Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 19

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

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the state’s dominant public affairs PR firm: Passenger rail is making a bit of a resurgence in Florida, but a half-century ago railroads played a far more important role in moving both cargo and people around the Sunshine State. So a 1963 labor union strike against the Florida East Coast Railroad was a major disruption, one that didn’t end until a court order on this date 51 years ago finally resolved the nearly decade-old work stoppage. The strike led to various incidents of violence, including shooting and bombings, as striking union members opposed workers brought in to replace them. The court ruling on December 19, 1971, ended most aspects of the strike – just in time for interstate highways to become the dominant path for transportation to and around Florida.

Now, on to the ‘burn…

OBAMA LIBRE via Edward-Isaac Dovere and Carrie Budoff Brown of POLITICO

If President Barack Obama’s year ended in November, it would have been one of the worst of his presidency.

Good thing he had the past five weeks.

Obama feels liberated, aides say, and sees the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend his final two years in office being more the president he always wanted to be.

That includes doing what 50-plus years of predecessors couldn’t do in relations with Cuba, propelling a generational shift in American foreign policy that could bring down a final remaining pillar of the Cold War. The Cuba announcement follows a post-Election Day sprint that included sealing a landmark climate agreement with China, shielding 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, and reaching a deal that funds most of the government for nearly a year while protecting Obamacare and other top priorities.

The midterms are done, and Obama feels that he doesn’t have to worry about being the driving factor in any other Democrat’s election. He has spent a year nudging Americans to judge him less on legislative accomplishments and more on his executive actions. And now he has a fully Republican Congress that he can alternate butting up against and making deals with — but really not thinking much about it at all.

Republicans believe Obama is either delusional or in denial about the brutal election results for Democrats. But the White House started preparing for the post-election sprint well before November.

Obamacare enrollment is ticking up, the economy is on the longest job growth streak since the 1990s, Obama’s done more on environmental protections than any previous president, and he took the single largest unilateral action on immigration policy in history. And though they got nowhere on trying to get Congress to raise the minimum wage, Obama and his advisers tout the success of shaping the conversation in a way that prompted companies and a growing number of cities and states to raise wages on their own.


Mike Fernandez arrived in the United States as a 12-year-old penniless immigrant in 1964 after his family fled Cuba. Today, he’s one of Miami’s most-respected and influential businessmen, a health-insurance billionaire and a GOP moneyman who dutifully supports fellow Republicans in the area.

Except on one issue today: President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with the regime in Cuba.

“I am not a fan of President Obama but after 50 plus years, this is long overdue,” Fernandez, who has just penned a new book called Humbled by the Journey said via email when asked his opinion.

Fernandez’s opinion is significant not just because of his party registration and provenance, but because of his age as well. He’s 62, old enough to remember the revolution, his father’s small sandwich shop in Manzanilla and the life of an immigrant in America. So except for the billions he earned as a health insurance whiz, he’s just like most older exiles, who are the most-likely to support the embargo.

Fernandez’s statement:

“I feel the pain that Cuban Americans feel. I feel the pain that the Cuban people have been forced to unjustly experience. Trust me, I feel the pain. Having said that, As Americans we lost 58,000 of our sons in Vietnam and 15 years later, we established diplomatic relationships with our former enemy. I am not a fan of President Obama but after 50 plus years, this is long overdue.

History has been written, lives have been lost, millions have suffered but it’s time to turn the page on the ‘Cuba book.’ Let us focus on helping the Cuban people versus hurting the regime. Biology will soon take care of them.”

THE DEMOCRATS’ RISKY CUBA BET via James Hohmann and Kyle Cheney of POLITICO

Barack Obama, who won the swing state of Florida in the 2012 election by 50.01 percent to 49.13 percent, knows just how many presidential candidacies have gotten bogged down in the sands and marshes of the Sunshine State.

He also knows that one of the many quirks in Florida’s diverse electorate is the fiercely anti-Castro sentiments of many Cuban émigrés.

Obama forged ahead to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba because it was, in his estimation, “the right thing to do.” But whatever the president’s motivation, the surprise move represents a bold political gamble on behalf of his party that demographic and generational change in the ultimate swing state will offset the inevitable backlash from Florida’s aging exile community.

In a place where elections often come down to a few thousand votes out of millions cast, and that can decide who occupies the White House in a close race, Democrats had better hope he’s right.

Democratic strategists and several academic pollsters predicted that anger within Florida’s Cuban-American community will be real, but concentrated and short-lived. They noted a generational divide, with younger Cuban-Americans much more supportive of ending the trade embargo. What’s more, Cuban-Americans in the state do not represent a must-win bloc of votes: though they helped fuel GOP victories in the state for decades, the influence of Cuban-American voters has dwindled somewhat with the rise of other Hispanic constituencies, particularly Puerto Rican Americans around Orlando.

“If you were to go back and we were to have this conversation in 1996, and maybe even as late as 2000, you could maybe make an argument that this was political suicide for Democrats,” said Steve Schale, who helped run Obama’s winning Florida operations in 2008 and 2012. “We’re in a vastly different state than we were 15 years ago.”

Nonetheless, anti-Castro sentiment remains potent in South Florida, where prominent Democrats expressed either cautious optimism or were silent about the prisoner swap and the relaxing of tensions.


The United States’ commercial ties with Cuba were broken 54 years ago after Fidel Castro took over. Now U.S.-Cuba trade is poised to resume: President Barack Obama announced plans to re-establish diplomat relations with Havana, and economic ties are expected to follow.

Among those eager for access to a Cuban market cut off by an economic embargo are U.S. farmers, travel companies, energy producers and importers of rum and cigars.

Gary Hufbauer and Barbara Kotschwar of the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimate that exports of U.S. goods to Cuba could reach $4.3 billion a year, compared to less than $360 million last year. And Cuban merchandise imports to the U.S. could go to $5.8 billion a year from nothing now.

Congress will still have to act to lift economic sanctions against Cuba. But by loosening restrictions on travel and permitting travelers to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, among other things, Obama may have started a process that can’t be reversed.

Not everyone supports the change in U.S. policy. Victor Benitez, longtime general manager of a car dealership north of Miami, says he would not return to the country he fled with his family in 1969 – at least not until it became a democracy. “I’m proud to be an American,” he said. “I’m sorry I cannot say I’m Cuban even though in my heart I feel very Cuban.”

But many U.S. businesses are already perking up at the prospect of regaining access to Cuba.


Cigar-loving travelers won’t have to hide their Cubans in their luggage anymore.

Tobacco products from Cuba are among the goods allowed under new trade normalization rules that President Obama announced this week.

The eased restrictions mean that approved travelers will be able to bring home $100 of cigars. (Not a cigar smoker? You can bring back Cuban rum instead.)

The president’s official act may take some of the fun out of Cuban cigars. For decades, U.S. travelers have made like amateur smugglers, stashing boxes and bundles of Cohibas and Uppmans purchased overseas, in the United Kingdom or Mexico, for instance, in their luggage, hoping Customs wouldn’t find them.

Americans have not been legally able to buy or consume Cuban cigars under laws that have been in place since the Kennedy administration. Ironically, two decades into the embargo, then-President Fidel Castro, for health reasons, quit smoking cigars.

That $100 limit could keep the price of Cuban cigars from rising globally. “I don’t know that we’ll see much of a change — especially early on,” says Anthony Welsch of, an online cigar seller based in Knoxville, Tenn.


Turn on cable TV and you won’t have to wait long to see images of Cuban exiles outside the Versailles restaurant in Miami denouncing President Obama for restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. It’s easy for anyone outside of Florida, or even in most of Florida, to assume those images reflect Florida as a whole.

They don’t.

Tampa’s deep ties to Cuba go back many generations, at least to the days when the Apostle of Cuban Independence, Jose Marti, was in Ybor City talking up the Cuban revolution in the late 19th century. Many Cuban-Americans settled in Tampa before the 1959 revolution and are less consumed with the rise of Castro than exiles in south Florida.

And while Miami politicians and campaign donors may have dictated U.S. policy to Cuba for decades, this time Tampa’s political and business leadership – and large Cuban-American community – were more persuasive and helped make the historic change in policy possible.

“This is such a remarkable accomplishment for Tampa,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who has repeatedly pressed the Obama administration to lift the embargo and travel restrictions.

Chamber of Commerce representatives visiting Cuba, Florida Aquarium leaders visiting, the Florida Orchestra performing in Cuba, the Tampa Museum of Art hosting a Cuban photo exhibition, all played a role. So did the flights from Tampa to Cuba, which saw 40,000 passengers in 2012 and will top 60,000 this year.

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President Obama says he “loves” the Bush family personally and that the ormer Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has “every right” to run in 2016.

“The Bush family, I love personally,” Obama told ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir. “They are good people. Jeb’s father, George H.W. has been here many times, in some cases with Jeb. And they are a great family, wonderful people. Obviously I have a lot of disagreements with Jeb and his brother on policy. But I think they have every right to do what they think is best.”

But Obama praised Hillary Clinton. “I’ve said before and will continue to say I think she’d be an excellent president.”

BUSH BRIEFS LOYALISTS AS HE WEIGHS 2016 WHITE HOUSE BID via Beth Reinhard and Max Colchester of the Wall Street Journal

Over filet mignon and key lime pie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gathered in the Miami area with about two dozen of his closest friends and most loyal fundraisers to tell them personally about his consideration of a presidential campaign.

It was more of a social gathering than political confab, according to some of those who attended, but the group is expected to form the Florida finance team for Mr. Bush, who announced plans to launch a political committee in January. Many of the people who came to the dinner have known Mr. Bush and his family for more than two decades.

Two of Mr. Bush’s closest political advisers also attended the gathering: Sally Bradshaw, his former chief of staff, and Mike Murphy, who led Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000. They promised to run an “innovative” campaign, according to some of the guests, who were asked not to discuss the gathering.

Mr. Bush assured the group that he was seriously exploring a 2016 campaign and repeated his hope to do so “joyfully.” If he decides to run, he said he would give it his all and work harder than any other candidate. He did not mention any potential rivals, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, but acknowledged that he knows some of them personally and considers them friends.

In another sign that he is nearing a final decision, Mr. Bush will step down from his advisory role at British bank Barclays PLC at the end of the year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Bush has held the U.S.-based role with Barclays since 2009, this person says. In that job, he advised Barclays clients on issues including economic trends but was not involved in working on mergers and acquisitions, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Wednesday night gathering was at the Coral Gables home of Manny Kadre, an automotive and beverage executive.


Now that Bush has decided to “actively explore” running for president, all eyes will turn to his fundraising.

But instead of creating a presidential exploratory committee — the traditional organizing and fundraising vehicle used by potential White House hopefuls — Bush says he’s forming a leadership political action committee.

The difference between these two kinds of committees isn’t insignificant. The potential advantages for Bush aren’t, either.

For instance, donors may give up to $5,000 per calendar year to a leadership PAC, and “none of the contributions will count against his campaign limits,” said Kenneth Gross, a former associate general counsel of the Federal Election Commission who leads the political law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

That means donors to Bush’s leadership PAC will still be able to give $2,600 per election to Bush’s presidential campaign committee if he eventually goes on to form one. Contributions to an exploratory committee would count against the limit if Bush goes on to run.

There’s also no limit on the total amount such leadership PACs can raise before Bush is officially a candidate, while Federal Election Commission regulations prohibit exploratory committees from raising “funds in excess of what could reasonably be expected to be used for exploratory activities.”

Brett Kappel, a counsel at Arent Fox’s government relations and political law practices, said there’s no defined upper limit for the amount an exploratory committee can raise, “but a complaint could be filed if the amount raised seemed disproportionately large.”


Jeb Bush’s announcement that he would “actively explore” a 2016 presidential run has been met with healthy skepticism, in no small part because he has staked out positions at odds with the Republican Party’s conservative base.

Mr. Bush’s positions on immigration and education are certainly challenges, but probably overrated ones. Tone and message, not the specifics of his policy agenda, will probably determine whether he can strike the balance necessary to appeal to the party’s donors without losing too much ground among staunch conservatives.

This is not to say that Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, is close to being in touch with the conservative base on immigration reform and education policy. Both issues are probably potent enough to hurt his chances. But he is no iconoclast, not even by the standards of recent Republican nominees, who have overcome greater heresies.

John McCain won the Republican nomination in 2008 by running as a “maverick.” In the years before his campaign, he co-sponsored an immigration reform bill and a plan to regulate carbon emissions. He bashed “extremists on the right” in a previous presidential race.

Four years later, Mitt Romney won the nomination even though he had enacted a health care plan that served as the model for the Affordable Care Act. He had supported a long list of liberal positions in his various runs for statewide office in Massachusetts. Heading into this year’s contest, Chris Christie, another rival for the support of mainline, establishment-friendly Republicans, has committed equal or perhaps graver blasphemies on gun control and immigration.

The real challenge for Mr. Bush is negotiating the competing pressures of the so-called invisible primaries and the actual ones. The invisible primary is the competition for the support of party officials and donors with the influence and money necessary to propel a candidate toward the party’s nomination. A candidate who wins the invisible primary decisively almost always goes on to win the nomination.


Marco Rubio says Bush’s move toward a presidential run will have no effect on his own presidential deliberations. But among more than 150 savvy political pros who know Rubio, Bush, and Florida politics best the answer is clear: Bush’s candidacy presents a nearly insurmountable obstacle to Sen. Rubio.

Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed for the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll said Rubio would be unable to raise enough money to mount a competitive campaign if Jeb Bush was also running. Only a quarter of them predict Rubio will actually run now that Bush is poised to do so.

“Jeb still has the heart and soul of grassroots Republicans in Florida. There’s no room for two or three Florida candidates. Marco knows that,” one Republican said.

The Insider Poll of political consultants, lobbyists, fundraisers, political scientists and a few recovering political reporters is an unscientific and, almost by definition, biased exercise. Why? Because any list of top Republican political talent in Florida is guaranteed to be packed with former Bush staffers and money-raisers.

“Jeb has proven he’s ready for prime time time and time again. Marco I believe will learn from one of the criticisms of Pres. Obama not having executive experience and will run for Governor,” another Republican said.

Eight in 10 Insiders said Bush would be a stronger candidate than Rubio in a Republican presidential primary, and nine in 10 said the former governor would be a stronger general election candidate.

“I believe Marco would run for President, but not if Jeb Runs. I think Jeb is probably a little stronger in a Nationwide primary, but Jeb is much stronger in a Florida primary,” a Democrat said. “The question is how much will the wing nuts back Jeb. I think they may lean more towards Marco, because I don’t think Jeb will say whatever it takes to please the crazies, and Marco will.”

Another Republican: “Although the Senate seems to be an ideal spot for someone seeking a national voice in politics, it is a dead end for those with presidential aspirations. I see Rubio running for governor to establish chief executive credentials, or becoming a talk show host on radio and/or TV to earn money and broaden his national credentials.”

FIRST BUSH, THEN CUBA: RUBIO RIDES POLITICAL WAVE via Steve Peoples of the Associated Press

As the 2016 Republican presidential primary lurched ahead, no GOP prospect had a ride quite like Marco Rubio.

The Florida senator’s White House aspirations took a hit when Jeb Bush, the state’s former governor and Rubio’s political mentor, announced plans to “actively explore” a campaign for president. Rubio was conspicuously quiet as party strategists suggested Bush’s all-but-official entry jeopardized his protégé’s presidential future.

Less than 24 hours later, Rubio was everywhere – seizing the moment presented by President Barack Obama’s shock announcement the U.S. would restore relations with Cuba – to become the face of the Republican opposition.

Quipped Republican operative Ryan Williams of Rubio, “He looks presidential today.”

Rubio continued his media blitz, hammering away at the Obama administration in Miami: “The implications of this decision will extend far beyond just Cuba,” the 43-year-old Rubio said at a news conference. He spoke there a day after granting more than a dozen national television interviews on the subject from Washington and being anointed by incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the lawmaker who “knows more about this than almost anybody in the Senate – if not everybody in the Senate.”

Just weeks before he’s set to declare his 2016 intentions, the timing and foreign policy focus play to Rubio’s advantage.

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Gov. Scott’s second inauguration events begin Jan. 6 at 11:20 a.m., with the swearing in at noon, the Republican Party of Florida announced.

Scott will first visit a prayer breakfast and later host a small function that evening in the governor’s mansion, according the governor’s office.

The official inauguration will take place on the east steps of the Old Capitol.


On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott received the names of three potential candidates to lead the Florida Department of Transportation, including the department’s current chief of staff and a former North Carolina transportation head.

In response to the Dec. 2 announcement that Ananth Prasad would step down as FDOT secretary, the Florida Transportation Commission moved quickly to send the three names to Scott, who will choose Prasad’s successor.

One candidate is Jim Boxold, who served as the agency’s chief of staff since 2013, and offers extensive state government experience. For a decade, Boxold worked as director of Cabinet affairs in the office of the Florida agriculture commissioner.

Another candidate is Gene Conti, who served as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation from 2009 to 2013, as well as holding positions in the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1993 to 2001.

Connecticut engineer Arthur Misiaszek is the third candidate, as the man responsible for several Amtrak capital projects in parts of the Northeast.

At first, the commission considered eight applicants for the DOT job, including Jacksonville Republican state Rep. Lake Ray. The department narrowed the list to three.


Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Elizabeth “Liz” Dudek just finished implementing a statewide mandatory managed care program for the fifth largest Medicaid program in the nation.

What does she plan to do now?

Dudek rattles off an ambitious “to do” list s that she said she’d like to accomplish in the next four years as she hopes to “ride out” Gov. Scott’s second term in office as agency secretary.

“After that,” Dudek says, “There are probably some other people who should be at the helm.”

In a year-end interview with SaintPetersBlog in her Tallahassee office, Dudek said that she’d like to make health care budgeting a little more “cut and dry” by implementing a DRG–or diagnostic related group–reimbursement system for health care services paid for by Medicaid.

Dudek said DRGs could be implemented for hospital outpatient services, nursing home care as well as reimbursement for intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled.

Currently Medicaid reimburses for these services using a cost-based per diem system, meaning facilities receive payments based on how much it cost them to treat the patient while in the hospital. Under DRGs, providers are paid a fixed amount based on a patient’s diagnosis. If care can be provided for less than the DRG, then it makes money. If treatment exceeds the DRG, the facility loses money.

DRGs are currently used for hospital inpatient services.


House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford and Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Mia Jones announced today additional caucus leaders for the 2015-16 legislative session.

Serving as Policy Advisor is state Rep. Lori Berman from Palm Beach County’s House District 90. She will work with the Policy Chair to lead the caucus Policy Committee and subcommittees. Berman, an attorney from Lantana, will also act as liaison between leadership members and work with substantive policy committees.

Under the leadership of the Democratic Whip Clovis Watson Jr., the caucus also named five Deputy Whips: Reps. David Kerner from Lake Worth; Hazelle Rogers from Lauderdale Lakes; Vic Torres of Orlando; Amanda Murphy of New Port Richey and Shevrin Jones from West Park.

Deputy Whips are responsible for advising members on bills and other issues.


Greater Pensacola Chamber board of directors announced in a news release that Clay Ingram has been elected to serve as the chamber’s new president and CEO. Ingram, unanimously voted by the board to oversee all operational aspects of the chamber, will begin his new role Jan. 5.

“Clay brings energy, leadership, a unique perspective and highly developed skillsets important to this role and our organization. We are thrilled to have him serve as the chamber’s next president and CEO,” said Carol Carlan, chair of the Greater Pensacola Chamber board of directors. “His understanding of small business development, finance and the importance of regional partnerships will be a tremendous asset that will allow us to continue serving the Northwest Florida business community.”

Ingram serves as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 1st District — which includes most of Escambia County — and previously, the state’s 2nd District from 2010 to 2012. He was recently named chair of the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, where he is responsible for crafting a $12 billion budget for several agencies, including the Department of Transportation, Department of State, Department of Economic Opportunity, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and Department of Military Affairs. Ingram also serves on the Florida Defense Support Task Force and the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

“Over the course of this year, the chamber has repositioned itself to create a better business climate in the Greater Pensacola Region,” Ingram said. “I am excited to lead a team that is dedicated to maintaining economic prosperity and a better quality of life for those that choose to live and do business in this community.”


Federal and state environmental officials are negotiating in hopes of reaching a settlement with Mosaic, among the world’s largest fertilizer companies, over whether it “mishandled hazardous waste” at some of its Florida facilities.

The issue could ultimately cost the company hundreds-of-millions of dollars in facility upgrades and trust fund payments, in addition to a possible penalty of more than $1 million, according to state records and regulatory filings.

It’s part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s crackdown on hazardous waste created by the mineral processing industry.

“The negotiations involving Mosaic are complex and ongoing,” said company spokesperson Richard Ghent. “We are negotiating in good faith and we look forward to a successful resolution of the matter.”

Phosphate Ore is the mineral that companies mine and process when producing fertilizer. The toxic byproduct created by the process is stored in up to 200-foot tall piles known as “gypstacks,” which are called “mountains off hazardous waste” by some environmental groups.

The first settlement related to the EPA’s efforts was in 2010 between C.F. Industries, which operated a Plant City fertilizer plant, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Under the settlement, the company agreed to spend $12 million to reduce the release of hazardous waste, and pay a $700,000 fine. In 2013, Mosaic spent $1.2 billion to buy CF Industry’s Central Florida-based phosphate business, which produce 1.8 million tons of phosphate fertilizer annually.


Former state Health and Human Services (HHS) policy coordinator is joining global law firm Holland & Knight’s Florida Government Advocacy Team as a senior policy advisor based in Tallahassee.

Serving under Gov. Rick Scott, Anway aided in developing policy, evaluating legislation and making budget recommendations for the six agencies under HHS jurisdiction.

Previously, Anway served as federal affairs director of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), successfully advancing the industry’s policy and legislative objectives during the 2012 re-authorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act.

Anway was a staffer for U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, acting as chief healthcare legislative counsel during the Senate consideration of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He also worked as counsel to U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida, advising the congressional representative of health care, budget, trade, social security, labor and agriculture issues.

In addition, veteran healthcare lobbyist Mike Hightower this month joined the Florida Government Advocacy Team led by former Gov. Bob Martinez in Tampa and Delegal in Tallahassee.


The state’s utility regulators approved Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to charge its customers millions of dollars to explore for natural gas to run its power plants.

If successful, the project could save an average FPL residential customer nearly $2 per year, according to commission staff.

The utility sought permission to pass on the cost of a $191 million exploratory fracking project to its ratepayers. It will be a joint venture with Louisiana’s PetroQuest Energy.

The five-member Public Service Commission, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, approved the request 4-1.

Commissioners Eduardo Balbis, Ronald A. Brisé, Julie I. Brown and Lisa Edgar voted for the proposal; commission chair Art Graham was opposed.

FPL spokesperson Sarah Gatewood told reporters the utility ultimately expects the project to save customers millions of dollars.

Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which opposed the proposal, continued to call the plan “very unorthodox.”

Among utilities, “there’s this constant refrain about the need for fuel diversity,” she said, referring to avoiding an overreliance on natural gas. “But this goes exactly in the opposite direction.”

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ENDORSEMENT: Republican Paul Renner once again received the endorsement of the Florida Medical Association PAC, this time in his bid for House District 24. “From his military service to prosecuting serious felons as a former lead trial attorney, Paul Renner has demonstrated his commitment to public service,” said FMA PAC President Dr. Ralph Nobo in a statement. FMA PAC also endorsed Renner, a Jacksonville native, earlier this year in his GOP primary bid for House District 15, where he lost to Jay Fant in August by just two votes.


Staffers who helped propel Louisiana Republican Sen.-elect Bill Cassidy to a high-profile victory over an entrenched Democratic incumbent are joining Lenny Curry’s campaign to defeat Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown next year.

Brian Swensen, who was Cassidy’s political director, will be Curry’s campaign manager. Swensen was also the political director for the Republican Party of Florida.

Ashley Noland will serve as Curry’s deputy campaign manager. Jessica Laird will be the political director.

The three bring heft to a campaign that already has help from two well-known Florida GOP political consulting firms, Meteoric Media Strategies and Data Targeting Research.

Swensen is back in Florida just days after leading the political operation of Bill Cassidy’s U.S. Senate campaign. As Political Director for Cassidy in a high-profile race, he managed the political and grassroots staff across Louisiana. Swensen’s field program and collaboration with Louisiana’s Republican party organization built a stronger and more cohesive voter contact organization. In addition, he managed the scheduling and appearances of national surrogates.

Noland was most recently an aide to Congressman Chris Collins of New York on his Washington, DC staff. Prior to that she worked with Florida’s Congressman Steve Southerland. She previously served as Finance Director for Collin’s campaign for Congress. Noland’s campaign background also includes work on field staff with the Republican Party of Florida, Jeff Atwater’s CFO campaign, and the campaign of Southerland.

Like Swensen, Laird is fresh off the Cassidy landslide in Louisiana where she served as the Northshore Field Director. Jessica worked with Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, Majority Leader of the Florida Senate, during the 2013 Legislative Session. Most recently Jessica worked in Louisiana on the victorious Bill Cassidy for US Senate campaign as the Northshore Regional Field Director.


Former State Rep. Jim Waldman has decided not to run for a seat on the Coconut Creek City Commission.

Waldman instead will concentrate on his job as Keiser University’s general counsel and campaigning for a state Senate seat, which opens in 2016. revealed on Dec. 2 that Waldman was considering a return to where his political career began, the city commission.

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On Context Florida: Since there has been more than 150 years since a successful candidate had a 14-year gap between his last election and winning the presidency, Peter Schorsch asks one question: Did Jeb Bush possibly miss the boat on a trip to the White House? Daniel Tilson’s half-Cuban cousin Jesse has been his personal policy adviser on Cuba for years. To Tilson, Jesse and millions of other Americans – including a whole lot of Cuban Americans – normalizing relations with Cuba was a no-brainer whose time had come years and years ago, but which had to wait until we had a president with Barack Obama’s cojones. With the departure of out-of-towner Bob Gabordi from the Tallahassee DemocratAdam Weinstein says there is a chance — slim, to be sure, but a still a chance — that Florida’s capital may finally get the newspaper it deserves. Which is to say, it may finally get a newspaper. Supporters of paved bicycling trails have big plans for Florida, and are turning them into reality. But Bruce Ritchie says they also need some help from Amendment 1.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


The Tampa Bay Times is publishing online “The Lost Bones,” the first installment of new piece about the infamous Dozier School for Boys. Written by Times staff writer Ben Montgomery, we follow the work an anthropology professor at the University of South Florida determined to find out what happened to the boys who died at the barbaric north Florida reform school. Erin Kimmerle contends with a judge who blocks her and locals who try to get her arrested. Inspired by the families of young boys who died suspiciously, Kimmerle fights to open up the unmarked graves, identify the remains and return them to their relatives.

Told in two parts, “The Lost Bones” is the latest chapter of Montgomery’s work, published in a special section on Sunday, Dec. 21.


There is a chance — slim, to be sure, but a still a chance — that Florida’s capital may finally get the newspaper it deserves. Which is to say, it may finally get a newspaper.

It’s hard to describe what Leon County residents currently have, the Tallahassee Democrat, as anything other than an expensive wrapper for coupons; I know many subscribers for whom the weekly discount flyers are the biggest draw. Though a few of the Democrat’s most talented longtime newspeople still linger in the newsroom, most have moved on, disheartened by the dumbing-down of a once-great paper under its most recent strongarm editor, out-of-towner Bob Gabordi.

But that’s changing now. Gabordi–who has spent nearly a decade slashing the paper’s resources, eroding the paper’s ability to investigate and challenge power, and giving PR flacks more space in its pages — announced that he’s leaving for a similar position at Florida Today.

Gabordi said the move would bring him closer to his grandchildren, and that’s nice. It’s nice to have the option of moving from one high-paying executive post to another in order to accommodate one’s kith and kin. It’s an option that isn’t available to, say, the journalists Gabordi laid off in October to carry out his overlords’ latest Orwellian corporate “newsroom of the future” chair-shuffling.

But there’s evidence that Gabordi’s move has as much to do with his journalism-ruining ambitions as his domestic commitments. Several sources have told me that when longtime Democrat publisher Pat Dorsey left the paper in late 2012, Gabordi pressed hard to be dual-hatted as publisher and editor.

The idea is ghastly, as far as the remaining firewall between ad sales and journalistic integrity goes, but it’s one Gannett has been willing to entertain in the past at other papers. And Gabordi, with his MBA in “marketing and innovation,” has studied business more intently than reporting for a long time already.


Facing Florida with Mike Vasalinda: A look inside the clemency process

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Amy Hollyfield, Ken Irby, Rep. Amanda Murphy, and Sen. Wilton Simpson.

Political Connections on Tampa Bay’s BayNews 9: Omar Khan

Political Connections on CF 13: Dan Webster

The Usual Suspects which airs on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Steve Vancore, Gary Yordon, and

CHARLIE BROWN AND A CITY’S UGLY CHRISTMAS TREE via Michael Rubinkam of the Associated Press

Reading’s official Christmas tree has brought the city plenty of grief. Good grief.

When the 50-foot Norway spruce went up last month, it drew immediate comparisons to the scraggly sapling in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Its giant bare spots and asymmetrical branches were no one’s idea of Christmas tree perfection — especially in Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s largest producers. Some residents and city officials called it an embarrassment and demanded it be replaced with a more suitable specimen.

Instead, Reading decided to embrace the Charlie Brown theme.

Workers wrapped a blue blanket around its base — a la Linus — and adorned it with a single red ball. The city announced a worldwide photo and essay contest, with winners to receive copies of the book version of the beloved TV special. And on Saturday, the public is invited to give the tree a makeover, just like the “Peanuts” gang surprised Charlie Brown by turning his puny pine into a trimmed, twinkling tannenbaum.

Turns out Reading’s tree wasn’t bad at all, really. It just needed a little love.

“Christmas is so commercialized that we tend to forget what Christmases used to be like,” said Mayor Vaughn Spencer, channeling good ol’ Charlie Brown himself. “Sometimes we have to keep things in perspective, and I think that’s the lesson here.”

Amy Johnson, the daughter of the late “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz, said her father would be tickled that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has made a real-world impact nearly a half-century after its release.


Star Wars actors, stormtroopers and other characters will once again be stationed at Walt Disney World in May and June for the 2015 edition of the popular Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The lineup of celebrities hasn’t been released yet, but nerds at least know now that on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between May 15 and June 14 they can immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe with special interactions, parades and shows with celebrities from the films and the related animated series.

Actor Mark Hamill visited last year, bringing Luke Skywalker to the park for the first time, and Billy Dee Williams drew big crowds from Lando Calrissian fans.

Events are included in regular admission to Hollywood Studios, but there are other add-on features to buy, such as character meals. The cleverly named Darth’s Mall for special merchandise is exclusive to Star Wars Weekends.

ROSE BOWL A FAMILIAR SETTING FOR FLORIDA STATE via Brent Kallestad of the Associated Press

Second-ranked and undefeated Florida State begins its postseason quest for a second consecutive national championship in the same stadium it won the title a year ago: The Rose Bowl.

The Seminoles, No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, are riding a 29-game winning streak and intent on proving that a season-long run of close wins has galvanized them for their semifinal showdown against the No. 3 Oregon Ducks (No. 2, CFP).

Although the game is being played in the heart of Pac 12 country in Pasadena, California, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher believes returning to the site where he won his first national title as a coach and the school won its third, has advantages.

With a semifinal victory, the Seminoles would return Dallas and the stadium where they opened the season with a win over Oklahoma State.

But first things first and that’s Oregon.

The New Year’s Day game against the Ducks is full of intriguing storylines, including a showdown between the last two Heisman Trophy winners – quarterbacks Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

Barring any practice injuries over the next two weeks, the Seminoles will be the healthiest they’ve been all season for Oregon. Fisher is also optimistic that defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample will be ready for the game after missing most of the season with a pectoral injury.

Florida State practices through the weekend before players leave for a few days to spend Christmas at home before returning for the team’s Dec. 26 departure to the West Coast.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of St. Petersburg’s best and brightest, Greg Holden. Also celebrating today is Sean Jacobus.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.