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Near the land where dreams come true, CannaBiz Day to take place

Monday, May 12th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Steve DeAngelo, medical marijuana leader, will speak at CannaBiz Day in Orlando

With the Republican-led Legislature recently approving a measure legalizing a strain of medical marijuana in Florida, there is certainly something different in the political air.

Next month, the business-side of the marijuana industry will gather in Orlando for the state’s first CannaBiz Day — June 6.

Organizers said the event at the Royal Caribe Hotel, just down the road from DisneyWorld, will feature business owners, legal, real estate and finance professionals with real-world cannabis business experience. Also expected to attend are activists and policy makers involved in Florida’s marijuana movement.

Keynote speaker is Steve DeAngelo, who operates Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Cal. Harborside was a pioneer in treating children suffering from severe epilepsy with the non-euphoric marijuana oil now dubbed Charlotte’s Web, which Florida lawmakers have approved for epilepsy and cancer victims.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he will sign the legislation into law.

Much of the one-day session, though, also will focus on the more sweeping medical marijuana initiative that is set to go on Florida’s November ballot as a constitutional amendment. That measure could broaden the use and cultivation of medical marijuana in the state.


House Republicans turn back Dem attempts to scuttle charter school bill

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by John Kennedy

House Republicans beat back efforts Monday by Democrats looking to scuttle a proposal that would further fuel the already explosive growth of charter schools in Florida.

The legislation (CS/HB 7083) is opposed by Palm Beach County and other school districts. It would make it easier for “high-performing” charter school companies operating out-of-state to enter Florida.

The measure also would require school districts statewide to use a standard contract, which districts say will hurt their ability to negotiate with charter school boards.  It likely faces a final House vote today.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, earlier promised a “massive expansion” of school choice options this spring. But so far, fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate have proved a hurdle, rejecting key provisions of the
charter school bill and another to expand private-school vouchers.

“I do understand that we have two chambers in this building,” said Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, sponsor of both efforts. “Our bill is going to be a little different than theirs.”

With the Legislature opening its final scheduled two weeks, the fate of the charter bill, voucher effort and another House-backed, but Senate-rejected proposal to grant in-state college and university tuition to children of undocumented immigrants, will all be likely tied to wide-ranging negotiations between the two sides.

Follow George Bennett’s tweets from Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to Forum Club

Friday, February 14th, 2014 by Palm Beach Post Staff

Nelson sticking to statement, still “no intention of running” for gov

Saturday, October 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stayed on script Saturday when asked whether he was satisfied with a Democratic field for governor headed by former Republican Charlie Crist and longshot hopeful Nan Rich.

“I have no plans to run for governor and I have no intention of running for governor,” Nelson said, repeating the oblique statement he’s been making for months.

But he added, “The state’s going into a ditch. The state is going in the wrong direction.”

Nelson, elected last fall to a third term, insisted that he has plenty to do in the U.S. Senate.

But he was quick to show off a familiarity with state issues still hot for Democrats: The Republican Legislature’s rejection of Medicaid expansion, Gov. Rick Scott’s turnback of high-speed rail, and even a recent Public Service Commission ruling that will have customers pay millions for the failures of Duke Energy’s Crystal River nuclear plant.

“Where’s the leadership?” an exasperated Nelson said.

Nelson ran for governor in 1990, losing the Democratic primary that year to Lawton Chiles, the former senator who went on to serve two terms as governor. Chiles, who died in 1998, is the last Florida Democrat elected governor.

Nelson is clearly keeping an eye on the state candidate qualifying period, which he accurately said was June 16-20. But he told reporters he was wary of saying anything that would breathe life into talk of him as a candidate for governor.

“If I say anything, you guys are going to run with it,” Nelson said. “And I’m not going to let you guys run with it.”

Crist, the not-yet candidate, works crowd arriving at Democratic convention

Friday, October 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Crist works the crowd at Dem conference

Former Gov. Charlie Crist,  a Republican turned Democrat, worked the arriving crowd Friday night at the state’s Democratic conference at Disney World, telling reporters, “I feel at home.”

Crist is expected to announce as a Democratic challenger against Republican Gov. Rick Scott early next month. But Friday, he stayed cagey on his soon-t0-be candidacy, saying only he had a lot to weigh.

“But it’s not my father’s Republican Party anymore,” Crist said, adding, “Democrats are great. I love them. Particularly Florida Democrats…they are special to us.”

He also went at Scott’s central campaign claim — that he has turned around a Florida economy that tanked while Crist was in the governor’s office.

“If anybody thinks that one governor created the global economic meltdown, that’s ridiculous,” Crist said.

And of Florida’s current economy, he added, “It has gotten better, but it could be even better, and that’s the point. We have to reach higher…it’s got to get better than it is now. It’s still not great.”

Asked how a Democratic Crist would differ from Republican Crist as governor, the expected contender said, “Not much…I had a lot of Democrats in our administration…not much, I’m the same guy. Some tweaks here and there.”

Scott’s much touted teacher pay raises, slow to arrive

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Teachers in most counties are still awaiting pay raises approved earlier this year.

Teachers across most Florida counties, including Palm Beach, are still awaiting pay raises pushed through Legislature last spring by Gov. Rick Scott, a House budget committee was told Wednesday.

Deputy Education Commissioner Linda Champion said that only 13 of the state’s 67 counties had approved pay raises that lawmakers said were to range from $2,500 each for teachers rated “effective” and as much as $3,500 for those who earned “highly effective” grades.

In 53 counties, negotiations between school boards and teachers unions are still ongoing, while Orange County has been declared at a collective bargaining impasse.

Lawmakers acknowledged that the pay hikes were taking longer to appear than they anticipated. But Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, also said she was “disappointed” that four of the counties had issued across-the-board boosts, apparently disregarding the Legislature’s demand that they awards be based on merit.

“I’m troubled that we have superintendents and school boards that ignored that directive,” Adkins said.

In Palm Beach County, negotiations with the Classroom Teachers Associations are still underway. The CTA this week made a counter-offer involving salary schedules that could mean more money for teachers on top of $2,000 pay hikes already put forth by the school board.

Scott in 2011 signed into law legislation ending teacher tenure and introducing a merit-pay plan based in large part how students perform on standardized tests. The performance standard is to go into effect next year, a delay that may be contributing to the decision in some counties not to rely completely on merit in handing out raises.

Overall, the 13 counties where pay hikes have been distributed are mostly small, with many rural. Average pay raises for teachers have ranged between $1,500 and $2,900, representing a 2.3 percent to 6.8 percent increase, DOE reported. Administrators have drawn between $450 and $2,000 boosts in the 11 counties where they were included; non-instructional staff have collected another $80 to $1,100 in four counties where they were made part of the boost.

Dems blister Scott on first day of huddles with elections chiefs

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats marked the opening of discussions between state officials and county elections supervisors Thursday by condemning Gov. Rick Scott and fellow Republicans for what they call their latest attempt at voter suppression.

“They are going to use every tool at their disposal,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who is chair of the Democratic National Committee. “It’s another example of how Rick Scott and his Republican friends can’t win elections on their merits.”

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner was scheduled to meet Thursday in Panama City with elections supervisors from the Panhandle as part of the agency’s revived effort to remove noncitizens and other ineligible voters from the state’s elections rolls. The state has called the review, Project Integrity.

Detzner has scheduled roundtables with county supervisors today through Oct. 9 to draw input on how to proceed. The Oct. 9 hearing is expected to draw supervisors from South Florida and is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Broward County Governmental Center.

Democrats, though, say the administration’s pre-election year push unfairly targets minority voters who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Wasserman Schultz pointed out that President Obama carried 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and 95 percent of the black vote in Florida in last year’s election.

Minority and voting rights groups earlier this month called on Scott to drop the review of voter rolls, saying the database the state intends to use is flawed.

Scott plans to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — list to conduct the review. Several county election supervisors already have raised concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting eligibility of many recent immigrants.

Relying on another database, Scott last year attempted to remove noncitizens, initially disclosing a pool of 182,000 names of potential noncitizens later reduced to a list of 2,600. Those named were sent to election supervisors, who found many were in fact eligible voters.

In the end, the list of possible noncitizen voters shrank to 198. Elections officials found that about 40 had voted illegally.

A Public Policy Polling survey released this week showed Scott drawing his lowest approval ratings in Florida from Hispanic and black voters. The poll showed expected Florida Democratic candidate Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor, leading Scott by a 12-point margin if they faced off next year.

Crist draws overwhelming support from black voters and tops Scott by 12 percentage points among Hispanic voters, the poll showed.

Scott says feds looking for “entry point for intrusion” with school testing

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday defended his decision to withdraw from a testing system central to evaluating new, nationwide school standards by saying it represented the federal government’s ”entry point for intrusion.”

Scott announced a day earlier that Florida would withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing program that accompanies the Common Core State Standards, which are poised to be deployed fully in the state next year.

The governor said he remained committed to high standards for students. But he is wary of the federal government.

“It’s their entry point to having more involvement in our education system,” Scott said of the PARCC system, which was developed largely by educators from Florida and other states, not the federal government. “My goal is lets make sure we continue to raise our standards. I want to thank Gov. Bush for his focus on that.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush remains a leading nationwide advocate for PARCC and Common Core. But tea party conservatives and liberal groups critical of student testing have combined to cloud its future in Florida and elsewhere.

“I remain committed to high standards, but we don’t need the federal government intruding in our lives,” Scott said.

At Scott’s urging, the Florida Education Department is planning three public hearings next months to hear from Floridians and interest groups about how to proceed on Common Core. The department also is charged with looking to develop a Florida-only test to replaced PARCC.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Scott again declined to openly endorse Common Core, echoing comments he made a day earlier in letters to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand.

“A lot of people want to say, ‘is it yes or no to Common Core?’ and that’s not the right way to be looking at it,” Scott said. “It’s ‘yes’ to high standards…because that’s going to pay off in a global economy, and it’s ‘no’ to federal intrusion.”


Former Brevard lawmaker, an ex-lawman, arrested for bribery

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Mitch Needelman, a former Brevard County Clerk of the Courts and a longtime state legislator, was arrested Thursday on bribery charges, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Needelman, 60, is a former Florida Marine Patrol officer, who served a decade as a Republican in the state House, representing the Melbourne area. The FDLE said that while clerk, Needelman entered into a $8.53 million contract with a company, BlueWare with the agreement that a portion of that money would be funneled back into his reelection campaign.

BlueWare won the lucrative contract to digitize Brevard County court records even though the company didn’t have the equipment to scan the documents, FDLE said. Needelman’s one-time business partner, William Matthew Dupree, a lobbyist, also was charged in the scheme.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Rose Harr, BlueWare’s chief executive officer.

“The investigation shows Needelman, Dupree and Harr swindled Brevard County taxpayers  out of millions of dollars,” said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.  “Although not the final chapter, today’s arrests should present a degree of satisfaction to Brevard County taxpayers.”

Needelman lost his re-election bid in last summer’s primary for court clerk. Before leaving office, Needelman obtained a $5.6 million loan through the clerk’s office that was steered to BlueWare — cash Brevard taxpayers are now obligated to repay, FDLE said.

While the alleged bribery was underway, BlueWare also was poised to rake in more cash from the state, according to the watchdog group Integrity Florida.

Enterprise Florida, the state’s development arm, offered BlueWare $760,000 tax refund last year and a separate $550,000 from the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund on the promise the company would create 190 new jobs.

Enterprise Florida, however, said Thursday that no state money has gone to BlueWare because the job-creating milestones had not been met.

Brogan’s early exit means he’s no longer a million-dollar man

Friday, August 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, a former Florida Atlantic University president, acknowledged he would “take a hit,” with his move to a similar job in Pennsylvania.

He’s taking a salary cut: from $357,000 to $327,500 a year.

But the 35-year government employee will find the pay reduction cushioned by $16,029-a-month in pension payments once he leaves the Florida system Oct. 1, according to the state’s Department of Management Services, which oversees the Florida Retirement System.

Brogan’s departure is a mixed bag. Three years ago, Brogan enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and had been in line for a one-time payout of $1.1 million if he completed the program’s five-year wind-down of his career.

By leaving two years early, Brogan instead gets the monthly pension for two years, then a $622,109 payment. All told, the longtime educator and one-time lieutenant governor will lose $102,286 off what would have been his million-dollar one-time payout, according to DMS.

Frequent Scott critic, Fasano, appointed Pasco Tax Collector

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott appointed longtime lawmaker Mike Fasano as Pasco County Tax Collector, filling a vacancy created by the death of Tax Collector Mike Olson — a move the takes a Republican maverick and frequent Scott critic out of the Legislature.

Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, was elected to the House last fall — beginning his second run in the chamber. He earlier served in the House from 1994-2002, when he was elected to the Senate, where he served the next decade.

Fasano clashed last spring with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, over Medicaid expansion. Fasano sided with the Senate and Democrats in the drive to accept billions of dollars in federal aid to expand health coverage to 1.1 million poor Floridians. Weatherford refused, warning that the state would likely be stuck with a larger part of the tab from a federal government he said was unreliable.

Fasano also criticized the governor for failing to do more to sell the expansion to lawmakers.

Fasano had earned a reputation as a party loyalist under former Gov. Jeb Bush, being a leading advocate of the governor’s insistence on fazing out the state’s intangibles tax on investments, which he decried as a tax on “seniors and savers.”

He also was an advocate for customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer which is steadily under fire from business associations backing insurance companies which want a bigger slice of the Florida market.

The Pasco job will pay Fasano $136,000 annually, about five times what he earns as a legislator. The job also makes Fasano eligible for a massive spike in his pension benefits.

“He’s passionate. He cares about our state and he cares about his constituents,” Scott said. “He’s going to be very customer oriented.”

Employer mandate delay upends strategy for Florida Medicaid advocates

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Obama administration’s decision to delay for a year the requirement that large employers provide health insurance to their workers likely ended any hopes Florida Democrats had of expanding Medicaid coverage in the near future to low-income residents.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, who rallied House Republicans behind rejecting the expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act, said that postponing the employer mandate until 2015 affirmed his fear that the federal government was unreliable in the health care expansion.

“Count on more reversals, changes & unraveling of ObamaCare,” Weatherford posted on Twitter following the announcement. “ There is no way the Feds can make good on their promises.”

By Wednesday, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was joining in a Republican chorus calling for the repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. “ObamaCare should not simply be delayed, but repealed,” Weatherford tweeted.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also was among state Republicans ready to reverse course.

The stance was more of a departure for Negron. The Senate budget chief spearheaded an effort this spring that would have expanded health coverage to  1.1 million more low-income residents and been fully financed by federal dollars its first three years.

Negron’s plan also would have positioned Florida for $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade.

With the federal mandate lifted for a year, Negron said told The Palm Beach Post, “Businesses in Florida now have one more year to understand and try to implement the law and maybe persuade Congress to revisit the entire law.”

He added, “Maybe this is time to start making a persuasive argument to start over from scratch.”

The administration’s decision to tap the brakes on requiring employers with 50 or more workers to begin offering health coverage by January also blunts a campaign already underway by Florida Democrats looking to draw more support for Medicaid expansion.

The Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation is going ahead with a planned July 15 town hall meeting at the county Governmental Center on the Affordable Care Act and rallying support for expanding Medicaid.

But delegation chairman, Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, acknowledged Wednesday that the one-year delay, “definitely slows things down.”

“The positive thing is that the administration took to heart the concerns the business community was having,” Pafford said. “There always will be changes in a big plan like this and there still will be questions.

“But you have to remember, people would have been in much better shape if we had already gone ahead with the Medicaid expansion,” Pafford said.

He called Weatherford’s lashing out at the Affordable Care Act “amateurish.”

Like the Palm Beach delegation, Broward County lawmakers held a town hall last month to emphasize the positives of having more of the state’s almost 4 million uninsured gain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The effort also was aimed at fanning the hopes of supporters disappointed by the Florida Legislature’s failure to approve some version of Medicaid expansion to cover Floridians expected to fall through the cracks of the federal health care overhaul.

Many advocates for the poor have joined with hospitals and some business associations in urging lawmakers to revisit the issue as early as this fall in a special session.

Some expected business groups to step-up their demand for the state and federal governments to cover more low-income residents as the employer mandate neared. Employers, advocates said, would welcome the state and federal government  providing more coverage options to low-income workers with jobs, saving companies some expense.

The Medicaid expansion also was seen as drawing business support because it was seen as reducing the overall cost of providing insurance.

But that strategy now looks out the window.

“At this point, we would hope that businesses would still want to do the right thing and make sure they offer insurance to their workers,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy organization based in Jupiter.

“Businesses also have to remember that 2015 isn’t that far away. They can’t put these actions off forever,” she said.



Documents show more map exchanges between GOP and consultants

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Documents released Thursday in a wide-ranging lawsuit over last year’s redistricting effort raise more questions about communication between Florida Republicans and party consultants over proposed maps, possibly in violation of the state constitution.

In a deposition given last month, campaign consultant Marc Reichelderfer acknowledged having received draft versions of proposed congressional redistricting plans from Kirk Pepper, a top aide to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

Reichelderfer received seven proposed maps in a Dropbox account, two weeks before they were made public.

In his deposition, Reichelderfer was asked, “You got them for a reason, isn’t that right?”

The consultant responded, “I assume it was for a reason.”

Asked if it was to determine how the maps performed, politically, Reichelderfer said, “I could have done that, yes, sir.”

Democratic-allied voter groups want congressional and legislative maps thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

The Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and individual voters organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

Court documents filed earlier with Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state  party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.


Poll shows Scott with highest approval yet — but still double-digits behind Crist

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott draws his highest approval ratings from Florida voters since his 2010 election, but still trails former Republican governor turned Democrat Charlie Crist by a double-digit margin in a prospective governor’s race, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

Forty-three percent of Floridians approve of the job Scott has done in office, compared to 44 percent who disapprove – the best marks Scott has earned and up from a low of  29 percent in May 2011.

As recently as March, Quinnipiac’s last survey, 49 percent of voters disapproved of Scott’s job performance, while only 36 percent approved.

Crist, however, would top Scott 47-37 percent if the pair meet in next year’s governor’s race, the poll showed. But for Scott, even that may be good news.

In March, Crist held a 16 percentage point lead over the Republican incumbent.

“It is an indication of how far down Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s numbers have been that he can take some solace from a poll that finds him losing by 10 points to his predecessor in the governor’s office,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“In addition to cutting the deficit between himself and former Gov. Charlie Crist, Gov. Scott sees his tepid job approval and favorability numbers and his still-negative reelection numbers as notably improved,” Brown added.

Similarly, while his approval numbers are rising and he is looking more competitive against Crist, voters aren’t thrilled by the prospect of another Scott term.

Fifty percent of voters surveyed said Scott does not deserve to be reelected, while 35 percent would give him another shot.

As grim as that may appear, the balance, too, reflects  his best score so far on that question. Scott drew a 55-32 percent ‘no’ vote in March, Quinnipiac found.

In other possible match-ups, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who has said repeatedly he has no plans to challenge Scott, also holds a 10 percent margin over the Republican in next year’s governor’s race.

Scott, however, holds a 42-36 percent lead over former state senator Nan Rich of Weston, the only name-brand Democrat who said she is actually running for governor.

The survey of 1,176 Florida voters was conducted June 11-16. It has a 2.9 percent margin-of-error.

Here are Quinnipiac’s findings:

Scott steps into immigration debate with veto

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Rick Scott vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have allowed children of undocumented immigrants to get Florida drivers’ licenses, a move likely to rattle the governor’s support within the state’s Hispanic community while bolstering his backing from conservative groups.

The measure (HB 235) had sailed easily through a Republican-controlled Legislature, which in previous years had opposed similar steps toward embracing children of those in the country illegally.

The House approved the bill this spring 115-2; the Senate 36-0, a sign to many that Florida Republicans were looking to distance themselves from the hardline themes of the 2012 elections.

Scott, however, said the bill’s reliance on a newly adopted policy of the Obama administration was alarming.

In June 2012, the administration said children brought illegally to the country would not be subject to deportation under most circumstances.

Florida already allows immigrants legally allowed to work the opportunity to receive temporary drivers’ licenses. For now, Scott said that was enough.

In his veto letter, Scott wrote, “Although the Legislature may have been well intentioned in seeking to expedite the process to obtain a temporary driver license, it should not have been done by relying on a federal government policy adopted without legal basis.”

Florida Democrats lashed out at Scott.

“Rick Scott continues to alienate and discriminate against thousands of undocumented immigrants,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp. “Instead of joining the legislature’s near-unanmous consensus around HB 235, Gov. Scott imposed his rigid ideology on Floridians — to the detriment of the young immigrants who are Florida’s future.”

Florida’s redistricting fight continues on paper trail

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A Republican-allied campaign research and consulting firm surrendered more than 1,800 pages of records this week but asked a judge Thursday to block a demand by Democratic-leaning groups for more emails and documents in a lawsuit over last year’s legislative redistricting battle.

Data Targeting, Inc., a Gainesville-based political affairs firm, said in a motion filed with Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that organizations seeking the records are on an “old-fashioned fishing expedition.”

Lawyers for the company add that documents sought may include “proprietary” information that could threaten relationships with clients and reveal business secrets.

Lewis is expected to rule Friday in the matter, part of a post-redistricting clash that is already in the Florida Supreme Court. There, justices are being asked to dismiss the lawsuit before Lewis, which was filed by the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza.

The voter groups contend that redrawn Senate districts should be thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

But the organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

Court documents filed earlier with Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz,
House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state  party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.

The  Supreme Court last year ruled the Senate’s initial proposal for redrawing the 40-member chamber unconstitutional. The 5-2 decision found  the Senate plan protected incumbents, packed minority voters into districts and numbered Senate districts in a way to give incumbents more time in office.

It marked the first time since the court was brought into that stage of redistricting in 1972 that justices overturned a legislative map. The House map was approved by justices.

Connie Mack IV and Mary Bono Mack to divorce

Friday, May 24th, 2013 by John Kennedy

U.S. Reps. Connie Mack IV and Mary Bono Mack shared both a marriage and a political defeat last fall, when the Florida congressman lost a bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and the California congresswoman failed to win re-election.

On Friday, the couple announced they are getting divorced after six years of marriage.

In a statement, the pair said, “We are saddened to announce that we have reached the difficult decision to end our marriage. We have nothing but respect and admiration for each other and we intend to remain on the friendliest of terms. We appreciate the love and support of our family and friends.”

Shortly after his defeat last fall, Mack joined Liberty Partners Group, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, as a partner and senior policy advisor. Mary Bono Mack also is consulting in Washington.


Ex-Speaker Cannon joins online reputation firm

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

In a move that may sound a little like rain on your wedding day, a leading online reputation-building company announced Wednesday that former Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon has joined its board of advisors., whose website says it is dedicated to “protecting and advocating for our clients’ online images,” is part of a growing industry of digital message-shapers.

Cannon, R-Winter Park, ended his two-year stint as House Speaker last fall and since has opened a Tallahassee lobbying firm, Capitol Insight, with another Republican ex-speaker, Larry Cretul, among his employees.

Cannon’s path from being on the receiving end of lobbying to actually doing lobbying himself isn’t uncommon at the Capitol. But the trajectory became harshly condemned by senators this spring as they crafted a new state ethics law.

The measure approved by lawmakers and signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Rick Scott extends a current, two-year ban on former legislators lobbying the Legislature to include a new, two-year restriction on ex-lawmakers lobbying the executive branch and state agencies.

In a statement, president Michael Zammuto said there was a ”natural synergy” between and Capitol Insight.

“Online reputation management is critical across the political process, and indeed, political campaigns worldwide are won and lost on the basis of online reputation and the effectiveness of their online strategies,” Zammuto said.  “As such, has been busily gearing up for the
next election cycle, and expanding our services in the political realm.”

In the company statement, Cannon said, “The usefulness of online reputation management in the political campaign process is difficult to overstate.”

“Just imagine,” he added, “If an unflattering news headline or erroneous accusation come to light, a company like can help political campaigns get the facts of their message out aggressively, and even push those unwanted headlines off the first page of an online search results page. This can be a huge potential advantage for any political campaign.”



Florida GOP slaps Pafford for budget vote

Monday, May 6th, 2013 by John Kennedy

With Gov. Rick Scott stopping at a Palm Beach County school Monday to tout teacher pay raises, the Florida Republican Party launched an internet strike on Democratic Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, one of 11 lawmakers voting against the state’s proposed $74.5 billion budget.

‘Why Did Pafford vote against Governor’s budget that’s a win for public schools,’ was one of the headlines in a Florida GOP release that interlaced newspaper stories on the teacher pay raise with stinging words for Pafford.

Pafford was accused of being part of a ‘(Dis) appreciation week for teachers.’

“They apparently didn’t listen to my debate,” Pafford said Monday of the GOP criticism.

Pafford said he voted ‘no’ on the budget because it failed to adequately serve poor Floridians, the elderly and disabled. Mostly, he centered his opposition on the Legislature’s failure to expand health insurance to low-income residents, a battle that consumed much of the session and ended in a stalemate between the House and Senate.

“The budget is not plugged into the reality that exists outside this chamber,” Pafford said Friday on the House floor.

The GOP blast on Pafford came shortly after Scott toured Wynnebrook Elementary School in West Palm Beach, among a handful of school stops the governor plans to make this week. The budget includes $480 million that could give teachers a $2,500 pay raises by next June.



House unveils its low-cost answer to Medicaid expansion

Thursday, April 11th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Weeks after Republican legislative leaders defied Gov. Rick Scott and refused to expand Medicaid, the House rolled out a health insurance plan Thursday that parallels a longshot proposal already introduced in the Senate.

The House would build on Florida Health Choices, a five-year-old insurance marketplace designed for individuals and small businesses.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, has advanced a similar approach in the Senate, where it has drawn little support compared with a more ambitious proposal from Senate budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

With just over three weeks remaining before the Legislature’s May 3 adjournment, the battle lines are clear. While Scott and Negron have expressed support for drawing billions of federal dollars to finance health coverage for an additional 1 million Floridians, the House proposal shuns federal money.

“The Florida House has developed a plan that will fit the needs of Florida, not the requirements of Washington,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.  “Our plan increases our commitment to a strong safety net and ensures Floridians are not on the hook for billions that we currently do not have.”

The House’s Florida Health Choices Plus would cover an additional 115,000 uninsured Floridians at a cost of $237 million annually to state taxpayers. Florida has close to 4 million residents without health coverage, contributing to hospitals losing $2.8 billion in charity care last year.

Democrats, hospitals and health-care organizations have joined advocates for low-income Floridians in pressing Republican leaders to embrace the Medicaid expansion allowed states under the Affordable Care Act.

Florida stands to draw $51 billion in federal aid at a cost to taxpayers of $3.5 billion over the next decade — with the first three years of the expansion fully paid for by the federal government.

Negron’s proposal in the Senate, if approved by the full Legislature and signed into law by Scott, is seen as likely winning approval from the Obama administration. That would clear the way for it to be financed as an alternative to the Medicaid expansion.

Following the plan’s release, House Democrats and Scott found rare symmetry.

Both sides gave a nod to the effort by House Republicans — but said it fell short.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale called it “bare-bones health coverage.”

“Though personally, at a glance, I am not enthralled by the proposal, I recognize that it is at least a minimal attempt toward achieving a legislative compromise on the important topic of health coverage for Floridians,” Thurston said.

Scott weighed-in supporting the Senate plan.

“The House’s plan will cost Florida taxpayers on top of what they are already taxed under the president’s new health care law,” Scott said. “This would be a double-hit to state taxpayers.”

He added, “The Senate’s plan will provide health care services to thousands of uninsured Floridians while the program is 100 percent federally funded. As it stands today, the Senate’s plan is in line with what I said I would support because it protects both state taxpayers and the uninsured in our state.”

Much of the proposal released Thursday by the House was devoted to making a case against expanding Medicaid. The Health Choices Plus plan would cost low-income Floridians $25-a-month, letting them choose from a variety of insurance options supplemented by $2,000 annually in taxpayer contributions.

Those taking part in the program would be expected to be employed, unless they could not work because of a disability.

Health care advocates earlier questioned the similar Bean proposal in the Senate — saying it’s lack of significant financing would blunt the kind of coverage Floridians could obtain.



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