Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 4

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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: Have it your way – from right here in Florida. Today is the 60th anniversary of the first Burger King store, which opened on NW 36th Street in Miami on December 4, 1954. Within a year the operation had grown to more than 40 Florida locations, and by 1959 franchises were located across the nation. Earlier this year the corporation, still headquartered in Miami, merged with Canadian donut/coffee chain Tim Hortons, creating the world’s third-largest quick service restaurant company with more than 18,000 restaurants in 100 countries. That’s no Whopper!

Now, on to the ‘burn…

HILLARY HESITATES via Maggie Haberman and James Hohmann of POLITICO

The would-be 2016 presidential candidates are increasingly seeing the benefits to waiting longer before declaring their intentions — including the dominant person in the race, Hillary Clinton, who shows few signs of making a decision before next year.

Despite a commanding lead among Democrats and the widespread expectation that she’ll run, Clinton is still uncertain about whether to launch a second run for president, according to several people familiar with her thinking in recent weeks.

While some advisers suggested she should form an exploratory committee this year to send a signal to donors, her allies who argued otherwise have won the debate — with no committee expected until well after Jan. 1, the sources said.

“She should take her time,” said one adviser who believes that the high-profile Clinton would only give license to her critics by becoming a declared candidate too early.

Last time, Clinton felt pushed into the race earlier than she’d wanted to be by Barack Obama’s January 2007 announcement of an exploratory committee. Now she appears comfortable moving at a slower pace. She is still scheduling paid speeches, as POLITICO first reported, as late as Feb. 24 – suggesting she’s unlikely to be a declared candidate until after that date. What’s more, the man she is expected to tap for a major role in her campaign, current White House adviser John Podesta, has raised the possibility of remaining in his job until after the State of the Union address in late January.

Republican operatives familiar with discussions about how to attack Clinton said at least two outside GOP groups may go up with ads to define her in early 2015, especially if she waits for several weeks to launch a campaign.

Clinton could, in January, make clear she’s running but delay an announcement. And if she doesn’t intend to run, she would be criticized for harming the party’s chances of holding the White House if she waits much beyond mid-January, several Democratic insiders said.

PLEA FROM CHRISTIE COUNTRY: RUN, JEB, RUN! via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

As former Gov. Jeb Bush nears an announcement on whether he’ll run for president in 2016, he’s getting encouragement to do so from the largest newspaper in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie‘s state.

The Newark-based Star-Ledger ran an editorial Wednesday that’s partly in praise of Bush and largely a shot at Christie, who has had a rocky relationship with the paper.

“Let’s hope he jumps in,” the Star-Ledger says of Bush. “He is one of the grown-ups in the Republican Party, a pragmatist who believes in the art of compromise, and he has shown the guts to push back against pressure from the Tea Party on big issues, like immigration and taxes.”

Plus, the Star-Ledger continues, a Bush candidacy “would likely hasten the day when Christie gives up, and gets back to doing his job.”

The Star-Ledger offered a backhanded endorsement of Christie’s re-election bid in 2013, calling him “much better at politics than he is at governing” but pronouncing his Democratic challenger “deeply flawed.”

RAND PAUL TAKES AIM AT JEB AS 2016 LOOMS via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul took aim at Bush as both Republicans consider running for their party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

Paul appeared with Megyn Kelly on Fox News and was asked about Bush’s comments that presidential candidates should not go too far out to the right to win the GOP nomination in order to be better positioned for the general election.

“I think your first mistake is when you talk about conservatives in the third person,” Paul told Kelly. “If you don’t consider that it’s a ‘we’ rather than ‘them,’ you really miss what’s going on in the Republican Party. We are a conservative party. As a conservative, I can’t understand really even referring to conservatives in the third person.”


The leading contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination is polling at a measly 3 percent in two new national surveys testing Republican primary candidates. He wasn’t even included in Bloomberg’s November poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters. He’s been overshadowed by the media’s obsession with brand-name candidates, like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, even though his profile is more compelling than either.

But Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is as well-positioned as any Republican to emerge from the crowded scrum of potential candidates—and his strengths are significant enough that many are forgetting what made him a top Republican prospect in the first place: He’s one of the few candidates who can win support from both the establishment wing of the party and tea-party activists; he’s the most electable Republican, thanks to his compelling biography; he’s the GOP’s answer to Elizabeth Warren on economic mobility; he’s one of the few Republican contenders with a background in foreign policy; he’s already leading the invisible primary.

Far more important than the results of early primary polls are the behind-the-scenes maneuvering — racing to hire the top staffers, building a national donor base, and developing chits with prospective supporters — that constitute the so-called invisible primary. Rubio, through his Reclaim America PAC, has been one step ahead of many potential rivals on all these fronts.

Rubio was also an aggressive fundraiser and campaigner for GOP Senate candidates, most of whom emerged victorious. He cut a Spanish-language ad for Colorado Sen.-elect Cory Gardner, endorsed and fundraised for Ernst in the competitive primary, and campaigned for Rep. Bill Cassidy last month for this week’s Louisiana runoff against Sen. Mary Landrieu.

If Rubio runs for president, one thing is guaranteed: He’ll be prepared for the grueling race.


Long after he died, C.W. Bill Young maintained a presence on Capitol Hill, his old office still bearing his name.

But that era is passing now, too.

On Monday night about 20 former staffers, including his successor, Rep. David Jolly, gathered in Room 2407 of the Rayburn House Office Building to say goodbye. Jolly got the office after winning the special election in March but with a new Congress coming in, he’ll have to give it up for a more senior member.

Jolly decided not to occupy the actual office; rather turning it into the C.W. Bill Young Conference Room.

“Mr. Young touched so many lives during his 53 years of service, and in a very special way those who had the opportunity to learn from him as members of his staff,” Jolly said.” His office in Rayburn has been a place of many memories since 1984. It was exciting to see former Young alumni from many decades come together to celebrate a man and a legacy, and fondly remember the so many important and historic events that occurred under his watch in that very special office.”

Jolly is moving to the seventh floor of the Longworth House Office Building. The spacious former Young office is going to Democratic Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia.


U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis announced he will continue serving on the House Energy and Commerce Health Committee. Bilirakis will also be on the Subcommittee on Health, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade.

“I am honored to continue my work on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the 114th Congress,” Bilirakis said. “We have made tremendous strides the past two years. We have passed bills that will put Americans back to work, lower energy costs, put patients in charge of their health care, and generally help Americans across the nation thrive. It has truly been a bipartisan record of success.

“I am pleased I will be returning to the Health and Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittees – they have provided me with excellent opportunities to advocate for my constituents on a wide variety of issues,” Bilirakis added. “I am extremely grateful to be able to serve on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee in the coming Congress. Net neutrality, cybersecurity, and innovation in the technology sector are all pressing matters facing the nation, and I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on these and other issues.”

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U.S. COURT WON’T EXTEND FLORIDA GAY MARRIAGE STAY via Curt Anderson of the Associated Press

A federal appeals court refused to extend past Jan. 5 a hold on a ruling that declared Florida’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, possibly bringing same-sex weddings one step closer to reality.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said it will consider the substance of the state’s appeal on an expedited basis. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi wants the court to reverse a Tallahassee federal judge’s decision in August that would strike down the same-sex marriage ban.

In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said the Jan. 5 date would give enough time for appeals to be considered before any Florida marriage licenses are issued to same-sex couples. If the appeals court were to reverse Hinkle’s decision, the date would become irrelevant.

Still, Equality Florida Chief Executive Officer Nadine Smith hailed the single-page ruling as a victory, noting that if the stay expires, gay couples could begin applying for marriage licenses after Jan. 5.

“Every day of delay is another day of harm experienced by thousands of loving and committed same-sex couples in Florida,” she said. “Now it’s time to break out the wedding bells. Florida is ready for the freedom to marry.”

Bondi spokesperson Jennifer Meale said officials are reviewing the decision. One of the state’s options would be to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to extend the stay past the date as appeals are pending.


Like his predecessor, Sen. Don Gaetz, Gardiner gave chairmanships to three Democrats: Sen. Bill Montford at Agriculture; Sen. Jeremy Ring at Governmental Oversight and Accountability; and Sen. Eleanor Sobel at Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. Those three Democrats chaired those committees for the past two years.

Gardiner handed three of the most coveted appropriations subcommittee chairmanships to Gaetz (Education) and to the two senators locked in a competition to succeed Gardiner as president in 2016: Sen. Jack Latvala will chair the budget subcommittee on transportation and economic development and Sen. Joe Negron chairs the subcommittee for criminal and civil justice appropriations.

Sen. Rene Garcia will chair the budget panel for health and human services and Sen. Alan Hays stays put as chairman of the budget subcommittee for general government.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is the new chair of the Banking & Insurance Committee, perennially a focal point of business lobbying, as is the Communications, Utilities and Public Utilities committee, now chaired by Sen. Denise Grimsley. Sen. John Legg chairs Education Pre-K-12, and Sen. Kelli Stargel chairs Higher Education.

Sen. Rob Bradley is the new chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee, overseeing gambling, alcohol, tobacco and other assorted vices. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla now chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Garrett Richter heads the Ethics & Elections Committee, which figures to be a quieter place for the next two years.

READ HERE WITHOUT DOWNLOADINGFull list of Senate Committee Chairs and Member Assignments.


A bipartisan group of business leaders unveiled a plan that would extend coverage to an additional 800,000 Floridians by tapping into the statewide Medicaid managed care system and charging the newly insured monthly premiums.

The proposal would provide coverage to all people who aren’t eligible for the current Medicaid program and with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. it would use federal Medicaid dollars and would operate under an 1115 Demonstration Waiver. Eventually it would cover about 1 million people.

Premiums will be charged on a sliding scale basis depending on circumstances  with childless adults paying the most–$300 annually–and parents with young children and young adults aged 19 and 20 paying the least–$36 annually.

And in a departure from the federal health care law–commonly called Obamacare–coverage won’t be effective until after premiums have been paid.

The plan has the support of heavy hitters like Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Hospital Association and Florida United Business Association.

AIF President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Feeney called the plan a good starting point for 2015 legislative discussions and one that should be considered given the tax burden employers face for not providing coverage to their employees.


Since entering the Legislature, Rep. Jason Brodeur has wanted to chair the House Health & Human Services Committee. Now his goal has been reached

Brodeur was named committee chair earlier this week when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli released a list of committee chairs earlier this week.

It’s not surprising he had his sights on the committee given before being named President of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce and before being elected to the Florida House in 2010, he negotiated managed care contracts for Proctor & Gamble for 12 years and ran a health care consulting firm. He even served on the state Florida Medicaid Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee.

He’s a policy wonk and a perusal of the bills he filed last session — a medical malpractice system overhaul, HB 739, and an omnibus bill pushed by the Florida Medical Association, CS/HB 1001 — show that.

But don’t expect him to file many bills this year. He sees his role, instead, to help shepherd bigger issues through his committee, with the goal of creating a health care system that provides “the best outcomes at the lowest costs.”

One issue he predicted will resurface in 2015 is remolding the state  group health insurance plan. The latest revenue forecasts shows that the trust fund that pays for the health care costs is solvent and in 2013-14 revenues outpaced expenses by nearly $58 million. The difference between revenues and expenses is projected to dip to $34.2 million in the current fiscal year.


It’s not a state-created “exchange” as envisioned in the federal health law but it does want to be the “marketplace” where Floridians and small businesses go to purchase health insurance, including so-called Obamacare plans.

Florida Health Choices — which has enrolled 49 people since past Spring  when it first started offering discount medical plans and limited benefit plans — will start offering individuals and employers access to qualified health plans, meaning they meet the edicts laid out in the federal health-care law commonly called Obamacare.

Florida Health Choices Chief Executive Officer Rose Naff did not know when the plans would be available other than to say “soon.” They can only be sold during an annual open enrollment period which runs from November 15, 2014, through February 15, 2015.

Naff did not have any projections on the number of people who ultimately will enroll in health insurance plans through the FloridaChoices portal.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has opposed Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as has Gov. Rick Scott.

The decision to offer qualified health plans was made by the Florida Health Choices Board of Directors at its September meeting, Naff said. Since then, she has tried unsuccessfully to reach out to the federal government to see if the Florida Health Choices portal could interface with the portal.

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Term-limited state Rep. Charles Van Zant could be replaced by his wife, Katherine Van Zant, in 2016.

On Tuesday, the 53-year-old Keystone Heights Republican filed paperwork for House District 19, which covers Bradford, Putnam, Union and part of Clay counties. Katherine said she worked closely with her husband while in office and her experience on water policy and the prison system fueled her interest in running.

To date, Van Zant is the only candidate to file for the race.

As a water and wastewater engineer, her experience on water policy puts her in a position to address one of the top priorities in the upcoming legislative session. The St. Johns River is a big concern in HD 19, she said, as are water issues in Keystone Heights and other regions.

“A lot of people don’t realize this area is the water recharge area for North Central Florida,” Van Zant said, adding that she spent hundreds of hours as a volunteer in the prison system, a major employer in Bradford and Union counties.


After winning in November, state Rep. Scott Plakon filed paperwork for a re-election run in 2016, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Plakon will return to the Legislature after unseating Democratic state Rep. Mike Clelland last month in Seminole County’s House District 29. The Longwood Republican served four years in the House until 2012, when he lost the race in neighboring District 30. Filing paperwork allows Plakon to start fundraising for the race.


He’s used to often being in the minority on the City Council, so it won’t be a shock to him to be a Democratic House member in Tallahassee.

St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton declared he’ll be a candidate for House District 70 in 2015, the seat currently occupied by Rep. Darryl Rouson, who won re-election just last month. But it will be his last term in the House due to term limits. The district is one of the most bizarrely gerrymandered in the state, encompassing South Pinellas, as well as parts of Hillsborough, Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Newton is a two-term Councilman who will be term limited out of his seat next November.

Speaking with SaintPetersBlog this afternoon, the 51-year-old St. Pete native said his main passion will be advocating for juvenile justice issues if elected to serve in Tallahassee in 2016. He also said he realizes that the issues that he’s worked on in South St. Pete may be different than the other regions in the district, but he said he looks forward to representing all of the constituents in HD 70.

And he said he’s had plenty of practice in being opposed by the majority during his six years on Council, so he’s prepared for what can be extremely challenging for any Democrat in the state capitol, where they sometimes can seem like endangered species. There are currently only 37 Democrats in the House, and over 40 Republicans.

Along with juvenile justice, Newton has been a passionate critic against red-light camera and for maintaining the iconic structure of the St. Pete Pier.

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Context Florida is excited to announce the addition of columnist Jac Wilder VerSteeg, who is joining the online statewide opinion network as Managing Editor.

VerSteeg replaces Thomas O’Hara, who has taken a position as full-time journalism professor at Florida Atlantic University starting in the spring.

During his career covering Florida issues for nearly three decades, VerSteeg served as a columnist for the Sun Sentinel and editorial writer and editor for The Palm Beach Post.

Highlights of VerSteeg’s career include reporting on a Haiti coup and joining Lawton and Rhea Chiles for breakfast in the Governor’s Mansion. He has also been recognized by a number of awards for writing about education and open government.

Born in Chicago, VerSteeg loves Florida’s wildlife … and hates hurricanes. He grew up in North Carolina, graduating from East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I look forward to being a part of the intelligent debate that thrives on Context Florida,” VerSteeg said.

ALICO BUYING THREE FLORIDA CITRUS PRODUCERS FOR $363 MILLION via Jeff Harrington and Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times

Alico Inc. is buying three Florida citrus operations for $363 million in an aggressive move that the Fort Myers company says will make it the largest citrus producer in the country.

The biggest of the deals is the $274 million acquisition of Orange-Co. LP, which has about 20,263 acres, one of the largest contiguous citrus grove properties in the state. The deal was financed in part through proceeds from Alico’s recently announced $97 million sale of its sugarcane assets.

Separately, Alico is also buying Silver Nip Citrus for $72 million, adding 7,434 acres into its fold, and Gator Grove for $16.6 million, adding about 1,241 acres contiguous to the Orange-Co property.

Together, the deals will boost Alico’s annual production to about 10 million boxes, or roughly 10 percent of Florida’s citrus production.

The acquisitions sound contrarian given how Florida’s citrus industry has been decimated by a widespread bacterial disease called citrus greening.

But Alico indicated long-term promise for its citrus business.

CLICK DU JOUR: Southern Strategy Group’s 2014 Holiday Card here.


Former University of North Florida lobbyist Matt Brockelman is joining Southern Strategy Group as the newest team member in its Jacksonville office.

A UNF graduate and lifelong Jacksonville resident, Brockelman also worked in media relations for the Jacksonville Mayor’s Office.

SSG founder Paul Bradshaw noted that Brockelman quickly rose to leadership positions as UNF student body president and was the youngest person to receive a fellowship to the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Political Leadership Institute.

“Matt fully represents the traits we most prize in our lobbying team,” Bradshaw said. “He’s responsive to clients and is a tireless, aggressive advocate. We’re thrilled to have Matt as part of Southern Strategy Group’s team.”

With degrees in finance and marketing from UNF, Brockelman also serves on the school’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. As student body president, he helped secure a partnership between UNF and the Jacksonville Jaguars resulting in the first-ever dedicated student section at an NFL stadium.

Brockelman also served as vice chair of the Florida Student Association, a statewide organization representing more than 330,000 students in Florida’s public universities.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Carrie O’Rourke. Celebrating today is Jason Fernandez.

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.