Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 12

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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 state’s dominant public affairs PR firm: With Florida infamously in the thick of things, the 2000 presidential election FINALLY ended on December 12, 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Bush v. Gore ruling that the Florida Supreme Court had violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause when it called for a statewide recount, in light of different counting standards in different Florida counties. The ruling effectively gave Florida’s 25 electoral votes, and the presidency, to George W. Bush. In every election since, Floridians have hoped not to be the focal point of similar electoral controversy.

Now, on to the ‘burn…


Over the last several months, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been giving speeches, campaigning for candidates, appearing at public forums, and meeting with wealthy donors, which has led many people to believe that he may soon enter the race to become the next Republican presidential nominee. On Dec. 1, Bush told a gathering of business leaders at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington that he would make a decision about his political future “in short order.” But Bush’s recent business ventures reveal that he shares a number of liabilities with the last nominee, Mitt Romney, whose career in private equity proved so politically damaging that it sunk his candidacy.

Documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Nov. 27 list Bush as chair and manager of a new offshore private equity fund, BH Global Aviation, which raised $61 million in September, largely from foreign ­investors. In November, the fund ­ incorporated in the United Kingdom and Wales — a ­structure, several independent finance lawyers say, that operates like a tax haven by allowing overseas investors to avoid U.S. taxes and regulations.

BH Global Aviation is one of at least three such funds Bush has launched in less than two years through his Coral Gables, Fla., company, Britton Hill Holdings. He’s also chair of a $26 million fund, BH Logistics, established in April with backing from a Chinese conglomerate, and a $40 million fund involved in shale oil exploration, according to documents filed in June and first ­reported on by Bloomberg News. His flurry of ventures doesn’t suggest someone preparing to run for president, according to a dozen fund managers, lawyers, and ­private-placement agents who were ­apprised of his recent activities by Bloomberg Businessweek. Most private equity funds have a life span of 10 years. While it isn’t impossible that Bush could bail on his investors so soon after taking their money, “that would be unusual,” says Steven Kaplan, a private equity expert at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. One fundraiser for private equity adds that normally you’d be winding down such businesses, rather than expanding them, if you were going to run.

Until now, many people have assumed that Bush’s greatest challenge would be dispelling the perception among Republican primary voters that he’s a moderate in a party dominated by right-wing conservatives. In the wake of Romney’s bruising 2012 loss, however, Bush’s overseas funds, mysterious investors, and foreign entanglements could prove harder to overcome. As a budding private equity mogul, he’s begun to resemble a Mini-Mitt.

“Running as the second coming of Mitt Romney is not a credential that’s going to play anywhere, with Republicans or Democrats,” says John Brabender, a Republican consultant and veteran of presidential campaigns. “Not only would this be problematic on the campaign trail, I think it also signals someone who isn’t seriously looking at the presidency or he wouldn’t have gone down this path.”


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio today announced he is opposing the nomination of Antony Blinken as deputy Secretary of State due to his attitude on Cuba.

During Blinken’s confirmation hearing last month, Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned President Barack Obama’s nominee about future unilateral changes to U.S.-Cuba policy without democratic reforms, as required by law.

Given several opportunities – during both the hearing and follow-up written testimony – the Florida Senator and prospective White House candidate said Blinken hesitated to rule out the possibility of unilateral changes to America’s policy on Cuba.

“Unless Cuba begins an irreversible democratic transformation,” Rubio said, “the U.S. should not reward the Castro regime with unilateral concessions from us that enrich the regime and help it repress millions of Cubans.”

Rubio acknowledged that people could disagree with U.S. policy and even push to change the laws.

“But if you’re going to serve at the U.S. Department of State,” he said, “you must faithfully execute existing laws. Mr. Blinken has been afforded numerous opportunities to make clear that he will abide by U.S.-Cuba policy that has been codified into law, and he declined to do so each time.

Rubio added that he will continue to oppose the nomination, until Blinken assures the committee that “he will faithfully execute the laws that currently exist with respect to U.S.-Cuba policy.”


Florida did not violate anti-discrimination laws by using standardized test scores to award Bright Futures scholarships, the U.S. Department of Education has found.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights had been investigating the Bright Futures program, which awards college scholarships based on grade point average and SAT or ACT scores. The probe was based on allegations that the eligibility criteria had the effect of discriminating against Hispanic and African-American students.

But federal authorities found “insufficient evidence of a legal violation” and concluded the investigation Wednesday, according to a memo addressed to Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and obtained by the Herald/Times.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who opposed the probe, said he was glad federal authorities had ended the “baseless investigation.”

But Bob Schaeffer, a national testing expert who filed the original complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, was disappointed in the outcome.

“It is not surprising that the U.S. Department of Education — a national leader in promoting misuse and overuse of standardized exam results to assess students, teachers and schools — would decline to take action against Florida’s test-score based scholarships despite its own finding of the program’s ‘statistically significant’ negative impact on African Americans and Hispanics,” he said.

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Gov. Scott appointed a former water management district head as the new secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Jon Steverson, who has served as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District since 2012, will take over the DEP upon the state Cabinet’s confirmation.

He replaces Herschel T. Vinyard, a former shipyard industry executive who retired on Dec. 1. Vinyard’s appointment in 2011 was controversial because of his background in business and not environmental work. Under his leadership, the state’s five water management districts cut $700 million from their budgets.

Steverson served at the DEP from 2011 to 2012 on its legal team and acting deputy secretary for water policy and ecosystem restoration. He also worked in the governor’s office from 2005 to 2009 in multiple roles, including environmental policy coordinator. He has a law degree and a bachelor’s in geography from Florida State University.

As the head of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, Steverson “oversaw a restructuring of the agency and its budget that resulted in numerous benefits to the natural resources and communities in the Panhandle,” a news release from Scott’s office states.


There are lots of cooks in the kitchen as Florida faces the related tasks of drafting conservation plans along with seemingly incongruous rules for cleaning and preserving water supplies.

Corralling these interests and addressing the state’s potentially crippling water shortages will depend on the political leadership of some key figures.

Senate President Andy Gardiner declared last year the Legislature would act this spring on water policy. Gov. Scott has touted his recommendations for conservation land buying after years of zeroing it out of the budget.

But the politician who will have the some outsized say-so is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The Bartow Republican was proselytizing on Florida’s worsening water woes when Scott was campaigning to dismantle Florida’s growth and environmental rules.

While environmentalists have long viewed Florida’s agriculture commissioner position as a mouthpiece for Big Sugar and agriculture interests, the current occupant is well-respected, and an all-but-declared serious gubernatorial contender. As evidence of his growing clout, look at what happened at a Cabinet meeting last week.

Scott wanted to vote down a proposed easement agreement to protect 322 acres on a central Osceola County cattle operation called Camp Lonesome. The acreage contains wetlands, prairie and pine flatlands that drain into Lake Marion and eventually the Kissimmee River, a prime target of restoration efforts to save the Everglades.

The governor voted against the project, because he said its $549,000 price tag was too close to the appraised value, and the state should try to cut a better deal. But Putnam then respectfully argued for why voting it down would be dangerous.


The Florida Transportation Commission announced that they would be accepting applications for Secretary of Transportation. Florida Statutes require the Commission to recommend three candidates to the governor for appointment as Secretary. Interested candidates may submit resumes until Monday, December 15 by 5:00 pm for consideration.  Visit the Transportation Commission website at to view the advertisement.


Rep. David Richardson continues to sculpt a statute to exempt works of art from the sales tax. Richardson this week filed HB 89, a fine-tuning of a proposal that failed to get out of committee last year.

Richardson said he wants to support the arts by eliminating double taxation. Art, he explained, often is purchased as an investment, and currently the state collects a sales tax when a consumer purchases art and then the federal government collects a capital gains tax when the art is resold.

Richardson said he addressed concerns expressed in 2014 to lessen the impact to general revenue with the hope of building a consensus for the tax exemption.

“I believe in baby steps,” said Richardson explaining why he agreed to narrow the proposal.

“We literally spent weeks trying to decide what is art  . . .  (made) sure that someone did not get literature or a music performance or a gown or edible on the list,” said Richardson. “The bulk of artists aren’t wealthy and don’t make a lot of money.  We have a number of artist enclaves throughout Florida and I hope it helps them.

Richardson’s latest proposal limits the exemption to an original works of art that are signed and sold by the artist. The work must cost at least $1,000 and applies to paintings, sculptures, etching, pottery and ceramics.

Louisiana, Delaware and Rhode Island exempt works of art from sales tax.


Earlier this week, Mitch Rubin, the executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (FBWA), announced that while “for several years,” his organization has supported lifting the restriction on 64-ounce growlers, the FBWA’s support in next year’s legislative session won’t be tied into his greater concerns of direct brewer to consumer sales.

Tampa House Republican Dana Young, who has sponsored legislation in the House the past few years on legalizing 64-ounce growlers, said she’s feeling more optimistic about the bill’s chance for success in 2015. “What happened is that the public from the grassroots level stood up and said, ‘this is absurd. This law is absurd, this obstructionist view of it is absurd, and we want it changed.’”

Although the issue came up during the 2013 legislative session in a bill sponsored by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the growing popularity of the craft brew industry (particularly in the Tampa Bay area) in 2014 brought a whole new level of attention to the issue- and it wasn’t favorable to the Big Beer Establishment.

The controversy centered around Lakeland Senate Republican Kelli Stargel’s bill (supported by Rubin’s ‘group) that would require microbreweries in the state selling more than 2,000 kegs per year of their own brew to distribute their bottled and canned products through an established distributorship and then have to buy back their own product (at marked-up prices) to sell to their customers.

The story, as Cigar City Brewing’s Joey Redner said at the time, was a classic David vs. Goliath scenario of a big establishment organization seemingly ganging up on the little guy, or in this case, small popular businesses.

“When it comes from the ground up like that, I think it’s incredibly powerful,” says Young about the opposition that built up on the issue this past spring, bringing people normally disaffected by state politics to rally behind the craft breweries. Speaking during a break at the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting at the HCC-Dale Mabry campus, Young said “I think that what happened is that a lot of the opposition was hearing from their customers and business partners that this was bad policy, so it appears from the press release that they are interested in legalizing the 64-ounce growler attached. If that is indeed the case, I think that we’re in a great position to get it done.”

EASIEST BILL FOR 2015 – NO JACKPOTS FOR SEX PREDATORS via Michael Mayo of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Looks like the Florida Legislature has its first b-partisan slam-dunk bill for 2015: Banning lottery jackpots for registered sexual predators.

Timothy Poole, 43, a registered sexual predator (which is worse than your garden variety registered sex offender), recently claimed a $3 million scratch-off jackpot from Florida Lottery headquarters.

Poole, whose lengthy arrest record includes a charge of sexual battery on a victim under 12, took home a lump sum payment of $2.2 million. Here’s hoping he doesn’t spend it on candy.

Naturally, this has many people up in arms. But there is no law on the books banning sex predators from winning big Lottery prizes. I bet that changes this upcoming legislative session.

Some might say: If a sex predator is willing to gamble away his money in the Lottery, shouldn’t he be entitled to win?

Uh, no.

It seems just as ridiculous as a Nazi who came to America after the war and worked long and hard and paid into the system, and then got discovered, getting to keep his Social Security benefits after leaving the country under a controversial deportation program.

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St. Augustine Republican Sen. John Thrasher left the Legislature in November to become Florida State University president, leading to not one, but three special elections set for early 2015.

Palm Coast Republican Paul Renner arrived in Flagler County soon after losing an August GOP primary – by two votes — in Jacksonville House District 15. Renner seeks another House seat vacated by Elkton Republican Rep. Travis Hutson, who is now running for Thrasher’s Senate District 6.

Renner took in $76,500 from Nov. 1-30 for the House District 24 special election, which covers Flagler and portions of St. Johns and Volusia counties.  Supporters include entrepreneur Tom Petway, developer John Rood, lobbyist Marty Fiorentino and companies led by developer Mori Hosseini.

The first of the legislative dominoes to fall from Thrasher’s departure was a special election called in District 6, the region covering St. Johns, Flagler, Putnam and part of Volusia counties. Next came Hutson leaving House District 24.

Another is Ponte Vedra Beach Republican Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, who is also vying for Thrasher’s seat, choosing to leave House District 17 St. Johns County.

In November, Renuart took in $51,100 for a total of $53,850, not including $50,000 in loans.

Hutson lagged behind with only $26,350 in the same period, for a total of $156,200. Also, he had a substantial head start, transferring money from his House re-election campaign account, which Hutson began fundraising for in July.  In addition, Hutson loaned the campaign $150,000.

Hutson collected $56,160 through Nov. 30; many of his donors reported occupations as “real estate.” Conversely, Renuart took in $18,800 from individuals listing professions as “physician.”


Campaign-finance reports for the Duval County House District 13 special election are due. The reports cover fundraising and activity through Dec. 11.


Continuing a strong and sustained fund-raising push, Republican mayoral candidate Lenny Curry raised more than $226,000 in November through his campaign and a political action committee supporting his bid, according to the latest campaign-finance reports.

That pushes his total campaign cash north of $1.4 million since announcing his run in the summer. He’s strongly backed by much of the city’s business leadership, and many of those names show up again in his latest finance report. He’s also found support from Florida Republicans with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, including political consultant Tony Fabrizio and fundraiser Darlene Jordan, who was a finance director for Scott’s re-election campaign.

Bill Foley, chairman of Fidelity’s board of directors, cut Curry a $10,000 check. Foley — as well as Fidelity — have been big financial backers of Brown’s re-election.

Brown’s campaign has not yet filed updated reports.

City Councilman Bill Bishop, also a Republican running for mayor, raised a little more than $6,000 last month, bringing his total to $66,825.

***This year the Florida Smart Justice Alliance is hosting their 4th Annual Smart Justice Summit on January 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. Over 300 policymakers are expected including state legislators, judges, sheriffs, police chiefs, state’s attorneys, public defenders, county correctional officers, probation & parole, DCF/DJJ/DOC employees, behavioral healthcare providers, policy experts, and others on panels discussing  successful evidence-based practices in the criminal justice arena. The goal is to maintain public safety while insuring that taxpayers get the best bang for the dollar. Keynote Speaker – Bexar Co., TX Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, first female sheriff for San Antonio. To get a 10% savings on registration click here.***


Al Cardenas, Slater Bayliss, Sarah Busk, Chris Chaney, Stephen Shiver, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Cleveland Clinic Florida Healthy System Nonprofit Corporation

Chris Dorworth, Ballard Partners, Resorts World Miami, LLC

Karl Hebrank, Wilson & Associates: UL LLC

Monica Rodriguez, Ballard Partners: Elsai, Inc.

Ryan Smart: 1000 Friends of Florida

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On Context Florida: Ban them all, says Adam Weinstein. We should never again allow a livelihood in media or government or think tanking for any politician, any general, and any pundit who ever argued that the United States of America needs to torture captives in order to keep its citizenry safe. What the U.S. Senate select committee’s controversial report accomplished, writes Martin Dyckman, was the conclusion that agency officials deceived the Bush administration and Congress into believing that the practices were successful. On that crucial point, U.S. Sen. John McCain said, “I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure, torture’s ineffectiveness, because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.” Jon Steverson, Gov. Rick Scott’s choice as Department of Environmental Protection secretary, has been an outspoken director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District during his brief tenure there. Bruce Ritchie says it is uncertain whether he will impress environmentalists with his passion and results at DEP. Gregory Newburn, Florida Project Director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, says the criminal justice system is ripe for “disruption,” the process whereby some new technology or innovation “disrupts” a long-standing industry and its attendant regulatory environment, threatening market incumbents.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY this weekend to Hayden Dempsey, Kyra Jennings, and Michael Millner.


Seven endangered whooping cranes arrived safely at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County, ending a two-month, aircraft-led migration that started in central Wisconsin.

The cranes are the fourteenth group guided by ultralight aircraft, traveling 63 days and 1,100 miles from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Gulf Coast.

The young birds were part of Operation Migration, a project of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), a global coalition of public and private organizations. WCEP seeks to restore the historic range of this endangered species.

Because of their efforts, there are now more than 100 whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America.

Operation Migration used two ultralight aircraft in October to guide the juvenile cranes through Wisconsin, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, to reach the birds’ wintering habitat at St. Marks Refuge. Due to bad weather this year, the cranes were trucked to Tennessee from Wisconsin, through Illinois and Kentucky.

“After today’s destination flight lasting 50 minutes, our seven- month-old whooping cranes touched down for the first time on their new winter home,” said Operation Migration spokesperson Heather Ray.   “The birds trusted us. We had faith in them. We got it done.

“Once these birds undergo their final health check and receive permanent leg bands and transmitters in a week to 10 days,” she added, “they can be truly wild cranes – – wary of people and all things ‘human.’”


Two days after Thanksgiving, the Miami Hurricanes closed out another mediocre regular season with what the Miami Herald called a “dismal downer” of a game. They never led Pitt in the 35-23 defeat, and many UM faithful streamed out of Sun Life Stadium with almost an entire quarter left to play. Miami will appear in a postseason game this month because it has a just technically bowl-eligible 6-6 record (and it’s a well-known university). But the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, is not exactly a destination befitting a program that was once college football royalty.

Cycles of boom and bust, however, are nothing new in Coral Gables. This Saturday, ESPN is airing “The U Part 2,” a “30 for 30” by director Billy Corben that follows up on his 2009 documentary about the Hurricanes’ dominant, lawless football program of the 1980s. The sequel explores the process that rebuilt the scandal-ridden team into what would become, statistically, the most talented — if not quite the most dominant — team in college football history.

Before the Hurricanes came back from the brink, they were as low as they are now. Miami’s mid-to-late 1990s deterioration reached its nadir at the end of 1997, the program’s first losing season in 18 years. When the final whistle blew on that campaign, Miami had a +3.8 ELO rating, which means Miami would have been favored by just 3.8 points against an average FBS team on a neutral field. To use 2014 teams as a comparison, Miami was the equivalent of this year’s Colorado State or Navy teams — a far cry from their dominant squads of the 1980s and early 1990s. (Although this year’s team is even worse, with a rating of +2.0.)

This is what happens when a program transgresses enough NCAA rules to deserve its own documentary. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Hurricanes’ violations ranged from a pay-for-play scandal to a UM academic adviser helping players defraud the federal government of Pell Grant money. When the NCAA was finished handing down its penalties, the Hurricanes had been banned from the postseason for a year and stripped of 31 scholarships from 1995 to 1997.

For college football teams, scholarships are currency. There’s a clear relationship between a team’s recruiting success and its on-field performance, and in the wake of the sanctions, Miami was unable to recruit as effectively as it had during the early 1990s.

In other words, the team tends to seesaw between greatness and mediocrity. And while life at “The U” has its peaks and valleys, if the story of Corben’s second Miami film is any indication, the next Hurricane dynasty might be just around the corner, no matter how bad things seem in the present.

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.