Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 1

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

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the public affairs firm known for unparalleled relationships and winning strategies: Sometimes the simplest acts can launch historic change. One of the nation’s most important such acts took place on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks, an African-American seamstress, refused to give up her seat to a white man aboard a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks was arrested, sparking a year-long bus boycott by blacks, inspiring the civil rights movement and triggering similar protests in other Southern communities. One of these was in Tallahassee, where the arrest of two Florida A&M students began a two-year legal battle that eventually ended segregated buses in Florida’s capital city. Today Parks is honored across the Sunshine State – her name adorns bus terminals from Jacksonville to Fort Myers, as well as numerous highways and schools across the state.

Now, on to the burn…

GATHERING HINTS AT SHOWDOWN AWAITING GOP IN 2016 via the Associated Press

A half-dozen potential Republican presidential contenders spent last week peacocking across the sprawling grounds of a pink-hued luxury resort, schmoozing with donors and sizing up the competition in the party’s most fractured field in decades.

They rarely criticized each other in public, but there were subtle jabs.

Within hours of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gracing the cover of a magazine in an illustration of him kissing a baby’s head, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggested the party needs bold leaders, not showmen.

“We have enough politicians who try to be celebrities and kiss babies and cut ribbons,” Jindal said.

Whether it was an intentional shot at Christie or not, the looming 2016 contest changed the context of every speech, interview and panel discussion at the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference. The summit at the oceanside Boca Raton Resort & Club felt like a test run for what is increasingly shaping up to be a brutal showdown for the GOP presidential nomination among more than a dozen potential contenders, including a cluster of governors.

In contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton has spent recent weeks basking in the glows of grandmotherhood and applause at a few public events — without any major challenger for the Democratic nod, should she choose to pursue it.

While the potential GOP field appears stronger than four years ago, the Republicans are without a front-runner.

ICYMI: QUINNIPIAC POLL OF 2016: JEB BUSH 14%, CHRIS CHRISTIE 11% AND BEN CARSON 9% Full story here

Republican voters nationwide look toward 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney to get back in the game for 2016, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll.

Voters give the former Massachusetts governor the top rank at 19 percent in an early glimpse of the 2016 presidential race. Romney continues to insist he will not seek the White House for a third time.

With Romney out of the race, however, former Gov. Jeb Bush leads with 14 percent, followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 11 percent. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a conservative Tea Party favorite, gets 9 percent, while U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky gets 8 percent. Another 19 percent remain undecided.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the person to beat in the Democratic field, getting 57 percent of voters, followed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 13 percent; Vice President Joe Biden takes 9 percent; 14 percent are undecided.

If Clinton does not run, polling shows Biden gets 34 percent, followed by Warren, who receives 25 percent.

In hypothetical matchups, Clinton falls behind Romney by 1 point, and is five points or less ahead of Christie (43 to 42 percent), Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan (46 to 42 percent), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (46 to 41 percent) and Paul (46 to 41 percent). Clinton also bests Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by 11 points (48 to 37 percent).

A 2016 BALLOT WITHOUT HILLARY CLINTON OR JEB BUSH? via Steve Rose of the Kansas City Star

Charlie Cook, one of the most respected political experts in the country, believes Hillary Rodham Clinton has only a 25-30 percent chance of running for president, and in any case he thinks she is either “rusty” or “she has lost her fastball.” He bases that on her disastrous book tour, in which she said some very inappropriate things and also did not sell many books.

The author of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report newsletter for almost 30 years also disappointed a local audience when he did not give Jeb Bush much of a chance of gaining the Republican nomination.

“Bush has two issues working against him to win the Republican primary for the 2016 presidential election,” Cook said. “One is immigration reform, which he favors; and two, is his advocacy of education reform.”

Neither of those causes would sit well with Republican primary voters, Cook said.

He expects the next Republican nominee to be either a tea party senator or a governor from the Midwest. He wouldn’t predict beyond that.

Cook spoke at a recent private event, which I attended. He told me beforehand that all was on the record, unless he stipulated otherwise, which he did only once. He led off his speech with remarks about Kansas and Missouri politics.

The key to Pat Roberts winning re-election, Cook said, was when they brought in the big-league professionals to take over the incumbent’s floundering campaign.

PATRICK MURPHY’S KEYSTONE VOTE SURPRISES SOME TREASURE COAST ENVIRONMENTALISTS via Ayana Stewart of TCPalm.com

Patrick Murphy is known for advocating for local environmental issues. That’s why some of his supporters are questioning his continued support of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

In July, the Treasure Coast’s Democratic congressman introduced a bill to fund the restoration and protection of the Indian River Lagoon. In September, he drafted legislation to provide incentives for increasing zero carbon dioxide emissions.

But on Nov. 14, he became Florida’s only House Democrat to vote in favor of the oil pipeline.

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GOV. RICK SCOTT TO KICK OFF JOBS-THEMED VICTORY TOUR via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

For Scott, Chateaubriand steak is out and beef brisket is in.

The re-elected governor is dispensing with formal inauguration events in Tallahassee and instead is holding a “Jobs Jamboree” with several working-class-focused barbecues around the state starting next week.

That’s a departure from 2011, when $3 million was raised for a dozen events, including a $95-per-plate black-tie gala.

“These jobs-themed events will be informal evening barbecues hosted by Florida businesses and will highlight some of the state’s job creators,” according to a press release from the Republican Party of Florida.

The first is at Boeing Co.’s campus in Virginia Gardens, just west of downtown Miami, at 6 p.m. Monday. The event is open and free to the public, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Scott’s pivot to barbecue from black-tie isn’t surprising. He’s a multi-millionaire former hospital chain executive who spent at least $83 million of his and his family’s money on his two campaigns.

But he’s also been relentless in talking about expanding educational opportunities and jobs for middle- and working-class Floridians.

Other barbecues are slated for Jacksonville, Lake Mary, Scott’s hometown of Naples, Pensacola and Tampa, the release said. Details for those have not yet been released.

FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL’S CONTACT WITH PAM BONDI’S OFFICE RAISES QUESTIONS via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

When the cruise line Royal Caribbean sought to amend a 1997 consumer protection agreement with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, it hired a lawyer familiar with the agency’s inner workings.

Former Attorney General Bill McCollum called on the staff of his successor, Pam Bondi. Six months after the June 2013 meeting, Bondi’s office granted McCollum’s request.

Royal Caribbean’s advertised rates would no longer have to include fees for services like baggage handling and loading cargo. The fees, which can inflate a trip’s cost by more than $100, could be listed separately from the company’s advertised rates.

On at least two other occasions, McCollum met with Bondi’s staff to discuss two more clients — NJOY, an e-cigarette company, and HealthFair, which sells health screenings from mobile clinics.

McCollum isn’t just Bondi’s predecessor; he also leads the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has championed Bondi’s advancement.

McCollum served as vice or acting chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based group from June 2012 to January 2014, records show. During that period it contributed $650,000 to Bondi’s re-election campaign, more than 10 percent of what she raised, and chipped in another $16,000 in gifts so she could attend conferences with other Republican attorneys general.

When asked what role he had in those expenditures, McCollum said the staff, not the board, decides how campaign contributions are made. He didn’t address the gifts.

McCollum and Bondi’s deputy attorney general Patricia Conners said his access to her office has nothing to do with his connections.

ICYMI: HERSCHEL VINYARD ANNOUNCES HE’S LEAVING DEP, INTERIM REPLACEMENT NAMED via Bruce Ritchie of FloridaEnvironments.com

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. told Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday that he is leaving the department on Dec. 1.

Vinyard, who has lived in Tallahassee while commuting to his Jacksonville home on weekends since being appointed in 2011, was expected to leave following Scott’s re-election on Nov. 4. The governor named DEP Deputy Secretary Clifford Wilson as interim secretary.

DEP and Scott faced criticism from environmentalists during Vinyard’s tenure, although the department has been at odds with some environmental groups for many years.

In his resignation letter, Vinyard congratulated Scott on his re-election and praised the governor’s “solutions-based leadership style.” Vinyard was a Jacksonville ship-building executive who served on Scott’s transition committee in 2010.

Possible replacements for Vinyard include Wilson, DEP General Counsel Matt Leipold and Jon Steverson, whom Scott appointed as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District in 2012.

Vinyard told Scott that during his four years at DEP the department had improved Everglades water quality while ending a legal dispute with the federal government and also had adopted the most comprehensive nutrient reduction program in the country. Most environmentalists support the Everglades agreement but some groups still say the nutrient program includes too many loopholes for polluters.

ADVOCATES MAKE EARLY PITCH FOR TELEHEALTH via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald

Some of Florida’s most influential healthcare groups are urging state lawmakers to expand the use of telehealth — web and videoconferencing technology that allows doctors and other healthcare specialists to treat patients — as a way to save money and deal with a growing shortage of doctors.

Several powerful institutions, including Baptist Health South Florida, the Florida Hospital Association and Associated Industries of Florida, held a conference in Tallahassee last week to build support for telehealth in advance of the 2015 legislative session.

Baptist Health South Florida Vice President Phillis Oeters said telehealth programs had saved Baptist $18 million — and reduced the mortality rate by 40 percent.

“It’s saving lives, saving money,” Oeters said. “All hospitals need to have the flexibility to be innovative and have these kinds of programs. They are transforming the health-care industry.”

Business leaders are also on board.

“The Florida Chamber believes telemedicine can help lower overall healthcare costs while providing greater access to care in all corners of our state,” President Mark Wilson wrote in an email. “And with six million more residents on the horizon, millions of new visitors each year, aging physicians, and a lack of health-care professionals, our state needs a better approach to health care — one that is focused on wellness and healthier outcomes with innovations that will make us stronger, healthier and more competitive.”

AMENDMENT 1’S PASSAGE OPENS FLOODGATE OF QUESTIONS ON WATER via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

State lawmakers and other elected officials are calling water policy a priority for next year, but where they’ll go with it remains up in the air.

One reason is the big unknown: how a constitutional amendment voters just passed that mandates spending for land and water conservation will work.

Beyond this, any attempt at a comprehensive policy will have to address myriad concerns and some powerful interests, including pollution from cities’ stormwater runoff and farmers’ fertilizer.

What’s more, the discussion will come against a backdrop that might seem counterintuitive to champions of water conservation: New data from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests the country’s water use overall is tapering off, with numbers at their lowest levels in 40 years.

Florida still managed to use 6.2 billion gallons of fresh water from underground and surface sources such as aquifers and rivers, according to the data. That was in 2010, the most recent year for which the information is available.

The biggest commercial users, at least in Southwest Florida, are still agricultural concerns, which means newly re-elected Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will have a major role in any water policy discussion. Agribusinesses accounted for more than 60 percent of underground water use in 2013, records show.

Another wild card will be who gets appointed to serve as head of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday announced Secretary Herschel Vinyard’s retirement; a successor has not been named. During his four-year tenure, Vinyard has been well regarded by business concerns, less so by environmental groups.

SUPREME COURT DECISION ALLOWS SATELLITE CARD ROOMS FOR DOG TRACKS Full story here

The Florida Supreme Court overturned an appeals court decision by ruling at least two greyhound tracks can operate card rooms without offering live racing.

The ruling allows greyhound permit holders, including one in Palm Beach County, to open satellite card rooms without requiring live racing, as long as it meets certain conditions. Card rooms are now legal at a Palm Beach dog track and the Daytona Beach Kennel Club.

The Sun-Sentinel reports that justices, in reversing the 1st District Court of Appeal ruling, determined the state law was so narrowly written that it applied to only two facilities. That made it a “special” act, and therefore unconstitutional.

Current law gives jai alai permit holders the ability to convert in a county where the state “has issued only two pari-mutuel permits” only if jai alai permits have not previously converted from another class of license. In addition, jai alai games must not have performed there for a minimum of 10 years.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, in his 30-page opinion, agreed with Barry Richard, the attorney representing the Palm Beach greyhound track, who argued lower court mistakenly interpreted the words “only” and “has issued” when reading the statute. Labarga wrote that there is “a reasonable possibility that [the law] could apply to 10 of the 11 jai alai permits in the state.”

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JOE GRUTERS SEEKS RPOF VICE CHAIR Full story here

A GOP candidate will never win the White House without carrying Florida, says Sarasota County Republican Chair Joe Gruters in proclaiming his bid for Republican Party of Florida vice chair.

That is why with “only” two years to prepare for 2016, Gruters says RPOF leaders need strong insight for the future.

“We have a huge election ahead in 2016,” Gruters writes in a lengthy email to state committee members, “and we have shown in Sarasota what it takes to win in competitive races.”

GOP success this November came from pulling together diverse elements, “essential grassroots” efforts – there is that word again – expanded minority outreach programs and raising record amounts of money for Republican candidates. Gruters served as chair of the RPOF Technology Committee

This culminated in a clean sweep of Republicans in the November elections, he added.

Promising to take his “skills and knowledge to the state level,” Gruters vows to ensure “Florida is a red state in the 2016 presidential elections.”  His strategy is in four issues: supporting the chair, winning elections, protect & promote the party’s principles and empowering local leaders.

STUNG BY LOW TURNOUT, DEMOCRATS EYE SHIFTING FLA.’S STATEWIDE ELECTION SCHEDULE via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

After yet another defeat blamed on low voter turnout, some Florida Democrats want to change the rules and elect the governor in the same year voters pick the president — when turnout is always much higher.

In the aftermath of Crist’s narrow loss to Gov. Scott, strategists are plotting how to put an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would shift statewide races back to presidential years, as they were in Florida until 1964.

“Our state leaders should be elected by the greatest number of people,” said Ben Pollara, a Miami strategist who worked on the medical marijuana campaign. “How can you argue that having fewer people participate in the political process is good for the state?”

Crist advisor Kevin Cate wrote an opinion column in favor of shifting statewide elections that got picked up by a liberal blog, The Daily Kos. It launched an online petition that argues: “More Floridians deserve to have their voice heard.” Backers have sought legal guidance from Jon Mills, dean of the University of Florida law school and a former House speaker, who also worked on the medical pot campaign.

The 2014 election was the first Florida midterm in which 6 million people cast ballots, but that figure pales in comparison to the 8.5 million who voted in the 2012 presidential election in Florida.

For Democrats, the call for change is an admission that they can no longer compete with Republicans in statewide races for governor and three down-ballot, powerful Cabinet seats.

TWO FELLOW JAX DEMS GIVE REP. REGGIE FULLWOOD THEIR ENDORSEMENT IN HD 13 RACE Full story here

State Rep. Reggie Fullwood received endorsements from two Jacksonville Democrats on Friday in his bid to keep his seat in House District 13.

State Rep. Mia Jones, from House District 14, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, from Senate District 9, each announced their support of Fullwood.

Fullwood faces Jacksonville City Council member Johnny Gaffney in the Democratic primary set for Dec. 16.  The winner will face Republican Lawrence Jefferson in the Feb. 17 special general election.

Both District 14 and 9 cover downtown Jacksonville and parts of Duval County.

In a statement on Friday, Jones said she has seen ”first-hand the work Reggie Fullwood puts in on behalf of his community during our time together in the state House.”

“Once elected, I know Reggie will continue to fight for our shared Democratic Party values of expanding access to affordable health care, giving working families a raise, and properly funding our public education system,” she added.

Gibson added that few could doubt Fullwood’s commitment to the community.

LENNY CURRY TAKES HIGH ROAD IN HIS FIRST TV SPOT IN JAX MAYOR’S RACE Full story here

In next year’s race for Jacksonville mayor, Lenny Curry is starting out on the high road.

In “Build Something That Lasts” — the first television spot in the race against incumbent Alvin Brown – the former Republican Party of Florida chair offers a positive biographical piece.

The ad features Curry’s father, an electrician, who speaks of his son’s strong work ethic.

“He’s not a politician,” says the elder Curry.

“Lasts” will run until the end of the year. Although his campaign would not disclose the amount of the ad buy, they did confirm to the Florida Times-Union that it was “substantial.”

“Together for a Better Jacksonville,” a political action committee connected to Curry’s campaign, paid for the ad, which began running Nov. 20 on local cable and broadcast affiliates. In an email, “Together” representatives say the PAC “believes Jacksonville deserves better than it currently has and that Lenny Curry has a vision and leadership that will realize Jacksonville’s full potential.”

“We’re sensitive to the fact that people have had plenty of politics in the last few months,” said Curry chief strategist Brian Hughes.

MUST-READ — PAT BAINTER: THE MOST INFLUENTIAL MAN IN FLORIDA GOP POLITICS YOU DON’T KNOW via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

It was after 2 a.m. and Democrat Buddy MacKay was beating Republican Connie Mack by roughly 10,000 votes in the 1988 campaign for Florida’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. The Ocala Star-Banner was ready to call the race.

The next morning, 5,000 copies carried the front-page headline “Hey Buddy, you’re a senator.” It was a play on “Hey Buddy, you’re a liberal,” an attack used by Mack during the campaign. The problem is Mack won after absentee ballots, which were counted last, swung the race by more than 40,000 votes.

“Me and my buddies all went down to Ocala putting quarters in all the paper boxes,” said Pat Bainter, owner of Data Targeting, one of Florida’s biggest GOP political consulting firms. “We wanted as many copies [of the paper] as we could get.”

Bainter’s firm was helping handle the Mack campaign’s data analysis, which put him in a position to understand the tide would turn. Using data is considered common place in the contemporary campaign playbook, but was cutting edge at the time.

“I think his expansion in polling and how to use data, and what the numbers mean, was really a key factor in the firm’s growth,” said Brian Hughes, owner of Meteoric Media Strategies, a political public relations firm that works with Data Targeting on many political campaigns.

A lawsuit claiming the state’s congressional maps are at odds with anti-gerrymandering provisions in the Constitution has cast a searing statewide spotlight on Bainter’s role as sort of a Wizard of Oz in state politics. His firm’s presence can be felt nearly everywhere, but little is known about the man pulling the levers.

That’s by design.

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APPOINTED: Judge Angela Cox to the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court; Dan Casper to the Florida Citrus Commission; Richard Toppino to the Monroe County Housing Authority; Josh Altman to the Hamilton County Memorial Hospital Board; John Garcia to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority; and Julian “Ed” Fouché to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

REAPPOINTED: Ellis Hunt Jr. and Martin McKenna to the Florida Citrus Commission; Aaron Castillo Sr. and Carey Goodman to the Monroe County Housing Authority.

ADAM GIERY, JON MENENDEZ JOIN TAMPA’S STRATEGOS GROUP Full story here

Adam Giery and Jon Menendez are taking on new roles as public affairs principals with Tampa-based public affairs firm Strategos Group.

Giery, one of SaintPeterBlog’s “30 under 30″ rising stars in Florida politics, previously was The Director of Talent, Education and Quality of Life Policies for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Giery has also held positions in Executive Office of the Governor, the Division of Florida Colleges, and the University of Central Florida.

“I’m excited to have Adam join our team,” said Strategos partner Jim Horne. “He is exceptionally bright, a strong advocate for issues and has a great reputation as a young man of capability and integrity.

“I have no doubt that Adam will help strengthen our ability to create client value and extend the reach of our growing firm.”

In his “30 under 30” profile, Giery said he entered politics after a sting as a teacher in public school, when he “quickly realized that we needed to make some serious changes to our state’s education system.”

“I wanted to be a vested stakeholder in the decision-making process of our elected officials and that desire led me to Tallahassee,” he added.

LOGAN MCFADDIN JOINS PCI Full story here

Logan McFaddin is leaving her position as the director of legislative affairs at the Florida Department of Financial Services to join the Property Casualty Insurers Associations of America (PCI). Her final day at DFS was Wednesday, Nov. 26.

In an email to staff, Robert “Budd” Kneip, chief of staff to CFO Jeff Atwater, praised McFaddin for her dedicated service.

“For more than three years,” Kneip said, “Logan has championed our priorities and helped to make the department more efficient, more transparent and better able to serve the people of Florida.”

McFaddin’s new role will be regional manager of government relations at PCI, one of the property-casualty industry’s largest trade associations. PCI represents more than 1,000 member companies, who write over $210 billion in annual premiums. Members support 47 percent of the U.S. auto insurance market and more than a third of the homeowners, commercial property, and private workers compensation market.

Elizabeth Boyd will become new DFS legislative affairs director, after serving as deputy legislative affairs director since 2011.

“Elizabeth’s dynamic presence has served to move our mission forward,” Kneip said. “Elizabeth’s promotion solidifies our commitment to retaining the best and brightest talent available.”

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Jason Allison: Agency for Space Technology

Ron Book: Florida Breast Cancer Foundation

Mario Bailey, Becker & Pollakoff: Women’s Breast Health Initiative

David Griffin, Robert Stuart, Jason Unger: GrayRobinson: Target Corporation

Doug Murphy: Florida Medical Association

Bill Peebles, John Wayne Smith: Peebles & Smith: City of Mount Dora

Ron Watson, Watson Strategies: EMTeLINK

***Things will be great when you’re downtown at 101 RESTAURANT and MINT Lounge in Tallahassee. 101 Restaurant has been voted the best meal in the Capitol City featuring steaks, seafood, and specialty cocktails. We offer $8.99 lunch specials all week long that include pastas, pizzas, burgers, wraps and salads. Mint Lounge is upscale and classy, and it’s the best place to enjoy live music and a good vibe. — $8.99 lunch specials; If you are not served in 15 minutes or less, your meal is on us! — Double Happy Hour 4:00-7:00 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.- 12:30 a.m. — Holiday gift card special, Buy $100 get $30 for FREE.***

CONTEXT FLORIDA: ESCAMBIA COUNTY, DISTRAUGHT MOMS, CHARLIE CRIST AND ROBERT MCCULLOCH

On Context Florida: Escambia County residents have been waiting a long time, says Shannon Nickinson, and it stings to be asked for more patience. The people who live near the Rolling Hills and Longleaf construction and demolition debris facilities have waited years for their complaints to be heard. Recently, Catherine Durkin Robinson read a letter posted online from a distraught mom writing to her daughter after a bad divorce. Although she does not have a daughter, Robinson offers some helpful words for moms writing a letter to abandoned daughters Everyone knows how Charlie Crist lost, a lack of votes, but Kevin Cate points out that not enough has been said about how Charlie Crist won. Make no mistake, says Martin Dyckman, Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County district attorney, cannot pin the Ferguson no-call on the grand jury. No matter how hard he might try to be impartial — and McCulloch didn’t even make a show of it — no one else can be expected to believe it.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

BLACK FRIDAY WEEKEND SLOWS DOWN AS ALLURE FADES via The Associated Press

Early discounting, more online shopping and a mixed economy meant fewer people shopped over Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation said Sunday.

Overall, 133.7 million people shopped in stores and online over the four-day weekend, down 5.2 percent from last year, according to a survey of 4,631 people conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics for the trade group.

Total spending for the weekend is expected to fall 11 percent to $50.9 billion from an estimated $57.4 billion last year, the trade group estimated.

Part of the reason is that Target, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and other major retailers pushed fat discounts as early as Halloween. Some opened stores even earlier on Thanksgiving. All that stole some thunder from Black Friday and the rest of the weekend.

Still, the preliminary data makes retailers worried that shoppers remain frugal despite improving employment and falling gas prices.

Matt Shay, the trade group’s CEO, said he thinks people benefiting from the recovery may not feel the need to fight crowds to get the deepest discount on a TV or toaster. And those who feel like the recession never ended may not have the money and will stretch out what they spend through Christmas.

And shoppers are still feeling the effects of high food prices and stagnant wages.

“While they’re more optimistic, they’re very cautious,” Shay said. “If the deals are not right for them, they’re not going to spend.”

Bottom line: Expect more deep discounts, all season long.

“Every day will be Black Friday. Every minute will be Cyber Monday,” he said.

FITTING END FOR FIRED FLORIDA COACH WILL MUSCHAMP via Mark Long of the Associated Press

It was fitting end to fired coach Will Muschamp’s season.

His tenure, too.

Florida made costly mistakes, had a critical dropped pass, settled for field goals and even provided some strange play calling down the stretch in a 24-19 loss at top-ranked Florida State.

“We’ve had our opportunities,” said Muschamp, who lumped this one in with close losses to LSU and South Carolina. “You look at two other games where we had the game in hand and had our opportunities to get it done and we didn’t get it done. It falls on my shoulders, and that’s why they’re going to be looking for a coach.”

Athletic director Jeremy Foley fired Muschamp two weeks ago after a head-scratching collapse against the Gamecocks. Muschamp agreed to stick around for the final two regular-season games, including the finale against rival and undefeated FSU (12-0).

The Gators (6-5) were hoping to pull off a huge upset and carry Muschamp off the field — much like they did to Ron Zook in Tallahassee a decade ago.

Florida nearly repeated the feat.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Mark Zubaly. Celebrating today is Jeb Bush Jr., Brian Bautista, reporter Michael Van Sickler, and lobbyist Amy Young.

OUR HOME, ALL DECKED OUT FOR CHRISTMAS pictured here.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.