Director of Florida TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice Dan McCarthyRick Outzen looks at the efforts of Peyton and Holley Moseley, the leading advocates in Florida to legalize Charlotte’s Web, a strain of cannabis that may help hundreds of thousands of children deal with their epileptic seizures. The Legislature recently passed a “warning shot” bill, which Steve Kurlander says allows a person without a criminal record to pull a gun and fire a warning shot if the person feels he or she is at risk of serious injury or death. That the protection does not extend to felons is questionable, he adds.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Throwback Thursday brings us back today to many April 10ths through the ages. Some of these days are of substantial importance. Others… not so much. We’ll start with the less-than-important, though some dear friends may disagree. April 10, 1916 marked the creation of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America in New York City. Five of the seven current PGA golf properties are in Florida, along with its headquarters.

In 1872, the first American Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska with the planting of an estimated one million trees; and on April 10, 1925, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was released. April 10 also marked the 1970 announcement by Paul McCartney that he would be leaving The Beatles following a set of business disagreements with his bandmates.

April 10th also has special meaning to early U.S. history. It was the date that the Virginia Company of London was established in 1606, established by royal charter by James I with the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in North America.  The Company would make landfall just over one year later at the southern edge of the Chesapeake Bay, and would then establish the Jamestown Settlement about 40 miles upstream.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Chris Carmody, Rep. Mark Pafford, and attorney Paul Phillips.

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.