Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — March 23

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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: Happy birthday to Florida’s last Democratic governor, Kenneth “Buddy” MacKay, who celebrated his 82nd birthday over the weekend. MacKay served as the state’s 42nd chief executive for 23 days after the sudden death of Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1998. MacKay spent eight years redefining what a lieutenant governor could be – unlike most LGs before and since, MacKay was a true partner to Chiles, reflecting a distinguished career that also included service as a state legislator, congressman and presidential Special Envoy for the Americas. Gov. MacKay and his wife Anne have now been married for 55 years.

Now, on to the ‘burn…

DAYS UNTIL Sine Die: 40; the 2015 Election: 226; Florida’s presidential primary: 358; the 2016 Election: 596

5 QUESTIONS FOR WEEK AHEAD

1. How does Ted Cruz launching his bid for president on Monday impact the timetables of Jeb Bush and/or Marco Rubio?

2. With Patrick Murphy jumping into the 2016 race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat, what will be the reaction from a) Alan Grayson b) other Florida Democrats c) national Democrats d) likely GOP opponents such as Jeff Atwater e) the NRSC and f) the Florida GOP?

3. A $5 billion budget chasm separates the Florida House and Senate; which legislative leader, Speaker Steve Crisafulli or Senate President Andy Gardiner, will make the first step toward bridging that gap?

4. Will the Florida Legislature make progress on any of the “disruptive” issues up for debate in committee this week, including Charlotte’s Web, whiskey & Wheaties, and Uber?

5. It’s a foregone conclusion that incumbent Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and former Florida GOP Chair Lenny Curry will make it out of Tuesday’s general election, but what will the final numbers look like?

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FIRST IN SUNBURN — PATRICK MURPHY ANNOUNCES RUN FOR U.S. SENATE via Mitch Perry and Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy has declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016.

“It just boils down to where I think being in the U.S. Senate, we can really have a great impact,” Murphy told Florida Politics late Sunday afternoon by phone, giving his first interview after declaring that he is a candidate for office.

Murphy becomes the first official entrant from either party to announce his intentions for the seat currently occupied by Marco Rubio. The GOP incumbent has been ambivalent about his 2016 plans, seemingly leaning in towards a full fledged run for the presidency, creating a statewide seat that in a presidential year, Democrats fell they have a legitimate shot at.

Statewide Democrats are high on the 31-year-old Murphy (he turns 32 next week), and why shouldn’t they be? He’s shown an ability to win in a conservative leaning district, and demonstrate fundraising prowess. And if there was anything definitive that arose during Murphy’s first conversation with this reporter, it’s that his brand is so much about being inclusive. He’s a centrist with Democratic Party core values who sounds remarkably poised to try to transcend partisan politics, in a way that’s somewhat redolent of Barack Obama’s promise to bring everybody together in 2007-2008.

“Everybody I’m talking with – Republicans, Democrats, and independents – the common thread is that people are tired of the partisanship,” he said. “Tired of the gridlock up there. And that’s something that I campaigned on in my first race several years ago, and something that I’ve at least proven – to show that we can overcome and be someone who reaches across the aisle and get things done.”

… When asked about the perception by some Democrats that he’s too moderate, Murphy responds that he had a contested Democratic Primary during his initial bid for Congress in 2012.

“My stances cut across the political spectrum,” he said, clearly anticipating the question. “I’ve made it very clear, number one, that I’m a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. I vocally supported raising the minimum wage, and voted for it. One hundred-percent I support a woman woman’s right to choose. I support marriage equality. I mean, these are all issues that I ‘m very vocal about, and a strong supporter of.”

But then he quickly asserts that he supports cutting “wasteful government spending,” and fixing the tax code, though he didn’t provide specifics about how to do that.

On immigration reform, he’s quick to criticize Marco Rubio, one of the “Gang of 8” in the bipartisan Senate group that led the bill’s passage.

“He was for it, and then he was against it. He came out very vocally against it. So he’s been on both sides of that issue,” Murphy says regarding Rubio’s leadership on that pivotal issue. He says he still has hopes that House Speaker John Boehner will bring the bill before the House of Representatives, though that appears will never happen.

Quizzed about President Obama’s negotiations regarding a nuclear deal with Iran, Murphy was much more ready to denounce the 46 GOP Senators who joined Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton in signing off on a letter to Iran’s leaders warning that a future U.S. Congress could reverse any nuclear deal. He calls it “reckless,” and “ill-advised.”

“Anything that’s done as it relates to foreign affairs in such a partisan issue is dangerous,” he says. “Anything that is written to the Ayatollah, only bolsters the credibility of the Aytahollah, and makes it that much tougher for any type of diplomacy to take place. “

GET SMART FAST ABOUT MURPHY

In a great year and district for the GOP, this Democrat won big anyway” via National Journal

House over-performers vs. under-achievers” via The Cook Political Report

Murphy will decide on Senate bid whether Rubio’s in or out” via The Treasure Coast Palm

HISTORY SHOWS PATRICK MURPHY FACING TOUGH ROAD IN POSSIBLE 2016 SENATE RUN Full story here

Murphy represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which covers much of the Treasure Coast. He was re-elected with nearly 60 percent of the vote, in a District that President Barack Obama lost in 2012. He does offer a more moderate voting record: National Journal ranked him 190th (out of 200 Democrats) most liberal in 2013. That could prove helpful in a statewide general election.

In response, the folks at Smart Politics crunched the numbers for Florida U.S. representatives making the transition to a Senate seat.

History shows that Murphy, if he runs, could face a rough road ahead.

Smart Politics found that sitting or ex-Florida U.S. representatives were successful in only two of 17 Senate races since 1970 (11 percent) and four of 21 (19 percent) since the introduction of direct elections a century ago.

In the last four Senate elections, six U.S. House members from Florida have been unsuccessful: Republicans Bill McCollum (2004), Katherine Harris (2006), Dave Weldon (2012) and Connie Mack IV (2012), as well as Democrats Peter Deutsch (2004) and Kendrick Meek (2010).

In 45 years, two general elections had both candidates facing off who already served time in Washington: Republican Connie Mack III, who defeated Buddy MacKay in 1988, and Democrat Bill Nelson, who won over Bill McCollum in 2000.

STEVE SCHALE: PATRICK MURPHY GIVES DEMS BEST SHOT AT U.S. SENATE SEAT Exclusive op-ed here

Democrats running for the Senate in presidential years consistently outperform the presidential nominee. Even in loses, no Democratic nominee for the Senate has under-performed the Presidential nominee since 1980. And I imagine if I looked back further, this trend extends for quite a very long time.

Now, Democrats shouldn’t be under any illusions that winning the Senate race in 2016 will be easy. All three of the possible GOP nominees, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez Cantera and former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford are impressive in their own rights. I know the latter two are not as well-known as Atwater, but I know both of them personally and anyone who doubts their ability does so at their own peril.

Winning in 2016 will be expensive and require a candidate who can appeal across the political spectrum, and Democrats have a possible candidate who has proven he can go toe-to-toe with whoever wins the GOP primary: Patrick Murphy.

Let’s start by looking at his electoral success. In his two elections, Murphy has out-performed the top of the ticket both times. In 2012, in his expensive battle with Allen West, he out-performed the President by 3 points, and this year he out-performed Governor Crist by approximately 10 points. Murphy’s 20 point win in 2014 was even more impressive when you consider the gale force wind that Democrats faced during that cycle.   Particularly if the GOP nominates Jeff Atwater, who has proven his ability to win swing voters, having a candidate with the ability to win voters across the aisle will be key.

Murphy’s strength among swing voters means he will absolutely run stronger with whites than either Obama or Crist. For Murphy, an electorate that is 67% white, 14% black (African American and Caribbean), 16% Hispanic and 2% other — he is over 50% simply by getting 41% of whites and 55% of Hispanics, vote shares that are well within historic norms. By comparison, Castor in 2004 won in the mid-40’s among whites – and almost certainly would have won under a 2016 demographic model, and Nelson in 2012 ran 10 points higher than Obama among whites.

In addition, Murphy’s fundraising abilities, raising a remarkable $11 million in his two races, as well as the talent of his existing political team should excite Democrats.  He can and will put a very credible operation quickly.

Congressman Alan Grayson is rumored to also be considering a race, and some believe he is a better candidate. I am not in this camp. His 18 point shellacking in 2010 to Dan Webster should give Democrats real pause at his ability to compete with independents and swing Democrats and Republicans.  And frankly, I do not buy the argument that he can somehow drive turnout — in presidential cycles, presidential candidates drive turnout. His style may work with some base voters (though not this one), but I don’t believe he can be a competitive statewide candidate. He can probably stay in his congressional seat as long as he wants, though if he runs for the Senate, my friend Senator Darren Soto will make an excellent member of Congress.

Along the same lines, Murphy gives progressives plenty to be excited about. He’s pro choice and has been a consistent champion for gay rights. He supports comprehensive immigration reform, has voted to increase the minimum wage, and has opposed GOP cuts to Medicare and social security. But at the same time, he’s been a moderate on taxes and economic issues, something important to winning in Florida, as cutting taxes for the middle class and turning the economy around were the two central positive messages that helped us carry swing voters for Senator Obama in 2008.

I’ll be honest, when I first met Patrick Murphy, he was very green. But in the six years since he entered the political scene, he’s matured into a seasoned pro, ably guided by Eric Johnson, who is one of the smartest on my side of the aisle. He’s been tested by two tough races, but yet he’s fresh enough to the game that he offers a new and compelling candidacy, and in my opinion, the best shot we have at taking back Bob Graham’s Senate seat.

Unless of course, Bob Graham wants to run. 🙂

A FUN STORY ABOUT MURPHY’S YODA, ERIC JOHNSON Full story here

Anyone who knows Murphy’s Chief of Staff Eric Johnson knows that he is far more than a trusted confidant or political adviser. Eric has been the strategic counselor and, to some degree, a spiritual mentor to the rising star of Florida’s political elite.

Some – and by “some,” I mean those of us who know Eric and are geeky sci-fi whackos – might even consider Eric to be to Patrick what Yoda was to young Luke.

I know this is eye-rollingly cliché and borderline trite. I get that.

But the analogy works when you consider that Luke always had potential – and it took the Jedi Grand Master, doubtful at first, persistent in the end – to help steer the young man to his higher destiny. It was Yoda who counseled patience. It was Yoda who stood by his side when things seemed bleakest. When Murphy was going to get squished by Lois Frankel, Eric offered sage wisdom (like, get the hell out of the way of that freight train). When many felt Murphy should have jumped into the governor’s race, and avoid the inevitable defeat in a GOP wave election, Eric’s counsel and his call for patience won out.

Still seems awfully cliché, doesn’t it?

And now as Patrick has seemingly cleared the field – Charlie out; DWS out; Alex Sink never in – of serious primary opposition, it seems to, at least to this writer, that Patrick Murphy is now ready to assume his rightful place near the top of the ticket.

And there is one other thing that makes the analogy really work. Six years ago in a tattoo parlor in Fort Lauderdale, Eric Johnson walked in to get a tattoo.

Eric Johnson? A tattoo?

Who knew?

It’s not the fact that a grown man would decide to have his arm permanently inked. It’s that he chose an image that would reveal something of his inner self.

Yes, Eric Johnson has been sporting a fairly large tattoo of the Grand Master of the Jedi Order on his upper left arm.

MORE ON JOHNSON here

Fresh out of high school, Johnson ran for the Palm Beach County School Board. He lost but went on to volunteer and work on Democratic campaigns. Some of his biggest accomplishments have been working as (Robert) Wexler’s chief of staff and campaigning with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.

Turning 44 this year, Johnson has been working in politics for about 28 years. His friend of 18 years and Deutch’s chief of staff, Joshua Rubin, said he learned the ropes of running campaigns from Johnson.

“If you want to get anywhere in politics you need to be loyal,” Rubin said. “And Eric [Johnson] definitely taught me that loyalty means everything in politics.”

… “He’s not shy,” Rubin said about Johnson. “He tells the truth whether it’s comfortable or not and that benefits members of Congress and candidates whether they like it or not.”

And even though Johnson doesn’t plan to stop campaigning any time soon, he hopes people will remember him for electing the right people into office and running hard-hitting campaigns.

“If I could, when it’s all said and done, say that I helped elect even one quality good-hearted person to office,” he said. “I’d be happy.”

IS THE GOP DOOMED TO LOSE MARCO RUBIO’S SENATE SEAT? via Jim Geraghty of the National Review

Electing a Republican to Rubio’s Senate seat — quite possibly going to be left empty as the senator runs for president in 2016 – is not Mission: Impossible for the Florida GOP. Just Mission: Extremely Difficult.

Rubio has made clear that if he runs for president, he won’t also run for re-election to the Senate. All signs point to a Rubio bid for the White House, meaning the Sunshine State can expect an open-seat race.

Look at the state from the perspective of an aspiring GOP senator. Florida has 10 media markets, most of them expensive, including the 13th-largest in the nation (Tampa-St. Petersburg), the 16th (Miami-Fort Lauderdale), the 19th (Orlando-Daytona Beach), the 38th (West Palm Beach) and the 49th (Jacksonville). Each of those markets is home to at least nine television stations and network affiliates. An aspiring senator has to raise enough money to get television ads up on the air in most or all of those markets, because there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to outpace the opposition through events and personal appearances alone. The primary will probably have more than a million voters. (More than 1.1 million Republicans voted in the GOP primary in 2012.)  Raising the money to meet these organizational challenges won’t be easy.

The GOP donor class, of course, will be focused primarily on the presidential race, and Florida’s donors will be particularly focused on the races of home-state candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. The presidential race will also dominate news coverage, suck up veteran political campaign staff, and absorb the energies of grassroots volunteers. The reward for the candidate who, in the face of these natural disadvantages, raises enough money to compete? He or she faces a state with extraordinarily complex demographics in both the primary and general electorates: Cuban Americans in Miami, a rapidly growing population of Puerto Ricans in the Orlando area, seniors all over central Florida, and socially conservative, rock-ribbed Republicans in the north.

That’s not to say there’s no hope at all. Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election last year over Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist might provide Republicans a blueprint: Scott’s team campaigned as the underdogs early in the cycle, hustled every step of the way, and got 240,000 more votes outside of South Florida than he had in 2010.

For the next 21 months, Florida is likely to be the center of the American political world. Everyone in politics already knows that the Republican presidential candidates’ hopes for victory hinge in large part on winning Florida, but the state will go a long way toward determining if the GOP keeps control of the Senate as well.

***Today’s SUNBURN is sponsored by Corcoran & Johnston Government Relations. One of Florida’s top lobbying firms, Corcoran & Johnston has demonstrated the ability to navigate government and successfully deliver results for clients, time and again. To learn more visit www.corcoranfirm.com.***

MORE 2016 COVERAGE…

HOT DOWNLOAD — THE MEERKAT ELECTION via Dylan Byers of POLITICO

Meerkat officially became the social media tool of the 2016 presidential election. The iPhone application, which allows Twitter users to stream live video footage to their followers, debuted at South By Southwest … now firmly caught on with politicians and political reporters. It’s not just the kids. Jeb Bush is meerkating. Dan Balz is meerkating. This is happening.

Dan Pfeiffer, the former senior Obama aide, was in Austin for South By Southwest this year and was quite smitten: “Everywhere I have gone here at South by Southwest… people are talking about Meerkat. And if that same discussion is not happening at every media outlet and presidential campaign around the country, they are making a huge mistake,” he wrote on Wednesday. “If 2004 was about Meetup, 2008 was about Facebook, and 2012 was about Twitter, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it).”

Pfeiffer lists four ways the new app will affect the political process: 1. This year’s “47 Percent Moment” will be on live video: Every minute — literally every minute — of every day of the campaign will be available live to anyone who wants it, no matter where they are. … 2. The lines between TV and print reporter will be further blurred: Meerkat will dramatically accelerate this trend. … 3. Greater engagement opportunities for Millenials … 4. The Value of a Campaign’s Twitter Followers Just Went Way Up. @BarackObama has 56 million Twitter followers… Now, imagine that 10 percent of his followers join Meerkat in the coming months — that’s a potential audience of nearly 6 million people at any given time, more than the Sunday Shows or any cable news programming could dream of.

I’m also not sure 2016 is really going to be “about Meerkat” the way 2012 was “about Twitter.” Meerkat is an enhancement to Twitter, it makes Twitter better, but Twitter is still the primary platform. … Pfeiffer is absolutely right about Meerkat’s revolutionary potential. And if Dan Balz is already on this thing, you probably should be too.

CAN BUSH FIRE UP THE BASE LIKE HE’S FIRED UP THE ESTABLISHMENT? via Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post

Bush’s nascent presidential campaign has already won over many of the big-dollar donors and GOP elites. What he needs to prove now is that he can win over the crowds.

Until visits to South Carolina and other early states this month, the former Florida governor hadn’t been on the campaign trail for himself in 13 years. He hadn’t sold himself to the deeply conservative, tea party-inspired crowds that have emerged as a driving Republican force in the Obama era. He’d never snapped so many “selfies” with admirers.

And he admits his delivery is a work in progress. “I’m learning along the way how to get better,” he told reporters in South Carolina this week.

And what has he learned? “I think if you’re on a long journey and you start at X, if you have any kind of aspirational nature in who you are, you’re expecting to get to 2X, 3X, 4X,” he said. “I’m goal-driven, and I can assure you I’ll get better at whatever it is I need to do.”

The exchange sums Bush up well. One moment he’s lofty; the next he’s granular. There are fleeting moments of personal connection, but mostly he’s proudly workmanlike — and unafraid to come off as the smartest guy in the room. He has a Bill Clinton-like ability to speak on multiple issues with fluency, but with a mechanical delivery in place of a friendly drawl.

MUST READ: THE EDUCATION OF JEB BUSH via Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard

Among themselves, Bush loyalists — a far-flung and, as these things go, not-terribly-numerous scattering of money men, campaign consultants, officeholders, former officeholders, admirers, party hacks, hangers-on, publicists, and mainchancers who have always found themselves a tick or two behind the curve — these loyalists are pretty sure Bush is a future president. … Since 1989, the Bushes have held a monopoly on odd-numbered presidencies. It’s time again, the Bushies reason.

You can be forgiven if you believe this pre-hatch counting of the chickens is cause enough to keep Jeb Bush out of the White House, if only to destroy the dearly held fantasy of political courtiers who have already contributed to two failed presidencies and now pine to work their magic in a third. Other Republicans have more substantial reasons to oppose him, or think they do, especially among the self-consciously conservative activists of the party. Bush’s enthusiasm for the Common Core educational standards and his advocacy of leniency for illegal immigrants apparently mark him as a “moderate,” a designation the political press has happily taken up.

At the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference, in suburban Washington, D.C., the mention of Bush’s name produced a round of boos louder even than the catcalls that rained down after a mention of Hillary Clinton. … Laura Ingraham had the ingenuity to combine the two conservative pariahs into a single candidate she called Clush: “We could dispense with this whole nomination process altogether—why don’t we call it quits and Jeb and Hillary can run on the same ticket?”

To understand the strangeness of the position that Bush finds himself in, it helps to look at his record as a practicing politician—a governor. When he left office in 2007, the verdict on his tenure was unanimous among Republicans, “moderates” and right-wingers alike. … Fred Barnes summed it up: After two terms in office, Bush was not only the best governor in America but also the most conservative. Moreover, Republicans assumed that he was the former because he was the latter: His success was directly attributable to his ideology. That he should now be condemned as a moderate is a new and unexpected lesson in the education of Jeb Bush.

Bush’s friends from those days say the unexpected loss (in 1994) was painful and disheartening, and probably the cause for as much soul-searching as a Bush can admit to. He said publicly that the campaign’s constant travel and absences from home had taken a toll on his family life. … “He became a better politician,” says Mac Stipanovich, who managed his first unsuccessful campaign. “He learned how to talk to people about things they care about.” Stipanovich contrasts the ’94 version of candidate Jeb with his brother W., a far more natural politician.

BUSH’S TEAM PLOTS VAST EFFORT TO WIN FLORIDA via Michael Barbaro of The New York Times 

The political apparatus surrounding Bush, determined to avoid embarrassment in a state that has vexed his party and family in national elections, is plotting a vast operation aimed at turning Florida into a bulwark for his presidential campaign, according to dozens of interviews.

The plan, code-named “Homeland Security,” seeks to try to neutralize two potentially grave but homegrown threats to Bush’s long-anticipated run for president: the likely challenge from a charismatic young Republican senator from Miami, Marco Rubio, who is expected to seek the Republican nomination himself, and a demographic drift within Florida that could doom Mr. Bush there in a fall campaign against a Democrat.

In what advisers said could amount to a $50 million undertaking by Election Day, Mr. Bush and his team are rushing to lock up Florida’s best-known political operatives, elected officials and campaign donors — offering them contracts, face time and blandishments, according to those who know of the tactics.

… Behind the scenes, those close to Bush are moving quickly to undermine Mr. Rubio. A close Bush ally, David Johnson, has taken over the state’s Republican Party as interim executive director and, in a blunt interview here, sought to discourage Mr. Rubio from entering the presidential race.

“I hope that is not going to happen,” Johnson said. “It’s going to cause a lot of problems in the state of Florida.”

He suggested that Rubio remain in the Senate, calling him “a young man that has a lot of potential.”

PARAGRAPH OF THE DAY from that New York Times piece: Inside the Governors Club, over a salad piled high and self-defeatingly with fried oysters, Mr. Stipanovich took attendance for his old friend. “He’s for Bush,” he said, pointing to one lawmaker. “So is he,” he said of another.”

TWEET, TWEET: @SaintPetersBlog: I would have never guessed that winning Florida would be key to the former governor of Florida’s campaign strategy.

TWEET, TWEET: @SaintPetersBlog: Oh, and whoever in @JebBush world named the plan to win Florida “Homeland Security” should no longer be in charge of naming things.

MORE JEB/MARCO READS

Columba Bush’s painful, unlikely road from Mexico toward the White House” via The Washington Post

Jeb’s Matt Drudge problem” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Jeb’s talk radio problem” via Michael Kruse of POLITICO

Marco Rubio has shown he belongs in the 2016 race” via Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post

NORMAN BRAMAN’S SUPPORT COULD PROVE PIVOTAL FOR MARCO RUBIO’S PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald

(Norman) Braman, the billionaire philanthropist, history buff and civic activist who four years ago orchestrated the ouster of a Miami-Dade County mayor, plans to bet big on Rubio as the Republican senator prepares for a 2016 presidential run. Braman won’t say how much he could donate to Rubio’s likely campaign, but the number is said to be around $10 million.

This eye-popping investment could signal conservative groups, including the Club for Growth and uncommitted donors such as Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson to keep open minds — and wallets — toward Rubio. Their support could give him the financial prowess to stay in the race for the long haul if, as expected, Rubio declares his candidacy next month.

Braman and other wealthy benefactors have had an outsize influence on campaigns since a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed unlimited contributions to political action committees known as “super PACs.” The committees have become candidates’ primary fund-raising vehicles, though they’re prohibited from coordinating with politicians once they formalize their candidacies.

“Norman Braman is a plus no matter what, but in the age of the super PAC, if a billionaire befriends you and really wants to assist your presidential aspirations, it can really go a long way,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida Republican lobbyist and fundraiser who is backing the all-but-declared candidacy of former Gov. Jeb Bush. “Usually these folks travel in circles where they have a great deal of influence over their friends and people who do business with them.”

A single affluent donor may not be “determinative,” Ballard added, “but I think it’s exceptionally helpful.” Bush and other GOP hopefuls have also lined up other billionaires’ support.

SPOTTED: Rubio, along with 25 A-list Tampa Bay Republicans, including Mike Corcoran, Matthew Blair, Vin Marchetti, and Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee. One invitee said $100,000 was raised for the Rubio Victory Committee.

MEANWHILE … TED CRUZ LAUNCHING PREZ CAMPAIGN TODAY via The Houston Chronicle

Cruz will launch a presidential bid outright rather than form an exploratory committee, said senior advisers with direct knowledge of his plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made yet. They say he is done exploring and is now ready to become the first Republican presidential candidate.

The senator is scheduled to speak Monday at a convocation ceremony at Liberty University in Virginia, where he is expected to declare his campaign for the presidency.

Over the course of the primary campaign, Cruz will aim to raise between $40 million and $50 million, according to advisers, and dominate with the same tea party voters who supported his underdog Senate campaign in 2012. But the key to victory, Cruz advisers believe, is to be the second choice of enough voters in the party’s libertarian and social conservative wings to cobble together a coalition to defeat the chosen candidate of the Republican establishment.

TWEET, TWEET: @DaveWeigel: By announcing so early, Cruz is giving up what Bush has now: A long in-between period to shake the $ tree. One reason: His is a bonsai tree.

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RICK SCOTT, STATE DOT REJECT TALK OF GAS TAX INCREASE DESPITE TRANSPORTATION DEFICIT via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida’s transportation system operates at a deficit with coffers so barren it will borrow to pay for almost all of its $9.1 billion in road and bridge obligations over the next year.

Making matters worse is that Florida could lose about $2 billion next year if a key federal transportation-funding program isn’t extended this year. Even if it is renewed, the program’s long-term prospects look bleak.

One possible remedy? Hiking the federal gas tax for the first time in 22 years to send additional money to the states, a long-dormant idea that has shown faint signs of life as gas prices have dropped to longtime lows.

Increasing the tax from its current 18.4 cents a gallon would raise billions more for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is set to go broke June 1.

But no one wants to talk taxes. Not in Washington, D.C., where antitax sentiments prevail. And definitely not in Florida, where Republican-controlled legislative and executive branches dismiss the idea.

“I strongly urge Congress not to raise the federal gas tax or any tax and instead come up with innovative solutions to fund priorities as we have done in Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott said … as he urged the nation to follow Florida’s lead in financing a “world class” system while cutting taxes.

Left unmentioned in Scott’s statement is that Florida relies heavily on a federal trust fund that is nearly insolvent.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ — CULTURE OF BRUTALITY REIGNED AT STATE PRISON via Julie Brown of the Miami Herald

The U.S. Department of Justice and state lawmakers have been taking a close look at DOC operations in the wake of a year in which inmate deaths spiked to new heights. The rise in deaths, some attributable to an aging prison population, followed a doubling of use of force by staff over a five-year span.

NWFRC, formerly called Washington Correctional Institution and located in the Panhandle, is one of the state’s most notoriously violent prisons, with a long history of complaints and lawsuits alleging the widespread use of chemical agents against its inmates.

Records reviewed by the Herald indicate that for years Northwest Florida wardens allegedly pressured corrections officers to “gas’’ inmates — spray them with various chemical agents — as a disciplinary measure, even if they had done little or nothing to disrupt the prison. The prisoners were sprayed even if they suffered from mental illness or health problems, such as asthma, records show.

One current Florida inmate who served time under (Warden Samuel) Culpepper at Northwest Florida and Apalachee Correctional, Harold Hempstead, said Culpepper would be brought in when a prison was experiencing disruption. One of the first things he would do, Hempstead said, was have corrections officers spray-paint the outline of footprints at every cell. When the prison staff called for an inspection, inmates were expected to stand precisely within the outline of the footprints.

“When they yelled inspection, you would get on those footprints or you would get gassed,” said Hempstead, a convicted burglar now serving time at Columbia Correctional.

This practice of random gassing, which officers came to call “the program,’’ was enforced more frequently by some officers than others.

Allegedly among the most feared was (Capt. James) Kirkland, who was repeatedly accused of spraying inmates for having filed grievances against him. In 2011, Kirkland and a sergeant were caught on video gassing an inmate even though he had allegedly obeyed orders to cease his disruptive behavior. Kirkland was disciplined, but inmates continued to file complaints about his incessant use of chemical agents.

THE GOV’S OFFICE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ THIS EITHER — “State employees are preparing for climate change, even as their governor bans the phrase” by Tristram Korten for The New Republic

JILTED IN NURSING HOME BIDS, 27 COMPANIES COMPLAIN TO STATE via Christopher Curry of the Gainesville Sun

The state’s first open competition for new nursing home beds in more than a decade opened the floodgates on applications. It now has brought a deluge of legal challenges from companies that did not win approval.

Twenty-seven companies have filed administrative challenges against the Agency for Health Care Administration. The firms say they should have received the certificate of need required to build or expand a nursing home ahead of the 22 projects that won approval and the several dozen other competitors rejected.

LAKELAND HOSPICE’S LICENSING ISSUES HAVE LOVED ONES WORRIED via Saundra Weathers of Bay News 9

A Lakeland hospice care service is facing licensing issues, and the loved ones of those who use their services hope to see those issues resolved soon.

Officials at Compassionate Care Hospice in Lakeland said they sent the proper paperwork to Agency for Health Care Administration but the state agency never received those documents. So now, the company’s license is technically expired.

With the company’s license in jeopardy, many people who use the service are scared.

In an emergency hearing this week attorneys for the Compassionate Care Hospice were given permission from a judge to keep their doors open while this is sorted out.

However, it could be another week before they learn the fate of their services.

Compassionate Care hospice has locations all over the country. Their Polk County location is the only one affected by this incident. Attorneys for the company say they’re confident they’ll get this issue resolved quickly so they can continue providing services to their patients.

In a statement the Agency for Health Care Administration said, “It is disappointing the company allowed their license to expire. AHCA has offered any needed direction to pursue a change to the current law.

STATE FORCING LAKELAND HOSPICE TO SHUT DOWN … OVER CLERICAL ERROR? Full story here

With the invaluable role of hospice in quality end-of-life care, why then has the State of Florida ordered one facility in Lakeland to shut down under threats of police action? It did. And it was over a paperwork error.

“Compassionate Care Hospice of Central Florida Inc. no longer holds a license to operate as a hospice, and if currently operating, must immediately cease operations and transfer all patients,” says the letter from Noel Lawrence, program administrator for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Is it possible that the State of Florida can be so heartless to terminally ill patients … over a bookkeeping mistake?

Geoffrey Smith, the Melbourne attorney representing CCH, filed an emergency writ of mandate in the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Polk County, asking to suspend the shutdown, and requesting an emergency hearing.

Smith says the hospice has already submitted its license renewal by mail. He insists the state is punitively attempting to deprive terminally ill patients of necessary care, at one of the worst times possible, all because of a “disputed clerical error.”

There is one thing that makes the entire situation particularly egregious. Under Florida law, the penalty for late filing of renewal paperwork is $50 per day, with an aggregate amount not to exceed 50 percent of the licensure fee or $500, whichever is less. That’s right – all this over $500. Max.

THE TEA PARTY AND THE SUNSHINE BOYS via Larry Thornberry of American Spectator

A constitutional amendment initiative being whooped up in Florida now would oblige the state to promote solar energy and allow home and business owners to generate and sell solar power. This movement is attracting some Tea Party support, though not as much as those promoting the initiative claim if the tea-party members I’ve talked to are typical.

Tampa advertising and marketing executive Tory Perfetti is chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, Inc., the group pushing the initiative. He describes himself as a lifetime conservative and Republican. He told me on the phone last week that his group’s amendment only seeks to open solar energy to the free market, where it will succeed or fail. This isn’t about the environmental movement or about replacing fossil fuels, he says. This claim would be more reassuring if almost all of the money financing this campaign didn’t come from traditional environmental groups hostile to the free market and to fossil fuels. The claim would be more credible if solar didn’t have such a bad record every time it has been allowed to compete.

 … (M)ake no mistake, most of the friends of this amendment are not friends of the free market. Perfetti’s group has generated support from something called the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida (as the name implies, a Libertarian-leaning Republican group), the Libertarian Party of Florida, and a business group, the Florida Retail Federation. But supporters also include the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Physicians for Social (leftist) Responsibility, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. This last group, an aged in the barrel left-enviro group, is the largest financial supporter of the ballot initiative.

***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.***

‘CHASM’ OF MORE THAN $4 BILLION DIVIDES FLORIDA LEGISLATURE via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press

Florida’s Republican-led Legislature has a budget “chasm” of more than $4 billion that is dividing the House and Senate with six weeks left to go in the annual session.

The two chambers … released their initial spending plans for the coming year and the differences are stark.

The House is proposing a nearly $76.2 billion budget, while the Senate’s budget is more than $80.4 billion. The rival budgets are just the starting point for what could be a lengthy, and contentious, round of negotiations between GOP leaders between now and early May when the session is scheduled to end.

The key reason for the gap represents a continued divide over healthcare spending — and whether Florida should join the ranks of other states that have accepted federal money as part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

The Senate is proposing to draw down $2.8 billion to pay for healthcare coverage to 800,000 Floridians who are currently not eligible for the state’s Medicaid program. The Senate also has crafted a proposal aimed at bringing in additional federal money for hospitals that treat the poor and uninsured.

Senate leaders made the move in part because extra money the state now receives from the federal government for hospitals is due to expire this summer. There is an anticipation that a new agreement can be worked out, but House Republicans opted for now to exclude any extra money for hospitals from their initial budget.

Senate Republicans have argued that Florida is refusing to take tax dollars that are coming out of the pockets of its own residents, but House Republicans have remained firm so far that they will not do anything that expands what they call an “ineffective” Medicaid system.

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: What @FLGovScott should notice: Despite higher overall amount in its budget Senate held back $2.6b in state $. House held back nearly $2.4b. … That means that both the House and Senate could — depending on where healthcare winds up — set aside money for tax cuts … Or the Fla. House & Senate could use state $ and not rely on more property taxes to pay for boost in school spending

HOW IT’S PLAYING: BUDGET ROLL OUT

Bradenton Herald, Florida House releases $77.1 billion budget – “The House budget is about $826 million less than Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget … included the LIP money … funds 113,651 positions, or 167 more than Scott’s plan.” Tampa Bay Times, Gov. Rick Scott’s tax cuts and education spending at risk in House and Senate … “Florida’s financial picture has changed dramatically … Scott, who’s gotten used to having much of his agenda endorsed … could be due for a disappointment.” Naples Daily News, State House, Senate budgets differ by $5 billion, mostly over health care – “ … the budget writing process is complicated because of a billion dollar health care funding fight being waged in the Legislature and another between the state and feds.” Bay News 9, State House, Senate budgets differ by $5 billion, mostly over health care – “The stage is now set for a showdown over Medicaid expansion. … includes money for expansion, while the House version doesn’t touch it.” Palm Beach Post, House and Senate state budget proposals miles — or at least $4.2 billion — apart – “… it adds another almost $3 billion Senate President Andy Gardiner maintains would be made available if lawmakers go ahead with the Florida Health Insurance Exchange (FHIX) plan that could draw additional Medicaid dollars.”

BACKERS OF ‘GUNS ON CAMPUS’ BILL ACCUSED OF INTIMIDATION TACTICS via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union 

Florida State University employees who spoke against “guns on campus” legislation this past week have received public record requests from a citizen asking them for documentation to prove or disprove if they were on the clock during that time or used any state resources.

Meanwhile, the NRA is encouraging its members to reach out to Gov. Scott, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner to complain about campus police chiefs who also attended the committee meeting to speak against Senate Bill 176.

The memo from Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist in Florida, takes issue with FSU Police Chief David Perry. As the head of the statewide association for university police chiefs, he corralled his colleagues to attend the Senate Higher Education Committee meeting … after being invited by Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

University of North Florida police Chief Frank Mackesy was among those in attendance but did not get a chance to speak because time ran out.

Hammer’s memo noted that a similar request for the chiefs’ attendance was also made later in the week that resulted in several attending a House committee meeting on Wednesday. Two days after the memo was written, Crisafulli’s office said he has received about 800 emails with the subject line Hammer suggested: “STOP USE OF TAXES — STATE FUNDS — FOR LOBBYING.” Gardiner received 700 emails.

Hammer told the Times-Union … that the police chiefs should have stopped short of saying they were against Senate Bill 176 and instead stuck to their professional opinion about the effect of the legislation on universities.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB’S UNSOLVED MYSTERY TO BE INVESTIGATED via James Call of Florida Politics

State Sen. Rob Bradley is preparing to free the Charlotte’s Web law from a bureaucratic swamp of lawsuits, hearings and workshops. He filed a shell bill, which his Regulated Industries Committee will take up.

SB 7066 states: “The Legislature intends to revise laws relating to low-THC cannabis. Section 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2015.”

The bill’s language will be available at least 24 hours before Tuesday’s 1:30 p.m. meeting. It will attempt to solve what State Rep. Matt Gaetz described as the “unsolved mystery” of injecting the Legislature into the argument between growers and the Department of Health on how to implement the Compassionate Medicinal Cannabis Act of 2014 without contributing to further delay …

“I hope the bill clarifies the law and expands it to help more people,” said Ron Watson, who represents marijuana interests and thinks the best way to help more people is to allow higher levels of THC. “As long as it’s non-smokable it is a medicine. (Right now) it’s like saying use aspirin for your heart attack but not your headache.”

Watson’s line of thinking accomplishes two ends. Authorizing more conditions to be treated with cannabis helps the bottom line of a nascent industry.

Section 2 indicates that Bradley intends to bypass rule making and implement the law by statute. That may be more difficult than it sounds. The Department of Health was to have had rules in place by Jan. 1. It, however, was caught in a vise created by lawmakers.

DOES BILL GALVANO HAVE ENOUGH CLOUT TO DELIVER ‘WHISKEY AND WHEATIES’ IN SENATE? via James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

A legislative effort to put together whiskey and Wheaties – a proposal backed by a future Senate president – may be fading. Last year, state Sen. Bill Galvano filed a bill to repeal the law that forces Walmart, Publix and other retailers to sell hard liquor in a separate store apart from groceries and other goods.

Galvano’s bill died last year, and he now is the Senate’s Republican leader and isn’t sponsoring individual bills.

The bill was introduced again this year (SB 468), sponsored by state Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican. … Senate Regulated Industries committee approved the measure, but only after amending it into a watered-down version.

The idea was to “tear down the wall” of separation, as proponents desired, and let liquor be sold in the same store.

Instead, the bill is now a compromise, still requiring a separate liquor store apart from a main store, but allowing for an interior doorway between the two so shoppers don’t have to go outside. The art of the compromise, however, sometimes means coming up with a solution that satisfies no one.

Walmart, which has been agitating for the change, still wants single-store integration for booze and other retail.

Galvano likes the amended bill, saying it’s a “major step in taking down some walls, literally and figuratively, that have existed for far too long.”

GAMBLING BATTLE LOOMING IN HOUSE via James Rosica for the Naples Daily News

The House’s comprehensive gambling bill should get its first hearing this week and the joke around the Capitol is that it contains something for everyone. … Something for everyone to hate.

Gambling opponents are calling the bill (HB 1233) a “detriment (to) Florida and its citizens” in ads, while the Seminole Tribe of Florida is smarting that it doesn’t play a bigger role in the state’s long-range gambling vision.

Meantime, casino concerns and pari-mutuels — the dog and horse tracks — are privately grousing about potentially having to compete.

State Rep. Dana Young, the Tampa Republican who introduced the legislation, says her goal was not to please all the interests.

“The primary purpose is to give members an opportunity to not only discuss and debate the status quo but also alternative visions for gaming in Florida,” said Young, the House Republican leader. “There are so many trade-offs and moving parts in this issue.”

Tribal spokesman Gary Bitner referred a request for comment to a question-and-answer session that Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming … questioned an assertion that the state would do better financially from the two casinos allowed under the bill — $350 million annually — than continuing a banked card game deal that gives the Seminoles rights to blackjack in return for around $250 million yearly paid to the state.

Nick Iarossi, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., said his client “applauds Rep. Young’s courage to bring forward legislation to fix Florida’s gaming environment.”

IN FLORIDA’S BEER WAR, THE GROWLER APPEARS TO BE WINNING via William March of The Associated Press

After a two-year political and public relations battle, Florida’s craft beer fans may soon be able to leave their local brewery with the preferred half-gallon refillable jug of the microbrew they love and retire their “Free the growler” T-shirts.

The Florida Legislature appears poised to pass a bill that would legalize 64-ounce refillable beer jugs or “growlers,” which are legal in every other state. Florida already allows quart and gallon growlers, but the popular half-gallon became a pawn in a battle over the complex laws regulating brewing and sale of beer. Politically powerful distributors of Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser, effectively blocked legislation legalizing growlers as they sought to preserve the legal structure on which their business is built.

The result was a political headache for the majority Republicans in the Florida Legislature. They appeared to side against the small businesses and entrepreneurs they profess to love, and in favor of government regulation.

“People sense that the big guy is beating up on the little guy and it just feels wrong,” said state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, a growler backer. “It’s been making the government look bad.”

She blamed the history of beer industry regulation and “the dominance of the beer distributor lobby.”

Grass-roots support and craft beer’s role as a tourism driver has changed the tide, Young said. “The outcry from the general public and the absurdity of the law is finally being heard.”

Under Florida’s three-tiered regulation system, brewers must sell to distributors, who then sell to retailers. There was a decades-old exception that allowed brewers to sell beer at their breweries, an exemption intended to allow Tampa’s Busch Gardens amusement park to sell beer to visitors.

Under a separate law enacted before craft breweries became popular in Florida, beer can only be sold in containers up to a quart or a gallon or more, which makes the half-gallon growler favored by beer enthusiasts illegal.

“It’s four U.S. pints — that means I can have two and you can have two,” said Carol Dekkers — just right for an evening at home with a craft beer. Dekkers, a Zephyrhills software engineer, calls the ban on half-gallon growlers “short-sighted and arbitrary.”

In last year’s legislative session, it appeared that the ban would finally be lifted, but beer distributors succeeded in adding conditions to legislation that craft brewers said would drive them out of business. For example, it would have forced all but the smallest breweries to sell their own bottles and cans of beers to distributors and then buy them back before they could sell them to brewery visitors. The bill died. This year’s bill by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is advancing with no such conditions.

Eric Criss, a lobbyist who represents Miller/Coors distributors, said the regulatory structure isn’t simply for distributors’ protection, but is intended in part to prevent large breweries from monopolizing the market.

WINDOW CLOSING FOR A COMPREHENSIVE MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL via Michael Pollick of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The window of opportunity for the Florida Legislature to pass a full-fledged medical marijuana bill is nearly closed, based on crucial committee agendas now posted for next week.

For the Senate version to go anywhere, it would have to be on the agenda of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Tuesday.

It isn’t.

Instead, the committee’s chairman, state Sen. Rob Bradley, plans to introduce his own bill on Monday to tweak the non-euphoric-pot-extract rules that were created by lawmakers last year.

In the House, state Rep. Greg Steube introduced a modified version of the Senate bill that limited the use of medical marijuana to patients with eight specific medical conditions. Even that bill failed to make the crucial committee agenda.

“If it is not on the agenda Tuesday, that is their last meeting, and therefore the bill will die,” Steube said.

Steube said it appears that the Legislature is simply going to revamp last year’s bill covering a non-euphoric variation of pot so that more patients can try it.

TWEET, TWEET: @MattGaetz: Get excited 4 the #NoTaxIsSafe tax cut rollout next week brought 2 you by @MyFLHouse

LEGISLATIVE MERRY-GO-ROUND

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

On: Ned Luczynski is now deputy staff director of the House Regulatory Affairs Committee.

On: Jesika Davis is the new district secretary for state Rep. Holly Raschein

On: Matthew McBride is the new district secretary for state Rep. Mike La Rosa.

TOP OP-EDS

‘FREE MARKET’ CONTACT LENS LEGISLATION COULD ENDANGER PATIENTS’ EYE HEALTH via Andrea Janoff for the South Florida Sun Sentinel

As the Chief of Cornea and Contact Lens service at Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry, I specialize in contact lens fittings and know the good, the bad and the ugly of contact lens use.

The “good” that comes from contact lens use is that millions of people achieve excellent vision and improved lifestyle with proper medical fitting and use of FDA-approved contact lenses. That said, contact lenses are a federally regulated medical device that, when abused, can turn the “good” into the “bad and ugly” by causing severe damage to the eye, including vision loss.

Legislation that has been filed in the Florida Legislature this year would make it easier for patients to be targeted and ultimately harmed by discount contact lens websites and retailers. Put frankly, “free market” legislation would drive an even larger wedge between the eye-care provider and the patient.

Online contact lens vendors have facilitated patients receiving contact lenses well beyond the prescription’s expiration dates. Some patients, who should have returned for an eye examination in one to two years for an updated contact lens prescription, were able to refill their old contact lens prescriptions online well beyond documented expiration dates.

As a doctor, I am terrified by the idea of the Florida Legislature further allowing a “big corporation” to make eye-care decisions, such as illegally extending a contact lens prescriptions or making substitutions for contact lens prescriptions based on price alone. I fear that the proposed free-market legislation is motivated solely by narrow economic interests and will only further erode the essential patient-doctor relationship, harming the eye health of my patients. Please defeat Senate Bill 1400 and House Bill 1119.

THE TIME IS NOW FOR COMMON-SENSE DAMAGES REFORM IN FLORIDA via Tom Feeney for Florida Politics

As with most issues, there is another side to legislation pertaining to punitive damages that is now being considered by the Florida Legislature. A Tampa Bay Times editorial, “Don’t change law to limit damages for Big Tobacco” … suggests that this bill is a bailout, and one that changes the rules long after the affected cases began. As president of one of Florida’s leading business organizations, I want to be sure your readers hear the other side of the issue.

Almost sixteen years ago, Florida’s legislature passed one of the best punitive damages laws in the country. This 1999 law provided reasonable limits on the amount of punitive damages that could be awarded in a lawsuit, generally 3 or 4 times the amount of compensatory damages. The law also established that punitive damages should not be awarded over and over for the same conduct. This very measured law, which I was involved in passing when I was in the Legislature, has no impact on compensatory damages.

The legislation … SB 978/HB 1067 … would simply ensure that sixteen years later this law would apply to every case in Florida. One would have thought that after all this time the law would apply to every lawsuit still before our courts, but that is not the case.

So who would be opposed to this common-sense reform? The answer is simple, trial lawyers. Why? The answer is also simple: the hundreds of millions of dollars in contingency fees they collect in litigation, including in cases with unlimited punitive damages, often awarded over and over again for the same conduct.

CONTEXT FLORIDA: HILLARY’S INEVITABILITY, UNIFORM CRIME REPORTS, AND CONSERVATION LAND

On Context FloridaMartin Dyckman believes that if Hillary Clinton’s aura of inevitability isn’t punctured fairly soon, the Democrats can look forward to one of those Titanic moments – when everyone realizes the ship is sinking and nothing can save it. Uniform Crime Reports are what every law enforcement agency turns in to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and ultimately to the FBI, for a snapshot of crime in a community. Shannon Nickinson believes both the Pensacola Police Department and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office are taking advantage of short-term statistical quirks to promote headlines of reduced local crime. Bruce Ritchie asks how much conservation land is enough for Florida. The answer isn’t “we have too much already” or “as much as possible.” The answer is the story of Florida’s future that’s still unfolding – just as it continues to do so in expanding neighborhoods.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

***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 www.capcityconsult.com.***

JACKSONVILLE, TAMPA HEAD TO THE POLLS ON TUESDAY

WITH DAYS BEFORE ELECTION, MAYORAL CONTENDERS MIX IT UP IN LIVELY, HEATED DEBATE via Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union

From city finances to violent crime, Jacksonville voters saw saltier and more lively mayoral candidates mix it up in the second and final televised debate … than in previous public forums.

The debate may have been a bit overshadowed for many potential viewers: The University of North Florida men’s basketball team’s short-lived NCAA appearance overlapped the hour-long mayoral debate. But that didn’t stop the four candidates from fighting to stand out in front of an engaged — and sometimes vocal — audience.

And while, in many respects, the debate was a rehash of what voters have seen from the candidates to date, the tone was sometimes markedly heated, with several direct back-and-forth exchanges between the contenders.

Mayor Alvin Brown, often under fire by his competitors, offered his most vigorous public defense of his four years in office to date, frequently laughing off criticism and stridently pushing back on suggestions he caved on key promises to hold the line on taxes and neglected crime-ridden parts of the city.

Lenny Curry, the best-funded Republican candidate, hit Brown on everything from his proposed pension-reform plan to the basic financial health of the city, while also embracing his former role as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, a position his opponents have used to blast him as little more than a party boss.

City Councilman Bill Bishop, a Republican who has struggled to keep up in fundraising and advertising, tried to position himself above the fray, decrying negative campaigning and offering himself up as the reasonable and experienced alternative.

ALVIN BROWN MAKES ‘CLOSING ARGUMENT’ IN RUN-UP TO ELECTION DAY via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union

Brown stood on a stepladder and unrolled a vinyl sheet … titled “100 Accomplishments for Jacksonville over the Last Four Years.” The first item on the list was “36,000 new jobs,” referring to the increase in jobs in Jacksonville since Brown took office.

The 100th item was “Rodman Dam Partnership with Riverkeeper.” That referred to a partnership between Brown, JAX Chamber, and the St. Johns Riverkeeper to seek removal of the Rodman dam in Putnam County in order to offset the environmental harm from deepening the ship channel in Jacksonville for bigger cargo ships to call on the port.

In between, the list covered a variety of city programs, nonprofit partnerships, grants, sports events, education, and national rankings of Jacksonville’s business climate.

“If you look at this list, we’ve done a lot,” Brown said. “We’ve done it by working together.”

He said Jacksonville residents should ask themselves if they are better off than they were four years ago, and he said the answer is yes. … Brown also had some praise for City Councilman Bill Bishop, who is running against Brown. …

“While Bill Bishop and I don’t agree on everything, the one thing I do know is he cares about Jacksonville. He puts Jacksonville first,” Brown said.

BROWN ARGUES WITH LGBT PAC MEMBERS AT OUTDOOR EVENT via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

Brown had an “open and frank conversation” that appeared to some observers to be more of a spirited dispute with Ben “Ben America” Weaver, a local Democratic activist, on Saturday afternoon at Hemming Park. The confrontation between Brown and Weaver, currently affiliated with the Northeast Florida LGBT Leadership PAC, had to do with LGBT issues.

Matt Killen posted a video to his Facebook page that showed Brown near the Jax Young Voters Coalition booth after the exchange. A female voice says, “He’s yelling at them, not talking to them” in what may be a reference to Brown.

A young man in an Alvin Brown campaign T-shirt trying to cover the recording device likely indicates the exchange was less than cordial. A different man then says, “It’s freedom of speech.”

Brown then walks away with purpose, as an unidentified voice calls out, “Bye, Felicia.”

On his Facebook page, Killen mentioned “Northeast Florida LGBT asked him some questions that he found off-topic, then they started screaming at each other,” Killen said, adding it “wasn’t very diplomatic on any party.”

The PAC did not endorse Brown in Tuesday’s election, instead backing Bill Bishop, who does support an inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. The mayor has been reluctant to take a position on the HRO, something many of his supporters expected since the 2011 campaign, but which has not happened this campaign. … With just two days before the election, any movement by Brown on the issue likely won’t happen.

NEGATIVE TAMPA COUNCIL CAMPAIGN RAISES MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS via Joe Henderson of the Tampa Tribune

If Jackie Toledo wins a runoff to represent District 6 on the Tampa City Council, she may well prove to be an outstanding public servant. She seems to have most of the bases covered. On her website, she makes sure we know she is an engineer, businessperson, mother, wife and leader.

She has a great interest in addressing Tampa’s transportation issues. That’s good.

A lot of people like her, and she seems to really want the job. I mean, she REALLY wants the job.

Actually, I don’t recall any candidate wanting to win a council seat as badly as Toledo. It is that drive to win and the way she is going about it that is making a lot of people nervous.

It’s not for the money.

City Council members make about $42,000 a year which, according to Glassdoor.com, is a little less than what a McDonald’s manager makes. One of their biggest responsibilities is to rule on zoning matters, which may seem arcane but can have a huge impact on the city.

Even so, these races are usually low-key. Most of the time, campaigns for the council consist of showing up at candidate forums, neighborhood meetings and sticking up some yard signs. Not this time. Toledo’s campaign against Guido Maniscalco has been so, um, aggressive it even drew a rebuke from four current members of the council she hopes to join.

YOLIE CAPIN & FRANK REDDICK ENDORSE GUIDO MANISCALCO IN TAMPA CITY COUNCIL RUNOFF via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Tampa City Council members Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick have endorsed Guido Maniscalco in his race for the District 6 Tampa City Council seat … the District 6 race has been an intense battle, though on paper, Maniscalco remains the definite underdog. Toledo took 46 percent of the vote on March 3, despite an onslaught of negative media coverage. Maniscalco barely made it into the runoff, getting 29 percent of the vote.

That media scrutiny has only increased on Toledo, though it’s mostly been about third-party mailers that have been derided as excessively negative.

Those negative mailers (which Toledo has denied any association with) led five of the seven current Council members to issue a statement … denouncing those tactics.

And it was those negative mailers, Capin said … at Gasper’s Grotto in Ybor City, that led to her deciding to support Maniscalco.

Capin and Reddick are Democrats, like Maniscalco. Toledo is a registered Republican. She has been endorsed by District 7 Council member Lisa Montelione.

REGIONAL NOTES

14 DISSOLVED ADOPTIONS IN MANATEE SPARK CONCERN, NEW COUNTY PROGRAM via Richard Dymond of the Bradenton Herald

Fourteen Manatee County parents have returned adopted children in 22 months, a rate equal to nearly 12 percent of all cases in the state over the same time period.

From February 2012 to December 2014, 14 adopted Manatee County children were sent back to the state for care, said Lucia Branton, director of media and external affairs with the Sarasota YMCA — Safe Children Coalition.

There were also four families combined in Sarasota and DeSoto who gave up children in that period, bringing the tri-county total to 18, Branton said.

From 2012 to 2014 the total of 65 counties in the state saw 119 adoption dissolutions in which children were returned to foster care after a finalized adoption. The 18 cases in the tri-county area make up a full 15 percent of all the state’s cases.

Branton called the trend a crisis, saying she hasn’t seen anything like this in the 16 years she has been with Safe Children Coalition.

“We have had more dissolutions recently than ever before,” she said.

The Sarasota YMCA has a contract with the Florida Department of Children and Families to serve as the child welfare provider for Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties. The spike in the number of children being returned was so alarming that the Safe Children’s Coalition called Manatee County government to try to find solutions.

LOOMING FUNDING CRISIS FOR UF HEALTH JACKSONVILLE COULD LEAD TO ‘CATASTROPHE,’ OFFICIALS WARN via Charlie Patton of the Florida Times-Union

UF Health Jacksonville, Northeast Florida’s only trauma center and only safety net hospital, could be forced to close its doors if the Florida Legislature doesn’t act to maintain its current funding level, officials of the JAX Chamber and the Jacksonville Civic Council warn.

“Any reduction in its current funding will put the hospital at risk of failure,” said a letter sent to the Senate president, the speaker of the House and the eight members of the Duval Legislative Delegation by the Civic Council, which represents about 70 CEOs and business leaders in Northeast Florida.

“If the hospital shuts down, it will be a catastrophe,” former Mayor John Delaney, chairman of the JAX Chamber, said during a news conference at UF Health’s Eighth Street campus.

UF Health Jacksonville has about 90,000 patient visits to its emergency department annually, including 4,000 trauma patients, many of those visits from people who are uninsured or underinsured.

About $95 million in funding, which represents about 17 percent of UF Health Jacksonville’s $550 million annual budget, is at risk. Since 2005 Florida has had a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid establishing a Low Income Pool, which last year provided about $2 billion in funds to support Florida’s 15 safety net hospitals. But the centers have said that waiver, which expires at the end of June, will not be renewed.

The Florida Senate released a budget proposal … that includes nearly $2.2 billion for the continuation of the Low Income Pool program.

State Sen. Aaron Bean … chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Health Policy, said that while the Legislature has no plan to expand Medicaid in Florida under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the Senate plan would greatly expand the number of people covered by Medicaid in Florida, extending it to anyone whose household income is below 138 percent of the poverty level.

SOARING NUMBER OF HOMELESS STUDENTS CONCENTRATED IN CENTRAL FLORIDA via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel

Nearly one-fifth of all homeless public-school students across the state now live in Orange, Osceola or Seminole counties — a fact some blame on the combination of cheap, rent-by-the-week motels and high turnover at low-paying tourism-industry jobs, local leaders said Friday.

With only a tenth of the state’s total population, the tri-county area identified more than 13,700 homeless students last year — including families doubled up with relatives, living in motels, staying in shelters, sleeping in cars and camping in the woods. The actual number may be twice as high, officials said, because parents are sometimes wary of revealing their living situation.

“Certainly we all have a moral obligation to do what we can for our children who are living in environments where … they don’t know what they’re coming home to from day to day,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who initiated the inaugural meeting of the Family Homelessness Committee. “Realize we aren’t talking about numbers. We are talking about real human beings and life-and-death matters.”

The committee is part of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, which covers the three counties and aims to find regional solutions to the vast and disproportionate number of homeless people here. Jacobs has expressed concern that the commission’s recent effort to house chronically homeless individuals would eclipse the needs of families.

But speakers made it clear that family homelessness would be much more complicated to solve.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ BUYS $1 MILLION CONDO IN ST. PETE via Nick Gass of POLITICO

Paul Wolfowitz, the former World Bank president and deputy defense secretary under George W. Bush, bought a condominium for just over $1 million at the posh 400 Beach Drive complex in St. Petersburg, Florida, according to Pinellas County records.

The visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington has ties to the area through his friendship with Republican grandee Mel Sembler and via his frequent visits to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, reports the Tampa Bay Times, noting that Wolfowitz’s father also once taught at the University of South Florida.

The two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo is part of the building that overlooks the North Yacht Basin and Tampa Bay, with the deed entered into record last October. Wolfowitz is also advising former Florida governor — and 2016 presidential hopeful — Jeb Bush on foreign policy.

***CoreMessage is a full-service communications and issues advocacy firm with the experience, relationships and expertise to help you get your message out. Connected at the state Capitol and throughout Florida, the CoreMessage team unites issues with advocates, messages with media and innovative solutions with traditional tactics to get results. Follow CoreMessage on Twitter and visit them on the Web at www.coremessage.com.***

CAMPAIGN STAFFERS IN THE CROSSHAIRS: IN THE AGE OF ATTACK POLITICS, EVEN AIDES ARE CONSIDERED FAIR GAME via Jonathan Topaz and Katie Glueck of POLITICO

The crosshairs are no longer trained solely on the candidates themselves: Staffers are now also considered fair game for opposition research hits — and campaigns are struggling to react to a world where the candidate isn’t always the focal point for attacks. … But there’s only so much time and resources that already-overstretched campaigns can devote to vetting potential staffers. Meanwhile, search engines and the electronic trail left by social media make it easier than ever for opponents to score a cheap point with a staff hit.

Digitally oriented staffers aren’t the only ones who have been laid low so far. Last week, after Bush hired Justin Muzinich to serve as policy director for his likely presidential campaign, Democratic opposition research group American Bridge immediately pounced. Muzinich’s hedge fund and Wall Street experience, the group said in a statement released shortly after the hire was made public, “certainly won’t do anything to help the perception that Jeb doesn’t represent the values of the middle class.”

MIKE GRISSOM RE-EMERGES

t’s been an interesting six months for Republican political operative Mike Grissom, someone we’ve described as one of the brightest minds in Florida politics.

After inexplicably leaving the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Florida quarterbacked Leslie Dougher’s unsuccessful re-election bid as Chair of the RPOF.

Since then, Florida political observers have been wondering where the highly-talented, sharp-minded Grissom would end up next. After all, you can’t keep a good man like Grissom down for too long.

We’re hearing that Grissom will soon be named the Vice President of Government Affairs at Enterprise Florida, the public-private organization charged with luring businesses to Florida. Such a posting would be a significant change-of-pace for campaign animal like Grisso

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: Nearpod, Inc.

Slater Bayliss, Sarah Bush, Chris Chaney, Justin Day, Stephen Shiver: The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Opternative, Inc.

Brady Benford, J. Larry Williams, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Realauction.com

Barney Bishop, III, Barney Bishop Consulting: Omnilink

Ron Book: Association of Credit Counseling Professionals; Miami-Dade Limousine Association

Matt Bryan, David Daniels, Jeff Hartley, Andrea Reilly, Smith Bryan & Myers: Delta Airlines; University of Florida Foundation

Charles Cilburn, New Capitol IT, Imager Software, SAIC

Dean Cannon, Larry Cretul, Rheb Harbison, Cynthia Lorenzo, Kirk Pepper, Richard Reeves, Capitol Insight: Camelot Community Care

Justin Day, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: More Too Life

Jim DeBeaugrine, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Therap Services, LLC

Marty Fiorentino, Thomas Griffin, Joseph Mobley, Mark Pinto, The Fiorentino Group: City Year; CSX Transportation; Vulcan Materials Company

Chris Floyds: Shmoop

Al Lawson: Leon County Board of County Commissioners

Kathleen Maus, Butler Pappas Weihmuller Katz Craig: Florida Justice Reform Institute

Kenney Shipley: Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association

Jim Spratt, Magnolia Strategies: City of Minneola

Alan Suskey, Suskey Consulting: Eclipse Energy Systems

Ron Watson, Watson Strategies: Florida Mental Health Counselors Association

Janet Zink: Hillsborough County Aviation Authority

PERSONNEL NOTE — GREG FOURNIER JOINS GRAVIS MARKETING via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer

Gregory Fournier recently joined Gravis Marketing as its new Director of Campaign Development.

The nonpartisan political market research company based in Winter Park … announced the recent addition of Fournier to their expanding group of political and marketing experts – a move that founding partner and CEO Doug Kaplan believes provides Gravis with exceptional value to its political campaign clients.

“It’s an honor to bring a political veteran like Gregory Fournier into the Gravis Marketing family,” noted Kaplan, who established Gravis Marketing in 2010. “Mr. Fournier is one of those rare individuals that have worked on multiple sides of the political landscape – fostering public policy for tax payer savings and working with several successful political campaigns. This unique blend of practical experience with a natural passion to expect excellence is a perfect fit for Gravis Marketing. We welcome him and are very excited about our future prospects.”

Prior to joining Gravis Marketing … Fournier served as the president and CEO of Spectrum Strategic. He is a member of the AAPC, a member of American Political Science Association and a member of the Center for the Study of the Presidency. … Fournier worked on Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, as well as the campaigns of John Mica and Chris McDaniel for U.S. Senate in Mississippi.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private-sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to one of the best people (sort of involved in Florida politics), Francoise Haasch, as well as Jacob Engels, Bill Helmich, Richard Gonzmart, TECO’s Chuck Hinson, Ash Mason, state Rep. Larry Metz, Paul Mitchell, Aakash Patel, Mary Repper, our very own Melissa Ross, and state Rep.-to-be Paul Renner, Jason Unger, and state Rep. Alan Williams. Celebrating today is state Sen. Kelli Stargel.

SPOTTED at the wedding of Veronica Dunkelberger, the daughter of longtime Capitol reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger and Tallahassee Magazine editor Rosanne Dunkelberger to Ben Schultz: Dave Mica; Dave Bruns and Linda Kleindienst; Steve Bousquet and Nancy Leikauf; Dara Kam; Florence Snyder; Mark Hollis and Lilly Rockwell; John and Jane Marks; Gil and Gail Stansberry-Ziffer.

TWEET, TWEET: @DWStweets: After spending so much time on the road this month, I’m so happy to have spent a couple days with my kids and husband in Key West.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.