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Sunburn for March 11 – One day more!

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry, Ryan Ray, and Jim Rosica

ONE DAY MORE from Les Miserables

One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary …

Tomorrow we’ll be far away,
Tomorrow is the judgement day

Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!

One more dawn
One more day
One day more!


Two of the individuals who most shaped the 2016 Legislative Session, which is expected to conclude today, are lawmakers no longer in elected office (although one of them hopes to return after November).

Former Rep. Mike Clelland and former Sen. John Thrasher are as responsible for the good and the bad produced these last sixty days as any current member of the Florida House or Senate.

Clelland dramatically changed the course of the Florida House when he pulled off one of the biggest upsets this side of Villanova vs. Georgetown. The firefighter-turned-Democratic candidate knocked off Speaker-Designate Chris Dorworth in 2012, which directly resulted in Speaker Steve Crisafulli being selected by his colleagues to lead them.

Thrasher, who had succeeded at almost every other endeavor in his professional career, in 2011 led an ill-fated coup against Andy Gardiner over who would eventually become Senate President. Thrasher’s plan fell apart when Jack Latvala threw in with Gardiner, thereby accelerating Gardiner’s designation and tabling Latvala’s ambitions — ambitions which would not be assuaged, albeit not completely, until late 2015.

A Speaker and a Senate President, for better or worse, with shortcuts up the Cursus Honorum.

The critic will say this is one of the factors which led to the disastrous 2015 Session. Neither Crisafulli or Gardiner were able to build up IOUs or gain the requisite experience that comes with the early recognition of one day being a presiding officer.

Also working against Crisafulli and Gardiner has been what was already baked into the cake by the time. Neither man was responsible for the redistricting debacle that would engulf the Legislature for much of 2015. Neither man was responsible for the federal government cutting back on LIP funding.

And, certainly, neither man was responsible for the general level of hostility and/or indifference emanating from the Governor’s Office.

It’s little wonder the 2015 Legislative Session was a disaster.

The timing of this year’s session did not offer much hope, coming right on the heels of a tiring schedule of special sessions. There was little time or appetite for the kind of full-on committee meetings that produce major legislation.

And yet… Meh … things worked out OK. Not great. Not particularly memorable. But it could have been worse. The highlight of the 2016 Session has to be the budget it produced, which is expected to be passed with bipartisan support.

Crisafulli managed his chamber with steadiness and a calm demeanor, keeping what could have been an unwieldy body in check. With a future Speaker’s race creating unending drama and a significant number of House members expected to run for the Senate, Crisafulli kept it all together.

Speaker Crisafulli’s legacy is secure, especially with the passage of landmark water policy legislation. He’s well on his way to becoming Commissioner of Agriculture.

History won’t be as kind to the decent Gardiner, but the degree of difficulty of being first among equals in a room full of Somali warlords is much higher than his counterpart.

The final grade for the 2016 Legislative Session: B-minus, just the kind of good enough grade for everyone to enjoy the Spring Break that begins next week.

WHO ARE THE WINNERS AND LOSERS OF THE 2016 LEGISLATIVE SESSION? — We’re down to (less than) the last few hours. Things are still in flux, but there’s enough certainty to adjudge a fair number of this session’s WINNERS & LOSERS. Please email your suggested champions and vanquished, with a few words for explanation for each. We need ’em by noon Friday for the wrap-up column.

HOW PINK BECAME SINE DIE TRADITION IN TALLAHASSEE via Florida Politics – Pink is the tradition for Capitol veterans to pay tribute to the late lobbyist Marvin Arrington. In 2002, Arrington succumbed to a heart attack in a parking lot a block north of the Capitol. It was the Monday of the last week of session for that year. By the time people realized he was in crisis, smoke from the spinning of his car tires filled the downtown area. “Marvin wore pink carnations and no one serving today was here when Marvin was, but those who remembered him by wearing pink,” said Keith Arnold, who served in the House in the 1980s and 1990s and now lobbies. The last day of the 2002 session, Arrington’s son, Reynolds, and nephew, Patrick, showed up at the Capitol wearing Arrington’s trademark pink jackets. Joining them are more than 100 lobbyists sporting pink: carnations, jackets, shirts, all responding to Reynolds’ request to remember his dad with a display of pink. “Anyone that’s man enough to wear pink at your age is man enough for us to listen to,” former Speaker James Harold Thompson said to the Orlando Sentinel.

TALLAHASSEE NOT THE ONLY TOWN WITH ‘SINE DIE’ TRADITIONS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – In Idaho, capital reporters wear ugly ties near session’s end to “encourage legislators to finish their business quickly and go home,” says a Legislative Research Librarians newsletter. In the Magnolia State, Mississippi State University lobbyists put tomato seedlings “on the desks of legislators, staff members and sometimes statehouse reporters.” In Georgia, lawmakers toss ripped paper into the air above their desks, and in Alabama, legislators give a “shroud” award to the bill deemed least likely to pass. Here in Florida, traditions focus on colors: Pink, red and white. Pink, as in the color of ties, sport coats, dresses and flowers worn by lobbyists, lawmakers and others, especially as they mill about in the 4th floor Rotunda between the two chambers. The wearing of pink, for those who still remember the reason, is to honor the late insurance lobbyist Marvin Arrington, who wore a pink sports coat on the last day of session. The red refers to the same-colored Solo cups ubiquitous on the last day. And white, as in the handkerchiefs that are ceremonially dropped by the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms to mark the precise moment of session’s end.

TWEET, TWEET: @SteveBousquet: Senate President Andy Gardiner is aiming for a 4 p.m. adjournment Friday.

TWEET, TWEET: @SteveBousquet: Gov. Rick Scott will attend Friday’s end-of-session Sine Die ceremony, unlike last year.

TWEET OF THE DAY: @RepDanaYoung: Today, Matt and I celebrate our 26th Anniversary after 32 amazing years together. Matt, I love you, and I’ll be HOME from Session tomorrow!

HOUSE SPEAKER STEVE CRISAFULLI SAYS GOODBYE TO ‘AN INCREDIBLE INSTITUTION’ via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – “It has been a true honor to serve with all of you,” said Crisafulli. “The past two years have been challenging; they have brought on extraordinary times. But I am so proud of this House on how we confronted adversity.” During his brief remarks, Crisafulli thanked his family and staff for their support over the years. He spoke to lawmakers about the work they’ve done, and said he hoped he lived up to the promises Crisafulli made when he was first named Speaker. Crisafulli made his remarks after his official portrait was unveiled. In the portrait, which was promptly hung on the walls of the House chamber, Crisafulli is shown standing with his hand on an orange sitting on a desk. House members also presented him with a custom long range rifle as a gift.

FIRST ON FLORIDA POLITICS – PAUL RENNER FLIPS PLEDGE TO CHRIS SPROWLS FOR HOUSE SPEAKER, ENDING 2021-22 LEADERSHIP RACE — The freshman from Palm Coast, in a memo obtained first by, pledged his commitment to state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican.

In an email to his colleagues, Renner explained his decision: “Since joining the Florida House last April, I’ve observed the prolonged struggle over who should lead your 2014 class as our future speaker. Before my election, I had the privilege to serve in the U.S. Navy, including two wartime deployments. That experience taught me that the mission always comes first, and to succeed you must fight together as one, united team. Our command mission is to stand up to the voters who sent us to Tallahassee. After a spirited competition over who should lead your class, there comes a point at which continued division detracts from the mission we were sent here to accomplish. We have reached that point. While I hold Representative Eric Eisnaugle in the highest regard, Representative Chris Sprowls has steadily and convincingly won the support of the majority of your class. It is time we give him our full support so that he can prepare himself to lead the chamber as one, united team.”

Eisnaugle, a Republican who represents the Orlando area, was long thought to be the frontrunner until reports emerged that some of his colleagues said he became aloof and disconnected from the membership after winning a majority of pledges.

Sprowls emerged as a leading Tampa Bay-area alternative soon after, with some saying Republican Party of Florida Chairman and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia encouraged members to switch their commitments to Sprowls. Ingoglia is from Hernando County.

The winner of the leadership race will be designated House Speaker in 2021, assuming the GOP maintains its majority in the 120-member chamber, which now stands at 81 Republicans to 39 Democrats.

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LEGISLATURE POISED TO APPROVE AN $82.3 BILLION BUDGET via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – [The] Florida Legislature will approve a more than $82.3 billion budget that includes a slight boost in money for schools but also rejects many of Scott‘s main priorities … increases the state budget by roughly 5 percent without the arguing and finger-pointing that had consumed most of 2015. The vote guarantees that legislators end their session on time … Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli insisted that their approach was a reaction to recent news that showed that Florida’s economic recovery may be faltering and that tax collections aren’t growing as robustly as once forecast. Democrats have usually been sharply critical of the annual budget. But this year they said they would vote for the budget to “send a message” to Scott. This means that the Republican-controlled Legislature should have enough votes to override Scott in case he vetoes the budget or spending items within it. It takes a two-thirds vote to override a veto. Some legislators, however, said there were shortcomings in the budget. They complained it doesn’t include an across-the-board pay raise for state workers or boost spending enough in Florida’s troubled prisons system. A push by Florida’s prison chief to hire enough correctional officers to switch from a 12-hour shift to an 8-hour shift was not approved by budget negotiators.

CHANCES FOR SETTLING UBER, LYFT REGULATIONS LOOKING DIM via the Associated Press – The House and Senate can’t agree on regulations, and a compromise bill was postponed in the Senate … That leaves only a day for negotiators, including legislators, ridesharing services and competing taxi companies, to settle the issue before the session ends … after haggling unsuccessfully throughout the session.

MATT GAETZ SLAMS SENATE OVER TANKING UBER LEGISLATION via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Gaetz talked to reporters with Uber public affairs director Colin Tooze and state Sen. Jeff Brandes … The two lawmakers support “disruptive technologies” such as Uber. In the afternoon, state Sen. David Simmons tabled his own bill (SB 1118) that would have mandated minimum commercial insurance requirements for drivers with Uber and similar app-based companies, known as “transportation network companies.” He said the House wouldn’t budge on its insistence that any legislation include a “preemption” provision: Blocking local authorities, such as the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, from regulating the services and instead reserving that power to the state. “Pre-emption is absolutely essential to the preservation of a free market,” Gaetz said … Between the two are “seven different political subdivisions,” he said. “Does anyone really believe there ought to be seven different sets of rules for ride-sharing companies? … The fact that the Florida Senate sponsor is only focused on (an insurance) mandate only highlights the fact that they’re not interested in the free market,” he said. “We’re interested in allowing innovators to thrive … We ought to be here to facilitate (business), not frustrate it.”

— “Email insights: Uber calls on customers to demand a Senate vote” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Uber drops off thousands of pro-ridesharing petitions to Andy Gardiner” via Florida Politics

— “Uber bill makes last stand in Senate” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics

DISCORD OVER CHARTER SCHOOL CAPITAL FUNDING YIELDS HOUSE COUNTEROFFER ON EDUCATION BILL via Kristen Clark of the Tampa Bay Times – Calling it “too much of a nuclear issue,” the Florida House voted to remove the Senate’s proposed reforms for charter school capital funding from a massive education bill that lawmakers are trying to negotiate with a day left in the 2016 session. Mostly along party-lines, the House approved a 168-page, almost-complete re-write of HB 7029, after the Senate sent over its approved version … Rep. Erik Fresen — who sponsored the re-write — said the Senate’s plans for changing charter school capital funding lacked a reliable, non-political formula, which the House couldn’t accept. Fresen and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, had dueling proposals this session to, in some cases, drastically change charter schools’ eligibility for state tax dollars they can use for maintenance and construction projects. Gaetz’s plan, in particular, would have made it more difficult for many charter schools to get capital funding, particularly those run by companies looking to make a profit. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed.

HEALTHCARE BILLS ADVANCE IN LEGISLATURE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – A variety of healthcare-related bills made way through the Legislature on the penultimate day of the 2016 Regular Session. The House passed HB 1241, which allows advanced nurses and physician assistants to order medications for patients at health facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. An amended bill (HB 977) to alleviating Florida’s behavioral health care workforce passed the Senate and went to the House which concurred with upper chamber’s changes the same day. HB 977 would give psychiatric nurses the authority to prescribe controlled substances for mental disorders and the legislative intent finds the need of an additional psychiatry program at a Florida medical school.

BILL FORCES INSURANCE COMPANIES TO TRACK DOWN BENEFICIARIES via the Associated Press – Life insurance companies will have to annually check to see if policy holders have died and then try to track down beneficiaries under a bill going to Scott. The Senate unanimously passed the bill after the House did the same earlier this week. The measure (SB 966) would also require insurance companies to turn over policy benefits to the state if they can’t find the beneficiaries. The bill was a top priority for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater … The law takes effect immediately if Scott signs the bill. It will apply retroactively.

KEYS WATER QUALITY FUNDING BILL HEADED TO GOVERNOR via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – The Senate … amended and passed HB 447 by a 39-0 vote. The House, which had passed the bill by a 111-1 vote on March 7, concurred. The bill was amended by the Senate to provide $5 million in the 2016-17 state budget for water quality projects. The bill also provides at least $5 million in Florida Forever land-buying funding towards land acquisition in the Florida Keys beginning in 2017-18. The use of local discretionary sales surtax revenues would be expanded under the bill to allow payments landowners for property rights takings claims.

LAWMAKERS APPROVE PAYMENT TO PAHOKEE GIRL RAPED ON COUNTY SCHOOL BUS via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post –Close to $1.8 million was awarded by state lawmakers to a Pahokee girl raped by an emotionally disturbed fellow student on a Palm Beach County school bus in 2007. The county school board had reached a $600,000 settlement with the girl and her family following a trial and jury award in 2013 of $1.7 million … the school board already paid $100,000 … The school board earlier this year regrouped and agreed to pay the larger amount to the girl, identified only as Q.B. in court and legislative documents. “We are about to change someone’s life for the better,” Sen. Joe Abruzzo … adding that the payment covers legal damages along with long-term counseling and life-training for the youngster.

LEGISLATURE POISED TO PASS BAN ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT BANS ON STYROFOAM CONTAINERS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald –The measure, added to a broad agriculture department bill, HB 7007, is being pushed by retailers like Publix, which relies on Styrofoam trays for everything from raw meat to repackaged fruits and vegetables. The Florida Senate approved two minor amendments to the House bill … and the measure is poised for passage in both chambers in the final days of the legislative session. If approved, it would allow seven South Florida cities that have adopted bans before January 2016 to keep them in place but communities — like Coral Gables and Orlando — which adopted bans this year or are in the process of adopting bans would have their measures reversed. The Florida bill requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which does not currently regulate polystyrene containers, to conduct a study about whether regulation of plastic bags and foam trays is needed but, until then, any new regulation would be prohibited.

STATE COMMITS $400 K IN EMERGENCY READING FUNDING TO HELP FIVE FAILING ST. PETERSBURG SCHOOLS via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – State Rep. Erik Fresen … told legislators during a debate over the $82.3 billion budget that funding for the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center is aimed at helping the five schools were at the heart of a yearlong investigation by the Tampa Bay Times. Lastinger has started a new program called “Winning Reading Boost” aimed at helping 1,000 elementary school students at the state’s lowest performing schools. “The budget does have a specific line item just for these schools in Pinellas County for the specific purpose of the reading programs,” Fresen said in response from questions from state Rep. Darryl Rouson … After the debate, Rouson said he had originally sought $1.1 million for the reading programs, but was happy to see the Legislature is at least directing $400,000 to deal specifically with the problems at the five schools.

ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM APPROACHING DEAD END via Amy O’Connor of insurance Journal – The bills introduced in the House and Senate meant to address the assignment of benefits abuse problem – being called a critical issue by insurers, consumer and industry advocates – were dropped in mid-February. However, a “compromise” bill introduced by another lawmaker still has a glimmer of hope of being passed before the 2016 session ends … an amendment that required notification to insurance companies soon after a contract is signed between a policyholder and repair contractor was added late last week to the bill. The amendment was one aspect of AOB reform requested by the insurance industry. As of March 8, the bill was still on the table, but insurance insiders say it doesn’t offer all the protections and reforms the industry wanted. Meanwhile, insurers and their advocates warned that Florida homeowners can expect rate increases if something isn’t done to deal with “skyrocketing water losses,” particularly in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. “Given the latest data, rates in those counties would have to nearly triple to pay for non-wind related losses,” the government-backed property insurer Citizens said in statement. “Under Florida law, Citizens rate increases are limited to 10 percent a year.”

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RICK SCOTT STAYS QUIET AS INDUSTRY BUZZES ABOUT JOHN ARMSTRONG REPLACEMENT via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – “We continue to believe Dr. Armstrong is the best person for the job,” communications director Jackie Schutz said when asked to comment on the administration’s contingency plans. But Tallahassee health care observers and lobbyists are already talking about possible successors, including Jason Rosenberg, who is reportedly the administration’s top choice. “I reached out to John Armstrong as a friend and told him he has my complete and full support,” said Rosenberg. “That’s where I am.” Rosenberg called the talk “all rumors and speculation.” Former Department of Health Secretary Bob Brooks is another name that is being bandied about. Brooks holds certification ins public health and general preventive medicine and infectious diseases from the American Board of Medical Specialties.

SCOTT SIGNS 26 BILLS INTO LAW via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – … including protections for pastors that refuse to marry gay couples and the replacement of one of Florida’s statues in the U.S. Capitol. The Pastor Protection Act, which Scott already said he planned to sign, will give churches and pastors immunity from litigation if they deny a marriage they don’t support on religious grounds. The measure was pushed by religious groups in the wake of same-sex marriage being legalized statewide. Florida will also move forward in the process to replace a statue of Edmund Kirby Smith, a confederate general, one of just two representing the state in National Statuary Hall. Other new laws will open up professional guardians of the elderly to greater regulation, and will allow minors to have their criminal records sealed earlier, part of a broader push in the Legislature to “decriminalize adolescence,” in the words of Sen. Joe Negron.

— “Scott OK’s request to call absentee ballots ‘vote by mail’ ballots” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Scott signs bill to replace General Edmund Kirby Smith statue in D.C.” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Scott signs elder guardianship bill; but for some, it’s too late” via Barbara Peters Smith of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

EDITORIAL – FIVE REASONS GOV. SCOTT SHOULD SIGN ANTICORRUPTION BILL via Florida Today – 1. It’s a tax cut. A statewide grand jury that studied corruption found that bribery, bid-rigging and other public corruption is so common in Florida, it inflates costs to taxpayers for all types of government. It’s time to cut our hidden “corruption tax.” 2. Nearly everyone agrees it’s the right thing to do. 3. It can improve trust in privatization. 4. It doesn’t raise costs. Several legislative analyses of the anti-corruption legislation stated that it would have no negative fiscal impact on state or local government. 5. Fighting public corruption would become part of the Scott record. That certainly can’t hurt.

MY TAKE: LEGISLATION PROTECTS MEDICAID DENTAL PROGRAM BUT YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT FROM SLOPPY REPORTING via Florida Politics – If you judge the passage of this year’s Medicaid dental bill on recent headlines alone, you’d be led to think that the measure pulls dental coverage away from Florida’s neediest kids. That would be terrible, if it were true. As if 95% of the Florida Senate — including all but one Democrat — would be complicit in such a thing. In truth, the measure (HB 819) protects children’s dental coverage by ensuring that those providing it are actually doing their job.  We’ve got Orlando’s WFTV suggesting this bill would wholly drop dental coverage (totally false); the Palm Beach Post suggesting that the bill would deprive adults of care (huh?); and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune posing commentary as fact, offering “Medicaid dental debate leaves out kids” (when anybody listening would know that the majority of testimony revolved around just that). Yes, this bill was lobbied aggressively by health plans and dental plans alike. But focusing news stories on that is lazy at best and downright misleading at worst. Most weighty measures have stockpiles of lobbyists on board: there’s nothing new or newsworthy about that.

***Florida hospitals are on a mission. A mission to increase access to health care, improve the quality of care and reduce costs for patients. Find out more about the Florida Hospital Association’s “Mission to Care” and its new website that provides hospital prices and quality ratings in a consumer-friendly, searchable format.***

SCOTT APPEARANCE ON “MORNING JOE” DUMBFOUNDS JOE SCARBOROUGH AND MIKA BRZEZINSKI via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Scott‘s penchant for refusing to answer questions dumbfounded MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show host Scarborough and reduced co-host Brzezinski to exasperation during a four-minute interview … Afterwards, Brzezinski blasted Scott, calling him sniveling and the interview “pathetic.” She said he should not be a governor. During the interview, a national TV audience watched as Scarborough repeatedly tried to ask Scott why he would not endorse … Rubio in Florida’s presidential primary, what Scott thought of Trump‘s most recent anti-Muslim remarks made in Florida, and whether he personally thought Islam is a religion that hates America. Scott responded as he usually does when pressed for questions that are not about bringing jobs to Florida or why Florida is a great state, by repeating responses that avoid direct answers: He has relationships with all the Republican candidates, the voters should decide, and Florida is a great melting pot. Scarborough all but gave up after several tries to get a more substantive response.

SCOTT: MUSLIMS DON’T HATE AMERICA BUT RADICAL ONES DO via Eliot Kleinberg of the Palm Beach Post – “There are people that love this country. There’s people that don’t love this country. What we do know, and it’s no surprise, is that radical Muslims don’t like our country,” Scott told a gaggle of reporters as he arrived at the University of Miami in advance of [the] GOP presidential debate. The Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida had said that … on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, “Governor Scott repeatedly refused to answer and dodged multiple direct questions such as: Do you think Muslims in the State of Florida hate America? Do you think that Muslims hate Americans? Does Islam hate America? Do you personally think that Islam is a religion that hates America? Can you answer the question or should we scooped [sic]? The Governor’s only relevant answer to any of those questions was: ‘Trump can talk about the things he wants to.’” CAIR Florida said it blames a recent “unprecedented spike” in hate incidents in Florida and nationwide, at least in part, on comments by Trump and other Republican leaders, including Scott.

OP-ED OF THE DAY – IS  SCOTT RACIST? MAYBE, AT THE VERY LEAST HE’S A COWARD via Daniel Vasquez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – is Scott racist for not condemning Trump‘s recent assertion that Islam hates America … racist for not standing up for Muslim-Americans living in Florida … coward for not admitting his views when questioned this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show? The answer to the first two questions is the same: Maybe. The answer to the third question is a definitive: Absolutely. Yes. Scott embarrassed himself on the “Morning Joe” show. But he also embarrassed all of Florida. And America. Scott was asked point blank: “Would you tell your friend Donald Trump that he should walk back his statements that Muslims, that Islam, hates America? Do you think Muslims in the state of Florida hate America?” Scott babbled. Weaved. Deflected. He even somehow managed to mention jobs. If you know anything about Scott, you know he has one talking point: jobs. What he didn’t do was defend his Muslim residents, when they needed him most.

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DEBATE NIGHT IN MIAMI – GOP FINAL 4 TONE DOWN RHETORIC, IF NOT THEIR DIFFERENCES — A surprisingly restrained Donald Trump used the latest presidential debate to send a none-too-subtle message to Republicans still wary of his insurgent candidacy: “Be smart and unify.” Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio toned down their rhetoric, too, concluding that all-out attacks against Trump didn’t work. I can’t believe how civil it’s been up here,” Trump declared at one point in Thursday’s face-off of the GOP’s final four.

Trump’s rivals, in a desperate scramble to halt his march to the nomination, gradually ramped up their criticism as the latest debate wore on.

Rubio’s overarching message: “I know that a lot of people find appeal in the things Donald says. The problem is presidents can’t just say anything they want because it has consequences around the world.”

Cruz, eager to cement his position as the party’s last best alternative to Trump, had a string of criticisms of the GOP front-runner, too, saying flatly at one point: “His solutions don’t work.”

When it was over, Trump pronounced it an “elegant” discussion. He was clearly intent on projecting a less bombastic — and more presidential — image. “We’re all in this together,” he said early on, sounding more like a conciliator than a provocateur as he strives to unify the party behind his candidacy. “We’re going to come up with solutions. We’re going to find the answer to things.”

In a lengthy discussion of the threat posed by radicalized Muslims, Trump refused to back away from his recent statement that “Islam hates the West.” He said he wouldn’t stoop to being “politically correct” by avoiding such statements. Rubio had a sharp comeback: “I’m not interested in being politically correct. I’m interested in being correct.”


— @JessicaTaylor: Jake Tapper: “Our goal tonight is a serious debate on the issues.”  Translated: Please don’t talk about your manhood.

— @AnaNavarro: Wow. 15 mins into this debate & there’s been nothing but policy discussions. No insults. No hands. No penises. Is this really a GOP debate?

— @Ezraklein: Sure, this debate is substantive. But the substance is often wrong, exaggerated, nonsensical, implausible, misleading, confused…

SPOTTED at the GOP debate: Erik Eikenberg, former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (he’s backing Trump?), Chris Hudson, Brian Hughes, and Justin Sayfie

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LATEST FLORIDA VOTER FIGURES – As of 10 a.m. Thursday morning, 1,512,271 Floridians have cast either vote-by-mail or early in-person ballots: 815,183 Republicans, 635,885 Democrats and 61,203 other. There were 1,026,250 total mail ballots returned so far (553,181 Republican, 432,397 Democrats and 40,672 other). With early in-person voting, 486,021 ballots have been cast (262,002 Republicans, 203,488 Democrats and 20,531 other). Early voting turnout is now at 18.2 percent of all Republican registered voters in Florida (4,466,963); for Democrats the turnout is at 12.7 percent of the total number of registered voters (4,999,538).

FRESH POLL – TRUMP 36%, RUBIO 30% via WTSP … Cruz polled at 17% and Kasich came in with 8%. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is ahead by an overwhelming 68%-23% margin over Bernie Sanders.

SALT SHAKER TEST: IS MARCO RUBIO CLOSING ON DONALD TRUMP? via Steve Vancore for Florida Politics – The poll aggregating website, Real Clear Politics, shows a half-dozen polls released in the past three days alone. Additionally, Associated Industries of Florida has released a series of polls and a detailed analysis of their findings. And if you are paying even the slightest bit of attention, you are probably scratching your head over the differences – the WIDE differences – in Trump’s lead. Some polls have his lead over Rubio at more than 20 points, while others have the race down to single digits. So why the differences? For the most part, polls with a looser sampling model tend to give Trump a larger lead than those polls using techniques which increase the likelihood that the respondent is an actual voter and has a verified history of voting in primaries. To put it in very simple terms: tighter screen = tighter race, looser screen = larger lead for Trump. So who is right? Trump seems to be doing well (and I know this is a shock) among non-traditional voters or even non-voters. So polls that pull in self-identifying frequent GOP voters (“you betcha I’m gonna vote” and “yeah, sure, I’m a Republican”), even if they are not registered Republicans, tend to give Trump a lift.

FLORIDA GOP VOTERS TO MARCO RUBIO: DROP OUT IF YOU LOSE ON TUESDAY via Nolan McCaskill of POLITICO – [Should] he lose, he should suspend his campaign, a majority of likely Republican voters indicated in a Washington Post/Univision poll …Trump leads Rubio by single digits, 38 percent to 31 percent, but dominates the rest of the field. Cruz sits at 19 percent and Kasich is at 4 percent, with 7 percent undecided. Cruz, however, is the top second choice. Thirty percent list Cruz as their backup candidate, while 24 percent say Rubio is their alternative … Should he lose, however, nearly 60 percent of likely Republican primary voters say he should end his campaign, while a third say he should keep going beyond March 15. Republicans surveyed suggested Rubio is the most honest and trustworthy candidate — 34 percent to Trump’s 30 percent — and has the best personality and temperament to be president. But those same Republicans believe Trump is best on far more issues, including bringing necessary change to Washington, D.C., handling the economy, immigration, terrorism and health care (Rubio ranks second).

WHY RUBIO IS FLORIDA’S NOT SO FAVORITE SON via Michael Bender of Bloomberg Politics – For all of the Florida senator’s attention to the national political scene — getting out front on an immigration issue party leaders identified as a priority, backing away when conservative activists rejected it, campaigning for other Republican candidates, orchestrating his own immigration apology tour along the way — Rubio has left his most important voters — the ones who’ve actually pulled a lever for him — unattended. And now, as Rubio needs his home state more than ever, he’s finding they’ve moved on, too. Two recent polls in advance of the Florida primary show Rubio getting doubled up by Trump. “We’ve had a hard time getting him to visit the grassroots,” Michael Barnett, the Palm Beach County Republican chairman, said about Rubio. “We’ve invited him to be our Lincoln Day speaker every year, and he always turned us down for one reason or another. He has his priorities.”

CLOSING ARGUMENT – The pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC released their closing TV ad in Florida Thursday, which says “a vote for Cruz or Kasich is a vote for Trump.”

TWEET: @Amy_Hollyfield: Just in, @marcorubio holding rally Saturday morning in #Largo

 FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY RELEASES AD BASHING RUBIO, ASKING ‘I GIVE UP! WHERE ARE YOU?’ via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The 30-second spot, uses almost no speaking, except for a child’s voice at a swimming pool. The child, sounding increasingly frustrated while playing the pool game “Marco Polo,” calls out several times, “Marco!” and then ends with expression of irritation. “I give up! Where are you?” the child cries out. That audio is set on video of the U.S. Capitol building, as a single text block enters the screen, declaring, “Rubio has the worst attendance record.” — THE HILL.

BEN CARSON PLANS TO ENDORSE DONALD TRUMP via Robert Costa of the Washington Post – The endorsement, perhaps the most high-profile nod for Trump since Chris Christie backed him, was finalized … when Carson met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, the luxury club owned by the Republican front-runner, the people said. The sources requested anonymity to discuss private conversations … [The] announcement will also take place at the club in Palm Beach, Fla., where the onetime rivals will appear alongside one another at a news conference. Carson’s decision may surprise some of his backers since Trump made blistering critiques over the past year of stories from Carson’s past.

ANTI-DONALD TRUMP CASH FLOODS FLORIDA AIRWAVES via Tim Higgins of Bloomberg Politics – Outside groups and campaigns have committed $9.2 million for ads in Florida for the seven-day period beginning March 8, according to estimates by Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political spending.  Almost half of that—$4.3 million—comes from Conservative Solutions PAC, a group supporting Rubio‘s candidacy. In addition to Conservative Solutions, which also committed $1.4 million in Illinois, three outside groups opposing Trump are also spending heavily.

THREE ARRESTED FOR PULLING GUN ON TRUMP SUPPORTER via Josh Rhoden of WRCB TV – David Grant put his Trump for President sign in his yard … “I’m behind Donald Trump! You mess with Trump, you mess with us!” said Grant. On Tuesday, he says three people walked by his yard and apparently didn’t like who he believed in. One man snatched Grant’s Trump for President yard sign and threw it into the street. Grant was outside when it happened, and had words for the trio. “I said you got one choice. Come and fix this sign!” said Grant … the two adult males and teenager became aggressive. “He said you are about to get a cap popped in your a**! Then he started patting his stomach and then showed a handgun” … Grant says his neighbor who lives across the street had his back the whole time. “The neighbor was standing out here beside his driveway and sees the man pull the gun out. My neighbor looks at me dead in the eye and say: “I got you, hang on.” He runs in the house and comes back out with his pistol and says: “Nobody is shooting him” said Grant.

TED CRUZ SUPER PAC DECIDES ATTACKING RUBIO IN FLORIDA ISN’T WORTH IT via Theodore Schleifer of CNN – Keep the Promise, the main cluster of independent groups backing Cruz, is preparing to spend $4.1 million in a quartet of states that vote on March 15: Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and North Carolina. It is passing entirely on Florida, Rubio’s home state, where he trails national frontrunner Trump badly in polls. “We’re no longer doing anti-Rubio ads in Florida, because it appears he can lose Florida all by himself,” said Kellyanne Conway, the group’s president. “He doesn’t need our help.”

— “Cruz to appear at Orlando church” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel

TED CRUZ PLAYS UP CUBAN HERITAGE BEFORE FLORIDA PRIMARY via Matt Flegenheimer of the New York Times – In a race with potentially history-making choices in both parties, Cruz has dwelled little on his Cuban heritage. Though he regularly invokes the immigrant tale of his father, Rafael, he speaks sparingly of ethnic identity, dabbles only occasionally in uneven Spanish and has declined to highlight his biography as conspicuously as Rubio. But making a late push in [the] Florida primary, Cruz sounded at times like Rubio, his Cuban-American rival from the Senate whose campaign he could doom with a strong showing here.

GOP DONORS PUSHING CONDOLEEZZA RICE TO RUN INDEPENDENT CAMPAIGN via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – A group of Republican donors and strategists has been working to persuade former Secretary of State Rice to make an independent bid for president … “The reality of the matter is that we will have President Trump or President Clinton — if we don’t have President Rice,” read the memo, which was written by Joel Searby, a consultant with Florida-based GOP firm Data Targeting … a group of donors was working on with Data Targeting to look at the viability of a third-party run … “We have been in touch with Dr. Rice through her chief of staff,” read the plan, which is stamped “confidential.” “She is reluctant at this stage. We are asking for anyone wanting to assist to encourage her to run.”

SPOTTED: Sarah Bascom in the memo about Rice. Look at my friend Sarah, she’s the tip of the spear for several congressional campaigns, is a top adviser to both the Senate President Designate and the Speaker Designate, and now she’s being name-dropped in presidential campaign memos.

BERNIE SANDERS TALKS OF ‘REVOLUTION’ BEFORE 4000 IN KISSIMMEE via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel – Sanders … talked about the usual – a political revolution, changing the government, and so on. “This is a different type of campaign,” the Vermont senator told his cheering supporters, many of them in their teens or 20s and who gathered at Osceola Heritage Park. “We’re doing something very radical. We are telling people the truth.”

— “Bernie Sanders brings his political revolution to Tampa” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics.

HILLARY CLINTON EMPHASIZES KNOWLEDGE OF FLORIDA ISSUES AT TAMPA RALLY, JABS AT GOV. RICK SCOTT via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Facing an unexpectedly aggressive push from her opponent in Florida, Clinton tried to fire up supporters in Tampa with a high-energy rally that often saw the candidate tailor her message to problems facing the state. Clinton … talked about boosting the Port of Tampa and addressing flooding problems in South Florida exacerbated by climate change. Shoring up her support among Hispanics in Florida is one way Clinton may hope to neutralize Bernie Sanders, who also held campaign rallies across the state and is making Florida more of a priority after ignoring the state for months. Sanders has some momentum after an unexpected win in Michigan … Fighting to maintain her sizable lead in state polls, Clinton seemed eager to show off her knowledge of issues impacting Florida and local communities. “Let’s just focus on a minute on two big areas that will be important here in Tampa and throughout Florida: Infrastructure and climate change,” Clinton said shortly into her 24-minute speech. The candidate then proceeded to bash Scott on both issues.

— “In Jacksonville, Chelsea Clinton proves she is a master politician” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

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SHOT – “Sources: Ex-ambassador and major Bush donor mulling U.S. Senate run in Florida” via Marc Caputo – 3.10.16

CHASER – “Is France Rooney the unicorn in Florida’s U.S. Senate race?” via Peter Schorsch – 1.25.16

ALAN GRAYSON DRAWS FIRE FROM CONSERVATIVE GROUP AFTER POSTING CONTROVERSIAL ABORTION TWEET via Florida Politics – Minutes after the Florida House approved a Senate amendment to a contentious abortion-restrictions bill, Grayson let loose with a Twitter post quoting the television show VEEP. “If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at an ATM,” read the post, quoting the show’s lead character, Selena Meyer, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The tweet immediately drew fire from the center-right group Better Florida Alliance. “Abortion is no laughing matter. Given Grayson’s past treatment of pregnant women comes as no surprise that his understanding of health policy comes from a sitcom,” said BFA spokesman Brian Burgess. “The reality in Florida is that there are far more safety regulations governing Alan Grayson’s routine colonoscopy than there are protecting women at abortion clinics. Women facing difficult choices should expect the same level of safety as everyone else.”

PRO-CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA SUPER PAC HIRES TOP RICK SCOTT STAFFER via Florida Politics – The super PAC backing Lopez-Cantera has brought on Virginia Haworth, a veteran of the Scott administration, as its new finance director. The Auburn University alumna joins Meredith O’Rourke, herself a former Scott staff member, and a team of fundraisers at pro-Lopez-Cantera committee Reform Washington, which had raised just shy of $1 million for the lieutenant governor’s Senate campaign when it filed its most recent finance report in December. Haworth has been with the Scott machine since he ran for governor in the 2010 cycle. After Scott’s victory, she accepted a post in his appointments office, eventually working her way up to the Governor’s Director of Appointments. Most recently, she worked for Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, where she also held the title of finance director.

BOOM – JEFF MILLER WILL NOT SEEK REELECTION via Will Isern of the Pensacola News-Journal – “(My wife) Vicki and I have decided it’s time for us to explore a new chapter in our lives,” Miller said. [He] was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1998 and then to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001, serves as the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs as well as on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Miller said that looks forward to spending time with his wife and family after he leaves office. He said he has made no plans for future public service.

SOURCES: MATT GAETZ EXPLORING RUN FOR CONGRESS via Florida Politics – Gaetz … is eyeing the 1st Congressional District seat now held by Miller. The eight-term Florida Republican …  Gaetz has been in contact with several of the region’s top political donors, including Lewis Bear and Merrill Collier, one source said. Another source, a former member of the Florida House, told FP that Gaetz was “telling everyone he is running for CD 1.” For his part, Gaetz said he is “focused on northwest Florida’s priorities in the final days of Session … Today is about my friend Rep. Jeff Miller, his family and his valued service.”

— “Don Gaetz supports son Matt’s bid for Congress – ‘if he runs’” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics

SHOT – ““More big names line up for Eric Lynn over Charlie Crist” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

CHASER – “New PPP poll: Charlie Crist leading Eric Lynn 71%-11% in CD 13 primary” via Ryan Ray of Florida Politics

FLASHBACK to 7.22.15 – “New poll shows Charlie Crist more popular than ice cream” via Florida Politics

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Republican Rebecca Negron will hold an official kickoff for her Florida Congressional District 18 campaign on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST at Halpatiokee Regional Park, 7645 SW Lost River Road in Stuart. RSVP to

IN CD 18, RANDY PERKINS WINS THE LATEST ROUND OF THE INVISIBLE PRIMARY via Florida Politics – This week, the race to replace Patrick Murphy saw a little back-and-forth between the two Democratic candidates, Jonathan Chane and Perkins. Chane opened the round with an endorsement from Wendy Davis. And while you are forgiven if that name doesn’t ring a bell (she’s a former state Senator from Texas who earned her fifteen minutes of fame filibustering an abortion bill) the message was supposed to bolster Chane’s party credentials and lay claim to being the more pro-choice of the two. Not bad. Kind of kitschy, but not the worst endorsement ever. Then, Perkins parried with a reminder that he and not Chane is being backed by the Democratic party mothership (the DCCC) and countered with an endorsement from an actual Florida resident who is still an elected and BTW is actually sitting in the very body both men are seeking. Perkins offered up the endorsement of the dean of the Florida congressional delegation, Alcee Hastings. Oomph.

ED NARAIN DECLARES CANDIDACY FOR SD 19 via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – He’s aiming for the Senate District 19 seat being vacated by term-limited Arthenia Joyner. “From community service to political service, my guiding principal has been to focus on what’s best for Florida and fight to make a difference for all people,” Narain said in a prepared statement. “It’s why I’ve been very involved in the community and why I ran for the state House. The state Senate is the place I can continue making a difference. This race will be about the future of our state, and who is best prepared to lead us there.” He recently won praise for his successful shepherding of a bill that will provide financial relief to the families of victims of the notorious Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Betty Reed, who previously held Narain’s HD 61 seat, is a candidate for SD 19, as is Daryl Rouson, term-limited out of his HD 70 seat.

2018 WATCH – ADAM PUTNAM RAISES MORE THAN $1 MILLION IN THREE MONTHS via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Putnam continues to be one of the state’s most prolific fundraisers in the state, adding to speculation that the Republican from Polk County will make a run for governor in 2018 when Scott will be unable to run for re-election because of term limits. Just since December, Putnam raised over $1 million for a political action committee he runs called Florida Grown and has now raised just short of $4.3 million in the last 12 months … Why all the money for Putnam, who because of term limits cannot seek re-election as Agriculture Commissioner? “To advance the conservative causes of solid public policy for our state,” Putnam said … Putnam has only spent $253,426 since Dec. 1.

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PERSONNEL NOTE: PATTI BRIGHAM NAMED 1ST VP OF LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS FLORIDA via Florida Politics – Orange County board member Brigham … In addition to her active role on the board and the league’s Membership Committee, the Orlando native and University of Central Florida alumna has chaired the league’s Gun Safety Committee, which she formed, since 2014. Brigham’s background includes several years with suicide prevention and crisis center WeCare Inc., as well as a career in radio as a reporter, writer and producer. During her time in radio, she won an award for Best Light News Feature from The Associated Press and was named the Best Female News Anchor by American Women in Radio and Television.

HAPPENING TOMORROW: Wear something green and get your Irish on with the folks at public affairs firm Ballard Partners while they celebrate next weekend with its exclusive St. Patrick’s Parade Balcony Party. Hosted by Ana “O’Cruz,” Todd “O’Josko,” Jan “O’Gorrie” and Bridget “O’Nocco,” the annual celebration of all things Irish, now in its fifth year, will be at the Ballard Partners Tampa offices at 1726 E. Seventh Ave. The balcony opens at 6 p.m.; parade begins at 7 p.m.


Slater Bayliss, Cardenas Partners: The National Electrical Manufacturers Association

Barney Bishop, Barney Bishop Consulting: HEADS USA

Doug Bruce, Trevor Mask, Colodny Fass: Suwannee River Chamber of Commerce

Jose Diaz, Robert M. Levy & Associates: City of Homestead

Harold Foster: Florida Care

APPOINTED: The City Council for the City of Seminole unanimously appointed Berny Jacques to a two-year term on the Developmental Review Board.

YOUR FINAL GOV CLUB BUFFET MENU (Thank you to Allison Ager for putting all of these together) — For the final day of the 2016 Legislative Session, the Governors Club “Sine Die special” includes Bistro Onion Soup; Taco Board with Tortilla Chips: Chilled Shrimp Tacos, Southwest Chicken Salad Tacos & Chipotle Beef Corn Salad Taco; Greek Salad Bar; Chicken Salad & Tuna Salad; Beef Tips with Smokey BBQ Sauce; Huli Huli Chicken; Red Snapper with Crawfish Sauce, Creamy Langoustine; Orecchiette Pasta with Peas, Tomato & Basil; Almond Rice and Vegetable Medley, finishing off with a Mini Dessert Bar.


Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James  on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: Dr. Washington Clark Hill with the Sarasota and Florida Department of Health on reducing health disparities for African-American moms.

Facing Florida with Mike Vasilinda: Palm Beach Congressman Tom Rooney and former state Rep. Adam Hasner.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Dan Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times, Democratic strategist Jessica Ehrlich, former Republican Sen. Paula Dockery, and TV reporter Mike Deeson.

On Point with Shannon Ogden on WFCN in Jacksonville: A standup-interview with U.S. Sen. Marco RubioTia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union breaks down the 2016 Session in Tallahassee, plus a talk with Public Defender candidate Charles Cofer and University of North Florida Prof. Michael Binder on a recent UNF presidential poll.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: 2016 Legislative Session review show, hosted by Ybeth Bruzual and Al Ruechel. PolitiFact rates two claims that came out of Tallahassee this year. Alex Sink and Chris Ingram’s “Common Ground” segment focuses on the delegate selection process for both Republicans and Democrats. Plus a look ahead to Tuesday’s Florida primary, and look at the future Sen. Marco Rubio.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Sean Pittman break down the 2016 Legislative Session with reporter Dara Kam.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Sit-down interview with Gov. Scott and former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. Plus a live in-studio chat with former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and UNF’s Dr. Michael Binder, plus Ben Krakow, Co-Founder and President of VoterGuru.

***THE ILLUSIONISTS – A High-tech Magic Extravaganza” – The New York Times. This mind blowing spectacular showcases the jaw dropping talents of the most incredible Illusionists on earth. The Illusionists–Live from Broadway™ has shattered box office records across the globe and dazzles audiences of all ages with a powerful mix of the most outrageous and astonishing acts ever to be seen on stage. This non-stop show is packed with thrilling and sophisticated magic of unprecedented proportions. Live April 7! Tickets are on sale now at!***

NEW “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” TRAILER INTRODUCES SPIDER MAN –The second full trailer to “Captain America: Civil War” is here and the biggest news is you get a first look at the new Spider-Man! Tom Holland was cast last year as the new web-slinging superhero and this trailer delivers the goods. The first appearance happens at the end of the clip with Iron Man yelling for Spidey to intervene during a fight.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Tampa International Airport’s Janet Zink. Celebrating this weekend is Sen. Alan Hays, Rep. Scott Plakon, great guy Bob Asztalos, Steve Bousquet, Ryan Cohn, Frank Mayernick, Scott Maddox, AFP-Florida’s Abigail MacIver, and Chris Mitchel.

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.

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