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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 12.12.16

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

OUR MISTAKE: In Friday’s Sunburn, we erroneously said John Morgan was chair of Florida for Care, the panel involved with medical marijuana implementation. Morgan chaired United for Care, the group that backed the medical marijuana amendment, but is not attached to Florida for Care.

CENSUS: FLORIDA GROWING OLDER, MORE DIVERSE via Mike Schneider of the Associated Press

Florida gained more wealthy residents but also more families living below the poverty line between 2010 and 2015 when the Sunshine State participated in an economic recovery from a devastating housing crash and the worst recession in decades.

New data released by the U.S. Census Bureaushows that during the recovery, jobs were lost in construction, real estate, government and manufacturing. But jobs were gained in education, health care, tourism and professional positions.

During the same time, Florida residents got older and more diverse.

As a state, Florida has gotten older in the past five years. The median age went from 40.3 in 2010 to 41.4 in 2015.

Only five counties in Florida got younger — and they were all located in the Panhandle. Two of the counties — Escambia and Okaloosa — have major military bases.

Florida also got more diverse in the past five years.

The percentage of non-Hispanic whites dropped from 78.4 percent in 2010 to 76.3 percent in 2015.

The increase in diversity was driven by gains in the Hispanic population, which grew by 665,000 residents. Florida’s population of around 20 million people is now slightly less than a quarter Hispanic.

In pure numbers, Cubans led the way with a gain of more than 209,000 residents. But Puerto Ricans weren’t far behind, increasing by 185,000 residents. Florida now has 1.3 million residents of Cuban descent, living primarily in South Florida; almost 1 million residents of Puerto Rican descent, concentrated in central Florida; almost 670,000 residents of Mexican descent, living primarily in agriculture areas of south-central Florida; and 1.6 million residents of various other Hispanic backgrounds.

Florida has added 323,000 new workers to the labor force since 2010.

But the percentage of residents of working age who weren’t in the labor force has grown from 38.7 percent to 40.8 percent, an indication that some workers have given up on looking jobs. Florida’s rate is one of the nation’s highest, given its large number of retirees and residents over age 65.

There were winners and losers as Florida’s economy emerged from the doldrums of a half-decade ago.

Florida lost 340,000 manufacturing and almost 150,000 construction jobs. Manufacturing makes up only around 5 percent of Florida’s labor force, and construction work has bounced back, but not necessarily construction workers since many moved out of state following the housing bust.

The loss of jobs in those sectors was offset by healthy gains in health care, hospitality, professional and retail workers.

The percentage of Floridians working at home increased from 4.4 percent to 5.1 percent, just as commuting times increased. Floridians now spend an average of 26.4 minutes traveling to work compared to 25.7 minutes five years ago.

Florida’s share of wealthy residents increased in the past five years. The percentage of households earning more than $200,000 a year jumped from 3.6 percent to 4.1 percent. At the same time, the percentage of families with income below the poverty line increased from 9.9 percent to 12 percent. Median household income roughly stayed the same at $47,600.

BIG PICTURE – U.S. LIFE EXPECTANCY DECLINES FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1993 via Lenny Bernstein of The Washington Post –Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. In all, death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death. “I think we should be very concerned,” said Princeton economist Anne Case, who called for thorough research on the increase in deaths from heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States. “This is singular. This doesn’t happen.” … findings show increases in “virtually every cause of death. It’s all ages,” said David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Over the past five years, he noted, improvements in death rates were among the smallest of the past four decades. “There’s this just across-the-board [phenomenon] of not doing very well in the United States.”

Overall, life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, according to the latest data. The last time U.S. life expectancy at birth declined was in 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data. The overall death rate rose 1.2 percent in 2015, its first uptick since 1999. More than 2.7 million people died, about 45 percent of them from heart disease or cancer.

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DONALD TRUMP BRINGING VICTORY TOUR TO ORLANDO NEXT WEEK via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Trump will be joined this time by vice president-elect Mike Pence, for a “U.S.A. Thank You Tour” rally at the Central Florida Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16. It’s the spot where Trump last visited Central Florida … offering himself as a “better vision for America” and trashing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as “the candidate of yesterday.” Doors at the Orlando Amphitheater there will open at 4 p.m.

MARCO RUBIO TAKES SHOT AT TRUMP’S POTENTIAL SECRETARY OF STATE OVER VLADIMIR PUTIN TIES via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – Rubio took a shot at President-elect Trump’s rumored pick of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of State this morning on Twitter, while Trump tweeted a defense of Tillerson. “Being a “friend of Vladimir” is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState,” Rubio tweeted this morning. Trump defended Tillerson on Twitter later in the morning. “Whether I choose him or not for ‘State’ – Rex Tillerson, the Chairman & CEO of ExxonMobil, is a world class player and dealmaker. Stay tuned!” Trump tweeted.

NO NEW LOCAL ZIKA TRANSMISSIONS IN FLORIDA, GOV SAYS via Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times – Four months after Zika roiled Miami-Dade County and put the rest of Florida on alert, Gov. Scott announced … that mosquitoes were no longer actively transmitting the virus in South Florida. Shortly after the announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its strictest advisory urging pregnant women not to travel to the heart of South Beach, a popular tourism destination. Instead it suggested caution. “Our state has no more local transmission of Zika,” Scott said. The lifting of the advisory came as the state swings into peak tourism season. But the county is already preparing for the next Zika cycle, which is expected when the rains arrive in early summer. Zika is here to stay, at least for a while, health and mosquito control officials said, in part because of South Florida’s tropical climate and the large number of visitors and residents from countries like Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and the United States territory of Puerto Rico.

SILLY ARTICLE OF THE DAY – ARE FLORIDA’S POLITICAL PARTIES RELEVANT ANYMORE? via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times –On the Republican side, state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia … is trying to hold his $115,000-a-year party chairmanship from Sarasota state Committeeman Christian Ziegler, who insists the state GOP needs a full-time chief. Underlying fissures represented in that race include friction between Republican state senators and state House members, Trump loyalists versus Republicans skeptical of him, and an unprecedented split between the state party and the state’s most important Republican, Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018

… the Florida GOP under Ingoglia’s chairmanship is Exhibit A for why the job doesn’t mean much anymore. Scott has almost nothing to do with the party because two years ago its grassroots members snubbed him and elected Ingoglia chairman over his preferred candidate. GOP state senators also have little to do with the party. To them, Ingoglia is a representative in the lower chamber. They don’t want to entrust their Florida Senate campaign funds to a party seen as controlled by the boss of Ingoglia’s day job, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Once widely viewed as the most formidable state Republican Party in America, the RPOF has been so strapped for money in recent years that the Republican National Committee intervened to pay most of its employees.

>>>That last line is technically true but does not tell the whole story. The RPOF’s long-term staff — the employees who were there before the campaign cycle heated up and are still working today — is paid for by the RPOF; what the RNC paid for is the presidential cycle hiring spree the party goes on every four years to support its national nominee.

MIAMI-DADE DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEEMAN RESIGNS, MAKING WAY FOR NEW PARTY ELECTION via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Miami-Dade Committeeman Bret Berlin emailed Democratic Executive Committee members his resignation Saturday afternoon. The local party will now call a new election, which will allow several candidates to seek the position — and later the state party chairmanship. Among those candidates is expected to be Coconut Grove developer and party fundraiser Stephen Bittel, who wants to head the state party but was ineligible to run for a county party seat earlier this week. He’s now eligible to vie for the vacancy left by Berlin. Candidates for state party chair must hold a position with a county party … Three other Miami-Dade Democrats — former local party chairs Annette Taddeo Goldstein and Dwight Bullard, and former state Sen. Dan Gelber — had also expressed interest in the job … Taddeo Goldstein will be ineligible to try to fill Berlin’s post because party rules require a male Democrat to serve as committeeman. (There’s also a committeewoman.) And Gelber may be uninterested in challenging Bittel, who seems to have the quiet backing of Florida’s only Democrat elected statewide, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. “My service to the Party has never been about me,” wrote Berlin, who’s been committeeman for 12 years. “We have four capable candidates in Miami-Dade who could each do an amazing job as FDP Chair, and I will gladly work beside any one of them as they run for State Chair.”

— “Potential FDP chair candidate surrounded by question marks” via Kartik Krishnaiyer of the Florida Squeeze

IAN WHITNEY: A ROADMAP FOR REFORMING THE FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY for Florida Politics – A lot has changed in the past 40 years, but not the FDP. Today, with minor modifications, the FDP operates under the same set of rules and a party structure developed in 1976. The past two statewide elections should serve as a wake-up call that we cannot continue to operate this way and remain relevant as a party, and that we need to face the reality that what worked in 1976 does not always work in 2016. It is past time to implement reforms to make the FDP more inclusive and effective, and this begins with how we select our leaders

… First, we should elect FDP leadership at a statewide convention made-up of delegates representing each of the state’s 67 counties. Delegates to the state convention would be elected in each county, with the number of delegates determined by Democratic performance in the prior election. Second, we need to change the FDP’s antiquated bylaws to allow any registered Florida Democrat to serve in leadership positions within the party, including as FDP Chair. We cannot continue to elect our party’s leadership by exploiting a loophole that usually requires the resignation of a valuable local leader. Third, the Florida Democratic Party’s State Executive Committee is too large to function effectively and fulfill its duties of providing oversight and setting policy. This needs to change. All three of these proposals to reform the FDP could be implemented individually, but together have the potential to bring thousands of Democrats from across Florida into the process at both the local and state levels. If necessary, we should work with Republicans to change state statute to give political parties more flexibility in determining their own organizational structure (something they would likely appreciate, too).

JOE GRUTERS RE-ELECTED AS SARASOTA GOP CHAIRMAN via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – It was just the latest in a string of victories for Gruters, who seemed to have the golden touch this year after winning a seat in the state House, helping Donald Trump win Florida as his state co-chairman and watching Republicans get elected up and down the ballot in Sarasota County. Gruters, 39, noted that when he took over as party leader in 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain won Sarasota County by just 211 votes. This year Trump won Sarasota by more than 26,000 votes. “It is unbelievable what we’ve accomplished here in Sarasota County and it’s all of us,” Gruters, a Sarasota accountant, said. Gruters has attracted attention for bringing in prominent GOP leaders for speaking engagements and rallies. “He put us on the national stage,” said Venice Republican Cynthia Crowe said of Gruters. Under Gruters’ leadership the Sarasota GOP twice made Trump its “Statesman of the Year.” The awards raised eyebrows among those who considered Trump a divisive figure and a fringe player within the GOP at the time, but Gruters proved prescient about the billionaire’s appeal to the party’s base.

AL LAWSON AIDE CLAIMS ‘IDENTITY THEFT’ IN CASE OF MISSING STIMULUS FUNDS via William Patrick of – Questions relating to The Emperor Organization Inc., a defunct Tallahassee nonprofit that disappeared after being awarded $750,000 in federal stimulus grants, appear to be resolved … The organization failed to submit required documentation detailing and justifying the use of the federal handouts. Upon review, appropriate documents also had not been filed with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Small Business Administration. Watchdog spoke with Derron M. Bennett, who remains listed as the inactive nonprofit’s president and registered agent according to the Florida Department of State … Bennett said he had been the victim of identity theft and did not know what happened to the grant money. He said he was not involved with the organization in any way. Bennett said Alix Taylor, the organization’s director and his former girlfriend, had used his identity to obtain the funding. Court documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida show that Jan. 9, 2014, Taylor signed a guilty plea for wire fraud. The plea states that she used $394,000 of government funding to purchase a Tallahassee apartment building. The money was administered through the Small Business Administration’s microloan program. The Emperor Organization was supposed to use the money to issue loans to women, low-income individuals and minorities who were having difficulty obtaining business capital from banks during the Great Recession.

PROSECUTION MOTIONS DELINEATE STRATEGY AGAINST CORRINE BROWN via Kent Justice of WJXT – Two motions filed this week by federal prosecutors in the corruption case against Brown offer a hint at the government’s trial strategy … Brown’s attorney, James Smith, has said that he will ask the court to admit character evidence on Brown’s behalf, meaning he will want witnesses to testify to Brown’s character, and not directly to the case. The prosecution filed a motion to exclude “inadmissible character evidence” by both defendants. “The United States anticipates that Brown and Simmons will seek to introduce evidence addressing their character and purported good works, including while Brown was a member of the United States House of Representatives and Simmons was Brown’s chief of staff,” the filing said. Brown, in particular, has stated publicly and through her counsel in Court that she intends to present all of the ‘good’ she has done over the years as a member of Congress

DOZENS OF FLORIDA POLITICAL COMMITTEES BEING FUELED BY MILLIONS IN ‘DARK MONEY’ via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – A Times-Union analysis of the nearly 1,000 political committees active in Florida found that one out of every seven committees are operating in the shadows. Even after combing through public records, various state databases and internet search results, it’s difficult to pinpoint why these committees were created or whom they are intended to benefit. While their income and expenses are reported, the details of those expenditures are not. Also left unclear is who exactly is calling the shots. … Requirements to divulge the purpose of a political committee go ignored. Names, addresses and phone numbers listed on disclosure forms often lead nowhere. So while the requirements here are more stringent, Florida voters can still be left in the dark. Florida’s biggest dark money committees are frequently interrelated, passing money to each other in ways that make the elections process here even murkier. Of the 10 dark money committees in Florida that raised the most money from 2014 to November 2016, the most recent election cycle, eight have financial connections to one another and the Republican Party. In that time, at least $2.2 million flowed between them. Public records tell some of the story about Florida’s political committees. But information is found in multiple state databases that must be searched individually and pieced together. Even then, pertinent information that would help voters understand a committee’s role in any particular race can be elusive.

FRANK ARTILES FILES TO RUN FOR RE-ELECTION IN 2018 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Artiles won his Senate District 40 seat in November, defeating Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard, a longtime Miami-Dade lawmaker. Artiles received 51 percent of the vote, compared to Bullard’s 41 percent. The Miami Republican will serve as the chairman of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities committee during the 2016-18 term. He’s also the vice-chairman of the Government Oversight and Accountability committee, and scored a seat on two appropriations subcommittees. In the Florida House, Reps. Cord ByrdJason FischerDavid SilversNicholas Xavier DuranDaisy Baez, and Robert Asencio have all filed for re-election.

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REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS HAVE BIG PLANS FOR FLORIDA’S UNIQUE PROCESS TO REVISE CONSTITUTION via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Florida is the only state that requires a citizen panel to be assembled every two decades to review and update its most important legal document, the state constitution. The 37-member Constitutional Revision Commission has extraordinary power — to put amendments directly onto the 2018 ballot, without legislative or court review, unlike any other proposal … But unlike 20 years ago, when Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed half of the commission and the Republican-controlled Legislature appointed the other half, the current hand-selected panel is expected to lean conservative and advance more ideologically conservative proposals than either of the previous two constitutional commissions, which convened in 1977-78 and 1997-98. Republican Gov. Scott will appoint 15 members of the panel, including its chair. Speaker Corcoran … and Senate President Negron … each have nine appointees. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga will appoint three members and Attorney General Pam Bondi is automatically a member.

Negron said that when he selects his appointees to the commission, he won’t look at their political affiliation but he will look at their character and select them based on three factors: do they have sound judgment, come from a “diverse background of life experiences” and share his core values … Corcoran also has criteria for the powerful panel. He wants his appointees to have past elective experience so they know the game as it relates to putting issues before voters. He will reject anyone who is a traditional “special interest” lobbyist, but he is open to consider people who are single-issue advocates. “Absolutely there is a litmus test,” he said. “I will not choose one selection that is not a conservative. Conservatives get the separation of powers. Conservatives understand the three roles of the three branches.”

SENATE GEARS UP FOR FIRST COMMITTEE WEEK – Today also starts the first Senate committee week for the 2017 Legislative Session. Most agendas this week include formalities like “Welcome and introductions,” “Introduction of committee staff,” and “Overview of the committee’s jurisdiction.” But there are at least a couple of high-profile meetings. On Tuesday, state Sen. Dana Young’s Health Policy committee will convene a workshop on “Implementation of Florida Constitutional Amendment 2 (2016) – Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions.” Then on Thursday, Sen. Jack Latvala’s Appropriations Committee gets a presentation from legislative chief economist Amy Baker on the state’s Long-Range Financial Outlook. Baker’s presentation to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission in September disclosed that Florida was headed into the red. Income and outgo estimates showed Florida with a scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue for 2017-18, and deficits forecast for later years.

RANDOLPH BRACY INTENDS TO BE AGGRESSIVE TOWARD REFORM AS SENATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMITTEE CHAIR via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – The Orlando-area Democrat’s chairmanship, announced … by Republican Senate President Joe Negron, is highly unusual for three reasons: because Bracy is a Democrat, a freshman senator and an African-American. The appointment signaled Negron’s desire to reach across the aisle, and to take concerns about criminal justice seriously, finding a black lawmaker with deep interest and experience in the subject. The appointment came after Negron and Bracy had several conversations about how the Democrat might fit into the president’s senate. “I don’t think it’s every happened, especially on the Criminal Justice Committee,” Bracy said of his chairmanship. “It’s a really big deal, not only as an African-American but as a Democrat. I’m honored and humbled.” Senate Democrats say Bracy is just the second African-American chairman of a full committee. The first was Jim Hargrett of Tampa who chaired the Transportation Committee and the Tourism, Trade and Economic Development Committee in the 1990s. Hargrett also chaired a select committee on juvenile justice reform. Race had nothing to do with the appointment, Negron said. He said he followed Bracy’s work in the house and had high regard for him based on his reputation, and their interactions, and spoke several times with Bracy this fall about how he could fit into the Senate. Bracy expressed strong interest in criminal justice. While the Criminal Justice Committee leadership was a highly sought-after post, Negron found he had confidence in Bracy. “I thought Sen. Bracy made a strong case based on his interest in that policy area, and as you can see from his committee assignments [which also include appropriations, banking and insurance, judiciary and regulated industries] he has a wide range of committee assignments which reflect my confidence in capabilities,” Negron said.

NEW RICHARD CORCORAN VIDEO INCLUDES TELEPHONE NUMBER FOR CANADIAN ESCORT SERVICE via Matt Dixon of POLITICO – The newest video explains how a piece of legislation is “like a pizza.” At the end, there is a picture of pizza boxes piling up — like bills — on Gov. Scott’s desk that include the telephone number 604-111-1118. That telephone number is associated with a handful of escort service ads in Vancouver. “My name is Sherry. I am an all-natural sexy ASIAN beauty,” read one ad that includes the telephone number. “I am here to indulge your fantasies and to fulfill your desires What do you want?” … A House spokesman said it was a stock image used when producing the video, and was not “added by the House staff.”

GUN DEBATE WILL BE A TEST FOR FSU’S JOHN THRASHER via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — Really, does anyone imagine there aren’t guns in a few backpacks at Florida colleges and universities already? If you don’t like guns, are you going to start carrying one anyway if they change the law? If you’re carrying one illegally now, are you going to stop if the pending bill fails? Will anyone be safer if a classmate or professor has a concealed weapon? Permit holders have to be law-abiding citizens who go through training, but is each of them an incipient Rambo ready to save the day when some lunatic attacks – or to stop an armed robbery? We have seen some examples like the recent Ohio State stabbing attack, the kid slashing some knives in a circle of students at a Nevada school, and the midnight shooting at FSU’s library a couple of years ago. Fast, armed intervention resolved those issues – but they were handled by police, not armed passers-by. “I opposed it. I killed it. I have worked against it since then,” FSU President Thrasher said of the gun bill last week in his annual “State of the University” speech. “And you have my promise that I will work against it this year, also.” He also spent a year as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. In other words, a big deal. When Thrasher said “I killed it,” that didn’t mean his one vote outweighed all 39 others in the Senate and 120 in the House, it’s just that … well, yes, it did. But that was then. Thrasher can now lobby the Legislature, but he can’t pass or kill big bills any more.

LAWMAKERS COULD TACKLE “TAMPON TAX” IN 2017 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Rep. Katie Edwards filed a bill in November that would exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products from Florida’s sales tax. The Plantation Democrat said she began thinking about the filing a bill last year, after listening to a debate about a wide-ranging tax cut package and receiving “periods are not luxury emails.” … “The more I listened to the debate and the questions … (I thought) this is a worthy issue,” she said. “It’s not something you choose. It’s just something that a lot of consumers and taxpayers need and purchase.” … The majority of states currently tax feminine hygiene products, according to a June report by the Council of State Governments. Only a handful — including Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — have exempted these products from sales tax. The report noted the push to exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products comes “amid criticism the tax unfairly affects women.” Supporters of the exemption have argued the products should “be treated like other medical necessities, which are currently tax exempt in most states.” For Edwards, this isn’t a man versus woman issue. Her male colleagues all have wives, mothers, daughters, or sisters who could benefit from the exemption. She’s hopeful that instead of it becoming a battle of the sexes, it becomes part of any conversation about tax cuts this year.

EMILY SLOSBERG FILES BILL TO STRENGTHEN TEXTING WHILE DRIVING LAW via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Two bills have already been filed in the Florida House aimed at beefing up the state’s texting while driving ban. The first — House Bill 47, sponsored by Reps. Richard Stark and Slosberg — removes language from state law that makes texting while driving a secondary offense, and increase penalties for someone caught using their device in a school zone. The second bill — House Bill 69, sponsored by Slosberg — makes texting while driving a primary offense for juvenile drivers. The state OK’d legislation in 2013 making it illegal to read or type text messages while driving. There were exceptions of course: Wireless devices could be used for GPS or reporting criminal behavior. And you can use them when the vehicle is stopped. But lawmakers made texting while driving a secondary offense, making it difficult for law enforcement officers to ticket offenders. That’s because someone first needs to be pulled over for a different traffic infraction, like speeding or not wearing a seat belt, before they can issue a citation for texting and driving.

PALM BEACH POST CLOSES CAPITAL BUREAU, LAYS OFF JOHN KENNEDY via Jim Rosica of Florida PoliticsThe Post’s last remaining capital reporter posted on Facebook that he’s no longer working for the paper: It has shuttered its Tallahassee bureau. Kennedy, a Capitol Press Corps veteran who nonetheless kept an impressive head of hair, announced the news Friday on Facebook—15 days before Christmas. “The paper’s future is local and digital, and coverage of the goings-on in the state Capitol don’t meld as well with this direction,” he wrote. Post managing editor Nick Moschella told “it was a difficult decision to part with a journalist as talented and professional” as Kennedy. “While it’s increasingly critical to devote our staff to local coverage, we intend to maintain to the best of our ability a reporting connection and presence in Tallahassee.” Moschella said he asked Kennedy to return temporarily to cover the 2017 Legislative Session.

MEANWHILE, THE TAMPA BAY TIMES LOSES A PULITZER WINNER who exposed the deplorable conditions at Florida’s unsafe system of state-run mental hospitals. Buzzfeed News is poaching Anthony Cormier from the Times to join its Investigative Unit.

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WHAT CHRIS HUDSON IS READING – SPENDING MILLIONS ON PITBULL, SOCCER TEAM AND RACE CAR WORTH IT, SAYS VISIT FLORIDA CEO via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – “I don’t even know why we’re in that business,” said Speaker Corcoran … about the role Visit Florida plays in marketing the state’s tourism industry. The president and CEO of the agency, however, told the Herald/Times that Visit Florida’s spending choices have been strategic and crucial in maintaining the state as a top tourism draw in a competitive marketplace. “Everything we do is based on strategy and research,” Will Seccombe said. Seccombe acknowledged he had some regrets about parts of the deals but said there was a rationale for each one. The Pitbull deal was essential in reaching millennials, who are less enamored of Florida as a travel destination than previous generations, he said. The soccer team and race car were gambits in securing Florida’s place in the minds of Europeans. Seccombe said each decision the agency has made was based on financial research that led to record tourism visits and, more importantly, record spending by visitors. For proof of his agency’s effectiveness, Seccombe points to the growth in the number of Florida tourists: from 82 million to more than 106 million since 2009. The growth in tourist spending grew at an even faster clip — 169 percent — than the number of tourists — 29 percent.

WILL LAKE O RESERVOIR HAPPEN? IT PROMISES TO BE A BLOODY BUDGET BATTLE via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – The fight comes down to this: Spend more, or cut plenty. Senate President Negron … whose district includes part of northern Palm Beach County, has already outlined plans for state lawmakers to endorse a couple of dramatic – and pricy — proposals next year. Negron wants to pour $1 billion more into Florida’s 12 public universities, cash he says that will help schools compete with what he called “elite, destination” universities, including the University of Virginia and University of North Carolina. But Negron doesn’t stop there. He’s also intent on borrowing $1.2 billion as Florida’s share of a $2.4 billion state-federal effort to buy 60,000 acres, mostly in western Palm Beach County, for a reservoir to cleanse flood water discharges from Lake Okeechobee, which now foul the Indian River Lagoon and other waterways. His counterpart in leadership, House Speaker Corcoran … has said little about Negron’s goals. But, Corcoran’s own priority darkens Negron’s chances. “We will will…reduce spending, in a significant way,” Corcoran vowed … But the outcome of Monday’s Revenue Estimating Conference, whose members include economists from the governor’s office and Legislature, will go a long way toward deciding how bloody the fight may prove.

DYING ON THE VINE? FLORIDA’S SHRIVELING AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY CAN’T SHAKE THE FALL OF CITRUS, LOSS OF LAND via Alli Knothe and Jeff Harrington of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida has a long and rich agricultural history, a bond so ingrained in the state’s identity that the venerated orange emblazons the state’s license plate. But decades of an accelerated decline have taken a toll, and agriculture has now shriveled to the point that it’s no longer a major part of the state’s economy. The citrus greening disease has obliterated roughly 75 percent of the state’s orange and grapefruit crop. Farmers specializing in tomatoes, berries and cattle have lost ground to other states and countries. Big Sugar production has been stagnant in Florida amid continued global competition and the emergence of Louisiana as a player. And as family farms look to pass on to the next generation, the high cost of business has convinced more farmers and ranchers to simply give up and sell to developers, who have gobbled up 1 million acres of farmland in the last 10 years alone. Agriculture, tourism and construction used to be the three legs that held up Florida’s economy. Agriculture, however, has been the most politically influential … Adam Putnam, and promoters like the Florida Farm Bureau still trumpet agriculture as the state’s second-largest industry, one pumping more than $120 billion a year into the economy. But that’s perpetuating a rural myth. The reality: Crops and livestock — the essence of the agricultural industry — now account for less than 1 percent of the state’s economy (about $6 billion a year according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis) and their relative contribution has been dropping fast. Just since the early 2000s, the value of agriculture as a share of the state economy has been nearly cut in half. “It’s not much of a factor at all,” said Hector Sandoval who heads economic analysis for the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Farmers are seeing the industry’s decline as their peers vanish. “There used to be 55 major (independent) tomato growers in Florida,” said Frank Diehl, owner of a sprawling 1,600-acre tomato farm in Wimauma. “Now there’s two or three.”

STATE’S ORANGE ESTIMATE HOLDS STEADY via Kevin Bouffard of – The 2016-17 Florida orange crop stayed steady at 72 million boxes, unchanged from November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported … That’s despite the fact that fruit size for early and mid-season varieties, estimated at 36 million boxes, remains the smallest in the past 10 seasons while the projected pre-harvest drop rate will be the highest over that time. Size of the late-season Valencias, also estimated at 36 million boxes, is below the 10-year average while drop is close to the highest over the period. The USDA reduced the projected Florida grapefruit crop by 3 percent to 9.3 million boxes, from November, also because of small size and high drop rates. It also dropped the expected tangerine and tangelo harvest by 3 percent to 1.5 million boxes because of size and drop.

SUNSHINE LAW INVOKED IN ARGUMENTS OVER WORKERS’ COMP RATE INCREASE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The public will suffer irreparable harm unless a state appeal court stays Florida’s 14.5 percent increase in workers’ compensation insurance premiums, attorneys challenging the increase said in court papers this week. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, “cannot possibly demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing on appeal with respect to the trial court’s detailed, well-reasoned 73-page final judgment, which is founded upon fundamental open-government principles of Florida law,” plaintiffs’ attorney John Shubin argued. Furthermore, NCCI, which proposes workers’ compensation insurance rates for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, “cannot possibly show that any irreparable harm would occur if the stay were not granted,” he continued. “To the contrary, where (as here) open government violations have been established, the public — whose interest is furthered through the final judgment — is presumed to have suffered irreparable harm and the requested stay would permit such harm to continue,” Shubin wrote. “The requested stay is entirely at odds with the public interest,” he added. The attorney filed the pleading … with the 1st District Court of Appeal. That court has already granted a stay of Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Geivers’ ruling Nov. 23 that NCCI and the insurance office had violated Florida’s Sunshine Law in calculating the premium increase.

THE WORST STORY YOU’LL READ TODAY – DCF: ‘DEPLORABLE’ CONDITIONS FILLED HOME WHERE GIRL STARVED TO DEATH via Olivia Hitchcock of the Palm Beach Post – You could smell the Aleman house from the end of the driveway. Inside, feces were smeared on the living room walls, flies swarmed the kitchen trash can and moldy clothes doubled as blankets. Ten children, two adults and two dogs called that three-bedroom 2,100-square-foot house home until the littlest Aleman, Tayla, starved to death there in early April. Tayla at 13 months old weighed less than when she was born. She had E. coli, multiple strains of influenza, the start of pneumonia and a bacteria known to cause skin infections … She was living in filth. State and county records detail the home’s “deplorable living conditions.” Hours after Tayla died, officials stumbled over pieces of broken glass and stepped around buildups of mold to gather Tayla’s nine siblings. The nine Aleman kids — and one more who was born after Tayla’s death — are in state custody, the Florida Department of Children and Families said. Their parents, Alejandro Aleman and Kristen Meyer-Aleman, are in the Palm Beach County Jail facing first-degree murder, child abuse and animal cruelty charges. The State Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty for both parents. In November 2015, the last time DCF employees would see the Aleman children before Tayla died, an investigator wrote that the Loxahatchee home was clean and had beds in each of the three bedrooms. Five or so months later, DCF employees entered a shockingly different home. They said it was too cramped and far too cluttered for the number of people living there. Sheriff’s officials who were also at the scene repeatedly noted the smell, a pungent blend of feces and urine. The odor “overwhelmed” the home, a sheriff’s office report states.

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Oscar Anderson, Southern Strategy Group: Acculynk; Pioneer Technology Group

William Barrett, Sewell Point Group: S&L Nursery

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: LaunchCode

Brittany Birken: Florida Children’s Council

Dean Cannon, Katie Flury, GrayRobinson: Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind; Lee County Board of Commissioners; National Council Boy Scouts of America; University of Central Florida Foundation

Kate Cotner: Indian River County Board of County Commissioners

Angela Dempsey, Sophie Smith, PooleMcKinley: Wine Institute

Kevin Doyle, Wexford Strategies: Ocean 5 Naval Architects

Michael Glazer, Ausley & McMullen: San Felasco Nurseries

Cory Guzzo, Floridian Partners: FCCI Insurance Group

Chris Hansen, Ballard Partners: Life Changing Experiences Ltd.

Yolanda Jackson, Becker & Poliakoff: League of Southeastern Credit Unions

Jerry McDaniel, Southern Strategy Group: Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society; Union Supply Company

James McKee, Foley & Lardner: San Felasco Nurseries

Scott Ross, Capital City Consulting: School Board of Brevard County

— “Lobbyists are filing paperwork, but what will it tell us?” via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union

SPOTTED at the Governor’s Mansion on Friday for Rick and Anne Scott’s Christmas party: Bob Asztalos, Brian Ballard, Taylor Biehl, Ellyn and Dean Cannon, Chris Carmody, Tim Cerio, John Costello, Carol Dover, Tre Evers, Marty Fiorentino, Jillian and Adam Hasner, Robert Hawken, Rich Heffley, Brecht Heuchan, John Holley, Fred Karlinsky, Kristen Knapp, Frank Kruppenbacher, Senator George LeMieux, Ann and Joe Mitchell, Carrie O’Rourke, Jimmy Patronis, Emmett Reed and his three children, Emma Lea, Everett, and Abigail, Marc Reichelderfer, Ashley and Scott Ross, Danielle Scroggins, Melody Sellis, Jim Deneff, Rick Singh (huh?), Heather Turnbull, Jason Unger, Mary Beth and Ryan Tyson.

SPOTTED at Alan Suskey’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Party benefitting four local National Guard families: Jeremy Branch, Erin Choy, Nicole Haggerty and Richard Reeves, Michael Johnson, Melissa and David Ramba.

LOCAL RESTAURANT MANAGER SOUNDS OFF ABOUT “OFFENSIVE” CHRISTMAS MUSIC NOTE ON RECEIPT via Janny Rodriguez and Neal Bennett of First Coast News – Radio stations spend the entire month of December playing Christmas music. It’s hard to avoid this time of year. For most people, it puts them in the holiday spirit. But one St. Augustine restaurant manager and chef says a customer’s note was more Grinch than Santa last week. The note on the back of the receipt at Michael Tasting Room from a customer read “Christmas music was offensive. Consider playing holiday music or less religious themed.” … “My server in concern had to show me that and it was really like what is going on in this world? So we posted it.” Chef Michel Lugo told First Coast News. Lugo decided to make his response public, on Facebook. His statement “Really…what’s wrong with people.” … “It’s all about celebration of family celebration of gathering with friends and people and it’s a tradition. It’s not about a religion it’s not about anything else. I am a Christian but I don’t push that as my agenda I think that Christmas is Christmas.” Lugo said.

FAMILY, FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES GATHER FOR JANET RENO MEMORIAL via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press – Former President Bill Clinton says ex-Attorney General Reno never took the easy way out when making the tougher decision was the right thing to do. Clinton delivered a eulogy at a memorial service Sunday for Reno, who died Nov. 7 at age 78. Clinton appointed her the nation’s first female attorney general. Clinton says Reno was unafraid to take responsibility if decisions turned out wrong. Current U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says Reno was a trailblazer for women and minority lawyers. The service took place at a Miami-Dade College campus not far from the longtime Reno family home, where Reno died of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY SHOUT OUT: Big milestone for the indefatigable Dominic Calabro. The president and CEO of the non-profit research group Florida TaxWatch turned the big Six-Oh on Sunday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY from this weekend to Justin Hollis. Celebrating today are Dick Batchelor and Roger Chapin.

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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