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Sunburn for Jan. 11 – The (non) calm before the storm

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry, Ryan Ray, and Jim Rosica.

Start of the 2016 Legislative Session … less than a month to voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, but let’s talk about…


Disappointed you didn’t win the Powerball jackpot this weekend? Don’t be.

Lottery officials say the estimated $1.3 billion prize is the world’s largest. Ever.

“Biggest jackpot in the history of the world. Absolutely confirmed,” Texas Lottery executive director Gary Grief said.

The jackpot is so big that billboards in Texas and around the country have to advertise the price as $999 million because they’re not built to show billions. The lottery computers will handle the decimal point without a problem.

No one matched all six Powerball numbers Saturday night, leading to the astronomical prize. And that is all but certain to grow before the next drawing Wednesday, according to Texas Lottery spokeswoman Kelly Cripe.

“We’ve never been at these levels,” said Grief, whose state lottery is part of the Multi-State Lottery Association that runs Powerball.

The odds to win are one in 292.2 million. Seventy-five percent of all the possible combinations were purchased before Saturday’s drawing, Grief said, and he expects that enough tickets will be sold to cover about 80 percent by Wednesday. About 95 percent of Powerball tickets have computer-generated numbers.

Now, on to politics…


FIRST AND FOREMOST … ON TUESDAY, WEAR RED FOR STACEY WEBB – To honor the memory of their friend and co-worker, the late Stacey Webb, the team at Southern Strategy Group will be wearing red on the first day of the 2016 Legislative Session. Webb was known for always wearing a red suit on the first day, said the firm’s Caitlin Brongel. Webb passed away in November at the age of 46 following complications from heart surgery. She led the firm’s education practice, representing the Association of Florida Colleges, Broward College Foundation, Florida Prepaid College Foundation, University of Central Florida Foundation, the school boards of Clay and Seminole counties, as well as Apple Computers and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. An appreciation of her and her life can be read here.

POLITICAL INSIDERS ARE PESSIMISTIC ABOUT STATE’S LEADERSHIP via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – More than three-fourths don’t expect state leaders to address substantively the most important issues facing Florida … Almost 7 in 10 do not believe state government effectively deals with Florida’s problems … Six in 10 think the Legislature is less responsive to citizens than 10 years ago.


As many as 15 of the 40 senators will depart in next fall’s elections, the biggest one-year housecleaning since voters embraced eight-year term limits in 1992. Such rampant turnover, coupled with changes to Senate districts, spells turmoil and unpredictable change in a body designed to be more deliberative and less ideological than the much bigger House. “This will turn the Senate into the House,” predicts Sen. Nancy Detert, one of the departing senators.

The departing senators include Don Gaetz, 67, of Niceville, an education expert and former Senate president who co-founded a nationwide network of hospice centers; Garrett Richter, 65, of Naples, a likeable small-town banker and decorated veteran of the Vietnam War; Arthenia Joyner, 72, of Tampa, leader of the 14-member Democratic caucus and a civil rights activist since she was in high school; and Charlie Dean, 76, of Inverness, a feisty former Citrus County sheriff respected for his knowledge of criminal justice issues.

PAINFUL LESSONS FOR A TROUBLED LEGISLATURE via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Republicans led the charge to reduce political power by limiting terms of legislators to eight years in the same office, but many call it a disaster. They say it has empowered seasoned staffers and lobbyists, while creating an assembly line of shortsighted politicians filled with ambition but lacking real-world wisdom and insight. “If I could change one thing, it would be term limits,” says Senate President Andy Gardiner … “But it will never happen, and the reality is, most people think we should be here only for about six months.” Six months is all it takes for a young and restless House member to start chasing a Senate seat. The House is a farm system for future senators, and rookie House members facing the eight-year clock become locked in distracting, time-wasting fights for future power, before casting a single vote. Money dominates the conversation in Tallahassee, and voters’ cries of protest can be drowned out by a tidal wave of money from special interests. Every lawmaker has a re-election campaign, but that’s only the beginning, because donations are limited to $1,000, chump change in today’s political culture … many lawmakers also control separate political committees, or PCs — accounts that some use as a piggy bank for meals and travel. PCs can take unlimited donations, making them magnets for supersized special interest donations, and that has increased the allure of big money.

COLUMN: IT’S UP TO VOTERS TO MAKE FLORIDA BETTER via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times – No offense, but Florida voters make lousy revolutionaries. On our best days, we might spring for an edgy bumper sticker or forward an incendiary email. But when it comes to doing something meaningful — like radically changing the direction and outlook of the state — we are hapless followers of the status quo. That’s not an exaggeration. Technically, it’s not even an opinion. It’s a quantifiable, if somewhat inexplicable, fact. We say we are angry, frustrated, distrustful and disgusted. We say we are fed up with elected officials and we’re not going to take it anymore. And then we vote for the same politicians. Again. And again. And again. Not only are we getting what we asked for, we are getting what the millionaires and corporations and super PACs are paying for: Puppet politicians.

— “5 questions with Senate President designate Joe Negron” via Florida Politics

— “9 issues facing the Legislature in 2016” via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “12 hopes as lawmakers prepare to meet” via the South Florida Sun Sentinel

— “12 priorities for Florida lawmakers in 2016” via

— “First day of session is like first day of school” via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union

— “Here’s what to expect from Legislature 2016” via Gray Rohrer and Dan Sweeney of the Orlando Sentinel

— “The key players in the 2016 Legislative Session” via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “Lawmakers plan a productive first week to put 2015 behind them” via James call of the Tallahassee Democrat

— “Legislature returns seeking unity despite simmering divisions” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

TWEET, TWEET: @lobbytools: The Guide to Florida Government has been updated for 2016. It has Executive, Legislative, Judicial & Press info here.


SEMINOLE COMPACT FACES SKEPTICAL LEGISLATURE via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics –The 63-page document revived the old joke around the Capitol: It contains something for everyone … to hate. And that means the tribe’s lobbyists will be working double-time to get some version of it through The Process. Last year’s lobby team kept a relatively low profile … They can expect a more vigorous workout this year. The broad outline of the deal is it allows the tribe to continue offering blackjack at its casinos in return for a $3 billion cut of the take over seven years. But other provisions have gambling antagonists and some lawmakers choking on their Cheerios. The agreement would let the Seminoles add roulette and craps tables, as well as permit the Legislature to OK slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and allow blackjack at some South Florida racetracks “with some limitations.” State Rep. Dana Young of Tampa, the House Republican leader, has said the compact as now written would be “a very heavy lift in the Legislature.”

AMID DEBATE OVER FRACKING, LOCAL CONTROL COULD DRIVE DISCUSSION via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Several measures, including one aimed at regulation and three focused on bans — have been filed in advance of the Session. Some state lawmakers have said they wouldn’t support a regulatory bill that trumps local control. Others have said it’s unlikely a ban would pass the Republican-led Legislature. Rep. Ray Rodrigues has filed legislation, HB 191, that requires drillers to get a permit before they can begin high-pressure well stimulation. The bill also calls for a study, which would be subject to a peer review, to look at the potential risk fracking has on Florida. The measure also has strong preemption language that prohibits local governments from having an ordinance on the books to regulate oil and gas exploration. That means local laws across the state could be voided if the measure passes, including ordinances in communities represented by Rodrigues … Sen. Richter, who has proposed similar legislation, SB 318, in the Senate. Both the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities oppose legislation that would preempt local rule. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has also expressed concerns about the preemption language, saying in a policy paper that “it is critical local governments retain home rule authority.”

GAMBLING ISSUES MOVE FROM SPOTLIGHT TO SUPPORTING ROLE via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – A big gambling overhaul bill won’t be on the menu this legislative session, but expect a swirl of other gaming-related topics to bubble up, including fantasy sports play and creating a state gambling commission. The Florida Supreme Court already is gathering friend-of-the-court briefs for a challenge regarding slot machines. The question before the justices is: Are slot machines allowed outside of South Florida if local voters in a particular area approve of them? The case directly involves a Gadsden County track and poker room run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians … Fantasy sports play also is on the agenda, with bills filed by … Matt Gaetz and … Joe Negron that would make such games legal in Florida. Still other legislation (HB 415/SB 402) would allow people to buy lottery tickets at the gas pump … Maria Sachs filed legislation for this session to create a state gambling commission. The five-member commission would oversee a new Department of Gaming, taking over current duties from the departments of Business and Professional Regulation, Lottery and Agriculture & Consumer Services.

LEGAL, JUDICIAL REFORMS AGAIN ON LAWMAKERS’ TO-DO LIST via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – [The] Legislature will try to overhaul Florida’s alimony law for at least the third time in recent years … A House bill (HB 455), sponsored by … Colleen Burton … is already on the move … Another measure (SB 250) pushed by … Tom Lee … also has child-sharing provisions that have caused a commotion in prior sessions … creates a legal presumption that “approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is … in the (child’s) best interest.” Judicial term limits also is on the docket … A measure (HB 197) that would impose term limits on Florida’s appellate-level judges has cleared its first House committee … a bill (HB 203) affecting estoppel letters, an obscure part of some real estate closings, has returned … They’re legal documents sent by a homeowners association, detailing any amount owed to the association … This year may bring better fortune to estoppel changes; the issue has been re-branded by PR man Kevin Cate as “smashing the Home Tax.” Another issue being watched by lawmakers already passed the Legislature but still isn’t being implemented. In 2013 … Scott signed into law the changing of Florida’s expert evidence rule to the Daubert standard used by federal courts and most states. Florida used the Frye standard, which asks whether expert testimony is “generally accepted” in a particular scientific community. Daubert is stricter scientifically and can often require a kind of “mini-trial” even before an expert can appear in front of jurors. It’s generally considered easier for plaintiffs to get damaging expert testimony before a jury under Frye, and much harder to do so under Daubert.

WATER POLICY, MONEY FOR EVERGLADES COULD BE HOT TOPICS via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – State lawmakers are expected to take up the measure — HB 7005 and SB 552 … years in the making, [and] is likely to pass both chambers … the proposal creates the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act; updates and restructures the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program; and calls on the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an annual assessment of water resources and conservation lands. The proposals have received widespread support in committee hearings, and Rep. Matt Caldwell … said it is an effort to clean up state statutes. Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez … thus far is the only state lawmaker to vote against it. It’s a top priority for Crisafulli and … Adam Putnam, and has received support from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation and Associated Industries of Florida … however, environmental organizations have come out in opposition.

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THE NEXT REDISTRICTING FIGHT: WHO PAYS THE ATTORNEYS? via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Lawyers for House and Senate filed more legal authority with the Florida Supreme Court … to support their position that the opposing lawyers are “not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees.” The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others had sued over the current congressional lines … represented by a panoply of lawyers near and far … They all submitted a request … for more time to supplement their motion to get paid. In sum, they argue “that a fee award is warranted, as a matter of common law, ‘to vindicate a public right that is fundamental to our representative democracy, and the Legislature’s violations of … the Florida Constitution would not have been investigated or enforced if left to the Attorney General and other government agencies.’ “The basis for the plaintiffs’ attorneys argument is the “private attorney general doctrine,” which isn’t law in Florida, according to the filings. Generally, it says, “a successful party may be awarded attorney fees against one or more opposing parties in a civil action (that) results in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest.” Florida follows the “American rule,” under which “each party bears its own legal expenses, including attorneys’ fees.”

LEGISLATURE LOOKING FOR A COMPROMISE ON HEALTH CARE via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times – A bill almost certain to win support in both chambers would allow physician assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners to prescribe medications under certain circumstances. One such proposal (SB 152) has already won the support of two Senate committees. Both chambers have also shown interest in allowing primary care physicians to contract directly with patients without having to go through insurance. The House is advancing a number of additional measures its leaders say will improve access and bring down costs. Among them: creating new “recovery centers” for postsurgical care; allowing patients to spend the night at same-day surgery centers; and eliminating the state process that dictates where new hospitals can be built.

ON EDUCATION, LAWMAKERS ENTER THE 2016 SESSION LOOKING TO TWEAK, NOT TRANSFORM via Thomas Tobin of the Tampa Bay Times – In the coming days, [Sen. DonGaetz … will carry the flag for a bill that would broaden educational opportunities for students with disabilities. It would make permanent the $10,000 “personal learning scholarship accounts” initially approved last year and establish a system to create more programs for special-needs students at Florida’s colleges and universities. The bill is a high priority for Senate President Gardiner, the parent of a special needs son … Rep. Janet Adkins … will be pushing a bill that would require schools to identify struggling readers before third grade and intervene with more effective teaching methods. In addition to his push for special needs students, Gaetz will be bringing forward a bill that would allow school districts to use what he calls “nationally branded” exams in place of the controversial Florida Standards Assessments. The 2016 session will feature … bills that would mandate recess in elementary schools, allow students to change schools without regard to school zones, and close loopholes that allow districts to avoid class size restrictions.

IT’S NOT JOBS, BUT THE QUALITY OF JOBS, THAT MATTERS NOW IN FLORIDA via Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times – If cutting the jobless rate was Scott‘s main goal, well then, it’s Mission Accomplished — right? If only most Floridians agreed. A Tampa Bay Times/10News WTSP poll [found] a massive 63 percent said their status had not changed. Another 18 percent said they were worse off, while yet another 18 percent said they were better off. (Just 14 percent under 55 said they were worse off but 24 percent over 55 said they were not doing as well as a year ago.) That’s hardly a heady endorsement of an improving Florida’s economy. [Rating] Scott’s “overall job performance.” Just 5 percent described it as “excellent” and another 18 percent said “good.” In much greater numbers, 14 percent chose “not so good” and a whopping 30 percent opted for “poor.” Ahead, Scott’s salesmanship to out-of-state companies may sound less alluring: “We’re close to full employment, so it may not be as easy to find the competent workers you are looking for — unless you are willing to pay more.”

WATER BILLS READY FOR QUICK VOTE BUT ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS WANT TO SLOW IT DOWN via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times – The legislative session … marks Crisafulli’s last shot at rewriting Florida’s water policy. He’s promising that the bills — HB 7005 and SB 552 — will be voted on quickly. “That will be a bill that comes up the first week,” he told reporters … But now environmental groups, eco-tour companies and civic activists want to slow things down. They say those bills in their current form are too friendly to polluters and not protective of Florida’s citizens. “They’re missing some serious priorities,” said Cris Costello of the Sierra Club. She also said the current bills contain loopholes “that make the other provisions ineffective.” Missing, for instance, is language that would establish water conservation as a priority and deadlines for setting the maximum amount of pollution allowed in waterways, the groups contend. In addition, a section on a new Central Florida drinking supply program calls for letting private companies get taxpayer money for withdrawing surface water from rivers and streams without any assurance they will be effective, the groups noted in a letter to the Legislature signed by 106 of them.

ALAN WILLIAMS WANTS PAY RAISES FOR STATE EMPLOYEES via Bill Cotterell the Tallahassee Democrat – “My top goal is to get raises for state workers,” Williams said in a pre-session interview. “If I can leave out of the Legislature with the people who work hard every day, who are underpaid, getting a pay raise, then I’ll consider that a win-win for the state and my constituents.” Williams, term-limited out of the House, is running for Leon County supervisor of elections. One of his other top goals is an automatic voter-registration bill, to let new residents simultaneously get their driving licenses and sign up to vote. Williams said data on new residents should be automatically forwarded to the supervisor’s office – unless drivers ask to opt out of voting. “This takes us out of the typewriter era, into the iPad world,” Williams said.

BALANCE BILLING PROPOSAL GETS SENATE SPONSOR via Carol Gentry of Health News Florida – A consumer health measure aimed at protecting insured patients from surprise bills was filed … by state Sen. Rene Garcia …   Senate Bill 1442 would give patients in network-style plans called preferred provider organizations (PPOs) the same protections against out-of-network bills for treatment in emergencies. Patients with HMO plans already have this under Florida law.  And in non-emergencies – say, for planned surgery at an in-network hospital – PPO patients would at least be entitled to a warning that some of those who will be sending bills are not in their insurance network.  The hospital would have to provide a list, and the out-of-network doctor would have to provide a written estimate of the extra charges in advance.

CONCERN FOR TRANSPARENCY ON PROPOSED PUBLIC RECORDS LAW via Noah Pransky of WTSP – A recently-filed bill … has open-government watchdogs concerned legislators are trying to further erode citizens’ only avenue to forcing hesitant public officials to turn over public records. The bill (HB 1021 and SB 1220), filed by Rep. Greg Steube, aims to give judges discretion in awarding attorney’s fees in public records lawsuits where public officials fail to turn over records in a timely manner. Steube – with the backing of the League of Cities – says too many frivolous “gotcha” lawsuits are costing taxpayers, so he wants to simply remove the guarantee of attorney’s fees when a government official or employee makes a mistake. “We’re changing one word, from ‘shall’ to ‘may,’” Steube said.  “”Our tax dollars shouldn’t be going to people setting up local governments, trying to sue them for things.” But the First Amendment Foundation tells 10Investigates abuses are few and far between. They point to corrective action from the Florida Bar in the form of active investigations into attorneys who have collected numerous settlements over small violations. Instead, watchdogs say the Steube bill would most impact legitimate cases against stubborn politicians who refuse to turn over public records.

SEMINOLES PREPARING $500K AD BUY TO PUSH PASSAGE OF GAMING COMPACT via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The Seminole Tribe is preparing a nearly $500,000 media buy on targeted House and Senate districts across the state as it gears up to try to get a newly-signed gaming compact through the Legislature. The new ad is aimed at some of the state’s most high-profile lawmakers, including House Speaker Crisafulli, Senate President GardinerJose Diaz, who oversees a key House committee, and state Sen. Rob Bradley, who oversees a key committee in his chamber. The ad features the fact that the new compact would create an estimated 20,000 jobs and generate $3 billion in revenue for the state over seven years. The commercials are set to run Jan. 8-17 on cable and broadcast television.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Chris Sprowls will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. in front of the Senate Chamber doors to discuss Senate Bill 1496 and House Bill 1175, Transparency in Health Care. This legislation seeks to improve the transparency of the cost of health care treatments and services.

ASSOCIATED INDUSTRIES OF FLORIDA MARKS 30 YEARS OF PRE-SESSION PARTYING via Florida Politics – With the 2016 Legislative Session kicking off … tradition dictates that those in the know will be at the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) pre-session welcome back reception for legislators, lobbyists and sundry politicos. This year marks the 30th that the organization … has hosted the event, according to spokeswoman Sarah Bascom “We have invited all lawmakers, the governor and cabinet, business leaders and AIF members, and we expect between 2,000 and 3,000 guests.” On Friday, AIF released its 2016 legislative priorities, including getting behind … Scott‘s continued push to cut taxes. For example, “AIF joins the Governor in calling for a reduction in business rent/commercial lease tax, permanently eliminating sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment, and permanently eliminating income tax on manufacturing and retail businesses,” President Tom Feeney said in a statement. It’s unlikely, however, that much “wonk talk” will occur at the party. The affair is meant to be a festive last-night-before-the-work-begins kind of deal.

UBER WELCOMES AIF PARTY GOERS BACK TO SESSION WITH FREE RIDES — Uber is partnering with the Associated Industries of Florida to provide users a free ride (up to $10) to and from the 2016 AIF Legislative Reception. Use the Uber app to request a pickup, and a car driven by the closest available driver will show up in minutes. The registered credit card is billed directly, and there is real-time map with the car location. Download the free Uber iPhone/Android/Windows app or sign up at Enter credit card information in the app and use the promo code “AIF2016” when signing up. To ensure full compliance with state and local ethics laws, this promotion is not open to public officials and employees


 State Rep. Kathleen Peters is holding a “grab-and-go” fundraising luncheon for her re-election effort in Pinellas County’s House District 69. Event begins 11:30 a.m. at 113 East College Ave., third floor, in Tallahassee.

 House Speaker Crisafulli, Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran and Rep. José Oliva are hosting a fundraising reception for Rep. Paul Renner for his re-election effort in House District 24. Event begins 5 p.m. at the Governors Club.

— Florida’s Senate Republican caucus will celebrate the upcoming Legislative Session with the first official fundraiser of the year beginning 5:30 p.m. at the Tallahassee Doubletree Hotel ballroom, 101 South Adams St. The 2016 Welcome Back Reception is hosted by Senate President Gardiner, Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Bill Galvano, President Designate Joe Negron and Sens. Lizbeth BenacquistoAnitere Flores and Jack Latvala.

 House Majority 2016 is hosting a series of joint fundraisers starting with a luncheon reception to support the re-election efforts of Republican State Reps. Elizabeth PorterBen Albritton, and Larry Metz. Event begins 12 p.m. at the Governors Club Capital Room, 202 1/2 S. Adams St. Next, State Rep. Jamie Grant will hold an event at 4:30 p.m. in the Governors Club Private Dining Room. Later that evening, state Reps. José OlivaFrank ArtilesBrian AvilaMichael BilecaManny Diaz Jr., Jeanette NunezRay Rodriguez, and Carlos Trujillo will hold a separate event at the Governance House, 510 North Adams St.

— Term-limited Democratic State Rep. Alan Williams is hosting a fundraising reception in support of his bid to become Leon County Supervisor of Elections. The event begins 4:30 p.m. at the Governors Club, 202 South Adams St. in Tallahassee. According to the invite, guests include state Sen. Oscar Braynon, former House Speaker James Harold Thompson, former Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O’Connell and former state Sens. Al Lawson and Fred Dudley.

SAVE THE DATE: The Florida Technology Council will hold its 2016 Legislative Reception Monday, January 25 beginning 5 p.m. in the Governors Club Plantation Room, 202 ½ Adams Street in Tallahassee. Keynote speaker will be Robert Myles of Symantec; featured guests are State Sen. Jeff Brandes and state Rep. Jamie Grant. For more information, contact

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POLL DU JOURDONALD TRUMP HOLDS COMMANDING LEAD IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, SHARES LEAD WITH TED CRUZ IN IOWA & NATIONALLY via Dana Blanton of Fox News – New Hampshire: Trump leads with 33 percent support among Republican primary voters. That’s more than double the backing for Rubio (15 percent) and Cruz (12 percent). Bush receives 9 percent, Kasich7 percent, Christie and Paul 5 percent each, followed by Carson at 4 percent, and Fiorina garners 3 percent. In Iowa: Cruz receives 27 percent … Trump 23 percent … Rubio follows at 15 percent. Carson is at 9 percent … Bush 7 percent … Paul 5 percent. Nationally: Trump leads with 35 percent among Republican primary voters. Next is Cruz with 20 percent … his personal best … Rubio is third at 13 percent … Carson is at 10 percent. Bush gets 4 percent … Fiorina 3 percent, and Christie, Kasich and Paul each get 2 percent.

POLL DU JOUR 2:  TRUMP LEADS IN NH BUT JEB BUSH BATTLES JOHN KASICH FOR 2ND via Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Landrigan of – A new NH1 News poll in New Hampshire … Trump grabs 31.7 percent support. Bush is at 11.9 percent, with Kasich at 11.8 percent and … Christie at 11 percent. Cruz … is backed by 9.7 percent of those questioned, with Rubio at 8.9 percent. Taking into account the overall poll’s 3.1 percent sampling error, all four candidates are basically all knotted up. Following further behind are Fiorina (4.6 percent) … Carson (3.8 percent) … Rand Paul (3 percent) Santorum (2.6 percent) and … Huckabee (1 percent). Among registered Republicans, Trump stands at 26.2 percent. But his support surges to 35.6 percent among undeclared voters likely to vote in the GOP primary. Among male voters, Trump stands at 30.6 percent. But among women, he climbs to 39.1 percent. Bush scores better among registered Republicans than among independents. He’s in second place, at 13.9 percent among Republicans but drops to 10 percent among undeclared voters. Kasich’s in second place among independents, at 12.8 percent, but drops to 10.3 percent among Republicans.

SPOTTED in Charleston, South Carolina, campaigning for Bush: Gus Corbella, Tom Feeney, Ed Moore, Woody Simmons, and Pinellas County’s Glen Gilzean and Berny Jacques.

MARCO RUBIO’S IOWA PATH LEAVES HIM SQUEEZED ON ALL SIDES via Shane Goldmacher of POLITICO – While others brag about visiting all 99 of Iowa’s counties … Rubio is investing little in the western and rural reaches of the state. His travel schedule, ad buys, and his own advisers point to a strategy almost entirely dependent on a far narrower strip of the state … But this game plan amounts to a high-stakes geographic bet that Rubio can consolidate the more traditional wing of the GOP in the east, even as he’s squeezed there by an emboldened Christie and an organized Bush campaign. All the while, Trump and his loud and loyal following threaten to wreak havoc on everyone’s carefully plotted maps. “You hunt where the ducks are,” said Eric Woolsen, a longtime Iowa GOP operative who is currently unaligned. “And if there aren’t many ducks for Marco Rubio in the western part of the state, then he needs to be hunting elsewhere.”

HAPPENING TODAY — RUBIO HOSTING SARASOTA TOWN HALL via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Rubio will host a town hall focused on economic policy at 1:30 p.m. … at a local business, Marine Concepts … holding a private fundraiser at the Sarasota Yacht Club earlier in the day and had not been scheduled to appear publicly in Sarasota. Rubio’s campaign had been trying to arrange a town hall in Tampa, but an email sent by the campaign … to Florida volunteers said that “because of scheduling reasons the event (is) now in Sarasota.” … “I’m incredibly excited about Sen. Rubio increasing his presence here in our community,” said state Rep. Julio Gonzalez … who is hosting the Yacht Club fundraiser for Rubio. “I think the more people get to see Sen. Rubio, the more they will come to the realization he is the right person for the White House at this time.”

NEARLY INVISIBLE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN REVVING UP IN FLORIDA via Adam Smith and Patricia Mazzei of the Tampa Bay Times – The primary landscape could be vastly different when the Florida votes are counted March 15. About two dozen states already will have voted and the large field is almost guaranteed to be significantly smaller … they can’t afford to ignore Florida too long … Rubio, whose campaign has not opened an office, let alone had much visibility in his home state, is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting … at a sailboat manufacturing business in Sarasota. Trump plans to headline a rally Wednesday in Pensacola. Winning the nomination ultimately comes down to who can win the roughly 1,200 delegates necessary. Florida will be the first mega state to award its 99 delegates winner-take-all, rather than proportionally. That enhances the state’s importance, and explains why Trump already has a dozen paid campaign workers on the ground reaching out to volunteers and supporters — more than anyone else. It’s why Jeb Bush did not divert anyone from the Florida effort when his struggling campaign dispatched workers from his national headquarters in Miami-Dade to shore up other states. Adding urgency is that Florida’s election actually begins much sooner than March 15. Overseas mail ballots must be sent out no later than Jan. 30, and domestic mail ballots go out starting Feb. 9. In-person early voting runs March 5-12, and by Florida primary day, probably more than half the votes already will have been cast.

***A special message from Florida’s horsemen: While legislators debate using hard-earned taxpayer dollars for corporate relocation incentives, Florida employers who’ve been hard at work for decades could lose everything, thanks to “decoupling”— a Big Casino cash grab and gambling expansion plan tucked inside the Seminole Compact. It seems senseless to kill established Florida businesses, while spending public money in hopes new business may materialize. But Florida could do just that when “decoupling” leaves horse racing investors with NO WAY to do business and NO CHANCE to recoup financial return.  Gambling policy should be about growing Florida’s economy. Not padding the pockets of Big Casinos. Florida’s horsemen oppose decoupling in ANY form.***

BILL NELSON PREDICTS QUIET YEAR IN CONGRESS, DISMISSES POTENTIAL CHALLENGE FROM RICK SCOTT via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – With a budget in place and other priorities such as a highway bill and intelligence bill passing last year, Nelson said he expects 2016 to be a relatively quiet period in the halls of Congress … Instead, attention will turn to election-year politics. Nelson dismissed the Trump phenomenon, saying people may be “angry” but “at the end of the day what they want is a steady hand” … predicted Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and that she will win Florida regardless of who the Republicans nominate. “Her record is in the mainstream of American political thought … As contrasted to what you’re hearing in the Republican presidential primary which is out of the mainstream and quite extreme.” Nelson also discussed his own political future … amid speculation that … Scott might run for Nelson’s seat in 2018. Nelson said he’s definitely running again in 2018 and is not concerned about a potential challenge from Scott.

PAM BONDI BACKED TESTING AT CENTER OF MASSIVE FRAUD via Pat Beall of the Palm Beach Post – Florida’s top law enforcement officials knew by 2012 that Millennium Laboratories, the nation’s largest drug testing company, was defrauding Florida Medicaid of millions. But that did not stop … Bondi from urging Medicare to pay for high-priced and unnecessary drug screening tests at the heart of Millennium’s massive scam, even as her own office and federal prosecutors pursued civil charges against the company. Hours after The Post reported on the letter … Bondi … wrote in an email that staffers had written the letter, and that, “Knowing what I know now, The Palm Beach Post is correct that the letter should not have been sent.” Bondi … signed a letter drafted by staff and intended to address her longtime concern over babies born to addicted mothers. It was never intended to assist a company under investigation, she wrote.

ADAM PUTNAM CAPS 2015 WITH BIG FUNDRAISING HAUL via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – On New Year’s Eve, the Polk County Republican … frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2018 … raised $275,000 from three donors for a political action committee he runs called Florida Grown PC.  Those donations included $150,000 from Florida Power & Light, $100,000 from Duke Energy, and $25,000 from U.S. Sugar Corporation. It capped off a lucrative December for Putnam’s political action committee, which raised more than $755,000 for the month … Putnam raised about $4 million, making him second for the year to Scott when it comes to raising money for political committees of the sort. Scott has raised over $4.4 million for his Let’s Get to Work committee.

KEVIN MCCARTY REPLACEMENT RUMORS START SWIRLING, SUCCESSOR HAS ‘HUGE SHOES TO FILL’ via Amy O’Connor of Insurance Journal – No candidates have been confirmed as potential replacements, as of yet, but a few names have been floated so far … [Including] Florida State Rep. Bill Hager, a former Iowa Insurance Commissioner, former president and CEO of the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) and current vice chair of the state Insurance and Banking subcommittee; and Tom Grady, former interim president of Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Hager has been vocal for flood insurance reform in the state, an issue that has also been a major focus for McCarty over the last six months. “This is a new ballgame in terms of how this person is selected. Florida hasn’t done this before,” said Jeff Grady, president of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents (FAIA). “[McCarty] was in the job and it became his and no one else has been in that position since.”

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

APPOINTED: Nicholas Romanello to the Florida Board of Medicine.

APPOINTED: Joni Poitier to the Florida Elections Commission.

FIRST IN “THE INFLUENCER” (Peter Schorsch’s new column for the Tallahassee Democrat) — MIKE HARIDOPOLOS EXITS TSAMOUTALES STRATEGIES — Once Haridopolos was out of the Senate, it was no surprise he ended up at Tsamoutales Strategies. But less than two years later, that strategic partnership has ended. … “Tsamoutales Strategies has enjoyed a great strategic relationship with Mike Haridopolos’ firm,” Frank Tsamoutales wrote in an email. “We appreciate the contributions he made during that time. We look forward to opportunities to collaborate in the future.”

UNIVERSAL LOBBYIST JOHN MCREYNOLDS WIELDS POWER, RUFFLES FEATHERS via Sandra Pedicini of the Orlando Sentinel – McReynolds is also chairman of the amusement industry’s premier trade association, representing attractions and related businesses worldwide … A 20-year Universal veteran who is the theme park division’s senior vice president of external affairs, McReynolds wields considerable power, observers say. “He can commit to policies, political or community endeavors, and he doesn’t have to go back like some and check with the CEO or headquarters or lawyers,” said Roger Chapin, a Mears Transportation public affairs executive. At Universal, McReynolds has forged a tight relationship with Orlando but a more complicated one with Orange County. McReynolds has questioned Orange County’s ongoing creation of a long-range vision for the International Drive area. He walked out of one meeting, upset Universal wasn’t on the committee creating the plan and saying the process seemed preordained. “You would think with the billions — emphasis, the b word — we spent in this corridor over the last handful of years, someone would have wanted to know the vision we have,” McReynolds told the group. “I’m tired of sitting in the audience. I’m going to go.”

SPOTTED at Rococo Steak for my 40th birthday party (thank you for coming!): Jeff Brandes, James Grant, Dana Young, Alan Suskey, Greg Holden, Rich Heffley, Jim Rimes, Anthony Pedicini, Ballard Partners’ Ana Cruz with Jane Castor, Southern Strategy Group’s Seth McKeel and Laura Boehmer, Cardenas Partners’ Justin Day, Progress Florida’s Mark Ferrulo, Uber’s Stephanie Smith, Christian Minor, Sydney RidleyChris and Gina Spencer.

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.

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