Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – July 16

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

HAPPENING OVERNIGHT — GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 91, FALLS AT MAINE HOME, BREAKS BONE IN NECK via the Associated Press

Former President George H.W. Bush fell at home … and broke a bone in his neck but was doing OK, a spokesman said. Bush, 91, was in stable condition and was doing “fine” … the 41st president would be in a neck brace.

Bush, the oldest living former U.S. president, was hospitalized in Houston in December for about a week for treatment of shortness of breath. He said he was “grateful to the doctors and nurses for their superb care” after his treatment there.

He has a form of Parkinson’s disease that has forced him in recent years to use a motorized scooter or wheelchair for mobility.

Bush, the father of Republican former President George W. Bush, was a naval aviator in World War II and was shot down over the Pacific. He also was a former U.S. ambassador to China and a CIA director.

He has skydived on at least three of his birthdays since leaving the White House. He celebrated his 90th birthday by making a tandem parachute jump near his summer home in Kennebunkport.

He celebrated a low-key 91st birthday with his family at his home on the Maine coast.

FIRST LOOK – DAVID JOLLY 22%, JEFF MILLER 12%, CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA 11%, RON DESANTIS 9% IN STATEWIDE GOP SENATE POLL via Peter Schorsch and Phil Ammann of Florida Politics

For the ever-widening field of Republicans seeking Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat, the primary challenge for each of them will be carving out statewide name recognition.

According to new polling released today from St. Pete Polls, six of ten likely primary voters have not yet formed an opinion on any of the four leading GOP candidates — U.S. Reps. David JollyRon DeSantisJeff Miller and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

In a July 15 poll … Jolly leads with 22 percent, a ten-point advantage over his nearest rival, fellow Congressman Jeff Miller (12 percent).

Lopez-Cantera, who came in third with 11 percent of likely Republican voters, announced his candidacy Wednesday. Jolly expects to enter the race on Monday, July 20; Miller has not yet announced. DeSantis, a conservative favorite from North Florida, came in last with nine percent, even though he has spent the most time in the race, running since early May.

The first statewide poll taken of just the four likely candidates has each man virtually unknown with voters, and only Miller and Jolly are above water in favorability.

Jolly leads with a +3-point favorability with voters, 22 percent approve and only 19 percent unfavorable; yet, he still leaves nearly 60 percent of voters unsure. Next is Miller, with 21 percent favorable and 16 percent unfavorable – and other 63 percent are unsure.

Florida’s sitting Lieutenant Governor leads the pack in unfavorable ratings (22 percent) and 17 percent favorable; 60 percent are unsure. DeSantis also gets 63 percent of voters who don’t know enough about him to form an opinion, but of those who do, 20 percent don’t like what they see, and only 17 percent do.

CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA ENTERS U.S. SENATE RACE via Sergio Bustos of the Associated Press

The 41-year-old Republican announced his entry in a YouTube video – in English and Spanish – that featured his wife and two daughters, along with photos of his Cuban parents.

“As a family, we’ve decided I’m running for the U.S. Senate, so that your kids and mine can continue to live in the kind of country that gave my family the blessings of liberty and freedom that only America offers,” Lopez-Cantera says on the two-minute video.

“I still believe in the America that Washington has forgotten,” says Lopez-Cantera, who is of Cuban and Jewish descent and was born in Spain.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement that Lopez-Cantera is a “career politician” who “stands with special interests instead of Florida families.”

Lopez-Cantera embraced his ties to … Scott in the YouTube video, saying they turned around the state economy by creating 900,000 jobs, reducing debt and cutting taxes.

“Conservative principles work,” says Lopez-Cantera, adding he will take the same ideas to Washington to control “government spending and government power.”

MY TAKE ON CLC’S ANNOUNCEMENT VID

Part of Lopez-Cantera’s roll out was a very underwhelming announcement video (the English version).

With TV and media pros, including Rick Wilson, on CLC’s team, many of Florida’s political observers were surprised to see such a lackluster video.

Critics point out the audio quality of this footage alone should have been a red flag.

Add to that the ill-fitted dress shirt, the odd use of too much head room in the video frame, and the unusual choice of showing footage of him pushing his daughters on a swing set rather than looking potential voters in the eye while saying “I’m running for US Senate.” But perhaps the most widely criticized aspect is the use of bland, amateurish stock B-roll.

Launching a statewide campaign, raising big money, and having a group of highly respected political operatives had many expecting a high-profile day that was flawless.

CLC’s video misses that mark by a mile.

HOW IT PLAYED: CLC’S ANNOUNCEMENT

POLITICOLopez-Cantera kicks off Senate bid – “We went from billion-dollar shortfalls in our state budget to billion-dollar surpluses in our budget,” Lopez-Cantera said. Unmentioned … Florida’s budget also recovered from the depths of the recession thanks to President Obama’s stimulus program in 2009 …” South Florida Sun SentinelLopez-Cantera joins scramble for U.S. Senate seat – “… described himself as a fighter for Floridians and a leader who has derived pleasure in cutting taxes, reducing the size of government, improving education and balancing the budget.” Miami HeraldRunning on Florida’s record, Carlos Lopez-Cantera launches campaign for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat – “Casting himself as an outsider, he offered a platform familiar to voters who paid attention to last year’s gubernatorial campaign.” Sarasota Herald TribuneLopez-Cantera enters the 2016 U.S. Senate race – “There will be a lot of people in this race who will promise a lot of things … But my conservative record in Florida is more than a promise.” Tampa TribuneFla. Lt. Gov. will run for Rubio’s Senate seat – “… running for office because he wants to be ‘part of the solution, not part of the problem.’” Broward/Palm Beach New TimesCarlos Lopez-Cantera has no official duties but is running for Senate anyway – “… he has no real official duties, though he has been spending $8,000 in tax money for weekly travels to his home in Miami.” Palm Beach PostFlorida Dems don’t wait for formal kickoff before giving Lopez-Cantera the boot – “…Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant … ‘Rick Scott’s yes-man wants to take his self-serving brand of crony politics to the United States Senate, where he would do what career politicians always do in Washington: make thing worse.’”

DEMS, FAR RIGHT GROUP WEIGH IN ON CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA’S SENATE RUN via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

Democrats and even members of the Far Right are lining up to take swipes at the former Florida House member. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson … who’s running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat: “With so many Republicans and former Republicans running for the Senate, it’s hard to keep track, but I’d like to welcome Carlos Lopez-Cantera to the race.”

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy … a Democratic candidate for Senate: “I look forward to a healthy exchange of ideas in this campaign. We need bold leaders who are willing to empower Florida’s working families, strengthen Social Security and Medicare, stand up for our environment, and protect a woman’s right to choose.  I look forward to sharing my vision with the people of our state.”

Allison Tant, Florida Democratic Party chair: “Professional Tallahassee politician Carlos Lopez-Cantera has built his career on lining the pockets of wealthy special interests and pandering to the most extreme fringe of the Republican Party — all at the expense of Florida’s middle class. Now, Rick Scott’s yes-man wants to take his self-serving brand of crony politics to the United States Senate, where he would do what career politicians always do in Washington: make thing worse.”

Ken Cuccinelli, president of Senate Conservatives Fund, which already endorsed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis … in the Republican Senate primary: “Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera is too liberal for Florida. His support for big government is out of touch with Florida values and if he’s elected, he will become part of the problem in Washington.”

Justin Barasky, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director: “Carlos Lopez-Cantera is a career politician who doesn’t do his job and routinely stands with special interests instead of Florida families.”

CARLOS’S CANNON: FORMER SPEAKER DEAN CANNON TO HEAD CARLOS LÒPEZ-CANTERA SUPER PAC

Former Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon is taking charge of Lt. Gov. Carlos Lòpez-Cantera’s super PAC now and has helped fundraise for it. The two were elected in 2004 to the state House, where CLC became Cannon’s majority leader. The support of Cannon, now a lobbyist, could help open a few fundraising doors for Lopez-Cantera. A number of state GOP House members fondly recall the old speaker and might (just might) be persuaded to help out.

“Inspired by the leadership of Carlos Lopez-Cantera, many people have offered an outpouring of support for our efforts,” Cannon said. “As chairman of this super PAC, I look forward to building Reform Washington further by continuing to fundraise while assembling a world class team of nationally recognized operatives which will expand our ability to play a decisive role in helping to elect the strongest possible candidate to the US Senate.”

>>> Ryan Wiggins will serve as the spox for the Reform Washington super PAC

WHY RON DESANTIS LOOKS LIKE THE GOP FRONTRUNNER FOR SENATE via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

The race appears wide open, but in a crowded GOP primary field to largely unknown candidates, I’d sure prefer to be the conservative candidate who also happens to have to most money. It’s no sure thing DeSantis winds up with the most money (billionaire Norman Braman could single-handedly buy the nomination for Carlos Lopez-Cantera if he really wanted to) but DeSantis has significant support from conservative, national groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, and he also has assembled an A-list team Republican bundlers in Florida.

So this race is very likely to boil down to three or four candidates vying to be the strongest alternative to DeSantis. We have yet to see the guy on the stump, but we’ve heard quite a few Republicans say DeSantis would be another Tea Party disaster in the general election … For the time being at least DeSantis seems like the one to beat.

>>>PLEASE REFER TO POLL AT THE TOP OF THIS EMAIL 🙂

— “Patrick Murphy takes shot at ‘borderline unelectable’ Alan Grayson” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

DOLLARS TO DOUGHNUTS (Second quarter fundraising totals from Florida pols)

— U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller plans to report raising $678,000 for reelection to his Panhandle seat… via POLITICO

— CD 6 candidate Adam Barringer reported over $125,000 in individual contributions, according to a release from his campaign.

— CD 18 candidate Melissa McKinlay raised $183,306 and had $178,209 cash on hand. FEC filing

WHICH REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN HAS MARK FOLEY’S SUPPORT? via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley … who resigned from congress in late 2006 after a scandal involving inappropriate messages he sent to former congressional pages, can still be helpful to his political friends.

In early May Foley introduced his former House colleague, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, to members Palm Beach Republican Club, while the Panhandle Republican was traveling the state talking up a potential U.S. Senate campaign. New campaign finance reports show that Foley in late May also stroked $4,000 in checks to Miller’s House campaign and another $1,000 check to Miller’s Advance the Majority Leadership PAC.

Foley, who still has $1.2-million in a campaign account, has given to quite a few local candidates, but Miller’s appears to be the first federal campaign contribution by Friends of Mark Foley.

Miller is looking seriously at running for U.S. Senate, but has not committed to running yet. He raised more than $400,000 for his House campaign in the last quarter and reported more than $1.1-million on hand.

DARREN SOTO TO ANNOUNCE HIS CANDIDACY FOR FLORIDA CD 9 RACE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

The fast-moving world of Florida 2016 politics got another jolt of energy with the expected announcement … that Orlando Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto will run in Florida’s 9th Congressional District race, now held by Alan Grayson.

He’ll challenge Susannah Randolph, a district aide to Grayson who announced her candidacy this week. Randolph is the wife of former state legislator and current Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph.

The 37-year-old Soto has been in the Legislature since 2007, when he won a special election to replace John Quinones … In the general election, Soto narrowly defeated former State Rep. Tony Suarez to win the election. Soto overwhelmingly won re-election in 2008 and 2010.

In 2012 he was elected to represent Senate District 40, which includes parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk Counties, becoming the first Puerto Rican elected to the state Senate.

His background could help him in the CD 9 contest, drawn up to feature Hispanic voters. However, it will undoubtedly look different after the Legislature completes another redistricting, as it has been mandated by the Florida Supreme Court.

CONSUMERS FOR SMART SOLAR LAUNCHES ‘CONSUMER-FRIENDLY’ SOLAR BALLOT INITIATIVE FOR 2016 via Peter Schorsch and Phil Ammann of Florida Politics

Consumers for Smart Solar — a bipartisan coalition of business, civic and faith leaders — launched a campaign … to place its new Smart Solar Amendment on the 2016 General Election ballot.

The Smart Solar Amendment is what supporters call a “consumer-friendly alternative” to a similar amendment proposed by Floridians for Solar Choice.

Although both amendments seek to provide greater access to solar energy, the Smart Solar Amendment allows state and local authorities to enact common-sense consumer protection rules. The measure also takes steps to ensure that big, out-of-state solar companies do not get a “free ride at the expense of Florida’s traditional electric consumers.”

The ballot language is as follows: Rights of electricity consumers regarding solar energy choice

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain the ability to protect consumer rights and public health and safety, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

During a news conference outside the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office, leaders of the newly formed committee formally registered their campaign and signed the first petitions themselves.

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JEB BUSH GAVE CAMPAIGN $388,000 FOR ‘TESTING THE WATERS’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Bush contributed $388,000 to his campaign, an FEC report filed today shows.

The money could tamp down some criticism from campaign finance watchdogs, who said Bush’s campaign like activity before he formally announced ran afoul of the law. The money went for “testing the waters” activity, a spokeswoman said.

“Jeb 2016’s first report affirms what we have publicly stated over the past few months that if Governor Bush engaged in any testing-the-waters activities that they would be paid for appropriately, and that if Governor Bush decided to run for office that any testing-the-waters expenses would be reported at the required time.”

Critics point to a larger issue: Bush the non-candidate was raising tens of millions for his Super PAC, sidestepping regulations an official candidate must follow.

BUSH TO RELEASE NAMES OF HIS FUND-RAISERS via Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times

Bush will disclose the names of his “bundlers,” or volunteer fund-raisers, his campaign said on Wednesday.

The announcement … makes Bush the first — and so far only — Republican candidate to pledge to disclose his bundlers.

“Governor Bush is committed to transparency,” said Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush. “We plan to release a list of individuals bundling donations for the campaign for the first two quarters by the time we file our next F.E.C. report.”

Bundlers are the financial heart of any presidential campaign, which requires hundreds of volunteer fund-raisers to tap into networks of friends, family and business associates, each of whom can only give $2,700 for any one election.

— “Only 3 percent of Bush’s campaign cash came from small donors” via Shane Goldmacher of National Journal

— “Goldman bankers are Bush’s biggest backers” via Max Abelson of Bloomberg

ROMNEY AIDES JOINING BUSH’S CAMPAIGN via Jim O’Sullivan of the Boston Globe

Beth Myers … Romney‘s chief of staff when he was governor of Massachusetts and campaign manager for his 2008 presidential run before serving as senior adviser on his 2012 bid, and Peter Flaherty, a State House aide who was deputy campaign manager in 2008 and a senior adviser in 2012, will endorse Bush and work as advisers … The two are expected to help Bush prepare for the series of candidate debates that begins next month.

Flaherty … said the pair’s jump should not be read as an indication of Romney’s leanings in the race … called Bush a “man of great character and humility. He has always been a thoughtful conservative, and a leader that possesses a sturdiness that the country needs right now.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Bush will be in San Francisco tomorrow to tour Thumbtack headquarters. H/t to POLITICO.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS TOUTING: Gov. Scott ceremonially signed Senate Bill 642, the Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, and celebrated the elimination of the APD critical needs waiting list for the second year in a row. Scott provided a record investment of $1.2 billion for APD this year in the “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget. The Governor also announced today that he will again recommend investing in vocational rehabilitation services to provide job training for adults with disabilities in his upcoming proposed budget. To view the video, click here.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a bill signing ceremony for the All-American Flag Act at 10 a.m. CDT at Hiram W. Sperry National Guard Armory, 3121 North Lisenby Avenue in Panama City.

MEANWHILE …

FLORIDA CONTINUES TO LEAD US IN FORECLOSURES via John Hielscher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida continues to lead the nation in completed foreclosures, accounting for one out of every five in the U.S.

Lenders closed on 104,450 foreclosures in Florida during the 12-month period ended in May, more than twice as many as second-place Michigan … Florida ranked third in the total percentage of distressed properties, with 2.9 percent of the state’s homes in some stage of foreclosure.

While Florida’s foreclosure inventory is down from 5.2 percent over the year, it remains more than double the national average of 1.3 percent.

About 20 percent of the 528,382 foreclosures completed nationwide in past year occurred in Florida.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region posted the top foreclosure rate among major metro areas in May, with 3.7 percent of its homes in some level of distress. That was down from 6.3 percent one year earlier.

That region also had the most completed foreclosures in the past year with 17,044.

In Florida, 6.5 percent of all home mortgages are considered seriously delinquent — at least 90 days past due — which was the third highest rate in the nation. But that declined from 9.7 percent over the year.

The U.S. rate was 3.5 percent, the lowest level since January 2008.

FLORIDA STILL RANKS HIGH AMONG STATES WITH MOST MORTGAGE COMPLAINTS via the Tampa Bay Times

The state of Florida and Bank of America stick out like sore thumbs in a new national analysis of mortgage industry complaints … by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Florida ranks fourth among all states and the District of Columbia in the concentration of mortgage complaints filed between late 2011 and March 16 of this year with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Florida stands out because the other high-complaint states and D.C. are all small in population compared with the Sunshine State. Florida’s high rate of 82.6 mortgage complaints per 100,000 residents is a key sign that Florida’s mortgage industry woes continue to run wide and deep in the nation’s third largest state.

Housing lender Bank of America, whose mortgage follies are well documented during the recent housing crisis, suffers the most total mortgage complaints in that same period with 31,123, making up about 23 percent of all mortgage complaints. Bank of America is also the most complained about company in 45 states — including Florida — and D.C.

But when adjusted for market share, the three most complained-about mortgage lenders are Ocwen, Nationstar Mortgage and Bank of America, in that order. Ocwen’s share of complaints is more than four times its share of the market, ranking first by this measure, said the analysis by U.S. PIRG, a consumer group. Ocwen, based in Atlanta, calls itself a leader in servicing “high risk loans.”

The vast majority of mortgage complaints (85 percent) fall into two issue categories. Problems when consumers are unable to pay (described as either loan modification, collection or foreclosure) make up 55 percent of the total. And problems making payments (categorized as loan servicing, payments or escrow account) make up 30 percent.

ALACHUA COUNTY CONSIDERS CIVIL CITATIONS FOR POT POSSESSION via the Associated Press

Leaders in Alachua County are considering whether to lighten the penalties for marijuana possession.

Commissioners voted 5-0 … to have the county attorney investigate a change that would let officers treat marijuana possession as a civil infraction … Commissioner Lee Pinkoson emphasized that such a change would not decriminalize marijuana. Instead, law enforcement officers would have leeway in giving a compliant, first-time offender a civil citation rather than a criminal one.

Miami-Dade County last month approved a similar proposal which allows officers to give $100 citations or the equivalent community service hours for possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell told county leaders in May that misdemeanor marijuana cases rose 23 percent over a one-year period between 2013 and 2014.

TRIAL COURT BREAKS SILENCE ON REDISTRICTING SCHEDULE — ORDERS SEPT. 25 DEADLINE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

A Tallahassee judge broke the latest logjam over the future of the state’s congressional maps Wednesday and ordered the Florida Legislature to finish its maps — and subsequent trial to defend it — by Sept. 25.

“The Court will do its best to accommodate everyone’s schedule but clearly there is not much time to do all that is required,” wrote Second Judicial Circuit Judge George Reynolds in a scheduling order released late Wednesday.

Reynolds gave the lawyers for the Legislature and the plaintiffs until Wednesday, July 22, to submit proposed schedules for how much time it will take for lawmakers to revise the new congressional maps in a special session, allow both sides to respond to the maps, and conduct a trial.

The order is the first sign of movement on the congressional redistricting maps since the Florida Supreme Court ruled … that the Legislature had violated the Fair District provisions of the constitution and drew maps with “unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party an incumbent lawmakers.”   The court gave lawmakers 100 days — until Oct. 17 — to revise the map, have it reviewed by the trial court, and approved by the Florida Supreme Court.

Both House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner have refrained from any commentary on the ruling and have not indicated if, or when, they would call the legislature into special session to complete the maps.

JEFF BRANDES CALLS FOR FDLE INVESTIGATION INTO RED-LIGHT CAMERA CONTRACTS via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes today called for a state investigation into red-light camera contracts held by an Arizona company whose chief executive has pled guilty to bribery charges related to camera contracts in Chicago.

Brandes … a long-time opponent of the cameras that are used by local governments throughout Florida, has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review contracts held by Redflex Traffic Systems in the state.

Redflex is not the largest red-light camera vendor in Florida but it does hold several contracts, including Jacksonville.

Brandes called for the FDLE investigation after Redflex CEO Karen Findley pleaded guilty last month to federal political corruption charges that alleged the company offered $2 million in bribes to local government officials in Chicago to obtain $124 million in contracts.

Federal prosecutors are also looking at similar bribery schemes in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, while one of Findley’s top aides has told federal investigators that other states, including Florida, may be involved, Brandes said.

Brandes has been trying since 2013 to repeal the law allowing the use of the cameras. But his latest effort to restrict the use of the cameras failed in the 2015 regular session when it met opposition from local governments and law enforcement officials, who argued that the cameras make local roadways safer.

MEANWHILE … BOB BUCKHORN: CITY POLICY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RELATIONSHIP WITH RLC INDUSTRY via Noah Pransky of WTSP

As 10 Investigates uncovers more questions about the costs and benefits of the region’s largest red light camera program, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says his close ties to the industry have nothing to do with city policy.

“It has nothing to do with relationships,” Buckhorn said of Tampa’s use of 55 red light cameras to enforce the law. “It has to do with what’s good for this community and I think those red light cameras has saved lives and made us a safer place.”

… Tampa’s red light camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), contributed $10,000 to Buckhorn’s political action committee. One of his the mayor’s top political advisers, Beth Leytham, is also a paid by ATS to work as a consultant.

Tampa has more red light cameras (RLC) than any other city in West/Central Florida and is on-track to surpass $2.5 million in RLC ticket collections for a fourth straight year.

However, because the city failed last year to renegotiate the price it pays for the cameras at the end of its first contract, approximately 90% of all revenues now go to ATS. Other local cities have negotiated price reductions during their re-negotiations.

(C)ities across Florida – including Tampa – were issuing unfair tickets to drivers because of short yellow lights, the state mandated longer intervals at every RLC intersection. The longer yellows contributed to a drop in citations of 30-90 percent at Tampa intersections.

When asked if the city missed an opportunity last year to reduce its costs, Buckhorn said “no,” pointing to a clause in Tampa’s contract that allows the city to run a “tab” in any month where ticket revenues do not cover ATS’s program costs. The clause does not cover the police department’s cost to staff the program.

A SQUIRRELY FDOT PROCUREMENT PROCESS GETS EVEN STRANGER Full story here

As Florida Politics reported in April, an ongoing procurement process within the Department of Transportation over a contract worth hundreds of millions has taken some strange turns, including a $3.6 million settlement payment to a firm that was not only ranked third in a competitive bidding process, but also left the State of Florida in a lurch when it previously divested its tolling interests.

Things seem to have gotten only more curious since this last report shed light on this high-stakes procurement.

To briefly recap: the FDOT system that collects and administers the toll fees that help fund Florida’s 80,000 miles of highway is due in for a once-a-generation tuneup.

The sprawling state contract would comprise the maintenance and operation of all highway tolls across four massive Florida infrastructural systems: the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, the former Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (now Central Florida Expressway Authority), and Florida Turnpike Enterprise. Official details have not yet been released, but the worth of the project will reach as high as $600 million over the length of the term, according to a public records request.

Those vendors went head-to-head before the FDOT’s Technical Committee in a bidding process known in state nomenclature as an “Invitation to Negotiate” last year. Accenture, an international technology and consulting firm, was rated the No. 1 choice among five competing vendors by four of the eight assembled panelists, earning the best score overall.

Those rankings were overturned, however, by a second smaller pool of four assessors that gave the nod to document management giant Xerox, countermanding the committee’s earlier decision on account of an allegedly “lower risk” to liability for the state and its taxpayers associated with them.

EDITORIAL: FLORIDA’S CLERKS OF COURT NEED A LEGISLATIVE LIFELINE via the Orlando Sentinel

The Florida Legislature has created a crisis for clerks of court statewide that is resulting in layoffs, furloughs and service cutbacks.

Regionally, the cuts slashed $1.4 million from the Orange County Clerk of Courts, $437,000 in Seminole, and $373,000 in Osceola.

The cutbacks hurt elsewhere even more severely. Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock announced the elimination of 41 full-time and 16 part-time positions. Bock is making up a $2.6 million deficit. The gap for all 67 clerks combined is $22.4 million.

How did this happen in a record-high $78 billion state budget? The process for allocating money to the clerks is broken. Every year, thanks to bigger counties like Orange, Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, clerks bring in hundreds of millions more than they spend. But it is extremely difficult to know in advance how much the clerks will need. Nobody can accurately predict the pace of foreclosures, whether the number and scope of lawsuits will increase or diminish, or the necessity of conducting major trials.

And, of course, the Legislature has wanted the clerks — who are responsible for performing the monumental scheduling and record-keeping associated with court activity — to do their jobs with budgets as lean as possible.

So it has become common for clerks to face a fourth fiscal quarter — July, August and September — in which a deficit looms. The Legislature, meeting in the spring, can respond with an infusion of funding.

But this year, the Legislature didn’t.

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(RE)APPOINTED: Reappointed Moses Harvin and the appointment of Ronald Howse to the Eastern Florida State College District Board of Trustees.

VOLUNTEER FLORIDA PUTS 3 ON BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Florida’s lead volunteerism and national service agency have selected a new board of directors. Volunteer Florida announced three new members of the Volunteer Florida Foundation Board of Directors. Serving two-year terms each are Monesia Brown, director of public affairs and government relations for Walmart; Juan “J.C.” Flores, vice president of governmental affairs for AT&T Florida; and Michael Jennings, vice president of government affairs of Prudential Financial for the Southeast region. The three will help guide Volunteer Florida in its mission of awarding money to educational foundations, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations to oversee AmeriCorps and National Service Programs.

CONTEXT FLORIDA: WASTING RESOURCES, ‘THE CURL’ AND FAIR DISTRICTS

On Context Florida: In her daily routine, Vu Tran often forgets about how fortunate she is to have certain luxuries such as running water, electricity and a fast Internet connection. To us, such amenities may seem expected because we live in a developed country. However, in a recent 45-day adventure to Peru, Tran had an enlightening experience. Looking back, she says she was ignorant and wasteful of resources. Recently, a political operative in South Florida forwarded Steven “Kurly” Kurlander a new grassroots outreach email called “The Curl” being sent by Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The preface reads: “Friend — introducing The Curl, your close-up look at Debbie’s work for South Florida.” “Looks like she stole your name Kurly, LOL” his friend wrote. As someone who has testified many times in Florida reapportionment cases, Darryl Paulson says voters of Florida and then the state Supreme Court got most everything wrong when it comes to “Fair Districts.” Paulson had been hired numerous times by the state or national NAACP to testify about the legacy of voter discrimination in Florida. After facing hundreds of years of discrimination, the state has some obligation to right that wrong.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

MAN CHARGED WITH SHOOTING AT GEORGE ZIMMERMAN FACES NEW CHARGE via the Associated Press

A Florida man accused of shooting at George Zimmerman during a traffic encounter is accused of urinating on a neighbor’s door. Seminole County prosecutors charged Matthew Apperson with disorderly conduct last month after the incident.

According to a Winter Springs Police report, Anthony Woods was cleaning the apartment complex’s pool when he said he heard Apperson “yelling obscenities” in the direction of a female neighbor’s home. She was not inside at the time. Woods told officers Apperson then urinated on the door.

Apperson was charged in May with attempted second-degree murder in the Zimmerman incident. He is free on bond and under GPS monitoring awaiting trial in the Zimmerman case.

VIDEO SHOWING BRAWL IN THE DELI AISLE OF AN ORLANDO PUBLIX GOES VIRAL via the Orlando Sentinel

An argument between a man and a pregnant woman escalated … after the woman’s husband walked up to the man inside the Baldwin Park Publix grocery store and a fist fight ensued.

Orlando police … released a report detailing the events leading up to the fight, which was captured on video by a witness. Since the incident, the video — showing the two men fighting near the deli aisle with Publix employees attempting to break it up — has gone viral with more than 260,000 views on YouTube.

Edwin Colon tried to pull his vehicle into a parking space at the Publix off Meeting Place in Baldwin Park, according to the incident report. Meanwhile, a pregnant woman was loading her child into her vehicle.

Once the child was inside the car, according to Colon, the woman left her cart in the middle of the parking space he was attempting to park in. Colon asked the woman to move the cart so he could park his vehicle.

“The pregnant female then grabbed the cart and shook it and said to Colon, ‘what do you want me to do with it?’” … The woman began cursing at Colon, who also cursed at the woman.

When Colon went inside the store to purchase a sandwich at the deli, he was approached by the woman’s husband, who pushed his face into Colon’s face … Colon pushed the man out of his way and the man then tried to put Colon into a headlock.

“Colon was in fear of being injured and began to fight back,” the report said. A Publix employee eventually separated the men, as seen on the video titled “Brawl in the deli aisle.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Ross Spano, Florida Today’s Bob Gabordi, Alexis Lambert, and our future in-law, Teddy Stuart’s great dad, Ben.

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.