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

Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, integrated marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group: Inside the Miami Beach Convention Hall 51 years ago today, young Cassius Clay became the world heavyweight boxing champion. By the time his legendary career was over, he was simply “The Greatest” – Muhammad Ali. The challenger prevailed when champion Sonny Liston refused…

Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, integrated marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group: Inside the Miami Beach Convention Hall 51 years ago today, young Cassius Clay became the world heavyweight boxing champion. By the time his legendary career was over, he was simply “The Greatest” – Muhammad Ali. The challenger prevailed when champion Sonny Liston refused to come out of his corner for the start of the seventh round. The pre-fight hype was intense – a week before the bout, Clay even posed with the Beatles – and the outcome was controversial. Still, few could deny Clay’s post-fight claim: “I shook up the world!

Now, on to the ‘burn…


Defying the Republican-run Congress, President Barack Obama rejected a bill to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, wielding his veto power for only the third time in his presidency.

Obama offered no indication of whether he’ll eventually issue a permit for the pipeline, whose construction has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate about environmental policy and climate change. Instead, Obama sought to reassert his authority to make the decision himself, rebuffing GOP lawmakers who will control both the House and Senate for the remainder of the president’s term.

Obama vetoed the bill in private with no fanfare, in contrast to the televised ceremony Republican leaders staged earlier this month when they signed the bill and sent it to the president. House Speaker John Boehner … said Republicans were “not even close” to giving up the fight and derided the veto as a “national embarrassment.”

The move sends the politically charged issue back to Congress, where Republicans haven’t shown they can muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override Obama’s veto. North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, the bill’s chief GOP sponsor, said Republicans are about four votes short in the Senate and need about 11 more in the House.


Jolly weeks ago joined most fellow Republicans in voting for a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that attempted to block President Obama’s executive action on immigration. But with days before the department shuts down amid a stalemate on Capitol Hill, Jolly is urging a top House leader to compromise to keep the agency open.

“The first responsibility of Congress is to govern, to keep the government open,” Jolly wrote in letter to Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader. The letter came as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested he was ready to move on a so-called clean funding bill.

“I would ask that as the member of Congress in charge of the floor schedule and in charge of which legislation is considered by the House, please allow this body an opportunity, or in fact multiple opportunities, to vote on measures that we reasonably and honestly know will keep the Department of Homeland Security open — measures that we are confident we can reach agreement with the Senate and the White House.

“It is apparent that after the Senate Democrats’ failure to agree to our measure that this will require the House to compromise on certain provisions in the bill, and in the end it may in fact require that we pass a clean DHS appropriations bill. If so, this need not be the end of our efforts to challenge the president’s actions. We can continue to negotiate legislative provisions throughout the year to confront the president’s actions.”

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It may be the most coveted invite in Republican politics … Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush … plans to reward his biggest early financial backers with a mid-April meeting in Miami with his likely campaign team.

The confab is being organized for so-called bundlers who have “met or exceeded” their fundraising targets … the event would take place on April 13, a person present said.

The timing of the session is bound to fuel speculation that Mr. Bush will officially announce his intent to run for president beforehand … scrambling to collect as much money as possible for a pair of political-action committees by March 31, the first-quarter fundraising deadline … clearly trying to raise enough money to intimidate the rest of the emerging GOP field. Dubbed “shock and awe” by some Bush allies, the effort entails roughly 60 fundraising events in three months.

As the Bush fundraising effort gains steam, event organizers have been eager to tout the total haul from individual events. A pair of fundraisers last week in Chicago and New York each generated more than $4 million, organizers said. It isn’t unusual for Mr. Bush’s finance team to ask donors to contribute $100,000 or more to attend an individual event.

The benefit to donors comes in the form of access to his likely campaign, including future events and regular phone and email updates on the status of his presumptive White House bid. The session in Miami, dubbed a “fulfillment event” by Mr. Bush’s finance team, “will feature advisors and surrogates of the governor and provide some inside baseball for our supporters,” an aide wrote.

I KNOW HE’S HIS OWN MAN, JOHN MCCAIN SAYS OF BUSH via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

“People are making a big deal out of that,” McCain said. “These are the most knowledgeable and respected people, the overwhelming majority of them, on national security. They have been from administration to administration, some of them go all the way back to his father. There is a certain cadre of people who are well respected on national security and it’s not surprising many of them have attached themselves to Bush.”

Bush’s campaign-not-a-campaign announced the advisers, including  former former George W. Bush deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, on the eve of a speech last Wednesday in which he declared, “I am my own man.” The juxtaposition of those messages drew stares from a variety of corners.

“I know he’s his own man,” said McCain.

PICS DU JOUR: “Bloggers for Bush” — Myself and the other top new media guy in Florida, Justin Sayfie, outside of Tuesday’s fundraiser for Bush’s Right to Rise PAC; My wife, Michelle Todd, Bush, and I at the fundraiser.

SPOTTED at the fundraiser at Tampa’s Grand Hyatt: A stunning Pam Bondi, who says she was wearing Kate Spade, but I thought the dress looked a lot like the one Reese Witherspoon wore to the Academy Awards, former Speaker Will Weatherford and his wife Courtney, other Weatherford brothers, Sens. Jack Latvala and Wilton Simpson, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and his wife Joyce, Ambassador Mel Sembler, Brent Sembler, Jim Holton, lobbyist Alan Suskey. Oh, and the Tampa Bay Times‘ Adam Smith was stuck at the bar.

TWEET, TWEET: @Adamsmithtimes: Add @TBLightning owner Jeff Vinik to those adding at least $25k to Jeb Bush super pac tonight in Tpa


The man who helped Mitt Romney raise half a billion dollars in his unsuccessful 2012 presidential run says Hillary Clinton is poised to rake in more than three times that amount in the 2016 campaign.

During a Tuesday interview on Bloomberg Politics’ With All Due Respect,  Spencer Zwick, the co-founder of Solamere Capital and Romney’s former finance chair, said that as a crowded Republican field battles it out for the party’s nomination, an unchallenged Clinton will be busy amassing a unprecedented war chest for the general election.

“Hillary Clinton is going to have $2 billion dollars, or at least from my calculation $1.7 billion if you look at the various entities,” Zwick said. “Who is going to be able to go up against that? Is it going to be someone that’s new and hasn’t had the opportunity to have their message tested, or is it going be someone like Jeb Bush who is able to pull the money together very early and raise more than a billion dollars.”

Zwick pointed to the handful of Super-PACs that have already sprung up under the Clinton banner as a sign that the Democrat would raise a record amount of money in 2016.

“What’s interesting about Hillary is that the outside groups have already started even though there’s no campaign. You look on the Republican side,  it takes a candidate or a likely candidate to get one of those groups started. There are four of five outside groups that will actively play a different role in promoting or defending Hillary Clinton’s candidacy,” Zwick said, adding, “They are going to be incredibly organized. I can’t imagine the scenario where they don’t have at least $1.5 to $2 billion between the campaign and those outside groups.”

But Zwick, who is actively being courted by many of the potential GOP candidates, said many in the Republican field would be able raise enough money to navigate the primary election, and go on to thwart Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

“Clearly Governor Bush is going to have bundlers and large donors fully on board, he already does,” Zwick said. “I think Marco Rubio is going to excite a lot of people in Florida as well as other parts of the country, people are excited about his candidacy and are willing to write big checks. I don’t think you can write off Governor Christie. Scott Walker clearly has great support, so there you have four right there that are going to be able to raise sufficient money in my opinion to run incredible primary campaign.”

RUBIO: EDUCATION MUST GET PRACTICAL, FOCUS ON JOBS via Kathleen Ronayne of the Associated Press

During the final leg of a tour through New Hampshire, Rubio said the country’s education system needs to focus less on granting four-year college degrees and more on helping people learn the skills that lead to high-paying jobs. He spoke at St. Anselm College, his third public event in two days in the early presidential voting state.

“We need a new higher education system, for example, that graduates more people from high school ready to go to work,” he said. “We need to have a system for people who are working full time and raising a family to acquire the skills they will need to get a better job.”

Rubio said it is not enough for Republican candidates to focus on economic growth without also talking about workforce development. High schools and technical schools should be better preparing students to go straight into jobs as welders or medical technicians, he said.

“You can teach people to do this when they’re 17, 18 years of age and they can graduate making $45,000 a year as a start,” Rubio said.

Rubio also said people should be able to earn credit for skills they already have rather than paying to take courses to learn them. Single parents who have to work and take care of their kids need more flexible education options in order to advance their careers, he said.

“For most Americans facing those circumstances there is no program that’s flexible and affordable to them,” Rubio said.


Even as the American Conservative Union (ACU) holds its Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) up in the Beltway this week, conservatives will be arriving in the Sunshine State for other events in the days to come.

The Club for Growth, a conservative group focused on fiscal and education issues, will be meeting at the Breakers in Palm Beach … as it looks ahead to the 2016 presidential race.

Six potential presidential candidates, most of whom are scheduled to speak at CPAC as well, will be meeting with the Club for Growth including Bush and Rubio. The other potential Republican presidential candidates speaking to the Club for Growth are U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and three current governors: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Pence of Indiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Over in Central Florida … the state chapter of the Federalist Society, a right-of-center group focused on legal matters, will be meeting at Walt Disney World. Conservative pundit Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard and a Fox News contributor, will be addressing the group. So will Florida Republicans U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, state CFO Jeff Atwater and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Other familiar faces in Florida political and legal circles will also be speaking at the event, including former Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon; state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle; Tim Cerio, who is the general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott; and Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady.

Conservatives will also be out in force in Boca Raton … for an open house event held by Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Slade O’Brien, a vice president of the national AFP, and Chris Hudson, the state director, will be at the event. Other attendees include Laura Hanley, the executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance, Vinnie Foster who is the state director for Generation Opportunity and César Granjales, the state director of the Libre Initiative. Radio host and Sunshine State News senior editor Ed Dean will also be at the AFP open house.


Jeff Trammell of public affairs firm Trammell & Company and Dorothy Walsh, president of D & D Strategies, are hosting a breakfast fundraiser for Sen. Bill Nelson on March 3 to celebrate the 170th anniversary of Florida becoming a state. The fundraiser … held at The Monocle … will feature bagels, grits and key lime pie. The cost to host the event at the “Cape Canaveral level” is $5,000 and at the “Everglades level” is $2,500. Attendance for individuals, or “the Alligator level,” will cost $1,000.


The low-budget ad … a typical hit piece for Americans for Safe Access … “Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz thinks it’s okay for medical marijuana patients to go to federal prison” … what happened next … caused a political feud that has roiled the early waters for Florida’s 2016 US Senate race.

Wasserman Schultz decided to blast back … complaining that a medical marijuana initiative then on Florida’s ballot could lead to “abuse, fraud and accidents.”

… Wasserman Schultz’s criticism stung one of Florida’s leading Democratic fundraisers, John Morgan, who was bankrolling the ballot initiative. Just two years earlier, Morgan had raised more than $100,000 for her. But from that point forward, Morgan has been a furious critic, sparking a feud that has shadowed her consideration of a possible Senate run, confounded Florida Democrats, and raised questions about the political acumen of one of the party’s top leaders.

Morgan, a sharp-tongued Orlando trial lawyer who relishes fights in and out of the courtroom, immediately struck back and called his one-time ally “despised.” She didn’t respond. And the medical-marijuana initiative was narrowly defeated in November.

But now, Morgan is readying his amendment for the 2016 … if Wasserman Schultz runs for statewide office at the same time, he’s determined to defeat her in a primary, likely against fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Party loyalists remain somewhat surprised by Wasserman Schultz’s opposition to a medical marijuana initiative that’s widely popular among Democrats … they’re more struck by her apparent political tone-deafness in allowing a feud to develop with a renowned attacker like Morgan, especially since he once supported her.


Graham announced on Tuesday that if the GOP-controlled 114th Congress moves forward with an increasingly likely budget gambit that would shut down the Department of Homeland Security, she will forfeit her pay in solidarity with the many federal workers who will be furloughed.

“If Congress lets obstructionists shut down the Department of Homeland Security, each member should give up their paycheck,” said Graham Tuesday afternoon. “There should be an immediate consequence for letting partisan games threaten the security of the American people.”

Graham’s campaign lambasted her opponent former Rep. Steve Southerland last year for his participation in similar Gingrich/Tea Party-style budget antics, calling him “Shutdown Steve” in campaign messaging. Graham vanquished Southerland by just over 1 percent of the vote back in November.

The announcement is in keeping with recent Grahamworld moves meant to seize the political middle, an unusually significant factor in her competitive North Florida district. Since taking office in January, Graham has casted votes against former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as leader of her caucus and for approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which President Barack Obama is expected to veto.

NRCC BRACKETS GWEN GRAHAM: “Shortly after being sworn into office, Graham quickly threw her support behind Barack Obama’s plan for “free” community college, going so far as to say it was “one of the most important parts of Obama’s [State of the Union] speech.” After discovering that “free” community college actually costs $60 billion and is being funded through the taxing of college savings accounts, she tried to deny ever supporting the plan. Then in an apparent face-saving move, she announced that she was co-sponsoring H.R. 529 — a Republican bill that would expand the tax-free college saving accounts.  This bill will be considered by the House of Representatives (today). … When Graham votes in favor of this legislation, she will be doing the exact opposite of what she supported doing in January.  This raises the question on whether Graham actually wants to make a difference or if she just wants to go in whichever direction the political winds are blowing.  Whatever way that is, that is apparently what Graham considers ‘The North Florida Way.’ ”

TWEET, TWEET: @RosLehtinen: In @NatEnquirer at @iflymia: Anna Nicole Smith murder + neighbors as part of #ISIL? No need 4 Intel briefing now!

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One-time Democratic candidate George Sheldon is dropping out of a lawsuit that contends Gov. Scott is failing to report his actual wealth.

Sheldon ran unsuccessfully last year for attorney general. Last October he sued Scott and said he wasn’t following the state’s financial disclosure requirements.

But Sheldon is moving to Illinois to take over as director of the Department of Children and Family Services in that state. Sheldon held a similar position in Florida under then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

The lawyer handling the lawsuit against Scott says it will move forward. Former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Jim York is going to take Sheldon’s place as the main person pushing the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for Scott has previously called the lawsuit a “frivolous partisan attack.”


Scott is officially suspending a standardized test that the state’s 11th graders were supposed to take this spring … signed an executive order that directs Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to suspend the test.

The governor said that there was too much testing going on in Florida’s schools … planned to use his executive power to stop the administration of the English language arts test for high school juniors. The test is based on new standards drawn primarily from Common Core standards.

But some school districts said they would not suspend the test without an official order from state officials.

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: In his exec. order @FLGovScott (kind of) deals with legality of order by saying he’s doing it with hope #FLLeg will consider repeal … @CharlieCrist issued exec orders whose legality was questioned. But someone has to sue to get an answer abt gov’s power. No one did

SCOTT NAMES STATEWIDE EDUCATION COMMITTEE via Melhor Leonor of Political Fix Florida

The members of a new statewide committee that will explore testing, parent involvement, and other education issues were announced Tuesday.

More than 2,800 teachers, administrators, parents, school board members and others submitted applications to sit on the committee.

Following a tumultuous year where disagreements over key education issues created a shaft between parents, educators and state leaders, the Keep Florida Learning Committee is tasked with creating a map for moving forward.

Tasked by Gov. Scott, the committee will look at deregulation opportunities for the school system, instructional material review processes used by school boards, strategies to increase parental involvement, and the implementation of the Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessment over the next year.

Here are the members: Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, 2015 Florida Teacher of the Year Christie Bassett, Polk County, Rep. Manny Díaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Gardens, Principal Margaret Fahringer, Miami-Dade County, Teacher Doris Garcia, Orange County, Parent Julia Hendricks, Pasco County, School Board Member Patty Hightower, Escambia County, Higher Education Participant Joe Pickens, Putnam County, Superintendent Owen Roberts, Alachua County, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, Parent Laura Zorc, Indian River County


Calling school testing in Florida an “incomprehensible mess,” Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said … Gov. Scott and legislators should dramatically revamp the current system.

Ford said that for the next year, testing should not have consequences for students, schools and teacher job evaluations while the new Florida Standards, an offshoot of the national Common Core Standards, are introduced in classrooms.

“It has consumed a tremendous amount of time and money that could and should be spent on real teaching and learning,” Ford said. “But I will say that the state’s overuse of testing has succeeded in one thing: It has created a statewide backlash that is uniting parents, teachers, school employees, community leaders and school administrators. They are saying, ‘enough is enough.’”

Ford, head of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said Florida’s Republican leaders could still maintain for the next year most of the wide-ranging lineup of tests and end-of-course exams … by enacting a yearlong moratorium on using it for high-stakes evaluations, the tests could be used as a tool to establish an effective baseline for students, teachers and schools.

Joanne McCall, FEA’s vice-president, said such a pause was “common sense.”


Five minutes with Andy Ford, where the FEA Chief suggests respect could go a long way to getting teachers and lawmakers on the same page: “I think by having better government that would lend us not necessarily going to court as an option. We testify a lot of times to people who are not even paying attention. They are reading other things while we are up there. They are talking to one another. They are in the back getting coffee while people are trying to lay out a vision and a way to achieve what the legislature wants … And we’ve been ignored.

“If you look back at Race to the Top, the good, the bad, the indifferent, former Gov. Crist did a good thing by bringing all of the stakeholders together. He locked us in the basement for 12 hours and wouldn’t let us out until we actually came up with a plan and we developed a plan within 12 hours that everybody in that room might not have loved, but we all bought into it.

“Teachers aren’t arguing against testing in general, it is how the tests are being used. In this situation where we are going from one version of testing to another, we’re just asking for a break. Let’s see what we are asking kids to perform on is valid before we make life altering decisions.

“What we are looking for is a form of accountability that informs parents that informs the public, informs the teacher and informs the student of how they are performing … We don’t have a problem with being accountable. We have a problem with being unfairly being held accountable. And that’s something that needs serious examination.”

BLOG POST OF THE DAY — A ‘PANTS ON FIRE’ FOR THE EVERGLADES TRUST via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News

Spreading a lie isn’t going to win the Everglades Trust friends or influence any of the people I know.

The trust’s six-figure “online campaign” … to get “Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to enact the will of Florida’s voters” is going to explode on their face like a Bazooka bubble.

They’re claiming the will of voters was to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land left from the fizzled, 2010 Charlie Crist deal.

This isn’t the middle of election season. You can’t just make up something like a new Amendment 1 definition and expect no one to notice.

“Four years ago, the sugar industry signed a binding written contract to sell us land to clean up their pollution, and for a reservoir to protect our water,” says the ad. “Last November, 75 percent of Floridians voted YES to Amendment 1, making vital land purchases for the Everglades a part of the Florida Constitution. Now it’s up to the governor to back it and the Legislature to fund it.”

Let’s see … This seems like a spectacular disconnect to me. Yes, I remember the contract. But no, Amendment 1 wasn’t all about finishing the Crist deal. Nowhere does it imply that the first $350 million should go to pay for 46,800 acres of sugarland, only 26,000 acres which are south of Lake Okeechobee and usable for the kind of water storage the Everglades Foundation wants.

It’s only been four months since Floridians voted. I’m guessing their memory isn’t that short. I think they can recall enough about the ballot language to know when the Everglades Trust is spinning them a tall one.

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Richter filed a bill this week to enact restrictions “prohibiting a person, state agency, or political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned or occupied real property or of the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance” without their consent, if “a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.”

Certainly that language will have to withstand some judicial scrutiny, but it is a step forward in a public policy battle the GOP-led legislature has taken up before. Stuart Sen. Joe Negron led the charge in passing a 2013 bill he dubbed the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act,” which made evidence gathered by drones inadmissible in court and allowed citizens who believe they have been spied on to file civil action against law enforcement agencies.

SB 1178, Richter’s bill to restrict drone use, will be joined by a similar initiative filed by Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange and Groveland Rep. Larry Metz. The bills, SB 766 and HB 649 respectively, also seeks to create limits on the employment of drones by state and local police with limited exemptions, though Richter’s bill is more specific.

All three bills allow for exceptions in situations where there is a high risk of a terrorist attack. Richter’s bill also allows that police may use drones if given a signed warrant from a judge or in cases where there is imminent danger to life or serious damage to property” or to prevent a suspect from escaping from authorities. The rules would be administered by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and applied to county and local jurisdictions.

So far Richter’s bill has no House companion. The Metz-Hukill legislation has not yet been taken up in committee, but will first face the Rep. Carlos Trujillo-led House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.


In anticipation of the 2015 Session of the Legislature, is asking state lawmakers about their goals and priorities — and whether they support certain controversial issues in the state.

A priority this session … “Continuing the USF business school and finalizing financing for that. We got $15 million over the last two years and need another $12 million. Whether that’s this year or spread over the next two years, as long as it happens.”

special appropriation: “[What I’d like to see] is low-income housing and specifically making sure that we’re spending those dollars wisely, and that’s something that’s maybe not so much locally, but more globally. Are we spending those scarce resources in the best way?”

Expand health care coverage to … Floridians left without coverage:  “We need to determine how much money we have to work with. Ultimately it comes down to the federal government getting their financial house in order. We need to wait until they know how much money can be feasibly dedicated to health care and then we can have a much more robust conversation …”

If medical marijuana bill doesn’t gain traction in the Senate, would you support Rep. Greg Steube’s bill in the House: “I think anything that moves the ball forward is a positive step.”

Debate over 64-ounce growlers: “I think it will be resolved shortly. It will be resolved in favor of the craft brewers, maybe the third week of session. This is not an issue that will take too long I don’t think.”


Florida’s most deliberative legislative body is getting richer … combined net worth of the Florida Senate’s 40 members was nearly $144 million, a analysis of financial disclosures filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics last year shows. The total marks a 7.1 percent increase over the previous year and an 18% jump since the 2011 reporting deadline.

The legislators file the disclosures, which are later posted to the ethics commission’s website. The most recent document filings range from Dec. 31, 2013 to June 30, 2014.

The richest lawmaker? Former Senate President Don Gaetz, a Republican, whose net worth was listed at $26,077,030 — more than $8 million above the next wealthiest senator, Wilton Simpson. Gaetz actually lost $142,000 by the end of 2013, but he was up 5% overall since becoming the Senate’s most powerful lawmaker.

Sen. Darren Soto … was the only member of the Legislature’s upper chamber with a negative net worth. Soto self-reported minus $6,663, a reduction of nearly $25,000 of his negative net worth the previous year.

All told, 17 of the 40 state senators are millionaires, according to their filings. Sens. Brandes, Jeremy Ring, David Simmons and Simpson are all worth more than $10 million each.


State Sentors:

State Representatives:


The LeRoy Collins Institute continued to take on the notoriously sticky wicket of local government pensions on Tuesday with the release of the seventh installment of the think tank’s Tough Choices series of policy papers, titled “Beyond Pensions: Florida Local Governments and Retiree Health Benefits.”

In the new study and an accompanying webinar held Tuesday morning, the institute’s director Carol Weissert and study author David Matkin of the University of Albany spoke about the need to “get out in front” of the issue of health insurance assurances and other retirement benefits — termed “other post-employment benefits” in the study — the same way the Legislature has addressed issues with the Florida Retirement System and other structural state debt issues.

Matkin, who has written all seven of the Collins Center’s recent studies on long-term problems in Florida public policy, specifically advocated  recommendations in two areas tangling the relationship of state government, unions, and local governments. They are, first, the transparency and the level of time and effort involved in obtaining reliable numbers, and, secondly, the actuarial unsoundness of many county and local government pension programs.

Unlike the FRS, most municipal governments fund their pensions on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, meaning they appropriate money to pay benefits in each year’s  budget. The problem, according to the new academic paper, lies in projections that more than half of local governments will have to increase funding for pension-related areas of the budget by more than 2%, including a significant portion that will have to increase allocations by more than 10%.


Florida reached a milestone in the growing battle for fair, equitable and competitive workplaces throughout the state … Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce announced more than 200 Florida employers; both large and small, have now joined the fight to support passage of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

State legislators are currently considering two bipartisan proposals — House Bill 33, filed by Key Largo Republican State Rep. Holly Raschein and Senate Bill 156, filed by Democratic State Sen. Joe Abruzzo from Wellington – known as the Competitive Workforce Act.

The Act seeks to add nondiscrimination protections for gay, lesbian and transgendered Floridians to the list of protected groups, such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap and marital status.

If passed, the bills would update Florida’s anti-discrimination law, by creating a uniform state law that supporters believe will help to attract and retain the best employees, and a competitive advantage in today’s evolving marketplace.

Coalition spokesperson Christina Johnson said since the bills are now in the Florida House and Senate, the Florida Competes movement has gained a tremendous amount of momentum.


Financial literacy and banking choice lead the agenda for Florida’s largest credit union trade group, which Tuesday unveiled its legislative game plan for the 2015 session … Florida Credit Union Association (FCUA) … proposals seek to promote public banking choice, to increase data security, to fight patent trolling and to revise financial literacy guidelines.

LSCU CEO Patrick La Pine says public depository choice is the No. 1 priority, allowing municipalities and public offices the convenience of moving money elsewhere if needs are not met at their current banking institutions.

That’s why the alliance supports Senate Bill 1154, filed by state Sen. Rene Garcia, and House Bill 907 by state Rep. Bill Hager. Both bills seek to allow greater depository choice, which the FCUA contends will spur competition and create opportunities for additional savings and higher returns on deposits.

Another issue for the FCUA is “patent trolling,” where individuals or companies sue other companies, including credit unions, under dubious claims in order to collect license fees … will also advocate financial literacy for high school students.

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Four weeks out from the Jacksonville election, the local airwaves have negative TV ads from both major mayoral campaigns in heavy rotation.

For the last few weeks, the Lenny Curry campaign has slammed the Alvin Brown Administration for a reduction in police on the streets and an uptick in crime. That argument, which was launched during a January joint press conference with Curry and Sheriff John Rutherford, reached its zenith recently, with a hard-hitting ad from the Together for a Greater Jacksonville PAC that argued that rates for murder, rape, and assault went up on Alvin Brown’s watch.

For their part, the Brown Campaign, via Campaign Manager Fabien Levy, calls it a “false attack ad”.

This ad is just ‘Lying Lenny’” — a nickname that almost certainly will be on mailpieces soon from a PAC soon — “putting politics ahead of Jacksonville once again. It’s sad that false and negative attacks are all we’ve come to expect out of the partisan campaign of the political attack dog and party boss Lenny Curry,” claims Levy, who contends that Jacksonville is enjoying historically low crime rates.

“The truth is, under Mayor Alvin Brown’s leadership, overall crime is at a 42-year low and is even 10 percent less than when he entered office,” Levy said. “Mayor Brown has increased the sheriff’s budget by $48 million over the last four years, bringing the sheriff’s annual budget to nearly $400 million — close to 40 percent of the city’s overall general fund budget. The current budget has put 3,000 officers on Jacksonville streets, while the mayor has supported additional grants to hire more officers and called on the sheriff’s department to hire more cops with the existing budget.”

“Mayor Brown is providing the sheriff the necessary resources to fight crime, while also focusing on prevention and intervention to ensure it never happens. He is committed to ensuring our children are able to grow up in safe and supervised environments by investing in schools, after school and summer programs, and initiatives that put people to work,” Levy continued.

I talked to Brian Hughes of the Curry campaign, and he was dismissive of these remarks, describing a “Democrat Hit Team” that was being “beyond disingenuous” by “responding with mudslinging”.

“Every single point in the ad has been validated by third party data”, including “state crime data” and FDLE data, added Hughes. “They may not like the facts but they don’t get to pick their own. There is evidence that they cut JSO budgets. Sheriff Rutherford says that cost [his administration] 147 cops on the street.” Meanwhile, Hughes added, incident rates of murder, rape, and other violent crimes rise.

“The ad is a statement of facts. Nothing in that ad is anything but the truth,” Hughes added.


Douglas Adkins: Dayspring Village, Inc

Kimberly Agee: Health First Health Plans, Inc.; Health First, Inc.

Barney Bishop: Miami River of Life, Inc.

Stephanie Dick: Associated Industries of Florida; Mainline Information Systems, Inc

David Dederichs: Title Technologies, Inc.

Jennifer Green, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Florida Bar Business Law Section

David Griffin, GrayRobinson: Florida Crystals Corporation; Jacksonville Transportation Authority

Sarah Michelle Gross, Joe Pickens, RSA Consulting Group: Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission

Mone Holder: Florida New Majority

Eric Johnson: Hillsborough Community College

Shana H. Lasseter: Florida Commission on Offender Review

Cari Lousch: ACT, Inc

Eliakim Nortius, Akermann LLP: Lakeside Pediatrics

Adam Roberts, GMA Inc. & Technology Advocates LLC: Beer Industry of Florida, Inc

John Andrew Smith, Smith & Smith Consulting: Home Care Association of America – Florida Chapter

Kelly Teague: Orange County Government

Alice Vickers: Public Interest Law Section of The Florida Bar

Stephen Wise, Pennington PA: Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living


A lot of times what one sees at the state capitol depends on one’s point of view … spectator’s voter registration card can very well indicate whether he’s watching a war on public education or an attempt to improve student’s learning gains.

Every now and then though you come across someone like Ron Watson who asks, ”Why are we using a glass? Maybe a saucer would be better.”

“We get a bad rap, but I think we’re very important part of what government does,” said Watson. “We bring a voice to the Legislature. Now it’s their job to listen to all of our voices and make a decision but I think it’s sometimes easier for them if they have trusted voices they can listen too.”

Watson is a lobbyist, a face in the crowd in television and newspaper stories about committee meetings or well-heeled lawyers loitering in the halls of power for a chance to plead a client’s case with a lawmaker.

But as a “voice” he is also someone who has researched a topic and wrestled with different proposals long enough to know how far they go in achieving a policy objective and the unintentional consequences created along the way.

Given Florida has a two-month legislative session lobbyists often struggle to be heard as lawmakers move from an education meeting, to a healthcare meeting to one on transportation. Watson noted it is unreasonable to expect lawmakers to be experts on every issue. And he views the give and take and the debates of a legislative session as an art form, the art of compromise.

***Conversa is a women- and minority-owned, full-service public affairs, public relations, design and research firm, specializing in the development of campaigns that help you listen, understand, engage, and interact with local and global audiences. We’ve helped organizations ranging from Fortune 500 clients and national non-profits to small businesses and international associations define messages, protect interests, influence opinion leaders, and create the conditions necessary for social change. To learn more about how we get people talking, visit***


On Context FloridaMartin Dyckman points out one potential problem in the Florida Senate’s comprehensive and well-meant prison bill (SB 7020). Among other things, it creates a Florida Corrections Commission. Trouble is, all nine commission members would be appointed by the same person, the governor. And for nearly four more years, that’s Rick Scott. Here comes the money train in opposition to All Aboard Florida, the Miami-to-Orlando high speed passenger rail service, says Sally Swartz. In what Marc Yacht calls a “wage fairness epiphany,” Republicans have decided to take on income disparities. Jeb Bush, a GOP presidential hopeful, railed about income equality. “The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time….” Of course as expected, President Barack Obama received the blame. James Call observes that many times, what one sees at the Florida Capitol depends on point of view. It’s a bit like the adage about a glass of water. However, every now and then, you come across someone like Ron Watson, someone who asks,” Why are we using a glass? Maybe a saucer would be better.”

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


It’s not quite as funny as censoring the Count in this Sesame Street “counting” song that makes it sound dirty instead of sounding like the innocent learning ditty that it really is … Sesame Street take on House of Cards is pretty epic, whether you’re a fan or not.

The House of Bricks parody of the scandalous political drama takes the timeless story of the Three Little Pigs by portraying Frank Underwood as the Big Bad Wolf, Frank Underwolf.

True to the fable, Frank Underwolf sets down the road blowing down houses, beginning with the weakest of the three made of straw.

“This is almost going to be too easy,” Frank Underwolf says to the camera and audience in his sly Southern accent.

He points out that he’s after the White Brick House, the “strongest of them all” and that “these others are just in my way.” It’s reminiscent of Frank Underwood’s blatant disregard for any shred of human decency, or, you know, the law in his quest to assume the presidency, which (Spoiler Alert!) he does.


Nearly twenty years after the publication of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club—the source material for a little movie by David Fincher that you might have heard of—a sequel to the book is coming up.

Palahniuk first announced plans for the follow-up at 2013′s Comic-Con in San Diego, where he explained that Fight Club 2 would be a serialized graphic novel.

Palahniuk elaborated further on his website (the page there is no longer up): “It will likely be a series of books that update the story ten years after the seeming end of Tyler Durden. Nowadays, Tyler is telling the story, lurking inside Jack, and ready to launch a come-back. Jack is oblivious. Marla [Singer] is bored. Their marriage has run aground on the rocky coastline of middle-aged suburban boredom. It’s only when their little boy disappears, kidnapped by Tyler, that Jack is dragged back into the world of Mayhem.”

Playboy revealed an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming sequel, written by Palahniuk and drawn by artist Cameron Stewart. Its tone is, not surprisingly, on the surreal side, with oblique dialogue and a somewhat ambiguous sense of what’s really happening; the first thing the narrator says out loud in these opening six pages is, “I’m not me.” The main characters from the novel are present: the main character Jack, Tyler Durden (narrating, per Palahniuk, the action from within Jack), and Marla Singer, now married to the narrator.

Fight Club 2 will be published by Dark Horse Comics, which states in its press release for the book, “Some imaginary friends never go away… Ten years after starting Project Mayhem, he lives a mundane life. A kid, a wife, pills to keep his destiny at bay. But it won’t last long; the wife has seen to that. The time has come…Rize or Die.” The book will hit stands on May 27, with a sample available in many stores on Free Comic Book Day on May 2.


[A] close reading of Politico’s Playbook … shows …. Allen … wants to go deeper than the horse race campaign coverage and the outrage of the week. Mike Allen cares about life. And he wants to give you a guide, or a warning, about how to live yours. He expresses this through the periodic Playbook feature, the PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE. … [25 lessons we’ve given on] power and ethics … On being classy … On human communication in the digital age.

To be sure, the PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE—a bolded, all-caps subheadline among others, such as “HOT IN HILLARYLAND,” “2016 PLAYERS,” or “EXCLUSIVE”—often offers the standard Politico take on a campaign story.

But it’s when Allen tackles the big questions that the PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE achieves a kind of perfection … introduced in February 2009, with an investment banker’s explanation of how the financial crisis had frozen the global financial system. But a few months later … FACTS started to get more philosophical. With some regularity, the FACTS gives Washingtonians a chance to take a break from the news cycle … think about their brief existence on this planet.