Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – July 14

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


Florida Sen. Bill Nelson underwent prostate cancer surgery … that his office called “a complete success.”

“Bill wants to thank all the people in Florida and elsewhere who sent prayers and well wishes,” his wife, Grace, said in a statement following the operation. “The doctors, nurses and staff caring for him are all just great.”

His office said Nelson’s recovery is expected to take a least a week. The senator disclosed the incidence of the disease and his planned surgery last Thursday.

MARCO RUBIO CAMPAIGN REPORTS $12 MILLION HAUL via Julie Bykowicz of the Associated Press

Rubio has raised more than $12 million for his White House bid … one of an expected 17 Republican presidential candidates, and most of them are due to report their initial fundraising to federal regulators …

Rubio also has the support of two outside groups that can accept unlimited donations. The groups are a super PAC and a nonprofit policy group, both called Conservative Solutions and the groups say they’ve raised an additional $32 million.

The money for Rubio’s official campaign comes from all 50 states, and contributors are limited to checks of no more than $2,700. Rubio transferred about $3.3 million from his Senate re-election bid into his presidential account, his campaign said.

There’s lots of competition on the fundraising front … Jeb Bush … raised a record $114.4 million since January, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz‘s supporters have given $52 million to his presidential effort.

In each case, the overwhelming majority raised went to outside groups that face legal restrictions on how much they can help the candidates.

Other presidential hopefuls who have publicly disclosed fundraising information so far include retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson who raised $10.5 million for his campaign and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at $7 million. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton says she has raised $45 million for her campaign and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders $15 million.


[P]erhaps the biggest question facing Rubio is whether he has enough executive experience to lead the country. To deflect comparisons to Barack Obama, Rubio has been talking a lot about his leadership experiences in Tallahassee. In interviews with 30 people that worked with Rubio in the House, probably the biggest consensus to emerge … had to do with Rubio’s reluctance to be a top-down manager.

… The sympathetic view of Rubio’s tenure is that he deeply cared about ideas while leading the Florida House; he just faced a set of circumstances in which policymaking was always going to be difficult. The less-charitable version is that he was too focused on politics, especially his own career.


The second national poll of the GOP presidential race in three days once again shows Jeb Bush on top, with Donald Trump nipping at his heels. But a deeper look shows Bush is much better shape moving forward … Monmouth University Poll … shows Bush at 15 percent, Trump at 13 percent, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz at 9 percent.

The next group of candidates includes Scott Walker (7 percent) … Mike Huckabee (7 percent), Rubio (6 percent), Ben Carson (6 percent), and Paul (6 percent). The rest of the field garners no more than 2 percent of the vote, with four candidates – Chris ChristieBobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum all at that level.

The poll shows that Trump’s greatest strength comes from Tea Party supporters. Trump gets a 56-21 percent favorable to unfavorable rating from self-described Tea Party adherents. Before he officially became a candidate last month, Trump was getting a 20-55 percent approval from Tea Party members.

More good news for Bush in this survey. The former Florida Governor now gets a solid 50 percent favorable to 30 percent unfavorable rating among his party’s electorate. This marks an improvement over his narrowly positive 40 percent to 35 percent rating in June. Bush also gets net positive ratings from very conservative Republicans (48 percent to 41 percent) and Tea Party supporters (45 percent to 40 percent). In prior Monmouth polls, Bush held net negative ratings with these two important voting blocs.

BUSH FIRES BACK AT HILLARY CLINTON via Michael Bender of Bloomberg Politics

Hours after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called him out by name over his economic policies, Bush fired back … the Republican presidential contender returned Clinton’s mocking reference to his call for Americans to work “longer hours.” Like most members of her party, Clinton interpreted Bush’s comments as a slight against American workers. “He must not have met very many American workers,” she said. “Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the trucker who drives all night. Let him tell that to the fast food workers marching in the streets for better pay. They don’t need a lecture, they need a raise.”

Bush has said he meant something completely different.

“The main candidate on the other side believes that somehow it doesn’t matter that 6.5 million people are working part time that want to work full time,” he told about a crowd of about 150. “Mrs. Clinton just has it wrong.”

Like many other Republicans, Bush took aim at President Barack Obama‘s health care law, which requires employers with large workforces to provide health insurance coverage for their employees. Obama’s critics say that has motivated some to cut employees hours so they can avoid the mandate. Without the president’s plan “A lot more people would be working 40 hours a week

His rapid response to Clinton notwithstanding, Bush told his Iowa audience he is for a campaign of “hugging and kissing,” prompting an audience member in a stovepipe hat to lean in for a hug for the former governor. He also presented Bush with flowers.

BUSH AIMS TO RECRUIT, GROOM, YOUNG REPUBLICAN DONORS via Beth Reinhard of the Wall Street Journal

Bush is launching a young donor program aimed at padding his already flush campaign account and grooming the next generation of big Republican contributors … Mission Next, will be spearheaded by his sons, 39-year-old George P. Bush … and 31-year-old Jeb Bush Jr.

A self-proclaimed “space guy,” Bush is naming donors levels after the great NASA space missions of the past. “The Mission Jeb 2016” levels for the big donors: Voyager, for those who raise $250,000; Endeavor for $150,000, and Apollo for $75,000.

Donors who collect at least eight $2,700 maximum donations by Aug. 1 will be invited to “special activities” around the first GOP primary debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6 and to an “exclusive dinner” in Coral Gables with Bush on July 29.

The young donors program will also be named after space missions, according to donors familiar with the plans. The top tier is for those who raise $45,000, the second one will be for those who raise their age; in other words, a 32-year-old donor who raises $32,000; and the next tier is for donors who raise less but also invest in the campaign by promoting Mr. Bush on social media or volunteering their time.

Since Bush became an official candidate four weeks ago, he can no longer solicit unlimited checks for his super PAC – which raised the bulk of his money so far. Now, he is focused on encouraging donors to collect the maximum campaign donation of $2,700 from their business associates, family members and friends.


Miami is a hotbed for phantom candidates, complete with four federal criminal convictions in two separate cases to prove it. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a local Republican congressman thinks Donald Trump‘s bid for the GOP presidential nomination could be a similar ploy.

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose district saw two phony candidates run in a pair of elections before he took office, has taken to Spanish-language media to suggest that Trump’s campaign could be a Democratic scheme to hurt the Republican Party.

“I spoke to @ahoraoscarhaza on @z92miami about absurd comments by @realDonaldTrump and I offered my theory that he’s a phantom candidate,” Curbelo tweeted last week after an interview with the popular radio host Oscar Haza.

In another interview with Colombia’s W Radio, Curbelo, who supports Bush for president, piled on.

“There are too many important national, local international topics to waste time talking about a person who, I repeat, in my judgment is irrelevant — and who quite possibly is a phantom candidate recruited by the left to create this entire political circus,” he said.


Jolly will announce that he is running for the United States Senate on Monday, July 20, according to advisers close to him.

In keeping with Jolly’s buttoned-down style, the Pinellas Republican’s announcement will be a “low-key” event rather than a major press conference. A location has yet to be determined.

“Congressman Jolly is seriously considering a U.S. Senate run, and is moving towards a decision and announcement early next week,” said Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Jolly’s campaign.

Florida Politics has also learned that Jolly has received commitments from his previous major donors to his House campaign for a prospective Senate run. This would include GOP powerhouses Mel Sembler, Bill Edwards, Jim McDougald, and Jim Holton.

Fundraisers for the campaigns, both announced and planned, for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller had been asking Jolly’s camp to release these and other donors.

5 REASONS JOLLY SHOULD RUN FOR U.S. SENATE via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

— He has little other choice. If Jolly enjoys public service in Washington, and he does, the Senate may be his only choice.

— Losing can be a step toward winning. Sure, Jolly might lose, but he’s smart and capable, so it’s unlikely he would seriously damage himself in the process.

— Jolly can win. The Republican primary has no heavy favorite. Jolly is the only one with a Tampa Bay base, where at least one in four primary voters hail from. What’s more, he is well-positioned to be seen as the most electable alternative to tea party favorite Ron DeSantis… likely to be well-funded from conservative national groups.

— The general election looks promising, too. Alan Grayson‘s entry into the Democratic primary ensures that the candidate most Republicans greatly fear — U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy— will emerge wounded from the primary, if he survives at all. U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham… could get in, too, but she and Murphy more or less occupy the same moderate, independent-minded space in the Democratic primary.

— Jolly may be best to represent all of Florida. One sad irony of the Florida Supreme Court’s anti-gerrymandering ruling on the state’s congressional districts is that a rare, truly competitive District 13 will likely became a safe Democratic seat.


Florida Democratic Senate hopeful Pam Keith was already a decided underdog in her attempt to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate next year – and that was before Grayson got into the race last week.

But Keith… says she’s not overly concerned that the Florida political press will probably be obsessed between what is likely to be an intense, drawn out battle between the liberal Grayson and the more centrist-leaning Murphy in the Democratic Senate contest.

“I’m not worried about that,” Keith said … “I’m sort of expecting that to happen. I think there are factions in the party that want to keep the focus in that direction, and that’s okay. If they’re focused on those two, they’re going to be focused on each other and I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing. I believe what I’m doing is what the voters are really interested in.”

While Grayson supporters believe that the Florida Democratic Party establishment is firmly in the bag for Murphy, not all progressives are lining up behind the Orlando firebrand. Keith enjoys the support of Florida Squeeze blogger Kartik Krishnaiyer, for example. When asked if she gets upset about stories that mention only Murphy and Grayson as the Democratic Party nominees for Senate, Keith says simply it’s “disrespectful to the voters.”

“I think it’s factually inaccurate,” she adds. “I question the journalistic integrity of anyone who writes something that’s factually inaccurate, but it is what it is.”

RPOF: WE’RE BRINGING THE HEAT IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA GAME via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News

The Republican Party of Florida’s new plan for 2015 and beyond is taking a page from the ever-evolving and growing movement of social media, using sites like Twitter and Facebook to reach out to voters to help snag votes come 2016 … RPOF has taken a revamped and redefined approach to social media, honing in on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help paint the state red in 2016.

The RPOF Facebook page currently has over 152,000 likes, a number the party says is a 105 percent increase since February of this year.

“With any given post reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Floridians we are reaching voters for this upcoming election,” read the memo.” We are able to connect with millions of Floridians with a common-sense, conservative message in just one day.”

When it comes to Twitter, the party had a little over 26,000 followers … a 20 percent increase in followers since February.

The party has also segued into new forms of social media — the RPOF started up its very own Snapchat account, where users view videos and photos in short “bursts” before they disappear forever. Instagram is another app making waves in social media — the app had over 300 million users worldwide as of December 2014 — and the RPOF has been quick to hop onboard with its streamlined, photo-only-based platform.

The party had a little over 4,400 followers … though the account followed nearly 3,000 more accounts (a little over 7,100), a practice generally frowned upon by hardcore users of the app since many accounts “follow for follow” and do not interact with each other (also called “ghost followers”).

The party also hasn’t transitioned its followers into “likes” on the app. Likes are usually a sign users are paying attention or enjoying the posts, but even a post with 200 likes represents only 4.5 percent of a follower-to-like ratio for the RPOF.

TWEET, TWEET: @PoliticalPassion: Congratulations to @GovGoneWild and @FloridaGOP @wadijr for the efforts in Spanish on Facebook and Twitter


According to the latest tally by the Florida House and Senate, the cost to taxpayers for the Legislature’s defense of the redistricting maps that the Florida Supreme Court ruled invalid last week is $8.1 million.

With a trial scheduled to begin in September over the challenge from Democrat-leaning voter groups to the state Senate map, the cost to the taxpayers is mounting.

The House, which doesn’t face a legal challenge to its own maps, has spent the most — $4.2 million, through July 10. The Senate has spent $3.9 million — so far.

What could that money be used for had lawmakers not relied on political operatives and illegally created a map with the intent to protect incumbents? It would be enough to pay $10,000 bonuses to 810 high-performing teachers. It’s enough to pay the average hospital stay for 4,050 uninsured. It’s even enough to expand the tax free back-to-school holiday another day.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that eight of the 27 congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature violates the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and must be redrawn by Oct. 17. That means that at least 25 districts aligned next to them will likely have to be changed as well.

Lawmakers are expected to announce this week the dates of the special session to redraw the new districts but, with so much at stake over the state now-challenge Senate maps, will they decide to save taxpayers the cost of defending them and revise the Senate maps as well?


There has been nary a word said by any of Florida’s legislative leaders since the Florida Supreme Court ruled … that the Legislature’s redrawing of eight congressional districts in 2012 was unconstitutional, and ordered them to redraw those districts within the next 100 days.

While the GOP leadership contemplates their next move, Tampa Democratic House member Janet Cruz is giving Speaker of the House Steve Crisafulli some helpful advice.

In a letter sent to Crisafulli … Cruz cites a passage from the Court’s ruling … that encourages the Legislature to conduct all meetings regarding the drawing of a new statewide congressional map to be made public.

“Based on notions of openness as well as the Court’s specific admonishment, I do not believe that any meetings relating to this process should be conducted in secret … If such meetings have occurred, I would like to be immediately informed of them as any lawyers working on this matter represent the entire Legislature and not just a few select members or staff.”

Cruz writes that the Legislature has done “an incredible disservice to our state,” by gerrymandering the eight districts as charged by the Court.

“It is clear you allowed partisan operatives – at the direction of our own leadership – to violate the imperatives of our state’s Constitution; you failed to keep records and, in fact, destroyed records that would have revealed the misconduct; defended, at enormous cost to taxpayers, the misconduct itself; and, worst of all, forced Floridians to elect their congressional delegation from illegally drawn districts,” she writes. This conduct flies in the face of the Democratic principles this state and country were built on.”


Naples businessman and former City Councilman Gary Price added a substantial haul during the June reporting period in his bid to succeed the term-limited Sen. Garrett Richter in the Lee and Collier counties-based SD 23.

Price took in $51,450 in campaign donations between a combined $36,450 in contributions — including 27 checks for the maximum $1,000 allowed by state law — and a $15,000 loan to the campaign as Price continues to keep personal skin in the game amid a tough three-way primary Republican primary between Price and Reps. Kathleen Passidomo and Matt Hudson.

He also took a jab at his opponents, both of him who were party to the “Sine Die Surprise” when Speaker Steve Crisafulli and House budget chief Rep. Richard Corcoran led an abrupt walk-out three days before the scheduled end of this year’s Regular Legislative Session. The state Supreme Court later declared the act unconstitutional.

The seven-figure addition takes Price to $120,700 overall in money raised, with $108,985 cash on hand.

Passidomo and Hudson — both prohibited from taking donations during the budgetary Special Session that ran June 1 to 20 — raised just $1,100 combined, with Hudson raising zero contributions last month.

KATHLEEN PETERS: NOT RUNNING FOR LOCAL OFFICE IN 2016 via Tony Marrero of the Tampa Bay Times

There’s a rumor floating around about state Rep. Kathleen Peters eyeing a local Pinellas office. The word is Peters, a Republican who is up for reelection next year, might instead go for a County Commission seat.

Not so, Peters says.

Peters recently moved from South Pasadena to her late father’s home in Treasure Island. At her old address, she could have challenged Commissioner Janet Long of Seminole or Commissioner Ken Welch, a St. Petersburg Democrat. Both are up for reelection this year. At her new address, Peters could challenge Democrat Charlie Justice, who will seek a second term next year.

“I’m not running for any constitutional seat or commission seat,” she said.

Peters said she might consider a state Senate bid if Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who is up for reelection in 2018, steps aside to run for something else. Political observers say the Florida Supreme Court, which just ordered the Legislature to redraw several Congressional districts, will probably do the same for the state Senate maps currently being challenged by the same plaintiffs. Brandes’ District 22 is a likely target.


New reports show the political committee backing a proposed amendment to boost access to solar energy posted its best fundraising numbers to-date, with nearly $155,000 in contributions in June.

Floridians for Solar Choice got $50,000 of the money from the SACE Action Fund, a political committee tied to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Since Floridians for Solar Choice formed in December, SACE Action Fund has contributed $180,000, with another $35,000 coming from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. SACE also made $29,657 in in-kind contributions last month, mostly stemming from petition-gathering efforts.

Other significant contributions include a $50,000 check from Coral Gables Democratic fundraiser Barbara Steifel, who also gave $40,000 to People United for Medical Marijuana last month. Gainesville-based solar company Infinite Energy chipped in another $25,000, Conservatives for Energy Freedom gave $15,000 and Miami car dealership Williamson Automotive rounded out the major donors with a $10,000 check.

June expenditures totaled $45,521, with the majority of the money going to petition gathering and signature validation. Florida Division of Elections records show the initiative currently has 98,472 valid signatures. Amendments need 683,149 signatures to get on the ballot.


College for Kayley Simonsen is a single classroom in a nondescript building off Coachman Road in Clearwater. It’s no one’s idea of fancy, but it’s every bit as meaningful to Kayley as the big-name universities her little sister is choosing from.

And right now her parents are searching for the right words to explain to Kayley, 24, that her “college” is shutting down because the state has decided to stop funding a program that teaches life skills to adults with disabilities.

After several weeks of searching for alternative funding, the Pinellas County School Board, which administered the program with state grant money, has sent out letters to students and caregivers to announce its closing.

The program, which has been around for two decades, was a rare option for families whose children had outgrown the traditional school system but were still on the waiting list for Medicaid waiver funds that provide resources for adults with disabilities.

Funding for the statewide program has been steadily cut through the years, but the entire $10 million allocation was recently whacked from the new budget.

Sen. Don Gaetz … complained during the legislative session that too much of the money was allocated to teacher salaries and benefits, which is a bewildering argument for a program whose entire existence is based on teaching rudimentary job and life skills, such as counting money, folding clothes and gardening.

Senate officials say overall funding for disabilities is still at an all-time high, and other programs would be available to pick up the slack. For some, that might be true. But there are also families who say they can’t afford to pay for the adult programs without state or federal funds, and say they have been on the Medicaid waiting list for years and years.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will highlight funding for the environment included in the “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget at a 10:30 a.m. press conference at the Pineland Marina, 13921 Waterfront Dr. in Bokeelia. Later, Scott will announce new jobs at a 2 p.m. event in Tampa at Accusoft’s West Annex, 2nd Floor, 1725 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

JEFF ATWATER: FLORIDA IS NO GREECE via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times

Atwater is trying to use Greece’s fiscal troubles to tout how much better he believes Florida is managed.

Atwater, a Palm Beach County Republican first elected in 2010, sent out “An open letter to the people of Florida” in which he lists out Greece’s financial short comings as proof Florida is well managed.

“Through the lens of current events across our nation and globally, we see the catastrophic consequences of failing to exercise fiscal responsibility,” Atwater says in the two-page letter. “A country in economic peril, Greece’s priorities have historically been very different from Florida’s.”

The Greeks rely too much on their government for employment and services, Atwater says. Also the European nation has a 26 percent unemployment rate and a gross domestic product output far worse than Florida’s, he said.

“This fiscal irresponsibility has profoundly affected the lives of Greek citizens,” Atwater said.


A Jacksonville based conservative group named Grassroots Victory USA led by former First Coast Tea Party founder Billie Tucker will soon begin a national tour touting conservative values before the upcoming election year.  Among its members is former Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, who will serve as political and government affairs advisor for the group.

Grassroots Victory USA formed as a nonprofit corporation that was created earlier this year. The group‘s “Let’s put the ‘US’ back in the USA” national tour kicks off on Saturday, August 8, in Jacksonville. There will be 15 stops in all, with events planned later this year in places like Memphis, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, before ending in January with events in Orlando and Tampa.

“We’ve had government intrusion in our lives, eroding all of our rights,” Carroll says in a video … “People come to this country for the freedoms. For the opportunities. Do you even recognize us, anymore?” she asks. “Our Founding Fathers created this country so the people will have the rightful say so as to the government that they elect to control the government. Our Founding Fathers would be rolling in their graves to know that this is the condition our government has gotten into. Where the people have been removed from the process. Where the people are being ignored of their voice to their elected officials that they have put into office. It’s time to make a change. What are we going to do about it?”


Red Alert Politics released the first part of its “30 Under 30” profiles of rising young conservatives and a Florida Republican activist is on the list.

In 2011, Kat Cammack moved from Colorado to north Florida to help large animal veterinarian Ted Yoho, a political newcomer, run for Congress. Yoho pulled off one of the largest upsets in Florida political history when he edged U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns … in the Republican primary and Cammack played a large part in the win.

While Stearns and two other Republican candidates focused on the usual array of mailings and TV spots in Gainesville and Clay County, Yoho and Cammack waged a successful grassroots effort across the largely rural district.  In the Red Alert Politics profile, Cammack looks at national politics and what the GOP needs to do for 2016. Take a look and keep an eye on Cammack. She’s one of the best young conservative strategists in Florida and perhaps the nation.


Well-liked legislative staffer Chris Turner is leaving his post with the House Democratic office for a position with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network where he will manage the organization’s grassroots operations for much of the northern half of the state.

Turner says his reasons for accepting the position were personal as well as professional.

“As a cancer survivor myself, there are few things I take as seriously as finding a cure to this devastating disease,” said Turner. “I’m looking forward to using my passion and knowledge of the process to advocate for people who are fighting this fight every day.”

The ACS CAN is a nonpartisan sister organization of the American Cancer Society founded in 2001 to lobby for cancer research and patients’ rights. Turner joins the group’s Florida operation as it looks to expand its influence in the Capitol and around the state. Turner will manage its operations from Pensacola to Jacksonville to the east and down to Sarasota, in the southern Tampa Bay area.

The move represents a shift for Turner, who has worked mainly in the political realm as an aide and analyst for the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus and with the Democratic National Committee.


On Context Florida: While thinning files last week, Martin Dyckman came across one labeled “Crist” and wondered whether to dump it. After successive losses for the U.S. Senate and for governor again, hadn’t Charlie reached the end of the line, he thought. No, something will happen to bring him back. The next day, something did. On climate change adaptation, Alan Farago says the hour is very late. Only seven years ago the mainstream media began reporting the likelihood that warming temperatures at the arctic extremes could begin releasing vast quantities of methane gas into the atmosphere, with its potential to rapidly double the amount of global warming gases already overloading the atmosphere. With a summer that has produced astoundingly high temperatures and forest fires in arctic North, that hypothesis is coming to pass. For Marc Yacht, it’s tough looking at a newspaper these days. In fact, any media news is hard on the digestion. Fox commentary focuses on how terrible President Obama is, CNN beats a story to death ad nauseam, MSNBC and HNL have their own array of talking heads, and don’t forget newspapers that relegate any good news to the obituary page.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the inimitable Mike Vasalinda.

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.