Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – July 2

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

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

FIRST AND FOREMOST … WELCOME TO THE WORLD: Virginia Kate Ramba, daughter of Melissa Joiner Ramba and Dave Ramba. Born at 1:08 p.m. weighing 8 lbs, 4.5 oz, and measuring 20.5 inches long. “Mom and baby are doing great!” writes a proud Dad.

Now, back to politics…


President Barack Obama made it official … The United States will reopen its Embassy in Cuba and restore full diplomatic relations with the communist-led nation for the first time since 1961 … called on Congress to lift the embargo on the Caribbean island just 90 miles from U.S. shores.

In a statement delivered in the White House Rose Garden, Obama sounded triumphant as he said the new policy of rapprochement was “another demonstration we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past” … Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Havana later this summer — he did not give a date — to raise the U.S. flag over the American mission there. Cuba in return will reopen its embassy in Washington.

“I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement,” Obama said, repeating that efforts by previous administrations to isolate Cuba had not achieved their goals.

… (T)he two countries would legally resume diplomatic ties on July 20, but that it was not yet clear exactly when Kerry would go to Havana. A similar Cuban flag-raising ceremony is also expected at some point. Earlier Wednesday, U.S. and Cuban representatives exchanged letters between Cuban President Raúl Castro and Obama confirming the restoration of ties.

… Obama and Castro have met in person, Obama has taken Cuba off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and loosened some trade and travel restrictions. U.S. companies have begun investigating business opportunities on the island so close to U.S. shores.

The U.S. and Cuba already maintain “interests sections” in each other’s capitals, and those missions will now be upgraded to embassies.


Rubio reacted to the news that the two nations are set to establish their embassies by repeating his vow to oppose one of the next steps in the thawing process — the appointment of an ambassador to the island nation — until certain conditions are met.

Last month, Rubio wrote Secretary of State Kerry, laying out a set of demands that would need to be met before he would support an ambassador to Cuba. As it stands now, the U.S. diplomatic presence in Havana can function without a confirmed ambassador, and some experts on Cuban issues are skeptical the Senate would confirm one, no matter Rubio’s stance.

Rubio reiterated his stance … calling this week’s news a “prized concession to the Castro regime.”

“It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the president’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people. I intend to oppose the confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed.”

TAKE A LOOK INSIDE THE CUBAN EMBASSY THAT WILL REOPEN IN THE US via Serena Marshall and Veronica Stracqualursi of ABC News

Walking into the Cuba Interest Section, which was built in 1917, a grand marble staircase greets you. Office space lines the open floor, with ornate shields above the doors for the six original provinces of Cuba.

When relations broke off in 1961, Czechoslovakia came in to care and protect the building. Above the stairs is a stained-glassed window.

President Fidel Castro visited the building April 1959. “We have a picture of him, by the side of the stair, and at the time, he visited the National Press Club,” (Ambassador JoseCabanas said. “He had a couple of presentations in Washington, D.C. He paid respect to President Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.”

The formal sitting room, or the “blue room” as they refer to it, on the second floor is often used for meetings with other diplomats, scholars and business people. “A lot of business men these days,” Cabanas said.

The building was built as a house for the family of the head of the mission at the time, so every room includes a fireplace. Many of them still original. The Cuban Interest Section already has the flag it will fly once it is declared an embassy.

Inside the Embassy they have a bar called the “Hemingway bar” as a tribute to American writer Ernest Hemingway.

“We believe he’s part of our cultural history. Here you have original pictures of the Hemingway tournament, the fishing tournament in Cuba. He met our president, our leader Fidel Castro, back in the ’60s. They had a true, a very good friendship, I would say,” Cabanas said.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Bright House Networks, a trusted provider of industry-leading communications and networking services to businesses of all sizes, from startups to large, multi-site organizations. Our Enterprise Solutions provides the fiber connectivity, cloud and managed services  today’s large organizations demand, while our Business  Solutions team works with small- to mid-size companies to ensure they get the right services to fit their needs and their budget. Find out why so many businesses in your area trust their communications needs to Bright House Networks. Learn more at***

HILLARY CLINTON SET TO RAISE $45M IN GIFTS BOTH SMALL — AND LARGE via Julie Bykowicz and Lisa Lerer of the Associated Press

Clinton‘s presidential campaign … raised $45 million since its launch in mid-April, with the vast majority of its donors having given less than $100.

But while Clinton’s aides touted their success with such small-dollar donors, the leading Democrat in the 2016 race also pulled in a large chunk of campaign cash from donors who are giving her the maximum allowed by law.

Along with Republican Ben Carson, whose campaign said it had raised $8.3 million, Clinton offered a preview … of what she’ll disclose in the formal recording of who donated to her campaign in the past three months.

The campaign of the former first lady did so by bragging about the number of its small-dollar donors and saying she is on track to break the previous record for primary money raised in a candidate’s first fundraising quarter, set by President Barack Obama‘s re-election campaign in 2011 at $41.9 million.

“Thank you so much for being part of this campaign. I’m grateful for all you’ve done and excited for what comes next,” Clinton wrote in a handwritten message, a photo of which was posted on Twitter.

Clinton’s haul — a total more akin to an amount raised by an incumbent than a candidate seeking the office — is an unquestioned show of strength. She’s already using some of that money to build the kind of national organization needed to compete in the general election, having placed organizers in all 50 states and the U.S. territories — including deeply Democratic states such as Connecticut and Minnesota.

… John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, said on Twitter that 91 percent of all of Clinton’s donations were for $100 or less.


The “super PAC” supporting Jeb Bush presented data culled from women’s opinions of Clinton to independent groups last week … conducted in Washington by advisers to the Right to Rise super PAC, reflect the degree to which people supporting Bush’s efforts are hoping to turn attention toward Clinton at this early stage of the campaign.

But it also reflected an attempt … to prod people toward a unified front against Clinton, as opposed to a slew of attacks that could be at odds with one another, according to the people briefed on the matter.

… (P)eople briefed on the meeting said the presentation was led by Liesl Hickey, a top official with Right to Rise, and Nicole McCleskey, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, and that the focus group and polling data was all from woman, primarily middle-age and older.

The data showed Clinton’s comment about being “dead broke” when she left the White House had resonance … She made the remark last year in an interview to promote her second memoir, and she attempted to clarify it the next day. The comment was apparently borne of Clinton’s lingering resentment about the debt she and her family incurred as they fought partisan legal actions, but, uttered in the context of the post-recession economy, it was criticized as tone-deaf.

… (T)here was less discussion about various stories about the Clinton Foundation than there was of the outcry over her use of a private email server while at the State Department … emails were seen as an effective attack line once explained.


Bush leads the GOP pack nationally with 19 percent, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. Donald Trump takes second with 12 percent, followed by Mike Huckabee with 8 percent, Ben Carson and Rand Paul with 7 percent each, and Marco Rubio and Scott Walker with 6 percent each. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton holds a clear advantage with 57 percent, compared to 16 percent for Joe Biden and 14 percent for Bernie Sanders. Clinton also leads Bush, Christie, Rubio and Walker by double digits in general election matchups. Meanwhile, Walker continues to top the Republican field in Iowa, a new Quinnipiac University poll shows. Walker takes 18 percent, followed byCarson and Trump with 10 percent, Ted Cruz and Paul with 9 percent each, Bush with 8 percent, Rubio with 7 percent and Huckabee with 5 percent.

BACKERS OF BUSH NONPROFIT INCLUDE BANKS, SCHOOLS, LOTTERY via Ronnie Greene and Steve Peoples of the Associated Press

Big-time donors to a nonprofit educational group founded by Bush … highlight the intersection between Bush’s roles in the worlds of business, policy and politics years before he began running for president.

After leaving the Florida governor’s office in 2007, Bush formed the Foundation for Excellence in Education … the group attracted $46 million from donors through 2014.

That donor list shows the circular connections as Bush moved from governor to education advocate to corporate board member. Supporters in each of those stages of his career contributed to his educational foundation – which, in turn, sometimes supported causes benefiting its donors … Rupert Murdoch‘s media giant News Corp. … GOP mega-donor Paul Singer‘s foundation … Exxon Mobil … Florida Lottery.

The voluntary release of the donor names comes less than 24 hours after Bush took the unprecedented step of releasing 33 years of personal tax returns.

Both disclosures are part of a larger effort by Bush’s campaign to highlight transparency … however, Bush himself is facing new scrutiny about the connections and background that could follow him into the Oval Office. The disclosures were also noteworthy because of who wasn’t among the donors … Bush’s group accepted money from just one international source. British-based Pearson PLC, which has a subsidiary in the United States, donated between $125,004 and $250,000, according to information provided by Bush’s team.


Bush delivered 10 separate paid speeches to a South Korean metal company that won more than $1 billion in contracts from his brother’s presidential administration, according to disclosures released Tuesday.

The company, Poongsan Corp., and its CEO Jin Roy Ryu, have been generous patrons of the Bush family over the years, raising about $1 million for the presidential library of Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, while also helping to organize trips to South Korea for Jeb Bush and his presidential relatives.

Jeb did not reveal how much he was paid by Poongsan, but foreign speeches of this sort typically reap paychecks in the six figures for prominent American politicians. The first speech was in 2007, just months before George W. Bush’s administration awarded Poongsan a coin-production contract with the U.S. Mint worth as much as $1 billion. Jeb Bush delivered nine more speeches between then and 2013, when he delivered two more speeches to Poongsan.

Bush’s association with Poongsan dates back to the mid-1990s, when he was the president of his father’s presidential library foundation, on whose board of trustees Ryu sits.

— “Did Jeb overpay his taxes” via Katy O’Donnell of POLITICO

SPOTTED AT #5 on the list of the 16 Best Instagram Accounts from members of Congress via Generation Opportunity’s Mike HopperDebbie Wasserman Schultz.


Brevard County businessman Randy Fine said Wednesday he will not run for U.S. Senate, instead sticking with his plan to seek a Florida statehouse seat.

Fine has already spent $115,000 from his own personal wealth to boost his statehouse campaign and would have been a U.S. Senate candidate with the ability to self-finance.

He is seeking the seat currently held by state Rep. John Tobia of Melbourne Beach, who is term-limited.


On Wednesday the League of Conservation Voters announced the launch of an online ad campaign to — no, not raise campaign cash like every other email we see these days — but rather to show their appreciation for U.S. Rep. Graham for her vote last week against a bill to roll back environmental protection provisions under the Clean Air Act.

“Congresswoman Gwen Graham is standing up to climate change deniers and taking a commonsense approach to protecting our health and the environment with her recent vote,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the LCV in a statement.

Like much of the freshman congresswoman’s voting record so far, however, it was anything but inevitable.

Seven Democrats including U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell of Georgia and Sanford Bishop of Georgia defected and voted to gut the Clean Air Plan proposal but Graham, who represents Florida’s coastal Panhandle, was not one of them.

Graham joined Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo from Miami, the state and nation’s epicenter of sea-level rise, in voting ‘No’ on the measure.

“I’m following through on my promise to bring the North Florida Way to Washington,” Graham told Wednesday. “I voted against an EPA rule that would negatively impact North Florida Farmers and small businesses, but support legislation to ensure our air is clean for today’s children and future generations.”

Graham took heat from local progressives for early votes on, among other things, the Keystone XL pipeline and has also been cited by the National Republican Congressional Committee as a top target in 2016. To the Graham camp, that’s a sign they’re doing something right.

While the bill may go on to pass the GOP-controlled Senate, which is set to take it up this summer, it is unlikely to become law while President Obama still wields a veto pen.


Thomas, a mother, wife, first-generation American, and an agency general counsel in the Scott Administration today announced the formation of an exploratory committee to help prepare for a July announcement on her decision to run for the 2nd CD.

Anticipating a run, Thomas has begun building a statewide fundraising infrastructure including the support of fellow Indian-Americans … If elected, Thomas, who is a member of the Federalist Society, would be the first Indian-American-woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

CARL DOMINO PUTS $200,000 INTO GOP CONGRESSIONAL BID via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Republican Carl Domino hasn’t done much fundraising yet in the crowded 2016 race for the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 congressional seat, but he said he has put in $200,000 of his own money and assembled a campaign team.

Domino got 40.2 percent in a District 18 challenge to Rep. Patrick Murphy … last year. He’s one of six Republicans and three Democrats who have announced campaigns for the seat in 2016, when Murphy is running for U.S. Senate.

Domino announced today that he has tapped veteran Republican strategist Chris LaCivita as his general consultant. LaCivita helped create the controversial “Swift Boat” ads attacking 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and consulted on former Republican Rep. Allen West‘s losing 2012 campaign against Murphy.

Also on the Domino team: pollsters Chris Wilson and Ryan Steusloff; Arena Mail for voter contact; Vince Harris of Harris media for online creative and targeting services; and the Ohio-based Strategy Group for TV advertising.

Domino was plagued by weak fundraising in 2014, raising only $311,651 from outside contributors while putting nearly $1.2 million of his own money into the race.


Scott’s blue-ribbon commission on health care and hospital spending asked Florida hospitals in May to provide the state with information about the salaries and compensation packages of their top executives. Two months later, only four facilities have voluntarily provided that information … Commission chair Carlos Beruff acknowledged that there still is “a lot of missing information” but said the state won’t be deterred.

“We are going to get the data no matter what it takes to get it,” he said.

… (T)he agency is making public records requests at government-owned facilities and noted that staff in the governor’s office has been combing through Internal Revenue Service tax filings to glean salary information … they won’t be able to find the information for for-profit facilities in IRS tax filings.

The largest for-profit hospital chain in the state is Hospital Corporation of America, which owns 45 Florida facilities. None of those facilities have provided information to the commission according to information the agency has compiled on hospital responses.

The governor created the commission in May via an executive order … appointed nine members to the commission, most of whom had contributed to Scott’s campaign for governor or to his political committee, Let’s Get to Work.

Commission member Marili Cancio Johnson agreed and asked that the hospitals be told that if they don’t provide the information that funding be withheld from the facilities … If there is no transparency, Johnson said, there should be no tax assistance.

THE BOTTOM LINE: SCOTT’S NET WORTH GROWS TO $147 MILLION via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

… Scott reports his net worth has grown to nearly $147 million, an increase of about $15 million from the year before and double what it was the year before that. The wealthiest governor in Florida history filed his annual financial disclosure statement with the Commission on Ethics and the agency posted it online … the assets held in a blind trust are worth $128 million and that his Naples home is worth $15.4 million.

Scott has defended the blind trust as necessary to prohibit him from making official decisions that could affect his portfolio. But because the assets are in a blind trust, the public cannot know how Scott got richer over the past 12 months.

Scott did list the assets in the trust when he filed his previous financial disclosure a year ago when he showed a net worth of nearly $133 million. The year before that, Scott reported a net worth of $84 million, which was a reflection of the fact that he spent more than $70 million of his fortune on his 2010 campaign for governor.

TWEET, TWEET: @JackLatvala: Florida – starting tomorrow, you get back $400 M in tax cuts. Cell phones, cable TV, college textbooks & a 10-day tax holiday from 8/7-16.


If Republicans in the Florida Senate are getting over their anger at Scott‘s rash of vetoes, they sure don’t sound like it … Senate President Andy Gardiner … did not mince words in describing Scott’s zeroing out of money for programs for people with disabilities and for the start of a downtown Orlando campus of the University of Central Florida.

“It’s a shot at our community. It’s a shot at Orlando, Orange County, Central Florida, those of us who believe in economic development,” Gardiner told the cable outlet in an interview. “While everybody will try to say, ‘Oh, this is a shot at Andy Gardiner,’ in many ways, it’s a shot at our community.”

Scott vetoed $15 million to start the first phase of UCF’s “downtown presence,” saying it was not on the three-year list of approved projects by the Board of Governors. Gardiner said the BOG backed the project but for less money and he defended the Legislature’s right to increase appropriations.

He said Scott vetoed other university projects that had the BOG’s support, saying: “That’s where the inconsistency comes in from our members. They kind of wonder, what are we playing with here?”


At the close of business Wednesday, the Good Samaritan Health Clinic of Pasco will say goodbye to its director of development and medical information manager … The New Port Richey clinic can no longer afford to pay them.

Good Samaritan is among the Tampa Bay area health clinics reeling … Scott vetoed $9.5 million for the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics from the state budget last week. The money was intended to be distributed to clinics across the state in the form of grants.

… Scott said he had cut the funding because it could not be used directly for services. That’s because state government liability laws prevented the money from being spent on physicians’ and nurses’ salaries. Thus, the line item was “not a statewide priority for improved cost, quality and access in health care,” Scott said.

But Mark Cruise, executive director of the free clinics association, called the governor’s statement “misleading.”

“The fact is, we would have been able to use the appropriation to support service delivery,” Cruise said, noting that clinics could have used the dollars for support personnel, medical equipment and prescription mediation.

Cruise said the veto was especially painful because the Legislature rejected $2.2 billion in federal Medicaid expansion money to provide health insurance coverage to an additional 600,000 low-income Floridians.

“Many of the people we serve are below the poverty level, and would have qualified for Medicaid expansion had it happened,” he said.


Among the many local projects that didn’t escape Scott’s veto pen last week was $2 million earmarked for the Tampa Innovation Alliance, the nascent public-private agency charged with redeveloping the University area of North Tampa … Mark Sharpe, the agency’s Executive Director, insists that it’s not a big deal … the organization never envisioned receiving state money at all in its first year of operations, and instead hoped to simply capture the attention of the Hillsborough County Commission.

The County has been talking for years about such a project, and has already kicked in $2 million in for the Innovation Alliance, which officially began operations this January. After County Administrator Mike Merrill discussed the project with Bay area members of the Legislature prior to this year’s session, he received immediate buy-in from legislators like Dana YoungShawn HarrisonJamie Grant and Jeff Brandes, and, most importantly, from Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala.

Sharpe says the immediate work being done now will require the alliance to hire a number of professional planners.

Innovative districts have been described as geographic areas where “anchor” institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Ideally they’re also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.

Anchor institutions here include USF, Florida Hospital Tampa, Moffitt Cancer Center and Busch Gardens.


When House Speaker Steve Crisafulli abruptly called on the Florida House of Representatives to depart Tallahassee three days before the regularly scheduled legislative session was scheduled to conclude in late April, he angered many Floridians, including Senate President Gardiner. … But now a Tampa Bay area resident is claiming that because the Legislature did not constitutionally end their session as required, all bills that passed the Legislature this year should be declared “null and void of any legal effect.”

St. Petersburg resident Brian Pitts … a lobbyist for his Justice-2-Jesus group … filed a 48-page lawsuit on June 1 in Leon County’s Second Judicial Circuit Court, naming Crisafulli, Gardiner, Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzneras defendants. The Florida Supreme Court then kicked the case over to the Second District Court of Appeals.

… Chief Judge Charles Francis of the Second Judicial Circuit Court stayed Pitts’ suit … ruling that the claim was out of compliance with the state rules of civil procedure, which require that a notice be filed with the Attorney General or the State Attorney of the judicial circuit in which the action is pending by either certified or registered mail. Pitts resubmitted the suit later that day, certifying that a copy was sent to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs.


Add this to the twists and turns of the debate over a judge blocking a 24-hour, mandatory waiting period before abortions: The case has been handed over to a new judge.

Starting today, a lawsuit alleging that the waiting period, which went into effect today, is unconstitutional has been reassigned to Judge Charles Dodson. According to the website for the 2nd Circuit, the change was planned. All the civil cases that were on Judge Charles Francis‘ docket have been given to Dodson.

But this introduces a new wrinkle to the lawsuit.

Specifically, on Tuesday afternoon, Francis issued a temporary injunction, ordering the state not to enforce the requirement that women see a doctor 24 hours before having an abortion. After Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed the ruling, it was automatically stayed.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of a Gainesville abortion clinic, quickly asked Francis to lift the stay and prevent the law from going into effect. Now, that decision rests with Dodson.


Senate President Andy Gardiner appointed Senate President Pro Tempore Garrett Richter to chair the Florida Defense Support Task Force.

The 12-member Defense Support board, established by Florida Statute, works to protect and enhance Florida’s military missions and installations. The task force is administered by Enterprise Florida, the quasi-governmental agency that serves as the principal economic development organization for the state.

Richter’s term begins Wednesday, July 1 and will last through November 8, 2016. The Naples Republican is a United States Army veteran who received a Bronze Star in 1971 while serving in Vietnam with the 75th Ranger Company.

Richter represents Senate District 23, which covers portions of Collier and Lee Counties.

Gardiner also appointed former Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett to the Task Force for a term ending July 1, 2019.  Bennett, a Bradenton Republican, formerly represented Senate District 21, which included parts of Charlotte, DeSoto, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties. He was term-limited out of the Senate in 2012.

Gardiner praised Bennett, a Navy veteran who served several tours during the Vietnam War, as someone he worked with in both the Florida House and Senate.


For the second time this month, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo received plaudits from the Florida Bar on Tuesday.

The Trial Lawyers Section gave the Naples Republican their “Legislator of the Year” award, honoring the third-term representative for her work in revising the state’s guardianship laws to protect Floridian elders from financial exploitation.

“I am humbled by this honor and I look forward to working with the Trial Bar on passing meaningful legislation and promoting public policy to protect the rights of Florida citizens, particularly the most vulnerable,” said Passidomo in a statement on the occasion of her award.

Passidomo chairs the House Civil Justice Committee. Earlier this month she received the state bar’s Elder Law Section Legislator of the Year award, which the bar said marked the first time it had ever accorded the same lawmaker that honor twice.

That award was given for much the same work including the Elder Financial Abuse Reform Act, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in 2014.

Court-appointed legal guardians, who are accorded power of attorney and other privileges, have been reported to abuse the state system and raid the finances of their wards.

Passidomo’s work this past legislative session centered on related issues, including HB 5, which she co-sponsored with Miami Democrat Rep. Jose Javier-Rodriguez. The bill prohibits payments to guardians who fail to furnish required reports and mandates reporting of infractions to the Department of Children & Families, among other reforms. That law too was signed by the governor, and becomes law on July 1.


As summer breaks all over the country, Floridians look forward to visiting vacation spots both at home and across America … Florida Senate is no different.

In the 75-odd days until committee meetings start for the 2016 Legislative Session, a newly announced schedule of fundraising events shows senators can expect quite a time over the summer. On the agenda are stopovers in California, Chicago, Key West and – just like the rest of the world — Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Expected to have this busy summer break is Senate Majority 2016, which includes such leaders such as Senate President Andy Gardiner, Majority Leader Bill Galvano, and Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, among others.

The event circuit begins July 9, with a Downtown Disney Cirque Su Soleil LaNouba performance and dinner at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn in Orlando. Next will be a cross country outing to The Lodge at Pebble Beach, CA for a golf event scheduled July 20-22. Then, it is off to Chicago, IL, with a fundraiser on August 20-21 at the Intercontinental Hotel near Wrigley Field, where senators and supporters will take in a Chicago Cubs game. Finally, lawmakers return to home turf with a Florida Keys fishing trip on September 1-2 at the Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada, known as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.”

This whirlwind journey ends just in time for committee meetings, scheduled to begin Wednesday, September 16 and will last through the end of the year. After that, the 60-day Legislative Session gets an earlier-than-usual start, as the Regular Session convenes Tuesday, January 12, 2016.


Former Republican Party of Florida chairwoman and current Clay County Commission Chairwoman Leslie Dougher is running for State House District 19 … the third Republican to get into the contest. HD 19 encompasses southern Clay County and all of Putnam, Bradford and Union counties.

Dougher has been chairwoman of the Clay County Republican Executive Committee since 2008. She was then elected interim chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida in May 2014, where she was in charge as the Republicans had another big year in Tallahassee, capturing the governor’s mansion, the other three Cabinet positions and every Republican in the state Legislature was re-elected.

Despite that success and that she had the full backing of Scott, she lost to Blaise Ingoglia in retaining the party chair position in January. It was the first time in Florida history that a governor’s pick for chair was not selected. It was close, as she lost to Ingoglia by just one vote in the first round of balloting. She ended up losing 132-90.

HD 19 is occupied by Charles Van Zant, who is term-limited out in 2016. His wife, Katherine Van Zant, announced in December that she would be running to succeed her husband. Palatka resident Robert Bruce Mayes entered the race in March.


Want to know how Marco and Jeb always have the sharpest looking graphics, websites, and mail pieces? If so, the team at Strategic Digital Services has released their free Photo Guide which gives politicos all the tips and tricks of presidential-level content.
“We want every conservative to look great – so we’re sharing our secrets for great content with everyone,” said Matt Farrar longtime digital campaign hand and co-founder at SDS. “The guide shows examples of great campaign content and lays out all the pointers needed to give any candidate a presidential look.”
The SDS Photo Guide is free and available for download free here.


Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation has a new communications team.

Commissioner Drew Breakspear unveiled the reorganized Office of Communications. The new team — called the Office of Communications and Governmental Relations — will now include both official legislative and cabinet affairs for the Sunshine State.

To lead the new department, Breakspear selected Jamie Mongiovi, who has been OFR’s communications director since February 2014. Mongovi will be director of the Office of Communications and Governmental Relations. Prior to her public service role, Mongovi worked at CoreMessage, the leading Tallahassee public relations firm, and has more than a decade of experience in communications, public relations, and legislative affairs.

Organization of the team includes two deputy directors. Katie Norris, with the Office of Communications since 2012, was Public Information Specialist. She will take on a new role of deputy director of Communications. Norris offers deep communications and marketing experience, with positions in state government and nonprofit organizations.

Meredith Hinshelwood is also joining the team, moving from the Division of Financial Institutions. Hinshelwood’s new title will be deputy director of Legislative and Cabinet Affairs. She brings to the role many years of expertise in financial services, earning a Juris Doctor from Florida State University College of Law, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Multinational Business and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Florida State University.


With more than a decade of public service experience, insurance regulation expert Monte Stevens is now moving to the private sector, joining Southern Strategy Group (SSG) as a lobbyist. SSG, one of the largest advocacy firms in the South, is adding Stevens to its roster of leading Tallahassee power players, who represent a broad range of industries and interests.

After serving in both the Florida Office of Legislative Affairs for the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Financial Services, Stevens joined the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) in 2008. As Deputy Chief of Staff, Stevens oversaw all of the agency’s advocacy efforts.

Along with lobbying the Florida Legislature on insurance matters, Stevens also played a key role in a series of industry reforms for personal injury protection and homeowner’s insurance. He supervised the passage of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Insurance Holding Company System Regulatory Act, an initiative to manage life insurers as a group, instead of individually.

With an intimate knowledge of every type of insurance, Stevens has been long considered the go-to expert, and was frequently called on to testify before legislative committees on a variety of industry issues.


Last year, Southern Strategy Group picked up former Florida House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel, and he has been busily building a powerful lobbying presence in the lucrative Tampa Bay market. SSG’s Georgia office apparently took note, because this week their Atlanta-based office announced they are hiring longtime Georgia lawmaker and former House Appropriations Chair Ben Harbin. After serving 21 years, Harbin is stepping down from his seat in the Georgia legislature to take a job with the South’s largest network of lobbying offices.

Georgia has a revolving-door ban for legislators who become lobbyists, but unlike Florida’s two-year time out, Harbin is subject to only a one-year cooling off period in Georgia.

Paul Bradshawthe founder of Southern Strategy Group, said, “Ben is the perfect complement to our Georgia team.  With his decades of experience inside government and the energy and enthusiasm of our Atlanta team already in place, I would expect them to offer an unbeatable combination to the Georgia market.”

Harbin joins in SSG’s Atlanta office Callie Michael, a former legislative staffer in Atlanta and in Congress, and David Pratt, a former Georgia legislative staffer.


Paul Bradshaw, David Browning, Electra Bustle, Christopher Dudley, Southern Strategy Group: Prioria Robotics

Robert Hosay, Foley & Lardner: Grant Thornton
Fred Karlinsky, Greenberg Traurig: Contego Investigative Services; Holocaust Documentation & Education Center; North Broward Hospital District; Patriot Captive Management; Patriot Care; Patriot Underwriters; U.S. HealthWorks
Keith Poliakoff, Arnstein & Lehr: Silver Airways Corp.; Town of Southwest Ranches
Tara Reid, Strategos Public Affairs: Kaplan Higher Education

NEW TO THE TWITTERS: @SylLukis of Ballard Partners


On Context FloridaRichard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, offers his National Basketball Association all-star team of social conscience. The NBA has always led other leagues on best hiring practices both for people of color and women, and has been the most progressive with its policies and impact on communities. As we prepare to celebrate the holiday formally called Independence Day but more commonly known as the Fourth of July, visions of fireworks, barbecue and red, white and blue come to mind. But, taking a step back, Gary Stein thinks a more apropos name, albeit less patriotic sounding would be to call it Symbols Day. Most holidays are filled with symbolism, but as secular, government-sanctioned holidays go, “The Fourth” beats them all. Many skeletons exist in Northern city closets espousing Black oppression. Black Northern migration after the Civil War is important history for all Americans to understand. The South has no lock on racism. However, Marc Yacht says the recent South Carolina church killings by a demented young white supremacist rekindles a stark realization of racism. The Confederate flag should go!

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

MORE TOUGH TIMES FOR THE TAMPA TRIBUNE via Susannah Nesmith of the Columbia Journalism Review

IN 2012, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, in a show of faith in the future of local news, bought a chain of newspapers from Media General … just one daily paper in the portfolio that Buffett didn’t take: The Tampa Tribune, the longtime rival to the Tampa Bay Times … Things looked bleak for the Trib. Then the private-equity investor Robert Loring stepped in, paying $9.5 million for the paper and promising that he and his partners at Revolution Capital Management were in it “for the long haul.”

Today, the paper’s managers say that pledge stands. But … things still look bleak for the Tribune. In the wake of a fresh round of layoffs last week, a second consecutive year of spring pay cuts, and the recent news that the paper’s waterfront headquarters is slated to be redeveloped for residential use, it seems fair to ask: What will happen, and when, to The Tampa Tribune?

That’s the same question CJR recently asked about the Times … and the two publications are in many ways linked — locked in what seems like a death match for years, some would say decades. … But if the Tribune continues to diminish, or even folds, the editorial loss will be distinct. Once the dominant publication in the region, the paper has retained ardent defenders … who considered the Times too liberal or just preferred the Trib’s approach.

“The Tribune was the paper that covered news from the trenches. The Times covered news from the clouds,” said Kurt Loft, a former science writer at the Tribune who left in 2008 to work for PwC. “One was scrappy. One was lofty. For decades, we had both voices.”

And for now, the Tampa Bay area still does—though current and former Tribune staffers and outside analysts I spoke with for this story all fretted about the paper’s future.

Among the reasons for speculation is the pending sale of the headquarters for a reported $19 million, or twice what Revolution Capital paid for the paper … one of three in the region to put its property on the market … the deal doesn’t mean the Tribune is leaving town soon … any sale would have to include a leaseback option, allowing the paper to avoid a costly move. But it is a sign of physical downsizing.

Then there’s the continued shrinking of the newsroom, where Burns confirmed five people were laid off last week … at least four reporters have voluntarily left the paper since last August—this in a newsroom that only had about 50 staffers last summer …


Gov. Rick Scott vetoed money for the free cup of Florida citrus juice that travelers get at the state’s official welcome centers, but now the Citrus Department says it will pick up the tab.

The juice is saved.

For decades, a cup of orange or grapefruit juice greeted tourists and others coming into the state who stopped at one of Florida’s welcome centers on Interstates 10, 75 and 95 and U.S. 231.

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, operates the centers and the Citrus Department supplies “100 percent pure, not-from-concentrate orange and grapefruit juice,” according to state records.

“People’s affection for orange juice has a lot to do with their affection for Florida,” spokesman David Steele said.

A problem arose because the department has to buy that juice from Florida’s growers, whose crops have suffered in recent years from citrus greening. The disease turns fruit green and inedible.

The Citrus Department funds itself by getting a cut of citrus revenues. When crops shrink, sales go down, and the department makes less money.

In 2003-04, the department’s budget was $61.7 million; for 2015-16, it is $32.9 million – a drop of almost half from over a little more than a decade.

[T]he Citrus Department is now working to do even more promotion — without spending any money.

The department started a social media campaign where those drinking the free juice do all the work, snapping photographs of themselves with their sample cup and posting them online.

The state even came up the hashtag #OJselfie.

UNSUBSCRIBE OF THE DAY via Allison DeFoor: “Peter, I will be unsubscribing tonight and did not want you to think it personal. Have relocated to Jacksonville to be the Canon to the Ordinary to the Episcopal Title. Pretty cool title, and a wonderful chance to go full-time where God has been calling.  Day-to-day politics will not be in my routine day anymore. I have enjoyed reading you daily.”

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.