Sunburn for 4/4 — 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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OBAMA SEEKS TO SHIFT CONSERVATIVE TILT OF COURT

President Obama “has pressed senators from both parties in recent weeks to confirm a new federal judge for one of the country’s most powerful courts, using an aggressive strategy to campaign for a judicial nominee whom White House officials consider a potentially crucial figure in boosting the president’s second-term agenda,” the Washington Post reports.

“The effort reflects a new White House effort to tilt in its favor the conservative-dominated U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is one notch below the Supreme Court and considers many challenges to executive actions.”

Q-POLL: EARLY LOOK AT 2016 FIELD SHOWS RUBIO LEADING FIVE-WAY FIELD Full poll results here.

Rubio gets 19 percent of Republican voters, with 17 percent for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, 15 percent for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and 10 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. … New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie … gets … Other contenders are at 3 percent or less.

… Voters also give Republicans in Congress a negative 19-71 percent job approval, compared to a negative 34-59 percent for the Democrats in Congress.

… The Republican Party can do a better job handling the federal deficit, American voters say 43-36 percent, while the Democrats will do a better job 49-37 percent on health care, 49-28 percent on same-sex marriage, and 42-38 percent on immigration. Voters are divided almost evenly on which party can do a better job on the economy, taxes and gun control.

REPUBLICANS LESS LIKED THAN DEMOCRATS, POLL SAYS

The new Quinnipiac poll referenced above finds the Democratic Party is less disliked than the GOP: the Democrats get a negative 38% to 44% percent favorability, compared to a negative 28% to 52% for the Republicans.

NO CHALLENGER AGAINST PATRICK MURPHY BUT THE GOP STRIKES REGARDLESS via contributor Karen Cyphers

The National Republican Congressional Committee began online video ad buys today attacking freshman Congressman Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, one of seven US Democrats being targeted as vulnerable, despite the fact that no Republican challenger has been fielded to take him on. The $2,000 of online ads allege that Murphy “fits right in” in DC, voting to allow Congressmen to fly first class on the taxpayers’ dime and voting against balancing the budget.

The claims are only marginally on point, considering that the elimination of taxpayer-funded first class travel was a tiny piece of a larger bill that Murphy voted against; and Murphy has broken with his party numerous times in voting for a Republican balanced-budget resolution and other such issues.  Murphy, who just turned 30, had been a Republican until 2011 when he switched parties due to misgivings about the influence of the tea party movement. He narrowly unseated Allen West in a district with more registered Republicans than Democrats, and where Romney won 51.5 percent of the vote — all of which is a good recipe for staying on the radar.

THURSDAY TOWN HALL MEETINGS WITH DENNIS ROSS IN PLANT CITY AND BARTOW via contributor Karen Cyphers

Congressman Dennis Ross will host town hall meetings in Plant City and Bartow today. Ross will spend the time answering questions asked during the meetings. The Plant City meeting is from 5:00 – 6:00 pm at the City Hall Commission Chambers at 302 W. Reynolds Street, 1st floor. The Bartow Meeting is from 7:00-8:00 pm at the Polk County Administration Building Commission Chambers at 330 W. Church Street, 1st floor.

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CLICK-BAIT: CHARLIE CRIST GOES TO JAIL via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times here.

HYPOCRISY OF MAINSTREAM MEDIA TOWARDS SCOTT via Barney Bishop for Sunshine State News

You see, how a reporter uses key code words will tell you exactly what you want to know about their political leanings. And for the Florida press corps, their unwritten rule is that Gov. Scott must be demonized every step of the way.

Since this governor has taken office, he has committed himself to just two things: that he will focus every day on creating jobs for Floridians and that he will always keep in mind the average citizen and what they need in order to survive this chaotic and lurching economy. So, the fact that the unemployment rate has gone significantly down is just a matter of fact, not the erstwhile work of a governor committed to job growth.

Yet, I will make a prediction right now, 19 months before the next election. Every newspaper, save perhaps one, will endorse the Democratic nominee who almost certainly will be Charlie Crist.

RICK SCOTT’S MONEY MEN via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott’s political machine Let’s Get to Work raised a whopping $4.6 million in the first three months of 2013, raking in cash at the rate of $50,000 every day…

… Scott has raised nearly $9.8 million since taking office in 2011. The average contribution? Close to $9,700.

“That’s the power of incumbency — to sustain a continuous fundraising advantage over your opponents. He would be foolish not to take advantage of that,” said Brian Ballard, a lobbyist and Scott supporter. “It’s going to be a $100 million race. If you don’t start early, you’re in a hole.”

… Quietly, Scott has kept up a busy evening schedule of fundraising events, from one-on-one dinners with well-heeled donors to larger receptions … 

… Scott can accept checks in unlimited amounts because his campaign fund is an electioneering communications organization or ECO that’s not subject to the $500 contribution limit that typically applies to candidates. The only limitation on activities by Let’s Get to Work is that it can’t “expressly advocate” Scott’s re-election by using words such as “vote for” or “elect.”

SCOTT CELEBRATES CREDIT UNION JOBS IN NW FLA via the News Service of Florida

Navy Federal Credit Union will create 1,500 jobs as part of expansion at its offices in Pensacola, credit union officials announced Wednesday. The company is getting $6 million in state and local incentives, but that’s contingent on creating the promised jobs. Gov. Scott was in Pensacola Wednesday to mark the expansion, which followed another one announced last year. “Today’s news that Navy Federal will create 1,500 jobs for families is a huge win for the Sunshine State, and builds on the 640 jobs that were announced last year,” Scott said in a statement. Construction on an expanded office complex will start later this year.

SCOTT’S TAX CUTS ARE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND IN LEGISLATURE’S BUDGET via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

(B)oth the House and Senate have drafted similar versions of their $74 billion-plus budgets, and so far Gov. Scott’s corporate and manufacturing tax cuts are nowhere to be found.

… The governor had requested about $160 million in tax cuts for businesses this year, through a combination of exempting companies from paying sales tax on manufacturing purchases and allowing a greater number of smaller companies to avoid paying corporate taxes.

But so far, lawmakers haven’t included either in their budgets – although the House has included $36 million in tax cuts largely through enacting another three-day sales tax holiday for August that would include computer purchases.

… Senate President Don Gaetz said Wednesday it was “too early to tell” if the governor would get his wishes.

“I love tax cuts, but I really like the tax cuts that put money into Floridians’ pockets and I think that’s what we’re going to be looking for,” Gaetz said.

WHAT’S WORSE: GOP SCANDALS OR DEMOCRATS’ INABILITY TO EXPLOIT THEM Full blog post for Florida Voices here

Think about it: Has much been heard from Florida Democrats after Carrroll resigned? Or after Greer was sentenced?

A Republican state legislator is currently being investigated by two media outlets for misappropriating a $2.4 million grant and there hasn’t been one press release from the state Democratic Party.

Are the lights even on at Florida Democratic Party headquarters?

Or have they been permanently knocked out by the Republicans?

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ATWATER WOULD LIKE TO SEE CHANGES TO PIP BEFORE SCRAPPING via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida

State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater wouldn’t say the Senate is being premature in starting to look into replacing the state’s no-fault auto insurance system before recent changes can take hold. But he would prefer lawmakers wait to see if the changes do make a difference.

“Certainly by this time next year we will have known whether the changes we have made are working,” Atwater said. “I feel like we did a really good job in getting cost drivers out and fraud out so honest people can get a fair and better price, and I’d like to see it played out. 

“But it’s the Legislature’s call,” added Atwater, who was a big backer of the 2012 law aimed at reducing fraud to lower costs. . And if they believe that they are not seeing the change yet … I want to listen.”

GENTING TAKING WAIT-AND-SEE APPROACH ON GAMBLING IN FLORIDA via the News Service of Florida

Genting Americas, the Malaysian casino giant that was at the forefront of a failed push to expand gambling in Florida last year, is proceeding with plans to eventually demolish the historic Miami Herald building on the bank of Biscayne Bay. The media giant’s waterfront complex, purchased by Genting for a reported $236 million in 2011, is to be replaced with a 500-room luxury hotel a pair of condo towers and retail space.

As for the desired $2 billion mega-casino: “I couldn’t say we’ve entirely abandoned it,” Jessica Hoppe, general counsel and senior vice president Genting Americas, told members of the House Select Committee on Gaming on Tuesday.

In December, Genting backed off efforts to ask Florida voters in 2014 to open Florida to casino gambling through an amendment to the state Constitution. Hoppe and Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands Corp. were asked to give overviews of their companies and gaming plans for Florida as the committee and its Senate counterpart are undertaking a two session review of gambling in Florida. Hoppe said her company is committed to building the luxury hotel on five acres of the 14-acre waterfront site with the gambling aspects in a “mode of wait and see.”

Iarossi pressed the legislators to “go big” to entice large, better-run casino operators that can build to the state’s needs. Any casino proposal will have to overcome opposition to gambling lead by some large business groups. Committee Chairman Rob Schenck said his committee will follow the lead of the Senate on gaming, which is expected to bring up a comprehensive gaming bill in 2014.

“The Senate, as probably most of you have heard, has expressed an interest in holding public meetings around the state, we’re also contemplating that as well,” Schenck said.

MAYOR SOREY IMPLORES SENATE TO BRING FLEXIBILITY TO LOCAL PENSION REFORM via contributor Karen Cyphers

In a Tuesday op-ed, Naples Mayor John Sorey takes a strong stand on  reforming local city pensions, citing the need for the legislature to codify the current Department of Management Services interpretation that allows cities to pay for minimum chapter benefits for police and fire pensions using insurance premium tax revenues before they are required to use those same funds toward  providing extra benefits.

Sorey writes that prior to 2012, DMS required insurance premium tax dollars be used to fund extra benefits for police and firefighter pension plans, and that because of this cities lost incentive to identify cost savings under threat of losing tax dollars.  In 2012, DMS reversed their interpretation, allowing municipalities to direct tax dollars toward the minimum required benefits before funding additional benefits.  Despite the DMS reversal, investment leaders and local governments fear that a future contradictory interpretation could bring a return to the problem, or that unions will challenge the interpretation in court, draining resources toward court battles versus benefits and wasting taxpayer dollars.

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TWEET OF THE DAY: @MearKat00: Half.Way.Point

CRULEY’S CRUELLY DIFFICULT HEADLINE OF THE DAY: “Proposal to Update Florida’s Outdated Frye System Passes House Judiciary Committee”

EXPERT WITNESS STANDARDS WOULD GET TOUGHER

In a proposal backed by business and medical groups, a House committee Wednesday approved a bill that would impose stricter standards for expert witnesses in lawsuits.

Supporters say the measure (HB 7015) would help prevent “junk science” from going before juries, but opponents argue it is unnecessary and would drive up legal costs. Sponsor Larry Metz said the bill, which would require the same standard as used in federal courts and many other states, would increase the vetting of potential expert witnesses by judges. Under Florida’s decades-old standard, Metz said the “gates are wide open” for such witnesses to go before juries.

But Pensacola trial attorney Troy Rafferty, representing the Florida Justice Association, said defense lawyers use challenges to expert witnesses as a tactical maneuver. He said such moves make it more burdensome and expensive to pursue cases. “There is no need to change the standard in Florida,” Rafferty said. The bill, which also is opposed by prosecuting attorneys, was approved 12-5 by the Judiciary Committee and is ready to go to the full House.

The Senate version (SB 1412) has not moved through committees.

PAVED WITH NEW MONEY, LAWMAKERS WARPING THROUGH BUDGET WORK via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

In warp-speed fashion, the Florida Senate’s budget committee unanimously passed a $74.3 billion spending plan Wednesday that gives teachers pay-raises, pumps millions of dollars into university construction, and is loaded down with hometown projects.

With surplus cash for the first time in years, Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron said the budget was an opportunity to return to the “blocking and tackling that had to be deferred during the difficult times” of the Great Recession.

“The revenue picture in the state of Florida is brighter than it was two or three years ago,” Negron said, adding “we’re not going to go on a spending spree.”

Yet, in a flurry of votes over about an hour, the panel passed more than 50 amendments adding spending on projects for powerful individual lawmakers like Sen. Andy Gardiner.

The projects added included: $400,000 for the University of Central Florida’s Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government;  $250,000 for Orange County’s Public Library system; $1 million to restore “small county” courthouses; and $100,000 for the Miami Science Museum and another $50,000 for Cuban pro bono legal assistance.

Senate President Don Gaetz’s neck of the woods stretching from Destin to Panama City got a heaping helping of projects added Wednesday — including $300,000 for the Gulf Coast State College STEM Center; $500,000 for Opportunity, Inc. Okaloosa Walton Homeless Continuum of Care; and another $200,000 for the Northwest Florida Ballet Academie in Fort Walton Beach.

The committee also added $123 million in spending for college and university construction projects, including some on the campuses of Seminole State College, Daytona State College, College of Central Florida and the University of South Florida – St. Petersburg.

FULL LIST OF BUDGET TURKEYS here.

TWEET, TWEET: @SteveCrisafulli: Disappointed in partisan vote against fiscally sound budget that strongly supports education, healthcare, public safety & jobs. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is like the old days.” — Senator Jack Latvala, who served in the chamber in the 1990s.

RANDOM (BUT IMPORTANT) PRESS RELEASE OF THE DAY: “State Representative Jared Moskowitz Calls for Release of Robert Levinson from Captivity in Iran”

SCHOOL CHOICE ADVOCATES DESCEND ON CAPITOL

The Florida Chapter of PublicSchoolOptions.org and the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education (FACE) hosted a successful School Choice Day at the Capitol.

Over 1,000 parents, students and teachers gathered from every region in Florida to learn first-hand about the legislative process, listen to remarks from high-level policymakers, and interact with their elected representatives. Their mission this year was to show support for legislation that increases access and provides equitable funding for charter schools. 

They also asked lawmakers to oppose cuts to virtual education funding so that Florida families may continue to have a choice of high quality providers and promote advanced class loads for students. 

Finally, rally speakers voiced support for parent empowerment legislation that guarantees effective teachers for students and gives parents a legal seat at the table in their local school districts.

SENATE IN SESSION

The Senate is scheduled for a floor session Thursday afternoon. It could give a final vote to a bill setting out what optometrists are allowed to do (SB 278), a measure (SB 284) saying that if public schools get notification of a threat, private schools would also be included; a bill requiring that health plans treat oral and IV cancer medications the same (SB 422); and a controversial measure eliminating permanent alimony (SB 718). The Senate also could take up its bill (SB 1030) banning Internet cafes, if the measure clears the Senate Rules Committee earlier in the week.

The Senate could also on Thursday put the measure in place for a final vote at its next meeting, or waive its rules and take a vote on the proposal, which has already passed the House.

The Senate also could take up a limit on how unmanned drones can be used by police (SB 92), though that also would need to wait for a final vote unless the Senate waives its rules.

***TV host Lori Halbert is back in Tallahassee this week taping her second season final episodes of ‘Live with Lori, Political Food for Thought’. The one-of-a-kind Florida-based program, seen on FOX affiliate Sun Sports Network, is a cross between a political news show and a traditional cooking show, providing viewers an insider’s look at their elected lawmakers in a casual setting. Guests include Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant Richard, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry, Democrat Leader Pro Tempore Senator Maria Sachs, and State Representative Darryl Rouson.***

CHRISTIAN ULVERT NAMED NEW POLITICAL DIRECTOR FOR FLA. DEMS via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Christian Ulvert, a well-connected political operative, is taking over a newly created spot at the Florida Democratic Party: Political director.

Ulvert’s hire is a smart move on multiple levels.

A Miami native who’s Hispanic, he also cut his teeth in Tallahassee as a consultant and lobbyist. So he understands the dual worlds of Florida politics that run the gamut from Hialeah Drive to Capitol Circle. And Ulvert has worked with some top political minds from both parties: Democrat Dan Gelber (on his attorney general’s campaign) and Republican David Rivera (on the Miami-Dade slots campaign).

Earlier this year, Ulvert helped Allison Tant handle the news media in her hotly contested and narrowly won bid to lead the Democratic Party. So he has her gratitude and trust.

The big question: Will Ulvert, Tant and the party at large actually have the cash and the candidates to help win the governor’s mansion, an extra Cabinet seat and more seats in the Florida Legislature?

DATES SET FOR SPECIAL ELECTION IN HD 2: Primary – May 14, General – June 11.

NEW NAME IN HD 2 via Rick Outzen

Scott Miller announced to the Republican Club of Santa Rosa County that he is running for House District 2 seat.

Miller is the owner of Open Market Research and handled the unsuccessful 2012 campaigns of John Powell (Escambia County Sheriff), Jesse Casey (Esc. Co. Commissioner, Dist 1), Jim Taylor (Esc. Co. Dist 5), Logan Fink (ECUA) and Hugh King (Esc. Co. Dist. 3). I hear they were more successful in Santa Rosa County, but trying to find any information on the Santa Rosa Supervisor of Elections website is nearly impossible.

Miller is also the cousin of State Sen. Greg Evers.

WARNING SHOT: @mattgaetz: Why didn’t my bud @jimmypatronis use his chairmanship to stop the sending of 290 million to the Miami Dolphins? #notconservative

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APPOINTED: William Sheehan to the Construction Industry Licensing Board (reappointed).

COUNTIES DAY

The Florida Association of Counties holds its 2013 legislative day today. A conference will be held beginning at 9 a.m.  in the Florida State University Turnbull Conference Center. Rep. Marti Coley and Sen. Chris Smith will provide a session Update.

PAELLA GALORE via Mike Vasalinda

For the last 28 years, Miami Dade County businesses have funded the lunchtime event to draw attention to the culture of Miami Dade. The Paella was the brainchild of Chef Bijan, who runs Bijan’s on the Miami River.

“There’s almost a thousand pound of chicken and seafood in it. Plus another 300 pound of rice, and then you got like twenty ounces of saffron” says Bijan.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Jason Gamel: American Resort Development Association

Alexander Golden: Hamilton County Development Authority

Russell Hale, Akerman Senterfitt: Sagemont Global Education, Inc.

Diana Padgett: Toronto Blue Jays

Sean Pittman: Waste Management, Inc. of Florida

Greg Ungru, John Webb: Florida Sports Foundation

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Dan Pollock and Dave DeCamp.

RON LAFACE, FRANK MAYERNICK, RHETT O’DOSKI, AND MONICA RODRIGUEZ TO SHARE 2013 TALLYMADNESS TITLE

After more than 750,000 votes, 62 match-ups, endless politicking and trash talking, and a plot to hack into the system and change the results, the winner of TallyMadness — the online competition to determine Florida’s “best” lobbyists is. …

Well, actually the winners are Ron LaFace of Capitol City Consulting, Frank Mayernick, Rhett O’Doski, co-founder of Advantage Consulting, and Monica Rodriguez of Ballard Partners.

LaFace, Mayernick, O’Doski, and Rodriguez (now there would be a firm!) each made it to the Final Four of TallyMadness and we’re scheduled to face-off today and tomorrow for the title. However, a hacker broke into the server and rendered the website all but useless.

The decision to share the 2013 title was made in consultation with each of the participants and several members of the selection committee which determined and seeded this year’s competitors.

Each of the co-champions also wished to honor the 2011 TallyMadness winner, the late, great Steve Madden.

The co-champions, as well as TallyMadness creator Peter Schorsch, have agreed to make a combined contribution of at least $2,000 to the Steve Madden Memorial Fund.

Those interested in joining the co-champions in making a contribution to the Steve Madden Memorial Fund may coordinate with me via email (saintpeter4@gmail.com) or contribute directly to the fund by mailing a check to: Post Office Box 10805, Tallahassee, Florida 32302.

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.