The week that was in Florida politics

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Campaign finance figures began trickling in this week as respective camps touted the relative strength of their candidates in the quarterly chest-pounding that accompanies the election cycle.

With all House and Senate seats up for grabs and a presidential and U.S. Senate race to boot, campaign cash registers were ringing up all over the state as candidates jockeyed for position in campaign season pushed ahead by an early end to the legislative session.

But while fundraising continues, some state Senate candidates still don’t know for sure what districts they are running in, a lack of information the Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, took steps to alleviate this week by sending the proposed new state Senate map to the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected an earlier effort to redraw the 40 Senate districts.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott received the Legislature’s $70 billion spending proposal, one of several pieces of legislation that landed on his desk and must be dealt with over the next two weeks. Also included in the bevy of bills is a controversial proposal to create the Florida Polytechnic Institute by splitting the Polk County campus from its University of South Florida parent.

But much of the news generated in Florida this week had its antecedents outside the capital city, as the highly publicized deaths of a black Sanford teen and a FAMU drum major in separate instances in Central Florida continued to steal headlines.

A round-up via the News Service of Florida.

MARTIN CASE PROMPTING REACT

The Trayvon Martin case continues to drive the agenda as the February shooting of the Sanford teenager prompted incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale to assemble a group to address the issue of gun violence and the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law that is the backdrop for the shooter’s defense.

Speaking to reporters early in the week, Smith called on the governor and others to speed up investigations into the death of Martin, 17, who was shot to death by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in what could be a test case for the 2005 Florida law allowing residents to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

Scott and others have said they want to wait until more information comes from the Martin case before a panel looking at that law is convened. Smith said the law has already prompted ample evidence that it can be misunderstood, and can be assessed immediately.

“We have years of data on stand your ground,” Smith said. “Trayvon Martin may be an outlier when it comes to “Stand Your Ground” …but we need to take a look at the entire statute and we don’t need the Trayvon Martin case to take a look.”

But it is the Martin case that has prompted an international storm as critics see the death of the unarmed black man as proof that racial profiling is alive and made more deadly by “Stand your Ground” laws now in the books in Florida and nearly half of other U.S. states.

The Martin case has drawn attention away from the November death of Robert Champion, a 26-year old drum major for the FAMU Marching 100 who died in an alleged hazing incident in Orlando. Florida A&M continued to look at that issue this week at its trustees meeting – and the athletic director and president said it’s not clear how long the band may remain suspended, raising the prospect of FAMU football in the fall without the most famous part of FAMU football, the halftime show by the Marching 100.

REDISTRICTING BACK TO COURT

It was just a formality, but an important one, when Attorney General Pam Bondi sent the new Senate map to the court. It was also an expensive one for the Senate, which will be represented in court by former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero. The Miami Herald reported this week that Cantero, now a lawyer in private practice, will get a shade under $700 an hour to make the Legislature’s overture to his former colleagues that the map is legally sufficient.

RIVERA STILL FACES NO DEM CHALLENGER:

Despite being targeted by national Democrats as vulnerable, U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, doesn’t have a serious opponent. This past week, the candidate who was running against him, state Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami Beach, got out. And former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, thought to be a great possible candidate to replace Garcia, all but said no.

Garcia will instead run for a Miami-Dade county commission spot. As for Penelas, the highly regarded Democrat said his priorities lie elsewhere, at least for now. He’s staying closer to home to help raise his young kids.

“I’d love to do it,” Penelas said. “I think I’d be a great congressman. … But realities are realities.”

Rivera’s campaign has been hampered by questions about whether he can hold the seat – and last year had more debt than money in the bank. The campaign reported $92,800 cash on hand at the end of 2011, with just more than $154,000 in debt, according to federal campaign records.

Garcia quit the race after a public falling-out with national Democratic Party officials, who have made Florida a centerpiece of its efforts to gain the 25 seats needed to take control of the House after two years of Republican rule.

CAMPAIGNS

U.S. Senate hopeful Connie Mack led Florida fundraisers this week as his campaign announced the sitting congressman had raised more than $1 million for the quarter ending March 31. Mack is facing a relatively crowded Republican field for the opportunity to take on Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, who has already amassed more than $10 million for his re-election efforts.

Also, the Let’s Get to Work Committee, which is Gov. Scott’s re-election arm, announced it had raised $910,000 for the first three months of the year, bringing to $1.3 million his bankroll for trying to stick around.

Speaking of sticking around, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, became the latest term limited member to set his sights on another legislative office. Fasano, an 18-year veteran who has reached his term limit in the Senate, joins a crowded Republican field in an upcoming race for House District 36.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Despite his vulnerable status, Rep. David Rivera became an unchallenged incumbent as Democrats scurry to find a standard bearer after former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and former state Rep. Luis Garcia both decided this week not to challenge the Miami Republican.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Now they hire a former Supreme Court justice at $695 an hour to help their cause in the likely event their maps are struck down again. Where was all this money when they cut $300 million from our universities and forced deep cuts to our hospitals? If it’s available to protect political futures, it should have been available for university students and hospital care.” Nan Rich on the appointment of former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero to defend the Legislature’s latest Senate boundary map.

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.