Takeaways from Tallahassee — We’re all out of storm metaphors

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It’s not the natural disaster, but the PR uses of it that make one’s political fortunes rise—or fall.

Gov. Rick Scott’s press shop stole a page from former Gov. Bob Graham‘s playbook, as if to say, “You want to see a ‘work day?’ Here’s a work day.”

They shook him like a Polaroid picture, showing the former hospital executive toiling in a blue-collar shirt (no coincidence there) as he tossed branches felled after Hurricane Hermine.

Message: “Look, he’s helping!”

When Scott, a Republican tight with investor-owned utilities, kept lining up assistance from those companies, it was held off by the city’s municipal utility department.

Scott then set himself up as the victim. The governor metaphorically grabbed his pearls, as if saying, ‘…but I was just trying to help!’

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, on the other hand, came off like the city’s complainer-in-chief.

Gillum, a Democrat, was vexed by the governor’s press releases. He had his feelings hurt that Scott was playing politics.

He said he didn’t reject the help, then said he didn’t have power to reject help.

When the mixed messages got confusing, Gillum took to Facebook to defend himself. He sat down with the Tallahassee Democrat to do a live-stream interview.

Finally, he unloaded on the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas that “he was approached on Monday by a lobbyist for (Florida Power & Light) who told him, ‘My boss is mad at you,’ for saying FPL was wrong to suggest that Tallahassee rejected the utility’s offer.

“Referring to the bad publicity, the lobbyist said ‘we can make this go away for you.’ Gillum said he replied: ‘You don’t need to make anything go away. The damage is done. I am dealing in the effects of this lie,’ ” the Herald reported.

In the end, it didn’t matter that the city had good reasons, safety-related and otherwise, not to accept help from all comers.

Nope, Republican strategist Rick Wilson said it best, telling POLITICO the future attack ad “writes itself: ‘When Hermine hit and Tallahassee needed help, Andrew Gillum said no.’ “

And the photos of blue-collared Scott, who could be a future Senate candidate, keep coming.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Recovery continues — One week after Hurricane Hermine swept through Florida, officials in the Big Bend region continued to clean up debris and try to restore power to residents. Tallahassee was one of the hardest hit communities, and the slow process caused a dust up between Gov. Scott and Tallahassee city officials. Scott demanded the efforts speed up, even donning a pair of work gloves and helping FDOT crews clean up debris. Tallahassee officials said Scott’s criticism was not helping. As of Friday, several hundred Tallahassee customers were still without power.


Hermine headaches — The slow clean-up process has piqued Sen. Jack Latvala’s interest. Latvala said he was considering calling for legislative action to address the response to Hurricane Hermine. The Clearwater Republican, who is set to become the next chairman of the appropriations committee, questioned whether community-based power operations are well positioned to assist in recovery. The storm also brought in a wave of other headaches. The Consumer Protection Coalition warned Floridians against signing away their insurance claims to dodgy contractors and attorneys. And insurance analysts suggest losses could amount to about $500 million. Total economic damages could amount to $1 billion in Florida and other southeastern state.

Image control — A recent Public Policy Polling survey found 47 percent of Floridians disapproved of how Gov. Scott was doing his job; while 42 percent said they approved of how he was doing as governor. The survey found 68 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of independents thought Scott was doing a fine job. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 65 percent of Democrats said they disapproved of Scott. While Scott was still underwater when it comes to his approval rating, Sen. Bill Nelson was still considered fairly popular. The survey found 41 percent of Floridians said they approved of Nelson’s job performance, compared to 30 percent who disapproved. So how will that play out in the 2018 U.S. Senate race? In a head-to-head match-up, Nelson beats Scott 45 percent to 41 percent.

Bad news Bondi — Attorney General Pam Bondi was back in the news for her ties to Donald Trump. The GOP nominee paid a $2,500 penalty to the IRS and refunded his foundation, which originally donated $25,000 to Bondi’s re-election bid. The donation to Bondi’s political committee came as she was considering to pursue an investigation into Trump University. Bondi has been mum on the allegations, but has been skewered for her ties to Trump University. And this week, the Democratic Coalition Against Trump filed a complaint against Bondi.

Mosquito madness Senate Democrats blocked a $1.1 billion plan to fight the spread of Zika, once again calling on Republicans to drop provisions to block Planned Parenthood from getting money to combat the spread of the disease. The vote came just days before the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced more mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County had tested positive for Zika. “This find underscores the continued need already underway in Miami-Dade to employ an aggressive and comprehensive mosquito control strategy,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Gov. Scott will head to Washington, D.C., next week to push for funding. As of Friday, there were 756 cases of Zika in Florida.

George Levesque has said good-bye to the Florida Senate.

Levesque, the Senate’s former general counsel, has joined GrayRobinson’s Tallahassee office, the firm announced this week. Levesque joined the firm as “of counsel,” and brings more than a decade of legal experience to the firm.

“We are excited to add George to our capital city office,” said Mayanne Downs, the firm’s president and managing director, in a statement. “His relationships and experience in Tallahassee are unmatched.”

Levesque began his career in a law firm practicing civil litigation defense, before serving as special counsel and policy adviser to the Florida Speaker of the house. He represented that chamber in the gaming compact negotiations. He has also served as the Florida House’s general counsel, before becoming general counsel to the Florida Senate.

Levesque played an influential role in legislative redistricting and litigation.

An appellate court this week ruled that the state’s Department of Elder Affairs can’t be sued by one of its former ombudsmen.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed a trial court decision that would have allowed Clare Caldwell to pursue her wrongful termination claim.

Caldwell said she was fired in 2011 after she was publicly critical of the agency’s interference in the ombudsman program, which investigates complaints about living conditions in Florida’s assisted-living facilities and nursing homes.

The appellate decision said “there is no indication that the Legislature specifically intended to permit the Department to be sued for ‘interference’ in … the ombudsman program.”

Caldwell said she was told “that she served at the will of the Secretary and he no longer needed her services,” the opinion said.

It added that “to the extent that Caldwell claims the Legislature waived sovereign immunity under (state law), that provision applies only to tort claims, not to statutory claims such as retaliatory discharge.”

These switches have insurance regulators’ stamp of approval.

The Palm Beach Post reported this week that close to 70,000 offers to switch to private insurance companies have been approved for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. customers. That pushes the total approved offers to more than 570,000, more customers than the state-run insurance company has.

The Palm Beach Post reported the approved November switches included Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Co. for up to 27,000 policies. and National Specialty Insurance Co. for up to 8,421 policies.

It’s time to take a peek into the state’s financial future.

Amy Baker, the state’s chief economist, is scheduled to discuss the long-range financial outlook during the Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Monday. Baker will be discussing a draft of the financial outlook.

The outlook, according to LobbyTools, will compare high priority and critical expenses with incoming revenue. It will also provide a projection whether there will a surplus or deficit after the bills are paid in fiscal 2017-18. State officials expect there will a surplus.

Mark your calendars, the 2016 National Summit on Education Reform is just around the corner.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education will host its annual education summit from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 at the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, the chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education is set to deliver the keynote address on Dec. 1.

“Today, too many children are stuck in failing schools, leaving them without the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the 21st century global economy,” said Bush in a statement. “We must massively disrupt our education system if we want to ensure our long-term national and economic security and give every individual the chance to succeed.”

Bush will kick off the event on Dec. 1, followed by general sessions featuring nationally renowned speakers. The 2015 summit was attended by more than 900 education leaders from 45 states and Washington, D.C.

“The education landscape is in constant flux, every year bringing us new innovations, new strategies and new thought leaders,’’ said Patricia Levesque, the organization’s CEO, in a statement. “But the mission remains the same as it has been since the beginning of our reform movement – to reimagine America’s education in a way that touches every student with better resources, better opportunities and better preparation for success.”

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recovered more than $363,000 in August.

The agency announced this week it recovered $363,912 for Florida consumers last month. The department initiated 273 investigations and arrested 19 individuals during the one-month period.

“One of our top priorities remains consumer protection,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “I am proud of our department’s continued successes in returning Floridians’ hard-earned money.”

The Department of Agriculture also added 38,868 telephone numbers to Florida’s Do Not Call List.

Welcome to the bench, Jennifer Hilal.

Gov. Scott appointed the 33-year-old Plantation resident to as Broward County Court judge this week.

Hilal served as an assistant state attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit since 2008. During her time with the State Attorney’s Office, she served in several capacities, including the supervising assistant state attorney in the felony trial division.

She fills the vacancy created by Judge Alan Marks.

Pretty soon you might just be able to leave your wallet at home.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill says she’s aiming to file legislation next year covering the use of “cryptocurrencies” such as bitcoin.

Cryptocurrency is online money, “decentralized digital currency beyond the reach of banks and governments,” as Fortune magazine recently defined it. It’s gradually growing in popularity, but a Miami-Dade circuit court ruling said bitcoin isn’t money as now contemplated by state law.

“I think it’s something we need to get ahead of,” she said. “We need to look at what the role of government should be, with an emphasis on consumer protections.”

When asked whether she considered bitcoins to be money, Hukill laughed.

“I think it can fit into our laws somewhere,” she said.

Need some training on Florida’s Sunshine laws?

Don’t worry, the First Amendment Foundation has you covered.

The First Amendment Foundation will host six seminars in the coming weeks to provide in-person training on the state’s Sunshine Laws. The foundation will hold seminars in St. Petersburg on Sept. 28, Fort Myers on Sept. 29, and Miami on Sept. 30.

The statewide organization will then head to Melbourne on Oct. 3 and Orlando on Oct. 4. Seminars will be held in North Florida at a later date.

The seminars are sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Society of Professional Journalists Florida Pro Chapter.

For more information, visit the First Amendment Foundation’s website.

Mark August down as another good month for the Florida Lottery.

The agency announced this week it set “an all-time record high” of $467 million in ticket sales for August. This comes after the agency reported having the best-ever July — the first month of the state’s fiscal year — for sales.

The Lottery now plans to transfer about $120 million from the August proceeds into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education. Last month, the Lottery chipped in $150 million to the fund from July operations.

“The Lottery’s sole mission is to sell tickets to generate additional funding for education,” Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie said in a statement. “We are extremely proud that this unprecedented sales record will assist in furthering that goal.

The state will spend less on Bright Futures scholarships next year.

But the future of the merit-based scholarship program is far from dim.

State projections show fewer students will be eligible for the scholarships — given to high achieving students — in 2017-18. But POLITICO Florida reported over the next three years, the number of students eligible for the awards will increase.

The state is expected to save $5.3 million on scholarships next year, but see increases of $4.8 million in 2018-19 and $8.5 million in 2019-20.

Senate President Designate Joe Negron has made higher education a top priority during his tenure.

Courtesy of Volunteer Florida
Courtesy of Volunteer Florida

Keep the “3 Cs” in mind before you donate.

That’s the message Volunteer Florida is sending to people who want to contribute to Hurricane Hermine Relief efforts. The statewide organization said Floridians should consider giving a donation (or cash) to established relief organization, because it is “always the most immediate, useful and versatile way to give.”

Floridians should also confirm there is a need before collecting and sending donated items. In the case of Hurricane Hermine, there are no items needed for those impacted by Hurricane Hermine.

And finally, Floridians should make sure to connect with local agencies to volunteer their services.

“Following Hurricane Hermine, Floridians are seeking to volunteer, donate items, and provide financial assistance to support recovery efforts,” said CEO Chester Spellman, the CEO of Volunteer Florida. “Volunteer Florida is working with over forty emergency management partners and three AmeriCorps teams to leverage the extraordinary human capital of volunteers so that we can serve more Floridians.”

Want more information about how to help? Head to Volunteer Florida’s website.

Got a great idea for a new business? Consider Florida.

A new study from the Kauffman Foundation found Florida was among the Top 5 states that saw an increase in new businesses last year. The study showed nearly two-third of states saw an increase.

Thirty states saw gains in business startups, according to CBS Miami. Florida was ranked second, behind Texas in the report. California, New York and Colorado rounded out the Top 5.

The report found the Florida had a 0.36 percent rate of new entrepreneurs in 2016. That was the seventh highest rate in the nation, and up 0.01 percent from 2015. Florida’s startup density was 101.8 startups per 1,000 employer businesses in Florida.

If you get an email from Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, don’t reply.

Do notify the Department of Insurance Regulation hotline at 877-693–5236.

The department issued an alert Thursday warning that somebody is sending emails over Altmaier’s name, seeking to rip off consumers.

“A fraudulent email, appearing to be sent from OIR Commissioner Altmaier, has been sent to consumers, notifying that all of the recipient’s insurance policies have been cancelled,” the department said in a written statement. “OIR does not send notices of cancellation, and those who receive this email should disregard the information. Consumers should not click on any links contained with the email message, and should immediately delete the email.”

Fraudulent schemes accompanied Hurricane Hermine as with other disasters. Attorney General Bondi has fielded 35 reports of price gouging at last report, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has said that scam artists in Taylor County are impersonating Federal Emergency Management Agency employees and demanding a $150 deposit to help file hurricane-related insurance claims.

Call it their 2017-18 wish list.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is requesting $21.7 million next year. And according to WFSU, $500,000 of that would go toward bear proof trash cans.

The commission is requesting the $500,000 from the general revenue fund to help fund the effort because there won’t be any bear permit fees to use this year. Earlier this year, the commission called off its bear hunt after public outcry.

The commission’s budget also includes reduced funding for fighting invasive plants, eliminating money for red tide research, and cutting as many as 34 employees.

It’s time to take a look at infrastructure.

Rep. Kathleen Peters asked Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Pinellas County legislative delegation, to call a special meeting of the delegation to discuss infrastructure issues across Pinellas County.

“Storm events over the last year have exposed ailing infrastructure needs across Pinellas County, given the amount of sewage dumps by a majority of municipalities,” she wrote in her letter. “This is deeply concerning to me as it is one of the government’s primary objectives, to maintain our sewer systems. The problem is something that has been neglected for quite some time and I believe to be at a critical point for our entire county, putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk, as well as leaving lasting damage to our environment.”

The meeting would give legislators a chance to talk to local officials about the issues at hand, and come up with ways to remedy the problems.

Trauma center rules could be changing.

The Department of Health scheduled a Sept. 22 hearing to discuss a proposed rule to address how many trauma centers are allowed in different regions across the state, the News Service of Florida reported this week. The state agency is also seeking a stay in a legal dispute about trauma centers in Northeast Florida.

UF Health Jacksonville is challenging a decision by the Department of Health to allow HCA Orange Park Medical Center to open a trauma center.

Florida has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the nation.

The state’s Hispanic population is 4.8 million, according to a new Pew Hispanic Center report released this week. Florida ranks third, behind California, which has a Hispanic population of 15 million, and Texas, which has a Hispanic population of 10.4 million.

New York and Illinois round out the Top 5, with a combined Hispanic population of 5.9 million. Together, the states hold 65 percent of all Hispanics.

Hispanics make up 24 percent of Florida’s population, according to the report.

Walton and St. Johns counties were among the 30 fastest growing Hispanic counties from 2007 to 2014.

Congratulations, Jennifer Green!

Green was given the Ken Plante Founder’s Award during the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists annual conference this week. The award is given to lobbyists who exhibit statesman like conduct, superior ethical standards and dedication to the profession.

“Our high ethical standards and sense of integrity drive our members every day,” said David Mica, the chairman of the FAPL. “Ken’s legacy is with our association in every decision we make and Jennifer Green walks in Ken’s footsteps every day. Her passion for ethical service rises is a model for which FAPL is grateful and inspired by.”

Green is the president and founder of Liberty Partners. She is a longtime board member and the past chairwoman of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, the Florida Chamber Political Institute Advisory Council, and the American and Florida Society of Association Executives.

snailsAgriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is winning the war on snails.

More than 164,000 giant African land snails have been eliminated in Florida since 2011, when the invasive snail was discovered in Miami-Dade County. The snails are a threat to more than 500 varieties of plants and other agriculture commodities, but also consume plaster and stucco to get calcium to grow their shells. They also carry a parasite can cause a type of meningitis in humans and animals.

“I am proud of the significant progress we’ve made in our effort to eliminate the giant African land snail,” said Putnam. “We will remain vigilant in our fight against these invasive pests.”

Over the past five years, the state agency has detected and eliminated snails in 31 core areas in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The success of the program, the decommissioning team has recommended that nearly half of the core areas be decommissioned in the coming year.

Originally from East Africa, the snails are one of the largest land snails in the world and can grow up to eight inches in length. Each snail can live as long as nine years, and adults lay up to 1,200 eggs per year.

Like black sea bass?

Then you’ll love a recent decision by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

During its meeting in St. Augustine, the commission decided to expand recreational fishing opportunities for black sea bass caught in Atlantic state waters. Under the new rules, recreational anglers will soon be able to take seven black sea bass per person, per day. That’s up from the current limit of five per person, per day.

An effective date for the changes in state waters has yet to be determined.

If you’re in Pensacola this weekend, take some time to help families in need.

Rep. Mike Hill will host a Farm Share food distribution event on Saturday morning at the Marcus Pointe Baptist Church, 6205 North W. Street in Pensacola.

Farm Share, a non-profit organization working to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, will provide a semi-truck load of fresh produce, canned goods, dried goods and other much needed food essentials for those in need in the Pensacola area. The event is free of charge and is based on volunteer efforts.

Set-up and volunteer prep begins at 8 a.m., and food service begins at 10 a.m.

It’s (lionfish) derby day!

The Upper Keys Lionfish Derby, organized and hosted by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, is scheduled for Saturday at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The lionfish derby is held in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Lionfish are invasive species that can have a negative impact on native species and habitat. The FWC encourages the removal of lionfish to help limit the negative impacts to marine life and ecosystems.

The derby gives teams of two to four people to collect and remove as many lionfish as possible. Teams have from sunrise to 5 p.m. Registration is $120.

This came too late to add to this week’s Capitol Directions, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t give the City of Tallahassee an “Up Arrow” for this:

A week after getting blown over from the category 1 Hurricane Hermine, street crews were out in the city’s Midtown section Friday, continuing an ongoing sidewalk construction project. Three cheers for “multi-modal infrastructure”! (Yes, we looked it up.)

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:


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.