Sunburn for 4/7 – 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 IN FLORIDA POLITICS

The House and Senate approved their proposed budgets Thursday, setting the stage for negotiations on a final spending plan. But negotiations often take a while to start — well, at least publicly. And that should leave time for lawmakers during the coming week to try to push bills through committees. Meanwhile, across the street from the Capitol, the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments in cases ranging from death-penalty appeals to insurance disputes.

FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

How will Attorney General Pam Bondi respond to charges made by Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews that her office destroyed emails, failed to retain text messages and violated the state’s public records laws?

Is legislation that would permit destination casino resorts in South Florida dead, dead-dead, or just dead?

Is the Latvala-Weatherford alliance now on the rocks? The state senator from North Pinellas is pushing a priority (in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants) of the speaker’s with one hand, while letting go with the other (pension reform).

What will Eric Eisnaugle’s margin of victory be in Tuesday’s special election in House District 44?

Fundraising reports for state candidates are due on Thursay. Which candidates will post impressive numbers? Keep an eye on the candidates in the handful of competitive primaries for the state House, like the races for District  6, 31, and 74.

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AP POLL: ELECTION INDICATORS SUGGEST GOP EDGE via Jennifer Agiesta of the Associated Press

Thirty-six percent in a poll taken online March 20-24 (1,012 respondents; margin of error 3.4) said they would rather see the Democrats in charge of Congress and 37 percent chose Republicans. Democrats held a narrow advantage on that question in January, when 39 percent favored the Democrats and 32 percent the Republicans. The shift stems largely from a change among those most interested in politics. In the new poll, registered voters who are most strongly interested in politics favored the Republicans by 14 percentage points, 51 percent to 37 percent. In January, this group was about evenly split, with 42 percent preferring Democrats, 45 percent the Republicans.

Views of the GOP have improved, with 38 percent overall now saying they hold a favorable impression of the party while 43 percent hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party. Congressional approval is stagnant and negative, with just 16 percent saying they approve while 82 percent disapprove. In the poll,  39 percent said they would like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, an improvement since January. Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say their own member of Congress ought to be re-elected.

Hillary Rodham Clinton generated the most positive response of 19 potential 2016 candidates, with 46 percent viewing her favorably and 39 percent unfavorably. No potential GOP contenders generated a net positive reaction. Paul Ryan fared best with 27 percent viewing him favorably, 29 percent unfavorably.

BUSH, JINDAL APPEAR IN AD TO REBRAND REPUBLICAN PARTY via the Associated Press

The former Florida governor and current Louisiana governor promote NewRepublican.org in a 30-second spot that will air nationally.

The group was launched last year by GOP consultant Alex Castellanos to help update the party’s image and focus on ideas after its loss in the 2012 presidential election.

Bush talks about school choice in the ad, while Jindal promotes small government.

BUSH SAYS HE’LL MAKE DECISION ON BID THIS YEAR via The Associated Press

Bush says all the speculation about whether he’ll run for president in 2016 is actually getting him more attention than if he had already entered the race.

He says that’s not by design, and that he’ll make his decision before year’s end.

He tells Fox News that the state of politics is “crazy right now.”

Bush says one factor in his decision will be whether he can deliver an optimistic message without getting drawn into a political “mud fight.”

Bush has antagonized many Republicans by supporting an immigration overhaul and educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade known as Common Core.

He says the other main factor in his decision will be whether it’s OK with his family if he runs.

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PATRICK MURPHY RAISES ANOTHER $675,000, WIDENS MONEY ADVANTAGE OVER POTENTIAL GOP CHALLENGERS via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

 Murphy raised more than $675,000 for his re-election bid in the first quarter of 2014, widening his money advantage over the Republicans vying to unseat him.

Murphy’s campaign says the incumbent began April with $2.2 million in cash on hand.

Republicans hold a slight registration edge in Murphy’s Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18. Six Republicans have opened campaigns for the seat, which the national GOP has called a top target. Former state Rep. Carl Domino of Jupiter has been the GOP money leader, raising $121,464 from contributors, adding $275,000 of his own money through the end of December.

Domino added another $150,000 of his own money during the quarter that ended March 31 and raised less than that from contributors.

Former Tequesta councilman Calvin Turnquest raised “significantly less” than Domino’s personal contribution during the first quarter, campaign manager Jacob Perry said.

INTRIGUE IN CD 13

Creative Loafing‘s Mitch Perry was the first to note the ridiculousness of John King’s reporting that “Sink is suddenly back in vogue as Democrats look to try again in a Florida House district they lost in a special election last month.”

Jeez, John, what would ever make you think that? Perhaps it was when Steve Israel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that he “will do everything, I mean everything, to support” Sink if she chooses to run again.

Yet, Mediate’s Evan McMurry is congratulating King for making good on his Inside Politics show title and breaking some insider politics news.

I guess King has some inside intel about the national Democrats running a new voter model that says even though Sink lost the special election by two points, they think she would win in November by about a point and a half.

But that’s a scoop about polling data, not about candidate recruitment.

If anyone deserves credit for working the Sink beat, it’s the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith, who spoke to Sink just two days after she lost to David Jolly. Sink told Smith she is keep an open mind about running in November.

RIDICULOUSNESS IN CD 19 SPECIAL ELECTION via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Count this in the category of headlines that make congressional campaigns cringe: “Clawson and business ties to Pedophile?”

Maybe FOX4 was trying to be nice by tacking a question mark at the end, but it’s pretty clear from the station’s reporting that Curt Clawson has some newsworthy link with a sex predator named Glen Borst, who last lived in a Utah home owned by the candidate.

The Clawson campaign told FOX4 that Clawson had no longstanding ties to Borst, convicted of repeatedly raping and sodomizing a pre-teen girl in 2004. Two years later, Clawson bought the home in question and, according to a legal document obtained by FOX4, Clawson gave Borst power of attorney, perhaps in the home purchase.

Another tie between Clawson and the home: in 2012, a business called “Rewired CEO” was incorporated at the address under Clawson’s name. The home was Borst’s last-known address.

On Feb. 27, Clawson sold it. Two days before, Clawson qualified to run for CD-19 in the seat that U.S. Rep. Trey Radel vacated in a cocaine scandal.

Now why would a new candidate for office quickly sell a home where a pedophile lived?

The transaction wasn’t the only intriguing timing issue. About 10 hours after FOX4’s Warren Wright called the campaign about Borst, Borst’s Facebook page was pulled down. Borst “liked” Clawson on Facebook.

Independently wealthy Clawson has been running as a Rick Scott-like candidate, dumping millions of his own money into the Fort Myers-Naples district (where Scott’s primary residence is). Like Scott, he’s a complete political unknown with snazzy ads touting him as the outsider.

But where Clawson has the money, candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto, the Florida Senate’s Republican leader, scored a huge endorsement for a Republican: Sarah Palin. Other candidates in the Republican primary race include Michael Dreikorn and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel.

Still, with all that money spent, it’s tough not to see Clawson as the frontrunner now.

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AT SESSION MIDPOINT, LEGISLATURE BOOST GOV. SCOTT IN ELECTION YEAR via Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet of the Times/Herald

The Legislature has passed the halfway point of its 60-day legislative session and the fruits of its labor can be summed up in two words: election year.

With Gov. Scott struggling in the polls as he seeks a second term in November, the Republican-led Legislature has worked to send him bills to bolster his image while avoiding issues that could complicate the governor’s political prospects.

In one month, lawmakers swiftly passed a repeal of the 2009 auto tag fee that will save most drivers $25 a year and touted it as the largest general revenue tax reduction in a decade. They enacted tuition credits for returning military in an effort to make the state friendly for veterans. They strengthened penalties for perpetrators of sex crimes in response to newspaper reports on repeat sex offenders.

And, in one of many bills pushed by the National Rifle Association, they sent the governor a measure Thursday to allow people to fire warning shots in self-defense.

The election-year session has also led to early casualties for controversial bills.

A massive bill to rewrite the state’s gambling laws, which would open the door to casino expansion in South Florida, was declared dead by legislative leaders last week.

Lawmakers said they couldn’t advance the bill until the governor completed negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over provisions of a gaming compact that expires next year. But few believe that the governor has pursued those talks with vigor and, while pollsters show that gambling expansion is popular in most of the state, it remains a divisive issue for conservative Republicans in an election year.

For the first time in years, legislators also decided not to tinker with Florida’s election laws in an election year.

THE PLANE TRUTH: GOV. SCOTT TRAVELS IN WEALTH, STEALTH via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

The first campaign promise Gov. Scott kept allows him to travel with the privacy and luxury of a CEO while living in the fishbowl of public office.

As a candidate in 2010, Scott said it was a waste of money for Florida to have two airplanes for official travel, so he replaced them with a private jet at his expense.

The switch has saved taxpayers a lot of money, but how much is a mystery: No public airplanes means no public records.

Scott’s air travel reflects not only his wealth, but his preference for stealth. Despite his oft-stated support for transparency, Scott keeps his flight itineraries off tracking websites and even blacks out arrival and departure details on official schedules after the fact, citing the need for security.

He also uses the jet to campaign for re-election and may be literally flying above the law.

Other candidates must pay for commercial flights or hop aboard private jets owned by donors — trips that must be publicly disclosed under state campaign finance laws.

Not Scott.

SCOTT COURTS HISPANICS AFTER FRACAS via William March of the Tampa Tribune

Worried about his standing among Florida’s Hispanic voters in the wake of turmoil over a major Hispanic fundraiser, Gov. Scott is working to resolve image problems in a key segment of the electorate.

Florida Democrats are working just as hard to highlight the problems, accusing Scott of a history of anti-Hispanic discrimination.

The issue arose over the resignation of Scott’s campaign finance co-chairman, Miguel B. Fernandez, a Cuban refugee and self-made billionaire from Miami, who cited the campaign’s insensitivity to Hispanics in emails published by a newspaper.

Democratic critics are also citing lawsuits against a health care company Scott founded in 2001 and a federal judge’s recent ruling that the Scott administration’s 2012 initiative to purge the state’s voter list of noncitizens was illegal.

Shortly after the Fernandez resignation, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee, notified local elections supervisors he was canceling a planned purge of state voter rolls.

The purge ostensibly was aimed at removing noncitizens. But no one has presented evidence that large numbers of ineligible individuals registered or voted, and such purges in the past have resulted in removing legitimate voters, usually black or Hispanic. That angered the supervisors and drew accusations of voter suppression from Democrats. 

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce school recognition funding awards. Palm Beach County Convention Center, Grand Ballroom, 650 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. 8:30 a.m.

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WHAT THE “SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS” SPENT HEADING INTO SESSION via Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet of the Times/Herald

A review has found that many of the industries that have some of the largest donations have also been the beneficiaries of decisions to expedite or stall legislation. Among them:

•  Charter schools. The House budget sets aside $100 million for capital expenses for the privately managed, for-profit charter schools — twice the amount earmarked for traditional public schools. The charter school industry has given $215,000 to state-level political committees this election cycle, including $75,00 to the governor and $10,000 to Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate education budget committee chairman.

•  Craft brewers. A bill to force craft brewers to sell their bottled and canned beer directly to a distributor is moving in the Senate. Senate President Don Gaetz told reporters that he supports the bill because it is the priority of his best friend, Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor Lewis Bear. Bear’s company has given more than $260,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and $31,000 to Scott’s campaign committee, The Associated Press reported.

•  Dental HMOS. A bill to take away $200 million in children’s dental services from the Medicaid HMOs and preserve the state contract for Miami-based MCNA is advancing in the House. The company gave more than $355,000 to the political committees of Republican legislators and the Republican Party in the last seven months.

•  Energy. The House has blocked two measures opposed by the state’s large electric utilities: a constitutional amendment for the November ballot that would give tax breaks to businesses that install solar panels and a precedent-setting proposal to allow water customers to petition state regulators to require compliance with state standards. The state’s four largest electric companies have spent more than $3 million on campaign contributions this election cycle.

• Nursing homes. The Senate has passed a bill shielding nursing home investors from some lawsuits by targeting the tactics of a Tampa-based law firm. The industry has spent $903,000 on legislative campaigns so far this cycle, and the House is expected to pass it.

LATVALA RAINS ON WEATHERFORD’S PENSION REFORM PARADE via Michael Van Sickler of the Miami Herald

Pension reform showed its first visible signs of life in the House, as a compromise bill that would steer new hires away from the state’s guaranteed benefit system cleared its first committee, State Affairs, by a 11-6 vote.

While this should have been good news for Speaker Weatherford, who has made overhauling the state’s retirement system one of his top priorities, his prospects for passing the bill actually dimmed.

One reason is that Sen. Latvala, who announced his support for the compromise last week, backed off and downgraded its chances for success.

That’s far different than what Latvala said last week, when he said he would support a bill that Sen. Wilton Simpson, sponsored last year that would encourage, but not require, new employees to enroll in private investment plans rather than the state’s $135 billion pension system.

It’s a setback for Weatherford, who ditched his own version of pension reform, which would have prohibited most new employees from enrolling in the state pension system, to pick up much of the language in Simpson’s compromise bill.

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BUDGET SLEUTHING, SMOKE AND MIRRORS (PART 1) via Gary Fineout for his blog, The Fine Print

In what may seem like a completely different era, the Legislature was required to put some things in the public domain about how things wound up in the budget.

For many years, legislators were required to at least document some evidence of a request for an earmark, or what was known as the “Community Budget Issue Request System.” Legislators were required to fill out forms explaining a request for funding.

When the Great Recession caused a massive downturn in the economy, there was a decision made by legislative leaders to shut down this effort.

But even though the Legislature has a budget surplus to work with this year, there has been no move to return to this type of tracking system.

Traditionally, it is up to the Senate and House appropriations chair to be responsible for placing construction items that are part of what is known as the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) list in the budget.

LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND

Off: Legislative assistant Douglas Zamora has left the staff of Rep. Eddy Gonzalez

On: Janet Milan has joined Gonzalez staff as the district secretary.

PROPOSED AMENDMENT ON NAMING JUSTICES GETS MIXED REACTION via Lloyd Dunkelberger for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Sen. Tom Lee sees a constitutional crisis coming for Florida’s courts.

Others see a political agenda. And some who agree with Lee’s assessment, disagree with him on how to fix it.

Unlike the typical crisis before the Legislature, this one is not an immediate problem. Lee is trying to deal with something nearly five years in advance.

But it is critical because it involves the Florida Supreme Court, the highest court in the state.

Three justices — Barbara J. Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince — will all reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 before 2019. Their terms as justices will end on inauguration day for the Florida governor who takes office in January 2019.

The question is which governor will appoint the new justices, who represent three of the seven seats on the court? Will it be the governor elected this November who serves through January 2019 — which could be Gov. Scott or one of the Democrats seeking to challenge him this year? Or will it be the governor elected in November 2018 who takes office in early January 2019?

The state constitution is unclear on which governor would have that appointment power, although a handful of court opinions suggest it should be the outgoing governor.

THE POLITICS OF BEER via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

For his Blondes, Reds, or Brown Ales to make it to a pub near you, John Cheek has to pay a middleman to tap into Florida’s growing thirst for craft beer.

The founder of Orlando Brewing Co. pays a distributor to pick up his beers and deliver them to whatever restaurants the distributor decides, for a price he has no control over.

Politicians, beer-making giants and distributors and a cadre of craft brewers like Cheek are battling in Tallahassee this spring over control of a burgeoning craft-brew industry now largely operating under Prohibition-era rules.

Ultimately, this frothy beer fight could result in a greater variety of brews available at local microbreweries and more access to craft beers in general.

It’s largely a struggle over Florida’s complex regulation of beer sales. The rules are meant to control monopolies and prevent societal abuses, dating back to the 1920s when the nation was drowning in cheap booze.

Halfway through the 60-day session, the conflict began when Florida lawmakers uncorked a fight over one part of the law that bans 64-ounce beer jugs called “growlers,” but evolved into a larger struggle.

Huge beer companies such Anheuser-Busch InBev argue the current laws protect the overall market from chaos. Regional distributors want to ensure craft brews keep flowing through their trucks.

TIMES REPORT – NEED FOR HCA TRAUMA CENTERS NOT CLEAR CUT

The evidence that HCA trauma centers are lowering mortality rates comes exclusively from Ang’s research on the impact of the company’s trauma expansion.

Statewide death rates from traumatic injury were declining long before HCA got into the trauma business, experts say. The company may be claiming credit for that trend.

In addition, HCA’s trauma centers are flooded with injuries that in the past were not considered serious enough for trauma centers. In effect, the state’s trauma numbers are being inflated by patients least likely to die, who could have been treated less expensively at their nearby emergency room. But inflating the overall numbers treated appears to help the company claim that it is lowering death rates.

Patients and paramedics in some of the counties where it has opened new trauma centers have been traveling to Tallahassee to endorse HCA. In Ocala, home to the newest HCA trauma center, it used to take paramedics more than a half hour to take critically injured patients to the nearest trauma center. Now the average trip takes 16 minutes.

HCA and its supporters say that is saving lives.

But opponents say that since the research methods, particularly the statistical models, have not been published, it’s impossible to independently verify HCA’s claims.

TWEET, TWEET: @AlexandraZayas: In other trauma news, (today), @TB_Times will tell you where your lawmaker stands on trauma fees. We asked the entire legislature.

PRIOR TO FINAL BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS, COMMITTEES PLAY CLEANUP WITH REMAINING BILLS Full blog post here

Now that the House and Senate have approved their proposed budgets last week, the real legislative work begins – negotiating a final, comprehensive spending plan.

However, most legislative debates — at least the public ones —take a little time to get off the ground. That means in the lead up to the final budget compromise, lawmakers will have a chance to hold confirmation hearings and get remaining bills in front of committees.

On Monday’s (non-budget) agenda are metal recycling regulations, a bill to bolster the state’s film industry and the formation of a sexual predator “task force” in the attorney general’s office.

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NEW VISUAL FLORIDA EDUCATION REPORT CARD VALIDATES LEGISLATIVE MOVEMENT ON HIGHER STANDARDS 

The performance of Florida students has been made accessible in a new visual report that portrays Florida’s educational progress relative to itself and to students in other states. The report is impressive and is relevant to debates ongoing during the legislative session.

In many ways, the writing of new laws is done blindfolded, without always knowing where we started or how far we have come as a state on a certain issue. But in the case of educational reforms, these data are available — and they are highly encouraging for the development of even higher standards and accountability measures. Here are a few takeaways:

In 8th-grade math, the academic improvement of Florida students is three times higher than that of students nationwide; Florida is the only state to have narrowed the achievement gap in 4th and 8th-grade reading and math between white and African American students since 2011; Florida students outperform the national average in every subgroup for 4th-grade reading; Florida’s 4th-grade Hispanic readers are 1st in the nation among their peers; and Florida’s 4th-grade low-income readers rank 1st in the nation.

RECORDS SHOW EMAILS BETWEEN TOLL-ROAD BOARD MEMBER, DEVELOPER via Dan Tracy of the Orlando Sentinel

A board member of Orlando’s expressway authority offered to introduce possible investors to the managing partner of a billion-dollar development pegged to a toll road the agency is building, records reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel reveal.

The documents indicate Scott Batterson of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority helped connect three companies with Maitland attorney Jim Palmer, who heads Kelly Park Crossing, which would be constructed around the sole interchange of the Wekiva Parkway for nearly 15 miles.

By authority rules, it is a conflict of interest for Batterson to vote on matters relating to Palmer if they have done business within two years.

Batterson worked as a civil engineer for IBI Group on Kelly Park Crossing in 2011 but said in an email to the Sentinel that making these connections was nothing more than “a common courtesy” for Palmer, whose project would be the largest in Apopka history.

“I have not and will not receive any financial benefit from these introductions and/or file sharing,” Batterson wrote.

VENTURE CAPITAL SURGES IN SOUTH FLORIDA via Marcia Heroux Pounds of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

South Florida has dramatically improved its ability to attract venture capital, raking in more $300 million in 2013.

The region, from West Palm Beach to Miami, ranks 16th among U.S. metro regions, according to a new report.

In 2013, Boca Raton snagged the largest amount of venture capital in South Florida, more than $120 million, according to the research. Of that, $93 million went to one company, OpenPeak, an enterprise software developer.

Coconut Grove accounted for $65 million, Hollywood $30 million and Miami International Airport nearly $30 million.

The surge in venture capital investment represents a significant change and a “tremendous opportunity” for the South Florida region, said Richard Florida, who compiled the ranking with his team at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Cities and urban centers other than Silicon Valley and the known tech centers are becoming known as attractive places to live and work, which draws entrepreneurs and investors, the report says.

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KEITH PERRY RAMPS UP FUNDRAISING AS DEMOCRAT JON ULMAN ENTERS HD 21 RACE via Jeff Henderson of the Sunshine State News

Keith Perry is starting to go to work as he runs for his third term in the Florida House even as his Democratic challenger is off to a solid start.

First elected to the Florida House back in 2010, Perry has slowly been moving his way up the leadership ladder and, if he wins in November, that trend is expected to continue. After a stint as deputy whip in his first term, Perry now is the vice chair of the Healthy Families Subcommittee. Perhaps more important to his constituents in Alachua County, home of the University of Florida, Perry sits on the Education Committee and the Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

But even as he rises up the Republican ranks, Perry hasn’t exactly impressed with his fundraising efforts. By the end of February, he had only raised $74,128 and spent $9,455. Most of that amount — $40,650 — was raised in February in the mad dash before the session started and legislators are barred from fundraising.

Democratic leaders hoped Aaron Bosshardt would be their candidate against Perry in 2012 but he was upset in the primary by Andrew Morey, who won by fewer than 350 votes. Even with Democrats coming out to vote for Barack Obama and Bill Nelson, Perry won by 13.5 percent.

The latest Democrat looking to run against Perry is attorney Jon Ulman, who has run for a judgeship in the area. Ulman filed to run against Perry in the middle of January and he started out strong. In the first six week of his campaign, Ulman brought in almost $18,775 and kept most of it in the bank, spending less than $860. Ulman is a well-known attorney in the area and, if not a top tier candidate for Democrats, is not a lightweight by any means.

Based on his previous wins and his financial advantage, Perry starts off with the edge here, but this is a race that can certainly be competitive if Ulman continues to do well with fundraising. At the very least, Perry has to ramp up his efforts in the money chase. As of now, Perry should not expect a cakewalk in November.

SEAN SHAW CAMPAIGN’S EASTER-THEMED KICKOFF EVENT SET FOR APRIL 12

Sean Shaw is hosting an Easter-themed kickoff event for his House District 61 campaign on Saturday, April 12. The party begins 2 p.m. at 2802 E. Martin Luther King Blvd. in Tampa. In addition to music, food and drinks, the first 100 children accompanied by a parent will receive a free Easter basket.

TEN FUNDRAISING REPORTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON Full blog post here

The first quarter of 2014 closed on March 31, meaning campaign finance reports from congressional, legislative and local candidates have begun rolling in. State and local candidates’ reports are due by April 10th, federal candidates’ numbers by the 15th. Among the reports I am keeping an eye on: Gwen Graham’s, George Sheldon’s, Eric Eisnaugle’s and Richard DeNapoli’s.

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: D.C. WHOREHOUSE, FLORIDA STUDENTS, ACA BARRIERS AND JEB IN 2016

Today on Context Florida: Former Gov. Reubin Askew, who limited his 1974 re-election campaign contributions to $300, passed away before he could see the damage the U.S. Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts inflicted on the country last week, writes Martin Dyckman. Whorehouses do not always occupy shabby buildings in seedy neighborhoods. There’s one made of marble right across the street from our nation’s capitol.Peter Schorsch reports on the newest Nation’s Report Card, published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found the academic improvement of Florida students in 8th-grade math is three times higher than that of students nationwide. These stats mean something, especially in light of a recent study that revealed widespread misconceptions among the quality of Florida’s educational system. The state of Florida, and Gov. Rick Scott in particular, has done more than any other state to throw up barriers for uninsured citizens getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, says Mark Ferrulo.  Jeb Bush is the best candidate for Republicans in 2016, and former Sen. John Grant makes a compelling argument why.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Joe McCann, Ballard Partners: City of Lakeland

Brad Burleson, Ballard Partners: Honda North America, Inc.

Marty Fiorentino, Bo Bohannon, Joe Mobley, Mark Pinto, The Fiorentino Group: Drive Electric Orlando Project

Patricia Cannon: Novartis Vaccines

Michael Cantens, Corcoran & Johnston: Brad Winston; IMG Academies; Javier Soria; Palm Beach County; Preferred Medical Plan, Inc.

Chris Carmody, Chris Dawson, Fred Leonhardt, Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: Aquatic Design & Engineering

David Childs, Frank Matthews, Eric Olsen, Hopping Green & Sams: Alliance Grazing Group

Erin Choy, Traci Small, National Strategies: Splunk

Hayden Dempsey, Greenberg Traurig: Monster Worldwide, Inc.

Charlie Dudley, Robert Reyes, Floridian Partners: Risk Management Associates

Charlie Dudley. Jorge Chamizo, Teye Reeves, Floridian Partners: Florida Alliance of Home Care Services

Shawn Foster, Sunrise Consulting: Al Estes Bail Bonds; Roche Surety and Casualty Company, Inc

Brecht Heuchan, The Labrador Company: AMSURG

Jennifer Kelly: Northwest Florida Water Management District

Jeff Kottkamp: Florida Casino Watch

Frank Mayernick, Tracy Mayernick, Jodi Snell: Sarasota County School Board

Larry Overton, Joel Oerton, Larry J. Overton & Associates: AMSURG

Jayme O’Rourke: Florida Association of Realtors

John Reid, Reid Innovation: Pauline R. Schneider, ARNP/FNP-BC

Misty Skipper, Dalton Agency: Sunshine Soccer Group, LLC

Beth Vecchioli, Holland & Knight: Privilege Underwriters, Inc.

FIRST-ROUND VOTING IN TALLYMADNESS ENDS TONIGHT 

Balloting in the first round of TallyMadness — the online competition to determine Florida’s “best” lobbyist, ends tonight at 6 p.m. Here are some of the match-ups that are going down to the wire.

#1 seed Brian Ballard is in danger of being upset by #16 seed Alan Suskey … #1 seed Jon Johnson is doing his best to not repeat an upset loss to #16 seed Keyna Cory … #2 seed Mark Delegal has his hands full with #15 seed Clark Smith … Another #2 seed in trouble is Charlie Dudley, who is facing off against Richard Reeves … #8 seed Slater Bayliss is only a few votes ahead of #9 seed Fred Leonhardt … Last year’s co-champs — Ron LaFace, Rhett O’Doski, and Monica Rodriguez are faring well, but Frank Mayernick looks in trouble.

***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 in January of 2011, 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 Lgjdk1@aol.com.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY beatedly to Jorge Gutierrez, Dan Pollock and the effervescent Beth Sweeny.

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.