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Sunburn for 5.31.16 – Big questions loom over Florida politics

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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.

10 BIG QUESTIONS FACING FLORIDA POLITICS AT THE START OF SUMMER

Memorial Day is, as any grillmaster worth his Big Green Egg can tell you, the unofficial start of summer. With the most tumultuous election season in a generation heading into the final stretch, the answers to these ten questions will shape the immediate future for the state and – in some cases – the nation.

1. Can Donald Trump compete in Florida? The math for Hillary Clinton is simple: Win the 18 states every Democratic candidate has won each time since 1992 plus Florida and she’s at 271 electoral votes. It’s the second part of that equation — win Florida — that’s the hard part. But, so far, Trump has yet to invest in a real campaign for the state’s 29 electoral votes. NBC News reported last week that Trump’s presence in Florida is “nonexistent” with few staffers and no official campaign headquarters. Florida is also ground zero for #NeverTrump, the movement of dissident Republicans, many of whom supporter former governor Jeb Bush, who have sworn to not vote for Trump. Even a small percentage of the GOP base not voting for Trump would make it very difficult for him to win the state.

2. Will a Florida Man — or woman — be on the presidential ticket? Bill Nelson will be given the courtesy of appearing on Clinton’s shortlist for VP, but there’s little chance of him being selected. Despite what others contend, I believe Rubio is a possibility for Trump, but also possibilities (albeit long-shot) are Governor Rick Scott and, believe it or not, Attorney General Pam Bondi. Why? Because as one top GOP donor with contacts in Trump’s camp and Scottworld, Rick Scott is probably the only major pol willing to run with Trump. Stranger things have happened.

3. WWMD — What will Marco do? Much of the national GOP establishment — from Trump to his colleagues in the Senate — is on bended knee, pleading with Rubio to run for re-election. Rubio has been steadfast in saying he will be a private citizen come January of next year and even recently helped raise money for his friend Carlos Lopez-Cantera‘s bid to succeed him. But as the drumbeat for him to reconsider grows louder — and control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance — Rubio will be under extraordinary pressure to run for re-election.

4. How much money is Carlos Beruff willing to spend? Operating in a world where Rubio does not run for re-election, the wealthy Manatee homebuilder has catapulted himself into the top tier of GOP candidates by spending, by one estimate, as much as $4 million on television ads. How much more is Beruff willing (and able) to spend in the Republican primary against four other opponents, none of whom has yet to catch fire with voters. Meanwhile, when does one of Beruff’s opponents, Todd Wilcox, open his wallet and start spending some of his personal fortune? Either way, it should be a lucrative summer for Florida TV stations.

5. How nasty will the Alan Grayson vs. Patrick Murphy Democratic primary get? Political reporters can hardly open their email inboxes without reading a press release charging Grayson with an ethical transgression lying or Murphy lying about Grayson. The animosity between the two men is palpable as the rhetoric they employ is ratcheted up to sledgehammer proportions. With most of the Democratic establishment lined up behind Murphy, this race has taken on the same contours of the Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders rivalry that threatens to split the Democratic party.

6. If Rubio takes the plunge, is Charlie Crist in trouble? David Jolly‘s status as the frontrunner in the GOP primary for Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat would quickly evaporate were Rubio to enter the race. Jolly knows this and has said he’d withdraw if Rubio took the plunge. Once out of the U.S. Senate race, will Jolly turn around and run for re-election to his Pinellas-based U.S. House seat, despite it being dramatically redrawn to slightly favor a Democratic candidate? Right now, Charlie Crist has only token opposition on his way back into electoral politics, but if Jolly jumps back into CD 13, the race would be one of the most high-profile congressional campaigns in the country.

7. Who is going to pay for all of these competitive congressional campaigns? The good news for voters — and political junkies — is that there are at least a dozen Florida congressional districts in play this election cycle. The bad news? Where will the money come from to fund all of these campaigns. The answer is, with many Florida donors tapped out or turned off by the presidential race, the money is likely to come from outside of Florida as the D.C. special interests wage proxy fights from the Panhandle to Miami Beach.

8. How will Bob BuckhornGwen GrahamPhil LevineAdam Putnam, and Will Weatherford spend their summer? The 2018 gubernatorial race is already underway with Graham actively exploring a run and Putnam raising money hand-over-fist for his Florida Grown political committee. Meanwhile, Buckhorn is hard at work cementing his legacy as a two-term mayor of Tampa, Levine is campaigning hard for Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Weatherford is taking care of his personal business while quietly asking top Republican donors to give him time to make a decision. If you think 2016 is exciting, wait ’til you see Florida’s 2018 election cycle.

9. Will the Zika virus be the hot issue on the campaign trail? — Right now, the numbers are small. Only a couple hundred Floridians are infected with the mosquito-borne illness. But as the temperatures rise and the bug spray flows, will how to combat this horrifying disease become the sleeper issue of the 2016 campaign? Look for the Zika debate to be as loud as a mosquito buzzing in your ear once the Summer Olympics in Rio — ground zero for the outbreak — are underway and American tourists risk infection by traveling there.

10. What do we not know about Florida politics that we don’t know? “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” In other words, the first seven questions addressed are about known-knowns. I wonder about this every year because the beauty of Florida politics is that there is always another Florida Man storyline that comes out of nowhere and disrupts the status quo. Or there could be a hurricane or an oil spill or … who knows?

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POLL DU JOUR via Rasmussen Reports: 62% of lIkely U.S voters consider Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer … Just 31% disagree, while seven percent 7% can’t make up their minds.

QUESTION FOR THOSE WHO DISAGREE: What else could be considered the “unofficial start of summer?” Flag Day?

DAYS UNTIL: Federal candidate qualifying papers accepted – 6; Federal qualifying closes – 24; State candidate qualifying closes – 24; Domestic absentee ballots go out in primary – 56; Early voting begins in primaries – 112; Primary elections – 91; Deadline to register to vote in Primary Election – 62; Deadline to register to vote in General Election – 133; Absentees sent in General Election – 126; Early voting begins in General Election — 151; General Election – 160.

POTUS TO VISIT PALM CITY AGAIN NEXT WEEKEND via TCPalm – On June 3, President Barack Obama will travel to Miami, where he will attend Democratic Party events. In the evening, he will travel to Palm City, where he will remain through Sunday before returning to Washington, D.C. He’ll be staying and golfing at the exclusive Floridian club in Palm City, according to a source familiar with his plans who spoke on a condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to release details.

TWEET, TWEET@BillKristol: “Just a heads up over this holiday weekend: There will be an independent candidate–an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.”

SCOTT POWERS WENT TO THE 2016 LIBERTARIAN NATIONAL CONVENTION SO YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO

— “Libertarians head toward election with their own unity issues

— “Gary Johnson wins Libertarian nomination, but sees that as only half the battle

— “Gary Johnson preaches pragmatic Libertarian values in debate, endures boos

— “In Orlando, Libertarian VP candidates tout experience and soul — and anger

— “After a weekend in Orlando, an FAQ on who or what the Libertarians are

DONALD TRUMP HAS EXPOSED MARCO RUBIO via Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner – Rubio took another step toward fully embracing Trump for the presidency by telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that he not only planned to attend the Republican convention, but that he would be “honored” to speak on Trump’s behalf … It’s one thing to begrudgingly argue that as dangerous as he thinks a Trump presidency would be … he thinks a Clinton presidency would be even worse. But to actually say that he would be “honored” by the chance to speak on Trump’s behalf at the GOP convention, and to downplay his previously stated problems with Trump as mere “policy differences,” is to prove the Rubio skeptics right. That is, far from being an inspirational moral leader, Rubio has shown himself to be more of an opportunistic politician with his finger to the wind. He latched on to the Tea Party energy when he needed it to launch a long shot Senate bid against an establishment figure in 2010. He embraced the idea of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 in the wake of a GOP “autopsy” suggesting it was necessary to win in a changing electorate, but then downplayed it as it became a hindrance to his presidential campaign. Now he’s desperate to reconcile his past words about Trump — from just over two months ago — with his political need to fall in line behind his party’s nominee.

RUBIO PERSONALLY APOLOGIZED TO DONALD TRUMP FOR IMPLYING HE HAD A SMALL PENIS via Sam Stein of the Huffington Post – “I want my kids to be proud of me, and I don’t think it reflected well on my faith,” he said. “That’s not who I am.” Rubio’s apology tour was done in private as well as public … “I actually told Donald — one of the debates, I forget which one — I apologized to him for that,” Rubio said. “I said, ‘You know, I’m sorry that I said that. It’s not who I am and I shouldn’t have done it.’ I didn’t say it in front of the cameras, I didn’t want any political benefit.” It’s unclear if Trump returned the favor. But the presumptive Republican nominee has seemed to warm to Rubio in recent weeks, even encouraging him to reconsider his decision not to run for re-election.

RUBIO: IT’S A ‘SAFE ASSUMPTION’ I’LL RUN FOR OFFICE AGAIN via Amber Phillips of The Washington Post – “If there’s an opportunity to serve again in a way I’m passionate about, I’ll most certainly think I would explore it,” Rubio said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper … Rubio’s answer is undoubtedly a disappointment to many Republicans in Florida and Washington who want him to run for his Senate seat this fall … But Rubio doesn’t want to run for office unless he really likes the job. That’s why he has no plans to run for governor in 2018 … and why he doesn’t want to be Trump’s running mate. “I don’t think you run for positions because they’re available … You run for positions because you’re passionate about what you can contribute.” One job Rubio would like? National Football League commissioner, as he joked on the campaign trail: “Who wouldn’t want that job?” he said.

JEFF ATWATER: PLEASE, MARCO, ‘ANSWER OUR CALL’ AND RUN FOR SENATE via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – “He is the best person to serve in the United States Senate, and he would be the best candidate to prevail,” said Atwater. The CFO has known Rubio for 16 years, served with him in the Florida House, and said Rubio was “absolutely genuine” when he announced he would not seek another term so he could give all he had to the presidential campaign. In that same genuine spirit, Atwater said, Rubio should consider the many conservative leaders urging him to run. The talk that Rubio did not like serving in the Senate doesn’t ring true, Atwater said. “No. 1, I believe he is the man who would be the most effective senator. And two I deeply wish us to maintain this seat, and I believe there is no better candidate to ensure that than Marco Rubio,” Atwater [said]. “No one would see it as anything other than Marco being genuine from the start. He would be answering our call.”

MITCH MCCONNELL ALLIED PAC VOWS TO BACK RUBIO — IF HE RUNS FOR REELECTION via Siobhan Hughes of the Wall Street Journal – the Senate Leadership Fund was established to help Republicans keep control of the Senate. It is run by Steven Law, a former chief of staff to McConnell. “Florida is a huge financial commitment,” Law said in a statement. “We felt confident about betting on Rubio back in 2010 and would do it again in a heartbeat, but right now it’s hard to imagine making that same investment without him as our candidate.” [Rubio’s] Senate Republican colleagues are encouraging Rubio to run, concerned about the potential risk to the majority if he declines to reconsider his plans … presumed Republican presidential nominee Trump also weighed in, saying in a tweet that Mr. Rubio had the best chance of holding on to the seat of any Republican and should run.

EVEN IF RUBIO RECONSIDERS SENATE RUN, CARLOS BERUFF AND TODD WILCOX STAYING IN via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – “Carlos Beruff is staying in this race no matter what,” campaign spokesman Chris Hartline said when asked about Rubio getting pressure to reconsider. “As a conservative I have no intention of leaving this race just because another career politician gets in,” Wilcox said in a statement, “especially one who fought for amnesty for illegals and oversaw tax increases as a city commissioner.” … David Jolly said he would stop his campaign if Rubio decides to run for re-election. “I would withdraw from the Senate race and support Rubio for re-election,” Jolly said in a text message. The final Senate candidate, Ron DeSantis, isn’t yet declaring his plans if Rubio decides to enter the race. “We are not concerned with D.C. chatter,” said Brad Herold, DeSantis’ campaign manager. “We’re focused on continuing to run the strongest campaign of any candidate in Florida.”

CARLOS LOPEZ CANTERA ON THE RUBIO RE-ELECTION TALK via Patricia Mazzei of the Tampa Bay Times – “Marco’s already said that he’s not running for re-election,” he said … Rubio has named Lopez-Cantera, Florida’s lieutenant governor and his close friend, his preferred successor. Yet when he was asked what he’d do if Lopez-Cantera weren’t running, Rubio refused to answer, calling the scenario a “hypothetical.” Doesn’t that bother Lopez-Cantera, who — like his fellow Republicans in the crowded Senate race — has struggled to break out of the pack? “Not at all,” he said. “Marco’s been really great. Obviously, he’s my friend, and he’s been very generous with his time and his counsel and his support. He did an event for me a couple of weeks ago. No, it doesn’t bother me. A lot of people clearly trust his judgment and like him, as I do.”

CLC’S OFFICIAL STATE CALENDAR SHRINKS AS CAMPAIGN’S GROWS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Lopez-Cantera’s public schedules have included no official events — a reality he says is needed to avoid the perception that he is using state resources to boost his U.S. Senate campaign. “I’m always on call,” he said. “Since I’ve been campaigning, there are events I could have put on the state calendar, but because of the political side, I’ve always erred on the side of caution.” Since Jan. 1, his schedule has listed 75 days with no events, while another 29 had just “staff and call” time — a common listing that appears on both his and Scott’s public calendars. That time is no longer spent with his own staff, but coordinating with the governor’s office. The lieutenant governor’s office now lists just one position (Lopez-Cantera himself), and the budget has been cut from $439,646 when Scott first took office to $240,693.

PAM KEITH, THE OTHER FLORIDA DEMOCRAT RUNNING FOR U.S. SENATE via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – The 47-year-old labor attorney and former naval officer has flown under the radar, criss-crossing the state for months to build support in her bid for Florida’s open seat. She’s been in the race longer than any of the seven other major candidates, Republicans or Democrats. But without much money, few endorsements and barely any consideration in statewide polls, Keith remains unknown to most Floridians. She knows the odds. But she also knows there’s 90 days left to persuade Democratic voters that they should choose her in what is a closely watched race that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate next year. Keith, a Miami resident, also has a possible opening: A significant portion of voters are still undecided, and the flaws of [PatrickMurphy and [AlanGrayson — two sitting U.S. congressmen — are getting more attention, potentially turning off the party’s more independent voters. “I don’t think it’s a good dynamic for the Democratic Party to offer a slate of insider millionaire candidates in a season where people are clamoring for outsiders,” she said.

U.S. SENATE TRACKER: Beruff will be in North Florida and Sarasota. Jolly will be in Jacksonville. Wilcox will be in Orlando.

2018 WATCH — WILL WEATHERFORD PLOTS HIS POLITICAL FUTURE, WITH A WARY EYE ON TRUMP via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Will he run for governor? “I tell people I’m not running towards it, but I’m not running away from it,” Weatherford said. “I’m really focused on our company and our business. My guess is sometime after the election, I’ll have to make a decision internally” … he has no plans to support Trump, a “very divisive” figure and fear-mongerer. But if Trump wins the White House, it will be viewed as a validation of his slash-and-burn style with its personal insults, and that would change the political tone in the country. “It’s been very negative,” Weatherford said. “That is much less appealing to me.” Weatherford’s endorsement is still a prized commodity in local legislative races, but he’s aware that for a former Tallahassee politician, fame is extremely fleeting. “There’s no question that the longer you’re on the shelf, politically speaking, the more dust accumulates and the harder it is to come back,” he said. “Conversely, I also believe that politics is about ideas … I still to this day don’t believe that you have to have the most money or the most name ID to be successful.”

MEDICAL MARIJUANA OPPONENTS COMPARE FLORIDA PROPOSAL TO CALIFORNIA LAW IN NEW AD via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – The VOTE NO on 2 campaign released the first in a series of advertisements aimed at setting the record straight about what Amendment 2 could mean for Floridians. The 60-second spot — dubbed “Three Things” — shows how California’s medical marijuana efforts have panned out … features three findings based on the California model. It references a Journal of Drug Policy Annual Report that showed only 3 percent of medical marijuana users had conditions like cancer and AIDs and points to a San Francisco Journal report that says “there are more pot shops than Starbucks.” It also highlights comments made by the author of California’s law, who said it is now a joke. “Facts, research and evidence from California’s pot experiment proves that this so-called ‘medical’ marijuana initiative failed miserably in its promises to the voters,” said Christina Johnson, spokeswoman for the VOTE NO on 2 Campaign. “Florida cannot afford to become the California of the east and have their history repeat itself in our state by buying into the misleading rhetoric.”

MEMORIAL DAY MISTAKE: DID LAKE RAY VIOLATE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS’ RULES? via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics –The Twitter account of Ray. a Republican candidate in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, has been laden with veterans-friendly messages … one since-deleted and revised tweet (which also shows up on his Facebook page) seems to have run afoul of a clearly-defined rule set forth by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration. In its posted rules, the National Cemetery Administration, in what was clearly a bid to ensure that the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans who died in battle weren’t exploited for political purposes, established the following dictum. “Political activities, including the filming of campaign ads, are not permitted on cemetery grounds.” Ray’s Twitter account’s avatar includes a graphic of a yard sign, with the message “Paid for by Lake Ray for Congress,” which seemingly delineated the explicit intent of utilizing the shots of Ray posing by tombstones in a veteran’s cemetery for electioneering purposes. When asked for comment, Ray’s campaign offered the following written statement. “I was simply honoring the servicemen and women who had paid the ultimate price for our country, which is the reason for this weekend. Making any more of it is grasping at straws, it was not a political statement. I hope everyone takes the time this weekend to thank the veterans in their lives, I’m especially thankful for my son, an active duty veteran,” Ray wrote.

— “Darren Soto picks up 19 more Florida House endorsements in CD 9” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

— “Republican Thuy Lowe qualifies by petition for CD 10 race” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

— “Progressive PAC Democracy for America endorses Tim Canova in CD 23 race” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

ANA RIVAS LOGAN WILL RUN FOR STATE SENATE, CHALLENGING DWIGHT BULLARD via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – After weeks of mulling a bid for the Florida Senate, the former state lawmaker and Miami-Dade School Board member plans to file her candidacy next week for the District 40 seat … An announcement is planned … Rivas Logan said earlier this month that she had reservations about running against Bullard, but said “I do not want Frank Artiles to win either.” Artiles, a Republican state representative from Miami, is also running for the District 40 seat. He’s campaigning hard and has racked up significant fundraising this spring to unseat Bullard.

MORE DEMOCRATIC REDISTRICTING DRAMA via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – State Rep. Irving Slosberg … isn’t ruling out a run for state Senate in newly drawn District 31, where Sen. Jeff Clemens …  rolled out 26 endorsements last week. “I’ll be polling … and talking to the community leaders. But on the other hand, I love my job and I love District 91 and the people in District 91,” Slosberg said last week. There’s been enough Slosberg Senate chatter to motivate attorney Andy Thomson to look at Slosberg’s House seat if Slosberg jumps into a Senate race. Slosberg’s daughter, Emily Slosberg, has already opened a campaign for her dad’s seat when he faces term limits in 2018. State Sen. Maria Sachs … has also been mulling a run against Clemens in District 31 or against Sen. Joseph Abruzzo …  in neighboring District 29.

SAVE THE DATE: State Rep. Ritch Workman will host a fundraiser Thursday, June 9, in support of his bid for Senate District 17. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the home of Alan and Marnie Landman, 400 South Riverside Dr. in Indialantic. Special guests include former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and his wife Kristen.

DEMOCRATS EYE HOUSE PICKUPS ACROSS THE STATE via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida –  Here’s a look at some of the seats across the state where some of the biggest battles will be waged. South Florida: House District 103 (Broward; Miami-Dade) … incumbent Republican Manny Diaz might seem like he’s in the most in trouble of being picked off by Democrats. House District 114 (Miami-Dade) … Democrats are also spending money early to pick up an open seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Erik Fresen, who is term-limited. Hillsborough/Pinellas County: House District 63 (Hillsborough) … The Florida Democratic Party has so far invested nearly $11,000 to help staff the campaign of Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who is running against incumbent Republican Shawn Harrison. House District 59 (Hillsborough) … Republican incumbent Ross Spano so far has $71,933 cash on hand as he prepares for a tough race. House District 69 (Pinellas) … Kathleen Peters is being challenged by Jennifer Webb, a University of South Florida administrator. Central Florida: House District 47 (Orange) … Mike Miller has also long been seen as an endangered incumbent headed into the 2016 election cycle … House District 30 (Orange; Seminole) … This Central Florida district has also seen an increase in Democratic voters. The party has expanded its net registration lead by more than 1,000 since Obama won the district by a 50-to-48.9 margin in 2012.

COMMITTED TO RUNNING FOR HD 68, ERIC LYNN TO ROLL $500,000 INTO POLITICAL COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – Lynn is transferring a rather large amount of money into his political committee. While Lynn’s primary opponent, Ben Diamond, may have been rolling out endorsements, Lynn is rolling a yuuuuuuge amount of money into a vehicle to communicate his message. Lynn will begin his primary challenge with far more than enough money to run a serious primary campaign against Diamond. Lynn tells FloridaPolitics he is immediately moving $250,000 to a state PC and intends to move another $250,000 once the federal decks are cleared (i.e., bills are paid, and all correspondence with the feds and others are concluded) putting him in a fairly strong financial position … this would make Lynn the most heavily funded Democratic House candidate in Florida.

— “Elizabeth Porter draws GOP challenger in HD 10” via Florida Politics

— “Richard Clark to withdraw from House District 12 race” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

HAPPENING THIS MORNING: State Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia, who represents House District 49, will be holding a breakfast fundraiser in his bid for House District 50. Event begins 7:30 a.m. at the Orlando Country Club, 1601 Country Club Dr. in Orlando.

HAPPENING TODAY: State Rep. Holly Raschein hosts a fundraiser for her reelection effort in House District 120. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the home of Peter and Denise Schnebly, 19220 SW. 280thSt. in Homestead.

BEHIND SCENES, HIGH-POWERED POLITICAL CAMPAIGN SHAPES UP TO PUSH MAYOR CURRY’S PENSION-TAX PLAN via Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union – Curry is the bridge between a City Hall administration and an outside political campaign that are — in different ways — supporting an Aug. 30 referendum that asks voters to approve a special sales tax to help pay down Jacksonville’s ballooning pension debt. The political campaign likely won’t have much of a public presence until later in the summer, but behind the scenes, Curry’s allies already raised substantial money and plan to roll out waves of community leaders to help sell his pension fix. The campaign — led by professional operatives and a political action committee called Yes for Jacksonville — will carry many of the same bells and whistles of Curry’s high-dollar mayoral run last year: Phone banks, volunteers, office space and paid advertising. City Council members, who have met with Curry’s political team, will likely take an active role as well, using grassroots knowledge of their own neighborhoods to make inroads with voters. City Hall can take an active role in community discussions about the sales tax, though the role local government can play is a bit nuanced. The city can pay for communications, like TV advertisements, that share information about Curry’s plan as long as those spots don’t “expressly advocate” how voters should mark their ballots Aug. 30, according to a memo drafted by city General Counsel Jason Gabriel in response to a question from Curry’s administration. That means Curry’s office could also send out taxpayer-financed fliers on the pension tax as long as those fliers don’t explicitly tell people how to vote. Such fliers would be part of an “informational campaign” rather than a political effort.

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FLORIDA CONSUMER SENTIMENT CONTINUES DOWNWARD IN MAY via Florida Politics – Consumer sentiment among Floridians fell another 1.6 points in May to 89.4, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey. This reading is lower than the previous 12-month average, trending downward for the third month in a row. Of the five components that make up the index, three decreased and two increased. Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago show the greatest increase, from 80.4 to 85.2, a 4.8-point jump. Expectations of personal finances a year from now rose 1.9 points to 103.1. Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item such as an appliance or automobile plummeted 8.6 points, from 101.4 to 92.8. “This pessimistic perception is the main force behind the overall decrease in Florida’s consumer sentiment index this month and is shared by all Floridians, independent of their age, gender or income,” said Hector Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the two groups exhibiting the most drastic change in perceptions as to whether this is a good time to make a big household purchase are the elder population and those with annual income less than $50,000.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a ceremonial bill-signing event for the “Legacy Florida” initiative, which will provide money to help restore the Everglades, the state’s natural springs and Lake Apopka. At the event will be Republicans Senate President Joe Negron and state Rep. Gayle Harrell, both from Stuart. Event begins 1:30 p.m. at Florida Atlantic University’s Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, 6301 Summit Blvd. in West Palm Beach.

HOW RICK SCOTT’S REGULATIONS ROLLBACK LED TO TODAY’S BUILDING BOOM via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – Palm Beach County Commissioner Paulette Burdick, who fought much of the western growth in her county, traces Florida’s boom to Scott’s actions in 2011 … by guiding a willing Legislature through a rewrite of growth management standards first enacted in 1985. Under the changes, state oversight of local planning was limited mostly to projects with statewide impact. Standards for citizens challenging development projects also were toughened, giving builders more leeway for projects they can prove will have some positive economic impact. The Republican-led Legislature had been bristling for years at growth management. Critics of the law said it was overly burdensome and blunted the state’s ability to bounce back from an economic slump rooted – paradoxically — by what many agree was overbuilding. Under the changes five years ago, concurrency – a requirement that schools, parks and adequate roads be in place before development is completed – was reduced to an option for cities and counties. Scott and the Legislature also eliminated the state agency overseeing growth management, the Department of Community Affairs.

— “Miami’s condo frenzy ends with inventory piling up in new towers” via Prashant Gopal of Bloomberg

COALITION LAUNCHES PETITION TO ENCOURAGE PAM BONDI TO INVESTIGATE INSURANCE MERGERS via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – The Florida Campaign for Consumer Choice launched a statewide petition drive to encourage Bondi to investigate the mergers of Aetna and Humana, and Anthem and Cigna. The petition effort is the latest in a series of calls to action by the organization. “We know that 88-percent of Floridians have expressed some levels of concern regarding the mergers and we need our state leaders to step up to protect Floridians,” said Alison Morano, a spokeswoman for the group … the group asked Bondi to “vigorously investigate” the proposed mergers. The letter was signed by the Florida Consumer Action Network, Doctors for America-Florida, Campaign for Consumer Choice, Organize Now and Progress Florida. The coalition said hospital groups — including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the Florida Medical Association — had encouraged Bondi to reject the mergers since they could lead to a loss in competition. However, the group said those calls were not acted on.

NEW POLL SHOWS CARLOS GIMENEZ WITH DOUBLE-DIGIT LEAD OVER RAQUEL REGALADO, BUT IS HIS SUPPORT SOFT? via Florida Politics – While Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez enjoys a double-digit lead in his bid for re-election, a new poll finds that more than one-third of primary voters remain unsure … a substantial cross-section of the electorate who could tip the balance in the Aug. 30 primary. A new survey of 600 likely voters, conducted by business lobby Associated Industries of Florida, gives Gimenez an 18-point overall advantage over challenger Raquel Regalado — 43 to 28 percent — including a +23-point favorability rating with all voters (51 to 28 percent). Gimenez, an incumbent Republican, drew 40 percent overall support in a head-to-head matchup, followed by 22 percent for Regalado, a Miami-Dade School Board member … To avoid a runoff election in November, Gimenez needs to surpass the 50 percent mark, which will require a stronger showing with Democrats, especially African-Americans, with whom his support his weakest. The AIF poll has the Republican with 54 percent job approval — including 12 percent saying they strongly approve. However, that number drops to only 40 percent among African-Americans. Complicating things further is an earlier AIF survey … which shows the Republican Party suffering “substantial brand damage” in Florida if Donald Trump leads the ticket in November. Democrat Hillary Clinton “would wallop Trump by 49-36 percent [in Florida] if the election were held today,” [MarcCaputo wrote May 2; a victory that “almost guarantees” her the White House. Trump could make it even harder for down-ballot Republicans, including Gimenez.

ENTERPRISE FLORIDA’S BILL JOHNSON HIRED SECOND EXPORT STAFFER AS CONSULTANT; DAVID WILKINS COULD EARN UP TO $100K AT EFI via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Johnson hired Diana Gonzalez as a senior vice president at EFI at a salary of $60,000 for five months of work that ended in August of last year. Her company, DMG Consulting, was hired “to aid incoming CEO (Johnson) with transition,” documents show. Johnson also hired former port spokeswoman Paula Musto for $158,000 to be his speechwriter … Scott announced Johnson was resigning, but Johnson has provided no letter of resignation — a telltale sign that Scott demanded Johnson leave. Scott also called for an audit of EFI’s expenses, including its travel and payroll, and he announced that former state child welfare secretary David Wilkins would conduct an independent review of Enterprise Florida’s operations. What Scott didn’t say in March is that Wilkins’ company, DTW Strategies, would be paid up to $100,000 to conduct that review. Documents show that Wilkins’ company has been paid about $24,000 so far, at a billable rate of $150 an hour.

DCF OVERWHELMED WITH SAD CASES via the Tallahassee Democrat – Perhaps it should be stated, up front, that the Department of Children and Families has an impossible job … The latest sad lesson comes from Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee, where a man was beaten to death last month, apparently by a much younger man who shared a dormitory room with him. A criminal investigation will determine the details, but what we know from readily apparent circumstances seems to indicate the violent assault could not have been prevented by hospital attendants in the unit …  Finger-pointing is always easy, in hindsight, and reforms will be made where possible within the civil rights of patients and the money and personnel available. But given what DCF has to work with – the awesome responsibilities of, quite literally, life or death involving the most difficult possible clientele – the large mental hospital will always be dangerous for patients and staff alike. After the killing, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said his department “remains committed to providing the highest quality of care possible to patients who have been placed in our state-run mental health treatment facilities.” The state’s new budget year will see creation of a new accountability position within the agency, and additional staff will be hired. They will be equipped with cameras and personal alarms for emergencies. That will help. It’s too bad, though, that they can’t be equipped with a crystal ball – to see which patient is about to snap.

JUDGE SIDES WITH PRISON WHISTLEBLOWER AND ORDERS A HEARING via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson gave the agency 30 days to hold a “compliance hearing” to allow investigator Doug Glisson to demonstrate how he believes his rights under the Police Officers Bill of Rights were violated. Glisson … was hit with six internal affairs investigations in a single day after he told members of a state Senate committee about what he suspected were instances of cover-up and abuse at the state prison agency. During the investigations, Glisson concluded that the reviews were superficial, that the officer in charge — Inspector Brian Falstrom — was biased against him, and that the goal of the investigations was to discredit him or force him out. Glisson protested in a six-page letter to FDC Secretary Julie Jones in May 2015. He asked for a formal compliance review hearing to go over his complaints, but was rebuffed and sued the agency … Glisson called for Falstrom to be removed from the investigation because, according to another investigator’s sworn affidavit, Falstrom had called Glisson an “effing whistleblower.” Only after Glisson sued last fall was Falstrom removed from the case. Dodson ruled that Glisson was entitled to the hearing, that he had no other legal remedy and that the agency erred when it claimed it did not have to grant him a hearing. Under the law, Glisson will have the right to choose two members of the five-member compliance review board. The agency will pick two and those four will pick a fifth.

FLORIDA ZIKA VIRUS UPDATE via FloridaHealth.gov – As of Friday, there were two new travel-related cases, with one in Collier County and one involving a pregnant woman. 5 cases are still exhibiting symptoms. According to the CDC, symptoms associated with the Zika virus last between seven to 10 days. There are now 123 total cases in Florida not involving pregnant women; by county (number of cases): Miami Dade (8), Broward (17), Orange (10), Palm Beach (7), Lee (5), Osceola (5), Alachua (4), Pinellas (4), Brevard (3), Hillsborough (3), Polk (3), Seminole (3), Clay (2), Collier (2), St. Johns (2), Volusia (2) and a single case each in Martin, Pasco and Santa Rosa with 37 cases involving pregnant women. The DOH recommends women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant postpone travel to Zika affected areas. The department also urges Floridians to drain standing water weekly, no matter how seemingly small. A couple drops of water in a bottle cap can be a breeding location for mosquitoes. Residents and visitors also need to use repellents when enjoying the Florida outdoors. Florida currently has the capacity to test 6,216 people for active Zika virus and 1,904 for Zika antibodies. The number for the Zika Virus Information Hotline is 1-855-622-6735.

ZIKA POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: MARCO RUBIO, BARACK OBAMA via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – The Florida senator, whose home state has an alarming number of Zika infections, is ridiculing fellow Republicans in Congress for refusing to back the White House’s request for $1.9 billion to fight the mosquito-borne virus. In an unusual step, Rubio even is urging voters to press House members back in their districts for this week’s Memorial Day recess about why they’ve drawn a line at $622 million in spending. The Senate has approved $1.1 billion. Negotiations between the two sides aren’t expected to begin until after the recess. “I urge the American people to make next week a tough one on those who are home from Congress, who have refused to take meaningful action to confront Zika because they need to hear from you,” Rubio said last week on the Senate floor. “And to any members of Congress who don’t receive pressure at home next week, you should know that you soon enough will,” he said. Gov. Rick Scott – a frequent critic of the Obama administration – also personally lobbied Congress this month for swift action on Zika. Scott, though, has stopped short of saying how much should be spent – keeping some distance from the president. Vern Buchanan … has been out front in urging support for the White House position, recently demanding “substantial funding” to slow the spread of Zika. Buchanan was among three Florida Republicans who joined with the state’s 10 Democrats in the House to oppose the $622 million package as inadequate. The other two, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are from Miami, which, with 48, has the most Zika cases in the state.

PUERTO RICO’S STRUGGLES WITH ZIKA COULD ONE DAY BE FLORIDA’S via Olivia Hitchcock of the Palm Beach Post –The dual challenge Puerto Rico faces now is on Florida’s horizon: how to combat the spread of Zika and how to manage the public perception and its impact on tourism. Many in Puerto Rico … have called the hype around Zika overblown. But Dr. Nabal Bracero warned that the virus needs to be taken seriously. Zika has been linked with microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with undersized brains and skulls. “This is probably the most complex health problem that humanity will face in a long time,” Bracero, medical director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in San Juan, said. It’s even more complex than Ebola. This is HIV level back in the ‘80s.” Already, reservations for 42,000 nights in Puerto Rican hotels through 2018 have been canceled, equating to $28 million in lost revenue, according to Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, executive director of Puerto Rico Tourism Company. A busy January, however, has eased the effects of Zika-related cancellations, Rivera said. The island lost an estimated $4.6 million when Major League Baseball scrapped plans for a Pirates-Marlins series in Puerto Rico this month … An incident that left “a scar on (Puerto Rico’s) heart.” That figure doesn’t include the tens of millions of dollars Puerto Rico likely would have garnered from spectators …The U.S. Soccer team’s doctor gave a presentation to players before going to the island about how to protect themselves from Zika … In short: Use bug spray and cover up. “I think there’s no difference of being in Florida or being in Puerto Rico right now because you need to take the same precautions,” [Chairman of the Board of Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association MiguelVega said.

GWEN GRAHAM GOES ON BAY COUNTY MOSQUITO PATROL via Eryn Dion of the Panama City News-Herald – Graham was bit with the work bug … collecting mosquito larvae and learning to drive a spray truck as part of her workday with the Bay County Mosquito Control Division. The timing of Graham’s visit is not coincidental — Congress recently broke for a two-week recess without resolving the lingering question of funding the fight against the Zika virus, and the representative is concerned about her colleagues’ pace as the state heads into the summer months. “I’m extremely concerned,” she said. “I implore my colleagues to recognize we’re facing an epidemic … I’m not an alarmist … However, what I have heard and what I have come to understand is if we are not vigilant and not actively looking for a vaccine, we will be heading into a health crisis.”

TOM ROONEY NAMED TO ZIKA PANEL, WHILE VERN BUCHANAN REPEATS CALL FOR QUICK ACTION via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Rooney will be one of 13 House members on a conference committee with the Senate that will negotiate a Zika spending bill … joined by Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the two Florida House members on the committee. However, the committee is not expected to begin talks until after next week’s Memorial Day recess, even as a number of Florida leaders continue to call for quicker action on plan to combat the Zika virus, which can cause serious birth defects. Buchanan repeated his plea today that Congress take quick action on resolving the differences between the Senate’s $1.1 billion package and the House’s $622 million proposal. Citing federal Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden’s warning that “I fear that we’re losing time with Zika,” Buchanan, who supported President Obama’s call for $1.9 billion in funding, said lawmakers must quickly agree on bill providing “substantial funding” to prevent the spread of Zika.

IF COURT STRIKES DOWN PRIVATE SCHOOL TAX CREDIT PROGRAM, PUBLIC SCHOOL CROWDING COULD FOLLOW via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times –Tens of thousands of kids attending private schools using tax credit scholarships could pour back into the system … if the courts find that voucher-like program unconstitutional. Combined, they are the size of a large school district. “If a judge were to rule tomorrow that we need to abolish these scholarships, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out where to put them,” said Jon East, vice president of policy for Step Up For Students, the state’s biggest scholarship administrator. Almost 80,000 students — more than a quarter of whom live in Miami-Dade County — use the scholarships this year. That number is expected to surpass 90,000 next fall. The Florida Education Association has sued to end the 15-year-old program, arguing it uses money that would otherwise be paid in taxes and steers it to private schools, in violation of the state constitution. Step Up leaders say the number of students receiving scholarships makes the legal challenge a tough sell, particularly in growing parts of the state.

COURTS NEED TO TELL THEIR STORY BETTER, CHIEF JUSTICE SAYS via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat – Courts have not come far from the British traditions of powdered wigs and wing collars. Without compromising the dignity or necessary secrecy of judicial proceedings, there is now a move afoot to open up court operations and tell the public more about how the judges do their jobs. The Florida Supreme Court in December approved a statewide communication plan, developed by its Judicial Management Council. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga sums it up by citing a line from a 1924 court case, “Not only must justice be done. It also must be seen to be done.” Writing in the new issue of the Florida Bar Journal, Labarga says that dictum is important for “not just the sensational story about a high-profile case that catches the attention of the media, but the thousands of cases that are the single most important event to an individual or a family facing a life-changing situation.” The judges don’t have to justify unpopular decisions to the voters, beyond the legal citations set forth in their rulings. That’s one of the neat things about being supreme. But nobody likes a diva. It’s easy for governors and legislators to beat up on the judiciary for “legislating from the bench” or confusing the word “appointed” with “anointed.”

JUDGE SIDES WITH TRACK OVER ‘FLAG DROP’ RACES via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Despite “nothing about Hamilton Downs (being) real in terms of racetrack standards,” an administrative law judge nonetheless sided with the north Florida horse track, tossing out the state’s complaint that the track ran “flag drop” races contrary to its license … The Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering said the small track, located 90 miles east of Tallahassee, violated its license by running flag drop races in June 2014. Essentially, the division said such races weren’t legitimate horse racing … critics have said the races were simply a predicate to set up Hamilton Downs —with no grandstand, an open field for a track and a shed to place bets—to offer more lucrative gambling opportunities. Indeed, its owner “was frank in his admission that the 2014 race season was important because it allowed Hamilton Downs to qualify for a card room license and, if ultimately allowed, slot machines,” according to the order. Hamilton County is one of six Florida counties where voters have approved local referendums on slots. A case now before the state Supreme Court could decide whether those counties can in fact have slots. But the slots must be offered in a facility with a valid pari-mutuel license.

‘CHAMPION FOR BUSINESS’ JACK LATVALA VOWS TO RELENTLESSLY RECRUIT COMPANIES via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – “I’m a small-business owner, one of the few in the Legislature,” Latvala said. “In the coming year I’m going to look at how we can get back to having some sort of an economic recruitment for these out of state companies.” The renowned Florida lawmaker was one of two Tampa Bay area legislators honored this week by the Associated Industries of Florida as “Champions for Business.” This is Latvala’s fourth time being recognized by the business organization. He’s looking for ways to cut red tape to incentivize companies to Florida. He also suggested creating a pre-certification process that would allow businesses to relocate to the area without having to navigate the permitting process. And he’s encouraged Gov. Scott to bring on a business ambassador in order to serve as a point of contact for companies looking to make a move. “Any of us who have been in business know that the day you stop bringing customers in is the day you start going out of business,” Latvala said.

CONGRATULATIONS to Riley and Nick Hansen on the birth of their fourth child, Thea Maguire.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Sean Bevil, Ashley Cate, tailor-to-the-Adams-Street-stars Arron Gober, Golden Rotunda winner Helen Levine, Sarah ProctorAlex Setzer. A special shout-out to my Interfraternity Council brother and dear friend, Scott Ross. Celebrating today is 30-under-30 recipient Keith Fernandez.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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