Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 8

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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 date which will live in infamy.” On December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Congress and a stunned nation why the United States had to go to war with Japan. One day earlier, Japan had pulled off what Roosevelt called a “dastardly” attack at Pearl Harbor, and in his stern 503-word speech Roosevelt said, “The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.” He vowed that America “will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.” In our modern world we know that treachery can come from many sources, and FDR’s fierce determination serves as a model of America’s resolve to never yield to its foes.

Now, on to the ‘burn…


Bush might or might not run for president in 2016. If he runs, he might or might not emerge as a winner. But his formulation for how to think about waging a successful presidential campaign suggests he already is ahead of some of his potential competitors — in both parties.

Bush spoke last week at a Wall Street Journal conference in Washington. In an interview conducted by Jerry Seib, the Journal’s Washington bureau chief, he said that anyone running for president should be prepared “to lose the primary to win the general [election] without violating your principles.”

What Bush said is the opposite of the oft-stated idea that presidential candidates run to the left or the right to win their party’s presidential nomination and then scamper back to the center as best they can for the general election. That prescription, while sometimes successful, can easily contribute to cynicism among the voters, who watch and wonder whether their politicians have any principles beyond the desire to win at any cost.

Bush offered a different concept, one grounded less to the machinations of typical political campaigns and more dependent on the power of ideas and the confidence to test them in the marketplace. At its core, what Bush was saying is that the best candidates are those who know what they believe, are not afraid to take risks to articulate those convictions and, in some measure, use their campaign to help redefine their party rather than becoming a prisoner of party orthodoxies and constituencies.

Bush said last week that he would decide “in short order” whether to run. Advisers say there is nothing imminent, that his timetable is the same as it has been all year: get through the midterms and then sit down with his family before making a final decision.

Bush’s strengths and weaknesses as a possible presidential candidate are well known. He governed effectively and conservatively in a populous and diverse state for eight years. But he’s been out of office since early 2007, in which time both his party and the nature of political campaigns have changed. He’s the son and brother of former presidents, so he’s seen the inside of two different presidencies. But the Bush name remains a mixed blessing with the general electorate.

Bush’s major liabilities in the nomination battle would be his positions on immigration reform and education reform. He is at odds with many conservatives because he supports a path to some kind of legal status for millions of illegal immigrants and because of his advocacy for Common Core educational standards.


Jeb Bush, a moderate squish?

The specious perception of Bush outside of Florida reflects both a fundamental misunderstanding of the man, probably due to assumptions based on the presidential records of his father and brother, and also how far rightward the Republican Party has shifted since Bush left the Governor’s Mansion in 2007.

Bush was not just a successful Republican governor politically; He was a conservative activist governor who relished pushing the envelope on policy. Conservative activists elsewhere may revile the Bush name, but in America’s biggest battleground state this Bush is like a Milton Friedman or Barry Goldwater in terms of promoting conservatism.

And yet Bush, 61, may be too moderate to win over today’s GOP primary voters.

Bush himself acknowledged as much last week when he suggested a successful Republican presidential candidate likely has to antagonize much of the party’s base, or “lose the primary to win the general.”

That’s because Jeb Bush, whether or not he is at heart more of a Reagan Republican than a George W. Bush Republican, holds positions on immigration reform and education that are toxic in a Republican primary.

When Bush governed Florida from 1999 to 2007, immigration reform was a minor issue here and nationally.

It’s a different world now. Mitt Romney helped kill Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s candidacy by bludgeoning him as soft on undocumented immigrants, and Marco Rubio is still trying to recover after embracing a pathway to citizenship in the Senate.

5 SIGNS BUSH IS READYING A PRESIDENTIAL RUN via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Here are the five signs that, contrary to what people like me once thought, make Bush appear more likely to run than not:  Bush avoids most press gaggles … Bush has never been obese, but the 6’4” 61-year-old gained a little more weight than he’d prefer. On Tuesday, he looked his trimmest in years. One source said he has a new personal trainer and has lost 15 pounds in recent weeks. Bush also had knee surgery recently and needs to keep his weight down to minimize the stress. … The style of his speeches were telling … (L)ongtime confidante Sally Bradshaw had presidential talks with Rob Collins and Liesl Hickey, the respective executive directors of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee … Rather than spook Bush, the criticisms over his immigration and education positions could perversely inspire him to run.


In a speech that virtually screamed of presidential ambition, Marco Rubio said that while he is not anti-Wall Street, it’s time for the GOP to become the party for a struggling middle class who now believe that the American dream is something that may no longer be attainable.

Speaking at the Republican Party of Florida’s Winter meeting in Tampa, the 43-year-old U.S. Senator gave a 15-minute speech that attempted to go where some conservatives feel the party has needed to go for years – addressing the growing economic inequality gap in the U.S. that continues to widen.

Rubio acknowledged globalization and enhanced technology as being forces that are contributing to “this middle-class crunch.” He referred to the frustration that parents with children aspiring to attend college now feel, caught between making too much money to qualify for financial aide, but not enough to afford those tuition costs themselves. And he said our economic order was changing dramatically, and it was time everyone noticed it.

“Do you realize that close to half the jobs that exist in the American economy today won’t exist 20 years from now,” he told the Florida Republicans, which included Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Senator Tom Lee in the audience. He then mentioned specifically how a salesperson at a drive-through at McDonalds won’t be taking their orders in the future. “Because in about 5-6 years there’s going to be a touch-screen there, and not a person taking that order.”

He then lambasted what he called “an old and tired higher education system,” that “stigmatizes vocational training in education.”

“My point is, all of these things are conspiring against the middle class,” he continued, adding that it’s now the chance of Republicans to reverse this tide, to offer the country an agenda that will restore the American dream. He bashed “radical environmentalists who have made millions of dollars on fossil fuels” as being mortal threats to Americans well being (an obvious reference to San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, who spent $74 million on this year’s election going after candidates who questioned that climate change is man-made), saying that while they can afford to pay another $300-$400 a month in electric bills if certain policies were enacted, “But a single mom? Trying to raise two kids on her on own? A $50 increase in her electric bill could wipe her out.”

And then putting on a little Elizabeth Warren spin, Rubio went on a bit of anti-Wall Street screed, saying that “If she runs for President, no candidate in American history will have more support in the boardrooms than Hillary Clinton. That’s a fact! And yet the average voter doesn’t believe that. I’m not anti-Wall Street. It has a place in our society, but what we should be fighting for is Main Street … the people who are trying to get ahead. The people who have millions of dollars in their bank accounts, we just need to treat them fairly. They can take care of themselves. But the person trying to start a business out of a spare bedroom in their home? They’re the ones that need the lowest tax rates. They’re the ones who need regulations to be under control. They’re the ones who need us to bring the national debt under control. They’re the ones that need help.”

RUBIO LOSES A KEY STAFFER via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Rubio has lost another top staff member. Sally Canfield, his deputy chief of staff for policy and an overall nice person, it taking a job with AbbVie, a phamaceutical company. Her departure follows news in November that Cesar Conda, who was Rubio’s chief of staff then transitionted to his Reclaim America PAC, had returned to his old lobbying firm Navigators Global. … Rubio’s team stressed there’s nothing to read into the moves and Canfield was effusive in praise of her former boss.


Even the basic conventions of conversation are painful for Democrats these days after last month’s nationwide beatdown by the GOP.

The DNC recently appointed a committee to study the party’s latest midterm drubbing. Florida’s Democratic Party appointed a similar task force with Sen. Bill Nelson as a co-chairman. Other state Democratic parties have also embarked on blue-ribbon quests for answers.

“We’re doing listening sessions across our state, we’re doing surveys, we want to know what people think and why we have some of the attitudes we have in this election,” said Nevada Democratic Chairwoman Roberta Lange. Democrats lost control of both houses of the Nevada Legislature and lost all six statewide races on the ballot.

Republicans made the midterm elections a referendum on President Barack Obama, but Lange and many other partisans attending the Association of State Democratic Chairs meeting at the Diplomat Resort & Spa don’t see it that way.

“I think it’s really wrong for people to say this is President Obama’s fault,” Lange said. “When you look back at his record of all the things he’s accomplished since the last election, it’s been phenomenal.”

Indiana Democratic Vice Chairwoman Cordelia Lewis Burks singled out losing Democratic Senate candidate Alison Grimes in neighboring Kentucky for refusing to say whether she’d voted for Obama in 2012.

“For those who were asked, did they vote for Barack Obama, the answer should have been ‘I’m a Democrat. Who the hell do you think I voted for?’ They didn’t have to call his name. No Democrat running for anything is going to vote for Mitt Romney. That should have been the answer,” Burks said.


Republicans will hold at least 246 House seats come January, according to election results Saturday, giving the GOP a commanding majority that matches the party’s post-World War II high during Democratic President Harry S. Truman’s administration.

The GOP retained control of two seats in runoffs in Louisiana, expanding the advantage for Speaker John Boehner who can afford defections from his increasingly conservative caucus and still get legislation passed. Combined with the Republican takeover of the Senate, Congress will be all-GOP for the final two years of President Barack Obama’s second term.

The latest count gives the GOP a 246-188 majority. One race, in Arizona, is still outstanding.

FLORIDIANS PLAY KEY ROLES ON IMMIGRATION VOTE via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

If one thing was clear from this week’s showdown in Congress over immigration reform, it was that members of Congress from Florida are in the middle of the debate.

Rep. Ted Yoho authored the bill on Thursday that would block the President from exempting some classes of immigrants from being subject to deportations, as he declared he would last month.

But two South Florida Republicans were among 7 members of the party to vote against that measure on Thursday. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both from Miami, voted against Yoho’s bill.

While they said they disagreed with the President’s actions, Diaz-Balart told reporters that the better response is to pass an immigration reform bill of their own.

“We continue to believe that the only legal and permanent solution is for Congress to pass legislation that will strengthen our borders, adhere to the rule of law, offer a humane solution to those living in the shadows, modernize our visa system, and bolster the economy,” Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen said in a joint statement to the media on Thursday.

Diaz-Balart has been a leading GOP voice in the House for passing an immigration reform bill. He spent much of 2014 trying to create a bi-partisan immigration reform bill that never made it to a vote in the House.

In 2013, another Floridian, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio led a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate in passing a reform bill. The House never took up that bill.


On the night he won the Pinellas County special election that captured national attention, David Jolly got a call from House Speaker John Boehner.

“Mr. Speaker, I want you to know two things,” now-U.S. Rep. Jolly recalled saying in March, when he defeated Democrat Alex Sink for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat.

The first was that he would work “collaboratively,” not combatively. “And I’d like you to know that eventually I’d like to go on the Appropriations Committee.”

The 42-year-old Jolly got his wish and will take the plum assignment — becoming Tampa Bay’s only representative on the committee — when the new Congress convenes next month.

At a time when Republicans are focused on cutting discretionary spending and traditional earmarks are banned, Jolly’s position could take on added clout, making up for some of the lost ground that came with the death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who over the course of decades brought hundreds of millions in funding back to Pinellas.

Jolly made the case for joining the committee on the experience of nearly 20 years working for Young, who once chaired the Appropriations Committee and then its subcommittee on defense. Jolly and his allies worked in recent weeks to secure support from key Republicans.

Less obvious but important things Jolly said he would focus on: funding for Alzheimer’s research and education and combatting melanoma. He said he would fight against efforts, which have come from his own Republican Party, to scale back Head Start.

VERN BUCHANAN’S ROLE ON SOCIAL SECURITY ISSUES INCREASES via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Buchanan will be added to the Social Security subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee, his office announced on Friday.

Buchanan is currently the only member of the House from Florida on the Ways and Means Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over all U.S. tax policies and entitlement programs like Social Security.

“I am honored to be named to such an important subcommittee,” Buchanan said in a statement to the media after incoming Ways and Means chairman Rep. Paul Ryan announced Buchanan’s subcommittee assignment. “Protecting Social Security has always been one of my highest priorities.”

Buchanan also serves on two other subcommittees on the Ways and Means Committee. He is a member of a subcommittee dealing with U.S. trade policy and another on health care issues.

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LOSS OF TAX BREAK WOULD STING FLORIDA via William Gibson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Roughly 2 million Florida families stand to lose hundreds of dollars each next year when they file their federal income-tax returns for 2014 unless Congress acts soon to renew a popular deduction for state and local sales taxes.

About one-fifth of Florida’s 10 million federal taxpayers in recent years have taken advantage of this write-off, which expired at the end of last year.

Anxious to avoid a public backlash, the U.S. House passed a temporary extension of the sales tax deduction for 2014, along with dozens of other lucrative breaks for families and businesses. But the issue remains deadlocked in the Senate, which will try to resolve it next week before ending its session.

Failure to act would add another burden to tax bills expected to grow for many families and businesses.

Proposals to reinstate the sales-tax deduction and extend or expand other expired tax breaks would reduce government revenue, adding as much as $500 billion over 10 years to the national debt. Budget watchdogs warn that more debt of this kind smothers the economy, raises interest rates and harms taxpayers in the long run.

The sales tax deduction is especially important to Florida because it is one of a handful of states with no or limited income tax. Taxpayers elsewhere can deduct their state income taxes when they file federal tax forms. The sales tax deduction was designed to level the playing field by giving taxpayers — especially in states with no income tax — another option.

About 20 percent of Florida taxpayers claimed the deduction in 2012, far more than the nationwide average of 7 percent, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Florida has 6 percent of the U.S. population but is home to 16 percent of Americans who claimed the deduction that year.

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She ran a Texas state House campaign at 19, served as a media coordinator for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in her early 20s, and was a top aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal by age 25.

Now Melissa Sellers can add another top job to her resume at a relatively early age — chief of staff.

Sellers just completed her first week as Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff. The 32-year-old Texas native replaces Adam Hollingsworth and becomes one of the youngest people in Florida to serve in the role.

Sellers has spent much of her career working in communications or on the campaign trail. She had a reputation in Louisiana as a hard-nosed spokeswoman and was described as someone who was “quick on the draw with both her smile and middle finger” in a 2008 profile of Jindal in Esquire magazine.

Scott said Sellers, who served as his campaign manager for his 2014 re-election bid, was the best person to lead his office and will help push his jobs agenda in his second term.

While this is Sellers first chief of staff position, former colleagues and statehouse watchers said her experience in the field over the years makes her well-suited for the position.

“The governor has an aggressive agenda to create jobs in Florida and make our state a global destination for job creators,” she said in an email. “The more we can message his vision to the world, the more businesses and families we can attract to our state for generations to come.”

SCOTT’S $1 BILLION TAX-CUT PLAN MAY TAKE TIME via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Gov. Scott pledged if voters rewarded him with a second term, he would return the favor with $1 billion in tax cuts and more spending on schools and conservation.

Now, Scott and lawmakers are sorting out priorities for a dwindling supply of extra tax dollars expected to be available next year.

That means something in Scott’s campaign agenda, which also included $700 million more in per-pupil education funding and hundreds of millions more in environmental spending, might have to give.

Scott is so far showing no signs of which issues he’ll focus on when he is sworn in for a second term in January.

Some of his pledges, such as cutting taxes on communication services and corporate leases, have already been filed as legislation for the 2015 session starting in March. Others, such as a constitutional amendment prohibiting an increase in property taxes for property declining in value, would be multiyear

The tax-cut promises also will have to be squared with Scott’s pledge to boost education funding from $18.9 billion this year to $19.6 billion in 2015 — despite revenue forecast for only $336.2 million in budget surplus. State economists assumed a $229 million education increase in that estimate. This week, they are slated to update the revenue figure, and spokesperson John Tupps said the governor “is confident that he will be able to accomplish his goals.”

Lawmakers and Scott also will have to grapple with carrying out Amendment 1, which will require diverting some spending from economic development and transportation projects to conservation.


Come Jan. 6, Florida may become the 36th state in which same-sex couples can go to their local county clerk’s office and get a marriage license.

Or Florida might become Kansas — a Balkanized state where some county clerks issue licenses, some won’t, and the whole issue of gay marriage is confused and unsettled.

The reason: A July memo from top law firm Greenberg Traurig advising its clients — the state association of county clerks — that if a state or federal judge threw out Florida’s gay-marriage ban the ruling would apply only to the parties in the lawsuit — not the whole state.

“I don’t want to say the memo is wrong, but the world changed since that memo was written,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which sued the state on behalf of gay-rights group SAVE and same-sex couples legally wed elsewhere, but whose marriages are not recognized in Florida. Being sued: Florida’s secretaries of health and management services and the clerk of the court in the Panhandle’s Washington County.

The July 1 memo, from lawyers John Londot, Hope Keating and Michael Moody of Greenberg Traurig’s Tallahassee office, advised the Florida Association of Court Clerks that “should a court declare the ban invalid, the obligations with respect to Clerks’ offices depends upon whether they are named defendants in the litigation.” Clerks who are not parties in the lawsuits, the lawyers said, could face “a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment of not more than one year and a fine of not more than $1,000” if they went ahead and married same-sex couples.

On Aug. 21, federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled in favor of the ACLU, throwing out the gay-marriage ban in Florida’s Constitution — approved by 62 percent of voters in 2008 — calling it “an obvious pretext for discrimination.” He stayed his ruling until Jan. 5, leaving Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi time to appeal.

Five weeks later, Greenberg Traurig attorney Londot reiterated his earlier position, writing in an op-ed published Sept. 28 in the Tallahassee Democrat: “Many are surprised to learn that a detailed court order declaring a law unconstitutional does not do what it appears to do. But the fact remains there are only two courts in the country that have the actual power to invalidate a Florida statute: the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.”


Attorney General Bondi said that she is pulling the state into a lawsuit filed against the Obama administration over the president’s executive actions on immigration.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, joined by 16 other states. It contends that the nation’s immigration problems should be addressed by Congress, not the executive branch.

Bondi, a Republican, also singled out Obama for over-reaching. She’d earlier spearheaded the campaign by mostly GOP-led states against the Affordable Care Act.

“This lawsuit is not about immigration, rather this lawsuit is about President Obama—yet again—overstepping the power granted to him by our United States Constitution,” Bondi said. “The President repeatedly said he would not violate the law, then decided to do just that.”


Expanding health care coverage, solving water problems, improving education and handling issues like legalizing medical marijuana and gambling were among the topics Florida leaders discussed during a summit Friday.

The idea was to bring together a bipartisan mix of political, business and education leaders to look at the major issues facing Florida in the immediate and distant future and to brainstorm on how the state should tackle them.

The event was organized by Justin Sayfie, a lawyer, lobbyist, and GOP fundraiser who runs a website that aggregates news about Florida politics and government.

Despite his Republican allegiance, Sayfie kicked off the summit by telling people to take off their political hats and put on their Florida hats. In that spirit, one session discussed how Florida can provide more health care coverage people for people who can’t afford it despite the Republican legislative leadership’s opposition to Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Former Republican Congressman Tom Feeney, who is now president of Associated Industries of Florida, said after the discussion that Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “politically poisonous” in Florida, but providing health care is a priority the state needs to address.

He said the approach needs to be “somewhere in between the Obama administration’s take it or leave it, all or nothing, you have to buy into Obamacare – which is not going to happen anytime soon – and a legislative approach that hopefully doesn’t say ‘No. Never.'”

On water issues, Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell said Florida isn’t just dealing with how to provide water for the future, but also trying to fix mistakes of the past by restoring the Everglades and managing the Lake Okeechobee dike.

“By and large all the problems that we end up trying to fix are not things that we’ve created for ourselves over the last 20 or 30 years. They’re things we’ve inherited,” he said.

But the state also needs to plan for problems in the future. University of Florida water resources professor Wendy Graham said that regardless of the cause of climate change or any potential solutions, it will affect Florida.

“Adaptation to rising levels is a no brainer. Florida cannot afford to not be prepared,” she said. “That’s not attributing a cause and it’s not trying to fix a problem, it’s saying it’s an issue and we have to deal with that.”

On medical marijuana, Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz pointed out that about 500,000 more people supported a failed constitutional amendment to legalize it than supported Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election. But he said he wants to see what works and what doesn’t with a law passed this year to allow low-THC medical marijuana before expanding it to full-scale medical marijuana legalization.

Democratic State Rep. Katie Edwards, a long-time medical marijuana advocate, agreed the state has to be cautious with how it legalizes it.

“There are people out there that really have no interest in patient safety or in helping sick kids. It’s the almighty dollar they’re interested in,” she said.

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When it came to getting the zealots in Florida’s House of Representatives to consider health care expansion, only one strategy was ever going to make sense:

Playing the fiscal responsibility card.

It is the bullet they can’t easily dodge. The argument they are powerless to ignore.

And that simple reality seems to be the driving force behind a new bipartisan group called A Healthy Florida Works.

This statewide coalition recently unveiled a plan to use billions of dollars in federal funds — money our state Legislature has foolishly refused — to help nearly 800,000 low-income residents purchase health insurance.

And the best part?

The people pushing this plan are not your typical liberal suspects. They are small-business operators. Medical professionals. They are leaders of chambers of commerce, and corporate executives. In other words, they are a large part of the conservative base.

And what they are saying is health care expansion makes financial sense.

Or, to put it another way, House leaders are hypocrites.


Some Republican-leaning groups want to increase the number of low-income Floridians who receive health care coverage by nearly 1 million, a move that counters opposition to Medicaid expansion by House Republicans.

The new proposal, dubbed “A Healthy Family Works,” advocates using a mix of federal and state money to do what Medicaid expansion would have done — increase the number of low-income Floridians who receive health coverage by 816,113 in the first year and by 979,369 by year five.

Medicaid, a health care program run jointly by the state and federal governments, now provides health care coverage to 3.7 million Floridians.

The proposal advocated by the groups with ties to the GOP would use $50 billion already available from the federal government over 10 years for Medicaid expansion, with eligibility granted to Floridians earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level. And $410 million in state money each year would come from elimination of the state-run Medically Needy Program, which offers coverage to low income residents who make too much to qualify for Medicaid. Those covered by the eliminated state program could receive coverage under Medicaid.

The proposal relies on a private health insurance market operated by the state, and not as a traditional expansion of Medicaid. Enrollees would purchase a “benchmark” policy that includes things like outpatient care, emergency room visits, mental health services, and prescription drugs.

The proposal is supported by some of the state’s best-known and politically influential organizations, including business lobby Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Hospital Association, and Mike Fernandez, chair of MBF Healthcare Partners and the former finance chair for Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign.


When Jack Latvala returned to the Florida Senate in 2010, he says, he had “no idea” what the Common Core was. Because tea party activists didn’t like it, the influential Pinellas County Republican told the Florida School Boards Association on Thursday, “I thought I liked it.”

But as he’s learned more — watching his grandchildren try to solve simple math problems in complicated and convoluted ways, for instance — his questions have increased.

“I think we need to have a discussion, because obviously a vast majority of people don’t like it,” Latvala said.

Lawmakers filed bills in both the House and Senate to halt the standards in 2014, but each died in their first committee without hearing. Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Board of Education have tried to distance themselves from the Common Core by rebranding them as Florida’s own. But in actuality the FLBOE simply made a few small amendments to the Common Core, such as adding cursive and calculus, and otherwise left it generally intact.

Opposition has not shrunk, especially as CCSS foes have allied themselves with anti-testing advocates who seem to be gaining ground statewide. With leaders like Latvala having doubts, the issue appears more likely to have legs in the coming Florida legislative session.

“It’s important we take a look at it,” Latvala said.


He’s lost one of the most powerful positions in the Legislature, but state Sen. Joe Negron said he still can carry the water for the Indian River Lagoon. Environmentalists and politicos think so too.

For the past two years, the Stuart Republican served as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the panel that writes Florida’s roughly $80 billion budget. It’s a powerful post with influence over nearly all spending decisions, including which pet projects get funding.

Negron has touted the benefits of that power himself. In April, he told Rivers Coalition members that lagoon projects would get funding in the 2014 session because “I’m in a position to make that happen.”

And he did: Negron shepherded a $232 million multiyear package of projects designed to lessen the effect of polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River and the lagoon.


Dana Young has worked as an attorney, taken time off to be a stay-at-home mom and then was elected a state representative for Tampa.

She rose to House whip and now is majority leader of that chamber’s Republicans. Young replaced Merritt Island Republican Steve Crisafulli, now House speaker, as leader.

The leader, who serves a two-year term, acts as the speaker’s lieutenant, ensuring party unity as important legislation moves to the floor.

But don’t expect Young, who represents south Tampa’s District 60, to police her chamber’s 80-member caucus.

She doesn’t need to, she said.

Once members get the “what and why” behind a policy, “there’s very little, almost no need to push them to follow the speaker’s lead on certain issues,” Young said.

“We are conservatives and we all look toward the same goal,” she added. “We tend to agree almost all the time.”

… Though her prominence has risen, Young hasn’t forgotten who elected her.

“Just because Tampa Bay isn’t the Everglades or the Indian River Lagoon doesn’t mean that Tampa Bay doesn’t get any funding,” Young said. “I’m going to be watching that all the dollars don’t go to South Florida.”

… Young also calls Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat and possible candidate for governor in 2018, a “great partner and a good friend.”

She said she’ll be having lunch with him this week to talk about “what the city needs … I will always be an advocate for any reasonable request from the city of Tampa.”

Buckhorn even praised Young in a State of the City speech.

“As we all know, the Legislature is not the easiest place in the world to work,” he said. “But Representative Dana Young never, ever quit. She was in there, fighting for us every step of the way.”


Two Tampa Bay area lawmakers announced that they have filed legislation to reform the state Public Service Commission following a series of controversial decisions by regulators.

Sen. John Legg and newly elected Rep. Chris Sprowls said ratepayers have lost confidence in the PSC and they want to take steps to restore the public trust.

The proposed reforms include: Limiting commissioners to two consecutive terms; Creating five districts for commissioners that align with the District Courts of Appeal; Requiring commissioners to live in the district from which they are appointed; Prohibiting elected officials from being appointed to the PSC for two years after leaving office.

The proposal by Sprowls and Legg contain elements of past legislation from Rep. Dwight Dudley, who has been trying for two years to change the PSC. In addition to proposing districts for commissioners, Dudley also pushed to return the five-member body to elected positions rather than appointments by the governor.

PUBLIX REMAINS A HOLDOUT IN FAIR-WAGE FARM DEBATE via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel

I love the commercial where the hungry nutcracker and sly angel raid the holiday feast. When the salt and pepper shakers come to life. And when the big family surprises the hard-working son by moving Christmas dinner to his apartment.

And that’s exactly the way Publix wants it — me having warm fuzzies for that store.

Yet Publix has a growing problem on that front. Some customers’ warm impressions have started cooling because of the way Publix treats those who harvest the food it sells.

Publix, you see, is one of the big holdouts in the corporate movement to ensure that tomato pickers get decent wages and working conditions.

Wal-Mart has agreed to pay an extra penny a pound to lift these impoverished wages. So has McDonald’s, Chipotle, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Taco Bell and others. All of these companies agreed to pay a tiny amount extra — voluntarily — because they thought it was the right thing to do.

Publix, however, refuses, and is now the focus of a powerful new documentary called “Food Chains.”

Narrated by Forest Whitaker and produced by “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria, the movie takes place in Florida’s sun-baked tomato fields — and in front of Publix’s Lakeland headquarters, where executives refused to speak with farmworkers.

The movie lays bare this country’s long record of shoddy treatment of farmworkers, particularly immigrants. It shows a segment of Edward R. Murrow’s famous “Harvest of Shame” report aired by CBS way back in 1960.

Things have gotten better. But sorry working conditions — and even crimes — persist.


Implementing the Charlotte’s Web medical marijuana legislation is at a standstill and may remain that way for some time. Last month an administrative law judge rejected proposed rules drafted by the Department of Health. The DOH has until December 15 to decide whether it will appeal the judge’s ruling. The new law authorizes five licenses for nurseries to grow a low-THC strain of marijuana, process oil from the plant, and dispense it to seizure and cancer patients.

“The judge ruled three weeks ago and laid out a roadmap. All of those items could very easily be done. What has the Department of Health been doing?” asked Louis Rotundo a lobbyist for the Florida Medical Cannabis Association. “This is not that difficult.”

Doctors can order the oil for patients starting January 1, but there is no regulatory structure in place for that to happen and no one seems to know whether DOH is working on a new rule or deciding to appeal the ruling.

“The Department of Health will consider all options that will most expeditiously get this product to market to help families facing serious illnesses,” has been DOH communication director Nathan Dunn’s only response to questions since administrative law judge David Watkins issued a ruling Nov. 14.

The FMCA, Costa Farms, Plants of Ruskin, and Tornello Landscape challenged DOH’s proposed regulatory structure and Watkins agreed that the department had overstepped its authority when it inserted a lottery in the licensing process, expanded the pool of applicants for licensing, and included certain financial and security provisions.

The legal wrangling frustrates and concerns the Senate sponsor of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. Sen. Rob Bradley says if the dispute is not settled by the March start of the legislative session then he expects there will be a legislative fix. The House sponsor though is encouraging DOH to write rules that will withstand judicial scrutiny.

“I’m very disappointed that the Jan. 1st deadline set by the legislature will be missed,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz. “But I’d rather measure twice and cut once to make sure that we have the right policy in place to get quality medicine to vulnerable Floridians.”


As we’ve been predicting for nearly a month, veteran lobbyist Mike Hightower is joining Holland & Knight’s governmental affairs team.

“Mike is a longtime friend with a considerable amount of industry knowledge and professional working relationships in both Florida and Washington, D. C.,” said Bob Martinez, H&K’s lobbying team co-leader. “He will be an excellent asset to Holland & Knight going into the next legislative session and beyond.”

SPOTTED: Johnson & Blanton’s Darrick McGhee on Sunday’s edition of Fox & Friends discussing the satanic display in the Florida Capitol.


Florida Health Choices has had a relationship with Tallahassee public relations firm SalterMitchell since 2010.

The “marketing and communication agency,” however, won’t be the lead on Florida Health Choices’ $75,000 marketing campaign aimed at advertising the availability of Obamacare plans in January.

At a board of director’s meeting in Tallahassee on Friday, FHC Chief Executive Officer Rose Naff said that SalterMitchell had received correspondence from the Department of Health and Human Services notifying the firm that it couldn’t advertise the health care “marketplace” because of a contract it had with, the site of the federal health care “exchange.” Naff said the government claimed it was a conflict of interest for SalterMitchell to handle the marketplace and the federal exchange.

The board on Friday voted to approve a $75,000 marketing campaign handled by On 3 Public Relations. The firm is being paid $15,000 over the next three months to handle the advertising campaign. Naff told the board the money being paid to the new firm is what it would have spent on SalterMitchell to spearhead the advertising campaign.

Heidi Otway, director of public relations and social media for SalterMitchell, told the board that the firm was waiting for additional correspondence from the federal government. Otway said after the meeting she was unauthorized to answer questions and referred further questions to the company president. Company president and Chief Operating Officer April Salter did not immediately respond.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

TWEET, TWEET: @ChrisSprowls: Sprowls Family: @ShannonLongFL @lisayeager5 @MarieSprowls out in force this am for @JamesGrantFL getting petitions signed. #flapol

***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***


Today on Context Florida: On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Julie Delegal noted that something obscene happened in Jacksonville. On Nov. 24, the secretary of the Duval County Republican Party, Kim Crenier, tweeted the following about protesters in Missouri: “A suggestion for Ferguson — fire hoses. Grt big fire hoses, serious water pressure. Knock those thugs over. They probly need a shower anyway.” In November, Amendment 2, which would have allowed the use of medical marijuana in Florida, garnered just under 58 percent support. It needed 60 percent to pass. Ben Pollara says that this issue now is clearly a major part of the political and legislative dialogue in our state. Watching demonstrations across the country reminds Marc Yacht that an apathetic public can come to life.  Has America found its MOJO, he asks. Implementing the Charlotte’s Web medical marijuana legislation is at a standstill and may remain that way for some time, writes James Call. Last month an administrative law judge rejected proposed rules drafted by the Department of Health. Whatever DOH decides, an appeal or a rewrite, it is doubtful that a licensing process would begin before the Legislature convenes the 2015 session March 3.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State have been selected to play in the first College Football Playoff.

Alabama is the top seed and will play Ohio State in one semifinal at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Oregon is the second seed and will play Florida State in the other semifinal at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Both games will be played New Year’s Day.

The winners will advance to the national championship game to be played Jan. 12 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.

The Big 12 co-champs, TCU and Baylor, were left out.

A 12-member selection committee set the field, revealing its selections Sunday morning.

The College Football Playoff is replacing the Bowl Championship Series this season. The BCS matched the top two teams in the country in a national championship game.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Anna Alexopolous, Mark Ferrulo, and Jon Yapo. Celebrating today is Mike Deeson, Ashley Intartaglia, and superstar Joy-Ann Reid.

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.