Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — August 11

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

REPORTER JAMES ROSICA JOINS FLORIDA POLITICS Full story here

James Rosica, a journalist and lawyer, joins Florida Politics after having been the Tampa Tribune’s state government reporter in Tallahassee since 2013.

“I’m excited to be part of this team, especially as we come up on the 2016 elections,” he said. “Florida Politics and SaintPetersBlog have established themselves as must-reads in the capital and across the state, and I look forward to delivering content and engaging with our audiences.”

He joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, where he first covered politics as the paper’s City Hall reporter … later moved on to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount and made appearances on Fox News and MSNBC with its then-anchor Brian Williams.

Even then, Rosica also reported on Florida State football players’ off-the-field entanglements with the law, working with the late sports-reporting legend Steve Ellis. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia from 2006 to 2009, and after graduation worked part time for a public-interest law firm representing clients with HIV and AIDS. He currently holds inactive status in the Pennsylvania Bar.

As a segue back into writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press, working with longtime statehouse reporter Gary Fineout, before being recruited by the Tribune to re-open its then-shuttered Tallahassee bureau.

During his time with the Trib, he also partnered with Matt Dixon as the Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau, when Dixon covered the capital for the Naples Daily News. Dixon is now Tallahassee bureau chief of POLITICO Florida.

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FLORIDA LAUNCHES ERD ATTEMPT TO REDRAW CONGRESSIONAL MAP via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, still angry at being forced into action by the state’s highest court, launched yet another bid on Monday to reshape the state’s congressional districts.

Legislators returned to the Capitol to kick off a 12-day special session to draw a new map that could make it difficult for several incumbent members of Congress to get re-elected. This is the third time lawmakers have worked on a congressional map since 2012.

The session started on the same day U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown had a setback in her effort to block legislators from making significant changes to her district, which stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando. The Jacksonville Democrat asked last week to intervene in an ongoing federal lawsuit, but the suit’s plaintiffs withdrew it Monday.

That means for now legislators must figure out how to alter the state’s 27 districts in a way that will pass muster with the Florida Supreme Court. The court in July gave legislators 100 days to draw up a new map in order to have it in place before the 2016 elections.

The majority of the court’s justices contended that the Legislature’s previous efforts were “tainted” by partisan influence and violated the “Fair Districts” standards approved by voters in 2010 to stop gerrymandered districts.

Several GOP leaders said they disagreed sharply with the court, while others complained about some of the restrictions that have put in place for the special session.

“Let me be clear: We continue to believe that we drew a constitutional map in 2012 and again in 2014,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. “But the fact remains that this Legislature has been ordered to redraw the map. We have a constitutional responsibility to comply with the court’s order, whether we personally agree with it or not.”

Some legislators chafed at requirements that meetings between senators and staff be recorded. Others contended that their First Amendment rights had been violated because they were cautioned about who they could speak to about the new map. Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican, grumbled that legislators were being forced to hand over their authority to a staff member “somewhere in the basement.”

The initial map drawn up by legislative staff and lawyers would lead to a dramatic shift of Florida’s political landscape. If ultimately adopted by legislators, several incumbent members of Congress – including U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster – could find it hard to hold on to their current seats. The new map could also help resurrect the political career of former Gov. Charlie Crist, who will likely mount a run for a reconfigured House seat in Pinellas County.

Brown, upset that the court told legislators to shift her district to an east-west configuration, complained last week that African-Americans would lose political representation if the new map was adopted. Brown and other black leaders in central Florida had asked last week to intervene in an ongoing federal lawsuit. The lawsuit challenged the current shape of her district on the grounds that it creates “racial packing” by unnecessarily putting a large number of African-American voters together in a district. Brown and others opposed that lawsuit and had hoped to intervene to defeat it.

But the plaintiffs withdrew the suit Monday. Mark Herron, an attorney working on the challenge, said the action means Brown’s motion is now moot. Herron said the lawsuit was being withdrawn because “the courts in the state of Florida have granted the relief that we are seeking.”

A spokesman for Brown did not say whether she would pursue additional legal action.

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: So while #FLLeg returns to Tally (only 95 today!) @FLGovScott is in France on family vacation

TWO DOZEN NO-SHOWS AS LEGISLATURE RETURNS TO WORK via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

The Florida Legislature’s special session on congressional redistricting begins … with brief floor sessions … Two dozen lawmakers asked to be excused from the opening day …

Miami-Dade has the most number of requested absences with five … Sens. Miguel Diaz de La Portilla, Rene Garcia and Gwen Margolis … Margolis, 80, said in a letter she will undergo hip replacement surgery … expected to miss the entire session. Also excused are Sens. Denise Grimsley… Alan Hays … Jack Latvala … and Kelli Stargel …

… 17 House members who asked to be excused … Democrat Joe Geller and Republican Jeanette Nunez … three from Tampa Bay: Republicans Shawn Harrison, Ross Spano and Chris Sprowls. The others are Democrat Dave Kerner and Republicans Bill Hager, Mike Hill, Marlene O’Toole, Rene Plasencia, Cory Pigman, Ray Pilon, Patrick Rooney, David Santiago, Jennifer Sullivan, John Tobia and Charles Van Zant.

SENATORS ASSAIL JUDGES TO START SPECIAL SESSION via Matt Dixon of Politico Florida

State senators criticized what they called judicial overreach on the first day of a special redistricting session, which was required after the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the congressional maps drawn by lawmakers.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts were drawn to favor Republicans, violating anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state constitution.

As part of a nearly three-year legal challenge to the maps, courts at various levels have ruled that lawmakers could be deposed, that non-public emails could be subpoenaed, and that all meetings between staff and lawmakers to discuss redistricting should be recorded.

That sparked growing resentment of the courts among some lawmakers, a sentiment that bubbled over on during a Senate floor session Monday as the chamber formally opened up the special redistricting session.

“I’m concerned with my First Amendment rights as both a citizen and a Senator. … I’m very concerned about the separation of powers,” said Republican Rob Bradley of Orange Park.

INBOX from Joel Joel Searby of Data Targeting: “Given the extraordinary circumstances in our state right now we thought it fitting to offer up this helpful tool for anyone who might need it. Feel free to tweet it, share it or otherwise make use of it however you see fit. http://didmydistrictchange.com/ Your Friends at Data Targeting, Inc. (yes, it’s really us.)”

NEW ON THE TWITTERS (and just in time for Special Session): @DarrylPaulson

LIBERAL GROUP FLORIDASTRONG ATTACKS STATE LAWMAKERS OVER REDISTRICTING via Allison Nielsen of Sunshine State News

The liberal group FloridaStrong is back at it with attacks against the Florida Legislature, this time criticizing state lawmakers for their “blatant disregard for the state constitution.” The self-identified “nonpartisan” group released a new web … “Cannot Be Trusted”, which attacks Republican operatives and consultants for gerrymandering districts to meet their political needs. FloridaStrong has repeatedly attacked Republicans in recent months for adjourning early in the regular legislative session.

The new ad quotes several news reports which discuss the redistricting case, including its price tag: $8.1 million.

SPECIAL SESSIONS BOOST TALLAHASSEE ECONOMY via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune/Naples Daily News

As lawmakers head back to Tallahassee for the second of three special sessions scheduled so far, some downtown eateries say they appreciate the bump in business … Whenever lawmakers, lobbyists and others reconvene, “we definitely see an increase in sales,” says Ben Kuhn, general manager of 101 Restaurant.

The bar and restaurant is on the city’s Kleman Plaza, within walking distance of the Capitol.

… Another special session … is set for Oct. 19 to Nov. 6 to redraw the boundaries of the state Senate districts.

Kuhn says he’s even instituting a second “happy hour” next week to accommodate the traffic, one that runs 10:30-12:30 p.m. after the regular one at 4-7 p.m. The increased business might be even greater were it not for Florida’s “gift ban,” put into law in 2005.

MEANWHILE … NEIL COMBEE TO REINTRODUCE BILL OUTLAWING BACKYARD FIRING RANGES IN FLORIDA via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Earlier this year, citizens in the Lakewood Estates neighborhood of St. Petersburg were outraged at the construction of a homemade gun range built in the backyard of a resident, named Joseph Carannante. But their complaints to local law enforcement went nowhere, because of a 2011 state law that restricts local communities from enacting their own gun restrictions … the issue prompted … Daryl Rouson to propose legislation that would ban gun ranges in residential areas for recreational use. But initial resistance from the NRA played a part in Rouson’s bill failing to get enough votes to get out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, where it appeared DOA.

The bill will come up again next January, as Polk City Republican Neil Combee has now filed legislation that could lead to misdemeanor charges for people who shoot guns recreationally — such as target shooting or celebratory shooting — in certain residential areas. Combee says he’s spoke with Rouson about the legislation, and the St. Pete Democrat intends to be a co-sponsor of the law, which will have major support going into the 2016 session.

“The Police Chiefs Association, working the NRA, asked me to do it this year,” Combee says.

The bill (HB 41) could lead to first-degree misdemeanor charges for recreational shooting “in an area that the person knows or reasonably should know is primarily residential in nature and that has a residential density of one or more dwelling units per acre.” … includes an exception if, “under the circumstances, the discharge does not pose a reasonably foreseeable risk to life, safety, or property.” It also includes an exception for people defending lives or property or performing official duties.

AND … TRAVIS HUTSON FILES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO LIMIT LEGISLATURE’S VETO OVERRIDE AUTHORITY via Michael Auslen of the Miami Herald

When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $461 million from the state budget, he made some lawmakers pretty unhappy, cancelling pet projects or funds to go to their districts.

Though the House and Senate haven’t made any moves to override his vetoes, restoring funding to those programs, it’s an option that remains at their disposal.

But in future years, they could be limited, if Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of St. Augustine succeeds with a constituional amendment he proposed for the legislative session in 2016.

Under Hutson’s proposal (SJR 78), the Legislature would have only 90 days to overturn the governor’s line-item vetoes on the budget.

“Funds get dispersed at a certain time, so if those vetoes are going to be overriden, it should be in a timely manner from the veto, as opposed to them reconvening in December to fiddle with the budget that started in July,” said Matthew Kauffman, Hutson’s legislative assistant.

LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY GO ROUND

With a hat-tip to LobbyTools, the latest of who is on — and off — the legislative staffing merry-go-round.

Off: Christine Biron is no longer legislative assistant for Sen. Darren Soto.

On: Martin Rivera takes Biron’s place as Soto’s legislative assistant.

Off & on: Michael Willson is leaving as legislative analyst for the House Economic Affairs Committee.

On: Stephanie Johnson replaces Willson as the new legislative analyst for the Economic Affairs Committee.

On: Derek Miller is the new administrative assistant for the House Education Committee.

Off: Kerrington Kiner is leaving as policy chief of the House Veteran & Military Affairs Subcommittee.

On: Jason Thompson, a former committee analyst, will take over as chief of Veteran & Military Affairs.

On: Alex Moore takes a role as attorney for the House Government Operations Subcommittee.

Off: Katherine San Pedro is no longer the legislative assistant for Rep. Bryan Avila.

Off: Jennifer Gurland is no longer legislative assistant for Rep. Lori Berman.

Off: Joseph Sosa is leaving his post as district secretary for Rep. Manny Diaz.

Off & On: Bryan Vallejo is no longer district secretary for Rep. Dwight Dudley.

On: Aeriel Harlacher will be Dudley’s new district secretary.

On: Veronica Buie has taken a role as legislative assistant for Rep. Kionne McGhee.

On: Wendi Leach is the new district secretary for Rep. Greg Steube.s

THE MOST IMPORTANT NEWS FOR THOSE WORKING IN FLORIDA POLITICS — OBAMACARE CITED AS REASON FOR FLORIDA SENATE’S CONSIDERATION OF ENDING STAFF-TO-CAMPAIGN REVOLVING DOOR via Florida Politics

The Florida Senate is considering changing its policies related to legislative employees who take time off to work on their boss’ campaigns, according to a memo sent to Republican senators and staff by the Senate Majority Office on Monday afternoon.

“The revision will result in removing the option for Senate employees to take a leave of absence without pay while employees are working for compensation or receiving reimbursement or benefits from a political campaign” pursuant to requirements in the recently reaffirmed federal healthcare act, the memo said.

That would mean the end of the common practice of legislative staffers taking unpaid time off to perform political work around election season in even-numbered years.

The changes would be reflected in section 1.36 of the Florida Senate Administrative Policies and Procedures, which governs employee policy related to political activity.

The memo cited a provision in the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, that employers “continue providing health care coverage to employees regardless of employment status” as the main reason for the change.

The move would affect dozens of consultants and aides who work for lawmakers in Tallahassee as well as back in their districts in a dual administrative-political capacity.

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TRAIL MIX

DONALD TRUMP’S REPUBLICAN SUPPORT HOLDS STRONG POST-DEBATE ACCORDING TO REUTERS/IPSOS POLL via Andy Sullivan of Reuters

Trump continued to defy the laws of political gravity on Monday as a Reuters/Ipsos poll found the real estate mogul holding onto a wide lead among Republicans in the U.S. presidential race despite an acerbic debate and a feud with a female television anchor that have bolstered charges of sexism. Trump led the party’s 17-strong 2016 presidential field with the backing of 24 percent of Republican voters, unchanged from before Thursday’s televised debate.

Trump’s closest rival … Bush, trails at 12 percent, down from 17 percent before the debate. No other candidate earned more than 8 percent in the online poll, conducted between the end of the debate and Sunday.

TOUGH EDITORIAL — DONALD TRUMP’S TOP ADVISER WAS A TERRIBLE CHOICE via the South Florida Sun Sentinel

The surprising weekend news from … the Trump campaign … was that Roger Stone … was ever a top campaign strategist for Trump. For if you think Donald Trump has been rude, crude and insulting toward women, consider Roger Stone, a notorious dirty trickster who publicly calls women the C-word.

Trump’s former spokesman called the daughter of a local political consultant a “self-important, nasty c—.” He tweeted “DIE B—-” to former New York Times editor Jill Abramson, whom he called a “snot-nosed, arrogant, biased liberal — and all around b—-” for not reviewing his JFK book. He also called actress Sofia Vergara a “self-centered b—-” on Twitter. He formed an anti-Hillary Clinton political action committee called Citizens United Not Timid, whose acronym was designed to send a message. His website also tweeted “C U Next Tuesday” to a Sun Sentinel editor, a message also meant to convey a lewd acronym.

Which brings us to Trump and Megyn Kelly … Trump says he never meant to imply that Kelly was asking tough questions because she was menstruating. He says he was referring to Kelly’s “nose and/or ears, not a woman’s period.” Now he says Kelly should apologize to him for asking such a question.

Amid the backlash, Trump’s campaign announced that it had fired … Stone because he had “wanted to use the campaign for his own personal publicity. The campaign wanted to keep the focus on how to ‘Make America Great Again,’” a campaign statement said.

In an interview with the Sun Sentinel … Stone said that he had had enough of Trump’s antics and sent his secretary a letter late last week saying he was quitting the campaign … it says a lot about Trump’s judgment that he would turn to Roger Stone for advice on how to interact with a female reporter, influence women voters or communicate a positive message.

TWEET, TWEET: @CNNTonight: ‘There’s a difference b/t being not P.C., and being …’ Let’s let @TheRickWilson finish his own sentence re: #Trump Video here.

HILLARY CLINTON: FORGET TRUMP’S COMMENTS AND FOCUS ON MARCO RUBIO’S OFFENSIVENESS via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Clinton in Exeter, N.H. … reporters peppered her with questions about Trump and his comments about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. Clinton was much more interested in talking about the other Republican candidates on that debate stage in Cleveland last week — especially Marco Rubio.

“When one of their major candidates — a much younger man, the senator from Florida — says there should be no exceptions for rape and incest, that is as offensive and as troubling a comment as you can hear from a major candidate running for the presidency. So the language may be more colorful and more offensive, but the thinking, the attitude toward women is very much the same. It is just delivered in a different package,” she said.

Clinton said she was less concerned about the “incredibly impressive” Kelly’s ability to stand up for herself than what the party’s overall message is to all women.

“I think the guy went way overboard – offensive, outrageous, pick your adjective – but what Marco Rubio said has as much of an impact in terms of where the Republican Party is today as anybody else on that stage and it is deeply troubling.”

JEB BUSH ROLE IN MICHAEL BLOOMBERG CHARITY GETS ATTENTION via Rachana Pradhan of POLITICO

Bush’s involvement with a philanthropy headed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, which partnered with Planned Parenthood on a $50 million global reproductive health initiative, is coming under scrutiny just as abortion is re-emerging as a top campaign issue.

The former Florida governor served as a Bloomberg Family Foundation director from March 2010 until he stepped down in late 2014, earning roughly $37,000. During those years, the foundation worked with Planned Parenthood to expand women’s health programs in Africa and Central America. The association with the women’s health provider is politically fraught at a time when the group has been accused of selling the tissue of aborted fetuses — a charge it denies.

Bush seemed caught off balance at the … Republican primary debate when he was asked about the Planned Parenthood connection. He said he was drawn to the Bloomberg foundation because of its role in education, and that board members didn’t see or vote on line items in the budget. The foundation has funded other issues likely to be unpopular with conservative voters, including $50 million for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and an obesity campaign in Mexico that led to a junk food tax.

“I joined the Bloomberg Foundation because of Mike Bloomberg’s shared commitment for meaningful education reform. That’s why I was on it,” Bush said. “We never had debate about the budget.”

BUSH, RUBIO SLAM CLINTON HIGHER-EDUCATION PLAN via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times 

Bush and Rubio on Monday blasted Clinton’s proposed overhaul of higher education funding as a massive tax increase.

“We don’t need more top-down Washington solutions that will raise the cost of college even further and shift the burden to hardworking taxpayers,” Bush said in a statement. “We need to change the incentives for colleges with fresh policies that result in more individualization and choices, drive down overall costs, and improve the value of a college degree, which will help lead to real, sustained four-percent economic growth.

“We also need additional pro-growth economic policies that will give more college graduates the opportunity to achieve earned success rather than continuing down the path of declining workforce participation and access to jobs.”

Rubio, appearing on Fox & Friends, echoed criticism of the tax increases Clinton’s $350 billion plan would require. Rubio said it would pour money into an “outdated higher education system,” and said there needs to be more focus on nontraditional schooling, such as online or skill certification programs.

BUSH TO TAKE ON CLINTON IN SPEECH ON GLOBAL JIHAD via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald

Bush will deliver a foreign-policy speech today at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. It will be focused on “the threat of global jihad, in particular ISIS,” according to his campaign.

In his remarks, Bush plans to criticize by name former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner.

“ISIS grew while the United States disengaged from the Middle East and ignored the threat,” Bush plans to say. “And where was Secretary of State Clinton in all of this?  Like the president himself, she had opposed the surge…then joined in claiming credit for its success … then stood by as that hard-won victory by American and allied forces was thrown away.

“In all her record-setting travels, she stopped by Iraq exactly once. Who can seriously argue that America and our friends are safer today than in 2009, when the President and Secretary Clinton – the storied ‘team of rivals’ – took office?”

MORE JEB

RedState’s Erick Erickson: “The fact is Bush was a very conservative governor with better judicial picks than his brother … but it was not an endorsement. I’ve said repeatedly, Jeb is not my first choice for president. I have told Jeb Bush that.”

— In an interview with Hot Air’s Ed MorriseyBush said “people legitimately don’t know” about his record, but when they hear it, “they come away impressed.”

PLANNED PARENTHOOD A HOT ISSUE IN FLORIDA’S GOP AND DEMOCRATIC SENATE PRIMARIES via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Two Republican House members seeking the GOP Senate nomination — Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly  — back legislation to cut off federal money for Planned Parenthood, which gets about $500 million in government money that by law must be earmarked for non-abortion-related services.

Two Democratic House members seeking their party’s Senate nomination — Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando — are trying to position themselves as defenders of Planned Parenthood.

While DeSantis faces three other Republicans for the GOP nomination — Jolly, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and businessman Todd Wilcox — he put out a statement today ripping Democrat Grayson for supporting “an organization that traffics in baby parts.”

Republican Jolly is sponsoring a bill to strip federal money from Planned Parenthood and make it available “to other eligible entities to provide women’s health care services.” But he came under fire today when the conservative Shark Tank website reported that in 2011, when Jolly was a federal lobbyist, he contributed $2,166 to former Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, who ran a Planned Parenthood clinic before her stint in Congress.

AMID U.S. SENATE TALK, CASH FLOWS AGAIN TO BILL MCCOLLUM COMMMITTEE via Matt Dixon of POLITICO

As former attorney general Bill McCollum says he will take a “serious look” at running for U.S. Senate, the long-dormant committee that supported his failed 2010 failed gubernatorial bid got a $150,000 check in July.

The Florida First Initiative was not formally aligned with McCollum’s campaign, but supported his run, including funding attack ads against Gov. Rick Scott, who eventually won the G.O.P primary.

Before last month, the committee had not received a contribution or made a sizeable contribution since late 2012, according to campaign finance reports.

… “I don’t know what that contribution is about,” McCollum told POLITICO Florida.

… It appears to have come from Pat Neal, a former state lawmaker and Sarasota developer. The $150,000 check was given by political committee Floridians for a Conservative Future, which has received $250,000 of its $251,000 total contributions from Neal.

STORY YOU WON’T READ IN SUNBURN: “Connie Mack goes after Neal Dunn for backing Bill Nelson” — The Dunn vs. Mary Thomas primary in CD 2 is already combustible, but do we really need to hear from Mack about it?

GERI THOMPSON CONSIDERING CONGRESSIONAL RUN via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News

With a Republican incumbent in jeopardy due to redistricting, state Sen. Geri Thompson is considering a run for Congress in 2016. Thompson said Saturday she was thinking of running against U.S. Rep. Dan Webster next year and has talked to key Democratic officials, including Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.

… Thompson said she was considering running against Webster in 2012, but was finishing up treatment in her fight against breast cancer and decided not to run, instead running for the closer-to-home Florida Senate seat.

CONSUMERS FOR SMART SOLAR POSTS BLOCKBUSTER $460K IN FIRST MONTH FUNDRAISING via Florida Politics

Consumers for Smart Solar, the group behind a proposed solar amendment for the 2016 Florida ballot … raised more than $463,000 in its first month. The group collected $463,045 in July, far outpacing that of rival organization Floridians for Solar Choice … Florida Division of Elections records show that in one month, the organization took in just under $27,000 more than Solar Choice did in the entirety of 2015.

Smart Solar spokesperson Sarah Bascom said that Solar Choice, the people behind what she calls the “shady” solar initiative, received 77 percent of its total funding from a single out-of-state source — the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund.

As well as raising more money, support for Smart Solar came from a broad donor base representing a wide political spectrum. The solid first month performance of Smart Solar, Bascom said, is a testament to a “transparent, diverse group of supporters” who oppose the “Shady” Solar Amendment.

Among the top contributors to the Smart Solar campaign in July was the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Florida Faith & Freedom Coalition, National Black Chamber of Commerce and the 60 Plus Association … rebelling against the single out-of-state special interest group backing Solar Choice.

TOP SENATE FUNDRAISERS HAVE SLOW JULY via Florida Politics

July fundraising numbers are in, though none of the big ticket Senate races for 2016 got much action, and with the Special Session on Redistricting, it should stay that way for sitting lawmakers during the back half of August.

Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz brought in $16,855 for the month and spent $7,629, leaving him with a formidable $441,907 cash-on-hand heading into August.

Gaetz is still uncontested for the District 1 Senate seat currently held by his father, Niceville Sen. Don Gaetz though there are still rumblings a primary challenger could swoop in and give him a fight.

In District 5, Ocala Rep. Dennis Baxley maintained his monumental lead over Inverness Rep. Jimmie Smith – both candidates burned about as much as they brought in for July, ending with $121,054 and $25,947 cash-on-hand, respectively.

The three-way race in District 13 saw Republican frontrunner Dean Asher bring in $3,450 for the month, with Democrat Judge Roach adding $1,758. The third candidate, Republican Chuck Sheridan, hasn’t posted numbers yet though he didn’t raise any money after filing June 18. Asher is sitting pretty with $142,686 on hand – a six-figure lead over Roach’s $31,691.

In what is sure to be the messiest primary in the Senate, Republican Rep. Matt Hudson raised $3,000 against $1,628 in expenditures while Gary Price raised $5,775 and spent $12,224.

It might have been a good month for Naples Republican Rep. Kathleen Passidomo to make up some ground in the money game, and she did. But her net of $8,518 keeps her firmly in third place.

Heading into August, Hudson had $227,659 on hand, with Price at $102,536 and Passidomo at $75,665.

Most of the rest of the Senate candidates posted less than $1,000 in contributions for the month.

Former Rep. Perry Thurston added $11,500 in his campaign against Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed for the District 31 seat. He now has $35,769 on hand, with Clarke-Reed sitting at $1,041 nearly two full months after entering the race.

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PERSONNEL NOTE: DARICA SMITH PROMOTED TO MARKETING DIRECTOR via Florida Politics

During her time at the department, Darica has proven herself to be a strong leader with great vision,” Putnam said. “She has the skills and expertise necessary to continue to promote ‘Fresh From Florida’ products globally.”

Smith has been with FDACS for 13 years, serving on the department’s leadership team for most of that time including roles as assistant director of administration and chief of personnel, overseeing human resources, and in roles within the Division of Marketing and Development. She received a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Florida State University in Tallahassee and is a certified public manager.

Marketing and advertising for Florida agricultural products has been, perhaps surprisingly, a visible political issue in recent months.

Gov. Rick Scott this summer vetoed a budget line item that funded the well-known staples of orange and grapefruit juice at state welcome centers, though that program was later made whole by way of a transfer of money from the Department of Citrus.

ONE-MAN LOBBY SHOPS DO NICELY IN 2015 Q2 via Florida Politics

Republican attorney and curator of Sayfie Review Justin Sayfie took in an estimated $25,000 between April 1 and June 30 from just three executive and two legislative lobbying contracts … City of Hollywood in Broward County sent an estimated $10,000 … as did Google … Sentry Data Systems chipped in around $5,000 as well …

Screven Watson … between his ten legislative lobbying clients Watson took in some $100,000 in 2015 Q2 … U.S. Sugar … compensated him with between $30,000 and $39,999 in lobbying fees. Collier ResourcesFlorida Medical Association and Seminole Tribe of Florida … an estimated $45,000 in invoices last quarter.

Democratic operative Steve Schale … earned an estimated $55,000 representing just five legislative clients: AT&TMosaic Fertilizer and Disney … between $10,000 and $19,999 each … Florida Hospital Association and Intuition Ale Works …

Solaris Consulting, owned by … David Bishop … Tampa-based advertising firm PP+K and Florida Greyhound Association combined to contribute some $20,000 to Bishop …

HILLSBOROUGH PTC HEAD EMPHASIZES HE DOESN’T WANT UBER TO LEAVE TAMPA via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission executive director Kyle Cockream wants to emphasize to the public that his agency has never wanted to boot Uber from operating in the country. He just wants them to abide by a few of the agency’s rules, which the popular ridesharing company has indicated it’s not interested in.

On Friday, a Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge denied the PTC’s request for a preliminary injunction that could have possibly taken Uber drivers off of local roads.

But … Cockream says their only concern is that Uber comply with their current safety standards. Specifically, the issue of the quality of background checks is where the PTC has drawn a line. Cockream says that the PTC’s Level 2 background checks are the gold standard, and better than Uber’s background policies. Level 2 is a fingerprint-based check on the state and federal level.

Judge Huey also wrote in his opinion that “there is no credible proof that Uber drivers are less trustworthy or safe than other for hire drivers.”

IN ITS PRIME: LAKELAND AMAZON FULFILLMENT CENTER REACHES 1-YEAR ANNIVERSARY via John Ceballos of the Lakeland Ledger

For its first foray into the Sunshine State, the world’s largest online retailer decided to settle in Lakeland … Almost a year later, Amazon.com Inc. — which opened its 1 million-square-foot Lakeland fulfillment center on Aug. 20, and shipped its first order a week later — gives Polk County and its workforce a five-star rating.

“We’ve exceeded all expectations coming into a brand new state and a new community for us,” said Chris Monnot, general manager of Amazon’s facility in Lakeland. “My personal experience has been outstanding, and we’ve hired a bunch of full-time associates who have done a tremendous job.”

The warehouse and distribution center, 1760 County Line Road, presently employs about 500 associates. Amazon is creating more than 2,000 new jobs for its fulfillment centers in Lakeland and Ruskin.

Monnot said the majority of those positions are for the Ruskin facility — which opened in September — but the Lakeland fulfillment center will still add “a couple hundred” workers. Those workers are likely to earn higher wages than they would have prior to Amazon’s arrival.

***Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Central Florida Political Leadership Institute’s Oct. 8-10 class. If you reside in the 7-county region, and are considering a run for public office but don’t know where to begin, this groundbreaking initiative is for you. Thank you to our sponsors AT&T, Bright House Networks, Central Florida Partnership, Clear Channel Outdoor, Orlando Magic, Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College and Universal Orlando Resort. Deadline is August 21, so don’t delay. More info here. Contact PLI Director Christina Johnson here.***

THE NOT-SO-UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF LAUGHTER via Udi Weinsberg, Lada Adamic, and Mike Develin of Facebook blog

We analyzed … posts and comments posted on Facebook in the last week of May. For those people that laughed, we analyzed how many times they laughed … 15% of people included laughter in a post or comment … The most common laugh is haha, followed by various emoji and hehe. … [T]he vast majority of people … are haha-ers (51.4%), then … emoji lovers (33.7%), the hehe-ers (12.7%), and finally, the lol-ers (1.9%) … emergence of the peculiar hehe, which is “poised upon us by the youth.” Are the hehes really a more youthful expression than hahas? The data say: not so!

TWITTER HUDDLES WITH NFL TO TACKLE AUDIENCE CHALLENGE via Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press

Twitter is huddling with the National Football League as it tackles the challenge of attracting a broader audience to its short messaging service … A two-year content and advertising deal … expands upon similar partnerships that Twitter forged with the NFL in 2013 and 2014.

The NFL plans to funnel nearly three times more content into Twitter than last year, a commitment that will include more video highlights and pictures from games in progress. Twitter, in turn, will use an automated formula to prominently display NFL tweets and related ads in the streams of accountholders likely to enjoy the information.

The NFL’s Twitter blitz will begin with Thursday’s preseason games. … Twitter and other Internet companies typically pay their partners by giving them a percentage of ad sales made from their content.

WHY DID THE FBI DETAIN BOB GRAHAM? via Lucy Morgan of the Tampa Bay Times

Going to lunch with former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham can be hazardous to retirement.

And extremely interesting.

Take the recent Sunday when my husband and I met Graham, his wife, Adele, and daughter, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, for lunch at Randevu, a small restaurant in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Over eggs benedict and cheese grits, Graham updated us on his continuing fight to force the FBI to disclose reports documenting the involvement of a Saudi Arabian family that left Sarasota in great haste 11 days before terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Graham, a former legislator and governor who served in the Senate from 1987 to 2005, is absolutely convinced that the hijackers had outside help from Saudi Arabian officials. The official position of the U.S. government is that the 19 hijackers acted without assistance. He says high level law enforcement officials have told him to “forget it.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to my dear friend, Jack Cory, and Sen. Jeremy Ring, Context Florida contributor Jim McClellan and former state Representative Sandy Murman. Celebrating today is Chris Hart.

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.