Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — March 24

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

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

STAT OF THE DAY — There are now more registered Republicans (225,976) in bellwether Pinellas County than there are registered Democrats (225,957). Of course, NPA (178,687) is the fastest-growing cohort, but the fact that progressive, environmentally-conscious Pinellas is now a red county is emblematic of much of what is wrong with the Florida Democratic Party.

The last Democratic Speaker of the Florida Hosue, Peter Rudy Wallace, was from St. Petersburg. The liberal Tampa Bay Times is headquartered in downtown St. Pete. Pinellas County has a Democratic majority on its County Commission. Tampa Bay is the home of Bob Buckhorn, Rick Kriseman, Charlie Crist, and Alex Sink. Were the Florida Dems ever to mount a real comeback in the Florida Legislature, it would have to include winning battleground seats in Pinellas and Hillsborough County. Yet it will be lucky if it fields even nominal opposition in two key state Senate races (versus Jeff Brandes and Dana Young).

Registration numbers only say so much, but this is a huge moral victory at the grassroots level for the Florida GOP.

As goes Florida, so goes the presidency. As goes the I-4 corridor, so goes Florida. As goes Pinellas, so goes the I-4 corridor. That’s why this number is so important.

SPEAKING OF (AND FOR PINELLAS) — FACEBOOK STATUS OF THE DAY via Jack Latvala — “I think its time for Republican leaders to start acknowledging the valid issues driving Donald Trump’s supporters. The simple fact is that many Republican voters are worse off now than they were a decade ago and the ones who are better off don’t see the same opportunities available for their children or grandchildren. Donald Trump’s message has won the day and his nomination appears inevitable.

There is, however, another truth about Americans. We don’t like winners who pile on and taunt. Almost every professional sports league in America has rules against excessive celebrations because we respect people who win with dignity. As the presumptive winner of the GOP primary contest, I sincerely hope Donald Trump starts acting like the type of winner Americans need and respect. Otherwise, we will face a very difficult election in the fall.”

WHY JEB BUSH’S ENDORSEMENT IS A GAME CHANGER FOR TED CRUZ via Jeremy Carl of the National Review – The endorsement … had a surprisingly enthusiastic tone, with Bush calling Cruz “a consistent, principled, conservative who has shown he can unite the party.” But beyond the positive language, the Bush endorsement is Cruz’s most significant to date for many reasons. This may seem a somewhat strange claim, given that Bush campaign was never able to attract many votes despite beginning the cycle as the presumed front-runner. But Bush’s endorsement … serves as a tremendous validation for Cruz that he is, at long last, beginning to unite the various strands of the mainstream GOP, both conservative and establishment, around him in opposition to Trump. Even more important, Bush’s unqualified endorsement is an unofficial blessing by Bushworld for GOP financiers that they can and should feel free to raise money for Cruz without apology and without any fear of “mainstream” backlash. To do otherwise, given Bush’s statements, would be to be “more royalist than the king.”

CHART OF THE DAY: HOW FAR JEB BUSH IS GOING TO STOP DONALD TRUMP via Ritchie King of – It’s an anti-Trump, clothespin endorsement: Bush appealed to Republicans to “overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena.” And although Bush praised Cruz as a “consistent, principled conservative,” the two men come from completely different camps of the Republican Party … our graphical conception of the Republican field — what we call the GOP’s “five-ring circus” — and how far across that field former presidential candidates have gone when choosing who to endorse. Both Bush and Lindsey Graham traveled a ways along the circus floor — across the entire “establishment” ring and beyond — to arrive at their Cruz endorsements. Only Chris Christie’s endorsement of Trump, the GOP front-runner, looks like a bigger stretch, though admittedly, Trump’s placement is extremely tenuous. Still, Cruz has been mostly despised by Republican apparatchiks, and the chart should give you a sense of the lengths some Republican Party “elites” are willing to go to stop Trump.

TWEET, TWEET: @realDonaldTrump: Low energy Jeb Bush just endorsed a man he truly hates, Lyin’ Ted Cruz. Honestly, I can’t blame Jeb in that I drove him into oblivion!

GOP ELITES LINE UP BEHIND TED CRUZ via Eli Stokols of POLITICO – Republican elders, desperate to stop Trump, are increasingly convinced they would rather forfeit the White House than hand their party to the divisive Manhattan billionaire. That’s why the party’s establishment is suddenly rallying behind Cruz, a man they’ve long despised and who has little chance, in the view of many GOP veterans, of defeating Hillary Clinton on Election Day. “People think we’re not going to win in November anymore. All the candidates that had a shot at winning don’t appear to have a shot at winning the nomination. Everyone is resigned to that,” said a high-ranking GOP operative about the thinking among Bush and Rubio alumni, as well as Republican party officials and big-money donors. “People think we lose with Cruz, but we don’t lose everything,” said the operative … “He’s still a real Republican. We don’t lose the House and Senate with Cruz. We don’t lose our soul as a party, and we can recover in four years and I’m not sure people think we can recover from Donald Trump.” Said one high-level operative inside the Koch network: “He’s the devil you know.” Indeed, they’d rather lose with Cruz and play a longer game with eyes on 2020 than see their party and conservative principles hijacked by Trump – a candidate they do not trust even as they recognize his political dexterity and the possibility that he could be just cagey enough to win in the fall.

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WITH DONALD TRUMP LEADING, NEARLY ALL SENATE CANDIDATES SEEK ‘OUTSIDER’ LABEL via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Call it the Trump effect or the Bernie Sanderseffect: Nearly all of the seven candidates for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat — even some sitting congressmen — are angling to be seen as “the outsider.” But some experts say that strategy may not be the boon candidates hope for, even in an election cycle that’s so anti-Washington. “There’s something that is so unique to Trump that I’m not sure it’s easily translated to another race,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of the Rothenberg and Gonzales political report. “In terms of the effect of Trump down-ballot, nobody knows,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook political report. “Everybody is in pretty uncharted water.” For the last month, Republicans in particular have hurled criticisms at one another, trying to make their opponents out to be part of the political elite. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantiscalled Bradenton homebuilder Carlos Beruff a “Charlie Crist Republican” and accused him of “crony capitalism.” For his part, Beruff has gone after Carlos Lopez-Cantera and David Jolly as “professional politicians.”

MY TAKE: SELF-PROCLAIMED ‘TAXPAYER HERO’ RON DESANTIS CARRIES MOST DEBT IN FLORIDA’S U.S. SENATE RACE via Florida Politics – Boasting a reputation as a “leading fiscal conservative in the House,” DeSantis doesn’t quite walk the same walk in his own campaign. As he frequently rails against the national debt, comparing a recent budget deal to “giving a shopaholic an unlimited credit card,” the congressman seems perfectly fine carrying a boatload of debt on his own. POLITICO Florida reports that nearly $100,000 is owed to direct mail vendors; $86,039 of it to Virginia-based Targeted Victory Funding, which provides website development and online marketing. As of the last reporting period, DeSantis added another $29,470. Calling yourself a “taxpayer hero” by decrying massive debt is apparently much easier said than done, especially when vendors’ money is already in your pocket. Financial solvency is a simple equation — pay your debts with the money you have.

PATRICK MURPHY STAFFER ASKS TRACKER IF HE’S “DOIN’ GOOD?” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Video trackers have become a regular way of life on the campaign trail … No doubt Jupiter Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy gets his fair share … The other night, Murphy and one of his staffers were en route to a meeting when a tracker caught up with them. In a video, courtesy of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aimed at keeping the Senate in GOP hands, the Murphy staffer tries to obstruct the tracker from asking a question, and comes out looking a bit foolish in doing so. Congressman Murphy seems to be enjoying the exchange, nevertheless.

U.S. SENATE TRACKER: Carlos Beruff will attend the Sarasota Republican Club dinner meeting at 6 p.m. at Marina Jack Restaurant in Sarasota. Carlos Lopez-Cantera will attend the Republican Club of Okaloosa County meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion in Fort Walton Beach.

CORRINE BROWN FACING HOUSE ETHICS INVESTIGATION via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The House Committee on Ethics has established an investigative subcommittee to look at whether Brown violated any laws or committed “fraudulent activity.” A release from the committee does not list specific allegations, but the head of a charity linked to Brown pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Brown was served with a federal subpoena in January. Carla Wiley, president of the Virginia-based nonprofit One Door for Education, pleaded guilty to using the influence of a public official to solicit contributions to her organization. She has agreed to cooperate with federal officials. Court documents in that case do not name the public official but simply refer to them as “Person A.” It outlines $150,000 in disbursements made from the nonprofit to “cover costs associated with social or political events hosted by Person A or held in Person A’s honor.” Brown’s office said she has “no comment” on the ethics probe.

JEFF MILLER BACKS NEAL DUNN TO TAKE ON GWEN GRAHAM via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News – “North Florida needs a conservative who is committed to serving our veterans, shrinking the size and scope of the federal government and safeguarding our Second Amendment rights,” Miller said. “Neal Dunn shares the same conservative values as many of us in our community, and he has demonstrated a commitment to the ideals and principles of the Founding Fathers. I believe his background as a veteran and surgeon makes him uniquely qualified to represent the 2nd District of Florida in Congress.”

REBECCA NEGRON MAKES THE BALLOT IN CD 18 BY PETITION via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News – “I am encouraged and honored that I am now qualified to appear on the ballot to represent Congressional District 18 for the upcoming Republican primary on Aug. 30,” Negron said. “Reaching this milestone by petition is further proof that Congressional District 18 voters are not only hearing our conservative message, but hearing a message they embrace for the future of their community and nation … My team and I have enjoyed meeting and speaking with the people of this community.”

CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS CAN HELP OR HINDER CANDIDATES SWITCHING RACES via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Because of differences between federal and state campaign finance laws, Mike Haridopolos can use money left over from his failed U.S. Senate bid to run for state Senate, but Matt Gaetz, who switched from a state Senate seat to a congressional effort, is out of luck. According to Federal Election Commission records, [Haridopolos] still has $944,745 in his campaign committee, “Friends of Mike H” … Gaetz can’t just move his money to a congressional campaign because Florida law says he has to “dispose” of those funds after withdrawing from the race. He has 90 days to so do once he officially takes his name out of contention … Gaetz will have to “return pro rata to each contributor (any) funds that have not been spent or obligated.” On the other hand, should Haridopolos jump into the state Senate race, he can — generally speaking — apply his federal campaign dollars toward that bid, according to Paul S. Ryan, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center … “In this instance, the only restriction on a federal candidate’s use of campaign funds is that the candidate cannot convert the funds to personal use … In order for a federal candidate to use their campaign funds to support a state office campaign, state campaign finance law would require the funds to be contributed to, and then spent out of, the candidate’s state campaign committee … So, in the eyes of federal law, this is deemed a contribution from a federal committee to a state committee.”

NATIONAL LIBERAL GROUP TARGETS ANITERE FLORES AS ‘QUEEN OF CORRUPTION’ IN FLORIDA via Kristen Clark of the Tampa Bay Times – … because of her past work with the unaccredited Doral College in Miami-Dade County. In an online video — that declares her “Florida’s most corrupt politician” — Occupy Democrats takes Flores to task for her former job as president of the college and for supporting legislation that benefited Florida’s charter school industry. The group alleges she “takes tax dollars meant for education and pockets them” for her own enrichment and those of her “friends.” Doral College is run by Academica, a for-profit company that’s believed to be Florida’s largest charter school operator and that a few Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers have connections to. Flores worked as president of Doral College from its inception in 2011 until July 2015. Occupy Democrats — which bills itself as a “counterbalance” to the conservative tea party movement — posted its video on Facebook, sharing it with nearly 2.6 million fans on the site.

NORA PATTERSON RAMPS UP ENDORSEMENT WAR IN STATE SENATE RACE via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Patterson took the endorsement chase to a whole new level when the former Sarasota County commissioner put out a list of 150 people supporting her state Senate bid. The list Patterson sent out Wednesday covers two full pages. What’s unusual is that many of the names aren’t those of elected officials. Instead, they’re prominent business leaders and community activists. They include doctors, attorneys, realtors, a veterinarian, a library manager, the former head of Sarasota Memorial Hospital, the former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and plenty of people who are just listed as “Sarasota resident” or “Venice resident” or “Longboat Key resident” … “These leaders are all well-known and respected in their communities and will be part of an unprecedented local grassroots effort to elect Nora Patterson to the Florida Senate,” Patterson said in the release. The list further showcased the deep connections Patterson has in Sarasota County after nearly a quarter century in local government.

HD 25 HOPEFUL TOM LEEK NETS ENDORSEMENTS FROM FORMER RIVALS via Florida Politics – The endorsements came from Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys and Becky Reichenberg, a former legislative aide for current Republican Rep. Fred Costello, who is running for Congress. “Tom Leek is someone we can count on to be a conservative leader in Tallahassee,” Denys said. “Tom is someone who understands our needs, from better cooperation between the state and local governments to better-paying jobs and a technology-driven future for our economy.” Reichenberg said that after meeting Leek, she was confident that “he’s a true conservative with the right experience and the right mindset for the job.” Leek said he was “beyond grateful” for the former candidates’ support and that he looked “forward to working closely with both Deb and Becky for many years to come.”

RENE PLASENCIA USES POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE MONEY TO BUY SCHOOL BUS via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Plasencia’s Commitment to Opportunity, Action and Community Health PC (COACH PC) spent $6,735 on Feb. 18 to purchase, at the Campus Auto Retail Service in Deland, what the PAC’s website called “capital.” Once the purchase was noticed on the PAC’s website, it had political activists and observers in Central Florida raising eyebrows and gossiping about whether “Coach P” Plasencia, an Orlando Republican, used PAC campaign money to buy a used car. “It’s a school bus,” Plasencia said …  A full-size school bus. Plasencia, a high school teacher and track coach before he was elected, said he intends to put an advertising wrap on it declaring “Coach P.” Then he intends to use it as a mobile campaign office, a mobile constituency outreach and services office, and to help out at social services and community events that might need a mobile office. Or a bus. “The lawyers said the only way we could do it is to purchase it through the PC,” Plasencia said. Coach P’s Magic Bus won’t be ready for its debut for a few weeks. Plasencia said he imagines the purchase should be fine with those who had donated to the PAC. After all, he said, PAC money can be spent on virtually anything.

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DANE EAGLE TALKS GUN LEGISLATION DURING AT SWFL TIGER BAY CLUB via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Eagle said a bill to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns on college and university campuses will be proposed again in the next Legislative Session. However, he seemed less sure about the future of a second gun bill (HB 163) that would have allowed concealed permit holders to openly carry their weapon. “Guns are a very sensitive topic for many,” he said. “When some people see (an image of a gun) they automatically see violence. Others see pride, patriotism and self-defense. It’s understandable why there is so much controversy, those believes are strong and people have differing opinions.” Eagle co-sponsored the campus carry bill (HB 4001) during the 2016 Legislative Session. The proposal cleared the Florida House on an 80-37 vote, but died in the Florida Senate.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: State Rep. Ed Narain will mark the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act by highlighting the success story of Ken Conklin, who discovered a life threatening illness after enrolling in a private health insurance plan offered by the ACA. News conference begins 10 a.m. at Narain’s District Office, 2109 East Palm Ave., Suite 201 in Tampa.

JET FUEL TAX CHANGES SET TO BECOME LAW JULY 1, BARRING UNLIKELY VETO via Florida Politics – The bill removes exemptions to the state’s jet fuel tax, which currently apply to once-upstart carriers like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue beginning in 2018. It would also lower the overall rate for all carriers from 6.9 percent to 4.7 percent, in order to keep the change “revenue neutral,” or avoid becoming a de facto tax increase. The move undoes a legislative change made in 1996 designed to help lure (now-defunct) Pan Am II to Florida by giving smaller fledging carriers who employ 250 or more workers what now amounts to a 10-figure tax break annually. The exemption briefly expired in 2001, but lawmakers reinstated it in 2002 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shook officials’ confidence in the strength of Florida’s aviation industry. The bill is considered a major win for larger air lines like Delta, American and United, who say the “small” carriers like Southwest have now grown their market-shares enough to compete without tax incentives. It’s essentially a twofer for the big firms: they will pay less in jet fuel taxes, while their competitors will go from paying 0 to 4.7 percent per gallon.

LEGISLATURE EASES TRANSFER RULES FOR HIGH-SCHOOL ATHLETES via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – That bill (HB 7029), passed by lawmakers but not yet delivered to Scott, contains a section for school districts to amend their eligibility requirements for high school athletes. The provision is substantially the same as legislation pushed in the House and Senate that gave student athletes more freedom to transfer schools without incurring penalties. Among other things, the provision allows student-athletes to be immediately eligible when they enroll in or transfer to a school and requires a local board to establish eligibility criteria. The bill also lays out penalties for school employees who are found guilty of recruiting, requires teams to forfeit wins using recruited students and changes the threshold of proving eligibility to a “preponderance of evidence,” instead of by “clear and convincing evidence,” a tougher legal standard.

GOV. SCOTT SIGNS NEEDLE EXCHANGE, RAPE KIT BILLS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – The new rape kit law is intended to prevent future backlogs in the wake of Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that 13,000 kits lie untested in the state. It requires state crime labs to test kits within 120 days of receiving them. Scott also signed a law allowing the University of Miami to give out free, clean needles and syringes in exchange for used ones. Its goal is to reach drug users, who are particularly susceptible to contracting HIV and AIDS. Taxpayer money can’t be used for the program, which will include a mobile unit to bring the exchange to people without transportation.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will talk jobs at 10 a.m. at Inside Sales Solutions, 1431 4th Street South in St. Petersburg.

DEO WORKERS AT NORTHWOOD CENTER SENT HOME via Jeff Burlew and Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat – A number of state workers at Northwood Centre got sick … prompting agency officials to let them go home for the day. At least one Department of Economic Opportunity employee fainted at Northwood … and others were reportedly vomiting, said an attorney representing dozens of employees who are suing over environmental and health problems. It was just the latest turn in the unfolding drama at Northwood Centre, where reports of mold, bat guano, sewage and other problems have prompted new rounds of lawsuits and a planned exit of nearly all of the 1,500 state employees with offices there. Dean Izzo, DEO chief of staff, visited the building and told workers they could leave for the day. Employees were instructed to report back to their Northwood offices … DEO executive director Cissy Proctor issued a statement saying the workers, housed in the former Publix building at Northwood, were allowed to leave “out of an abundance of caution.”

FLORIDA CAR INSURANCE AMONG PRICIEST IN THE NATION via Nina Lincoff of the South Florida Business Journal – Florida is No. 5 for most expensive minimum car insurance, according to a new report from, which looked at average annual rates across all 50 states. Minimum car insurance in Florida is more than twice as expensive as it is in Alaska, the cheapest state for minimum coverage. On average, Floridians pay $1,058 a year, compared to the $385 North Carolina residents would pay. Rates vary for a variety of reasons, including accident rates and the rate of uninsured drivers. According to another study, Florida is the worst state to get in a car accident because of the high number of uninsured drivers and low insurance requirements.

WHAT BOB BUCKHORN IS READING — VINIK-CASCADE TEAM HIRES TAMPA FIRM FOR $35M INFRASTRUCTURE WORK via Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – Strategic Property Partners has selected a Tampa contractor for its roadway reconfiguration and infrastructure work. SPP, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, said that Kimmins Contracting Corp. has been chosen from five firms that responded to a request for qualifications that went out in January. A portion of the costs will be funded from downtown Tampa’s Community Redevelopment Area funds. CRAs have a state designation that allows them to use locally generated money to fund projects within the CRA.

MY TAKE: THE BULLYING OF A SMALL TOWN via Florida Politics – Residents of the small municipality of Bal Harbour in Miami-Dade County discovered last week that the owners of the Village’s largest shopping center, the Bal Harbour Shops, had sued both the Village, and its Vice-Mayor [Patricia Cohen]. Why? Simply because they would not bend to their will … the lawsuit is ostensibly about public records … Residents feel the suit is more about intimidation and bullying than anything else. For more than three years now, the Shops have been pushing a plan for a $400 million expansion of its mall space, nearly doubling the size of the current square footage and adding close to one thousand new parking spaces. The Shops have not wasted any time in their efforts to impose their will on the Village … demanded the city approves referendum language in a hastily scheduled special meeting of the Village Council March 17, to meet the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections’ deadline to schedule a special election in May. Things didn’t go well for the Shops almost immediately after they tried to fast track their referendum. Although the lawsuit claims that Cohen violated Florida public records law for allegedly refusing to provide official communications dealing with the Shops expansion and the land deal for the village property, many residents feel this is a blatant attempt by the developers to bully Cohen and the inhabitants of the town.

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APPOINTED: Phillip Russell and Elliot Stern to the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County.


Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: ProcessMap

Dianne Bean: ACT Aspire

Pete Buigas, Buigas and Associates: Viventium Health Plan

David Ramba, Ramba Consulting Group: Gateway Services Community Development District

William Rubin, The Rubin Group: The Florida Bar, Family Law Section

SAINTPETERSBLOG ALUMNI WATCH: KAREN CYPHERS NAVIGATES DATA WITH DEXTERITY via Marina Brown of the Tallahassee Democrat – Public policy research. Data mining. Strategies. Trends. All of it dry information that might leave some thinking of a nap — but not Karen Cyphers, vice president of Research at Sachs Media Group … It is all about storytelling. “Information, when carefully analyzed, can paint a picture of what is happening now and how best to proceed. It is enlightening. And it is fascinating.” Cyphers, the mother of three girls … has cut a wide-swath through the governmental, health care and communications worlds of Tallahassee. Now, at Sachs Media, she says she’s found the place she wants to stay, the place her skills will make the difference to causes she holds most dear. Cyphers rose quickly in her field. She became active in the Crist and McCollum gubernatorial campaigns and became Gov. Charlie Crist’s Deputy Policy Chief for Health and Human Services. She was Director of Health Care Policy at the Florida Medical Association. She was awarded “Best In-Depth Reporting” by the Florida Magazine Association and sat on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Central and Peripheral Nervous System Drugs Advisory Board. Along with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, they collaborated on an Alzheimer’s series for CNN. The result is the Senator William Proxmire Award which was presented March 14 in Washington, D.C. at the Great Minds Gala. Cyphers says that along the way she has had only wonderful role models in both men and women. “The only challenge I’ve found as a woman is the pressure to wear uncomfortable shoes,” she laughs. She credits her ability to stay calm in the face of chaos and creating a workspace that is a haven for productivity as one of her most important skills. “I so value Sachs Media’s commitment to community service. It is the work I want to do.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our friends Brian Blanco and Glen Gilzean.