Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 22

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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:

A century ago today, on December 22, 1914, the cornerstone was placed at a Florida site that would later play a crucial role in American legal history. The grand Bay County Courthouse building in Panama City was completed in 1915 with a large central four-sided clock tower and an elaborate gabled roof – but both features were lost to a fire in 1920. The rebuilt courthouse gained fame as the site of the 1961 trial of Clarence Earl Gideon, whose theft conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the unanimous Gideon v. Wainwright decision because he was denied legal representation. The courthouse is still in use today, one of the few in Florida still in use from the early 20th Century. And that’s an achievement worth trumpeting.

Now, on to the ‘burn…

OBAMA’S REVENGE via Glenn Thrush of POLITICO

Obama’s turnaround in recent weeks – he’s seized the offensive with a series of controversial executive actions and challenges to leaders in his own party on the budget — can be attributed to a fundamental change in his political mindset, according to current and former aides. He’s gone from thinking of himself as a sitting (lame) duck, they tell me, to a president diving headlong into what amounts to a final campaign – this one to preserve his legacy, add policy points to the scoreboard, and – last but definitely not least – to inflict the same kind of punishment on his newly empowered Republican enemies, who delighted in tormenting him when he was on top.

The pivot isn’t necessarily about embracing the Real Barack Obama (that’s always been a pretty elusive persona) or even about aspiring to the Clintonian ideal of a second-term president leveraging executive power into political muscle. It’s not a matter of superficially emulating a campaign, as he’s done fecklessly in the past, by hitting the road for another round of low-impact speeches or Steve Kroft sit-downs. It’s a campaign between Obama’s ears — a competitor rediscovering his love of competition, the refocusing of a sedentary, atrophied presidency through the lens of a dynamic campaign – and winning.

Obama, a political counterpuncher who often needs a slap in the face to wake up, got a gut-shot in November. The Democrats’ staggering loss in the midterms – like his disastrous performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012 – seems to have jolted him to the realization that he’ll have to act boldly to preserve what he’d assumed was a settled legacy. (The Supreme Court’s decision to scrutinize the funding mechanism of the Affordable Care Act, in particular, has sent a shudder through the West Wing and provided an unexpected challenge from another hostile branch of government.)

While it might seem crazy to compare a wiser and wizened president entering his seventh year in office to the callow, Next Big Thing of his U.S. Senate days, Obama is now inhabiting the psychological head-space of his early career on the national political scene. Now as then, he can legitimately describe himself as an underdog. He feels at liberty to address any topic he chooses on his own terms — race, for instance — and, most importantly, he’s increasingly untethered from what he views as a petty, geriatric Democratic establishment he originally crusaded against as a presidential candidate in 2007.

Obama is sure to strike the usual let’s-work-together tone at Friday’s press conference, but it’s clear to anyone who follows him closely that the president is trying to escape from the Washington sausage works and define his own agenda.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Obama’s newly aggressive stance – exemplified by his unilateral moves on immigration and Cuba – poses an early challenge to new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and to House Speaker John Boehner, who are trying to re-shape the GOP into a party that can actually run a government. “Mitch and Boehner have to deal with the fact that Obama is becoming bolder and more radical,” Gingrich told me a few days before Obama announced his move to normalize relations with Cuba.

OBAMA’S CUBA MOVES REFLECT FLORIDA POLITICAL SHIFT via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press

For decades, the politics of Cuba in Florida were simple: anything less than a hard line stance against Fidel Castro was a sure way to lose a race for office.

President Obama’s surprise decision this week to restore diplomatic relations with the communist nation is the surest sign yet that this is no longer certain. Some even suggest it’s a political gambit by the White House aimed at cracking the Cuban-American community’s longtime support for the GOP.

As a whole, Cuban Americans make up a much smaller percentage of Florida’s Hispanic population than they did 15 years ago. And while Obama’s overtures to Cuba have angered older Cuban Americans, especially first- and second-generation exiles, younger ones aren’t as likely to vote on this issue alone.

Adding this up, it has now become politically safe in Florida to change America’s Cuba policy, Democratic pollster David Beattie said.

Florida is the nation’s largest swing state and most crucial prize in presidential politics, and yet Obama paid no political price for loosening travel restrictions to Cuba in 2011. Exit polls showed he carried about half the Cuban-American vote as he won Florida in his re-election effort the following year.

And if U.S.-Cuba tensions are no longer a dominant issue for Cuban-American voters, it would help Democrats win them over on the other issues of interest they share with other Hispanics.

As expected, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush both came out firmly against Obama’s decision. Rubio has attacked it relentlessly as a betrayal.

But Beattie says that position puts Republicans at risk of being viewed as out of touch by voters who think normalizing relations with Cuba will help the Florida economy.

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MARCO RUBIO: RAND PAUL ‘CHIEF CHEERLEADER’ OF OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY via Benjamin Bell of ABC News

Sen. Rubio responded to criticism from fellow Republican and potential 2016 presidential rival Sen. Rand Paul over his position on Cuba, insisting today that he would oppose the “Obama-Paul foreign policy,” and referring to the Kentucky senator as “chief cheerleader” of the president’s overseas agenda.

“Rand, if he wants to become the chief cheerleader of Obama’s foreign policy, he certainly has a right to do that,” Rubio told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “I’m going to continue to oppose the Obama-Paul foreign policy on Cuba because I know it won’t lead to freedom and liberty for the Cuban people, which is my sole interest here.”

Last week, Paul tweeted on Rubio’s position on engagement with Cuba that he “is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.”

Following Rubio’s appearance on “This Week,” Doug Stafford, senior adviser to  Paul, in a statement to ABC News, said that “With all due respect, Senator Marco Rubio was captain of the GOP cheerleading team for Obama’s arming of Syrian rebels, bombing Libya resulting in a jihadist wonderland, and illegally giving foreign aid to Egypt’s military government. The Rubio-Obama foreign policy has made the Middle East and North Africa less safe.”

President Obama announced in an historic but controversial decision that the U.S. would move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana, the country’s capital. Rubio, who is of Cuban heritage, criticized the president’s decision this morning.

IF JEB BUSH AND RUBIO BOTH RUN FOR PRESIDENT, FLORIDA LOYALTY BELONGS TO BUSH via Alex Leary and Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times 

Marco Rubio has a big Jeb Bush problem.

More than a decade after Bush helped cultivate Rubio as a star in the Florida Legislature — literally giving him a sword as a symbol of maintaining the conservative flame — the two are on an awkward collision course over running for president in 2016.

Bush crushed speculation he would not pursue a campaign by announcing that he is “actively” exploring a run and setting up a political committee that will help him travel the country and fill out a political team. He huddled with donors in Miami, then did the same in Chicago this week.

The move, earlier and more aggressive than anyone expected, was instantly cast as the end of Sen. Rubio’s aspirations.

Don’t count on it.

Rubio is staging his own bid and his allies were keen to inform reporters that Bush would not deter those long-choreographed plans. Rubio said he will base his decision on his own accord. And the following day, he seized the spotlight, diving into the battle over President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba.

But even if Rubio proceeds, mentor Bush presents major obstacles that underscore his status as the undisputed king of Florida Republicans. Bush would command the loyalty of top donors and the support of the political establishment.

Florida — and its 29 electoral votes — is essential to Republican hopes to retake the White House, and two candidates competing in the same space looks improbable.

WILL JEB STUMBLE IN IOWA? via Cameron Joseph of The Hill

With no love lost for Bush among the Republican base, the Iowa caucuses could be an early stumbling block in his 2016 quest.

The former governor’s business-friendly stances and willingness to criticize GOP hard-liners make him popular with the donor class. But the first-in-the-nation state hasn’t been kind to establishment candidates in recent years.

And just after he announced this week he’s “actively exploring” a presidential bid, some Iowa activists are already torching Bush’s credentials.

“He’s on the wrong side of every issue that matters most to conservatives right now,” said Steve Deace, an influential Des Moines-based conservative radio host.

Deace ripped Bush for his support for immigration reform and Common Core education standards as apostates to the conservative cause before saying he’d “bet my mortgage” against Bush performing well in Iowa.

The process is often dominated by the state’s large population of religious conservatives, and a pair of cash-poor candidates defeated better-organized and much better funded foes by tapping into voters’ frustration with the GOP elites the last two presidential races.

Iowa Republicans from across the party believe Bush may have a chance in the state if he dedicates the time and energy to woo voters. But, they say he has a ton of work to do to convince Iowa conservatives that he’s one of them.

WHAT WOULD THIRD BUSH PRESIDENCY LOOK LIKE? via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Lakeland Ledger

What kind of candidate — and, possibly, president — would Bush be?

A good way to assess Bush today is to look back on his record as a two-term governor of Florida. A narrow defeat in a gubernatorial election in 1994 and eight years as Florida’s chief executive have done much to shape his political philosophy.

But the way Bush is viewed now does not always jibe with his record as governor.

For example, criticism from Tea Party conservatives that Bush is too moderate is at odds with those who remember him as one of Florida’s most conservative governors, cutting taxes for the wealthy, embracing anti-abortion and gun-rights legislation, privatizing state services, battling teachers’ unions and expanding school vouchers.

Although he had a friendly Republican Legislature, he wasn’t afraid to use his veto pen on pet projects and bills from lawmakers. He was tested in a crisis as governor who had to face an unprecedented eight hurricanes in two years during his second term.

Bush was a proud policy wonk, delving deeply into issues and programs. He brought in national policy makers, leaders and writers to address his staff. He introduced Florida’s first “e-budget.” His official portrait shows his Blackberry within his reach.

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SUPREME COURT WON’T STOP GAY MARRIAGES IN FLORIDA via Florida Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday refused to block gay marriages in Florida, the latest of about three dozen states allowing same-sex weddings.

In a one-paragraph order, the court decided not to step into the Florida case. A federal judge previously declared Florida’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional and said same-sex marriage licenses could start being issued in the state after Jan. 5 unless the Supreme Court intervened.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has fought to uphold the state’s ban, said in a statement that her goal was “to have uniformity” throughout the state while various legal challenges were pursued in both state and federal courts.

“Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has now spoken, and the stay will end on Jan. 5,” Bondi said.

In August, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declared the state’s ban unconstitutional, but he put his ruling on hold until after Jan. 5 pending appeals.

Like many other judges and appellate courts, Hinkle ruled the ban approved by voters in 2008 violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

Bondi had tried to persuade a federal appeals court in Atlanta to keep Hinkle’s ruling on hold. The appeals court rejected the request so Bondi went to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who oversees emergency appeals from Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

The entire court wound up considering the petition. The order said only Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia would have kept the stay in place.

TOP LAW FIRM THAT ADVISED CLERKS NOT TO ISSUE GAY-MARRIAGE LICENSES SUPPORTS GAY MARRIAGE via Steve Rothaus of the Miami Herald

Top law firm Greenberg Traurig — which advised county clerks in Florida they risk criminal charges if they issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples —announced it actually supports the couples’ right to marry.

“The advice provided by Greenberg Traurig to our client, the Florida Association of Clerks and Comptrollers, addresses a Florida clerk’s duties under existing Florida law, which prohibits the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses. Current Florida law makes it a crime — punishable by imprisonment or a fine — to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Greenberg Traurig is not advising the clerks as to the constitutionality of the Florida ban on same-sex marriage,” Hilarie Bass, the firm’s Miami-based co-president, said in a statement to the Miami Herald.

Greenberg Traurig, on behalf of gay adoptive father Martin Gill, will file a friend-of-the-court brief in Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal “in support of two circuit court orders declaring unconstitutional Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage,” Bass said.

Bass and Greenberg Traurig, along with the ACLU of Florida, helped represent Gill in his quest to overturn a 1977 Florida law that prohibited gays and lesbians from adopting.

SCOTT CLAIMS VICTORY ON 700K JOBS PLEDGE, BUT 2010 COMMENTS CONTINUE TO DOG HIM via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

Gov. Rick Scott said that his promise to create 700,000 jobs has been fulfilled, while Democrats continue to claim the governor has moved the finish line.

The 700,000 number comes from Scott’s first campaign in 2010. Both sides agree that Scott said he would create 700,000 jobs, but the agreement ends there.

In a news release making the announcement, Scott said the state met his goal early.

“Four years ago, we unveiled an ambitious plan to fix Florida’s economy,” he said. “Our goal was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. Today our goal was reached three years early, with 715,700 private-sector jobs created.”

Democrats say that Scott’s claim that the overall goal was 700,000 jobs is false because he said during the campaign they would be created “on top of what normal growth would be.” At the time, state economists predicted that roughly 1 million jobs would be created naturally as the economy slowly rebounded, which means Scott would need 1.7 million jobs to meet his pledge.

Shortly after Scott claimed victory, the Florida Democratic Party hit back, emailing a story done by Tampa’s Fox affiliate during the 2014 campaign. In three clips it shows Scott in 2010 talking about his jobs pledge.

SCOTT DOESN’T TRAVEL FAR IN NAMING NEW TRANSPORTATION CHIEF via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Gov. Rick Scott didn’t look far when naming a new head of the state’s $10.1 billion Department of Transportation, one of the state’s largest agencies.

Jim Boxold, DOT’s chief of staff for the past year and a half, will succeed his boss, Ananth Prasad, as secretary. The state’s Transportation Commission had submitted three names to Scott, including a former North Carolina transportation chief and a Connecticut engineer who heads Amtrak projects in the Northeast.

“I am grateful for Secretary Prasad’s service and I am confident Jim is the best person to carry on his commitment to excellence in improving our state’s infrastructure in the years ahead,” Scott said in making the appointment.

Boxold is a Florida state government veteran. Before going to DOT, he spent a decade as Cabinet affairs director for the Agriculture Department and earlier was a deputy Cabinet director under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Boxold’s appointment is in keeping with many of the new agency chiefs named by Scott for the start of his second term in January. While Scott has kept several department bosses in place, in other cases, those leaving have been replaced through internal promotions.

Scott has already made expanding the capacity at Florida ports a priority for his coming term.

BOCA RATON DOCTOR GIVES $100K TO SCOTT’S INAUGURAL via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

A Boca Raton doctor and retired chair of a medical device company donated $100,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s inaugural events, said the Florida Republican Party.

Scott Holdings LLC, run by Dr. Steven Scott, a big Florida GOP contributor who ran a South Florida HMO and hospital physician network, is the biggest individual donor so far to Scott’s Jan. 6 festivities.

Scott in 2012 gave $10 million to Duke University. He also was tight with former Gov. Jeb Bush and then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, occasionally providing Crist use of his plane. Gov. Scott defeated now-Democrat Crist in November.

Other big contributors include: $25,000 from the Florida Harbor Pilots Association, in Miami; and $15,000 each from three gaming interests, Fronton Holdings of Miami, South Florida Racing Association in Hialeah, and Southwest Florida Enterprises in Miami.

The Florida Republican Party has collected $250,500 for the inaugural, according to its first rounds of reports. Scott is planning a more modest swearing-in than in 2011, when the three-day event cost at least $3 million.

TWEET, TWEET: @JKennedyReport: No Scrooge at @flcourts. No more opinions to be released until Jan. 15, ’15, court says.

FLORIDA’S CHIEF JUSTICE ORDERS JUDGES TO REPORT COLLEAGUES WHO GOOF OFF via Martha Neil of the ABA Journal

An administrative order (PDF) this month from Florida’s chief justice has reverberated throughout the legal community.

In it, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga says the chief judge in each circuit must “separately communicate” with every trial court judge “the importance of a professional work ethic and accountability to the judiciary as a full-time commitment,” reports the Miami Herald.

And, for those who don’t take heed of the initial message, any neglect of duty “shall be reported by the chief judge to the chief justice of this court,” Labarga writes.

“Until this order came out, the chief judge, at least in Broward, was largely a ceremonial title where you went to rubber chicken lunches and you cut ribbons at the courthouse,” Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein commented to the Herald.

Finkelstein says that at least four chief judges told him at some point “that, whether a judge was intoxicated on the bench or was violating people’s rights by not following the law, they had no authority to do anything.”

But Labarga’s order, Finkelstein noted, apparently takes a different view. “This order, as I read it, puts it clearly on the chief judges,” he said.

ECONOMIST: HOLIDAY SEASON WILL SPARK 2015 FLORIDA ECONOMY via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The holiday season is the spark that will “set the state’s economy on fire in 2015,” after lingering for 2 1/2 years longer than the national economy in recession, a Florida economist is predicting.

Home construction, payroll job growth, personal income, retail sales and even Florida’s gross domestic product should see increases in the next quarter, and many of those measures will come in better than the national average, University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith predicted in a forecast released on Thursday.

Snaith said his analysis shows that Florida will continue outpacing the nation in economic and job growth.

The sectors expected to have the strongest average job growth for the next three years are construction (9.2 percent), professional and business services (3.5 percent), trade, transportation and utilities (3.3 percent), leisure and hospitality (2 percent), and education and health services (1.9 percent).

Snaith said there are some “gray clouds” on the horizon, from new regulations on banking and lending to new laws that have yet to be fully implemented.

“How businesses respond to the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act will likely have an impact on the economy,” the economist said.

The other drag on “an otherwise revving economy in Florida” is the state’s high underemployment rate, Snaith said.

CITRUS STILL AN ECONOMIC ENGINE FOR FLORIDA via Kevin Bouffard of the Lakeland Ledger

The impact of the Florida citrus industry on the state’s economy remained stable, down just 0.7 percent over five years, despite an 18 percent loss in jobs during that period, primarily because of rapidly declining production attributed to citrus greening disease.

Florida citrus generated $10.68 billion in economic impact during the 2012-13 season, down from $10.75 billion in 2007-08, Alan Hodges, a University of Florida economist, told the Florida Citrus Commission. Hodges was the lead author in both economic impact studies.

Both figures represent 2013 dollars to adjust for inflation. The Citrus Commission is the governing body of the Florida Department of Citrus, which commissioned the impact study.

Hodges told The Ledger the small decrease in economic impact surprised him and his co-authors, given the massive decline in Florida’s citrus harvest over the five-year period.

While he expected a lower figure, said Commissioner Ned Hancock, an Avon Park grower, the modest dip in the industry’s economic impact means “agriculture is the most significant industry in the state.”

Hodges attributed the minimal loss of impact primarily to the fact that the increase in farm prices for fruit and retail prices for fresh citrus and juice products has kept pace with the decline in crop pro­duction.

The citrus industry supported 75,828 full- and part-time workers in 2007-08, both directly and in supporting sectors, according to Hodges’ previous impact report, released in 2009. That number dropped to 62,133 direct and indirect jobs in 2012-13.

FLORIDA COULD HAVE FRACKING PROBLEM ON ITS HANDS via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Florida has a fracking problem. Voters want cheap energy, environmental protection, cleaner water, lower taxes and less government in their lives.

Florida ratepayers rebelled against utilities seeking to charge them for nuclear power plant construction. Voters overwhelmingly passed a mandate to spend more than $800 million annually to protect waters and lands. Yet, property owners don’t want government inspecting their leaky septic tanks.

In short, public sentiment on energy use is a bit schizophrenic – people want inexpensive living in an age of energy transformation and fossil fuel exhaustion, natural beauty without the beastly bills.

Hydraulic fracturing is an interesting political quagmire. Florida isn’t a fracking hub, although one company created a stink in the governor’s race when it got popped by the state last summer for attempting to frack in the Everglades.

However, the process of injecting high-pressure water and chemicals underground to crack rocks and release oil and gas helps power our homes and businesses. It’s also becoming increasingly unpopular. New York last week banned it over fears it was contaminating the water and air.

Florida’s utilities – Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy – want permission from utility regulators to charge consumers for its fracking exploration for natural gas reserves in other states.

The Public Service Commission just gave permission to FP&L to invest $191 million in an Oklahoma exploration for natural gas that the company argued could save ratepayers $52 million over three decades. But lawyers representing the public and some environmental groups argued the company was shifting risk for energy exploration to customers and couldn’t guarantee the savings.

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THOSE WHO MOST NEED MEDICAL POT FEAR MONTHS-LONG DELAY OF FLORIDA LAW via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Days before a medical marijuana strain was slated to be introduced in Florida, state health officials instead will be back at the drawing board trying to figure out how to launch the heavily lobbied product.

A scheduled Jan. 1 start-up date has gone up in smoke.

But supporters say they are angry and frustrated with the way the money and politics of pot have overwhelmed an effort to help cancer and epilepsy victims.

Some involved think slowing down availability of the non-euphoric marijuana oil dubbed Charlotte’s Web stemmed from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration wanting nothing finalized until after his November re-election.

Others worry the standoff now could last into spring, when lawmakers are already talking of reworking parts of the new law.

Pot proponents also say the battle could fuel another ballot attempt in 2016 to legalize a more sweeping form of medical marijuana, after a similar campaign fell just short in November.

The Florida Department of Health has scheduled a Dec. 30 workshop in Orlando to renew work on crafting a regulatory structure for growing, processing and distributing the marijuana product.

Under the law approved this spring, doctors were supposed to be able to order the treatment beginning Jan. 1.

GOP LEGISLATURE SHOULD PASS SENSIBLE MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL via Jamie Miller of the Ocala Star-Banner

It is now time to stop calling the effort to legalize medical marijuana “Support Amendment 2.” That amendment to Florida’s Constitution failed, barely.

Much has been written about the failure of Amendment 2, the very large personalities that debated and funded both sides, and how the amendment didn’t meet the 60 percent threshold but received more votes than any statewide elected official.

The fact that medical marijuana received broad support puts pressure on the Florida Legislature to act now to legalize medical marijuana.

One might say that Republicans kept this amendment from passing and that a Republican Legislature should stand strong against all things that aren’t conservative — including legalizing medical marijuana.

They would be wrong.

First, after legalizing Charlotte’s Web, a very low THC strain of marijuana that is used mostly for children who fight epilepsy, there was no voter outrage. I venture to say there was not one negative mail piece or political advertisement against any politician who supported the Charlotte’s Web bill. It’s hard to demonize compassion.

So, those who opposed Amendment 2 did not demonize compassion either. They appealed to Republicans to vote against the bill.

LEGISLATURE: POLITICAL CONSULTANTS ‘SOUGHT TO INFLUENCE’ REDISTRICTING, BUT IT DIDN’T WORK via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

Political operatives “sought to influence” the state’s 2012 redistricting process, but no lawmakers were aware, or worked with those operatives, according to court documents filed by attorneys for the state Legislature.

It’s part of an ongoing redistricting lawsuit filed by a coalition of plaintiffs who said that Florida’s congressional maps were drawn to favor the GOP, which is at odds with anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state constitution.

The congressional maps were tossed this summer by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, but he approved a different map redrawn by lawmakers during an August special legislative session. That map is now being appealed by plaintiffs.

In a 169-page brief, attorneys for the Legislature are asking that the second set of maps approved by Lewis are upheld, that the court not consider maps drawn by the plaintiffs, and if changes are needed that the Legislature, not the court, make them.

The filing does not deny that political consultants tried to influence the process, but said they failed.

During this summer’s trial, maps drawn by political consultants and submitted by former FSU student named Alex Posada came under fire. Some districts passed as part of the final maps closely mirrored those on the Posada-submitted map. Plaintiffs said that proved GOP consultants had improper influence over the process.

Attorneys for the Legislature did take issue with Kirk Pepper, a GOP consultant who worked in the House speaker’s office during the redistricting process. During trial, it was discovered that Pepper had been giving non-public maps to Republican consultant Marc Reichelderfer, his personal friend.

BILL FILED TO SHIELD EMAIL ADDRESSES Full story here

Concerned with identify theft and similar crimes, Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala filed a proposal that would prevent release of taxpayers’ email addresses retained by tax collectors.

Latvala filed the bill (SB 200) for consideration during the 2015 legislative session beginning March 3. The measure seeks a public-records exemption for email addresses used in communications between tax collectors and taxpayers.

“In order to conduct business electronically with a tax collector, the taxpayer must report his or her personal email address,” the bill says. Currently, email addresses are public record, available to anyone.

“However,” the bill continues, “such addresses are unique to the individual and, when combined with other personal identifying information, can be used for identity theft, taxpayer scams, and other invasive contacts.

“Public availability of personal email addresses invites and exacerbates thriving and well-documented criminal activities and puts taxpayers at increased risk of harm.”

GREYHOUND INJURY BILL ON LEGISLATURE’S EARLY AGENDA Full story here

During the first week of the 2015 legislative session, the Florida Senate expects to take up the issue of greyhound injuries, as Democratic state Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Coral Springs filed a bill to mandate reporting requirements for injuries to racing greyhounds.

The bill (HB 129) is identical to SB 2, filed by Hollywood Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel.

The name of each bill is the “Victoria Q. Gaetz Racing Greyhound Protection Act,” in honor of animal-rights supporter Vicky Gaetz, wife of Niceville Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz.

Republican Senate President Andy Gardiner said that the upper chamber would likely approve the bill in the first week of the session starting March 3.

Among other things, the bill requires reporting greyhound injuries within seven days and listing the information needed for submission.

DEO TO STUDY DAYTONA STADIUM FUNDING Full story here

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity is studying an application from the Daytona International Speedway for $90 million in sales-tax revenue to help fund ongoing renovations at the racetrack.

DEO officials recently considered the speedway’s paperwork complete. Next, the agency will review the application for economic viability, according to spokesperson Jessica Sims.

The first of four stadium-funding requests to reach the review point was South Florida Stadium LLC, representing Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins.

The process is part of a new funding process created by state lawmakers in the 2014 legislative session, where applicants faced a Nov. 1 due date. Under the rules, reviews do not start until the state declares the paperwork is complete.

The DEO Division of Strategic Business Development is working with Jacksonville and Orlando for additional information to complete applications, Sims said.

Florida law mandates the state agency to provide to the Legislative Budget Commission a list ranking applicants by Feb. 1.

Seeking $3 million in taxpayer money each year for 30 years is Daytona International Speedway and South Florida Stadium. Jacksonville is asking for $1 million a year for 30 years to help finance upgrades to EverBank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Orlando wants $2 million a year for construction of a Major League Soccer stadium, expected to cost $110 million.

MIAMI-DADE APPROVES $9 MILLION FOR SKYRISE MIAMI via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald

Miami-Dade commissioners backed tapping new property taxes to borrow $9 million for SkyRise Miami, a funding plan opposed by the project’s hometown mayor.

With only three No votes, county support for the planned 1,000-foot observation tower passed by a comfortable margin. The decision marked a comeback for SkyRise developer Jeff Berkowitz, since the spending proposal nearly died in a 6-6 tie last month. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado objected, saying he had pledged to city voters that no tax dollars would go to SkyRise when he championed it in a referendum over the summer.

Miami voters overwhelmingly approved the SkyRise project in August, and the money comes from a $2.9 billion borrowing program passed in a Miami-Dade referendum 10 years ago. County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson cited public support as one reason for switching her November No vote to a Yes.

“Who am I to turn around and say the voters didn’t know what they were voting for?” she said.

SkyRise, a tourist attraction that expects to employ about 600 people, still needs to negotiate a grant agreement with Miami-Dade. It only gets the money once the project is up and running. Berkowitz is raising the bulk of the $430 million needed for the 1,000-foot tower overseas through a federal program that grants green cards to foreign investors who put up at least $500,000 for a U.S. project. After the vote, he said having the local government’s backing will be key in recruiting more than 500 investors he’s seeking in Asia and elsewhere.

“It sends the message to China … and all over the world that Dade County supports SkyRise Miami,” Berkowitz told reporters. The waterfront tourist attraction planned for city-owned waterfront is billed as the “Eiffel Tower of Miami,” though Berkowitz said of his project: “I think it’s better looking than the Eiffel Tower.”

Berkowitz needed Miami voters’ approval to build the tower next to Bayside Marketplace, and one of his campaign slogans was “No Cost to the City.” Though his pursuit of Miami-Dade dollars hadn’t been made public, he had written city officials about his request for the county cash months before the referendum.

After the Nov. 5 tie at the county commission, he and his lobbyist, Brian May, set about winning over opponents and managed to flip two: Edmonson and Sally Heyman. Two others, Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Juan C. Zapata, left after a lunchtime holiday party, but Berkowitz had enough Yes votes to win even if they had stayed to oppose the project.

***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 County TX Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, first female sheriff for San Antonio. To get a 10% savings on registration click here.***

ENDORSEMENTS: 

>>> Florida Medical Association PAC (FMA PAC) is endorsing Republican Mike Davis in his bid for the special election in Florida House District 17. “As a small business owner, Mike Davis understands that physicians face many of the same barriers when it comes to government red tape,” said FMA PAC President Dr. Ralph Nobo. “Davis will be a strong advocate as we push for measures to improve the delivery of health care to Floridians.”

CHRIS SPROWLS FILES FOR 2016 RUN; CARY PIGMAN DRAWS CHALLENGER Full story here

This week, recently elected state House Rep. Chris Sprowls has filed paperwork as an initial step toward re-election in 2016, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, unseated former Democratic state Rep. Carl Zimmermann on Nov. 4 for Pinellas County’s House District 65.

Filing a campaign account allows Sprowls to raise funds for his re-election bid.

Meanwhile, Lake Placid Democrat Tony Munnings Sr. filed paperwork this week to face state Rep. Cary Pigman for House District 55 in 2016. Pigman, a Republican from Avon Park, also took the initial step for another run in the district covering Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee and part of St. Lucie counties.

LENNY CURRY GOES CAJUN: WHAT WILL LOUISIANA POLITICAL VETS BRING TO JAX MAYORAL RACE? via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

The big news last week in the Jax Mayoral Race was Lenny Curry’s hiring of top-level campaign staff fresh off the just concluded Bill Cassidy Louisiana senatorial campaign, a triumph of Lee Atwater-styled power politics. As Phil Ammann wrote on this site last week, “Curry’s campaign manager will be Brian Swensen, a former political director for the Republican Party of Florida who also served as Cassidy’s political director.” Meanwhile, “Curry’s political director will be Jessica Laird, a Cassidy field director.”

These choices carry symbolic weight beyond the obvious, as Cassidy’s victory in the race required two elections (as Curry’s likely would should he win). The General Election in November saw incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen.-elect Cassidy emerge for the runoff with 42.1 percent and 41 percent of the vote respectively. The runoff, obviously, did not go in Landrieu’s favor.

Cassidy won by almost 12 percentage points, and she actually lost nearly 42,000 votes from the first campaign, whereas Cassidy picked up over 109,000 votes, many of which came from the ledger of defeated Republican candidates in the November election (most notably, Rob Maness, the Tea Party candidate who siphoned off 13 percent of the vote in November, and who endorsed Cassidy immediately after the November election).

As Jacksonville residents know from the 2011 election, mayoral elections have two phases in this city — the rough and tumble scrum of the blanket primary, and the more disciplined operation that is the runoff. There is no reason to think, given a field with at least three viable candidates, that 2015 will deviate from the pattern. And there is every reason to believe that Curry hiring high-level staffers who are fresh off a two-phase election is no accident. Curry knows that he needs people who can handle both parts of the operation smoothly, and the Cassidy victory over Landrieu was the best example of that in 2014.

No other candidate in the Jacksonville mayoral race has such a professional operation. The campaign of incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown seems to have stalled out. Grassroots Democratic organizers have voiced complaints to this reporter on everything from the candidate’s social conservatism, as it relates to the Human Rights Ordinance extension to LGBT people that he failed to support earlier in his term, to the high-handed manner in which the mayor’s office dealt with them post-election.

Brown’s most high-profile fundraising event this year was with Bill Cosby in New York City, on the evening the City Council approved the City Budget; after the Cosby scandals broke, the campaign’s Taking Jacksonville to the Next Level political committee was compelled to return the money. At that time, David Beattie, longtime political consultant and senior adviser to the Brown re-election campaign, told me that returning the $19,000 raised at the NYC event was “the right thing to do.”

TAMPA’S BOB BUCKHORN POISED TO WIN RE-ELECTION UNOPPOSED via Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times

Barring a last-minute surprise, watch for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to walk into a second four-year term unopposed.

To get on the ballot, any challenger either would have to gather the signatures of 3,472 registered city voters by Jan. 2 — a monumental task, given the deadline — or pay a $9,000 qualifying fee by noon Jan. 16.

If no one does, Buckhorn will be re-elected automatically. That appears more likely now that former Occupy Tampa activist Becky Rubright has given up trying to make the March 3 ballot.

“I can’t imagine anything unexpected will happen,” said Dick Greco, the last Tampa mayor to be unopposed for re-election, in 1999. “He’s doing a good job. Tampa’s on the move. There won’t be any reason for people to be running against Bob.”

All of which is reassuring to Buckhorn, but, in the abstract, is it good for Tampa not to have a contested mayor’s race?

“That’s a good question,” Buckhorn said last week. “I don’t know the answer.”

From his perspective, he said, being unopposed would be “the ultimate vote of confidence in my performance over the last four years.”

***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.***

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Mike Abrams, Chris Dorworth, Ballard Partners: AA Acquisitions, Airside Park

Matthew Forrest, Ballard Partners: City of Pembroke Pines

Michael Bascom: Reef Monitoring, Inc.

Robert Diffenderfer, Lewis Longman & Walker: Professional Firefighters/Paramedics of Palm Beach Co.

Marty Fiorentino, Mark Pinto, The Fiorentino Group: Avallity

CHECK OUT the smart play on Fangate from the lobbying team at GrayRobinson here.

DATA TARGETING POKES FUN AT REDISTRICTING LEGAL FIGHT WITH ANIMATED XMAS CARD Full story here

Among the things to be said of Pat Bainter, add to it a healthy sense of humor.

Bainter, the founder of Gainesville-based GOP consulting firm Data Targeting, released the company Christmas card this week – poking a little fun at the legal battle over release of disputed redistricting documents.

The festive animated card, accessed through a link on the Data Targeting homepage that says “Click here to reveal secret documents,” is complete with jingling bells and Bainter dressed in a Santa coat.

On it, he is flanked by associates Matt Mitchell and Mike Sheehan.

“Darn, they got our ‘secret,’” the card reads. “Political consultants are interested in politics.”

“There’s one ‘secret’ we’ve made sure they’ll never get,” it continues, as a 15-second clock counts down to “self-destruction.” At zero, the card slowly lowers into a paper shredder. “Merry Christmas.”

Although Bainter and his company ultimately lost its legal claims of privacy, free speech and “trade secrets,” in the end, Data Targeting was still a winner in the redistricting skirmish.

FOR LAWYERS AND LOBBYISTS AT GIFT SEASON, IT’S NEVER JUST THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS via Roxanne Roberts of the Washington Post

Perhaps at this very minute, an executive is staring at a large gift basket filled with cheese, pears and other holiday cheer. Or maybe it’s a bottle of very expensive wine, tickets to a game or a personalized phone charger.

For every federal employee or journalist prohibited from accepting anything because of ethics rules, there are thousands of other private-sector professionals — lawyers, investment bankers, lobbyists and more — who both send and receive generous gifts every December. The trick, of course, is picking just the right gift: something memorable, and appropriate, that will impress important clients and valued employees.

But corporate gifts are fraught with all the same baggage as personal gift-giving. And everyone who says it’s the thought that counts is lying. They’re judging.

Now, it’s all about personalization,’ says one local executive who has worked in business development for a number of top law firms. Most offices now use ‘CRM’: client relationship management software that tracks birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies and other personal information. A number of firms now expect individual partners to select and personally buy gifts for their own clients.

Given the number of mergers and other financial sensitivities in big law, more are choosing less conspicuous gifts or gatherings. … Another trend: holiday parties created as family events, like one recently at the Kennedy Center where clients could bring their children and still network. … Winston Lord had to come up with a corporate gift … on a limited budget. … The chief marketing officer of Venga, a start-up that supplies data to restaurants, wanted something that his customers would use and remember. He has three Harry and David fruit boxes on his desk … Portable phone chargers [are] the go-to corporate present this year, … and he has already received six or seven of them. …

[Win] decided to create a 2015 calendar … Each month features company execs in food-themed photos recreating famous movie scenes; Lord is July’s cover boy, being doused with macaroni a la the bath scene in ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ ‘They’ll open it up and get a laugh,’ he says. ‘I’m not expecting them to put it on their home refrigerator. But maybe the office refrigerator.'”

***CoreMessage is a full-service communications and issues advocacy firm with the experience, relationships and expertise to help you get your message out. Connected at the state Capitol and throughout Florida, the CoreMessage team unites issues with advocates, messages with media and innovative solutions with traditional tactics to get results. Follow CoreMessage on Twitter and visit them on the Web at www.coremessage.com.***

CONTEXT FLORIDA: 2014’S DISAPPOINTMENTS, PENSACOLA WISH, CUBA SANCTIONS AND SEA TURTLES

On Context Florida: As much as we would like to think otherwise, in politics not everyone can be a winner. Peter Schorsch says that few will disagree that 2014 was a particularly fertile political year, one that produced a bumper crop of political winners – most of them Republicans. Schorsch offers his list of the year’s most disappointing Florida politicians. Shannon Nickinson’s Christmas wish is a humble one, from one informed citizen to whatever benevolent spirits remain at work in the universe. Pensacola is a community with promise, where much progress has been made, but where much remains to be done. It needs adults at the helm. In moving the U.S. closer to normal relations with Cuba, what Obama gives the Castro brothers is the eventual promise of more economic prosperity. But it may be too late to benefit either one of the Cuban leaders, says Jac Wilder VerSteeg. During two years working with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sea turtle research team, Claire Gonzales developed a respect for the leatherback sea turtle. But, sadly, sea turtles are in danger.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

DOCUMENTS: QB WINSTON CLEARED IN CONDUCT HEARING via Kareem Copeland of the Associated Press

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was cleared of the accusations he faced at a student code of conduct hearing involving an alleged sexual assault two years ago, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Former Florida Supreme Court judge Major Harding wrote in a letter to Winston that the evidence was “insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.” A prosecutor made a similar decision a year ago when he decided not to criminally charge Winston, citing a lack of evidence.

This month, the hearing was to determine whether Winston violated four sections of the code of conduct — two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment.

The ramifications for Winston ranged from a reprimand to expulsion from school.

The woman can request an appeal within five days.

CONGRATS to Melissa and David Ramba on news that they are expecting Baby Ramba to arrive July 1.

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.