Sunburn for 9/2 – 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 The News Service of Florida

Florida took another step Sunday in its gradual plan to enroll almost all Medicaid beneficiaries in HMOs and other types of managed-care organizations. The changes will take effect in 12 counties and involve people who need long-term care, mostly seniors. Meanwhile, the coming week also will include a visit to the state by Vice President Joe Biden and a controversy at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about importing deer.

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A new NBC poll finds that President Obama’s overall job-approval rating has dropped one point since last month to 44%, which is tied for his lowest mark in past surveys.

He gets even lower marks on foreign policy: Just 41% approve of his handling of the issue — an all-time low.


The White House is strategizing a strong push of the Affordable Care Act to coincide with the opening in October of insurance marketplaces around the country. President Obama, as well as first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, are expected to be deployed to promote the law and encourage people to sign up for exchanges that many Americans still don’t understand. Former President Clinton is also expected to play a major role in the campaign to alter perceptions of the law, and he is scheduled to discuss it in Arkansas next week at the White House’s request.

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Conservative members of the House GOP are plotting their own strategy on how to approach the fiscal fights awaiting Congress when it reconvenes after the August recess. A group of hard-liners has been communicating over the break about how to have a voice in the fiscal debate and make sure the House leadership listens to its demands. These demands include a run at defunding the Affordable Care Act as part of a deal to keep the government running and seeking to maintain spending levels consistent with the sequester and the House-passed budget. The White House and a group of GOP senators were at an impasse Thursday on the deficit after months of private talks.


Charlie Cook: “With all of the talk among some Republicans in Congress about impeachment and shutting down the government to stop Obamacare or force entitlement-spending cuts, you’d think that they were living in another reality back in the 1990s. Republicans were pursuing similar missions then, and things didn’t work out so well for the GOP. For those in need of a quick history lesson, all you need to know is that Republicans managed to lose House seats in the midterm elections of 1998. It was the only time since World War II that the party in the White House (Democrats) gained seats in a second-term, midterm election. Talk about seizing defeat from the jaws of victory!”


Democratic congressional candidate Gwen Graham, local officials and lawmakers are expected to attend the Big Bend Labor Day Picnic, which is organized by labor unions.  11 a.m., Myers Park, 907 Myers Park Road, Tallahassee.


Southerland has become the latest Republican to voice support for the concept of a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.

“We have to address it. It’s a moral issue,” Southerland, who represents a conservative Deep South district encompassing Panama City and Tallahassee, told The Miami Herald during a Friday meeting in Miami.

Southerland’s support isn’t full-throated or guaranteed. He said he needs to see the details of actual legislation. He wants strict, real and fast border security.

But Southerland’s comments are another sign that immigration reform still has a shot in the GOP-held U.S. House of Representatives, where a handful of Republicans have indicated new support for immigration reform during congress’ August recess.

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Consumer sentiment slid down slightly in August from the six-year high posted last month. A poll conducted by Reuters and the University of Michigan found an overall index on consumer sentiment of 82.1 in August, down from 85.1 in July. The score beats a mid-month reading and topped economists’ expectations, which were set at 80.5. “Most of the late August gain was due to more favorable income expectations, with consumers expecting the largest income gains in nearly five years, although the median expected increase was just 0.9 percent, less than the expected rate of inflation,” survey Director Richard Curtin said. 


Several Republican-led states at the forefront of the campaign to undermine President Obama’s health-care law have come up with new ways to try to thwart it, refusing to enforce consumer protections, for example, and restricting federally funded workers hired to help people enroll in coverage. 

The actions have drawn less attention than congressional efforts to cut off funding for the law, or earlier state decisions to refuse to set up online insurance marketplaces or reject an expansion of Medicaid, which sharply limited the law’s reach.

But the moves could impede Obama’s most significant domestic accomplishment, which, despite having withstood a Supreme Court challenge and a presidential election, still faces doubts about its viability. And they could affect implementation at a crucial time, just as some of the major provisions of the law, also known as Obamacare, are set to go into effect.

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A Florida education summit has failed to quell rising opposition to new nationwide testing standards – a rebellion critics say is growing even more heated and looms as a rare rejection of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s legacy in state classrooms. Bush is a leading proponent of the Common Core standards set to take full effect in Florida in 2014-15. But opponents from the political right and left are calling for the state to withdraw, blistering Common Core either as government overreach or another step toward “teaching to the test” in schools. Attempting to cool the controversy, Gov. Rick Scott brought together three-dozen educators and leaders of parent groups and school associations last week in Clearwater for what he billed as an education summit.

Over three days, differences were aired. But agreement was reached only on a handful of noncontroversial guidelines for testing, school grades and teacher evaluations. While critics said they welcomed the exchange, they also said the fight against what some see as national leaders usurping a role reserved for state officials and local school boards is only drawing more energy.

“I am perplexed by Jeb,” said Patricia Sullivan, a Republican Party activist from Lake County and former chair of the state’s Tea Party Network. “In the past, he always has been one of the best advocates for local control,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know what his motives are. I know his heart. But he’s being led astray on this.” Much of the opposition is rooted in the Republican Party’s conservative wing, with tea party activists firing emails and phone calls to state lawmakers. But some progressive activists and teachers are also joining the fight.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE ‘SUMMER OF CHARLIE CRIST?’ via Jeff Henderson of Sunshine State News

This summer, Florida politics was supposed to focus on Crist’s efforts to win Democrats over as he prepares to run again for governor. Back in May, pundits insisted Crist would be the storyand this would be the “summer of Charlie Crist.”

…  Crist stayed off-stage most of the summer, though things should pick up in the months to come. He’ll continue to speak to Democratic groups in the fall and he’ll have a political memoir — and perhaps a book tour — coming out at the start of 2014. Crist was noticeably absent as protesters took over the Capitol to demand a special session to repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law.

Crist dodged a few bullets this summer. Nan Rich continues to be a nonfactor in the gubernatorial race and Alex Sink has done nothing to indicate that she will run again. Despite some occasional media noise, Bill Nelson appears increasingly unlikely to run. If nothing else, Crist’s odds of avoiding a nasty Democratic primary are getting better by the day.

While Crist remained in the wings, Rick Scott was able to use his office this summer to continue to crawl back into the race. The economy keeps getting better and Scott hasn’t been shy about heralding the fact that Florida’s unemployment rate is below the national average. He also did a fine job of falling into a trap on Stand Your Ground. Polls show Floridians support the law and Scott had no problem taking on the likes of Jesse Jackson when they started insulting the Sunshine State and its residents.

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Say you notice that in City X there was a dramatic drop in speeding tickets issued year-over-year. You could assume that drivers just stopped speeding (yeah right), or that cops decided to turn a blind eye (unlikely).  Or you could look back at the conditions and notice that prior to the ticketing decline, roads weren’t equipped with proper signs, resulting in unnecessarily high violations.   When speed limit signs were placed in the right spots, eureka!, prevention. Ticketing goes down. That’s precisely what’s happened with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection in its efforts to curb environmental violations through outreach and prevention.  When evaluating the outcomes of a strategy like this objectively, the natural measure of success would seem to be fewer violations. 

But remarkably, the agency now finds itself under attack for having fewer cases to file because of increased compliance. The criticism seems to be coming from sources devoted largely political sniping, and it says a lot more about deficiencies in the regulatory schema that Gov. Rick Scott inherited rather than ones he has put in place.

When Scott took office in late 2010, Florida’s environmental inspections process had it all backwards.  Under former Gov. Charlie Crist, and historically, the focus was on issuing penalties rather than fostering compliance. Facilities were given little guidance on how to avoid violations. Consequently, citations were high.  Enter Scott and his appointment of Herschel Vinyard as DEP secretary. Vinyard and his Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs, Jeff Littlejohn, didn’t think it made sense to just wait for facilities to pollute and then slap them with violations — from an environmental or business perspective.  


Gov. Rick Scott will ask the Legislature to slice taxes and fees by $500 million. Scott said that an influx of new revenue for the state was a call for more tax cuts, even though the governor didn’t specify which taxes and fees he wanted to reduce.

“This year, we are committed to returning even more money to the hard-working Florida families who earn it,” Scott said. “I look forward to working with our friends in the Florida Legislature to make these tax cuts a reality.” Scott spoke at the “Defending the American Dream Summit” held in Orlando by Americans for Prosperity, a group often associated with the Tea Party.

House Speaker Will Weatherford joined other Republicans in hailing the proposal. “When you announce a tax cut, you can count on a hearty cheer from the Florida House of Representatives,” Weatherford said. “We are supportive of the governor’s bold announcement today, and look forward to working with him next session.”

But House Minority Leader Perry Thurston was lukewarm on the idea. “I am sure that many Floridians may cautiously welcome the relief from Republican-proposed tax hikes. … But it is imperative that before promising tax cuts we have assurances our state can adequately fund education, health care, public safety and other priorities of working families and small businesses.”

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Jessica Cary is the new Director of Communications at the Department of Corrections.

Cary replaces Ann Howard, who has left the position “to pursue opportunities in the private sector,” according to DOC Press Secretary Jo Ellyn Rackleff.

Cary most recently worked as media relations and conference coordinator for the Florida Association of Community Health Centers. The position pays $80,000 per year.

DIVISION OF ELECTIONS HAS A NEW PUBLIC FACE via Steve Bosquet of the Miami Herald

The Florida Division of Elections has a fresh and much younger public face, as spokeswoman Brittany Lesser arrived from Washington this week. Lesser, 24, is formally the communications director for the Department of State, but most of the agency’s public attention is from hot-button voting issues, such as Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to resume scrubbing the Florida voter registration database for suspected non-citizens. Things are relatively quiet in the agency now, but they promise to get a lot busier in 2014, an election year.

Lesser is a Colorado native, journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and former intern at NBC News’ Washington bureau, and said she was eager to start a new career in Florida. “It seemed like a good fit,” she said. She said she was encouraged to apply for the $66,000 a year post by Scott’s communications director, Melissa Sellers.


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Florida Republicans could rekindle the giving season in the Capitol next year thanks to a convergence of the political and real-world economies.

As home sales, tourism and consumer spending increase, Florida government is poised to return to some semblance of the “glory days” of growth budgets from the 1990s and mid-2000s.

Last month, state-revenue experts upgraded state government’s budget picture by more than $400 million for next year, adding to an already-expected surplus that could exceed $1 billion by the time lawmakers draft their 2014-15 budget.

Coming in an election year — when all 120 House members and 20 Senate seats are up — expect lawmakers to use those dollars to deliver benefits to preferred constituencies.

… (I)mmediately after the revenue surplus was announced, House budget chief Seth McKeel suggested the additional cash could be used during an election-year session to “provide a significant tax break for Florida businesses.”

But lawmakers also know better than to deliver a blanket tax cut to giant corporations. Although most everybody shops at Home Depot and Publix, the average voter probably doesn’t want to see those companies getting bigger tax breaks than they already enjoy in Florida’s “business-friendly” environment.

The past few years, lawmakers have chipped away at the tax by raising the exemption for smaller businesses — with the result that nearly all of the companies that had been paying the tax are now off the rolls, leaving only larger companies. This year, lawmakers also cut sales taxes on manufacturing equipment.

Any additional tax break could also hinge on satisfying the Senate’s insistence on slashing the motorist fees that the Legislature and then-Gov. Crist jacked up in 2009.


A review of Florida’s 160 lawmakers by the state’s Secretary of State has determined that all of them are registered to vote in the district for which they were elected to represent.

While that may not sound like news, doubts about where lawmakers live have been raised this summer, prompting Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford to order a review of their voter registrations.

On Friday, Maria Matthews, director of the Division of Elections, sent a letter to Gaetz and Weatherford stating that, as of Aug. 29, 2013, not one lawmaker is registered in the wrong district.

… For Latvala, the voter registrations don’t prove anything.

“The first problem is that lawmakers were elected in November of last year,” Latvala said. “Sachs wasn’t registered in her district until two days after Election Day. Plus, I could change my voter registration to say I live in Timbuktu, but that doesn’t mean I live there.”

The Senate’s Ethics and Elections committee said he’ll continue to press for answers about the residency status of lawmakers.

“This issue isn’t going away,” Latvala said.

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On: Carole Hays has joined Rep. Janet Adkins’ office as a district secretary.

On: In Rep. Matt Caldwell’s office, Priscilla Bezerra has taken a district secretary role in Rep. Matt Caldwell’s ofice.

Off: Erma Perry has departed Rep. Cynthia Stafford’s staff; Tyrone Hall has taken that position.

Off: Stephanie Gioletti has left the office of Sen. Jeremy Ring. 

On: Christopher Lipson is the new legislative assistant in the office of Sen. Eleanor Sobel.

On: Bethany Jones joined the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability as administrative assistant.

On: Paul Bennett has taken the position as the House Judiciary Committee’s attorney.

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TAX CUTS COMETH via Bill Rutty of the Lakeland Ledger

the budget chiefs of the Florida House and Senate want to give you something next year: some of your money. Rep. Seth McKeel, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Joe Negron, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said the Legislature almost assuredly will make tax cuts for Floridians during the 2014 session, which begins March 4.  “With the modest increase in revenues, we are seriously looking at a substantial tax cut for residents,” said McKeel. “There are several ideas out there, and we will see just what is the best, but we have a level of revenue increase that will allow us to begin giving a tax break,” he said.

Among the ideas, McKeel said, are an expansion of the sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping from the current three days to an entire week as it was before the economic crises.  Also suggested have been ­Negron’s push for a reduction in the tag and title fee, a lowering of the school property tax and possible cuts for the fees charged for documentary stamps, he said. Negron, McKeel’s counterpart in the Senate, has already chosen his favorite reduction and is pushing hard. “We doubled the tag registration fees in 2009 because of the bad economy,” Negron said. “Now that revenues are increasing we need to give it back. That would be at the top of my list. The tag increase in 2009 alone was $230 million.


State legislator Debbie Mayfield wants to hit the pause button on Common Core. She filed a bill last week that would put the state’s implementation of Common Core standards on hold until the state can have public hearings and find out how much it will cost. The bill also requires the state to withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is developing student tests based on Common Core standards, and to adopt and implement its own tests “that provide valid, reliable and timely testing of student performance.” 

Mayfield said she opposed anything that would take away the state’s rights on education. “We need to come up with our own testing. Let’s come up with our own standards, so we have the ability to change anytime we want to change it,” Mayfield said.

With Common Core, states do not have a say in how students will be assessed or what standards are created, Mayfield said. She said the state’s current math standards are better than the standards established by Common Core.

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UPDATE: EX-SEN. SKIP CAMPBELL MAY RUN AGAIN via Buddy Nevins of Broward Beat

With the popularity of World War Z and The Walking Dead, anything involving zombies is appears to capture the public’s fancy. But former state Sen. Skip Campbell?  Can he climb out of the political graveyard, where he has been buried since 1996? Campbell told that he is looking at running for his old Broward state Senate seat. “People from Tallahassee have asked me to consider running,” Campbell told

”This is because — I hate to say this  – they hope I can bring some intellectual weight back to the Senate.” He says he has talked to many others in Broward, too. What about his age?  A multi-millionaire lawyer who could easily retire if he wants, Campbell will be 68 when he took office in 2016. “I talked to (State Atty.) Mike Satz about the issue,” Campbell says. “He’s 70.  He said, ‘It is not your age, its your mind.’” 

“Three years is a long way off. A lot can happen in three years,” Campbell says. “If I still feel I can do the job in a year and a half and I get a good reception, that’s when I would make a decision.” The seat is now held by state Sen. Jeremy Ring, who is termed out in 2016. State Rep. Jim Waldman has been running for that seat for months. “I’ve been hearing it for a long time that Skip is thinking about it,” Waldman says. “I don’t have a problem with it.  I’m not concerned.” Then Waldman quips: “Of course, I would much prefer he write me a check and endorse me.”

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Monesia Brown, Metz Husband & Daughton: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Jorge Chamizo, Charlie Dudley, Floridian Partners: Burger King Corporation

Dean Cannon, Larry Cretul, Cynthia Lorenzo, Kirk Pepper, Alan Suskey: Capitol Insight: Marcus Button, Mark & Robin Button, as parents of Marcus Button

Erik Figlio, Ausley & McMullen: Government Services Group, Inc.

Fatima Perez, Southern Strategy Group: American Traffic Solutions, Inc.; CVS; Florida Chamber of Commerce; Isle of Capri Casinos

Richard Reeves, Capitol Insight: Florida Municipal Electric Association; Tampa Bay Innovation Center

Frank Tsamoutales: Quest Diagnostics Incorporated

NEW ON THE TWITTERS: @ShawnFoster1 of Southern Strategy Group


“It’s been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first,” said Ronald Reagan. Well, at least in Nevada, the two fields have a formal (albeit not exclusive) relationship.  The Nevada Brothel Owners Association has hired help in the form of lobbyist George Flint.   Take: even hookers have lobbyists.  Turns out that Nevada’s regulated brothel industry has suffered with the recession, and has also lost business due to women realizing they can make out easier using the internet to market themselves rather than answering to brick-and-mortar establishments. 

“The brothels survive off what we call disposable income,” said Flint in an interview with NBC news, “As business has fallen off, many of the girls have moved from the brothels to illegal prostitution.” A quick internet search reveals that Flint also represents the Reno Wedding Chapel Alliance and Chapel of the Bells, suggesting that he is a man who represents love in all forms.

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Customers of at least three large utilities should expect to see increases in their monthly electric bills next year, the companies said Friday. Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. issued news releases as they filed proposals with the state Public Service Commission that deal with issues such as the costs of power-plant fuel.

FPL said its residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month could see increases of about $5 on their bills, starting in January. Using the same 1,000-kilowatt-hour benchmark, Duke’s customers could see increases of $8.24 a month. Tampa Electric’s new filings would lead to increases of $1.27 for residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours a month. Tampa Electric also is separately asking for an increase in base electric rates that could lead to additional costs.

The new filings still need to be reviewed and approved later this year by the Public Service Commission. Utility bills are made up of several different types of expenses, with fuel costs and base rates the largest.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to longtime SaintPetersBlog reader, John McBride.


Thank you 22,000 times over. 

With your help, we raised over 22,000 Legos for a new exhibit at Great Explorations Children’s Museum. Our original goal was to raise 10,000, but more than enough people helped out so that we were able to raise the entire 22,000 that the Museum needs for its plans.

So many people donated Legos it would be impossible to thank them all in this space, although we’ve tried to recognize many of the donations as they came in on this Facebook page. That said, thank you to Brecht Heuchan, Matt Hunter, and Rhett O’Doski, who helped us at the end to reach our goal.

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.