Sunburn for 4/28 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

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THE WEEK AHEAD via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

Florida legislators enter the final week of their 60-day session with lots of unfinished business, including whether to approve a strain of marijuana for medical use.

The last few days could reverberate into this year’s election, especially since Gov. Rick Scott is now pushing hard for a tuition break to college students living in the state illegally. Scott last week publicly asked his fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate to let the measure come up for a vote even though some GOP senators have already denounced the measure as “pandering” to Hispanics.

Legislators must also pass a roughly $75 billion state budget. Top legislators negotiating over the budget spent the weekend haggling over how much to spend on schools and environmental programs. The budget must be finished by Tuesday because legislators must wait 72 hours before a final vote on Friday, the session’s closing day.

House Speaker Will Weatherford said he is confident that legislators would wrap up their budget work in time. He also sounded optimistic that legislators would work out agreements on many of the significant pieces of legislation that remain undecided.

“We have significant momentum heading into the last week of session, where I believe we will find agreement on common sense reforms and continue to make historic investments in education,” Weatherford said Sunday.


Will negotiators reach a final agreement so that a budget will land on lawmakers’ desks by Tuesday, thereby providing enough “cooling off” time for legislators to vote on Friday?

Will the rumors about a special session on gaming develop into something concrete?

Does Jack Latvala really have the votes to get in-state tuition for undocumented student past the Florida Senate?

What time will session end? My prediction: 9:34 p.m. on Friday.

With candidate qualifying beginning this week, will any serious surprise candidates emerge in Florida’s battleground congressional races, like CD 13?


As the 2014 legislative session comes to an end, it’s time to start thinking about who are the Winners and Losers this year?

For example, a Winner will emerge from how the “trauma drama” plays out. Will it be HCA or the Safety Net Hospital Alliance? The Losers column will probably include several gaming interests.

Who else belongs on these lists? Which lobby firms, associations, and organizations have had a banner session? Your suggestions are off-the-record, so pull no punches. Email me at

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Congress gets back to work today after a two-week vacation, and it’s looking like lawmakers will do what they do best: the bare minimum.

Forget immigration, a tax overhaul, stiffer gun checks. They’re all DOA.

Raising the minimum wage or restoring lost unemployment benefits? Not going to happen. Forcing government approval of the Keystone XL pipeline? Veto bait.

The only things likely to become law in a Congress bitterly divided between House Republicans and the Democratic-led Senate are those that simply have to pass, such as a measure to avoid a government shutdown.

That’s a short, short list.

It gets even shorter if you leave off things that can wait until a postelection lame-duck session.

Atop the list is a short-term spending bill to keep the government running past the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year. Votes on the bill aren’t needed until September.

NEW ON TWITTER – U.S. REP. ALCEE HASTINGS via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

The 11-term congressman isn’t particularly enthusiastic about his foray into social media.

“I understand modernity. … We will keep up with the times and probably do better than most but I’m not into trying to inform people of every move or being concerned about every move of everybody else in the world. That’s a big undertaking, and I have more to do with my time than sit around twittering — or twerking,” Hastings said with a chuckle.


Political satirist Bill Maher added U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida’s 2nd Congressional District as the newest candidate for his “Flip-A-District” contest.

Maher chooses two U.S. House members each week for a March Madness-type bracket competition as a way to discover exactly who is the “worst” congressional representative in America.

Since January, Maher asked his audience to submit names of their least favorite congressional representative, especially one who expects to face a tough challenge in the 2014 midterms.

After analysis, the show will choose one member of Congress, and Maher will follow up on the lawmakers through November by giving examples of the representative’s “terrible work” on the show.

 Maher will also travel to perform his stand-up routine in the chosen district, just to “stir up hostile feelings toward the show’s target.”


Congressional candidate Gwen Graham is holding a Tampa fundraiser on May 27 to support her bid for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

The event begins 5:30 p.m. at Merlin Law Group, 777 S Harbour Island Blvd., Suite 950 in Tampa.

Hosting the event are prominent Tampa Bay area leaders, including Democrats U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and Alex Sink.

Special guest is Gwen’s father, former Democratic governor and Sen. Bob Graham.

To RSVP by email or phone, contact Elizabeth Davis at

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OBAMACARE BECOMES WEAPON IN GOV’S RACE via Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel

The race for governor of Florida could hang on one issue: Obamacare.

Already Gov. Scott has spent more than $4 million on television ads reminding voters that his chief rival for the job, former Gov. Crist, enthusiastically supports the controversial health law.

Crist’s response is hard to find anywhere else in the country. Unlike nearly every Democrat in a closely contested race, Crist isn’t retreating from Obamacare or waffling. Instead, he’s embracing the Affordable Care Act, hoping to turn it into an advantage.

“I don’t shy away from it. I don’t back away from it. I don’t apologize for it. It’s the right thing to do,” Crist said during a recent stop in Palm Beach County. At a Broward appearance, he brought up TV ads “where [Scott] has me saying [Obamacare] is great? You know why? Because it’s great.”

Scott’s strategy of using Obamacare as a weapon to bludgeon the front-runner for the Democratic nomination is straight from the Republican playbook for 2014.

Matt Moon, the Republican governor’s campaign communications director, said in a statement that Crist’s comments about the health-care law show he “is completely disconnected from the pain that Florida families are feeling because of Obamacare. This failed law’s higher taxes, higher premiums and broken promises are impossible for him to defend.”

TO DEBATE OR NOT DEBATE? via William March of the Tampa Tribune

It will be weeks or months before the candidates for governor of Florida face the prospect of appearing on a stage together for a debate, but they’re already posturing over whether to agree to do so.

One, however, is being planned for July and probably would include all three of the best-known candidates: Gov. Scott, former Gov. Crist, and former state Sen. Nan Rich.

That’s raising questions for Scott and Crist, who are seeking to make political points concerning debates.

Crist doesn’t want to debate Rich, saying he’s focused on the race between himself and Scott; while Scott has said he sees no reason to debate Crist unless and until Crist wins the Democratic primary.

Rich has already accepted the July invitation, saying, “Democratic voters are entitled to hear a vigorous exchange of ideas in the primary.”

The July debate, or forum, is being planned by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, which historically includes a forum for candidates in a major Florida race in its annual convention in election years. Both Crist and Scott have participated in past FSNE forums.


In an interview with the Jacksonville CBS affiliate WETV, Carroll … is asking for Gov. Scott to apologize.

“I firmly believe that he owes me an apology for his knee-jerk reaction,” Carroll said, “considering I stated over and over that I have done nothing wrong.

“Why didn’t I get the same level of courtesy?” she added. “Because I’m not one of the good ol’ boys.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not charged the former lieutenant governor with a crime, but referred her case to the Florida Ethics Commission.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will visit and speak with Department of Children and Families Child Protective Investigators in Jacksonville about his proposed additional funding to protect children. 5920 Arlington Expressway, Jacksonville. 9:30 a.m.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will honor nine first responders from South Florida with the Medal of Heroism Award. Northwest District Police Department, 5975 Miami Lakes Drive East, Miami Lakes. 2:30 p.m.


The end of Florida’s 60-day legislative session always resembles a complicated card game, a poker-bridge blend with legislation traded back and forth amid hidden agendas and the high stakes of a $75 billion budget.

Scott’s team is provoking talk about a special legislative session, perhaps starting May 18, to consider a gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The potential deal, called a “compact,” could give the state as much as $500 million annually, about double what it gets now. But it could hurt the states 31 pari-mutuel facilities, many of which see the Seminoles and Miccosukee tribes as threats.

The governor has struggled mightily with the Legislature at times, except when it comes to the easiest of items (e.g., a package of tax cuts for a Republican-led body in an election year).

Gambling legislation is about as complicated as it gets in Florida. It divides Republicans. It’s not something that passes quickly or easily, nor is it usually sprung on lawmakers at the end of session.

It’s a zero-sum game of special-interest rivalries. The Seminoles, which have Vegas-style casinos, want craps and roulette as well as limits on expansion of gambling elsewhere. They basically want a monopoly. Give them that, and it could crush pari-mutuels.

Another complication: many conservatives are anti-gambling in the Legislature. As many as 30 Republicans in the 74-member House GOP caucus can be counted on as hell-no votes on most gambling deals.

That means Democratic votes are likely needed in the 120-member House. Democrats have few incentives to help a tea-party governor in an election year. Also, many hail from areas that have pari-mutuels.

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SUNDAY MORNING HEADLINE – $75 BILLION SPENDING PLAN STALLS via Kathleen McGrory, Tia Mitchell and Michael Van Sickler of the Times/Herald bureau

State lawmakers stalled in their negotiations Saturday to agree on Florida’s proposed $75 billion budget, which includes an all-time high of $11 billion for K-12 education and $500 million in tax and fee cuts.

Unlike prior years when lawmakers faced deficits, budget talks this year have progressed with little drama or discord. Yet despite the smooth facade on this year’s negotiations, a public meeting between Senate and House budget leaders was scrapped Saturday with no explanation.

The cancellation slowed progress of budget talks that, as of Friday, had seemed to be going smoothly.

What snagged the talks is unclear, but Republican leaders spent much of Saturday negotiating construction and maintenance projects funded by the Public Education Capital Outlay trust fund, one of several issues that have complicated this year’s budget.


… On Sunday (afternoon), House and Senate budget chiefs met publicly for the first time this weekend and exchanged offers on health care, economic development, and environmental spending.

They agreed to provide $5 million for a massive observation tower in downtown Miami called SkyRise, if the developers can demonstrate they’ve secured $400 million in private financing for the project.

The House agreed to provide $1.5 million to meet one of the requests of incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner for an Oviedo Amphitheater.

The House also agreed on a Senate request for $2 million for the Urban League of Broward County. And both sides have agreed on giving Gov. Scott roughly $55 million to award to companies who pledge to create jobs – with another $16 million in tax-incentive cash from the current year rolled into next.

But water woes remain a central point of contention.

The House wants to spend $36 million on hometown water projects for its members while the Senate has budgeted $73.9 million.

The House reduced its budget-ask for springs restoration Sunday from $45 million to $25 million, closer to the $22.8 million the Senate would prefer to spend in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

And the House wants to spend $35.5 million on beach restoration while the Senate prefers $47 million.

Both chambers agreed Sunday to spend $82 million on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee restoration projects – a key priority of Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has pushed for a total of $157 million in spending around the lake and Everglades.

“We’ve come a long way on Lagoon funding and also the environmental priorities of the House. I feel good about where we are,” Negron told reporters Sunday.

The two sides are still far apart in some of those places: House Speaker-Designate Steve Crisafulli has insisted on $10 million for muck removal in the upper Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County. The Senate hasn’t included it, yet.

The House offered to spend $3 million on Lake Apopka restoration, while the Senate wants $4 million.


House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to create a $10 million grant program to pay for railroad crossing upgrades needed in Palm Beach County and elsewhere in anticipation of the passenger rail project All Aboard Florida.

The Senate earlier proposed the spending for the so-called quiet zones. But its fate was uncertain until Sunday when the House signed off on the plan amid talks aimed at settling a $75 billion state budget for 2014-15.

Elected officials from throughout the coastal areas of Palm Beach County, working largely through the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, had asked the state for help.

The express private service would run from Miami to Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. But the added 32 trains a day have residents and business owners near the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks worried about noise, traffic congestion and boating delays.


Senate budget negotiators made an offer to the House to study rather than split for now the Florida A&M University / Florida State University College of Engineering.

As part of the proposal, the Board of Governors would begin a study by Jan. 1 and complete it no later than March 1 into whether the joint Engineering College should stay the same or whether a new college should be established at one or both universities.

When asked whether the offer means the controversial proposal was dead this session, Sen. Negron, who’s leading budget negotiations for the Senate, said, “I’m not sure.”

“We’re looking at the speaker’s request of having the Board of Governors involved in that process,” Negron said.

The study will include an analysis of costs for each option along with faculty resources, course and degree offering, research potential, student admission requirements and student outcomes.

TWEET, TWEET: @NickIarossi: Rep. Kevin Rader uses subliminal intimidation tactics like “WrestleMania” jersey during budget conference to get $.


“For the Florida Legislature, this is the spring of playing it safe. When lawmakers adjourn the annual legislative session Friday, they will brag about tax cuts, new projects and other short-term accomplishments. But they will leave Tallahassee having ignored the biggest challenges facing the Sunshine State or providing token solutions that lack vision and ambition. Floridians deserve leaders who look further ahead than the next election.

“Among the big half-dozen issues on which lawmakers failed to deliver: Gambling … Water … Energy … Child Safety … Medicaid Expansion … Tax Reform.”


How Gaetz and Weatherford resolve the issue (of in-state tuition for undocumented students) in the final week of the 60-day session will not only shed light on their leadership, it will mirror the challenges that face the party as it tries to find a unified message to bridge deep divisions.

“The Senate president and the speaker are a proxy for the conversation that is being had in the Republican Party right now,’’ said Sen. Tom Lee, a former Senate president who opposes the in-state tuition bill.

Gaetz represents “the very large contingent within the party that believes that the path to success is to stand on its core principles and the rule of law and the traditions of our nation,’’ he explained.

Weatherford, by contrast, is part of a “younger group of people who want to react more to the changes that have taken place in society — recognizing the world is moving.”

Rep. Jose Oliva is part of that younger group. Designated to be House speaker in four years, Oliva acknowledges the divisions in the party but believes “there are more things that we have in common than separate us.”

He frames the issue of in-state tuition for immigrants as a classic example of the Republican adherence to removing government obstacles to individual success.

“It’s easy to make the argument that someone who is doing the very things that we need them to do to excel in our society — getting an education, doing what they need to do to improve themselves — those people ought not have barriers,’’ he said. “So in that regard, they are almost telling you by their actions that they are going to be productive in society and productive members of society is what makes society strong.”

Lee said the very public feud among Republicans is paramount in the Senate because, unlike the House, its larger districts make it more difficult for incumbents to overcome a primary challenge if legislators are challenged from the right because of a vote on immigration.

Primary voters in the two off-cycle congressional elections, in Pinellas County and Southwest Florida, chose Republicans candidates David Jolly and Curt Clawson, respectively, who took hard-line stands against immigration amnesty.

Recent polls have shown that a majority of voters, even in GOP-held state Senate districts, support in-state tuition for children of noncitizens.

TWEET, TWEET: @ToddTReid: Next 5 days in FL, probably at least the next 5 years, summed up on a Sunday. Nice work by @MaryEllenKlas

RISING LEADERS MAKE MARK via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Senate President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford will guide the 2014 Legislature to its conclusion in the coming week.

But standing in the wings, already making their presence felt, are the two men who will direct legislative policy in the next two years: Sen. Andy Gardiner and state Rep. Steve Crisafulli.

Gardiner will succeed Gaetz as Senate president after the November elections. Crisafulli will follow Weatherford as the next House speaker.

The growing influence of the incoming leaders is already on display as lawmakers finalize the $75 billion state budget.

This year, Gardiner is advancing $15.5 million for the Coast to Coast Connector, a project that would link 275 miles of paved bicycling trails across Central Florida. Gardiner said there was no guarantee that Gov. Scott wouldn’t veto the new project, although he noted the governor attended a groundbreaking ceremony on part of the endeavor.

He is supporting legislation (SB 1512), sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel that would create “personal learning scholarship accounts” to help parents of students with disabilities pay for special education services. The legislation also creates new ways for disabled students to earn a high school degree, which Gardiner has said is important for helping students move on to job training and other educational opportunities.

Crisafulli is leaving his own imprint on the new budget. He won support for $1 million to help build an NRA-backed gun range in Brevard County that will feature 300-degree simulators, moving targets, a tower and a shooting facility for law enforcement.

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Community association managers, or CAMs, that operate homeowners associations would have their duties more clearly defined under HB 7037, which passed the House by a 95-17 vote.

The CAMs are hoping to dodge a pending Florida Supreme Court decision that could render some of their duties — which include developing a quorum for HOA meetings, drafting contracts, and filing liens as the unlicensed practice of law — a third-degree felony.

Opponents of the bill, though, worry CAMs won’t have the technical expertise in all of an HOA’s legal matters, and are trying to protect their fees.

But supporters pointed to the more expensive fees charged by lawyers for the same HOA duties, saying the bill would prevent an increase in HOA fees and noted most CAM activities don’t require legal expertise.

The bill is the source of a fight between CAMs and the Real Property, Probate and Trust Section of the Florida Bar, which petitioned the court to define more CAM activities as the unlicensed practice of law in 2012.

Although the bill was amended to restrict excessive CAM fees, the Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies, a CAM trade group, was happy to see the bill pass the House.

CAREGIVERS HELPED BY SEN. NANCY DETERT via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Detert is on the verge of closing a loophole in state law that she cannot believe existed as long as it has.

Currently the state pays people a monthly stipend of about $257 if they are caring for a child who has been removed from their parents’ home for abuse or neglect, but only if they are a relative.

Detert said she was shocked to find out that if the Department of Children and Families puts the child in a home of a non-relative, that family is not paid any stipend to help the child because it was not written into a rule created in 1998.

There are about 1,500 children who are in the care of non-relatives, according to state statistics.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Detert said.

Detert said the caregivers need at least some help to pay for shoes, clothes and other materials to help care for the child. Detert’s proposal would require DCF to also pay non-relative caregivers a stipend to help care for the formerly abused or neglected children.

Detert’s bill to fix the problem stalled initially, but she has been able to attach the provision to a larger DCF reform bill that passed the Senate 37-0 on Friday. The bill now awaits action in the House.

EDITORIAL: OUR URGENT PLEA FOR RAYANN via the Pensacola News Journal

Governor Scott, on behalf of the people of West Florida, this is a plea for our child.

Do you know her? You need to. Look at her face — this is RayAnn Moseley. She is 11 years old. She lives in Gulf Breeze with two parents who love her very much. And because they love her, they fight for her.

They’ve been fighting for her since the day they met her in Sacred Heart hospital. RayAnn was 2 years old, her biological parents absent. Holley and Peyton Moseley, both healthcare professionals, fell in love with her, adopted her, took up the fight for her.

And they’ve been fighting for a simple law that can change RayAnn’s life. Charlotte’s Web — you know how the newsline goes: A non-euphoric derivative of a specific strain of marijuana that can reduce potentially fatal seizures in children with intractable epilepsy. It’s not a drug. It’s not pot. There is no high, no street-value, no side effects — unlike so many of the other poisons legally prescribed to RayAnn. And it helps so much more.

Floridians overwhelmingly support this answer to RayAnn’s suffering. And the law will pass both Republican controlled chambers of the Legislature — the Senate as early as Tuesday.

Yet it lacks your voice and your support at a time when RayAnn needs you.

So this is our plea — whatever your struggle with this, look at RayAnn’s face, take these words and be absolved of all doubt: This is the right thing to do. Politically. And morally.


Big-box pharmacies would be allowed to use as many technicians as they need under a bill approved by the Florida House.

The bill (HB 323) passed 85-33 Friday.

Current law requires approval from the state’s Board of Pharmacy for anything over a ratio of three technicians to one pharmacist.

Proponents, including Walgreens and the Florida Retail Federation, say the law would allow the large pharmacies to bring down drug prices. Opponents contend the higher technician ratio would create a scenario for more errors.

Florida is among 18 states allowing a maximum of three technicians to one pharmacist.

TWEET, TWEET: @mattgaetz: HB 7113 passed with 13 Republicans voting no.  If trauma reform was not in the bill, it would not have passed.  #telemedicinebad #scopebad

AS SESSION TIME DWINDLES, UBER WON’T GIVE UP via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

And the hits against Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission keep coming.

The Senate passed a measure clamping down on the state’s many special districts, mandating certain transparency, ethics and financial responsibility requirements.

Debate on the bill gave Jeff Brandes an opportunity to get in a dig on the commission, the state’s only special body that regulates tow trucks, taxis, limos, and other transportation for hire.

The commission has gone “rogue,” he said. “They’ve really gotten out of control.”

Uber announced yet another news conference this week to urge passage of legislation that would prevent local authorities from setting minimum fares and minimum wait times.

It would also prevent them from restricting the number of vehicle permits.



You don’t have to be a beer aficionado to identify the source of Florida Senate Bill 1714′s bitter taste: pure protectionist politics.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kelli Stargel, seeks to hold down microbrewers and sellers of craft beer.

The growing category is a good source of new local businesses across Florida. Yet Stargel’s SB 1714 — which is scheduled for a full Senate vote on Monday — proposes restrictions that would be comical if they weren’t so potentially damaging.

The bill would require microbreweries selling more than 2,000 kegs per year of their own brew to distribute their bottled and canned products through an established distributorship. Then they would have to buy back their own product — at marked-up prices — before they could sell it to consumers for home consumption. The bottles and cans of beer wouldn’t even have to leave the premises or change hands. The middleman would just pocket the money.

That is nothing more than a shakedown facilitated by elected officials. Many microbreweries say they could not survive financially under that arrangement.


Now let me be clear. I LOVE craft beer and the ‘burg is one of the hubs of craft beer and I am proud of what they have built and how they have grown in the market.

But what I am NOT proud of is how some on the craft brewery side are encouraging people to “get very angry” and seemingly incite a riot-like, crazy fight pointed at a lawmaker. Come on guys, there has to be a better way to advocate. This type of behavior, no matter the issue, is just not appropriate and impacts the credibility of the message.

As first reported by Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News, there are some craft beer supporters who don’t seem to know the way to sell their side of the story, so they have started to tweet bad names to Senator Stargel, hack into her Wikipedia account, text her, and even call her at home on Easter Sunday (yes, you read that right. Her HOME on Easter Sunday) and call her the B-word and the C-word.


Powerful state Sen. Bill Galvano says he had nothing to do with a client of his private law firm securing millions during the 2013 legislative session, but a state budget document shows he requested the money.

IMG Academies, a Bradenton-based private sports and academic training academy, received $2.3 million in the current 2013-14 state budget.

The firm is represented by a Bradenton law firm that includes Galvano as one of several named partners.

Galvano told the Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau that he had nothing to do with the money in the current year’s budget, or $2.5 million for IMG in the 2014-15 proposed budget lawmakers are currently considering.

A budget spreadsheet compiled by the Governor’s office lists Galvano as requesting last year’s $2.3 million, which was for “a major expansion that includes a stadium, field house, student dorms and a research facility” at the nearly 500-acre campus.

He said the governor’s office spreadsheet is inaccurate.

“It was not something I went out and lobbied for,” Galvano said.


Between Monday and Friday, May 2 – the last day of the 2014 legislative session — finds lawmakers in semi-frenzied negotiations on the fate of dozens of bills, as well as facing the Tuesday budget deadline so the state’s spending plan can be passed by Sine Die.

At the top of the Senate’s agenda list is a continuing debate over trauma centers and the marijuana strain known as “Charlotte’s Web.” They may also vote on a bill to lower differential tuition rates for state universities.

The House will be considering a call to set up a private flood insurance marketplace statewide, as well as more authority on textbook decisions for local school boards.

FUN TWITTER ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW THIS WEEK: @FlCapHot, @MissRotunda, @SineDine2014, @SineDieHanky, @SineDieSausage

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APPOINTED: Naomi Roberson as a School Board Member of Baker County.


Last week, Gov. Scott saw his appointee to Orlando’s toll-road agency get indicted and booked at the jail.

It was a pathetic scene — and yet another stain on this mess of an agency that sucks up commuters’ toll money and yet seems incapable of cleaning up its act.

But the most pathetic thing about all of this was that it was so easily preventable.

Gov. Scott ignored call after call to remove now-indicted Scott Batterson from this board.

And Batterson and his buddies ignored warning after warning that they were being watched.

It was a brazen display of arrogance — as if the whole thing were a game to them. They defied the state attorney and dismissed the public.

To avoid scandal and grand juries, these folks needed to focus on only two things: making driving easy and keeping tolls low.

But for far too long, developers and politicians have treated the authority like a personal piggy bank.


The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments in four cases, including a case in which the Florida Virtual School has accused K12, Inc., of trademark infringement. Florida Supreme Court, 500 South Duval St., Tallahassee. 9 a.m.

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Qualifying for this year’s congressional, state attorney, public defender, circuit judge and appeals court elections will begin. The qualifying period ends Friday.


Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto’s decision to seek re-election to the Senate … slowed the potential fall of numerous political dominos, and likely means most incumbents, at least, will run for the offices they now hold.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen said she’ll run for re-election to her House seat this fall. Fitzenhagen was considering a Senate bid — and raised an eye-popping $108,400 in February for her campaign war chest — but now says she’s looking toward re-election.

Rep. Matt Caldwell was also eying the Senate. He said he would not run against Benacquisto.

Benacquisto is one of the Senate’s top fundraisers, collecting over $500,000 for the Senate race with almost $200,000 still left for re-election. Local candidates who tried challenging her in past legislative races, meanwhile, saw their financial backers vanish when posted up against the Benacquisto machine.

Lee County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Terry Miller said he hasn’t heard of any serious new challengers to Benacquisto, and echoed the sentiment that it would take someone who could self-fund. “The other side to this is that “the outsider” sentiment makes this a year when every incumbent has to be a little nervous,” he said.

Curt Clawson, meanwhile, has been reaching out to community and business leaders who were Benacquisto backers, spreading his message that it’s time for all Republicans “to come together and unify for the good of the party.”

Benacquisto has already said she will back Clawson in the upcoming congressional election.


It was spring 2011, and Peter Rummell, a powerful Northeast Florida Republican fundraiser, hastily gathered nearly 40 friends in a room at the downtown Hyatt.

Rummell made a surprising announcement: he would personally give $150,000 to help elect Alvin Brown, the underdog Democratic candidate for mayor. Within minutes, his pledge was matched by the other downtown business and civic leaders in attendance — many of whom, like Rummell, were registered Republicans but reluctant to support GOP candidate Mike Hogan’s hard-line conservative campaign in the runoff against Brown.

It proved a major milestone in Brown’s unlikely victory in a Republican-leaning town, a win that was buoyed by Rummell’s political action committee, which ultimately raised $431,356.

Rummell plans to enlist his financial might once again in 2015 — but this time, it won’t be for Brown.

In a sharp pivot, he offered a blistering assessment of Brown’s first term.

“He does not know how to manage. That’s clear,” Rummell told the Times-Union in an interview Friday. “He has no courage … He’s wimped out. He’s deferred to City Council. It’s embarrassing the way he’s handled himself.”

Rummell — a former Disney and St. Joe Co. executive and a driving force behind Jacksonville’s highly touted One Spark festival — is throwing his support behind Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry.

Curry, in a statement to the Times-Union, was coy about whether he plans to run but said Rummell’s support was encouraging.

***Uber, the ground-breaking on-demand transportation app, is ready to expand in the Sunshine State. But politics is getting in the way of progress. To date, more than 100,000 Florida residents and visitors have opened the Uber app, only to find their transportation needs can’t be met. Moreover, Uber serves as a job generator and economic stimulator wherever it operates; its 2013 economic impact in Chicago was $46 million. In Florida, Uber could create tens of thousands of jobs. The time is now for modern transportation options. Let’s not leave Florida standing at the curb. Sign the petition.***


Everyone wants to know when the 2014 Legislation Session will end. But which Capitol insider will come closest to predicting when session will end?

According to Kevin Cate and Franco Ripple at CateComm, who have organized an online competition to reward the political aficionado who comes closest to predicting when Sine Die will occur, the average of all of the picks from lawmakers, reporters, and insiders indicates Friday at 7:26 p.m. will be the witching hour.

The earliest prediction (so far) comes from Alan Brock, who says session will end at 4:56 p.m. PR maven Ryan Wiggins’ prediction clocks in the latest at 11:13 p.m.

There are nearly 50 entries so far in the #CateSineDie contest with one from Speaker Weatherford, who predicted session could end “not soon enough.”

Closest to predicting when session will end without going over will win a $200 bar tab, if the prediction was made before noon on Friday, April 25. Participants can still make their predition or revise a current one by Wednesday. But if one of those picks nails the time of Sine Die, the prize is $100.


Melissa Akeson, Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Caregiver Services, Inc.

George Anderson, Jonathan Setzer, Southern Strategy Group: Rural/Metro Corporation of Florida

Louis Betz, Travis Mitchell: Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority

Ron Book, Kelly Mallette: SEED Foundation, Inc.

Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Jeff Hartley, Andrea Reilly, Smith Bryan & Myers: Goodman Group

Theresa Bulger: Florida Academy of Audiology

Chris Carmody, GrayRobinson: Accredited Surety & Casualty Company, Inc.

Kira Grossman, ACFD Law: Miami Parking Authority

Allison Hunt: Capital Strategies

Brooke Flaherty Tiner: Aetna

Frank Mayernick. Tracy Mayernick: International Speedway Corporation

Bennett Miller: Austerman, Inc.

Paul Mitchell, Southern Strategy Group: Bolt Solutions, Inc.

Joe Perry, Uber Technologies

Hansel Tookes: Florida Medical Association

Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: Non-Profit Insurance Services, Inc.

***Do you need some “Success Insurance” for Session?  Add some clout to your lobbying team and contact former Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp. Having served both in the Executive Office of the Governor and in the Florida Legislature, he has an in-depth understanding of how the legislative process works behind the scenes. Since leaving public office, he has used his knowledge and experience in state government to help a wide range of clients successfully pursue their goals and objectives.  Don’t take success for granted.  You can reach Governor Kottkamp at***


Today on Context Florida: With tongue firmly in check, Andrew Skerritt says he is “privileged” to live in the congressional district served by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, the second-term congressman and former funeral home director. Since taking office, the Panhandle Republican and Baptist seems to have found a new “religion”— the crusade against poverty. Some megabuck zillionaires purchase sports teams for fun, but former State Sen. John Grant writes that there are others some “purchase” political offices as a hobby. Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislators have turned the final days of the 2014 session into a rigged political poker tournament, says Daniel Tilson. Once a haven for entrepreneurs like Walt Disney, who chose for his theme parks the Sunshine State over a New Orleans mired in protectionist behavior, Justin Kintz feels the state of Florida is turning away a popular new service in the forefront of global commerce — Uber’s innovative mobile application that connects passengers with drivers. Catherine Durkin Robinson found this years’ Boston Marathon thrilling, dizzying and inspiring. Earning a degree does not mean you should ever stop learning, writes Mark Routhier. Too many people shed graduation robes and never crack open another book, resigned to enter a workaday world.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Limits on Disney’s new FastPass+ program are going away as of Monday, Disney has announced, and the theme park giant is also adding a park hopper feature to the system.

FastPass+ lets visitors make advance reservations for select rides, shows and parades. The free service is part of Disney’s billion-dollar project to enhance vacation planning.

Since it began, visitors have been restricted to three FastPass+ uses a day, all within just one park, but starting Monday uses will be unlimited, Disney announced on its blog for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Here’s how it will work: Users will still be able to sign up in advance for three passes. After using those three passes, visitors can select another one at any FastPass+ kiosk in the parks. After using the fourth pass, the process can be repeated on a fifth one, and so on.

Visitors also will be able to move from park to park and get an additional FastPass+ at each one.


This summer kicks off with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′ [Friday], Sony’s second installment of its second Spider-Man series. With two sequels and two spinoffs (for Venom and Sinister Six) planned, Spider-Man proves the intensive, high-speed nature of franchise-making … Among … other … potential blockbusters: the monster re-do ‘Godzilla’ (May 16), the time-traveling mutant thriller ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (May 23), the warped fairy tale ‘Maleficent’ (May 30), the animated sequel ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2,’ the Clint Eastwood-directed musical ‘Jersey Boys’ (June 20), the gun-toting gorilla tale ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (July 11), the demigod drama ‘Hercules’ (July 25) and Marvel’s outer-space adventure ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (Aug. 1). …

[The other Jon] Favreau [wrote and directed] ‘Chef’ (May 9), an independent film … about a big-name restaurant chef who loses his job and opens a food truck. … Seth MacFarlane’s ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ (May 30) and ’22 Jump Street’ (June 13) will offer comic relief. In ‘Neighbors’ (May 9), Seth Rogen and Zac Efron star as next-door rivals.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Rep. Larry Ahern and Gina Evans. Celebrating today is Context Florida contributor Gary Stein.

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.