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

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

Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, integrated marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group: Many Floridians are familiar with scenic Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, but few realize it originally was a farm focused on crop experimentation. In 1903, Japanese citizen Jo Sakai proposed the idea of a Japanese agricultural colony to discover new farming techniques. Floridians welcomed the idea, hoping it would benefit the state’s agriculture industry. Sakai brought families from Japan, but after two decades the grand experiment was abandoned. However, Florida still emerged a winner, thanks to the beautiful Gardens and museum that flourish more than a century later.

Now, on to the ‘burn…


For the third consecutive year, SaintPetersBlog is ranking the Most Powerful Politicians in Tampa Bay.

To determine who, exactly, is the most powerful, I asked several of the leading political consultants, activists, bloggers, operatives and local lobbyists to provide a list of who they consider the 25 most powerful pols in the region. I

For the purposes of this experiment, the Tampa Bay region is defined as Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco, but can also include Hernando, Polk or Sarasota — if the politicians from those counties impact either Pinellas or Hillborough.

Being listed first on a panelist’s list earns the politican 25 points, being listed second earned them 24 points and so on to where being listed twenty-fifth earned a politician one point. The points will be added up and, voila, the list will be created.

To see who made the list, continue to check here throughout the week.

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ICYMI: JEB BUSH WAS VERY, VERY GOOD AT CPAC via Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post

Did people walk out when Jeb Bush started speaking at CPAC in Maryand? Sure. Did he get heckled and booed at times during his q and a with conservative commentator Sean Hannity? Sure. Did Bush more than hold his own with an audience that was ready to embarrass him in front of every national reporter in the country? Yes.

Bush was energetic — maybe due at least in part to nervousness in facing a testy crowd — and informed. He refused to back down — particularly on immigration — from positions that he knew would be unpopular with the crowd.  He insisted that Republicans were good at opposing things but bad at “being for things.” He was composed. He was up to the moment. He looked, in a word, presidential.

By contrast, the opposition, which had promised a major walkout when Bush entered the room, seemed to fizzle … count how many reporters there are versus how many actual protesters there are.

Jeb was also helped by a friendlier-than-I-expected interrogator in Hannity who, while he did ask him about immigration and Common Core, threw the former Florida governor any number of lifelines by touting his conservative record on affirmative action, taxes and school vouchers. (Hannity even added in a Terri Schiavo reference.) And, Bush’s campaign team smartly made sure that the CPAC ballroom had its fair share of their own people in it — ensuring a built-in cheering section to overcome the boos.

Good luck, smart organization and a solid performance in the face of adversity is what successful presidential campaigns are built on.  Bush and his team knew they were going into a tough crowd and he (and they) did everything they could to mitigate those issues. Does that mean Bush won a bunch of converts in a room packed with an amalgam of libertarians, social conservatives and young people just there to have a good time? Probably not. But he didn’t — and doesn’t — need to in order to be the nominee. What he has to do is convince those folks that he’s not nearly as different from them as they might think.

Bush was, by far, the best that I’ve seen him in his just-started presidential campaign. Gone was the somewhat-bumbling, uncertain speech-giver. (He did make a weird reference to campaign finance law and an odd joke about the weather in Miami, for what it’s worth.) In its place was a politician of conviction who had total command of who he was and what he believed.  CPAC is a win for Bush — the first one in front of people who might actually vote in a Republican primary he’s had.


Jeb Bush was the son of the sitting U.S. president when he was greeted in Nigeria as a hero, leading a 21-person delegation to the country in 1989.

During a visit to Lagos, then-Nigerian President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and former External Affairs Minister Jaja Nwachukwu gave Bush gifts. Bush returned the favor by giving a medal from the inauguration of his father, President George H.W. Bush.

But this was a business trip for Jeb Bush, part of his job helping in sales for MWI Corporation, a South Florida company that last year was found guilty in a federal civil case of misleading the U.S. government to secure taxpayer-funded loans.

New details … reveal claims that Bush made more on MWI business deals than the $648,000 he has acknowledged publicly and he made money on the Nigeria project at the center of the federal investigation. Former MWI employees contradicted Bush’s earlier statements insisting that he never received a penny from the Nigeria project, but those workers did not provide proof nor did investigators seek it, according to the documents.

Bush, who co-owned the Bush-El company to work with MWI, was never a target or accused of any wrongdoing in the federal case that ended with a verdict last June against the company. Federal investigators could find no evidence tying him to wrongdoing discovered in the Nigeria pump deal, although at the time they didn’t rule it out, according to a confidential January 2002 U.S. Department of Justice memo obtained by Naples Daily News-Treasure Coast newspapers.


As Bush continues a torrid fundraising schedule across the country, he is pushing new boundaries of campaign finance law, exploiting his status as a non-candidate to avoid contribution limits and amass a cash pile already in the tens of millions.

The effort, which supporters call “shock and awe,” is designed to assert Bush’s dominance in the 2016 Republican presidential field, but it also represents a new chapter in the era of unlimited money in politics and raises numerous questions, beginning with the most basic:

How can Bush, who acts and sounds every inch the candidate for president, not be a candidate?

The former Florida governor says he is merely exploring the idea of possibly running for president. He drops disclaimer after disclaimer — If I decide …

That may seem laughable given Bush’s actions — including campaign-style speeches and visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, courting the wealthiest donors and best political talent in the country, and resigning from corporate boards that pose potential conflicts of interest — but it is part of a carefully planned strategy.

It also underscores campaign finance regulations awash in loopholes and lax enforcement in the fast-evolving world of Super PACs unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

As an actual candidate, Bush’s direct source of funds would be limited to $2,700 per person per election. But because he’s not officially running, his legal advisers contend he can chase unlimited amounts for his Right to Rise Super PAC.


Boston GlobeConservatives boo Jeb Bush at Md. gathering – “Jeb Bush encountered a chorus of boos and an organized walkout by hostile conservatives at a conference  … a stark reminder of the challenges facing the former Florida governor as he attempts to seize front-runner status in his potential Republican presidential primary run.” CNNJeb Bush survives — and thrives — at CPAC – “Jeb Bush didn’t just survive his journey into the conservative bear pit. … he actually seemed to be enjoying it.” SlateJeb Bush Backers Are Busing Supporters From K Street to CPAC – “… Bush’s supporters are taking CPAC pretty seriously this year. … busing supporters from downtown Washington D.C. to CPAC … organizing to get them day passes into the event.”  Tampa Bay TimesThe email that rallied Jeb Bush’s troops at CPAC – “If you have friends or co-workers who support the Governor, please encourage them to attend as well.  Let’s show the nation that Governor Bush’s proven conservatism and leadership is what America needs right now. U.S. News & World ReportThree-Minute Briefing: On the Third Day, CPAC Rests – Sort Of – “The Smart Bush declared Common Core isn’t a government takeover, deflected more than a few jeers and … disarmed many CPAC hunters who see him as a RINO.”


National ReviewRubio Assures CPAC: ‘I’ve Learned’ Since Immigration Debate – “What I’ve learned is you can’t even have a conversation about [illegal immigrants already in the country] until people believe and know, not just believe, but it’s proven to them, that future illegal immigration is brought under control.” MediaiteMarco Rubio Walks Back His Own Immigration Reform Plans at CPAC – “’Our nation is on the road to decline,’ he predicted But here’s the good news. We are one election away from triggering another American century?” Daily NewsMarco Rubio tells CPAC he doesn’t want to be in politics his ‘whole life’ – “’I want to serve my country and do other things,’ such as own an NFL team, Rubio kidded.” American ConservativeJindal and Rubio’s Confused Talking Points – “Perhaps they thought they needed to play to their audience and treat ISIS and Iran as if they both belonged to an undifferentiated Islamist blob … perhaps they don’t want to acknowledge that the U.S. is currently fighting Iran’s enemies. … maybe neither of them has the slightest idea what he’s talking about.” FLORIDA TODAYMarco Rubio: Hillary Clinton is ‘yesterday’ – “… the administration’s “Obama-Clinton” foreign policy means ‘our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us.’ Asked what the words ‘Hillary Clinton’ meant to him, he replied, ‘Yesterday.’”

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RPOF SET TO RAISE BIG BUCKS via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

Former Gov. Bush, U.S. Sen. Rubio and Gov. Scott are headlining a Republican Party of Florida fundraiser at the Governor’s Club tonight.

Others on the host committee include CFO Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.


Session starts on Tuesday, which means three things for Monday: the drink, drop and dash fundraising frenzy before the 60-day curtain falls; last minute roommate arrangements; and the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) pre-Session welcome back reception for legislators, staff and politicos, drawing easily 2,000 attendees each year.

Tallahassee reaches full capacity during March and April, bringing some welcome energy to local businesses: Session generates an estimated $2 million per week in economic impact for the city a figure which could prospectively increase in following years if reforms to Florida’s lobbyist gift ban are passed as proposed in recent years. In recent years the Legislature has been squeamish about it, but in a non-election year it’s possible the idea could again gain some ground.

Considering the impact of the 2005 gift ban law on AIFs party planning (see here), no doubt they and their guests would welcome any such measure.

The affair is meant to be a festive last-night-before-the-work-begins kind of deal, and it is unlikely that wonky policy talk will predominate; but it couldn’t hurt for attendees to brush up on a few of AIFs goals for the 2015 session, at least as ice breakers for awkward moments on the cocktail line. Among them:

  • Aerospace. Particularly since AIF President & CEO Tom Feeney was elected to serve on the board of the Space Foundation, a national non-profit that runs the Space Symposium.
  • Modernization of Florida’s health care delivery system, including this year an intriguing pro-business Medicaid expansion effort mutually supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
  • Water projects. Their new H20 Coalition will get plenty of time to stretch out and find its bearings as Amendment 1 implementation will eat up a lot of oxygen in a lot of hearings this Session.
  • As always, taxes. AIF supports making Gov. Scott’s short-term manufacturing sales tax exemption permannent, and will also seek to gradually phase out the corporate income tax.
  • Incentives for film and entertainment projects. This is another area of agreement with the Florida Chamber, though out-of-state conservative group Americans for Prosperity has recently blasted both groups because of it, along libertarian lines.
  • Casino gambling. Though the language in their legislative priorities is somewhat timid, they lend a lot of muscle to their cause of creating and independent Gaming Commission and a bidding process to dole out a handful of “Integrated Resort Licenses.”

But we all know the real juice is at the party itself, where the hospitality is as good as any gathering in Florida.


4:00 p.m. –  Republican Party of Florida Fundraiser at Governors Club – 2nd Floor – Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Former Gov. Jeb Bush, AG Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater, Ag Comm Adam Putnam, President Andy Gardner, Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Chairman Blaise Ingoglia

4:00 – 5:30 p.m. – For Rep. Bob Cortes at Governors Inn – Tallahassee Room

4:30 – 6:00 p.m. – For Rep. Kathleen Passidomo at Governors Club – Private Dining Room

5:00 – 6:30 p.m. – For Sens. Rob Brady, Aaron Bean, Jeff Brandes, Anitere Flores, Denise Grimsley, Alan Hays, Dorothy Hukill, John Legg, Kelli Stargel, and Rep. Travis Hutson at Governors Club – Plantation Room

5:00 – 6:30 p.m. – For Reps Colleen Burton, Danny Burgess, Fred Costello, Brad Drake, Eric Eisnaugle, Jay Fant, Julio Gonzalez, Shawn Harrison, Chris Latvala, Mike Miller, Scott Plakon, Rene Plasencia, Chris Sprowls, Jennifer Sullivan, Jay Trumbull at Andrews 228

5:00 – 6:30 p.m. – House and Senate Democrats – Drink, Drop, Dash – at Governors Club – Board Room

6:30 – 9:30 p.m. – For Reps. Frank Artiles, Bryan Avila, Matt Caldwell, Manny Diaz, Jr., Jeanette Nunez, Jose Oliva, Ray Rodriguez, at 510 North Adams Street.


Gov. Scott and First Lady Ann Scott will host a State of the State Reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

Scott gives his annual address to the joint chamber of the Florida Legislature to open the 2015 Session the following day.

The reception begins at 6 p.m. and concludes at 7:30 p.m. Dress is business attire. The Governor’s Mansion is at 700 North Adams Street in Tallahassee.

Although there is no charge to attend, Scott’s office reminds guests who are required under lobbying or gift laws to pay for food or beverage consumed at the reception that there are costs associated with the event. Payment is $25 per guest.


On the night he won re-election … a beaming Gov. Scott bolted on stage to rowdy chants of “Four more years!” Dismissed by pollsters as a likely loser, Scott clawed his way to victory, using his personal fortune to pay for a pounding barrage of TV ads that doomed rival Charlie Crist. Near midnight, a giddiness filled the ballroom of the Hyatt in Bonita Springs as a relieved Scott declared an end to a long, brutal campaign.

“You know what they say about democracy,” Scott told supporters. “It’s messy, but it’s absolutely the best form of government there is.”

Messy doesn’t begin to describe the start of Scott’s second term. The gloss of victory quickly faded, replaced by the stench of the botched firing of a top state official, followed by recriminations from Scott’s fellow Republicans and a lawsuit raising allegations of open meeting law violations.

Scott still has a negative job approval rating with voters. He suffered an embarrassing defeat when rank-and-file Republicans fired his personal choice for state GOP chair, but recently held a reconciliation luncheon with the new chair, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.

As Scott soldiers on, he faces an emboldened Legislature that threatens to challenge him on an array of fronts from water to prisons to tax cuts. With a solid Republican majority of battle-tested senators and a new, veto-proof supermajority in the House, the GOP-controlled Legislature is the elephant in the room in Tallahassee.

The mess that engulfed Scott was entirely self-inflicted. Eager to rearrange the deck chairs in Tallahassee, he and his chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, orchestrated the abrupt dismissal of Gerald Bailey, the highly regarded commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, with no explanation or vote. Their coup reinforced an image of Scott as the former hospital executive, a heavy-handed CEO shoving an employee out the door to make way for a favored successor.

It backfired badly.


For weeks the administration of Gov. Scott has downplayed the expected loss of more than $1 billion in federal funds that goes to hospitals that treat the poor and uninsured.

But that changed … as it is becoming more evident that the state must come up with an alternative solution in order to avoid making deep spending cuts in this year’s budget.

Scott’s main spokesperson, Jackie Schutz, acknowledged that the federal government would not renew the low-income pool program that was first started under a waiver obtained by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The move is a turnaround from earlier in February when Scott’s budget director Cynthia Kelly tried to explained to legislators why Scott had included the LIP money in his budget recommendations. The federal government last year extend LIP but warned at the time it had no plans to extend the program – which allows the state to use local taxes and state money – to draw down extra money for the state’s hospitals.

The acknowledgement by the Scott administration that there is now a problem with LIP sets up what may be a contentious session. Florida expects to have a roughly $1 billion budget surplus, but Scott had wanted to use that money to increase school funding and cut taxes. Scott has proposed slashing taxes by nearly $700 million.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will present school recognition funding awards to Lee County schools at a 9:30 a.m. press conference at Harns Marsh Elementary School, 1800 Unice Avenue North in Lehigh Acres.


Floridians’ consumer sentiment rose more than a point from last month to 94.7 in February, the seventh straight month of increase, according to a new University of Florida survey.

The main driver was positive views of personal finances now compared with a year ago, which rose 7.6 points to 85.1, the highest level since June 2006 when the Florida housing market was at its peak. Among Floridians under age 60, it jumped from 84.2 in January to 92.5 this month, while those aged 60 or older ticked up only from 64.1 to 64.7.

Overall expectations of personal finances a year from now declined slightly by 0.4 points to 101.6, rising only among those with annual incomes of $50,000 or more, from 105.6 to 111.0.

Perceptions that now is a good time to buy big-ticket items, such as a car or appliance, rose 2.2 points to 100.8.

Confidence in the U.S. economy over the coming year fell 1.3 points to 94.4, while expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years fell 0.4 points to 91.4.

Some economists share this caution about the future.

Florida’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in December, the most recent state-level report.


Florida Cabinet members have said they were blindsided by Gov. Scott’s decision to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Dec. 16. “(It) caught a lot of us by surprise,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told Capitol reporters …

Really? It wasn’t a complete surprise to Atwater, whose office began lobbying for a top aide to get the FDLE job before the ink was dry on Bailey’s letter of “departure” (he refused to use the word resignation).

Emails show that Atwater’s chief Cabinet affairs aide, Robert Tornillo, began promoting deputy CFO Jay Etheridge as Bailey’s replacement even before Bailey’s ouster was publicly known. Bailey has said he got a surprise visit from Scott’s former general counsel, Pete Antonacci, at about 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 16. Within minutes, Tornillo had hand-delivered Etheridge’s resume to two of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s aides on the first floor of the Capitol in Tallahassee — Kent Perez and Rob Johnson.

Asked to explain the timing, a spokesperson for Atwater, Ashley Carr, said: “At that time, it was known that the Governor’s Office wished to make leadership changes at several agencies, including at FDLE. We offered the credentials of an individual who would make a candidate for consideration when the selection process was to begin.”

It was nearly four hours later before Scott’s office announced that he had appointed Rick Swearingen as interim FDLE commissioner. Atwater later called for a re-opening of the FDLE appointment, but neither his two Cabinet colleagues nor Scott would agree with him.


With Gov. Scott trying to push state insurance regulator Kevin McCarty out the door, several high-level staff changes are afoot at McCarty’s Office of Insurance Regulation. But a knowledgeable source says the personnel moves have been in the works for a long time and are unrelated to the turmoil swirling around McCarty’s job status and those of other Cabinet agency heads.

McCarty’s chief of staff, Rebecca Matthews, will leave at the end of next week to be the executive director of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, and Richard Koon, deputy commissioner of property and casualty insurance, is also leaving for a private sector post.

Matthews’ replacement will be Belinda Miller, OIR’s general counsel, and Koon’s replacement will be David Altmeier, who currently runs the P&C financial oversight unit in the insurance office, and the agency’s new general counsel will be Anoush Brangaccio.


Former Enterprise Florida CEO and de facto Scott administration jobs czar Gray Swoope recently penned a farewell letter, marking the final chapter of his transition from the public-private sector to the private sector.

After expressing his gratitude to the likes of Gov. Scott and EFI Vice Chair Alan Becker, Swoope included an interesting detail at the missive’s very end: his new contact information at the Tallahassee office of Ridgeland, Mississippi-based lobbying firm VisionFirst Advisors, LCC.

Listed among the firm’s title holders in a filing with the Florida Department of State is Gov. Haley Barbour, who is better known for his work as co-founder of Washington, D.C. lobbying giant BGR Group.

Barbour — who took an unusual, inverse lobbyist-to-politician path to the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion — is joined as a VisionFirst principal by a handful of attorneys and former public officials including R. Wilson Montjoy, Tommie Cardin and Paul Hurst, who served as Gov. Barbour’s Chief of Staff. All three are also leading figures in the top Mississippi law firm Butler Snow.

In the goodbye communiqué Swoope lists his title as President and CEO at VisionFirst. Could this be the beginning of a new ‘Mississippi Mafia’ in Tallahassee?


Here is the State of the State that Governor Scott ought to deliver and, more importantly, that Floridians deserve to hear …

“It is traditional for the governor to begin this speech with an unequivocal declaration that the state of our state is strong … The state of our state is strong, but mostly for a select few. For the one in four Florida children living in poverty today, the state of our state is fragile.

“Nor is it strong for the 3.2 million Florida households that, according to a recent United Way report, struggle every month to stretch paychecks to cover the basic necessities of housing, childcare, food, health care and transportation.

“It’s hard to be considered strong when you lead the nation in foreclosures.

“And strong states do not shortchange the basic care provided their most vulnerable citizens – seniors, children and the disabled – which is exactly what two different judges recently found Florida to be doing. While I have heralded growth in the past, growth is not a product nor is it a policy. In many respects Florida has over-relied on growth at the expense of building the kind of economy that elevates the lives and opportunities of all its citizens.

“Just 40 years ago, Florida still resembled the sleepy getaway that had defined it for the better part of a century. A low-cost mecca where sun was plentiful and taxes were low. A place where a young couple could start a family and others could enjoy the autumn of their lives.

“But over the last few decades our state changed as so many flocked here. Our population more than tripled, and rather than adequately invest in work force education and develop a knowledge-based economy, we built a state on the fumes of that growth, neglecting the kinds of investments that pay dividends in the long term. … And we are paying the price today.”

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[M]any of the state’s decisions on health care for the poor are on hold as state and federal Medicaid officials negotiate over funding, behind closed doors. Billions of dollars are at stake.

When it comes to health-care funding, Florida’s in a funny position. The state has twice turned down billions of dollars from federal Medicaid that would have covered care for about a million poor Floridians. … This year may be no different.

“I don’t believe for one moment that this is a good plan for Florida and I would certainly  not change my opinion on that,,” said State Representative Matt Hudson … At the same time, state legislators and Governor Rick Scott want federal officials to keep a special fund for hospitals that treat those same patients. It’s called the Low Income Pool.

It may seem inconsistent, but that’s health-care politics in Florida.


As Florida lawmakers appear ready to allow key portions of the state’s high-stakes gambling deal with the Seminole to expire, other gambling interests are watching keenly for openings in the multi-billion dollar industry if the tribe and Gov. Scott can’t negotiate something new.

However, it’s not clear if those openings will emerge.

The tribe owns six casinos in Florida, including the highly profitable Hard Rock Casinos in South Florida and Tampa. In 2010, the state and the Seminoles signed a 20-year compact giving the tribe the right to operate slot machines at all its casinos in return for revenue sharing of at least $1 billion over five years.

This year, the roughly $230 million a year the tribe would share with the state has not been included in the forecasts state legislators use to craft Florida’s budget. About $130 million of that money comes from the banked card games, said Bob Jarvis, a professor of gambling law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

If the provision is not renewed, the tribe would have to discontinue the three games within 90 days, resulting in the loss of 3,000 jobs, said Barry Richard, an attorney for the tribe who also helped negotiate the 2010 compact with former Gov. Crist.

Banked card games aren’t the only gambling options up for discussion. As other players in the industry seek to expand in Florida, options include allowing non-Seminole casinos to add blackjack or allowing dog tracks to end the requirement that they run a specific number of races in order to operate poker rooms.


Amid all the nasty attack ads, one political commercial that ran on Florida television stations last year stood out for sheer beauty … Vote for Amendment 1, the ad said, if you want to “protect and restore” Florida’s “drinking water, lakes, beaches, lakes, rivers and springs.”

In overwhelming numbers, people did vote for it. The measure to pump millions of dollars into protecting the state’s environment won with 75 percent of the vote, a far higher margin of victory than Gov. Scott or any other politician running statewide.

The original idea behind Amendment 1 had been to create a guaranteed source of funding for the Florida Forever land-buying program, which the Legislature had stripped of cash in recent years.

But now that it’s time to decide how to actually spend the $22 billion the mandate is expected to raise over the next two decades, some ideas are popping up that don’t have anything to do with Florida Forever. They are ideas that certainly didn’t appear anywhere in that TV ad, and that probably weren’t on the minds of the voters as they cast their ballots.

Ideas like using Amendment 1 cash to build new water plants and sewer plants. Or to reconstruct eroding beaches in front of million-dollar homes. Or to pay the salaries of all of the employees of the Florida Park Service.

“We should use common sense and (spend the money to) solve the problems directly facing this state first,” state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee, contended in an interview on WFSU-FM.


This session, the Florida Legislature is making an unprecedented commitment to the stewardship of our natural resources by including the development of a broader water policy as a key priority in the shared House and Senate agenda.  To the benefit of all Floridians, leaders starting with Governor Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner are working to solve Florida’s water challenges so that down the road, Florida’s fresh water supply remains clean, abundant, and sustainable.

Unfortunately, as the policy takes shape – especially in the Florida House, where it has been under consideration for several weeks – many in the environmental activist community as well as some newspaper editorial boards have attempted to undermine these efforts by spreading half-truths and in some cases, outright falsehoods.  These attacks may make great headlines, but they don’t move the ball one iota as lawmakers seek to find common ground on the issue.

Take for instance a recent newspaper editorial, which inaccurately characterized the House’s water bill as a measure “masquerading as a sound policy for growth.”  This sentiment completely ignores the current reality.  Florida’s existing water policy doesn’t comprehensively address water resources and fails to consider the specific needs of different regions.  Florida is projected to need an additional 1.3 billion gallons of water per day by 2030 to meet future demands. To help prevent this scenario, the House’s proposed water reform includes real solutions focused on growing Florida’s water supply.

The House’s proposal has also been unfairly criticized for not addressing conservation.  In reality, the bill provides the tools that will allow conservation to work without insisting on a one-size-fits-no-one approach.  For example, in Central Florida, it requires the development of a joint regional water supply plan, which has already begun taking shape with the help of the region’s water management stakeholders.  The water management districts have identified conservation goals for the plan and plan for some of the necessary long-term shortfalls to come from conservation.  The plan also concluded, however, that much conservation had already been done in that region and that, therefore, opportunities for more conservation are limited.  Florida already leads the country in its use of reclaimed water, an important form of conservation.  Developing new supplies, rather than further conservation requirements, is therefore the logical approach.

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[O]ne issue that no one has yet written about and few still might; an issue already creating an economic boomlet for several Capitol lobbyists on both sides of the matter; an issue that may be the most interesting food fight of the 2015 Legislative Session. … the decertified Engle v. Liggett Group class action brought by smokers and their families.

One hundred and eighty-two cases have been tried. Thirty have resulted in claims paid … Currently, only about 5,000 Engle cases remain.

Tobacco companies are now asking the Legislature to apply current law to the cases, which would limit punitive damages. Last year, legislation was filed to do just that, but withdrawn within 24 hours of its filing.


Florida’s nascent craft brewing industry still has less economic impact per capita than any other state. That’s according to data from the Brewers Association, a national trade group. By comparison, in Oregon, Colorado and California, hundreds of craft brewers pump out millions of barrels of beer each year and billions of dollars into the state economy.

Yet craft beer is undeniably growing statewide — the number of breweries has more than doubled since 2011 — and microbrewery evangelists see the legislative session starting Tuesday as a critical opportunity to foster faster growth. Their agenda aims to loosen regulations and help local brewers soar to the upper echelon of American beer snobbery.

Beer distributors and liquor store owners have long objected to loosening regulations, saying it will give craft brewers an unfair competitive advantage and offer minors easier access to liquor.

But this year, for the first time, brewers and other industry groups are finding common ground. With support from powerful Tampa Bay Republicans (Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater sponsors a key bill, House Minority Leader Dana Young of Tampa has long fought for brewers and Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg is an investor in Green Bench) and a willingness to compromise, craft breweries could win some of their first victories in the Capitol.

>>>HAPPENING TODAY: Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Dana Young will announce the creation of the Brewing Liberty Caucus. “This bicameral, bipartisan caucus will strive to educate the Legislature about the booming craft beer industry in Florida and provide an opportunity to discuss the issues facing our craft breweries in hopes of creating the best business friendly environment for their continued growth. The caucus believes regulation of this industry should involve as little governmental influence as is consistent with the public health, safety and welfare, allowing for free enterprise and market forces to determine the success or failure of these small businesses.”

The inaugural meeting of the Brewing Liberty Caucus will be held Monday, March 9th at 7pm @ Proof Brewing Co., Tallahassee’s first craft brewery.


Two Florida lawmakers have on their radar the grounding of a sales tax exemption on jet fuel purchases. … Miami Sen. Anitere Flores and Fort Lauderdale Rep. George Moraitis have drafted legislation (SB 722, HB 595) that would end a tax carve-out extended in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Supporters of the legislation say it would level the fuel-tax playing field for major air carriers operating in the state.

Since the reinstatement of the bill to incentivize Pan Am to fly in Florida, that airline has ceased flying anywhere — but the tax rebates remain … they have been utilized in ways that the 1996 bill’s sponsors would likely find counter to their original attempt.

The proposed bills would repeal the exemption to apply the jet fuel tax evenly to all airlines rather than government picking winners and losers. It also drops the fuel tax rate from 6.9 cents per gallon to 5.4 cents per gallon for all airlines, making the bill revenue neutral and not an overall tax increase.


What does it mean to own property? Are app-based lodging and transportation services showing the way toward an enlightened age of the Sharing Economy or simply enabling a kindler, gentler gentrification? Can I crash at your parents’ house in Boca for 70 bucks a night?

As Airbnb expands its presence in Florida, such are the stakes in the looming fracas over short-term rentals.

Since 2008, Airbnb has hosted listings for individuals with spare rooms — or even, controversially, spare residences — to rent them out to travelers and vacationers looking for a less expensive, off-the-beaten path alternative to traditional forms of lodging. This innovation has gained the company great acclaim from consumers and the business press as well as some tenacious detractors.

“We’re creating efficiencies in the marketplace, and that’s exciting,” says St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who has taken an interest in the issue. “I think people are going to start making their car payments and paying their mortgages with the funds with Airbnb and Lyft, and that’s a good thing. It creates new opportunities for people to essentially find money in their couch. These things that were once dormant liabilities are now turning into earning assets.”

There’s no doubt that plenty of money is being made off of Airbnb rentals. The company has been valued at $13 billion and takes a 6-12% commission off of millions of rental nights a year. Thousands of people have weathered a difficult economy by renting out their spare bedrooms. Why should landlords, or medallion owners for that matter, have all the fun?


With a super-majority in the House and a strong majority in the senate, Florida Republicans stand a pretty good chance of getting their way during this year’s Legislative Session. … that doesn’t mean progressive Democrats aren’t still riled up with messages for lawmakers.

Progress Florida political director Damien Filer … give a bit of a preview of what his group’s supporters are talking about.

One of the issues likely to make an appearance on the list, probably near or at the top, is Medicaid Expansion. One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act would have expanded Medicaid in Florida … when Republicans challenged the law in the Supreme Court, justices ruled that states could decide whether or not they wanted to take federal funding to expand the program. Florida opted out of the program and declined $51 billion in federal funding to implement the program.

The way he and other supporters see it is, take the money Florida taxpayers have already sent to Washington to benefit our own residents or see that money go to another state.

Other issues likely to pop up on the Progress Florida Legislative priorities involve water. Flier said he’s heard from supporters who are concerned about efforts to expand offshore drilling. They’re also worried about passing legislation that continues to improve water quality in the states lakes, rivers and springs as well as continue to restore habitat in the Florida Everglades.

He said there are five bills related to anti-abortion sentiment. Two of those have bills in both chambers of the legislature making them the most formidable force to pro-choice advocates. One of those bills would require doctors who operate abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Another bill is mandatory delay legislation. That would require a woman seeking an abortion to wait 24-hours before undergoing the procedure after completing an initial assessment that includes a consultation with the doctor and mandatory counseling. The idea is to give women a chance to really think through a big decision. Another hot button topic this year is a bill that would allow guns on college campuses. … The group is also keeping an eye on two medical marijuana measures in the House and Senate.

THAT’S ONE HELLUVA LETTER TO THE EDITOR via Rod Smith in the Gainesville Sun: “I firmly believe that the proposed legislation that would permit guns to be carried on the campuses of state universities in Florida is unwise, unsafe and dead wrong. It is an idea opposed by university staff, faculty and the overwhelming majority of students, parents and alumni. University police departments, including officers who serve and protect students every day, oppose the legislation. While some state law-enforcement groups have shied away from the issue out of concern for NRA backlash, I know from personal discussions with many that nearly every state attorney, sheriff and police chief serving near a university campus recognizes the idea of more guns on campuses as radical and reckless.”


JEFF BRANDES via Florida Politics

Local priority … “Continuing the USF business school and finalizing financing for that.” Special appropriation: “[What I’d like to see] is low-income housing and specifically making sure that we’re spending those dollars wisely … Are we spending those scarce resources in the best way?” Expand health care coverage …“We need to determine how much money we have to work with. Ultimately it comes down to the federal government getting their financial house in order.” Medical marijuana bill … “I think anything that moves the ball forward is a positive step.” Growler debate … “I think it will be resolved shortly. It will be resolved in favor of the craft brewers, maybe the third week of session. This is not an issue that will take too long I don’t think.” Uber and taxi competition … “I think the future of transportation is on-demand services and those services will extend beyond what they currently are into what we currently see as bus services today – low cost car pool services and Florida should welcome them with open arms.”

DANA YOUNG via Florida Politics

Local priority … “… implementation of Amendment 1 (the “Conservation Lands Amendment”) and the adoption of long-term, comprehensive, state-wide water policy to ensure our water supply for the future.” Special appropriations … “… joint budget requests for reasonable funding needs within Hillsborough County.” Expand health care coverage … “I support a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens, but I believe that Medicaid expansion is the wrong approach to strengthening that net.” Medical marijuana bill … “I think our first priority should be ensuring that the law we passed last year is properly implemented and functions as planned before we begin new discussions about expanding the usage of medical marijuana.” Growler debate … “The so called “beer wars” are a perfect example of over-regulation and government intervention designed to benefit one sector of the business community over another by restricting competition. The fight to ‘Free the Growlers’ is a metaphor for fairness.” Uber and taxi company competition … “As technology advances, the state must adapt to protect consumers and ensure the safety of our citizens, while allowing for free-market competition and innovation.”

JANET CRUZ via Florida Politics

Local priority … “The Tampa Bay Area is in a tremendous position for growth over the next decade, and a big part of that is the revitalization of our downtown.” Special appropriations … “Hillsborough Community College is one of the leading community colleges in our state.” Expand health care coverage … “In policy, sometimes the simplest and most obvious answers are the best. Instead of trying to find ways of piecing together a plan, the Legislature should do right by the people of Florida and expand Medicaid coverage.”

SHAWN HARRISON via Florida Politics

Local priority … “The move of the USF Medical School to downtown Tampa.” Special appropriations … “Funding the Manatee Hospital upgrades at Lowry Park Zoo, the state’s only dedicated facility for the treatment of injured manatees.” Expand health care coverage … “I am open to the expansion of health care for Floridians based on free market, private enterprise models. I do not favor a ‘Take it or leave it’ dictate from the federal government.” Medical marijuana bill … “I did not support Amendment 2 but I agree that there are appropriate applications for medical marijuana as long as it is for limited and specified conditions. Growler debate … “I see no reason why they should not be available.”

CHRIS LATVALA via Florida Politics

Local priority … “There are some local funding requests that I’ve received – some veterans projects, a Clearwater water project and substance abuse project.” Special appropriations … “Also, a collaboration with Pinellas TASCO and Pinellas County Schools with Tampa International Airport that includes one high school in each of the counties and the Pinellas school is Clearwater High.” Expand health care … “I’m not on any health care committees, but I have met regularly with parties and constituents, but I’m not sponsoring bills in that area outside of the substance abuse.” Growler debate … “We can have 128-ounce growlers and the smaller ones. Why shouldn’t they also be able to have a 64-ounce beer. That to me is a common sense issue.”

ROSS SPANO via Florida Politics

Local priority … “Although the issue of human trafficking is not exclusively a local one, it has a significant local impact.” Special appropriations … “… appropriation to pay for pediatric dental equipment for the new Pediatric Dental Residency Program at the Brandon Community Health Center.” Expand health-care coverage … “If it were completely up to me, I would create a structure whereby the most needy have the ability to use their subsidized premium to shop for their own health insurance policy on the private market, one that fits their particular needs. Medical marijuana bill … “I am undecided at this time whether I will support the Brandes/Steube marijuana legislation … important for the Legislature to take up, vet, and decide the issue …” Growler debate … “Very simply, I would legalize local brewers’ ability/right to sell 64-ounce growlers on site.”

STATE REP.-TO-BE PAUL RENNER via Florida Politics

Local priority … “We need to continue to promote policies that encourage economic growth and job creation. … The most important issue in every local community.” Special appropriations … “ … several water and beach restoration projects in District 24 that deserve funding, including a project to address flooding issues in the Malacompra area of Flagler County and beach restoration in Summer Haven in St. Johns County, among others.” Expand health-care coverage … “ … One-size-fits-all mandates in an area as complex as health care simply do not work and we need to fundamentally change our approach.” medical marijuana bill … “We need to let science drive this debate and move cautiously.” Growler debate … “If elected, I will vote to allow 64-ounce growlers.”

***Smith, Bryan & Myers is an all-inclusive governmental relations firm located in Tallahassee. For more than three decades, SBM has been working with our clients to deliver their priorities through strategic and effective government relations consulting that has led us to become one of Tallahassee’s premier governmental relations firms today.***


The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee … sent a 14-page letter to the Office of Compassionate Use asking for an explanation of a proposed rule for the Charlotte’s Web law.

JAPC’s chief attorney Marjorie C. Holladay asked OCU director Patricia Nelson to explain how the Department of Health reached the conclusion that a statement of estimated regulatory costs would not trigger a review of the rule by the legislature.

Nelson had guided a negotiated rule making committee in crafting a rule that came in about $60,000 under the threshold in annual regulatory costs that would require lawmakers to approve the rule.

Holladay noted if any nursery would apply for a license in more than one region then costs may exceed the $1 million threshold requiring legislative ratification of the rule.  Holladay also observed that the rule did not include a biennial renewal fee.

“Depending on the amount of this fee, the statutory threshold for legislative ratification could be triggered, especially because there will be three renewal fees to be paid by the five dispensing organizations seeking renewal with five years after implementation of this rule,” wrote Holladay.

JAPC also has questions about the criteria to be used in each step of authorizing a licensee to begin cultivating, processing oil from the plant and dispensing a medicinal product.

JAPC is seeking additional information how points will be awarded to applicants when describing plans to meet OCU’s goals.

***Capital City Consulting, LLC is a full-service government and public affairs firm located in Tallahassee, Florida. At Capital City Consulting, our team of professionals specialize in developing unique government relations and public affairs strategies and delivering unrivaled results for our clients before the Florida Legislature and Executive Branch Agencies. Capital City Consulting has the experience, contacts and winning strategies to help our clients stand out in the capital city. Learn more at***


The chair of the state board charged with deciding whether All Aboard Florida will get $1.75 billion in tax exempt bonds resigned his post earlier this year, leaving the committee with one member and three vacancies the Governor’s office is trying to fill.

Peter Tesch, a member of the Florida Development Finance Corp. board for eight years, said … that he recently joined other organizations and needed to devote more time to them.

But Gov. Scott’s spokesman John Tupps said his office never received Tesch’s resignation and still considers him a board member. The other member on record is Rebecca Reynolds, Tupps said. State law says the board should have five members, three of whom are supposed to be bankers nominated by Enterprise Florida.

“Right now our appointments office is actively reviewing applications for this board,” Tupps said.

Tesch’s exit comes as a deadline nears for All Aboard Florida to market its private activity bonds. The Florida Development Finance Corp., or FDFC, acts as a conduit issuer for tax-exempt bonds for Florida businesses.

All Aboard Florida, which has plans to run express passenger trains between Miami and Orlando on the FEC tracks, has until July 1 to issue the bonds, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provisionally approved the debt plan in December.


Environmentalists continued pressuring state lawmakers … to steer a big chunk of voter-approved conservation money toward buying U.S. Sugar land for water storage.

In a conference call with reporters, representatives of the Everglades Foundation, Everglades Trust, Audubon Society and others said the at least $350 million purchase of some 46,000 acres was key to preserving the fabled River of Grass and improving nearby estuaries fouled by runoff.

The 2015 Legislative Session begins … and the fate of the sugar land will probably be decided over these next two months. Amendment 1, approved by 75 percent of voters last fall – including a state-best 85 percent in Palm Beach County — will set aside one-third of real estate transaction taxes for conservation programs.

That amounts to a forecasted $757.7 million next year and $22.6 billion over the 20-year life of the program.

But Speaker Crisafulli … rejected the idea of a big land buy. He says the state is better off managing the environmentally sensitive land it already holds, rather than adding to the inventory.

Crisafulli and other Republican leaders who control the Florida Legislature want the Amendment 1 The debate is certain to become tangled up in partisan politics, environmental science and the always risky prospect of having U.S. Sugar as a reluctant selling partner.


Florida Crystals Corp. warned … that the environmental alliance calling for the state to use Amendment 1 funds to purchase U.S. Sugar lands located south of Lake Okeechobee could “derail” long-term Everglades conservation plans.

In a statement … Florida Crystals Vice President Gaston Cantens criticized an earlier announcement by the Everglades Trust urging lawmakers once again to support the sugar land purchase with money from the water and land conservation measure approved by voters in November.

“The state cannot allow the Everglades Foundation to once again derail restoration,” said Cantens. “It was only a short time ago that the Foundation coerced a Florida governor into stopping meaningful projects in order to waste restoration dollars on needless land acquisition.

“The state has more than 100,000 acres already in public ownership for Everglades restoration,” he added. “It’s time to stay the course and use that land for restoration work.”

Florida Crystals is asking the state to follow (HB 7065) approved by legislators in 2013 and signed into law by Gov. Scott. The law provides $880 million for Everglades restoration, including $32 million annually for cleanup of run-off water from South Florida farms.


The outlook might get brighter next week for the Everglades Foundation and its allies, but for now their voice crying out to buy U.S. Sugar Corp. land is like a wolf howling in the middle of the Tundra.

As far as I can tell, no legislative delegation in South Florida has made a 2015 priority of spending $350 million for the company’s 46,800 acres. … Not one. … That’s zero delegations

Even in Palm Beach County, ground zero for the Everglades Agricultural Area, the county lists its environmental priority for Everglades restoration funding this way: “The County supports State funding of at least $100 million for Everglades Restoration, particularly for shovel-ready projects located in Palm Beach County. The County also supports the State’s efforts to persuade the Federal government to allocate additional funds for Everglades Restoration.” … Shovel-ready projects, not sugar land.

FIGHT LOOMING OVER SOLAR PROPOSAL via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

Power companies and a coalition of unlikely political allies are squaring off over a proposal that could lead to large box stores selling solar-generated electricity without utilities getting a cut.

The groups want to allow businesses to sell solar power directly to customers without going through a utility company.

Floridians for Solar Choice, a political committee formed in December, is proposing a constitutional amendment that would take the proposal directly to voters in 2016. The group is comprised of an odd coalition of political partners that includes Tea Party groups who see the proposal as pro-free market, and environmentalists eager to boost Florida’s usage renewable energy.

They want to completely exclude the Public Service Commission, a panel of utility regulators appointed by the governor.

The coalition terms them “unelected bureaucrats.” The ballot initiative would also allow residential — not just commercial — solar sales, and not allow utility companies to charge any fees if solar usage rates drastically expand, which is allowed in Brandes’ bill.


Richard Swarttz will continue in his role as Chief Financial Officer of the Republican Party of Florida, Chair Blaise Ingoglia said today.

In a statement, Ingoglia also named Nancy Watkins and her firm, Robert Watkins & Company, as outside compliance accounting consultants for the party.

“I am pleased to announce that Richard will continue to serve our party in this role and that Nancy and her firm will be serving the party as our outside compliance accounting consultants,” Ingoglia said.  “We are continuing to work diligently to put an infrastructure in place at the RPOF that will deliver us victories in 2016.”

A Philadelphia native, Swarttz moved to Tallahassee in 1998. He is an experienced Certified Public Accountant, Notary Public and an adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. Swarttz also acts as tax instructor for H&R Block.

Initially hired as RPOF comptroller in July 2003, the party promoted Swarttz to CFO in March 2008.


Samual J. Ard, Ard, Shirley & Rudolph: Hialeah, Inc. et al.; Rosier & Company, P.A.

Joshua Aubuchon, Mark K. Delegal, Holland & Knight: ESG Kullen, LLC; North Springs Improvement District

Louis Betz, Louis Betz & Associates: Epperson Ranch, LLC

Taylor Patrick Biehl, Jeffrey B. Sharkey, Capitol Alliance Group: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust, Inc.

Donovan Brown, Colodny Fass: Florida Peninsula Insurance Company

David Ramba, Allison Carvajal, Ramba Consulting Group LLC: Sarasota County

Christopher Coker, Coker Consulting LLC: Windmill Farms Nurseries, Inc.

Catherine Craig-Myers: Florida Juvenile Justice Association

Mercer Fearington, Jim Smith, James McFaddin, Southern Strategy Group: Sogeti USA, LLC

Brittany Finkbeiner, Dean Mead: Marriott International, Inc; Pinellas Education Foundation

Marty Fiorentino Jr., Thomas Griffin, Joseph G. Mobley, Mark Pinto, The Fiorentino Group: Alachua County, North Florida School of Special Education; Surgical Care Affiliates

David Francis: American Heart Association

Michael Hightower, Holland & Knight LLP: The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association

Michael Jennings: Prudential Financial, Inc

Todd Steiby, Jessica F. Love, GrayRobinson PA: Dunn Village, LLC

James Massie: Reinsurance Association of America

Kim McCray: Dosal Tobacco Corporation

Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: Florida Council for Behavioral Healthcare; Navient; Orange County

Rhett O’Doski, Sean Stafford, Advantage Consulting Team: Florida International University Foundation

William Peebles, Peebles & Smith LLC: City of Cape Coral

Tara Reid, Strategos Public Affairs: Clay County Utility Authority; Teachtown, a Division of Jigsaw Learning, LLC

Cari Roth, Dean Mead: Pinellas Education Foundation

Daniel Russell, Jones Walker LLP: The Stronach Group

Jenna Marie Simonetti: Enterprise Florida, Inc

William Stander, Whisper LLC: American Fire Sprinkler Association-Florida Chapter; Florida Fire Equipment Dealers Association

Derek Whitis, Whitis Consulting, LLC: Florida Property & Casualty Association, Inc.

Robert Scheffel Wright: City of Vero Beach


Marty Bowen, a former state representative and the first Republican woman in Florida to serve as House Majority Leader, has joined Bob Levy’s lobbying shop.

Bowen served in the House in 2000 and would go on to to serve four consecutive terms in Polk County-based District 65, terming out in 2008. Her legislative career was capped with stints as Majority Leader in 2006 and Speaker pro tempore under Speaker Marco Rubio in 2007.

Robert Levy & Associates’ represents an array of statewide organizations such as the Florida Nurses Association, and the Florida Community Financial Services Association and Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida.

According to lobbyists compensation reports, some of their highest-paying clients are Baptist Health South Florida and University Area Community Development Corporation.

Bowen joins principal lobbyists Levy and Jose Diaz as well as Erica Chanti at at the firm, which has offices in Miami and Tallahassee.

***Things will be great when you’re downtown at 101 RESTAURANT and MINT Lounge in Tallahassee. 101 Restaurant has been voted the best meal in the Capitol City featuring steaks, seafood, and specialty cocktails. We offer $8.99 lunch specials all week long that include pastas, pizzas, burgers, wraps and salads. Mint Lounge is upscale and classy, and it’s the best place to enjoy live music and a good vibe. — $8.99 lunch specials; If you are not served in 15 minutes or less, your meal is on us! — Double Happy Hour 4:00-7:00 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.- 12:30 a.m.***


On Context FloridaAs a Florida man “of a certain age” with a wife and two daughters, Daniel Tilson is sick and tired of pandering politicians putting so many of our beloved women at risk every year during the state’s 60-day legislative session.  Associated Industries of Florida President and former House Speaker Tom Feeney believes environmentalists are unfairly attacking water policy put forth by the Florida House. Florence Snyder notes it was a full house at the Feb. 20 funeral mass for Gerry Jaski, 79, who passed away peacefully at his home in Tallahassee with his wife, Mary Lou Rajchel, and his rescue dog Bones by his side. Jaski was both a lawyer’s lawyer and, as a longtime general counsel, a Florida State University institution. Former Democratic state senator Dan Gelber offers a version of Rick Scott’s State of the State that Floridians should hear: “The state of our state is strong, but mostly for a select few. … For the one in four Florida children living in poverty today, the state of our state is fragile.”

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Political Connections, the Tampa Bay area’s version of Meet The Press, has featured Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith as its co-host along with Al Reuschel since 2006.

But that relationship will end after the March 8 broadcast. Smith’s name has already been removed from the program’s website.

That news was omitted on Thursday when the Times reported on their new joint broadcast with WTSP-Channel 10, to be called 10 News Sunday Morning With the Tampa Bay Times that debuts this Sunday. Sources say that the wheels were put in motion for Channel 10 and the Times to collaborate after Bay News 9 creator Elliot Wiser left to become the president and general manager of WTSP in the summer of 2013.

The Times‘ did report that their relationship with Bay News 9 was “expiring.”

‘HOUSE OF CARDS’ DEALT NETFLIX A WINNING HAND via Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press

Even if it never wins another award, “House of Cards” already ranks among the most influential series in television history.

The political drama launched Netflix’s expansion into original programming two years ago, a risky bet that might have toppled the Internet video service had “House of Cards” flopped and squandered its estimated $100 million investment. Instead, the show was an immediate hit with viewers and critics, giving Netflix the financial clout and creative firepower to further transform how we watch and define “television.” And it spurred other online services such as Inc. and Google’s YouTube to spend more on their own original content to create shows that rival those produced by broadcast and cable channels.

Season three debuted … giving fans a chance to see Frank and Claire Underwood continue their machinations, now from a hard-won White House perch. The show marks just one of more than 20 original series or movies that Netflix is scheduled to show this year. Producing that much original content would have seemed like a long shot before “House of Cards” first established Netflix as more than a convenient and cheap way to watch recycled TV series and movies previously released on DVD. Launched in February 2013, “House of Cards” was among the first major series to release an entire season at once, a move that fed into viewers’ desire to devour several episodes at a time instead of having to wait a week to see another installment.

Many analysts now view “House of Cards” and Netflix’s other award-winning series released a few months later – “Orange is the New Black” – as turning points in the company’s evolution, similar to the impact “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” had for HBO. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings now regularly likens the company to the HBO of the Internet.

Just how many Netflix subscribers have watched “House of Cards” remains a mystery because the company has refused to reveal the viewership of any of its series. But this much is clear: “House of Cards” came along at a pivotal juncture for Netflix.

NEWS YOU CAN USE — TWEET, TWEET: @ClevelandClinic: Men who had up to 7 alcoholic drinks per week had 20% lower risk of heart failure compared w/those who didn’t drink (European Heart Journal)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Steve Kurlander, Ralph Lair, and Sally West. Celebrating today is Brooke Baumann, Manny Diaz, Jr. Sagar Sane, and our good friend Mollie Holden.

REST IN PEACE, KEN PLANTE via Lucy Morgan of the Tampa Bay Times

Former state Sen. Ken Plante died Sunday night after a three-year battle with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

 Plante, 75, was hospitalized last week as his condition worsened.

A Republican born in Orlando, Plante was elected to the Senate from Winter Park in 1967. He left the Legislature in 1978, but remained in Tallahassee as a lobbyist for a number of commercial clients and Gov. Bush.

Bush, now exploring a run for president,  visited Plante at his home last month during a fundraising trip to Tallahassee. Plante left his private lobbying clients to become director of legislative affairs for Bush after he became governor in 1999.

Bush said Sunday night that Plante met “the terrible diagnosis in the way he seemed to face all challenges – with great courage, incredible resolve, and unwavering faith.”  Bush noted that “Ken was a steady hand, and provided our team with the much needed reassurance that ‘everything would be okay in the end’ during our first legislative session. We were chaotic, but Ken was always calm, and his experience helped us navigate the process.”

Plante was an uncommon lobbyist, esteemed by legislators, governors and his fellow lobbyists. 

Plante often talked about his growing dislike of the influence of money in the political process where he worked for more than 30 years.  In the final years of his life, Plante worked with former Gov. Reubin Askew and others to try and draft a constitutional amendment to limit the money political candidates can raise and spend. They wanted to find a way to impose limits despite various U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have overturned many attempts to limit contributions.

With the death of Askew a year ago and Plante’s illness, the effort foundered and died.

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.

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