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Nelson says no, again, to gov’s race talk

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 by John Kennedy

In case he wasn’t heard the first time, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday again dismissed talk that he was considering challenging Republican Gov. Rick Scott next year.

“The truth is, I have no plans to run for governor,” said Nelson, elected last fall to his third Senate term. “I have no intention of running for governor. I’m trying to serve as senator, and that’s why I’m here today.”

Nelson passed through Tallahassee on Wednesday on his way to the Panhandle’s Marianna, where he was to join anthropologists and law enforcement officials at the closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Scientists have found evidence that suggests unknown bodies may be buried on the grounds of the century-old reform school.

Strategists from both leading parties have been buzzing about the idea of Nelson retaining his Senate seat while running for governor next year. Speculation stems from the view that expected candidate and recent Democratic convert, former Gov. Charlie Crist, would drive too many Republicans to the polls next year, angry and eager to vote against him.

Nelson looms as a less-antagonistic choice for Democrats, the theory says. And, if elected governor, he would be empowered to appoint his successor in the Senate — assuring Democrats would keep the seat.

Senate panel joins House in defying Scott, rejecting Medicaid expansion

Monday, March 11th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A Senate panel Monday joined its House counterpart in rejecting Gov. Rick Scott’s push to expand Medicaid to bring health coverage to another 1 million lower-income Floridians.

The partyline vote came after Republicans ridiculed the expansion as building on a broken Medicaid system. Scott’s call to at least try the expansion for the three years it will be fully financed by the federal government also carried little weight with critics.

But Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said lawmakers will work on devising their own plan — one that will likely be subject to lengthy review by the federal government.

“I do not see the solution as doing nothing,” Simmons said. “But I do not see the solution being Medicaid expansion in its traditional form.”

Lawmakers are talking of trying to craft a Florida plan similar to that proposed in Arkansas, where patients qualifying for Medicaid would use federal dollars to buy private coverage through still being-developed online marketplaces, called health exchanges.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the Senate panel that has been exploring the Affordable Care Act, said he sees using the Florida Healthy Kids program to expand health coverage to lower-income Floridians.

Negron likened Medicaid currently to a 1950s-styled Soviet program. Rather than building on it, lawmakers were “rejecting the Washington plan while creating a Florida plan,” he said.

Scott, however, found a silver lining in the move.

“I am confident that the Legislature will do the right thing and find a way to protect taxpayers and the uninsured in our state while the new health care law provides 100 percent federal funding,” Scott said after the 7-4 vote, in which the only support for Medicaid expansion came from Democrats.

Florida could draw $51 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years with the Medicaid expansion, an amount recent revised upward by state economists. While the first three years would be fully covered by federal officials, state taxpayers would pay $5.2 billion to get the dollars through the subseqent seven years.

Democrats were stunned — pointing out that Republican leaders were also defying major business associations and Florida hospitals, which also have embraced the expansion.

“We have a moral and economic responsibility to seize this moment for the good of Floridians,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.”

Defying conservatives in his own party, Scott last month said he wanted the Legislature to approve expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the poverty level, a move which would make eligible about 1 million more Floridians.

Medicaid already serves 3.2 million people and absorbs almost one-third of the state’s $70 billion budget. But saying no to expansion just means Florida tax dollars will be spent in other states, supporters have said.

Under the expansion, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the expansion until 2016, when states would start paying a 5 percent share that would gradually increase to a maximum of 10 percent of new costs by 2020.


Scott’s push for Medicaid expansion gets tougher; Weatherford blasts it

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s task to get his push for Medicaid expansion through the Legislature got a bit tougher Tuesday — with House Speaker Will Weatherford openly deriding the plan and accusing the Obama administration of trying to “buy off” states.

“I am opposed to Medicaid expansion because I believe it crosses the line of the proper role of government,” Weatherford told the House in an address on the session’s opening day.

“I believe it forces Florida to expand a broken system that we have been battling Washington to fix, and I believe it will ultimately drive up the cost of health care,” he added.

Weatherford said the Obama administration is trying to “buy off” states with Medicaid cash, that for Florida would amount to $26 billion over the next decade. Florida would have to put up $3 billion for the aid, which is seen as helping extend health coverage
to about 1 million of the state’s 4 million uninsured.

Scott, however, has said that expanding Medicaid for at least the next three years – when the federal government promises to fully finance it – makes sense for Florida.


House panel ponders ObamaCare: “Orwellian,” or are critics “Chicken Littles?”

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 by John Kennedy


Scott says Obama to blame for pending budget cuts

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott lashed out Wednesday at President Obama, saying it is up to the White House to resolve the congressional deadlock over looming budget cuts that could slash millions of dollars from Florida’s economy.

A week ago, Scott antagonized many supporters within his own Republican Party for embracing Medicaid expansion, which Obama envisioned as a key component of the Affordable Care Act. But Scott this week has been apparently trying to bolster his conservative bonafides – with the budget cuts called sequestration emerging as his latest platform.

“If your administration fails to do its job to responsibly managed the budget, thousands of Floridians will lose their jobs under sequestration,” Scott said Wednesday in a letter to the president. The italics are Scott’s own.

“There is no doubt that budget cuts must be made at the national level, just as we do here at the state level,” Scott added. “But it is the responsibility of the administration to administer spending reductions responsibly. Instead of cutting with a scalpel, your sequestration process is a meat cleaver.”

In 2011, as part of a last-minute agreement to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt for the first time, Congress and the White House formed a bipartisan committee to develop a comprehensive plan to cut how much money the nation owes.

The deal included a clause that essentially said that if that committee could not reach a deal, the government would face $85 billion in arbitrary and painful cuts to both domestic and defense programs this year.

The White House has said that if another budget deal is not reached by Friday, about 750 teachers and aides could be laid off in Florida; 31,000 Department of Defense workers would be furloughed; 1,600 children would lose their place in day care; and thousands fewer will receive vaccinations.

Airport delays linked to a reduction in federal personnel also is forecast as hitting the Sunshine State hard.

White House officials said Wednesday that Obama has invited congressional leadership to a meeting Friday, after the cuts have gone into effect. The tactic suggests the administration does not expect much action from a deadlocked Congress before then.

Scott has been under fire within conservative ranks after dropping his long opposition to Medicaid expansion. But Wednesday’s letter prodding Obama comes only a day after Scott lashed out when a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ban on a 2011 law requiring drug-testing of state welfare recipients.

Losing for a second time in court only seemed to raise Scott’s conservative hackles. After the ruling, Scott said Tuesday he he intends to take the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here is Scott’s letter to: President Obama

Jeb Bush back at Capitol, urging lawmakers, “Be bold”

Thursday, February 14th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Former Gov. Jeb Bush returned Thursday to the Florida Capitol for one of his few visits since his two terms as chief executive ended six years ago.

Bush, who now leads foundations that advance education policies similar to those he signed into law as governor, met behind closed doors with House and Senate members, frequently posing for pictures with lawmakers. Many had entered the Legislature since Bush left office.

Bush, however, insisted he came to Tallahassee without specific proposals to push.

“We provide assistance to people who want to advocate education reform policies, the Legislature is about ready to start,” Bush said outside Senate President Don Gaetz’s office. “I’m here to say hello to some friends and advance the cause of rising student achievement.”

Bush said he conveyed identical messages to lawmakers he encountered.

“Be big. Be bold. Fill the space,” Bush said.

Although Bush’s stop at the Capitol was his first since 2010, he still has plenty of allies. Fellow Republican, Gov. Rick Scott, is promoting changes to expand enrollment in charter schools.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has pushing for expanding online education in Florida, a concept now being studied by state university officials. He also has created a new education Choice and Innovation Subcommittee charged with exploring more charter-, virtual- and home-school options.

Legislation introduced this week in the Senate also would let parents in low-performing schools call for a private-management company to take over. A similar “parent trigger” bill died on a 20-20 vote last year in the Senate. But Bush said his Foundation for Excellence in Education, which advocates nationwide, is a strong proponent of the approach.

“It’s a pretty simple law. It says that if you’re in a failing school, parents ought to have the ability, if a majority want to, to have a say — simply a say — in providing advice on what structure a failing school should take,” Bush said. “That doesn’t say…they can convert to a charter school or something else. It just simply says, parents’ voice matters. If that’s a radical idea in America today, then we’re in a heap of trouble.”

“I think it’ll pass,” Bush said.

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, who adheres to Bush’s parental choice concepts, has been a frequent speaker at the former governor’s foundation meetings. Bennett is Florida’s third education commissioner in two years.

Gaetz, however, said that in their meeting, he and Bush didn’t speak about the parent trigger idea.

“We talked generally about where education policy was going in this country, we talked about online education,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz acknowledged that the pair shared concerns about deadlines that are nearing for many state and national education efforts. Among them, is the movement in Florida away from FCAT testing toward standards based on a common core curriculum, and the linking of teacher salaries to student performance.

“I told him we have a lot of reform that has been sort of shot off like rockets…and it’s all coming down from the sky now in the same place at the same time,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz said that Bush’s response was, “You need leadership. He sort of looked at me like, ‘Gaetz, do your job.’”

A Palm Beach Post analysis showed charter school, voucher and online education companies poured more than $2 million into last fall’s political campaigns, to primarily those of Republicans again demanding more alternatives to traditional public schools.

A deeply ideological battle is expected to unfold at Florida’s Capitol in coming months, with vast amounts of taxpayer dollars at stake. Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education also draws a portion of its financing from the industry active in state campaigns.

Along with his Tallahassee stop, Bush is about to launch a book tour to coincide with the March 5 publishing of his book, Immigration Wars, written with Clint Bolick, a constitutional lawyer with the Goldwater Institute in Arizona. The book includes recommendations for easing the nation’s immigration problems.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Bush protege, has already advanced broad outlines for an immigration reform effort. Bush and Rubio are both frequently talked of as possible 2016 Republican presidential contenders.

Gaetz, who said he was courted by Bush to run for office in the mid-1990s, said he remains a Bush fan and is urging he get ready for the early caucus and primary states.

“I asked him three times, ‘when the bus is leaving for Iowa, and that I want to be on the bus,’” Gaetz said. “He laughed. But he didn’t say ‘no.’

Obama team bullish with eight days to go

Monday, October 29th, 2012 by Dara Kam

President Obama’s campaign team held a bullish conference call with reporters shortly after President Clinton addressed an Orlando crowd Monday morning.

“We’re winning this race. And I say that not on the basis of some mystical faith in a wave that’s going to come or some hidden vote,” said Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod.

Axelrod said the Obama team’s confidence was based on “cold, hard, data-based” facts on early voting and swing state polls.

“You’re going to get spun and spun and spun in the next week,” he said. “In just eight days we’ll know who’s bluffing and who was not.”

In Florida, Axelrod and campaign manager Jim Messina said record-breaking early voting in some areas, including Jacksonville, overcame a GOP advantage in absentee ballots.

“That is a really strong, incredible sign of strength,” Messina said.

Some voters waited as long as six hours before casting their ballots, he said. “That’s what enthusiasm looks like.”

The Obama camp’s enthusiasm comes a day after Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker declared Romney the winner of Florida. Coker said Mitt Romney has nailed down the I-4 corridor crucial to a statewide sweep. In a poll of the region from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach conducted for The Tampa Bay Times and its media partners, Romney held a 51-45 percent edge over Obama with 4 percent undecided.

“Romney has pretty much nailed down Florida,” said Coker told the Times. “Unless something dramatically changes — an October surprise, a major gaffe — Romney’s going to win Florida.”

Obama dropped by an Orlando campaign office Sunday night before bailing on the Central Florida event with President Bill Clinton (who showed up with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson) and instead returning to the White House to monitor Hurricane Sandy threaten much of the Northeast.

“The president…has real responsibilities. Those responsibilities come first,” Axelrod said. “We’re obviously going to lose a bunch of campaign time but that’s as it has to be. We’ll try to make it up on the back end. It’s not a matter of optics. It’s a matter of responsibility.”

Obama’s aides pointed to polls showing the president leading in key swing states, including Iowa, Nevada and Virginia.

“As is befitting the Halloween season, Gov. Romney is running around the nation posing as an agent of change,” Axelrod said, adding that Romney’s economic plan would cost “middle class” $5 trillion in tax cuts “skewed to the wealthy” and a $2 trillion boost in defense spending the Pentagon is not seeking.

Romney’s plan is “an echo of the failed policies of the past,” he said.

“We’re going to be pounding that message everywhere in the final days of this campaign,” Axelrod said.

The Obama camp’s swagger drew sneers from the other side. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski sent out the following e-mail shortly after the call.

“All – a couple things stuck out to us while we were listening to Axelrod and Messina on their call – they are extremely defensive about Pennsylvania acknowledging OFA and Restore Our Future are going up with ads, Bill Clinton will be headed to at least four states that were not on Messina’s map as of April 2012 and they are spending time reaffirming their confidence about Wisconsin – a state they won by 14 points in 2008. Oh, and Axelrod made it two days in a row that the campaign has attacked the Des Moines Register. You’re right Axe, 8 days and we’ll see who is bluffing.”

An exclusive Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll of likely voters along the Interstate 4 corridor finds Romney leading Obama 51 percent to 45 percent, with 4 percent undecided.
“Romney has pretty much nailed down Florida,” said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, which conducted the poll for the Times and its media partners. “Unless something dramatically changes — an October surprise, a major gaffe — Romney’s going to win Florida.”

Weatherford rounds out leadership team

Monday, October 22nd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford continued Monday to round out his leadership team, naming some close allies to top spots in the chamber he’ll soon command following the Nov. 6 elections.

 Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, named Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill as Rules Committee chairman, a role that gives the six-year lawmaker major influence over what legislation makes it to the House floor.

Schenck had been Health and Human Services Committee chairman the past two years, and helped shape the Legislature’s move to revamp Medicaid into mostly a managed-care program, a change still awaiting federal approval.

Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, was named speaker pro tempore; and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who is in line to succeed Weatherford, was appointed majority leader. Coley and Dorworth will play a significant role in guiding the House Republican caucus.

Weatherford has already named Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, as appropriations chairman.

Bogdanoff, Sachs set to meet with voters Saturday

Friday, October 12th, 2012 by Ana Valdes

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) and Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Boca Raton), who are both vying for a senate seat in District 34 on Election Day, will be in Palm Beach County on Saturday to rally voters in the newly-drawn Palm Beach-Broward district.

Bogdanoff will be bicycling through coastal communities starting at 7:30 a.m. at El Prado Park in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Bogdanoff will finish at Boston’s on the Beach in Delray Beach. Throughout the tour, which Bogdanoff is calling Ellyn’s Bicycle Classic, the senator is expected to make stops in Boca Raton and Highland Beach.

Meanwhile, Sachs will be canvassing in Boca Raton Saturday morning. The senator is meeting firefighters at Panera on Military Trail in Boca Raton, according to campaign officials.

The District 34 race between Sachs and Bogdanoff is the only Senate district in Florida where two incumbents are running against each other. It’s also a race both Republicans and Democrats consider key for the future of their parties.

Sachs and Bogdanoff are both facing a largely new set of voters.

Forty-nine percent of constituents in the new district are from Bogdanoff’s old district, and 39 percent are from Sachs’ former district. But the new district is also mostly Democratic, where 58 percent voted for Barack Obama in 2008, possibly putting Bogdanoff at a disadvantage.

GOP House member quits, after allegedly named as brothel client

Monday, September 24th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Rep. Mike Horner, a Kissimmee Republican and a favorite of the Christian Coalition of Florida, abandoned his re-election bid Monday after being named in a state attorney’s investigation into a prostitution ring.

Horner served two terms in the state House. He was to face Democrat Eileen Game in November in a race he was widely expected to win.

Horner is president of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce. Although not charged, he has reportedly been named on a client list at an Orange County brothel allegedly run by Mark Risner, who was arrested on five felony charges in August.

The Florida Republican Party can name a replacement for Horner. But the incumbent’s name will appear on the ballot and the new Republican will have to run under Horner’s name.

Horner earned a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition in 2009, its most recent legislative scorecard.

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said, “I believe he made the right decision. It is in the best interest of our state and his family. As elected officials, we are held to a high standard and no member of the Florida House is above that standard. 

 ”I accept Mike’s decision and offer my prayers during this difficult time for him and his family.”

 In a statement his office issued, Horner acknowledged some missteps.

“I deeply regret decisions I made that are causing my family unjustifiable pain and embarrassment,”  Horner said. “My family still deserves better from me, as do all my friends, supporters and constituents.”

As a legislator, one of Horner’s noteworthy accomplishments was sponsoring National Rifle Association-backed legislation barring adoption agencies from making prospective parents reveal whether they have guns or ammunition at home.

Horner said the measure stemmed from a personal experience. Horner said he and his wife dealt with a “mountain” of paperwork when they attempted to adopt a child through the Children’s Home Society of Florida, which assists with adoptions in the Orlando area.

Horner said the couple were offended when asked about what weapons they had at home.

Horner is the second Orlando-area House member to quit after being linked to prostitution. In 1996, state Rep. Marvin Couch, a family-values, conservative Christian legislator, has been charged with having sex with a prostitute in his truck at an Orange County shopping center.

Pension battle now in hands of high court

Friday, September 7th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The battle over 3 percent payroll contributions demanded of public employees by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature in 2011 went Friday before the state Supreme Court, with a lawyer for workers saying it violates an almost 40-year pension fund guarantee.

About $2 billion is at stake — cash lawmakers expected to draw from the payments. It was used to plug holes in last year’s budget and this year’s spending plan, which took effect July 1.

 Lawmakers also could be forced to repay $786 million already collected from employees of  the state, school boards, counties, colleges, universities and special districts if justices agree with a lower court that found the payments unconstitutional.

Ron Meyer, attorney for the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said much of the dispute turns on timing. The lower court found the move violated the constitution because it applied to all 623,000 employees in the Florida Retirement System. 

If lawmayers had sought the payments only from workers hired after the law took effect July 1 last year, they may have been on solid legal ground, Meyer conceded.

“You just can’t go back and change the deal midway,” Meyer said following arguments before the seven-member court.

Scott and lawmakers, however, say a 1981 court ruling involving the Florida Sheriffs Association, held that the Legislature could reduce the amount of benefits that would go to FRS members. Former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero argued for the state before his former colleagues.

Scott called the change “common-sense public pension reform.”

“The legal question in the case is straightforward,” Scott said. “The Legislature relied on and carefully followed a thirty-year-old Florida Supreme Court case, which held that the Legislature can change the public pension system on a going-forward basis.  We therefore expect the Supreme Court to follow its own prior decision.”


Rubio on his speech, immigration, Charlie Crist and the joy of being a home state boy

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 by Dara Kam

After a brief sound check onstage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was crushed by a media scrum anxious to hear the GOP rising star wax on about everything from Charlie Crist’s endorsement of President Barack Obama to how to address immigration.

Rubio, Florida’s Republican U.S. senator who grew up in Miami, will introduce Mitt Romney tomorrow night at the Republican National Convention, a primo spot second only to the presidential candidate’s acceptance speech itself.

Rubio said his job is to make clear to the millions of television viewers during his prime-time speech the choices between the two candidates and the role of government in people’s lives.

“This election is about the choice the country has about the role government should play in our country. And really that is what this choice is going to be about. It’s not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican simply. It’s a choice about much more than that. So tomorrow, my job is to introduce the next president of the united states and to do so in a way that makes It clear to people what their choice is.
It’s a great honor,” Rubio said.

Rubio will also talk about his experience as the son of Cuban immigrants, something he does with an earnestness that has made him one of the most popular Republican politicians in the country. Rubio was on Romney’s short-list for veep before the former Massachusetts governor settled on U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

When asked what’s different about his tomorrow-night speech, Rubio laughed.

“I don’t know. Thirty-nine million people, probably. Look, it’s a tremendous honor to be able to give this speech in my home state in front of a lot of family and friends,” he said, mentioning his mother and late father.
“It will be affirmation that their lives matter. That all the sacrifices and hard work they went through was worth something…It’s just an honor to be able to introduce the next president of the U.S. and to do so in a way that I hope will make clear the choice that we have and the difference between the two men.”

Rubio blamed complaints that the Romney campaign hadn’t done enough to reach out to Hispanic voters on the campaign’s limited resources and said the pace would pick up in the general election cycle .

Read what Rubio said about immigration, Charlie Crist and Paul Ryan after the jump.

Lincoln look-alike gets attention at RNC

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 by Dara Kam

It’s a fashion smorgasbord at the Republican National Convention, where party faithful are bespectacled in red, white and blue sequins, flags and a glittery cornucopia of patriotic accoutrements.

But perhaps the only top hat in the crowd is being sported by Abraham Lincoln look-alike George Engelbach, a delegate from Missouri who is running for the state House of Representatives whose campaign business cards have the words “Lincoln Admirer” beneath his name.

Engelbach caused a sensation in the Tampa Bay Times Forum where he lingered in the hallway during a slow floor session this afternoon. Fellow delegates frequently stopped him to have their picture snapped with the Republican from Hillsboro, Mo., who ran for the state House two years ago and lost.

Scott: Isaac will showcase how Florida handles storms

Sunday, August 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Even as Tropical Storm Isaac gains strength and poses a growing threat to Florida’s Gulf Coast, Gov. Rick Scott wouldn’t say whether holding a convention in Tampa during hurricane was a bad idea, repeatedly side-stepping questions about the site selection during an emergency briefing with the media this afternoon.

“Everybody likes to come to Florida. I’m sure they’re going to have a great convention,” Scott said.

Scott tried to turn the looming disaster, expected to bring high winds and gusts into the Tampa Bay region, into a Sunshine State sales pitch.

“The convention was a big opportunity for our state to show what a great place it is to live, work and play. Now what they’ve learned, what they’re going to find out this week, is we know how to deal with hurricanes. We’re prepared. This is a state that knows how to deal with those things,” he said. “On top of that we’re the best hospitality state around. We have 87 million tourists here a year. We know how to have conventions, how to have large events and we’re going to do a great job.”

Florida officials’ job is to keep residents and visitors safe, Scott said.

“We’re going to make sure that happens and we’ll do everything we can to make sure they have a great time,” the governor said at convention emergency operations center in Tampa at noon.

Winds are emergency officials’ greatest worry for the Tampa region, Scott said.

“But around the state we’ve got rain, we’ve got wind, we’ve got storm surge and then we’ve got the risk of tornadoes,” he said.

Scott warned visitors to the area who are staying at neighboring Pinellas County beaches to stay put instead of heading into the water-surrounded downtown convention site.

“If someone’s staying close to the beach, stay close to the beach. Don’t start venturing into the Tampa side because you don’t know what’s going to happen as far as your ability to get home,” Scott cautioned, adding that he planned to be in Tampa today only.

Scott said he spoke with Mitt Romney twice yesterday and “brought him up to speed” about emergency preparations statewide and in the Tampa area.

Late yesterday, GOP officials canceled Monday’s opening day Republican National Convention events and said the convention would resume on Tuesday. They are expected to issue a revised schedule later today.

The “roll call of the states” officially nominating Romney was supposed to take place at 2 p.m. tomorrow. But the nomination is now expected to happen on Tuesday along with other events previously scheduled for Monday.

GOP convention postponed, Scott cancels Sunday and Monday activities

Saturday, August 25th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Republicans have postponed their national convention in Tampa at least a day because of concerns about Tropical Storm Isaac.

The event will kick off Monday morning but the convention will immediately recess until Tuesday afternoon, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

“Due to the severe weather reports for the Tampa Bay area, the Republican National Convention will convene on Monday August 27th and immediately recess until Tuesday afternoon, August 28th. After consulting with Governor Scott, NOAA and local emergency management officials, we are optimistic that we will begin an exciting, robust convention that will nominate the Romney-Ryan ticket,” Priebus said.

Gov. Rick Scott has canceled all of his convention-related events Sunday and Monday, including his speech, because of the storm.

So far, however, no delegates have canceled their plans to attend the convention, according to GOP officials.

Isaac moved into Cuba on Saturday after causing flooding and several deaths in Haiti. Forecasters say the storm is on a track that would bring it toward Florida Monday and Tuesday. The Tampa Bay region is under a tropical storm watch already.

Here’s an excerpt from Scott’s statement:

“I am continuing to lead multiple daily briefings with local, state and federal decision makers and RNC officials to share information so the best decisions can be made for each region. I also spoke to Governor Romney earlier today and briefed him on the storm and possible impact to the state. I have made Governor Romney and RNC officials aware of the resources our state can provide in the chance Tampa is affected. Like all decision-makers affected by this storm, the convention officials will make the best decisions for delegates and participants.”

And here’s Priebus’ memo effectively canceling day one:

Due to the severe weather reports for the Tampa Bay area, the Republican National Convention will convene on Monday August 27th and immediately recess until Tuesday afternoon, August 28th, exact time to follow.

Our first priority is ensuring the safety of delegates, alternates, guests, members of the media attending the Republican National Convention, and citizens of the Tampa Bay area. RNC Convention officials and the Romney campaign are working closely with state, local and federal officials, as well as the Secret Service, to monitor Tropical Storm Isaac and preserve Florida’s emergency management resources. Officials have predicted participants may encounter severe transportation difficulties due to sustained wind and rain.

The Republican National Convention will take place and officially nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and the Party has other necessary business it must address. We also are remaining in constant contact with state and federal officials and may make additional schedule alterations as needed.

The Convention staff is working around-the-clock to ensure the delegations housed in storm-impacted areas have alternative housing if needed. The Committee on Arrangements will provide additional information to delegates and alternate delegates who are affected by Isaac by Sunday morning. We will also provide guidance to those delegates and alternate delegates who may encounter travel difficulties due to the storm.

We will begin issuing revised convention programming as early as Sunday.

We have an experienced team that will ensure changes are operationally smooth and create as little disruption as possible. The most important concern is safety, but our Convention program will proceed.

And here’s a memo from Republican National Convention President and CEO Bill Harris:

“Our chief priority is the safety of the residents of Florida, of those visiting the Convention, and all those in Gulf Coast states who may be impacted by Tropical Storm Isaac. We have been working closely with the campaign, the party, and state and local officials for months to ensure a successful, enjoyable convention. Federal, state and local officials assure us that they are prepared to respond, if needed, and the scheduling changes we are announcing today will help ensure the continued safety of all participants – our foremost concern. We are also committed to keeping the delegates and guests of the convention well informed about the situation, and we will continue providing updates in the hours and days ahead.”

Mack gets warmup for Romney role at RNC

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Underscoring the role of battleground Florida, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Connie Mack IV was named Thursday as one of the early evening speakers on the final night of next week’s Republican National Convention.

Mack, who is looking to unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, will precede another Floridian, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is scheduled to introduce presidential contender Mitt Romney to the crowd. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus also announced Thursday a roster of other Republican Senate and congressional candidates who will get turns at the microphone during the Aug. 27-30 convention.

But Mack appears to have drawn better positioning.

Also noteworthy: No other Florida congressional Republicans, including firebrand U.S. Rep. Allen West of Plantation, a tea party favorite and one of only two black Republicans in the U.S. House, have been given mainstage speaking roles.


Scott says RNC now working with state on storm-watch

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that state emergency officials will be working with Republican National Convention leaders in tracking the course of Tropical Storm Isaac, but that a decision on whether to delay or postpone the gathering planned for Tampa next week will be up to the GOP.

“With good information, I think everybody is going to make the same decision,” Scott said.

With almost 4,500 delegates and alternates, along with tens of thousands more media, guests and other visitors heading toward Tampa this weekend, the storm looms as a logistical nightmare is evacuations are needed, or if the convention must be delayed.

 Scott, though, said he was confident that Florida emergency officials could handle any challenge before them.

“We’ll have to wait and see what’s going to happen,” Scott said. “But this state’s prepared. We’ve gone through hurricanes. We have great local emergency teams, we have great state emergency teams, so depending on what happens, if we have a hurricane, where it’s going to hit in the state, we’ll deal with it. That’s what we do as a state.”

Scott is scheduled to arrive Sunday at the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, which will house the Florida delegation during the Aug. 27-30 event. Scott also is scheduled to address the convention on its Monday opening night. 

Those plans are still on course, said Scott, who also pointed out that the resort’s location — almost an hour from the convention site in downtown Tampa — could now prove fortunate.

Although Florida delegates have squawked about their hotel’s site, Scott said, “I guess we now have one benefit of being further away from the beach.”

Scott’s lobbyist to leave

Thursday, August 16th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s top lobbyist, Jon Costello, will be leaving the administration next month, the governor’s office announced Thursday.

Costello has been legislative affairs director for Scott since he took office in January 2011. He’s among the few holdovers remaining from opening day. Scott plans to appoint Costello as a board member of the Northwest Florida Water Managment District when he leaves the administration on Sept. 7.

 ”Jon has been a trusted advisor and an invaluable member of my team going back to my days campaigning to become governor,” Scott said. “Like me, Jon believes Florida must focus on creating jobs, improving education and keeping Florida’s cost of living affordable.”

Scott added, “Jon has been a loyal member of my team and will be missed.”

For his part, Costello said he enjoyed steering Scott’s policy plans through the Legislature.

 ”There are very few people who ever have the opportunity to work for such an accomplished, integrity driven man as he changes his focus from business to public service,” Costello said.  “Working for Gov. Scott from the early days of the campaign to develop his vision for Florida’s future and later being charged to shepherd those policy changes through the legislature has truly been the highlight of my career.” 


National Guard ready for GOP convention role

Thursday, August 16th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Florida lawmakers agreed to set aside an extra $2.3 million in federal money to make 1,750 members of the state National Guard available for the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this month.

The Legislative Budget Commission approved the additional spending authority for the state’s Department of Military Affairs. The cash comes from $50 million earlier approved by Congress for each of the national conventions, Republicans, Aug. 27-30 in Tampa and Democrats, Sept. 3-6 in Charlotte, N.C.

As many as 1,750 troops will be available to assist Tampa-area law enforcement agencies with security and other matters, said Glenn Sutphin, lobbyist for the Department of Military Affairs. He said troops will come from Pinellas Park, Lakeland and the Orlando area.

“We’ll be there solely in a support role,” Sutphin said. “You won’t see a lot of us on the street.”

The city of Tampa was scheduled to give a demonstration Thursday of their security preparations, giving members of the public a look at K-9 units, bike patrols and other members of “crowd-management units” that will be deployed during the convention.

Demonstrators who have dubbed themselves the Coalition to March on the RNC  announced Wednesday they plan to have 5,000 people march without confrontation through downtown Tampa on August 27th.

Plenty of other protests also will surround the Tampa Bay Times site of the convention. Occupy RNC, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, will be there. Planned Parenthood is hosting a rally at nearby Centennial Park during the convention, while Doctors of America plan to protest at another downtown park. 

On Tampa’s Riverwalk, MacDill Park has been chosen as the site where a 20-foot block of ice is to be carved, forming the words “Middle Class.” Protestors intend to let it melt in the sun.


Mack on Nelson’s attack: “Sad”

Thursday, August 9th, 2012 by John Kennedy

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack launched a web ad of his own Thursday in response to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s statewide TV ad which lampooned the congressman’s past work for the Hooters restaurant chain and youthful tendency toward bar fights.

In the latest spot, the likely Republican nominee dismisses his likely Democratic opponent’s attack as “sad.”

“After 40 years in politics, and this is what Bill Nelson wants to talk about,” Mack tells viewers, while the Nelson spot runs on a TV screen in the backgroud.

Mack goes on to say, “I want to talk about what really matters,” following it by highlighting Nelson’s support for the Affordable Care Act — which Mack opposes — and the Democrat’s votes to raise taxes, which Mack also derides.

Mack’s response comes a week after the National Republican Senatorial Committee blistered Nelson’s ad as “slimy and hypocritical.” The GOP pointed out that Nelson’s portrayal of Mack as a bratty senator’s son ignored his own son’s arrest six years ago for a boozy altercation with an Orlando cop.

The dueling ads, first Mack….

And Nelson:

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