Sunburn for 4/16 – 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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ALEX SINK WON’T SEEK REMATCH AGAINST DAVID JOLLY

Democrat Alex Sink quashed rumors Tuesday that she would seek a rematch this fall with Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly.

“I am so honored and humbled by the outpouring of support our campaign received, but after reflection with my family I have made a personal decision not to run for the 13th Congressional District seat in the 2014 election,” Sink said in a prepared statement.

Sink lost by 2 percentage points to Jolly in a March 11 special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. C. W. Bill Young for the Pinellas County congressional seat.

GOP CONGRESSMAN ISN’T SURE THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT IS CONSTITUTIONAL via Sahil Kapur of Talking Points Memo

Conservative U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho told constituents he isn’t entirely sure if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is constitutional.

In a video uploaded by the liberal Think Progress, Yoho appears to be at a town hall and is asked by a constituent if he believes that “any part” of the landmark law — which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex and national origin — is constitutional.

“You know, this country grew through a lot of growing pain. We’re going through it again. And as we grow as a country and prosper, we’re going to go through it again in the future. That’s why I’m so thankful for the Constitution because it allows us to do that,” Yoho said. “Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act? I wish I could answer that 100 percent. I know a lot of things that were passed are not constitutional. But I know it’s the law of the land.”

The first-term congressman didn’t voice any substantive criticisms of the Civil Rights Act, a cultural touchstone which has become politically unassailable. His office didn’t respond to queries on which parts of the act he believes may not be constitutional.

LATE BILL YOUNG’S CAMPAIGN ACCOUNT FINALLY SHUT DOWN via Noah Pransky of WTSP

After 10 Investigates exposed how close allies of the late Bill Young were spending his campaign funds after his death. New federal filings indicate the campaign account has been shut down and most of its proceeds were distributed to non-profits in the Tampa Bay and Washington D.C. area.

Among the distributions in the second quarter of 2014: $25,000 each to All Children’s Hospital and Bayfront Health Foundation in St. Petersburg; $22,849 to Armed Forces Foundation in Washington D.C.; $10,000 to Suncoast Hospice Foundation in Clearwater.

All of the donations came after 10 Investigations’ report on Jan. 31. The account was officially closed on March 31.

But in the weeks leading up to – and immediately after – the congressman’s death, his inner-circle spent tens of thousands of dollars on hotel stays, receptions, and restaurant tabs. Federal campaign law places almost no restrictions on campaign expenditures as long as the expenditures are campaign-related.

LOIS FRANKEL RAISES OVER $110K IN FIRST QUARTER FUNDRAISING Full blog post here

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel announced raising more than $110,000 in the first quarter reporting period from Jan. 1 to March 31.

In a statement released by her campaign Tuesday, the first term West Palm Beach Democrat and former longtime West Palm Beach mayor now has a total of about $350,000 cash on hand for her Florida 22nd Congressional District re-election effort.

Three Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination against Frankel: Andrea Leigh McGee, Jeremy Rodgers and David Wagie. However, after defeating former state Rep. Adam Hasner by 9 percent for the newly drawn CD 22 seat in 2012, the GOP might have to look elsewhere for an easy pickup in the midterms.

RPOF SAYS IT DOESN’T PLAY IN PRIMARIES BUT ITS MONEY HAS IN BENACQUISTO RACE via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

The Republican Party of Florida says it does not engage in GOP primaries, but nearly $300,000 of its money has landed in a Super PAC supporting congressional candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto, newly filed campaign finance records show.

The money passed through several committees, illustrating how difficult it can be to trace, let alone determine an agenda.

Liberty and Leadership Fund, the pro-Benacquisto committee, took in $289,469 from another Super PAC called Liberty4Florida, which in turn got money from Free Speech PAC on Jan. 24. Free Speech PAC, a state committee chaired by Republican consultant Randy Nielsen, got $300,000 from RPOF on Dec. 26, 2013.

Liberty and Leadership Fund, which has also gotten $75,000 from U.S. Sugar and $50,000 from a PAC controlled by lobbyist Mike Haridopolos, has spent more than $478,000, much of it designed to undercut Curt Clawson, another candidate in the race and considered to be the front-runner.

As majority leader of the state Senate, Benacquisto is no stranger to the GOP power center in Tallahassee. Her campaign says it has no ties to the committee. Similarly, RPOF denied any relationship.

TWEET, TWEET: @gbennettpost: .@AllenWest’s PAC raised $936k in 1st qtr, including $631k from people giving <$200; has $1.2 mil cash on hand. #FECpalooza

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EMAIL OF THE DAY — “Boom. Roasted.” via Jessica Clark, Deputy Campaign Manger for Charlie Crist

SURVEY USA POLL: CHARLIE CRIST 46%, RICK SCOTT 41% Methodology here

With 29 weeks until votes are counted in Florida, Rick Scott is the current underdog in a fight against Charlie Crist, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted for WFLA-TV. According to this poll, it’s Crist 46 percent, Scott  41 percent.

According to the survey, Scott leads 2-to-1 in Northeast Florida, and more narrowly leads in Southwest Florida (which includes the Tampa Bay region). Crist leads 3-to-2 in Southeast Florida and more narrowly in Central Florida and Northwest Florida. A small turnout in Dade and Broward counties helps Scott. A large turnout in Dade and Broward counties helps Crist. Scott holds 71 percent of the Republican base, compared to Crist, who holds 80 percent of the Democratic base. Independents split. Conservatives vote 7-to-1 Republican. Liberals vote 8-to-1 Democratic. Importantly, moderates break 7-to-4 for Crist.

Scott and Crist are effectively even among college graduates. Crist leads among less educated voters. Scott leads among upper-income voters. Crist leads among lower-income voters. Middle-income voters split. Scott leads narrowly among white voters; Crist leads overwhelmingly among African Americans, and materially among Asian Americans. Both Cubans and non-Cuban Hispanics lean slightly Republican — but that is based on a small sample and caution should be exercised in projecting those numbers out to Election Day.

MUST-READ: CRIST IS ‘BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL,” SAYS RICK SCOTT’S INTERNAL GROUND-GAME MEMO Read memo here

SCOTT TO CRIST: WIN YOUR PRIMARY AND THEN MAYBE WE’LL DEBATE via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Crist issued that implicit debate challenge to Gov. Scott during an impromptu caught-on-video meeting Monday with Lt. Gov. Carlos-Lopez Cantera.

But Scott said Tuesday that he’s not ready to take up the challenge, noting that Crist has refused to debate his fellow Democrat, former Sen. Nan Rich.

“That’s laughable. Think about it. He has a primary,” Scott said.

Crist, however, has said that voters from all parties know his record. And, previously, he said he “wasn’t even thinking about” debating Rich.

Crist’s spokesman, Kevin Cate, amplified on those comments Tuesday in a statement that all but closed the door on a debate before the Aug. 23 Democratic primary.

“Charlie Crist and the people of Florida are facing $100 million in negative advertising from Rick Scott. We don’t expect that to change,” Cate said.

SCOTT FEATURED IN LATEST RGA VIDEO via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News

The Republican Governors Association (RGA) showcased Gov. Scott in its latest “American Comeback” video released on Tuesday.

In the video, Gov. Scott talks up his personal story, how he rose from poverty and how his own experiences shaped what he fights for in the political arena, especially job creation. The Scott campaign is already running television ads, including some that showcase the governor’s personal story.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce school recognition funding awards at Graham Elementary School, 2915 North Massachusetts Ave., Tampa. 2 p.m.

FLORIDA MAIN STREET COALITION USES TAX DAY TO PUSH FOR SIMPLER TAX CODE Full blog post here

In honor of Tax Day, a group of Florida elected officials, small-business owners and community leaders met to focus on the need for a simpler tax system through meaningful reforms.

Members of the Main Street Growth & Opportunity Coalition Florida, including State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Julio Fuentes, Republican State Rep. Holly Raschein and several private business owners, joined in a conference call Tuesday morning to discuss issues facing both Florida and the entire country – economic growth and job creation.

“Although our economy has been improving, the U.S. is not the thriving economic engine it used to be,” Fuentes began, “Americans are suffering from lack of leadership in Washington D.C.”

The group used April 15, when millions of Americans rush to file their tax return by midnight, as the backdrop to announce one of its main goals, simplifying the tax code.

Fuentes identified “at least four ways” the federal government can promote responsible growth: eliminating the “overly burdensome” tax code in favor of a flat tax; open foreign trade; immigration reform that would take the “uncertainty” out of small businesses making hiring plans; and more fiscal responsibility.

REAPPOINTED: Frank Kruppenbacher to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

TASK FORCE MEMBERS URGE MALPRACTICE CAP AMENDMENT via Steve Miller of the Associated Press

Following a Florida Supreme Court decision that struck down caps on certain awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, the members of a 2002 task force that recommended those limits are calling for a constitutional amendment that would place the caps on solid footing.

The task force appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush recommended a cap for individuals on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, and the Legislature passed it in 2003.

Last month, Florida’s high court ruled that the caps violate the state constitution.

The five task force members wrote to Senate President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford on April 9, requesting the proposed amendment. It would have to be approved by voters.

Officials in both chambers say the request comes too late in this year’s session for action.

WATCHDOG GROUPS TO CALL ON FLORIDA LEGISLATURE TO COME THROUGH WITH ETHICS REFORM AND OPEN GOVERNMENT via Chris Joseph of the Broward/Palm Beach New Times

A Florida watchdog coalition, headed by the nonprofit group Integrity Florida, is scheduled to hold a news conference in Tallahassee morning to remind lawmakers of their promises to bring ethics reform and transparency to the Sunshine State’s government.

Joining Integrity Florida will be the First Amendment Foundation, Common Cause Florida, and Citizens Awareness Foundation. Together, the groups are coming together to call Tallahassee to make sure to push a couple of open government and ethics reform bills that are stalled in the Florida Legislature.

Earlier in the year, Speaker Weatherford and Senate President Gaetz proposed a joint House and Senate five-point agenda for the state that included government transparency.

Specifically, point number five of the agenda, Improve Government Accountability and Efficiency, of Weatherford and Gaetz’s Work Plan Florida states that the Legislature will work to improve Florida’s ethics laws (SB 846) as well as getting the Public Records and Meetings bill (SB 1648 and HB 1151) pushed through.

The bill says that if someone puts in a public records request, they’ll no longer have to do so in writing. Bottom line, when anyone wants to check in on the government, be it a citizen or a watchdog group, they won’t get tangled up in red tape or otherwise blocked by loopholes.

In other words: transparency.

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PREZ GAETZ WORKS THROUGH HOLIDAY; SEEKS FEEDBACK ON THREE CONTROVERSIAL BILLS via Sandra Averhart of WUWF

The Legislature is taking a break this week in observance of the Passover and Easter holidays. But, Senate President Don Gaetz plans to remain in Tallahassee and work through the holiday week. In WUWF’s weekly update, Gaetz outlines the Senate’s approval of two education bills, extension of the historic ethics reform legislation that was passed last year, and the status of gaming legislation.

On the education front, the Florida Senate approved Senate Bill 1642, which creates a clarified A-F and 100-point school grading system.  As a former school board member and superintendent of schools, Gaetz says the system had become too complicated and ineffective as an incentive for schools to do better.  SB 1642 eliminates so-called safety nets or triggers and creates a simplified point system for school grades based on student performance.

Senate Bill 864 also passed the full Senate. Co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Matt Gaetz, Don Gaetz’ son, the measure would allow local school districts to make decisions about instructional materials and textbooks. It also establishes a way for citizens and subject-area experts in the community to be part of a textbook review process.

On the issue of gaming reform, Gaetz says he supports legislation that requires veterinarians to report injuries to animals involved in the dog-racing industry. Senate Bill 742, sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, passed the Senate Gaming Committee, and Gaetz says he supports it. However, the measure has not gained traction in the House.

In his role as President of the Florida Senate, Gaetz says his duties require him to remain in the state capitol over the holiday break to work on budget negotiations.

BUDGET SLEUTHING, SMOKE AND MIRRORS (PART 2) via Gary Fineout for his blog, The Fine Print

For Gov. Scott’s first three years in office, he had his budget office led by the same man – Jerry McDaniel – who also helped draw up budgets for Crist when he was in charge.

Part of the annual budget process under McDaniel was to make sure that the governor’s office had a fairly comprehensive list of where specific budget projects originated from – and just as importantly – who had an interest in making sure a project was spared a line-item veto.

You get a feel for how important certain projects are and who they are linked to when you go through emails and other documents.

Emails from May 2013 illustrate that clearly.

On May 6 – the Monday after the end of session Scott’s legislative affairs office had already distributed a spreadsheet that contained a list of budget priorities associated with the various budget chairmen in the state Senate.

On May 7 – McDaniel holds a meeting where he asked Office of Planning and Budget staff to bring “whatever you have regarding budget priorities for the members of the Fl Legislature.”

Later that day McDaniel emails his staff: “As you call to associate projects in the budget with members, please insure that they understand that you are not in search of priorities – just their particular interest in seeing projects occurring in the budget become law. Senior staff are calling separately for top 3 priorities.”

LAWMAKERS LITTER BUDGET WITH HOMETOWN PROJECTS via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

For lawmakers, the state’s economic rebound has re-kindled a feeding frenzy for hometown projects. The competing, $75 billion House and Senate budget plans lawmakers will hash out over the next three weeks are littered with hundreds of requests that lawmakers made for hometown water projects, street repairs, sea walls and even a gun range, according to budget records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

“Yes, there were more requests this year,” said Senate budget chief Joe Negron. “I think that’s based on the fact that our revenue picture was brighter than in past years, and I think there was some pent up demand.”

Even after lawmakers resolve their spending differences, the hometown projects will have to withstand Gov. Scott’s veto pen after session ends in May.

House lawmakers submitted more than 350 requests for projects, including everything from $200,000 to re-locate a lighthouse in Cap San Blas in the Panhandle, to $1.2 million for a BMX Olympic training facility in Pinellas County. SkyRise Miami, the planned 1,000-foot observation tower downtown, would score $10 million toward its $450 million price tag.

But some Democrats found it harder to get their wishes included.

Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, a first-term Democrat from Maitland, requested $2 million on behalf of the city for six “quiet-zones” at SunRail intersections. She also asked for the environmental cleanup of Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park, a water project in Eatonville, and roadwork in Casselberry – all of which got left out.

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CLEARWATER COUNCILMAN HOYT HAMILTON ENDORSES CHRIS LATVALA FOR HD 67 Full blog post here

GOP hopeful Chris Latvala received another significant local endorsement Tuesday, this time from newly elected Clearwater City Councilman Hoyt Hamilton.

Latvala is running for House District 67, covering parts of Clearwater, Largo and Pinellas Park, currently represented by term-limited GOP Rep. Ed Hooper.

Hamilton, who became councilmember for Clearwater City Seat 5 in the March 11 municipal election, is also co-owner of the Palm Pavilion restaurant and Palm Pavilion Inn on Clearwater Beach.

“Chris has the experience, knowledge and passion to be able to be an effective Representative for District 67 from day one,” Hamilton said in a statement. “From his time working in the Florida Legislature with Representative Hooper, to helping run a small business himself, Chris stands out in the fact that he is able to empathize effectively with the members of his community, which is exactly what is needed in an elected official. He will be able to hit the ground running in helping his community.”

REPUBLICAN JULIO GONZALEZ COMPARES OBAMA RE-ELECTION TO 9/11 via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Locked in a difficult GOP primary election, Republican candidate for the Legislature Julio Gonzalez is doing his best to show his conservative credentials.

During his first major debate with his opponent Richard DeNapoli earlier this month for House District 74, Gonzalez told more than 100 people at a forum that there are two days he’ll never forget in his life.

Here’s what Gonzalez’s had to say in that debate at the Sarasota Republican Women’s Club earlier this month:

“There are two events of historical significance that I remember exactly where I was. One of them was September 11th. I think all of you remember where you were on September 11th … I also remember Nov. 7, 2012. That was the day after Obama got elected. I remember waking up that morning with a pain in the pit of my stomach, knowing that I was going to have to deal with four more years of policies that were going to be designed to ruin or weaken our country and international positions that were going to weaken out position in the globe. I could not take that.”

Gonzalez and DeNapoli, both Republicans, are the only two candidates in the contest for District 74 so far. They are seeking to replace Rep. Doug Holder, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits.

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RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS HIRES SSG

Richard Petty Motorsports recently hired lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group, likely to help it avoid any yellow flags in Tallahassee.

The racing team is part of the promotional campaign for “Fresh from Florida.” Through the “Fresh From Florida” brand, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services works to raise awareness and promote the sale of the high quality produce and seafood produced and grown in Florida.

“Fresh From Florida” started working with RPM in 2013 and is featured on RPM’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series No. 43 Fords with drivers Aric Almirola (who is “Fresh From Florida” himself!) and Dakoda Armstrong.

“Richard Petty Motorsports developed a robust plan for ‘Fresh From Florida’ which will impact millions of consumers throughout Florida and the Southeast by delivering a message regarding the superior quality of Florida products,” said Mike Hargrave, Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing, Richard Petty Motorsports. “It’s been a pleasure to work with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services so far and we’re proud to help support the campaign … This is only the beginning of our support and execution of this program.”

Over 47,000 Florida agricultural producers, the majority of which are small farmers, benefit from the campaign’s efforts.

CONTEXT FLORIDA: BRUCE BEACH, MEDICAID, DEMOCRATS AND EASTER & EDUCATION

On Context Florida: City officials are finalizing a lease agreement to build a fish hatchery and research facility on city-owned property at Bruce Beach, says Shannon Nickinson, but they have been talking about it since June of 2011. What if the City Council, a much different group than the one in 2011, rejects the terms? Because Florida Republican officials are refusing federal Medicaid dollars, Marc Yacht writes, about 1.3 million low-income Florida residents will not get health-care coverage. Elected officials who continue to fight Obamacare, he adds, could pay heavily at the polls. If the Democratic brand cannot at least try building affinity and loyalty, both locally and elsewhere, regardless of demographics and against all odds, Daniel Tilson believes it is the reason why No Party Affiliation continues to be the hottest, fastest-growing brand around. Easter is a perfect time to reflect on how as a community, Florida has not given up on improving education for all students, according to Peter Schorsch. Florida chose a course with high ideals, a hope for all students, and a time-tested way to getting there.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Adult Viewing Habits of ‘Red’ States vs. ‘Blue States’ Per Capital

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sen. Bill Galvano.

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.