Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for 9.20.16 – Peering into the Crystal Ball

in Peter by

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

PEERING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL

The electoral map is changing.

Florida is still a toss-up. States that once leaned Democratic now lean Republican.

Larry Sabato and the team at Sabato’s Crystal Ball revised its electoral map, showing a shift in the 2016 race for Republican Donald Trump.

The new analysis notes the team still believes “Hillary Clinton is more likely than Trump to win the election, and she still has the advantage in the Electoral College,” but says the tides have turned to favor Trump — at least right now.

“Yet it is equally apparent that she has stumbled badly in recent weeks, fueling Trump’s polling advance,” according to the analysis. “And the Republican nominee has more pathways to 270 electoral votes than he did before.”

The new ratings put Florida, Nevada and North Carolina in the toss-up column from “leans Democratic.” While Crystal Ball had tried to avoid the rating, the authors said they “assumed circumstances would eventually force our hand and push us to look at a few states as true coin flips.”

According to the analysis, the states were moved into the toss-up column because “polls have been close in all three for months.”

“There are reasons to think Clinton will still win each: She should out-organize and out advertise Trump in the trio, which may be especially vital in the Sunshine (Mega)State, as Politico noted,” according to the new analysis. “But Florida barely voted for Obama in 2012, and Clinton has had persistent weakness in Nevada.”

The analysis also moved Iowa and Ohio from “leans Democratic” to “leans Republican.” The new electoral rankings also moved several other states — including New Hampshire and Pennsylvania —  have moved from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic.”

But while the analysis noted the “Electoral College changes this week are considerable,” it also noted the majority still “leans toward Clinton — but just 272 electoral votes, a bare majority.”

NRA WORKING TO RUN UP DONALD TRUMP’S MARGINS IN RURAL AREAS via James Hohmann of The Washington Post – … boosting this effort with a $5 million advertising campaign focused on smaller media markets in battleground states. The group’s dramatic new commercial … features a woman asleep in bed when an intruder breaks in. Hearing glass shatter, she runs to get a gun. But, as she approaches, the safe with the weapon disappears. A narrator says it takes police an average of 11 minutes to respond to a 9-1-1 call. The spot ends with yellow police tape and cop cars parked in front of the house, leaving the ominous impression that something terrible has happened to the woman.

Hillary Clinton could take away her right to self-defense,” a female narrator says. “And with Supreme Court justices, Hillary can. Don’t let Hillary leave you protected by nothing but a phone.” Half of the $5 million buy will go toward broadcast networks in rural Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia – a few of which Trump needs to find a way to win. The other half will run on national cable, including Dish and Direct TV, which disproportionately serves rural communities … The NRA’s advertising complements Trump’s recent scheduling decisions. He’s campaigning in many out-of-the-way places that have not received attention from presidential candidates in recent memory.

HILLARY CLINTON IN ORLANDO TODAY — Clinton will be focusing on her policies regarding children and families during a speech she’s planning to give in Orlando at the Frontline Outreach Youth and Family Center, according to sources. The Christian center is a small venue – seating perhaps 500 on a good day – but its focus gives the Democratic presidential nominee the ideal backdrop for such a a speech. It’s one of the oldest non-profit organizations in the city and focuses on support for urban children and families. It’s located in the heart of one of Orlando’s most established black neighborhoods, Washington Shores. Her speech is set for 2 p.m., with the doors opening at noon. This will be Clinton’s first speech in Orlando, though she has appeared in Kissimmee and south Orange County. Her husband former President Bill Clinton appeared in another small Washington Shores-area venue just two weeks ago.

NEW CLINTON AD FOCUSES ON HER WORK WITH CHILDREN, FAMILIES via Florida Politics — The 30-second spot — called “Families Together” and released Monday morning — is meant to highlight what is at stake for Latino families across the country, according to the Clinton campaign. The ad, according to the campaign, is intended to contrast Clinton’s record with Trump’s immigration proposal. “Donald Trump’s plan: Tear families apart,” a narrator says in the advertisement. “Hillary Clinton, she’s made protecting children and families her life’s work. She began her career defending children with disabilities. As the first lady, she helped extend health care to 8 million children. And now fighting for immigration reform that keeps families together.” The TV and digital spot are set to air in Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

CLINTON FOCUSES ON AFRICAN AMERICAN MILLENNIALS IN NEW RADIO SPOT — The Clinton campaign released a new, 60-second radio spot Tuesday aimed at African American millennial voters. The advertisement attempts to lay out the importance of voting, and encourages listeners to register to vote. “It’s almost election time again. Thinking about staying home? Here’s some real talk. The difference between staying home and showing up is the difference between justice and injustice, healing and division, hope and despair,” a male narrator says in the advertisement. “Look, no candidate in any election is perfect but the choice is easy this time: Hillary Clinton. She’ll create more jobs, make college debt free, and change the laws that put too many brothers and sisters in jail for too long.” The radio spot will air in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH TO VOTE FOR CLINTON via Darren Samuelsohn of POLITICO – Bush, 92, had intended to stay silent on the White House race between Clinton and Trump, sign in and of itself of his distaste for the GOP nominee. But his preference for the wife of his own successor, President Bill Clinton, nonetheless became known to a wider audience thanks to Kathleen Hartington Kennedy Townsend, the former Maryland lieutenant governor and daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy. In a telephone interview, Townsend said she met with the former president in Maine earlier today, where she said he made his preference known that he was voting for a Democrat. “That’s what he said” … Asked about Townsend’s [Facebook] post, George H.W. Bush spokesman Jim McGrath in an email replied, “The vote President Bush will cast as a private citizen in some 50 days will be just that: a private vote cast in some 50 days. He is not commenting on the presidential race in the interim.”

WHY JEB BUSH SHOULD ENDORSE HILLARY CLINTON via the Crowley Political Report – Sitting on the sidelines since quitting his own presidential bid, Bush seems to be content essentially telling voters – you picked a lunatic over me, live with it. The middle child of the Bush family needs to get over it and step up for Florida and his party. It is unconscionable that Jeb Bush would abandon the party when it needs him most. His family has been deeply involved in the GOP since his grandfather, Prescott Bush, was elected to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut in 1952. If he believes, as many establishment Republicans do, that Trump would be the destruction of the GOP, how can Bush remain idle? Was his campaign for president an ego-trip or a belief that Republican Party principles are better for the future of the nation? Despite these public friendships between the Bush and Clinton families, Jeb is the moody outsider who can’t bring himself to support Hillary Clinton publicly. Perhaps, the last, most notable public service Bush could perform in this election would be to endorse Clinton … Florida will be won by a small percentage of votes. Bush does not have the political power in the Sunshine State he once held, but in a race this close, he could have an impact. His endorsement could free others to publicly abandon Trump – perhaps even U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio who still harbors presidential ambitions. Bush can help decide this election by helping Clinton in Florida. Should he? Can he live with himself if Trump wins the White House and he did not do everything he could to stop him? Does he have the courage of his father who is apparently ready to vote for Clinton? Or is Bush content to just point his finger at voters and say – you got what you deserved.

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DAYS UNTIL: First presidential debate – 5; First day domestic vote-by-mail ballots can be sent – 12; first day of early voting – 37; Election Day – 47; first Legislative Organization Session – 61; premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – 85; start of 2017 Legislative Session – 166.

MORE THAN 10% OF FLORIDA VOTERS ALREADY AWAITING MAIL BALLOTS via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Daily figures posted … on the state Division of Elections website show that 1,306,253 voters have standing requests for mail ballots. The number is actually much higher because 26 counties have not yet forwarded their standing requests to the state. They include Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, and three other big counties: Lake, Polk and Seminole. Here’s how the requests break down by party: Republican, 572,046; Democrat, 480,657; no party, 218,764; minor parties, 34,786. Of those early mail ballot requests, Pinellas has by far the most, with 257,692. Florida has more than 12.4 million registered voters.

FLA. POLL: CLINTON LEADS DONALD TRUMP, WHO’S NOT BELIEVED ABOUT BIRTHER CONTROVERSY via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Monmouth University’s survey showing Clinton up 46-41 percent over Trump comes a day after a New York Times/Siena College poll that had the race essentially tied at 41-40 percent in Clinton’s favor in a four-way contest that included the Libertarian and Green party candidates. The Times/Siena poll had a larger sample, 867 likely voters, compared to Monmouth’s 400 sample that has an error margin of 4.9 points. Both polls also showed Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, with Monmouth’s survey showing the Republican’s lead at a narrow 2 points. And the surveys showed that Clinton leads with nonwhite voters, while Trump is ahead with whites. Monmouth’s poll, however, does indicate the race has tightened. Last month, she led by 9 points.

The new poll also indicates that voters don’t believe Trump when it comes to his longstanding crusade to question President Obama’s status as a natural-born citizen qualified to be president. Monmouth’s poll shows that three-quarters of voters said they heard that Trump finally admitted that Obama was born in the United States. However, only 24 percent think Trump believes that Obama is a natural-born citizen; 54 percent said Trump made the admission for political expediency. Though Trump tried to implicate Clinton in the birther controversy, 47 percent said that they didn’t believe she had a role in it; 35 percent believe she did – and nearly all were Trump supporters. For the overwhelming majority of voters, 76 percent, the birther issue won’t affect their vote; but 18 percent said it would make them less likely to support Trump, and 4 percent said it would make them more likely to favor his candidacy.

FLORIDA IS GONNA FLORIDA, 2016 VERSION via Steve Schale — Let’s settle one thing, for good. Until further notice, Florida is an exceptionally competitive swing state. In fact, it is the most competitive. When you look at the last four presidential elections in Florida, Republicans won two, and the Democrats won two. Over those four elections, roughly 30.5 million voters have had a presidential vote counted, and the difference between Republicans and Democrats? Try 71,000 votes. That is a margin of 0.24 percent. No other state in the country was closer. Florida is just wired to be close. And 2016 will be no different. Here are a few reasons why: There are 12 million voters, and Republicans and Democrats are separated by just over 2 percentage points. Among the most likely voters, it is even tighter. So in other words, we basically start at a push. … Independents aren’t all that independent – and look a lot like the partisans. In 08, Obama won them by 7. In 12, by 1. The story is the same in Governor’s races: Scott won them by 2 in 2010, and Crist by 2 in 2014. In The New York Times poll today, he was +4.

If you assume HRC gets the best share in each “region” of the state, her upper end is 51.6 percent, her lower end is 47.5 percent. In other words, forget what the polls say, based on the history of the last four elections, we are talking about a state that might have, tops, 5-6 percent of real swing vote. What we are seeing is Florida is being Florida. So yes, Florida is close. It has been close since 1992, and it will be close in 2016, 2020, and 2024. And Trump has to win it, as the last President to go to the White House without Florida was Calvin Coolidge.

PAM BONDI DEFENDS DECISION TO TAKE MONEY FROM DONALD TRUMP via Gary Fineout and Michael Biesecker of The Associated Press – The Republican and former prosecutor said she had no regrets about asking Trump for money and no regrets about keeping the donation even after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had filed a lawsuit against Trump University … “If I had returned it, you would have reported ‘Bondi accepted a bribe, got caught and returned it,'” Bondi said. “That’s how the reporting goes. And so, no, there was nothing improper about it. So there was no reason to return it.” The 2013 check to a committee supporting Bondi’s re-election campaign from the Donald J. Trump Foundation violated a federal prohibition against charities giving money to political groups.

Tuesday marked the first time that Bondi – who endorsed Trump for president shortly before the Florida primary in March – answered in detail questions about her handling of the donation. Though both Trump University and the Florida-based Trump Institute had stopped offering classes by the time she took office in 2011, her office had received more than 20 complaints from upset former students who claimed they were scammed. Trump has said in the past that he expected and received favors from politicians to whom he has given money. Bondi said that she was unaware that her office had been asked about the New York lawsuit until a Florida columnist highlighted the case and the donation from Trump in October 2013. She said she tried to return the $25,000 check to Trump this year when she found out that the money came from his foundation and not from his personal funds. But the Trump Foundation returned the money and told Bondi’s accountant that Trump himself had reimbursed the money.

TRUMP’S PHANTOM FLORIDA GROUND GAME via S.V. Date of the Huffington Post – In a downtown office building, the Duval County Republican headquarters for the fall elections stands a life-size cutout of Trump … Unfortunately for the GOP presidential nominee, that’s about the extent of the Trumpiness to be found there. Staff members point visitors toward a different office a few miles away ― the Trump campaign’s actual Duval headquarters. But there, the situation is even worse. The strip-mall office, while decorated with “Trump-Pence” placards in the big windows, is not quite open, although the woman who identified herself as Trump’s office manager said it would be within days ― as soon as the air conditioning problems had been sorted out and furniture and equipment could be delivered. Less than two months out from Election Day, it’s a scene playing out all across the state that for Trump is a must-win … county, state and national Republican officials all downplay the significance of the late start for Trump’s Florida ground game, even as Clinton’s campaign is months into a methodical voter turnout effort. The Republicans argue that Trump’s get-out-the-vote work is getting done, albeit independently by party staff and perhaps not using the traditional model of brick-and-mortar offices. “This county is on fire,” said Duval County GOP Chairwoman Cindy Graves. “Reports of things not going so well are greatly exaggerated.” Graves and the others may be correct ― that Trump is actually seeing historic enthusiasm and will surprise the political world with a convincing Florida victory … But if she is wrong, and Clinton winds up winning the state by just a point or two, among the people she can thank is Trump himself ― for his complete lack of interest in the modern campaign template created in 2004 by Republican George W. Bush and then honed to an art form by Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

FORMER FLORIDA ED COMMISSIONER JOINS TRUMP’S TRANSITION TEAM via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida – Former Florida schools chief Gerard Robinson is joining Trump‘s transition team as an education expert … During Robinson’s one year as education commissioner under Gov. Scott, he oversaw controversial reforms such as the transition to the Common Core standards and changes to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, which has now been replaced by the Florida Standards Assessments. He resigned in 2012 citing family reasons. Robinson had previously served as Virginia’s education commissioner, and his wife and children remained there while he commuted back and forth. Robinson’s wife, Kimberly Robinson, was a tenured law professor at the University of Richmond, and she applied but was unsuccessful in securing a tenured position at Florida State University. He said then it was too much of a strain for him to be apart from his family. He is also the former president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national pro-school choice group that has been active in Florida.

TRUMP CAMPAIGN AVOIDS SCANDAL-PLAGUED FORMER MIAMI CONGRESSMAN AND MARCO RUBIO PAL via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Trump‘s campaign has struggled for institutional support from the Miami GOP, but it’s shying away from Republican, scandal-plagued former Congressman David Rivera. Allies of Rivera – who has weathered multiple state and federal corruption investigations and a Florida ethics commission fine – listed his name as a “special guest” on an invite for a Republican field office opening … in conjunction with the campaigns of a state Senate candidate he hopes to replace in the Florida House, as well as Trump and Rubio‘s re-election. But neither Trump’s nor Rubio’s campaign knew anything about the invite. And Trump’s campaign wanted nothing to do with the unauthorized use of the presidential nominee’s name. “These guys don’t have the authority to use Donald Trump’s name, particularly David Rivera,” said Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, a top Trump backer in Miami-Dade County. “Trump is the part of law and order, not of illegals and influence peddlers.” Trump’s campaign had used Rivera in an attack ad during the GOP presidential primary against Rubio, who was friends and roommates with the former congressman … Trump tweeted the ad March 9 with the message: “Keep lightweight Marco and his friends out of the White House.” The invite was promptly changed at the insistence of the chairman of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, Nelson Diaz, who had been listed as a “special guest” of the field office along with Rivera. Diaz said it was all an error. The new mailer only invited participants to “support our Republican candidates.” Diaz said an unnamed GOP staffer drafted the invite.

MIKE FERNANDEZ DONATING $2 MIL TO HELP HILLARY CLINTON W HISPANIC OUTREACH via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Mike Fernandez is donating “over” $2 million … to “focus on Latino outreach and registration in Florida,” according to an email … Fernandez, a top Jeb Bush donor in the GOP primary, formally endorsed Clinton earlier this month. Fernandez wrote that he’s never met the Democratic nominee and she’s far from a perfect candidate. But he added he can’t “support a Party I no longer recognize” … “I specially call on all Latinos to reject a man who encourages violence against you,” Fernandez wrote. He also urged fellow Cuban Americans to reject Donald Trump. “This man is taking you and America down the same path of disappointment that you have lived for 60 years,” Fernandez said. Fernandez, a health care magnate from Coral Gables, has been fighting Trump for months, writing Miami Herald op-eds and placing several ads in several newspapers. Trump threatened to sue Fernandez over one of them but never has.

GOOD READ – JOE SCARBOROUGH HAS BIG DREAMS (INCLUDING ‘TRUMP: THE MUSICAL’) via Jason Zengerle of GQ – At the center of America’s schizoid political-fame complex, there sits Scarborough, a congressman turned TV star who somehow built the most influential show in Washington despite never wanting to be a mere morning-show host. Now, as he quests for something grander-he’s turned his fraught relationship with Trump into grist for a nutty new project, a Trump musical – the ample-egoed Scarborough is trying to prove there’s no business like political show business. For all the damage Trump’s presidential run has inflicted on the body politic, it’s done something remarkable for … Scarborough. It’s boosted his profile on the political-media landscape, sure, but it has also enlarged some already gargantuan ambitions. If the insanity of our political age has induced anxiety in the vast majority of us, in Scarborough something else has been stirred: a renewed conviction that he’s capable of feats far beyond a morning TV show. And at a moment when politics is hot and bizarre and very much alive in our culture, who can blame a guy for thinking big?

MARCO RUBIO ASKS FBI TO SHARE ASSISTANCE INFO AFTER PULSE SHOOTING via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press –The letter Rubio wrote last month to FBI Director James Comey requested reforms and said some victims had their assistance delayed because the FBI didn’t share information with the city of Orlando. Many victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting or their families filled out forms they believed would start the process of getting short-term help paying for funeral arrangements and other assistance after the June 12 attack. The forms had logos of both the FBI and city. But the FBI informed the city that the FBI was using the forms for its investigation and wouldn’t share them, said Rubio, a Florida Republican. The refusal to share information left the city “with no other way of obtaining information regarding the victims’ needs,” Rubio said in the letter. “This has resulted in an unknown number of my constituents – who believed they were applying for aid two months ago – receiving no assistance from the local agency, because only the FBI knows who they are and has the contact information to follow up with them.” Special Agent Amy Pittman, an FBI spokeswoman in Tampa, said officials in Washington were preparing a response to the letter. Rubio suggested that the FBI should contact the applicants who haven’t gotten assistance individually and notify them that they need to complete additional forms, or the FBI could provide the city just with the first page of an applicant’s intake form which just has contact information and the help they’re requesting.

MARCO RUBIO LEADS PATRICK MURPHY BY SIX POINTS via Annie Rees of Talking Points Memo – According to a new poll by Siena College/New York Times Upshot … Rubio leads Murphy 48-42 percent, among 867 likely voters in Florida. The poll was taken from Sept. 10-14 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percent. Rubio has a seven-point advantage over Murphy among Independent voters, 47-40, and 8 percent of respondents were undecided. TPM’s PollTrackerAverage for the U.S. Senate race in Florida shows Rubio leading Murphy by 7.4 points, 50.5 to 43.1 percent.

SENATE LEADERSHIP FUND LAUNCHES $10.8 MILLION FALL TV AD BUY — The Senate Leadership Fund launched its fall TV campaign in Florida with a 30-second spot called “What Else.” The advertisement, according to the organization, is tries how Democrat Patrick Murphy used “false, misleading and exaggerated claims to helped his resume in order to make Florida voters think Murphy had accomplished something in life.” The advertisement focuses reported discrepancies with his resume and school record. Senate Leadership Fund is backing Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida’s U.S. Senate race. The new ad will air in Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach on broadcast and cable TV.

UNSURPRISING MURPHY ENDORSEMENT #1 via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – Murphy was endorsed by the Communications Workers of America — building on his already sizable support from labor organizations in his campaign to unseat Rubio. Murphy and the union, representing 12,000 Florida workers, announced the endorsement at the CWA’s West Palm Beach office. “Here in West Palm Beach, we know how hard Patrick works for our families,” said CWA Local 3112 President Johnny Hernandez. “He shows up and fights for our workers, and we can count on him to make growing our economy his top priority. Patrick has our full support in this campaign, and we look forward to standing with him as Florida’s next Senator.”

UNSURPRISING MURPHY ENDORSEMENT #2 – PPAF is the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Action Fund engages in legislative advocacy, voter education, and grassroots organizing. Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said: “Patrick Murphy has been a fighter for Florida women, pushing for smart policies to ensure access to affordable birth control and safe, legal abortion. Patrick sees the importance of access to reproductive health providers, like Planned Parenthood, to keep Florida women healthy.” Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates Board Member Lillian Tamayo said: “Patrick Murphy is a proven leader who will defend a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, protect patients’ access to care at Planned Parenthood health centers, and fight for women and families in the U.S. Senate.”

NEW MURPHY AD CALLS RUBIO ‘RECKLESS ON CHOICE’ via Kristen M. Clark of the Miami Herald — Hot off announcing an endorsement from Planned Parenthood … Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy is launching a new TV ad … that highlights his and Marco Rubio‘s contrasting viewpoints on abortion. Murphy’s ad slams the incumbent Republican U.S. senator for being “reckless on choice.” The 30-second spot highlights Murphy’s new endorsement from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and mentions he is “100 percent pro-choice,” while Rubio specifically opposes exceptions for abortion in the cases of rape, incest or for pregnant women infected with the Zika virus. Murphy’s campaign says the ad will run statewide as part of a “seven-figure” buy. In response to Planned Parenthood’s endorsement of Murphy, Rubio’s campaign said …  Murphy was “leaning on liberal interest groups to prop him up,” because his campaign “is floundering.” As for Murphy’s new ad, Rubio spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said, “Patrick Murphy is distorting Marco’s record like he distorted his own resume.”

NEW PAC AD SAYS STEPHANIE MURPHY ENDORSES NO-BUDGET NO-PAY IN CONGRESS via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – A new television commercial from the House Majority PAC and airing in the Orlando market, blames U.S. Rep. John Mica for Congress’s failures to pass budgets and says Democratic challenger Murphy endorses the “no-budget, no-pay” proposal for salaries. Mica’s campaign responded by declaring the ad has most of its facts wrong, and said it would pursue legal action to require TV stations to cease and desist from airing it. In it, a narrator declares Congress has only one job — to pass a budget, but hasn’t been able to do so — yet says Mica voted to raise his Congressional pay eight times. The narrator doesn’t say Congress in fact passed a budget last year, though that was the first in six years. The ad cites a 2013 New York Times story on the failures to pass budgets. The narrator then says that Murphy favors congressional pay cuts, and would push to tie congressional pay to approvals of federal budgets — no budget, no paycheck. Mica’s campaign said he has never voted to fund any congressional pay raise, that there have been no pay raises in six years, and that he has voted for the No Budget, No Pay Act that Murphy espouses. And the campaign went after the PACs backing her.

GUS BILIRAKIS RELEASES FIRST TV AD IN CAMPAIGN FOR CONGRESS – The 30-second spot highlights Bilirakis’ commitment to his community and his record of keeping flood insurance rates low. “When I go to Washington, I take the issues affecting my community with me,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “Whether it’s fighting against harmful insurance hikes, protecting the rights of our seniors and military veterans, or keeping America safe, I’ve always stood up for those who put their faith in me to represent them in the U.S. Congress.” Bilirakis serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and is Vice-Chairman of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs.

DAVID JOLLY LEADS CHARLIE CRIST 46%-43% IN CD 13 via Florida Politics – The Indian Shores Republican is ahead of the former Governor despite the district breaking for Clinton over Trump 47 to 40 percent. Buoying Jolly’s numbers is a strong favorable-to-unfavorable ration of 54 to 25 percent. Crist’s favorability numbers are evenly split at 45 percent. Even though Crist trails Jolly, there is room for improvement, according to the poll. First of all, 11 percent of voters are undecided — a large amount considering how well-known both candidates are in the district. Also, Crist is holding only 67 percent of the Democratic base, with Jolly earning 20 percent. Crist should be able to claw back some of that vote. An internal poll for Jolly released Monday finds a tied race, with Crist and Jolly both at 46 percent.

MEANWHILE … GOP INTERNAL POLL HAS JOLLY AND CRIST TIED via Theodoric Meyer of POLITICO Florida – A new internal poll conducted for Jolly‘s campaign finds a tied race, with Crist and Jolly both at 46 percent. The poll found the same number of voters – 46 percent – have favorable views of Jolly and Crist, but Crist’s negatives are much higher; 37 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Crist, while 16 percent have an unfavorable view of Jolly. The poll of 300 voters was conducted by Data Targeting from Sept. 8-10. The margin of error is a wide plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.

ANTI-MEDICAL MARIJUANA GROUP BUYS FIRST TV ADS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – No on 2 and the Drug Free Florida committee have bolstered fundraising and started their first ad buys in recent weeks in an effort to block Amendment 2, which would expand medical marijuana in Florida to include a list of debilitating medical conditions. Drug Free Florida has reserved time in West Palm Beach, Tallahassee and Gainesville … with more media markets likely on the way. No on 2 campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson would not confirm the details of ad buys except that No on 2 would “be communicating with voters in a variety of ways,” saying that sharing any more detail would compromise the campaign’s strategy.

DIRECT MAIL ROUND UP: DRUG FREE FLORIDA MAILERS ENCOURAGE FLORIDIANS TO ‘VOTE NO ON 2’ via Florida Politics — Mailers from Drug Free Florida, the committee leading the charge against the 2016 medical marijuana initiative, are expected to hit mailboxes across the state today. The direct mail pieces are meant to encourage Floridians to “Vote No on 2” come November. The mailer focuses on “the most talked-about amendment on the ballot.” It highlights comments John Morgan, the chairman of the United for Care campaign, made in November 2014, after the ballot amendment failed. In a 2014 press conference, Morgan said he should have reached out to more older people. At the time he said many of those voters “will be dead the next time we get to the elections. If you’re 86, sorry, won’t get to vote again, if you’re 16, you will.” Drug Free Florida is playing up those comments in the new mailers, saying “John Morgan hopes senior citizens are dead (and can’t vote).” “Death to old people isn’t what he said, but we all know it’s what he meant,” the mail piece reads. “After Amendment 2 was defeated for the first time in 2014, John Morgan told News 13: ‘The people who voted against this are the old people.’ But what ‘Mister Marijuana’ went on to say next is infuriating.” The mailer then uses the remainder of Morgan’s quote about the elderly. The mailer also says the amendment is “de facto legalization.”

MY TAKE: IS OSCAR BRAYNON RUNNING THE BEST SENATE POLITICAL OPERATION IN YEARS? via Florida Politics – Steve Schale contends … that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.” Really? Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville. Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm … Schale is also right on two more points — that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate — and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that will make a huge impact in the chamber. But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon … Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable. The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle) … O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18. And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries … The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while … But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling … However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

ROD SMITH HOLDS 5-POINT LEAD OVER KEITH PERRY IN SD 8 via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A St. Pete Polls shows a close race in Senate District 8 between Democrat Smith and Republican Perry. The survey shows Smith leads Perry, 43 percent to 38 percent. The survey also found 19 percent of voters saying they were undecided. The St. Pete Polls survey found many voters haven’t formed an opinion of either candidate. The survey found 30 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Perry, while 34 percent had an unfavorable opinion. About 36 percent of respondents said they were unsure of their opinion of Perry. When it came to Smith, 33 percent had a favorable opinion and 31 percent had an unfavorable opinion. About 36 percent said they were unsure of their opinion of Smith. The automated phone survey of 891 likely Florida voters was conducted Monday and has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.

DEMS’ POLL SHOWS TIE BETWEEN CHALLENGER BOB BUESING, DANA YOUNG via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – A poll by the state Democratic Party shows Democrat Buesing and Republican state Rep. Young … effectively tied for the state Senate District 18 seat, one of the state’s most competitive Senate races and one where the Democrats hope to switch a seat from Republican to Democratic. The poll, by Tom Eldon’s SEA Polling, shows Young leading 31-28 percent, with 26 percent undecided and no-party candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove at 14 percent and 1 percent, respectively. The pollster then “allocated” the undecided voters according to their party affiliation and other poll answers, which produced a 38-38 percent tie.

YOUNG IS UP WITH A NEW TV SPOT “focusing on her support of first responders, and the role she played in ensuring Florida families receive the benefits they are entitled to, and honor they deserve, after loved ones are killed in action.”

JUDGE DENIES REGGIE FULLWOOD MOTION TO DISMISS; TRIAL TO COMMENCE OCT. 11 via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – Fullwood faces 14 federal counts related to spending campaign funds on personal expenses … his attorney, Robert Willis, filed a motion to dismiss the 10 wire fraud counts in August, saying that since no one has claimed to be defrauded, the feds don’t have a case. In September, the feds countered that claim, with attorney Mark Devereaux asserting that at least five contributors attested to the contrary. Against that gloomy backdrop, a hearing in Fullwood’s case addressed that motion to dismiss and the feds’ objection to it. It didn’t go Fullwood’s way. Judge Marcia Morales Howard flatly denied Fullwood’s dismissal motion, saying that there’s no way to test the pre-trial sufficiency of the evidence. The contributors’ property interest in the money, the judge said, was secured at the time of the contribution … Judge Howard said, regarding the prosecutors’ assertion that there was a pattern of “fraudulent contributions,” that Fullwood’s assertion that contributors got what they paid for doesn’t hold water, given precedent established in case law. The arguments Fullwood’s side was making, the judge said, were predicated on the assumption that evidence that contributors’ property interest was thwarted would not be provided.

SAVE THE DATE – Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson holds a fundraiser Thursday, Oct. 13, for his House District 51 campaign. Event begins 5 p.m. at the Governor’s Club, 202 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee. RSVP with Katie Ballard at 954-803-3942 or katie@kballardconsult.com.

SAVE THE DATE: Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, state Reps. José Oliva and Chris Sprowls host a fundraiser Tuesday, Oct. 4 supporting Republican Randy Fine in his bid for House District 53. Event begins 6:30 p.m. at the Governors Club Library Room, 202 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee. RSVP with Meredith O’Rourke at Meredith@TheOrourkeGrp.com or 561-818-6064.

RACE GROWS CLOSE SO PARTY MAY HELP DEMOCRAT DAVID SINGER via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – The Florida Democratic Party has been giving “in-kind” donations — payments covering staff salaries and other campaign costs — to state House candidates Rena Frazier and Lisa Montelione, but not Singer, who faces Republican Jackie Toledo in the District 60 race. That may change, however, partly because the outcome of the Republican primary makes Democrats think they have a better shot at winning the seat. Dan Newman, state House campaign director for the Democratic Party, confirmed that the race “is certainly more competitive than we expected it to be” following the GOP primary. “Originally we were not one of their targeted races,” Singer said. “I think that’s changing due to the success we’re having.” A well-connected Tampa land-use lawyer, Singer said he didn’t ask for party money because he figured he could raise his own. “There are other good, qualified candidates that needed more help than I do and they should have it,” he said.

SAVE THE DATE – State Sen. Jack Latvala and Pinellas County restaurateur Frank Chivas host a fundraiser Monday, Sept. 26, in support of Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters’ re-election bid in House District 69. Event begins 5 p.m. at the Marina Cantina, 25 Causeway Boulevard in Clearwater Beach. RSVP with RJ Myers at rj@kathleenpeters.com.

HAPPENING TONIGHT: Tequesta Republican State Rep. MaryLynn Magar hosts a Martin County fundraiser for her re-election effort in House District 82. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at Harry & the Natives, 11910 S.E. Federal Highway in Hobe Sound.

MANNY DIAZ JR. RUNNING TV ADS FOR RE-ELECTION TO FLORIDA HOUSE via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – School-choice proponent and influential incumbent Hialeah state Rep. Diaz is running English- and Spanish-language ads on Miami-area TV to promote his re-election bid for state House District 103. Highlighting his work on education policy, the Republican spent more than $87,000 on TV ad buys in late August and early September … “Improving our education system and creating new jobs are my priorities. I’m working to make Florida better for my family and yours,” Diaz said in a statement. Diaz, who’s seeking a third and final term in the Florida House, is a prime target for Democrats this fall. Democrat Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich is challenging him in November. Democrats want to unseat Diaz because doing so would prevent him from having even further influence on school choice policies, which Democrats say undercut traditional public schools. Diaz was the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee chairman in the 2016 session and is on track to be either House education policy chairman or education budget chairman, if he’s re-elected.

SAVE THE DATE: Southern Strategy Group Miami is hosting a luncheon fundraiser Friday, Sept. 23 for Republican John Couriel in his bid for House District 114. Special guest is former Gov. Jeb Bush. Reception begins 11:30 a.m. at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave. in Coral Gables. RSVP with Kevin Cabrera at kevin@joncouriel.com.

***Host your Election Night Watch Party at the Governors Club, Tallahassee’s premier business, social and political venue! Party packages are available for all budgets; rooms for 50-450 guests. For more information or to book a celebration, contact Laura Kalinoski, Director of Catering at 850-205-0665 or catering@govclub.com. Visit www.GovClub.com***

GOV. SCOTT ASKS FOR FEDERAL DISASTER DECLARATION POST-HERMINE via Gray Roher of the Orlando Sentinel – “We must do everything we can to ensure that Florida families and businesses can get back on their feet following Hurricane Hermine,” Scott said in a released statement. “I have traveled across the state to meet Floridians who have been personally impacted by the storm and communities are working hard to recover from flooding and damage.” Hermine hit the Panhandle on Sept. 2, causing storm surges of up to 7 feet in some areas, flooding coastal homes as far away as the Tampa area and killing one person. Some areas, like Leon and Wakulla counties, were without power for several days. Scott made the request to President Obama through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A major disaster declaration would let federal funds flow to state and local governments whose resources were drained responding to the storm, as well as to provide assistance to individuals and households still in need of aid.

RICK SCOTT, LEGISLATURE SCOLDED OVER CUTS TO ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – One of Florida’s best respected business leaders … Charles Cobb Jr. … was polite about it — courtly even — during an address to the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee. But he was clear that the state’s leaders need to invest more in building Florida’s economy. “For the Legislature to totally gut Rick Scott’s recommendation of $250 million for Enterprise Florida, I think, is not wise,” Cobb said. “Many of these large incentives are questionable. I think we do not have a good enough read on investment analysis to know whether some of these incentives are good. But not funding Enterprise Florida is really wrong.” Scaling back or eliminating the organization “would be very, very unwise,” he said. Cobb is senior managing director and chief executive officer of Cobb Partners, an investment company. Previously, he occupied top posts at some of Florida’s most important companies — including Disney Development Co. and Arvida Corp. He has served on the boards of directors of nine of the country’s largest corporations and as ambassador to Iceland under George H.W. Bush.

ADAM PUTNAM SAYS CONSTRUCTION DIMINISHES ‘ALREADY UNATTRACTIVE’ STATE CAPITOL via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – Putnam blasted a state official for what he said is the unattractive reconstruction work undertaken at an “extraordinary cost” at the state Capitol. The state has undertaken $75 million in repairs of underground parking garages that were cracking under the weight of trees and soil. But Putnam questioned why the Cabinet, which oversees state lands, hadn’t seen the plans before work began. “The concept managed to diminish an already unattractive Capitol at the time,” Putnam said after a presentation during a Cabinet meeting. “I would like to see the options that were rejected in favor of what we have.” He also told Department of Management Services secretary Chad Poppel that he was frustrated to see the plans for the first time in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. But Gov. Scott, who didn’t respond to Putnam during the meeting, told reporters afterward that he thinks Poppell and his team are doing a good job. Poppell told the Cabinet that plans for the project are evolving in response to more extensive damage found in parking garages earlier this year during repairs. The parking garages have cancer-causing waterproofing materials that need to be removed and have developed cracks with pieces of concrete falling off. The work has forced the closure of parking areas and the removal of weighty landscaping over the parking garages.

JEFF ATWATER ‘DISAPPOINTED’ AS STATE FIRE LAB SUFFERS NEW SETBACK via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Atwater has failed to regain full accreditation for a state lab that investigates fire debris for evidence of arson on behalf of law enforcement agencies. As state fire marshal, Atwater runs the lab, which analyzes thousands of cases every year across the state. A three-member appeal board upheld nine of 11 negative findings against the lab. The American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD) launched an investigation last year after saying it had “several complaints,” including one from John Lentini, a private investigator in Islamorada who repeatedly questioned the lab’s work, citing one case in which a North Florida man was wrongly accused of arson and insurance fraud in a boat fire based on lab results. “It is the appeal panel belief that there are opportunities for improvement in the procedures at BFS (Bureau of Forensic Sciences),” said the report, which reiterated the review team’s earlier finding of “questionable conclusions” in a number of cases. “While we are disappointed with your decision to uphold most of the (team) findings of March 7, we have nonetheless been working diligently to resolve all outstanding matters of alleged non-compliance,” Deputy Chief Financial Officer Jay Etheridge wrote … “We are eager to have this matter resolved as soon as possible.”

DAVID ALTMAIER UNSURE ON OBAMACARE’S FUTURE IN FLORIDA via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Florida Insurance Commissioner Altmaier won’t commit to an answer on Obamacare being a long-term solution to the Sunshine State’s health insurance needs. When asked whether the insurance regime set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could be salvaged, Altmaier said: “that will take a little bit more conversation; I don’t know that I’m ready to say one way or the other” … Earlier this month, the Office of Insurance Regulation announced premiums for health insurance sold in Florida under the ACA would increase by an average 19 percent next year under the latest rates. The office said it reviewed rates proposed by 15 insurers for individual and family major medical plans sold on and off the federal health care insurance exchange established under the act … For individual plans, the highest increase would go to Humana Medical Plan Inc., at 36.8 percent. The insurer sought 43.6 percent. “We want to make sure consumers in Florida have access to a competitive marketplace,” Altmaier said … “I think right now, the way the market is set up, with 47 counties with only one (insurer), we don’t have that competitive market here in Florida.

STATE UNIVERSITIES MAY PUSH FOR SUMMER SCHOLARSHIPS via The Associated Press – Florida’s state university system may ask legislators to expand the state’s popular Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer courses. The Board of Governors plans to discuss this week whether to ask the Florida Legislature to set aside nearly $50 million so eligible students can use the scholarship for classes taken during the summer terms. Currently, Bright Futures scholarships can only be used during the fall and spring semesters. A presentation prepared by state university system officials says that expanding the scholarships could help students graduate faster and improve the state’s overall college graduation rate. The Board of Governors is meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Sarasota.

FLORIDA GROWING FRIENDLIER TO CRIMINAL-JUSTICE REFORM, POLL INDICATES via Florida Politics – The survey by The James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute found that 72 percent of Floridians agreed or strongly agreed it is important to reform criminal justice. Seventy-five percent agreed or strongly agreed the prison population costs the country too much money. And almost two-thirds believed there were too many nonviolent offenders behind bars. Survey Sampling International conducted the poll of 1,488 Florida residents in English and Spanish in July through an opt-in web-based panel. The margin for error was pegged at plus or minus 3 percentage points. In other findings, 72 percent of Floridians said people convicted of felonies should be allowed to secure licenses to work following their release. And 74 percent said prisons should focus more on rehabilitation than punishment. Regarding juvenile offenders, 70 percent said they should be separated from adults behind bars. By a 47-point margin, the poll’s respondents trusted judges rather than prosecutors to decide whether to charge juveniles as adults.

FDLE HEAD ON BUDGET: ‘I ASKED FOR WHAT WE NEED’ via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Despite dwindling revenue for the state budget in the years ahead, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen stuck to his budget request for 2017-18 … Swearingen presented his request to Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet …  It was approved, with Scott abstaining because he must OK or veto items in the state budget after lawmakers pass it. FDLE is seeking funding for 46 new positions, to create counterterrorism squads in all seven regions: Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Tampa Bay. Swearingen also wants to increase the base pay for FDLE agents from $46,000 a year to $56,000, he said. To get what he wants, he’d need a $6.2 million boost from the state’s general revenue fund, which is expected to run on razor-thin margins next year, and into the red in subsequent years. “I asked for what we need,” Swearingen said after his presentation. “Where the money comes from falls on the Legislature.”

FLORIDA HOUSE, SENATE SET INTERIM 2017 COMMITTEE MEETING SCHEDULE via Florida Politics – House and Senate leadership announced the schedule for interim committee meetings. Both chambers will head to Tallahassee for committee meetings in December, before meeting for two weeks in January and three weeks in February. According to memos to members, the Florida House will hold committee meetings from Dec. 5 through Dec. 9. The Florida Senate will be in Tallahassee from Dec. 12 through Dec. 16. Members will be back in their districts until after the winter holidays, heading back to Tallahassee for committee meetings from Jan. 9 through Jan. 13. They’ll head back for another week of committee meetings from Jan. 23 through Jan. 27. In February, members will be in Tallahassee for committee meetings during the weeks of Feb. 6Feb. 13 and Feb. 20. They’ll have one week back in their district before the annual 60-day legislative session begins March 7.

DARRYL ROUSON BACKS ABOLISHING HILLSBOROUGH PTC via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – Rouson … likely winner of a state Senate seat representing St. Petersburg and Tampa, says he favors abolishing the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which is embroiled in a battle with ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft. Rouson’s stance could clear the way for passage of such a bill, or could help pass statewide legislation on how to regulate the companies, said one of their champions, state Sen. Jeff Brandes …  Rouson faces a Republican who has raised only $3,000 of his own money, John “Mr. Manners” Houman, and likely will replace term-limited Sen. Arthenia Joyner … Joyner opposed abolishing the PTC, and blocked a local bill limiting its power over the rideshare companies. Rouson has already signed a letter along with other Tampa Bay area legislators asking the PTC to avoid passing any new rules on ridesharing companies until after the Legislature considers a statewide bill.

SCATHING SOCIAL MEDIA REVIEWS PLAGUE THE PTC IN ITS REGULATION QUEST via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has a Facebook page, but activity on the page reiterates claims the embattled agency is a boondoggle for constituents. Among the PTC’s reviews on Facebook, only three are positive, while 14 give the agency the lowest possible mark. The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s Facebook page is loaded with bad reviews, some of which criticize the agency for being too pro-taxi. Though 17 reviews are hardly a benchmark, the outsized opposition compared to support is indicative of an emerging dialogue: that the PTC needs to go. Since the PTC hastened its efforts to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft, the public has grown louder in its opposition of those efforts. During public meetings discussing the issue, people have lined up to speak in favor of ensuring Uber and Lyft have a long and bright future in Hillsborough County, while those speaking in favor of strict rules consist mostly of heads of taxi companies or their drivers. There have been a number of recent happenings that lend to an uncertain PTC fate. During the latest meeting, many more people supported Uber than opposed rules that include controversial fingerprint-based background checks both companies oppose. More than a dozen Tampa Bay area lawmakers have rejected the rules and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called for the agency’s upheaval.

CARY PIGMAN SORRY FOR ‘GIVING IMPRESSION’ THAT LED TO PROBE via Phil Attinger of Highlands Today – Pigman said … he did not mean for Okeechobee Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy to think he had to discipline or fire South Elementary School Principal Tracy Downing for alleged slights. “I did not intend to leave that impression and I apologize for doing so,” Pigman wrote in an email to the News-Sun … At the time, the school district was seeking $63 million in state funds to build a new high school and needed Pigman’s vote and support. The Florida Commission on Ethics has ordered a full evidentiary hearing on the matter, as yet unscheduled. Pigman wrote that he and his attorneys will communicate with the Ethics Commission in the coming days. “I will be faced with deciding between settlement of the charges at several tens of thousands of dollars versus litigating at twice to three times that amount, with no certainty of outcome and no chance of ever recovering those dollars,” Pigman wrote. The situation that led to the ethics complaint came to a head after the Okeechobee County Legislative Delegation meeting Oct. 16, 2015. Downing allegedly gave obscene finger gestures to Pigman at the meeting. She denied the allegations to the Ethics Commission, saying she was just scratching her head.

MICHELLE REHWINKEL VASILINDA LEAVES DEMOCRATIC PARTY via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – “This past Friday, I changed my voter registration from Democrat to NPA. No party affiliation,” she tweeted … adding a red heart and U.S. flag emoji at the end. And she later tweeted in response to a question about the switch, “Really no change in how I’ve felt, spoke, voted 4 the past decade as I’ve campaigned & served.” Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who represents eastern Tallahassee and Leon County in House District 9, told FloridaPolitics.com she has “always worn the mantle of ‘Democrat’ very lightly” … “I have never felt good in a partisan space, where people feel they have to knock down the other party,” she said. “I just try to do what’s right for my constituency.” Rehwinkel Vasilinda has described GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump as “fascinating,” though she did not vote in the March 15 Presidential Preference Primary. “It’s not a surprise—she was never a vote you could count on,” outgoing House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said. “She hurt the caucus often in terms of our messaging … I respect her decision, though. It’s better for the party.”

FPL PLAN TO BUY COAL-FIRED PLANT IN MARTIN COUNTY FACES NO MAJOR OPPOSITION via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – The Office of Public Counsel and an industrial customers group are not going to contest Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposal to buy a coal-fired plant in Martin County. By purchasing the Indiantown Cogeneration LP for $451 million, FPL says it can get out of a contract through 2025 for buying power, saving customers $129 million. The OPC and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group had raised concerns about the purchase but agreed not to challenge several aspects of FPL’s case before the Public Service Commission. “We’ve looked at it up and down and I just don’t know that there’s going to be anything that we can really contest,” Public Counsel J. R. Kelly [said] … FPL still faces the burden of proof in showing that the deal is good for its customers. And he said there is still some “heartburn” because there is no incentive for the company to pay less for the plant. FPL is asking the Public Service Commission to allow it to charge customers $50 million a year for nine years to recover the cost of buying the plant from Calypso Energy Holdings, LLC.

HOW FLORIDA BECAME THE MOST IMPORTANT US STATE IN THE RACE TO LEGALIZE SELF-DRIVING CARS via Michael Coren of Quartz – In 2012, Google dropped off two self-driving cars near the steps of Florida’s statehouse in Tallahassee … at the behest of a freshly elected Florida state senator, Jeff Brandes. Lawmakers, some with families in tow, stepped into Google’s modified Toyota Priuses. With a Google employee standing by in the driver seat, the cars drove loops around the capital building, and then headed to the freeway, accelerating to 70 mph. No one touched the steering wheel for most of the ride, Brandes recounts … That day in Tallahassee led to a series of laws that has transformed the Sunshine State into the most welcoming place for autonomous vehicles in the country. On April 4, Brandes’ efforts culminated in the passage of HB 7027, in a unanimous 118-0 vote, ushering in the nation’s first legislation to legalize fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel. Florida is currently the only state that explicitly allows for true self-driving vehicles … It puts Florida in a position to shape legislation across the rest of the country. Florida has raced to become the leader on autonomous vehicle regulation since 2011, largely because of the benefits Brandes says the technology can bring to the state. One motivation, he says, is safety. Of the more than 33,000 motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. each year, about 94% are due to human error. Almost all of them may be preventable with autonomous driving technology, say federal safety officials. The other is the once-in-a-lifetime chance to shape the transformation of American society. Autonomous vehicles promise to succeed where decades of mass transit and highway construction have failed to slash traffic, cut fossil fuel use (pdf, p xiv), reconnect communities and reduce the 20% or so of cities now devoted to parking. Brandes, who has chaired Florida’s transportation committee for four years, has managed to insert self-driving clauses in every transportation bill during his tenure. Every major city in the state must now include AVs in their long-term planning, and a 14-mile major stretch of Tampa Bay highway near Brande’s home district is a federally designated testing lab for self-driving cars.

HAPPENING TODAY: EXPERTS PARTICIPATE IN CLINICAL TRAILS POLICY FORUM — The American Cancer Society Action Network is hosting a policy forum focusing on research and clinical trials at from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Vincent A. Stabile Research Building at the Moffitt Cancer Center, 12902 Magnolia Drive in Tampa. The forum will feature representatives from cancer centers in Tampa, Miami, Gainesville and Jacksonville. State Rep. James Grant will also participate in the event. ““The purpose of our forum is to bring together experts in our state to learn about the current state of clinical trials research in Florida,” said Heather Youmans, senior director for advocacy for ACS CAN in Florida. “We want to identify possible approaches states like Florida can consider from a policy perspective to help ensure access to clinical trials for anyone who might be interested.”

***PRIDE Enterprises reduces the cost of state government by offering low cost, quality goods and service to state agencies, providing inmate supervision during work hours and reducing recidivism rates. PRIDE stimulates the state economy through the purchase of raw materials and supplies from local vendors and the employment of 250 Florida residents. Visit www.pride-enterprises.org to learn the benefits PRIDE of its industry and mission programs.***

PERSONNEL NOTE: COURTNEY HEIDELBERG JOINS BRIGHTWAY INSURANCE via Florida Politics — The veteran PR hand, formerly with On 3 Public Relations in Tallahassee, becomes head of communications for the Jacksonville insurer. Brightway describes itself as “a national property/casualty insurance retailer selling through a network of franchised independent agencies throughout the country” with more than $423 million in annualized premiums. Earlier, Heidelberg devoted nine years to state government, including a stint as communications director for Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. She served with the U.S. Army and Florida National Guard and completed a year-long tour in Iraq as a signal officer in 2005. Heidelberg has served on the board of directors of Veterans Florida.

‘THE BOYS’ MAKING NAME FOR THEMSELVES IN NORTHEAST FLORIDA via Marilyn Young of the Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record –The boys. That’s what Tim Baker and Brian Hughes said they were called in their early days as political consultants for Lenny Curry’s mayoral campaign. Hughes said the inference behind the nickname was he and Baker were in town to help get the first-time candidate elected, then would shift their focus back to Tallahassee. Then, Hughes said, “The old guard Jacksonville people will be back where they need to be.” But that was not the case. Nor, was it ever intended to be, they said. “From the start of that race to today, the two of us and Lenny have become this sort of political entity,” Hughes said. Their efforts in helping Curry defeat Mayor Alvin Brown last year signaled a changing of the guard for high-profile political consultants in the area. Baker’s meticulous polling and Hughes’ disciplined communications were in high demand for Northeast Florida candidates in last month’s primary. The boys won at every level. In Congress with John Rutherford. Countywide with Curry’s pension reform plan. In the Legislature with Jason Fischer. And in the 4th Judicial Circuit with Melissa Nelson. Baker and Hughes ended the primary with nearly a clean sweep. They also ended the night with a firm grasp on politics in Northeast Florida and how to win here. Baker and Hughes are fully entrenched in Northeast Florida politics, although they’re still active in Tallahassee and other parts of the state. Baker lives here and his wife works in Curry’s administration. Hughes still lives in Tallahassee, but is a regular visitor to town. Plus, the two and Curry have regular discussions.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Sen. Dorothy Hukill, Rep. James Grant (who is turning 12), Mike Bascom, Kevin DerbyReggie Garcia, Ali Glisson, Corinne Mixon, the Governors Club’s Barry Shields, Frank White, and Josh Wolf.

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.

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