Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – January 21

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

Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group: Fans of the popular TV show American Horror Story know this season (which concludes tonight) is set in Jupiter, on Florida’s east coast. What they may not know is that some of the main characters were inspired by real-life carnies who lived in the Tampa Bay town of Gibsonton – including “Lobster Boy” and the unlikely pairing of “the world’s tallest man” (8’4”) and his wife, the “half-woman” (born without legs). Thanks to Gibsonton’s unique residential show business zoning, the place known as Showtown may also be the only place in America you can legally train your tiger or elephant at home!

Now, on to the ‘burn…


President Barack Obama says it’s time to turn the page after years of economic hardship at home and wars overseas. But Republicans in charge of Congress say the voters already took care of that last November — and they’re the proof.

“Much of what he did tonight … new taxes, new spending is sort of the same old thing that we’ve heard over the last six years,” said newly installed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, not long after the president wrapped up a State of the Union speech studded with veto threats and challenges to newly empowered congressional Republicans.

“What I had hoped was the president was going to focus on areas of possible agreement. There are a few: trade, tax reform, infrastructure,” added McConnell, who was on the receiving end of a presidential barb about climate change.

House Speaker John Boehner, McConnell’s partner atop the leadership of the new, Republican-controlled Congress, agreed. “Finding common ground is what the American people sent us here to do, but you wouldn’t know it from the president’s speech tonight,” he said.

The two Republican leaders spoke after Obama declared the “shadow of crisis has passed,” with the economy growing and joblessness falling. He unfurled an agenda on taxes, spending, social programs, energy and foreign policy notably at odds with Republican priorities, although he ended with a plea for the two parties to “debate without demonizing one another” and find compromise where possible.

The speech was the sixth State of the Union address of Obama’s presidency, and the first with Republicans holding majorities in both houses of Congress.

That produced a split-screen sort of response in which Democrats seated on one side of the House chamber repeatedly rose to their feet and applauded the president, while Republicans who intend to vote down his proposals sat silently. And when Obama promised to send Congress a budget “filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan,” a disbelieving snicker swept through the rows of Republicans.


Tuesday’s speech capped a remarkably activist 11 weeks since President Obama suffered the humiliation of Democratic losses that gave Republicans control of both chambers of Congress. But this was not a lessons-learned address. Instead, Obama drew lines in the sand that cautioned against Republican overreach. And while he offered a nod to bipartisanship on issues such as trade, he pushed a traditional Democratic economic agenda of tax increases for the rich, expanded paid leave for workers and increased aid for education.

For a president two months removed from a devastating political loss, this was not a speech uttered in retreat. Instead, he brashly wagged his finger at his critics.

“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits,” he said. “Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”

The White House is betting that by promoting the economic successes, Obama can boost his governing credibility. By laying credit at the doorstep of his own administration, Obama is looking to gain leverage over Republicans and weaken their resolve to undo his go-it-alone initiatives on immigration, climate change and Cuba.

It’s a better bet today than it was last year or the year before that. But the global economy remains fragile and while the U.S. is better positioned to withstand overseas pressures, it is not immune.

Europe is still wrestling with economic stagnation and questions remain about the fate of its shared currency, the euro. China’s once exploding economy is slowing. Oil prices could bounce back up if OPEC nations decide to decrease production. And for all the improvements, the U.S. economy still has room to improve. Nearly 7 million people are working part-time but would prefer full-time work. Participation in the labor force dropped to a low of 62.7 percent. Some weaknesses predate the Great Recession; over more than three decades, productivity has increased but wages have stayed flat.

Still, the moment is for now Obama’s to exploit.

TWEET, TWEET: @DavidMaraniss: Obama’s best speech. Period.


Brian Beutler contends that Obama is “priming the public for [Clinton’s] campaign” by “building a case before the public that Democrats have had better economic ideas all along”:

Tuesday’s State of the Union was thus a single component of a project that’s much more meaningful than budget brinksmanship or the 2016 campaignto establish the parameters of the economic debate for years and years, the way Ronald Reagan’s presidency lent supply-side tax policy and deregulation a presumption of efficacy that shaped not just Republican, but Democratic policy for two decades.

Seven years into Obama’s presidency, the U.S. economy is finally growing rapidly enough to boost his popularity and to sell the country on the idea that Obama’s peculiar brand of ostentatious incrementalismbuilding out and improving existing institutions, directing resources through them to the middle classhas worked, and should serve as a beacon not just for liberals, but for conservatives aspiring to recapture the presidency.

Jonathan Chait calls the speech “the first expression of Democratic politics in the post-recession era”:

Republicans have formulated plans to benefit working-class Americans directly, but all these plans have foundered on the problem that Republicans have no way to pay for them:

they may be willing to cut taxes for the working poor, if that’s what it takes to win an election these days, but they certainly don’t want to raise taxes on the affluent. (“Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful, insisted Marco Rubio recently.”) This means the money to finance the new Republican populist offensive must be conjured out of thin air.

Thus the blunt quality of Obama’s plan: he will cut taxes for the working- and middle-class by raising an equal amount from wealthy heirs and investors. Obama’s plan is not going to pass Congress, of course. Probably nothing serious can pass a Congress that still has no political or ideological incentive to cooperate with the president. The point is not to pass a law. It is to lay out openly the actual trade-offs involved.

John Fund, on the other hand, thinks Obama glossed over the trade-offs of his proposals:

All of the proposals enjoy majority support in polls — although that support tends to fall after people weigh the price tag.

Take paid sick leave. Obama mentioned that wherever the issue was on the ballot this fall it passed when people voted on it. But he was careful not to mention that the only state where it was on the ballot was Massachusetts. Yes, the state that hasn’t sent a single Republican to the U.S. House in 20 years and consistently votes Democratic for president by about ten points more than the rest of the country. Question 4, the Massachusetts ballot measure that mandated paid sick leave in the state, did pass but with only 60 percent of the vote — meaning that after a real debate the issue might be an even split nationwide.

Jonah Goldberg was also unimpressed by the address:

Like a lot of people, I found tonight’s speech a chore. That’s less of a criticism of Obama than it sounds. I find all State of the Unions to be tedious, particularly this late in a presidency. I do think it was better delivered than most of his State of the Union addresses. I didn’t, however, think it was particularly well-written. “The shadow of crisis has passed”? C minus.

Last but not least, Josh Marshall suspects Obama is playing a long game:

As Sahil Kapur explains, based on conversations with White House aides, President Obama wanted to be a Ronald Reagan of the Center-Left in tonight’s speech, not so much focused on passing laws in the next two years (which isn’t happening regardless) as embedding a clear blueprint of progressive activism into the structure and rhetoric of American politics for years or decades to come. So he’ll make his arguments, cheer successes and vindicated predictions and promises, take aggressive executive actions to the limits of his authority. But more than anything else he’ll try to push the whole package, the logic of his administration and his policies as a touch point and reference for the future.

He was talking over and past the new GOP majorities on many, many levels.

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U.S. Senator Bill Nelson:

“If history repeats itself, we’re going to have trouble getting things done because you’re going to get into this partisan warfare that the Republicans are going to reject some of the good ideas that the president offered.  But my job is to try to find that bipartisan sweet spot so we can get things done around here.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio:

“President Obama tonight bragged about how the economy is doing better. But too many people are not experiencing it because they’re stuck between low wages and a high cost of living. To lift more Americans into the middle class, we need to move forward with a 21st century agenda that ensures an equality of opportunity, not one that doubles down on outdated proposals to tax and spend more. There’s no bigger priority for me than helping all of our people achieve the American Dream, and the only way that’s going to happen is by working together to bring our innovation economy, higher education system, retirement policies, safety net programs and national defense into the 21st century.”

Governor Rick Scott:

“At the very moment when economic progress in the states is starting to produce nationwide results, President Obama has decided to expand tax and spend programs on the backs of hard working Americans. The massive tax increases proposed by the President reflect his commitment to the failed, liberal policies that were roundly rebuked by the American people in November. But the President’s way is not the only way. One need look no further than Florida for an example of conservative, anti-tax, free-market policies at work, and the results speak for themselves. We’ve cut taxes 40 times in the last four years and will cut another $1 billion in taxes over the next two. This year, our plan is to cut $470 million in state cell phone and TV taxes, saving every Florida family around $40 a year for spending as little as $100 a month between cell phone, cable and satellite bills. As we’ve stayed committed to cutting taxes in Florida, the free market has responded.”

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham:

“Bipartisanship starts with forming relationships. Tonight, I crossed the aisle to sit with my Florida colleague Representative David Jolly. The people of North Florida don’t expect Democrats and Republicans to agree on everything, but they do expect us to work together to get things done.

I disagree with some of the president’s proposals, like raising taxes while our economy is still recovering – but he did offer some common sense ideas that would help people in North Florida. Bringing high-speed internet to rural areas, increasing affordable housing, and making college more accessible are all bipartisan proposals that we can work together on.

Especially important to North Florida is making college more affordable and accessible. This isn’t just an education issue, it’s a priority I included in my Graham Economic Plan. Community colleges provide a crucial role in training the next generation of workers for small businesses and new industries. Making college more affordable and accessible would create jobs and grow North Florida’s economy.. Many Democrats already support the proposal, and Republicans are asking how we pay for it – a question we must responsibly answer – but this is an issue we can work together on and find a real solution for.

Bringing high-speed internet to more areas, increasing affordable housing, and making college more accessible are all also issues that would help the service members, military families and veterans in North Florida. Tonight, I was especially pleased to see the president recognize and honor members of our military – particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We owe it to them to set partisanship aside and get to work.”

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy:

“I am glad that the President has put a focus on middle-class families in his second term.  Considering the current makeup of Congress, it is unlikely his budget plan will pass as introduced, but streamlining family tax incentives and closing loopholes is a good starting point.  As a CPA, comprehensive tax reform has long been a priority of mine in Congress, and I look forward to working across the aisle to promote economic growth for working families. Expanding access to child care and higher education is also a laudable goal that I hope this Congress is able to address, and, as always, the details are important.  In order for the people of Florida and the nation to continue lifting themselves out of the depths of the economic downturn, we must ensure opportunity is available to all Americans at every stage.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney:

“The message I heard from the voters in November was that they want us to work together to help grow our economy from the bottom up, increase opportunities for good jobs with good wages, and bring down the cost of things like health care, energy and education that are squeezing the middle class. Unfortunately, I do not believe the proposals President Obama outlined tonight will help achieve those goals. I wish the President would have used this opportunity to talk more about areas where we can work together, and less about veto threats and executive actions. We need be charting a new course, not doubling down on the failed, rejected policies of higher taxes and greater debt to finance bigger government and new entitlements. President Obama seems to think the solution for the problems big government helped create is an even bigger government. I firmly disagree.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

“It was exactly six years ago that President Obama was sworn into office. He inherited an economy that had been losing 750,000 jobs per month, the housing market’s bubble had burst, and the auto industry was in danger of collapsing. Under President Obama’s leadership, we put an end to the trickle down policies that failed and restored an emphasis on middle class economics. We experienced our 58th straight month of private sector job growth. The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008. The auto industry is thriving once again and millions more Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.”

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EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Clinton The Musical To Get Off-Broadway Run This Spring”


Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush might be trying to break from the GOP pack by flaunting possible 2016 bids, but it hasn’t done much to enthuse voters, according to a new poll.

Both men have seen a dip in support in the weeks since Bush announced in December he was exploring a bid and since Romney told a gathering of donors that he was seriously considering another White House run.

Romney’s approval rating dropped from 31 percent in September to 27 percent, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday. Forty percent of Americans view Romney negatively, a slight increase from 39 percent in September.

Still, more than half of Republicans gave Romney favorable ratings, giving him a slight edge over Bush within the party. Only 37 percent of Republicans gave Bush positive marks — slipping from 44 percent in November.

Support among Americans for Bush also has dropped from a 26 percent approval rating in November to 19 percent in the latest poll.

Karl Rove, the mastermind of former President George W. Bush’s political rise, dismissed the NBC/WSJ poll Tuesday on Fox News, noting that it is still “very early … polls, at this point, don’t mean that much.”

Both Romney and Bush “start in a positive position, but they have room to grow,” Rove said.


As Romney explores a third White House bid, two of his former aides are being positioned by potential rival Jeb Bush to play key roles in his campaign should he decide to make a 2016 run.

Megan Sowards, who served as deputy general counsel for Romney’s 2012 campaign, is moving to South Florida to take a position with McDonald Hopkins, a law firm with close ties to Bush, a Bush source tells CNN. Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez, who was Bush’s general counsel when he was Florida governor, is the managing member of the firm’s Miami office. Rodriguez has remained a close Bush confidante.

If the former Florida governor decides to seek the presidency, Sowards would likely be in line to become general counsel for his campaign.

Sowards spent the past two years as general counsel for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and has held positions in the U.S. Senate, State Department and Patton Boggs.

“She is a top-notch lawyer at the top of her game and a rising star in GOP legal circles,” said a Republican strategist, who asked not to be named to avoid being drawn into the GOP primary fight.

And last week, a former Romney campaign press aide began work for Bush’s political action committee, “Right to Rise.”

Matt Gorman, who was the deputy rapid response director for Romney’s campaign, will be working for the PAC’s communications arm. He joins Kristy Campbell, who was deputy communications director on Romney’s campaign, at Bush’s PAC. Campbell has a long history with Bush, including serving as press secretary when he was governor. Gorman was the rapid response director for the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2014 midterm election.


At a time when Governor Christie continued to signal strong interest in a potential 2016 presidential campaign, Bush was courting a group of top-tier New Jersey Republican donors, activists and officials right in Christie’s own back yard.

Bush met with about 15 New Jersey Republicans — some of whom backed Christie’s two campaigns for governor — in a private, sit-down dinner at the Union League Club in midtown Manhattan on Jan. 8, according to three people who attended the dinner.

The event, hosted by Lawrence E. Bathgate, a prominent Ocean County attorney who served as the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was a meet-and-greet session — a chance to hear Bush, Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007, discuss his vision and plans for a pending run for his party’s presidential nomination.

Bush reportedly moved among three dinner tables, allowing guests to pepper him with questions or concerns. They were not formally asked to commit to a Bush campaign, but one person who attended said there was a “hope and expectation” that they would eventually sign on, with the goal of raising $100,000 each for the cause.

Although the tone of the event was casual on the surface, Bush’s courtship of deep-pocketed donors from Christie’s home turf signals the fierce, behind-the-scenes competition between the two of them for the affluent political contributors, bundlers and operatives who populate the establishment wing of the Republican Party. And it reinforces New Jersey’s reputation as a rich supply of cash for national campaigns — it routinely ranks among the top 10 donor states in the country.


Bush joins former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno as keynote speakers at the 2015 National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Convention & Expo in San Francisco this week.

NADA Expo will be one of Bush’s final paid speaking engagements … The four-day event, held in San Francisco for the 16th year since 1949, will begin Thursday, Jan. 22 through Sunday, Jan. 25.

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At the end of last week, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, starting his first full term in Congress, announced he will serve on three Appropriations subcommittees: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and Commerce, Justice and Science.

“I’m excited that these assignments reflect many of my priorities in Congress and will allow me to continue the work I started in the 113th Congress while serving on Veterans Affairs and Transportation and Infrastructure,” Jolly said. “Namely, working tirelessly on health care and benefits for our nation’s veterans, including housing and homelessness initiatives. Additionally I will have the opportunity to continue working on issues related to transportation, flood insurance, beach renourishment, and critical environmental and marine science priorities. Finally, with the added Military Construction responsibilities, I look forward to work related to our reserve facilities here in Pinellas as well as installations like MacDill Air Force Base and other critical spots around the globe

“On Appropriations we will scrutinize virtually every federal program, identify and eliminate duplicative federal services and areas of waste, fraud, and abuse,” Jolly added. “The committee is also the body that identifies areas of critical national investment, from national security to early childhood education, to the environment, to transportation and infrastructure.”


What happens when a member of Congress dies in office? There is no standard set procedure and the internecine melee that followed the death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, perhaps best illustrated by the exhaustive search for a handful of pictures and one Pentagon-approved memento, has ruined decades-old friendships and frayed family bonds seemingly beyond repair.

A corrosive mix of myopic estate planning, lax oversight and a moving truck-sized hole uncovered in guidelines governing continuing congressional operations has decimated those closest to the late congressman.

The 22-term Florida Republican died on Oct. 18, 2013; he was laid to rest on Oct. 24 not far from here, at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg. There’s been no such solace for those left behind, a group — including his widow, former House aide Beverly Young; the couple’s adult sons; newly minted Appropriations Committee member Rep. David Jolly and Young’s former chief of staff, Harry Glenn — currently at one another’s throats regarding the location of myriad keepsakes and the preservation of Young’s political legacy.

The House sergeant-at-arms, Capitol Police, Department of Justice and FBI — all of which, at one point or another, were battered by a blizzard of accusatory emails, frantic phone calls and enraged Facebook posts unleashed by Beverly Young — declined to comment on the Young family’s saga.

According to Beverly Young, her husband maintained that whenever he died, his affairs would be attended to on Capitol Hill. Instead, she charged, opportunists have strategically spirited away whatever they wished — for more than a year now — with absolute impunity.

“Once Bill took his last breath, I was nothing. I became a non-entity,” Beverly Young told CQ Roll Call. “It has been a frigging nightmare. And I hope that nobody else has to go through what I’ve been through as a spouse.”

The varied items she’s struggled to recover range from a gigantic shell casing expelled by a gunship that participated in Operation Enduring Freedom to a bundle of cold, hard cash the congressman purportedly stashed in his Capitol Hill office.

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FALLOUT CONTINUES OVER OUSTER OF FDLE’S GERALD BAILEY via Jennifer Portman and Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat

Democratic leaders in the Florida House and Senate sharply criticized Gov. Rick Scott this afternoon over the forced resignation of Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief Gerald Bailey and questioned the Cabinet’s handling of the matter.

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford and Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner both called on Scott to publicly answer questions surrounding Bailey’s exit last month.

Pafford called for a full review of the matter by the Cabinet at its next meeting and suggested a criminal investigation might be appropriate. Joyner said she wants the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate Bailey’s ouster, though it would take a citizen complaint and a legal review by the agency before that could happen. She said those involved could have violated statutes involving the misuse of power.

“Review what occurred,” Pafford said during a media availability at the Capitol. “Ask some questions and really kind of publicly have a discussion where a lot of us that are extremely concerned have some answers. That seems to be the biggest problem right now aside from what this looks like, which is really a disaster when it comes to confidence in government and not having a police state.”

The departure of Bailey, an esteemed 35-year law enforcement veteran, was exposed last week. After Richard Swearingen was sworn in as FDLE’s new commissioner, Scott, speaking to reporters, maintained that Bailey had resigned. Scott refused to answer repeated questions, saying only that Bailey “did a great job.”

Later that day, however, Bailey denied that he’d resigned, telling the Tampa Bay Times “I did not voluntarily do anything. The Governor’s Office issued a statement later that evening indicating Bailey had, in fact, been asked to leave.


The sudden ouster of the leader of Florida’s main law-enforcement agency is now causing a major rift between Gov. Scott and other top Republicans less than a month after his second term in office started.

Last week, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater joined with Scott and two other officials to appoint Richard Swearingen as the new commissioner for FDLE. The department is one of a handful of agencies that are supposed to be overseen by the governor and other elected officials.

But questions over how former Commissioner Gerald Bailey was forced out, and whether it was done for political reasons, prompted Atwater on Tuesday night to send a letter to Scott demanding a new search.

… “A professional search would give the residents of Florida a full and complete understanding of the qualifications of the person selected to lead one of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies, and help reassure the employees of FDLE that the agency’s leadership will be in the hands of a highly qualified individual with an unimpeachable reputation,” wrote Atwater.

… But Scott quickly sent a letter back to Atwater defending his decision to force Bailey to resign. He said government should “frequently change leadership to bring in new ideas and fresh energy.”

“There are no lifetime appointments in executive government – just as there are no guaranteed lifetime jobs in the private sector outside of government,” wrote Scott.

The governor said he would not support a new search for an FDLE commissioner because it would create “unnecessary turmoil” within the organization. But Scott also said that he wants the Cabinet to consider replacing three other agency officials, including the state’s insurance commissioner.

It’s not clear if other Cabinet officials will support Atwater’s move to start a new search.

SCOTT PUSHING TAX CUTS ON CELLPHONES, CABLE TV via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

Gov. Scott, who tried unsuccessfully during his first term to dramatically cut back taxes for the state’s businesses and corporations, is now pushing for tax cuts aimed directly at consumers instead.

Last year Scott targeted rolling back fees charged on auto tags. Scott now rolled out his latest idea: A nearly $500 million cut in the taxes that Floridians pay on various communications services including cable television, cellphones and traditional phone lines.

The Scott administration estimates that the 3.6 percent tax cut would save the average Floridian more than $40 a year of what Scott calls “real money.”

The Republican governor is pledging to cut overall taxes by more than $1 billion over the next two years. Scott back in 2010 promised to eliminate the state’s corporate income tax within seven years, but he has been forced to back away from that promise amid ongoing resistance from the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature.

Scott’s tax-cutting proposals are coming at a time when state legislators are expected to have a budget windfall of roughly $1 billion even after paying for increased school enrollment and setting aside money for reserves.

But Scott has also promised to increase per-student funding in the state’s public schools. There will likely be a push to boost spending on the state’s prison system, which has come under scrutiny for the deaths of dozens of inmates, as well as demands for additional tax cuts and additional spending on environmental programs.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, chair of the House Finance and Tax Committee, called Scott’s proposal a “starting point.” Gaetz, however, contended that it would be the goal of the House to “find even more ways to decrease the tax burden on Florida’s families.”


Tom Feeney, Associated Industries of Florida President & CEO: “The Associated Industries of Florida is proud to stand with Governor Scott in his effort to continue to give money back to Florida taxpayers. Under the Governor’s proposed cell phone and TV tax cut package, the average person spending $100 a month on their cell phone bill will save $40 a year. This is great news, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the legislature to create the best environment for Florida businesses and consumers.”

Kevin Hyman, Executive Vice President Cable Operations for Bright House Networks: “Cutting the cell phone and TV tax by 3.6 percent is great news for our Florida customers and their families. We are proud to support Governor Scott’s initiative and look forward to making this a reality for our customers.”

Joe York, President of AT&T Florida: “Governor Scott’s proposal to cut taxes on cell phones and cable services by 3.6% is great news not just for our customers, but for all Florida families. AT&T commends the Governor on his efforts and look forward to working with him to ensure our customers continue to keep more of the money they earn.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will be in Tampa to announce his education proposals, part of his upcoming “Keep Florida Working” budget. The press conference begins 10:00 a.m. at Chromalloy, 3401 Queen Palm Drive in Tampa.


Susan Hepworth, communications director for the Republican Party of Florida, and Andrew Abdel-Malik, RPOF digital director, are the latest resignations to come after Saturday’s election of chair Blaise Ingoglia.

Both resignations are effective immediately.

The RPOF is experiencing a major staff shuffle since Ingoglia defeated incumbent Leslie Dougher, the candidate favored by the Party establishment. The shakeup began with former RPOF Executive Director Juston Johnson, who resigned just hours after Dougher’s defeat.

Hepworth joined RPOF June 2013 after serving as Director of National Traveling Press for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Prior to that, she worked on the Republican National Committee day-to-day political operations.

Abdel-Malik has been with the RPOF since July 2013 after serving the Michigan Republican Party as digital director and victory budget director for the RNC.

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Florida’s new prisons chief promised wide-ranging changes amid the suspicious deaths of dozens of inmates in the state’s prisons.

But Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, in a blunt assessment given to state legislators, said fixing the troubled system will require millions in new spending to compensate for years of budget cuts pursued by the Republican-controlled Legislature and her new boss Gov. Scott.

Jones also conceded that prisoners aren’t receiving adequate health care after the state handed over inmate health care to private companies. She also acknowledged that private prison companies that have expanded operations in the state with the urging of legislators have taken prisoners who have usually committed less serious crimes and are less of a potential probe.

Florida has more than 100,000 prisoners and its system has come under fire for suspicious deaths at several institutions. There are investigations now pending into the deaths of dozens of inmates who died from non-natural causes.

But during the height of the Great Recession the state shuttered many prisons, relocated prisoners and eliminated thousands of positions. Scott supported these moves when he first became governor.

Jones said that she now needs more than $30 million from legislators to fix the state’s prisons and have enough money to fill needed positions. She also vowed to put in place new training that will help prison guards deal with increasing numbers of mentally ill prisoners.

She maintained that the budget cuts and inadequate numbers of prison employees has contributed to an increase in the times guards used forced against inmates.

“Staffing is key to lowering the temperature in these facilities,” Jones said.


Florida’s wildlife agency will request a rule change to allow black bear hunting in some areas because of bear attacks and other conflicts with people, state wildlife officials said Tuesday.

Florida has at least 3,000 bears, up from around 500 in the 1950s. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 1994 voted to make bear-hunting illegal under pressure from critics who argued that shooting a bear in a tree wasn’t sporting or humane.

There have been four bear attacks on people within the past year, leading some Central Florida legislators in 2014 to call for dropping the ban on bear hunting.

Nuisance bear complaints also have increased from about 1,000 per year in 2000 to more than 6,000 in recent years, according to data presented Tuesday to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. A survey of the state’s bear population won’t be completed until 2016.

State wildlife officials are set to ask the fish and wildlife commission at its Feb. 4 meeting in Jacksonville to consider a rule change to allow bear hunting.

“I think it will be controversial — I do,” Nick Wiley, the agency’s executive director, said after the Senate committee meeting. “It’s gotten to the point there are not a lot of easy answers left.”

The fish and wildlife commission already is increasing the number of bear biologists on staff, euthanizing more bears and removing them from neighborhoods even when they are not causing problems, said Thomas Eason, director of the agency’s habitat and species conservation division.

“I want to point out that hunting is not going to affect most of the bears in these suburban areas,” Eason told senators. “We are not going to propose hunts in someone back yard obviously.”

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A House committee approved a bill … that would allow guns on state university campuses just two months after a shooter wounded three people at a Florida State University library.

Rep. Greg Steube argued his bill (HB 4005) would make campuses safer because a shooter could be stopped by a gun owner before police respond to a shooting scene. He said gun-free zones don’t prevent people from going on shooting sprees.

“It didn’t stop the shooter at Florida State University’s library, it didn’t stop the shooter at Virginia Tech,” said Steube.

Steube said he began preparing the bill before the Florida State shooting in November, when a former student Myron May wounded two students and a library employee before police fatally shot him. He noted that you have to be 21 to obtain a concealed weapon permit in Florida, so very few students would qualify.

The 8-4 vote was split along party lines, with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposed. The bill has two more committee stops in the House. An identical Senate bill has yet to be heard.


Getting caught drinking and boating could end up on your driving record if the state Legislature passes a bill proposed by a Treasure Coast lawmaker.

Under Rep. Gayle Harrell’s legislation, a boating-under-the-influence conviction would be considered a prior offense for driving under the influence and would be registered with the Department of Highway safety and Motor Vehicles. DUI convictions also would be considered a prior offense for a BUI.

Harrell said this is an attempt to make BUIs and DUIs equal in Florida’s statute. The bill (HB 289) hasn’t cleared any committees and will be considered in the March-through-May legislative session.

People convicted of BUI — a .08 blood alcohol level or higher — can face fines of up to $4,000 and time in prison depending on how many prior convictions they had under current law.

Most judges already use their discretion to take a BUI into consideration when convicting someone of DUI, and a law equating the two offenses would be duplicative, said Jerry Roden, a Fort Pierce DUI and BUI lawyer.

Roden said he believes Harrell’s bill is well intentioned but could be unconstitutional because boating and driving are considered different things in Florida, which requires a license for driving but not for boating. He said a better option would be ramping up education about boating under the influence and toughening enforcement of current laws.


Could this be the year that the Florida Legislature finally starts trying to actually encourage solar power production in the Sunshine State?

The state’s heretofore-desultory commitment to alternative energy sources took another hit last fall, when the Public Service Commission voted to cut the energy efficiency goals of the state’s utility companies by more than 90 percent, a move that was based on proposals from Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric, and Florida Power & Light. The commission also voted to allow a statewide solar rebate program to expire at the end of this year.

A hybrid of liberal and conservative groups are taking matters into their own hands, working on collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that would allow residents to sell electricity generated from the sun directly to their neighbors, tenants and friends, instead of giving the utilities a cut. It would also allow people to escape the big upfront costs of installing solar by ending the prohibition on leasing solar panels.

Now St. Petersburg-based Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes is getting into the act. He announced legislation that would provide property tax relief for the installation of renewable energy source devices, such as solar panels.

The legislation expands an existing ad valorem property tax abatement on renewable energy source devices installed on residential property. Under the proposal, the ad valorem abatement would apply to other properties including commercial structures. Additionally, the proposal creates an exemption to the tangible personal property tax for renewable energy source devices installed on any property.

In 2008, 61 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to provide a tax exemption for renewable energy and wind resistance improvements to residential properties. A spokesperson for Brandes says his proposal extends that abatement to other property uses.

Brandes says that while preparing his legislation, he wasn’t aware of the efforts by groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Green Tea Coalition to team up for their constitutional amendment on solar power. He says he thinks the Legislature should be the entity leading the effort, and promises to release another bill next month that will deal with distributive power, specifically microgrids, which he predicts “will be a game changer for Florida and really help us turn the corner on solar.”


The Florida Legislature has heard voters’ call to action and is looking into drafting a bill to legalize medical marijuana and to avoid a constitutional amendment on the issue, said state Rep. Greg Steube.

Amendment 2, which aimed last year to legalize medical marijuana throughout Florida, didn’t garner the needed 60 percent of the vote to pass — earning 57.6 percent approval. In fact, with 3,370,761 votes for its approval, the amendment earned about 500,000 more votes than re-elected Gov. Rick Scott in November.

As legislators draft their bills for the upcoming 2015 session, they are looking at how to act on those numbers. And Steube said he knows what needs to change from Amendment 2’s ballot language to a become bill that has a chance of passing the Republican-dominated House and Senate. Both chambers are researching the issue, according to Steube.

“It would need to be very strictly regulated,” Steube said. “We would want the bill to say, ‘Here are the medical issues you can take it for, that’s it.'”

Steube said legislation would look at legalizing marijuana generally for medical purposes, not just a strain like the one they did with Charlotte’s Web last year. Charlotte’s Web is a strain of marijuana with extremely low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical in marijuana associated with the euphoric high.

The bill needs to name which diseases medical marijuana could be prescribed for, rather than the generic “debilitating diseases,” Steube said.

Legislators also want to take a look at stricter regulation of the caregivers, especially making sure convicted felons can’t be caregivers. Opponents of Amendment 2 commonly criticized its loose language on caregivers.



The Senate Regulated Industries Committee will take up bill SB 2, filed by Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, which will require reporting injuries to racing greyhounds. Also on the schedule is the discussion over the controversial “growler” sizes of beer and malt-beverage containers. Meeting starts 9 a.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.


State Senators will hear a presentation by General Counsel George Levesque on ethics. Meeting starts 1 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.


Alcoholic-beverage issues are on the agenda of the House Business & Professions Subcommittee. Meeting starts at 2 p.m. in Room 12 of the House Office Building.


The House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee will hear a presentation on charter schools starting at 2 p.m. in Room 306 of the House Office Building.


The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee will discuss bill SB 172, filed by Republican Sen. Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Democrat Jeremy Ring of Margate – the committee chair – to reform local pension plans. A similar bill died after Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican who was House Speaker at the time, linked it to a controversial proposal seeking to overhaul the Florida Retirement System. Meeting starts 3:30 p.m. in Room 401 of the Senate Office Building.


9 A.M.:

>>> Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee meets in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
>>> Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee meets in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

>>> House Health Innovation Subcommittee meets in Room 306 of the House Office Building.

10 A.M.:

>>> House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee meets in Room 12 of the House Office Building.

>>> House Local Government Affairs Subcommittee meets in Room 212 of the Knott Building.
>>> House Higher Education & Workforce Subcommittee meets in Reed Hall of the House Office Building.
>>> House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee meets in Room 404 of the House Office Building.
>>> House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

1 P.M.:

>>> House Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Morris Hall of the House Office Building.
>>> House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Room 212 of the Knott Building.

2 P.M.:

>>> House Transportation & Ports Subcommittee meets in Room 404 of the House Office Building.

3:30 P.M.:

>>> Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
>>> Senate Community Affairs Committee meets in Room 301 of the Senate Office Building.
>>> Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee meets in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: State Rep. Tom Goodson and Brevard Co. Sheriff Wayne will announce filing HB 151 Sexually Explicit Images, which seeks to outlaw revenge porn. Press Conference begins at 8:30 am at the Capitol Building.

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Former House Speaker Will Weatherford is beginning the next chapter of his professional career — one that will allow him the opportunity to recharge his batteries for, well … whatever he wants to do next in the political sphere.

Weatherford, along with his brothers Drew and Sam, are launching Weatherford Partners, a strategic business advisory and investment firm.

According to a release, the firm will provide clients with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida.

Weatherford is widely speculated to be a leading candidate in 2018 for any number of political offices, including governor and U.S. Senate. Weatherford left office as one of the most accomplished legislative leaders of the Republican era — and is only 35 years old.

His challenge is how does he maintain his profile now that he’s out of politics. For now though, Weatherford is focused on succeeding in the private sector. (No doubt, Weatherford’s amazing wife and partner, Courtney, won’t mind having him around the house more often.)

TWEET, TWEET: @tjacksonTBO: New career or a skills-sharpening prelude? @WillWeatherford’s new role has intrigue



Paul Renner picked up a handful of local law enforcement endorsements today in his campaign for House District 24.

The attorney and Jacksonville native announced the support of State Attorney R.J. Larizza of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar and Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson in the Republican primary set for January 27 and general election on April 7.

Renner is seeking to replace state Rep. Travis Hutson, who vacated the District 24 seat to run for the Senate District 6 special election.

“As a former prosecutor, Paul understands that protecting our families and neighborhoods from violent crime requires daily vigilance and that public safety is a top priority of government,” Larizza said.

Renner is a “man of principle,” Shoar said, and “the right choice” to represent District 24.

“Paul has defended our country abroad serving in the U.S. Navy, put felons behind bars here at home as an assistant state attorney and is an active community member here on the First Coast,” Johnson added.


Utilities this year are bracing for proposed cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide, a pollutant blamed for global warming. What it means for consumers — some say it could hike electric bills — is so far unclear.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is targeting power plants that burn coal, oil and natural gas as the nation’s largest source of carbon and wants states to submit pollution reduction-plans next year.

Reaction is divided sharply among Central Florida utilities.

Orlando Utilities Commission and Duke Energy object to what EPA calls its Clean Power Plan, saying it could trigger big increases in power bills. But the company that owns the state’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light Co., says it’s ready for carbon reductions and backs EPA’s initiative.

EPA wants utilities to generate more electricity with less pollution, harness carbon-free energy such as solar and wind, and promote conservation through more efficient homes and appliances. Just how doable those demands are has been spelled out by utilities in their comments to state and federal regulators.

Of the three largest power providers in Central Florida, FPL has the lowest rate. It charges $99.57 for a home using 1,000 kilowatt-hours in a month, which is about average for consumption.

FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy Inc., touts itself as the nation’s largest owner of electricity-generating wind turbines, and one of the largest solar-energy companies. NextEra Energy, or NEE, also calls its Florida electric utility, FPL, one of the most efficient in the nation. Serving 4.7 million customers in Florida, the Juno Beach-based power company relies extensively on new power plants, which use natural gas, and has the state’s only two nuclear plants in operation.

Central Florida’s largest utility is Duke Energy, which has about 560,000 customers in the Orlando area. It has the highest rate of the three utilities: A monthly bill for a Duke residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours is $125.13.

Duke said EPA’s plan requires a “very significant reduction in emissions that likely cannot be achieved.” Attempting to do so, according to Duke, would be “unreasonably burdensome and potentially costly to Florida consumers.”


On Context Florida: Despite a record 320 deaths in a single year and evidence of lethal staff brutality in several cases, Martin Dyckman notes that Florida’s current governor has displayed no personal concern and has commented only when confronted by the press. Although Gov. Rick Scott has sacked one corrections secretary after another, most of his actions have been for the worse. Given the constant bad tidings in the print world, Diane Roberts says a newspaper making it to the age of 100 is something to celebrate. Especially if it’s a newspaper like Florida Flambeau, with a pretty good history of breaking important stories, training generations of take-no-prisoners journalists and speaking truth – sometimes profanely – to power. All aboard the rumor train in Martin County, says Sally Swartz. Martin Health System firing volunteers and a Martin County land buy to solve a neighborhood problem: Are they truth or fiction? Florida politics leaves much to be desired, says Marc Yacht, but no sleazy politicians will drive him away from the Sunshine State during the winter.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my friend (I hope that doesn’t get him in trouble) Jon Costello.

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.