Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – November 24

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

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the public affairs firm known for unparalleled relationships and winning strategies: It’s Florida-Florida State week, time for one of the nation’s fiercest college football rivalries to take center stage. Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Seminoles’ last defeat, a 37-26 loss at the hands of the Gators, who scored 24 points in the fourth quarter. Since that day, the teams’ fortunes have moved in decidedly different directions – the 11-0 Seminoles are in the hunt for a second straight  National Championship, while the 6-4 Gators will soon begin a difficult rebuilding process. It may be a cliché, but it’s usually true: You can throw the records out when these two teams take the field.

Now, on to the ‘burn…


President Obama, acknowledging he’s taken some political “dings” during his time in the White House, said in an exclusive interview with ABC News that the American people will want that “new car smell” when it comes to the 2016 presidential campaign, suggesting he may not have a prominent role on the campaign trail as the country prepares to select his replacement.

“I think the American people, you know, they’re going to want — you know, that new car smell. You know, their own — they want to drive something off the lot that doesn’t have as much mileage as me,” Obama told ABC News Chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

During the interview conducted in Las Vegas, Stephanopoulos asked the president how he would navigate a potential White House bid by his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

The president, who said he talks regularly with Clinton, called her a friend and seemed prepared for Clinton to differentiate herself politically should she choose to pursue the presidency, which appears

“She’s not going to agree with me on everything. And, you know, one of the benefits of running for president is you can stake out your own positions,” Obama said.

Earlier in the conversation, he’d said he thought she’d make a “formidable candidate” and a “great” president.

The president, who said there were “a number” of potential Democratic candidates who would make great presidents, said he would do everything he could to ensure that a member of his own party succeeded him.

“I am very interested in making sure that I’ve got a Democratic successor,” he said. “So I’m going do everything I can, obviously, to make sure that whoever the nominee is is successful.”

JEB BUSH SEEKS TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT via Michael Bender of Bloomberg

Former Governor Jeb Bush sought to re-frame the debate within the Republican Party over national curriculum standards by comparing China’s education system to Orlando’s.

“This morning, over 213 million Chinese students went to school, and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect their students’ self-esteem,” Bush said during a speech in Washington. “Yet in Orange County, Florida … the school board voted to make it impossible for a student to receive a grade below a 50. You get 50 out of 100 just for showing up and signing your name.”

The image is one Bush is using to ease the animosity within the conservative base of his party toward Common Core standards as he considers whether to run for president in 2016. The standards set minimum learning requirements in math and language arts and literacy for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

While Bush reaffirmed his support for the standards, he asked to “take a step back” from the Common Core debate and instead come together over shared goals for academic success. “There is no question we need higher academic standards and—at the local level—diverse high-quality content and curricula,” Bush said. “Even if we don’t all agree on Common Core, there are more important principles for us to agree on.

In a political context, the academic measures—similar to immigration reform—have become anathema to voters who identify with the Tea Party movement. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in June, 53 percent of Tea Party Republicans said they opposed Common Core standards. That contrasted with the country at large, which favored the standards 59 percent to 31 percent, and non-Tea Party Republicans, who backed them 49 percent to 42 percent. Some of Bush’s prospective presidential primary opponents, including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, has distanced themselves from the education program in response to that hostility.

The standards have been adopted by 43 states and Washington D.C., and are supported by President Barack Obama’s administration and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. States that adopt them qualify for grants from Obama’s $4 billion Race to the Top program and can waive accountability requirements of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. Critics have argued the program amounts to a federal takeover of education.

In the speech at the National Summit on Education Reform, which is sponsored by Bush’s foundation, he outlined a broader vision for academic policy, saying, “We would be insane if we recreated what we have today.” If he could redesign school systems, Bush said, he would expand school choice, stop tying “every education dollar” to federal policies, and give teachers more autonomy and accountability. Bush also said technology could be used to better personalize education for students.


A top ally of Hillary Clinton thinks a GOP presidential ticket of Bush and Sen. Rob Portman would be tough to beat.

“Can a Democrat win the White House without both of Ohio and Florida? The answer is yes, but it then has to be a perfect storm,” Harold Ickes told reporters after a Ready for Hillary event.

“Bush has what appears to be very strong credentials with Hispanics,” Ickes said. “I’m told he speaks Spanish at home, and I’m told that he actually thinks in Spanish.”

Bush would likely run strong in Florida. Meantime, Portman could help carry important Ohio and he is one of the few top Republicans to embrace gay marriage, after his son came out as gay.


It was one of the wild-cards in what was otherwise in an all too predictable gubernatorial contest dominated by millions of dollars spent on negative television ads.

While appearing as a guest on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” back in February, Charlie Crist announced it was time for the 53-year economic embargo against Cuba to end.

“I don’t think it worked,” he said on the live broadcast. “It is is obvious to me that we need to move forward and I think get the embargo taken away. Really. I believe that.”

Although such an opinion might have been political dynamite for  a mainstream Florida politician to state as recent as a decade ago, it’s becoming more and more of the dominant Democratic Party attitude, even in Florida, though some in the South Florida crowd (i.e. Debbie Wasserman Schultz) still cling to the notion that the embargo needs to stay.  But the real wild-card was when Crist announced that he would travel to Cuba in July.

And then he didn’t.

At a Tiger Bay Club discussion held at Maestro’s Restaurant inside the Straz Center on Friday afternoon, Democratic Party political consultant Vic DiMaio challenged Crist adviser Steve Schale about the apparent about-face. Schale was appearing with Tampa GOP political consultant/adman Adam Goodman in a discussion breaking down the 2014 election results (which we’ll report on in an upcoming post).

DiMaio, who is of Cuban descent, mentioned how Schale had met with David Straz and Al Fox about a Crist trip to Cuba this summer. Straz is the Tampa-based Republican philanthropist and Rick Scott supporter in 2010 who announced his support for Crist back in April (The Straz Center where today’s Tiger Bay event was held is named after Straz after he made a $25 million donation to the performing arts center in 2009). Fox is the head of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation that has accompanied federal and state politicians and business groups to the Communist island for years, advocating for the sanctions to end.


The first sign of trouble for Adam Hollingsworth arrived via email one year ago, when Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo emailed Gov. Rick Scott’s communications director, Melissa Sellers, with a pointed question.

“I’m hearing Hollingsworth was fired from CSX for lying about his academic credentials. True?”

With Rick Scott away in Arizona for a Republican Governor’s Association meeting, Hollingsworth, as Scott’s chief of staff, was knee-deep in planning for the upcoming campaign against Charlie Crist, who had just officially announced his campaign for governor only two weeks earlier.

Rumors in Tallahassee at the time speculated that Hollingsworth planned to exit from his chief of staff job to run Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. But the email from the Miami Herald changed all of that.

Hollingsworth, a self-styled “crisis communications expert,” knew as soon as he read the email that he had a problem, but he also knew that the circumstances of his mysterious exit from CSX allowed him some wiggle room in how he answered Caputo’s pointed question. He ordered Melissa Sellers to respond with a one-word answer: “No.”

More questions came in the following days, as the Herald continued to dig into the story and eventually unraveled the facts.

Just before the story broke on December 6th, Hollingsworth walked into the governor’s office to tell Rick Scott the truth in a face-to-face meeting: for years, he’d committed academic fraud by claiming a degree from the University of Alabama that he had not earned. More questions about Hollingsworth’s integrity surfaced again only days later, raising new questions about fudged answers on his state application.


Early in the redistricting process, two political consultants talked legal strategy for increasing population in minority legislative districts, according to a batch of sealed emails obtained by the Scripps-Tribune Capitol Bureau.

That issue was an important element of this summer’s redistricting trial, which focused on the congressional map. Plaintiffs tried to make the case that the GOP-led legislature “packed” Democratic-leaning minority voters into a handful of districts to make the surrounding seats more reliably Republican.

By doing that, they argued, it dilutes the minority vote and gave Republicans more safe seats.

In an email exchange between Pat Bainter, the owner of Data Targeting, and Tampa-based political consultant Anthony Pedicini talked about potential ways to boost population in some minority districts by putting fewer people more conservative Panhandle districts.

Bainter said attorneys told him that they can deviate in population by up to 5 percent as long as it’s in the name of preventing “retrogression,” or the weakening of minority voting strength in certain districts.

Bainter was clear this would only apply to “STATE LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS” not covered by federal voting laws, according to the email.

Pedicini responded six-minutes later with a one-word email: “Yeah!”


More than 500-pages of emails kept secret during an ongoing redistricting legal battle shed light on the behind-the-scene efforts by a handful of GOP political consultants to influence Florida’s political lines, according to documents obtained by the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau.

They highlight, among other things, an early plan that would have drawn the then-longest serving GOP member of Congress out of office, the admission that former state Sen. John Thrasher did not live in his district, and a strategy to use a well-known GOP consultant to recruit people to submit maps as part of the formal process.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the documents, which are from Gainesville-based GOP consulting firm Data Targeting, must be unsealed as part of a long-running redistricting lawsuit. A last-minute appeal from the firm was rejected Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clearance Thomas.

The documents are scheduled to be made public on Dec. 1, but the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau obtained copies of the 538 pages.

The underlying redistricting lawsuit was filed by a coalition of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Florida. They said the state’s congressional maps were drawn to favor Republicans during the 2012 redistricting process, which is at odds with anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state constitution.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis agreed, tossing the maps after a 12-day trial this summer. During a special legislative session, lawmakers redrew the maps, which Lewis approved. That ruling is being appealed by plaintiffs.


A cadre of Tampa Bay lawmakers has ascended to leadership positions in the Florida Legislature, and during next year’s session that may translate into serious clout, officials predict.

The new legislative leaders from the eight-county Tampa Bay region include state Sen. Bill Galvano the Florida Senate’s majority leader; Arthenia Joyner its minority leader and the first African-American woman elected to lead the Florida Senate’s Democratic caucus; Dana Young majority leader for the Florida House of Representatives, and Jim Boyd, its deputy majority leader and whip.

Richard Corcoran will serve as chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee when the Florida Legislature convenes March 3. He is also the House speaker-designate for 2017-2018.

Asked if local lawmakers sitting atop the legislative leadership will make a difference next spring, Galvano said, “I think so.”

“The ability to share ideas and to discuss issues relevant to the region makes us much more effective,” said Galvano, who also says he has the votes to win the Senate presidency in 2018.

Galvano said he expects that the area’s leaders will help drive the delegation’s most important initiatives.

“One of those we were recently successful with was the ‘diverging diamond’ interchange,” he said, referring to the Florida Department of Transportation’s pledge to quickly build a new, $83 million interchange at University Parkway and Interstate 75.


Port Orange Sen. Dorothy Hukill wants to implement one of Gov. Scott’s campaign promises. The Volusia County Republican filed a bill to raise an exemption on the state’s corporate tax, a move state economists estimated would cost the state almost $9 million.

Under current law, the first $50,000 of a corporation’s income is exempt from the tax. Hukill’s bill would raise the exemption to $75,000. SB 138 for the 2015 legislative session is identical to a measure that died in the Senate Appropriations Committee in May.

According to a staff report from earlier this year, Hukill’s proposal would exempt more than 2,100 corporations from paying the income tax and another 9,300 would see a tax reduction.

Scott has argued for eliminating the tax in both of his gubernatorial campaigns. Supporters say in a global economy a state corporate income tax doesn’t make sense.

Lawmakers balked when Scott proposed eliminating the 5.5 percent corporate income tax when he took office in 2011.  The newly-elected governor settled for raising the amount of income exempted from the tax from $5,000 to $25,000. The next year he got lawmakers to raise the exemption to $50,000 – costing the state’s general revenue fund $2 billion.

However, Scott could not get lawmakers to go any further in 2013 and 2014. On the campaign trail this year the tax came up again when he would explain his plan to attract investors to Florida by reducing the cost of doing business in the state.

Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner provided little insight into their agenda for the next session other than Crisafulli listing water as a top priority and Gardiner warning that money may be tight.


As more people flock to the Sunshine State, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is calling for business and policy leaders to find innovative ways for addressing long-term water needs.

Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson, speaking at the Central Florida Partnership Regional Leadership Forum, stated 28 percent more water is required by 2030 to serve the state’s growing population. The goal of the forum, titled “Working Together to Advance a Regional Water Strategy,” was to secure Florida’s future by sustainable solutions to meet increasing needs for clean water.

“Water is Florida’s most precious resource,” Wilson told the crowd. “As Florida becomes the third most populous state in the nation, investing in Florida’s water infrastructure needs is necessary to keep pace with our growth and maintain our world-class environmental assets.”

Florida currently uses 7 billion gallons of water each day, according to Chamber estimates. The state’s population expects to grow by an additional 5 million people by 2030, requiring up to 9 billion gallons of water daily.

“Smart and sustainable solutions will help answer questions like where extra water will come from, how water rates will be affected and how we will minimize any negative impacts to our environment,” Wilson said. “These are the questions we must answer in order to secure Florida’s future.”


In the same room where students once jeered his claim to the presidency of Florida State University, John Thrasher won praise for providing reassurance in the aftermath of Thursday’s campus library shooting.

Thrasher attended his first meeting with his new bosses, the FSU trustees who hired him. Weeks ago, they were criticized by students and faculty members for hiring a veteran legislator, former lobbyist and leader of conservative causes at odds with liberal academia.

Trustees met a day after troubled gunman Myron May wounded three people, one critically, before he was shot and killed by police in a hail of bullets that shattered the post-midnight calm.

“I remember this room,” said a smiling Thrasher as the meeting began. It was in that university conference center where he threatened to walk out of a job interview in September when students heckled his reply to a question about whether climate change was real.

But the shooting that stunned the FSU community forced Thrasher to rely on the same skills that have served him so well in politics, along with his pride in his alma mater.

Quickly finding the right message, he led the call for unity in “Seminole nation.” He reached out to students, his toughest constituency. He praised the work of others, especially law enforcement, as university police chief David Perry got a standing ovation.

“The campus, in my opinion, is coming back together,” Thrasher said. “We hurt. We all hurt for the folks that are there in the hospital.”

SPOTTED at The GrayRobinson Holiday Party, occupying two entire floors at the the top of the Sun Trust building in Tampa: Gentleman Fred Leonhardt, Reps. Shawn Harrison and Darryl Rouson, Barry Edwards, Elise and Judge Tom Minkoff, Andrea Penton, and Mark Proctor.

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On Context FloridaDaniel Tilson says Election 2014 has strengthened the grip of big business and rich folks on Florida government and economic policy. The Florida Democratic Party (FDP) let the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) write and own the “narrative,” the storyline of what has and hasn’t happened in the economy on their watch, and why. The first sign of trouble for Adam Hollingsworth, writes Peter Schorsch, arrived via email one year ago yesterday, when Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo emailed Gov. Rick Scott’s communications director, Melissa Sellers, with a pointed question. Human beings are complex, notes Julie Delegal. Some of the most creative, curious, intelligent and sensitive individuals also bear the most risk for spiraling into deadly neuro-behavioral disorders. And so it was with “Sensitive Joe,” the college fraternity nickname given years ago to Myron May, a young attorney who shot three people at the Florida State University library. Following their wipeout at the hands of Republicans two weeks ago, Democrats announced they would conduct a “top-to-bottom assessment” of their performance. Bob Sparks suggests that Democrats’ assessment would do well to look at those at the top of the party food chain.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HERALD-TRIBUNE PARENT HALIFAX MEDIA IS SOLD via Michael Pollick of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Halifax Media Group, owner of the Herald-Tribune and 35 other newspapers and affiliated websites, has agreed to be acquired by New Media Investment Group Inc. for $280 million.

The sale to publicly traded New Media — which also includes the Daytona Beach News JournalLakeland Ledger and Gainesville Sun in Florida — is expected to close in the first quarter of 2015.

Halifax Media bought the Herald-Tribune and most of the rest of the current chain in a $143 million cash deal that was announced in late 2011.

“This is a very exciting day for our company,” New Media president and CEO Michael E. Reed said in a statement on Thursday. “Halifax Media is one of the premier, locally oriented media companies in the United States.”

Michael Redding, who as CEO rapidly built Halifax during the past four years, said: “By combining New Media’s geographic footprint with Halifax Media’s Southeast reach it will be a powerhouse in the industry.”

Halifax publishes 36 newspapers, including 24 dailies primarily in the Southeast. Those publications have a total daily circulation of 635,000 and 752,000 on Sundays. Their combined digital traffic amounts to more than 80 million page views each month. The company has nearly 3,000 employees.

New Media is one of the largest publishers of locally based print and online media in the United States, with 450 community publications and more than 370 related websites.

FSU, ‘BAMA, OREGON, MISS ST UNCHANGED IN AP POLL via Ralph Russo of the Associated Press

Florida State is No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll, followed by Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State. The top four teams were unchanged for the first time since late September.

The gap between the Seminoles and the Crimson Tide narrowed after another close call by Florida State, which beat Boston College 20-17 on a field goal in the waning seconds.

Florida State received 37 first-place votes and 1,458 points, down 6 first-place votes and 18 points from last week. Alabama has 21 first-place votes 1,445 points. No. 3 Oregon received two first-place votes, one more than last week.

Mississippi State is fourth, followed by Baylor and TCU. Baylor and TCU swapped places. Ohio State remained No. 7.

No. 22 Minnesota, No. 23 Clemson, No. 24 Louisville and No. 25 Boise State moved into the rankings. Nebraska, Utah, Southern California and Duke dropped out.

The Gophers are ranked for the first time since 2008.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my man, Todd Thompson.

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.