Javier Manjarres posts bail, returns to blogging

Conservative blogger Javier Manjarres has evidently returned from a stint in jail and returned to blogging about Florida politics on his site, the The Shark Tank.

The blog was on hiatus over the weekend, with no posts published between Friday and Monday. Manjarres was processed and released from the Palm Beach County jail after his arrest Saturday on attempted murder charges.


Presidential primary lifts Republican voter registration as Democrats sag

The Donald Trump–Marco Rubio–Ted Cruz–John Kasich show that came to Florida this winter provided a boost of more than 100,000 registered voters for the Republican Party of Florida while the Hillary Clinton–Bernie Sanders affair gave no such bounce for the Florida Democratic Party.

Florida’s final voter registration counts going into the state’s March 15 presidential primary showed  an increase of 103,872 registered Republicans since the 2014 general election. At the same time, the number of Democrats register to vote in Florida declined by 58,390.

Along the way, the GOP flipped four counties from having more Democrats to having more Republicans: Bradford, Columbia, Baker and Washington. Since then, monitoring daily voter registration counts, Republican officials say they have taken two more counties, including one of the state’s most populated, Pinellas.

Democrats still hold significant voter registration advantages statewide and in all other urban counties though. And presidential general elections such as the one this November have historically led to robust summer voter registration efforts for Democrats.

A FloridaPolitics.com analysis of voter registration figures from the book closing for Florida’s presidential primary found that 37.8 percent of the state’s voters were registered as Democrats, and 35.5 percent as Republicans. The remaining 26.7 percent were registered either as independents or with minor political parties.

But for now, Democrats are losing ground. Democrats held a 3.8 percent advantage over Republicans in 2014, and that slipped to just under 2.4 percent last week.

Statewide, 4,569,788 Democrats were registered to vote in the presidential primary, a reduction of about 1.3 percent since the 2014 general election.

There were 4,276,104 registered Republicans registered for last week’s primary, a 2.5 percent increase from 2014.

Florida also had 3,214,856 voters who registered either as unaffiliated or with minor political parties. That was 83,733 more than in the 2014 general election, a 2.7 percent increase.

Democrats biggest advantages continue to be in the predominantly African-American and low-population counties of the central Panhandle, such as Gadsden, Liberty and Madison, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1. Democrats also still hold double-digit percentage leads over Republicans in several large counties – Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Orange – though Republicans made gains in each of those since 2014.

Republicans’ stronghold remains the western Panhandle counties of Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton, as well as the north Florida counties of Clay, Nassau and St. Johns, where they enjoy 2 to 1 (and growing, in the latest counts) advantages.

By flipping Pinellas the GOP would get its first red county with at least a half-million voters. Democrats still control the other six, including their single-digit percentage leads in Hillsborough and Duval.

Democrats made gains versus Republicans in only two counties: Seminole and Alachua. In Seminole, the Democrats signed up 2,836 more voters, while Republicans signed up 2,047 more. That sliced the GOP’s lead in voter registration there to 6 percent more than Democrats, down from 6.4 percent in the last election. In Alachua a very slightly better performance by Democrats in registering voters only padded that party’s already big lead in voter registration, now 18.7 percent.

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 FiveThirtyEight.com – 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 CarInsurance.com, 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.

House Ethics Committee investigating Corrine Brown

A unanimous vote sealed it: the House Ethics Committee is setting up a special four-person subcommittee to investigate Corrine Brown. 

Meanwhile, the Congresswoman has no comment on the charges or the investigation … something which no doubt will change Friday at her Tallahassee news conference.

The investigation covers “allegations that she engaged in improper conduct relating to certain outside organizations, including allegations that she may have conspired with other persons in connection with fraudulent activity, improperly solicited charitable donations, used campaign funds for personal purposes, used official resources for impermissible nonofficial purposes, failed to comply with tax laws, and made false statements, and/or failed to make required disclosures, to the House of Representatives and Federal Election Commission.”

With Brown scandals currently including her role in the One Door For Education scandal and the questionable role of her aide Von Alexander, it is clear that the committee will have plenty to address.

Notable: the Department of Justice asked the subcommittee to defer action at this time.

“The Department of Justice has asked the Committee to defer consideration of the matters in the Investigative Subcommittee’s jurisdiction. The Committee, following precedent, unanimously recommended to the Investigative Subcommittee that it defer action on its investigation at this time. No other public comment will be made on this matter except in accordance with Committee rules.”

Florida politicians react to Brussels attacks

Attackers detonated bombs at the airport and on a metro train beneath the European Union’s capital on Tuesday, killing at least 26 people and confirming the worst fears of European officials, who proclaimed the continent at war.

Here is a compilation of reactions by Florida politicians to the attacks:

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson:

“Now is the time for steady resolve as we continue to press against the scourge of terrorism. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims of today’s horrific attacks and their families. The bombings in Brussels are a reminder that we must remain vigilant and ‘if you see something, say something’.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio:

“This is the latest evidence that the civilized world is under siege from a determined enemy who exploits any openness in our societies to inflict the most harm possible on innocent civilians. ‎My condolences to the families of those lost today and my prayers go out to all those who have been injured. The United States and Europe must be united in striking ISIS wherever they seek safe haven to dismantle this terrorist threat once and for all.”

Governor Rick Scott:

“Thoughts and prayers with the victims their families in Brussels today. Thankful for our military and law enforcement for keeping us safe.”

Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Lopez-Cantera:

“Our prayers are with the people of Belgium and the victims of these horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels. These attacks of radical extremist terrorism are a painful reminder that the threat of ISIS continues to be a clear and present danger. As President Obama enjoys his Caribbean vacation in Cuba, which was until recently a state sponsor of terrorism, he has yet to outline any concrete plans for eliminating ISIS. We must develop a strategy where America leads and we work with our allies around the globe to wholly and completely wipe ISIS off the face of the planet.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor:

“As I have said before, nothing is more important than the safety of the families of my neighbors and all Americans. We must ensure that law enforcement, intelligence agencies and military service members have the tools they need to keep us safe.  I will continue to work to provide the resources and the will to ourselves and our allies. We will keep America tough and smart and safe.”

U.S. Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Ron DeSantis:

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings:

 “I am overcome with sadness and anger today, but take solace in knowing that those responsible for these cowardly attacks will be brought to swift and total justice. All of Europe was targeted by this morning’s savagery, yet the values that unite us remain unshaken. We will never relent in our fight against terrorism.”

U.S. Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate David Jolly:

“Today’s barbaric and unjustifiable attacks underscore the need for America and the world to stand united against terrorism.  We also stand united in supporting the people of Belgium and send our deepest condolences to the victims impacted by these attacks. It is times like this that we remain resolved in our fight to protect and preserve the freedoms and liberties that are the foundation of the free world. Let us also be clear, the actions of ISIS or any other terror organization wishing to do harm to innocent people will not dim the light of democracy. These attacks are a solemn reminder that we face a real security threat and we must resolve to confront it before it again reaches our homeland.”

U.S. Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy:

“The American people stand in solidarity with Belgium today in condemning the terrorist attacks that struck Brussels this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims of these bombings. Our international community must remain united and vigilant in combating extremism and terrorism wherever it occurs.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney:

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those killed and injured today in Brussels,” Rooney said. “ISIS claimed responsibility for these attacks. It’s the latest in a systematic threat which ISIS leadership has been calling for for years, and it will not end here. Europe is the current battleground and will see more attacks like this and Paris. It will only be a matter of time before attacks like this are mounted on a much larger scale in the United States than what we saw in San Bernardino. ISIS has told us that is their goal. They have kept all of their promises so far, so I don’t know why we would ignore them now. We can either sit back and wait to be attacked or we can work with our allies to put an end to ISIS. That is our choice. So far we haven’t been up to the task, as evidence by Brussels this morning.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, via Twitter:

“Praying for #Brussels today. The War on Terror is still very real, and it’s a war we can’t afford to lose.”

State Sen. Thad Altman, via Twitter:

“Prayers for the people of Brussels, Belgium, the victims and their families, following the attacks in their country.”

State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, via Twitter:

“My prayers are with the families affected by evil in Brussels today, and I thank our military for keeping us safe at home.”

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, Twitter:

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Brussels. America must stand united with our allies to wipe Islamic terrorism off the map.”

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, vai Twitter:

“Truth is, we have hateful people. We must pray for peace in our world. Prayers to the lives lost in Belgium.”

State Rep. Jeanette Nunez, via Twitter:

“My thoughts and prayers are with all the victims of the terror attacks in #Brussels #Belgium. May God give you comfort and peace.”

State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, via Facebook:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the Belgian people and all those affected by today’s terror attacks. We must remain vigilant at home and abroad to prevent future acts of brutality.”

State Rep. Ross Spano, via Twitter:

“My thoughts and prayers go out to Brussels and the victims and families whose lives are forever changed by this unthinkable act of terrorism.”

U.S. Senate candidate Todd Wilcox:

“Our enemies are waging a war we must not continue to ignore,” said Wilcox. “The loss of life, the brutal injuries and the destruction that have rocked Brussels are unconscionable, and we as a people must decide that enough is enough.

“Their soldiers don’t march in lock step and they don’t answer to a single general. What they lack in conventional organization, they more than make up for in savagery and disregard for human life. Paris, San Bernardino and now Brussels – their only pattern is that of opportunities seized in the void of real American leadership.

“We are at war whether President Obama wants to admit it or not. Arab Sunni Islamic Terrorists have declared war on all of western society and America. The piece meal attempts to stave off ISIS expansion are not working. The Obama administration is erroneously focusing America’s diplomatic efforts to broker an ever elusive peace in Syria with total disregard for the realities on the ground and a naive assumption that removing Bashir Al Asad will somehow lead to ISIS abandoning their apocalyptic objectives. This isn’t leadership, it’s passive ignorance.”

The Florida GOP offered this image:

pray for belgium

Jac VerSteeg: Political fratricide model fails Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio was convinced the Fratricide Model of politics was his ticket to the top. Now, after one brilliant win and one spectacular loss, the Florida senator claims to have renounced the model.

He will not, he says, run for governor in 2018. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam need not fear a Rubio challenge.

We won’t have Marco Rubio to kick around anymore?

Political fratricide worked for Rubio in 2010 when he broke in line to oppose and defeat Gov. Charlie Crist for a U.S. Senate seat. He was helped along by that year’s Tea Party revolt and the fact that newly Independent Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek split the no-to-Rubio vote.

Just as angry as the 2010 Tea Party faithful but with a new idol, Florida GOP primary voters this month delivered the final blow to Rubio’s second attempt at exploiting the Fratricide Model. They gave Donald Trump a victory in every county except Rubio’s Miami-Dade refuge.

What effect did Rubio’s fratricidal challenge to his mentor (and his better) Jeb Bush have on the contest? What if Rubio had shown respect, bided his time and supported Bush? No way to know, but Florida might have been the firewall for Bush and the anti-Trumpers that it so dismally failed to be for Rubio.

I do not think that every intra-party challenge can be characterized as an example of the Fratricide Model. It’s appropriate for rivals in the same party to let voters decide between them. But when one of the challengers has not earned the right to vie for an office and, further, damages the party or the office he seeks, that is political fratricide.

And that is what Rubio has done. He knocked off Crist – once a Republican rising star – and proceeded to disdain the Senate seat he won. As a result, the seat easily could go to a Democrat this November.

Then, of course, Rubio challenged Jeb. After helping to undermine the clear choice of the GOP establishment, Rubio proceeded to run a horrible campaign. The overall effect boosted Trump’s prospects and hurt the Republican Party.

What will Rubio do next? He claimed, upon returning to work in the Senate – if someone so often a no-show can be said to “return to work” – that, in addition to eschewing a gubernatorial bid, he would not be anybody’s veep.

You never know what to make of a politician’s claim that he won’t seek this or that office. How many times did now-House Speaker Paul Ryan claim that he would not accept the post? (By the way, Ryan also insists he won’t allow himself to be nominated at a fractured GOP convention this summer. Right.)

For Rubio, who has been assailed for overweening ambition, what better strategy than to affect a new humility and express no ambition whatsoever for political office?

Is it really believable that if, by some miracle, he emerges as a vice presidential candidate – perhaps for Ryan at a brokered convention – Rubio would turn down the chance?

It is more believable that Rubio does not plan to run for governor in 2018. Not because he doesn’t lust after political office, but because he was so badly burned this year by the Fratricide Model. Even Rubio should be able to see that he is less qualified and less deserving than the premier GOP candidate for the job, Putnam.

Putnam served in the Florida Legislature and then went on to serve in Congress for 10 years. Unlike Rubio, Putnam actually performed his job diligently and rose to be the third-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House.

Then, rather than stay in a secure seat in federal office, Putnam chose to return to state politics and has been elected and re-elected as Ag commissioner.

It is worth emphasizing that Putnam’s chosen trajectory brought him voluntarily back to Florida. Rubio’s chosen path was to attempt to move into the White House. Only a failure to reach that goal could bring him the “consolation prize” of a gubernatorial campaign. And even if he were elected governor, he would just treat it as a stepping stone back onto the national stage.

Could Rubio beat Putnam? Considering his drubbing on the Ides of March, the likely answer is no. His decision not to run for governor easily could be a case of sour grapes rather than an example of his newfound humility.

Since Rubio decided to give up his Senate seat, it is hard to see any political path that puts him back on that stage. His best option? Hope that anybody but Trump wins and that Rubio could find a spot in a Ted Cruz or John Kasich administration and bide his time.

But does anyone think that if Rubio saw a chance to return to political prominence he would hesitate to seize it even if it meant running over one of his Republican brethren? Oh, brother.


Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. 

Shelby Farah murder trial resumes Monday in Jacksonville

Celllphone store clerk Shelby Farah‘s 2013 slaying shocked Jacksonville to its core.  And a sharp debate continues between the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office on whether the trial of James Xavier Rhodes should be a death penalty case.

Farah’s mother, Darlene Farah, and State Attorney’s Office prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda disagree that the death penalty should be sought for defendant Rhodes.

Rhodes shot and killed Shelby Farah, 20, during a 2013 robbery of the Northside MetroPSC store at 3100 N. Main St. N. where she worked.

Darlene Farah has asked as recently as this month that the death penalty not be applied in this case.

Public Defender Matt Shirk asserted in a letter to State Attorney Angela Corey last month, “Mrs. Farah has been particularly vocal concerning her opposition to your office’s decision to seek the death penalty for her daughter Shelby’s murder.”

If the death penalty is pursued, Shirk asserts,  “this case will continue to be litigated for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years. I believe that with every motion, petition or appeal filed on Mr. Rhodes’ behalf, she will relive the pain and loss she has felt since losing Shelby.”

The Farah family has been mourning for two years and seven months since her slaying.

It’s still fresh in her mother’s consciousness. Part of the reason why, Farah says, is that in recent days, “I have seen the video of my daughter getting killed repeatedly.

“James Rhodes didn’t take away one life. He took away many lives. Our lives will never be the same. My life will never be the same,” Farah said Sunday.

Such statement usually help make the case for a maximum penalty. Farah, however, calls it “pathetic that people are trying to use my daughter’s death for their [political] benefit.”

Her blunt take on the case is that many parties have political agendas that are taking priority over her and her family’s needs.

“The days before court dates,” Farah said, are “pure hell” at her house. Indeed, during the 31 months since her daughter’s death her mind has continually been occupied with it.

They are months that have torn the family apart. The kids have a hard time being at home where their sister’s absence remains an open wound, she said. Meanwhile, she said, the case has driven a wedge between her and her son.

Farah, a Jacksonville native, opposes the death penalty in this case, saying that the “state failed … raised and created James Rhodes.” He had been a ward of the state since his parents abandoned him at age 5.  He received physical and sexual abuse in a boys’ home.

Farah’s son supports the death penalty in the case. In spite of his mother’s pleas with the SAO to not show him the video, it was done. Since then, she said, her son has not slept at home, and says that “he hates me” and “never comes home.”

“I can’t help but feel like they are trying to play my son against me,” she said.

Despite her son’s position on capital punishment, Farah said that if Shelby were alive “she’d be trying to help James Rhodes.”

“Everybody always called Shelby the peacemaker,” her mother said.

There is little peace in the Farah home, and hasn’t been in the past 31 months. Farah tells of cooking Christmas dinner and he children decided not to be around to eat it.

Dinner went into the garbage.

Meanwhile, for Darlene Farah, the worries pile up. Her son, years ago, was making trips to visit college football programs. Played multiple positions at Cedar Creek High. Ran a 4.6 40.

“He’s so smart,” Farah added. “Always got perfect FCAT scores.”

Now? He’s dropped out of high school. Drinks more. And his mother frets.

“My son’s going to end up in a morgue or a prison,” Farah said if things don’t turn around.

“I done buried one child. I don’t want to bury another,” Farah said.

The trial resumes Monday morning in Courtroom 503 in the Duval County Courthouse. Long after final sentencing, though, the trial will continue for the Farah family.

In Florida, professor predicts “hate election”

If it comes down to a Trump vs. Clinton matchup, how will Florida vote?

As usual, it’s a tossup.

Even though Donald Trump is alienating Florida’s growing Hispanic population, and Hillary Clinton has high unfavorables of her own, the state is poised to swing once again in November, with voters mobilized to cast a ballot against a candidate rather than for one.

“A lot of anger, even hate, will motivate this election,” said Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida.

“Republicans are largely dissatisfied with their candidates. None get typically over 50 percent. And on the GOP side, the #NeverTrump movement is trying to prevent Trump from getting the nomination. Within the Republican Party, Trump is a very polarizing figure, and we have indications that in a general election the Democrats will be energized to vote against Trump,” McDonald told WJCT.

“However, with Hillary Clinton, who at this point looks to be solidly in the lead on the Democratic side for the nomination, Republicans have been primed for years to feel antagonistic towards the Clintons. So many Republicans will also be motivated, even the #NeverTrump ones, to find him more palatable than a Hillary Clinton presidency.”

McDonald says despite the intense, negative emotions this cycle, at least voter participation should be robust.

“We could see very high turnout in Florida, as people see very stark differences between the candidates and people go to the polls to make a choice that’s meaningful to them.”

And McDonald says in Florida, what will tell the tale is which voting bloc is most motivated to cast a “hate” vote: energized Latinos in the I-4 corridor, for example, who don’t want Trump, or disaffected white voters who haven’t typically been politically engaged.

Jac VerSteeg: What has Marco Rubio done for Florida? Zip

My Context Florida colleague Martin Dyckman encourages Republicans who want to stop Donald Trump to vote for Marco Rubio in Florida’s winner-take-all primary on March 15. It’s a shame that Dyckman can’t get more help from Rubio himself.

While stopping Trump is a noble motivation, it probably isn’t sufficient. Voters judging incumbents – and that’s what Rubio is in Florida – want to know what the incumbent has done for them while in office.

In Rubio’s case, that’s close to nothing. In 2010, he was elected to the Senate with almost 49 percent of the vote. Independent Charlie Crist got nearly 30 percent and Democrat Kendrick Meek about 20.  Republicans liked Rubio because they considered Crist a traitor for literally embracing President Barack Obama’s stimulus. Meek was the spoiler who ensured Rubio’s victory.

Florida’s important Hispanic voters saw Rubio as one of their own.

But Rubio has betrayed Florida’s Hispanic voters by renouncing immigration reform. This might not hurt him among Cuban-Americans, many of whom still view the prospect of his potential elevation to the White House as a source of pride.

But other Florida Hispanics, like those nationwide, can view Rubio’s new hostility to immigration reform as proof of his elitism. Cubans, after all, are treated as special cases when it comes to immigration. There is no reason for Mexican-Americans and other Latinos to look on Rubio with favor.

Then, of course, there is Rubio’s infamously bad voting record in the U.S. Senate. While many, many of Donald Trump’s assertions are lies, he was correct, according to Politifact, when he said during a recent debate that, “This guy has the No. 1 absentee record in the U.S. (Senate). He doesn’t show up to vote.”

In the past year, Rubio has missed 41 percent of votes. Ted Cruz has missed 36 percent. Bernie Sanders has missed just 19 percent – although if you restrict the time frame to just 2016, Sanders has the worst attendance record according to The Washington Post.

Why would Floridians flock to vote for a guy who is supposed to represent their interests but doesn’t bother to show up to work?

Granted, conservative Republicans often say they will judge candidates by what they stop rather than by what they enact. But if that’s the yardstick, Rubio falls short as do all GOP incumbents. They haven’t stopped abortion. They haven’t stopped Obamacare. They haven’t deported illegal immigrants. Trump says he will. Perhaps he will fail, but in the eyes of Trump’s supporters, Rubio already has failed.

Rubio does brag that, via a clever amendment to a spending bill, he was able to throw a monkey wrench into Obamacare. His amendment makes it harder for struggling insurance plans to stay in business. Perhaps that will help him in a Republican primary. But by opposing and hampering Obamacare, Rubio is attacking a program that 1.6 million Floridians rely on for health care coverage.

If you look at the bills Rubio actually has passed, the record is not impressive. According to GovTrack, Rubio has sponsored 107 bills. Of those, two passed the Senate. One of them offered a $10 million reward for information on the kidnapping and murder of hostages James Foley and Steve Sotloff. The other was in honor of Vaclav Havel.

Rubio won approval for 13 resolutions for such things as “honoring the lives of the 33 crew members aboard the El Faro,” designating September 2014 as “National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month,” another “recognizing the importance and inspiration of the Hubble Space Telescope” and several congratulating the Miami Heat for winning the NBA championship.

How many Rubio-sponsored bills did the president actually sign into law? Exactly one, the “Girls Count Act of 2015.”

The bill is an act “To authorize the Secretary of State and the Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development to provide assistance to support the rights of women and girls in developing countries.”

Commendable, but hardly a legislative career to inspire Florida’s conservative Republicans to swoon over Rubio’s candidacy and to turn out in droves to vote for him.

Rubio’s campaign is based on what he is – a fresh, young, conservative face – rather than on what he has done. That strategy is necessary because, in the U.S. Senate, Rubio has done virtually nothing. Even his achievements as a state legislator were – as Context Florida publisher Peter Schorsch has noted – mostly because of  then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

The problem is that the Republican base likes what Donald Trump is more than they like what Marco Rubio is. To them, Rubio is the guy who had his chance and blew it. Trump is the guy who still has the chance to blow things up.

Rubio’s campaign wants the horrified branch of the GOP to think that he is the guy who can stop Trump and Cruz and then rally the party behind him to win in November. Rubio can’t do that if he is the guy who can’t even win the GOP primary in his home state.

As March 15 approaches, Rubio is plagued by this question: Marco, what have you done for Florida lately?

• • •

Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. 

Gallup speculates Donald Trump boosting president’s popularity by comparison

Is it possible that the more people believe that Donald Trump could become our next president giving people a different perspective on Barack Obama?

According to the latest Gallup weekly tracking poll, Obama has a 50 percent approval rating, his highest since May 2013.

The president’s 50 percent weekly average exceeds the 46 percent he’s averaged through most of his administration’s seventh year, which ended Jan. 19. It also exceeds the 47 percent average he’s held since taking office in January 2009.

What’s improved his numbers?

“The unusual status of the Republican primary race – exemplified in particular by front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign style and rhetoric – may serve to make Obama look statesmanlike in comparison,” Gallup speculates, adding that watching Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton battle to be his successor could also bring out loyalty among Democrats. Democratic support is now nearly nine out of 10 Democrats, up from 81 percent in January.

In a speech in Austin, Texas, Friday, Obama said he wasn’t surprised by Trump’s ascendance.

“How can you be shocked?” the Washington Post reported. “This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya, who just wouldn’t let it go. And all this same Republican establishment, they weren’t saying nothing. As long as it was directed at me, they were fine with it. They thought it was a hoot, wanted to get his endorsement. And then now, suddenly, we’re shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment.”

Results for this Gallup poll were based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 29 to March 6 before the most recent debate in Miami and the clashes between Trump’s supporters and protesters at a rally in Chicago on Friday night

Obama’s 50 percent approval ranking is below where Bill Clinton was at this time in his administration, but similar to Ronald Reagan‘s. It’s much higher than where George W. Bush was in March 2008.

In early March 2000, Clinton’s approval rating was 63 percent. Reagan was 51 percent; while Bush was 32 percent.

The Gallup poll was a sample of  3,563 adults, aged 18 and older, with the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

In Northeast Florida, Marco Rubio campaign is a family affair

The loneliness of live phone call voter contact, via phone banks, cannot be underestimated. Keeping the spirits of volunteers up can be a heavy lift, and at the Marco Rubio headquarters in Jacksonville, on Saturday, about 20 motivated callers went through the script.

Not every response was a positive one, as a 20-something named Stephanie said.

“I’ve gotten a lot of machines,” Stephanie said. “Either they’ve voted and they don’t want to disclose, or they don’t want to talk,” she said of some of the live people who answered.

Other phone bankers had to indulge theories of those who answered, like a young man who had to deviate from call script to discuss a brokered convention with a potential supporter.

Still, as those who have done phone banks know voter contact, though tedious as a blocking drill in football, is how you close the deal.

The Rubio campaign, at this writing, has no plans to deploy the senator into Northeast Florida for one last sortie over the Jacksonville media market. However, there was an announced special guest, Jeanette Rubio, the senator’s wife, who came to the Southside storefront that houses the HQ.

Mrs. Rubio announced that she had a special message for the volunteers working. And soon enough, her husband was on the phone.

“Thanks for the help, I really appreciate it,” Marco Rubio, in Pasco at the moment, said.

Rubio told the volunteers that “we’re gonna win this thing,” buoyed by “great momentum.”

The local Rubio office preferred Mrs. Rubio not answer this reporter’s questions. However, the senator’s brother, Mario Rubio, was able to talk.

The question of the day: his thoughts on his younger brother’s condemnation of the increasingly volatile situations at Trump rallies.

Mario Rubio, a pragmatist, noted that the “Trump Organization is not taking accountability” for what happens at these rallies, most recently in Chicago, a debacle the senator has condemned on multiple occasions since Friday night.

“Anger’s not going to solve the problems” that Trump talks about in his stump speeches, Mario Rubio said.

The open question, of course, is whether voters agree. Even the biggest supporters of Senator Rubio say the moderate “Gang of 8″ moment on immigration is a deal breaker for many Northeast Florida voters.

Despite a strong endorsement from Mayor Lenny Curry, whose public rhetoric and private inclination is light years away from the Last Days of the Roman Empire vibe of the Trump movement, deep skepticism remains among a swath of Northeast Florida voters regarding Rubio’s ability to “buck the establishment” as he did when he ran against Charlie Crist years ago.

Tuesday will be the final answer to the question of how deep that skepticism ran.