Takeaways from Tallahassee: The week that was in Florida politics

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The Republican field for the U.S. Senate gained a well-known contender this week and lawmakers got their first glimpse of a controversial gambling measure that has already attracted the attention of casino fat cats and “The Mouse” writes Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

While backers of resort gaming began testing the waters, a federal judge early this week ordered state officials to stop testing the water of applicants seeking temporary cash assistance from the feds in a battle pitting drug tests against federal protections from unnecessary searches.

But the judicial fireworks weren’t limited to the federal courts, as state circuit judges heard testimony on church/state separation and pension contributions from state employees.

MACK ENTERS U.S. SENATE RACE:
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack (IV) entered an already crowded field of GOP hopefuls vying to challenge popular Democratic incumbent, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. The Cape Coral Republican brings to the race a recognizable name that has so far eluded the field. Much of that is based on the fame of his father, a former U.S. senator, and his great-grandfather, a baseball manager for more than 50 years in the early 20 century.

Mack’s entry immediately brought attacks from contenders who already were arguing who is more outside the Washington establishment. It’s been a recurring theme in a tea party dominated primary season that even Pat Robertson worries is veering too far to the right.

“He knows first-hand from his many years working with the Washington establishment how broken our government is and I’m certain that voters will closely examine his record on job creation, immigration, and government spending,” said Mike McCalister, a candidate in that GOP primary who has never held elected public office.

Mack’s campaign responded that he is the most viable candidate to challenge his two-term Democrat Nelson, but he still faces tough odds. A late March survey of GOP voters by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in North Carolina that regularly polls Florida, found Mack leading the race with 28 percent to 14 percent for LeMieux and 4 percent for Adam Hasner. The candidate emerging from the field would still have to recoup a double digit gap with Nelson, though.

GAMBLING BILL:

While many issues have yet to percolate up to the top of the legislative agenda, one sure bet took a step forward this week as backers of destination gambling showed their hand. A much anticipated bill permitting up to three luxury casinos was filed Wednesday, accelerating an intense lobbying war that will play a big role in the legislative session when it begins in January.

The 142-page bill (HB 487) allows the state to issue up to three resort casino permits in counties where voters have already passed or would pass referenda approving expanding gambling. So far, only Broward and Miami-Dade counties have done so, but the bill as written does not limit the resorts to those counties only.

These are not strip mall Internet cafes. The proposal limits successful bids to those able to put together a development eclipsing $2 billion, of which gambling comprises not more than 10 percent of the footprint.

It also creates more government. Modeled after similar regulatory agencies in New Jersey and Nevada, the proposed Department of Gaming Control would strictly regulate gambling in the state, from the pari-mutuel race track facilities, to Internet caf

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.