May 30, 2014

John Thrasher taps old friend Steve MacNamara to assist with FSU application


The tech savvy among us know that when you create a new document on most computer programs, you usually leave a footprint. If you downloaded John Thrasher's resume and cover letter we posted here Thursday, you may have made an interesting discovery in the "Properties" field: the PDFs were created on computers registered to Stephen MacNamara.

Thrasher wants to be Florida State University's next president, and he submitted the documents to the school as his application for the job.

He and MacNamara tell the Times/Herald they exchanged emails about the resume and cover letter the way any friend would help a friend who asked for it. They say MacNamara, a tenured professor at Florida State University, has taken no other role in assisting Thrasher as he prepares for a June 11 interview.

But the discovery that MacNamara, an established and controversial figure in state politics with deep connections to FSU, gave Thrasher an assist will only fuel the flames for critics who say Thrasher is being given an unfair, inside track on the job.

MacNamara served as Thrasher's chief of staff during the second half of his term as House speaker, but they actually met years prior when MacNamara was one of Thrasher's daughter's professors at FSU, Thrasher says. MacNamara is a tenured communications professor at FSU. Thrasher said MacNamara is one of many people, some of whom also have ties to FSU, who helped him update his resume and cover letter for the first time in about 30 years. 

“His expertise is in communications, and certainly I wanted to make sure that how I was addressing the resume was done in a way that was positive and formatted in a modern way," Thrasher says.

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March 06, 2014

Thrasher says he isn't campaigning for, seeking advice about FSU presidency


Sen. John Thrasher admits to caring deeply about Florida State University and trying hard to improve the school over his many years as a lawmaker and lobbyist. But the 70-year-old is not saying whether he wants to become FSU's next president, though many of his friends seem to think he will apply and is a shoo-in for the job.

In fact, Thrasher says he has not sought advice from anyone about the job or what it would mean for his Senate career. The St. Augustine Republican's current term runs through November, and he is up for re-election.

Thrasher is aware of and slightly annoyed by the buzz surrounding the rumors that he is the front-runner to replace outgoing FSU President Eric Barron. He blames it on friends in Tallahassee who know his affinity for FSU, but says he is not behind the not-so-quiet campaign.

"I can't control what they're doing," Thrasher said today. "I can control what I'm doing." He says his focus is the legislative session, which began this week, and continuing to work to get Gov. Rick Scott re-elected as his campaign chairman.

He denied one of the latest rumors, that he has talked to friends in the governor's office, including Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth, about the FSU job. "I've talked to them a lot about other things, but that is not something I'm talking about," Thrasher said.

He also dismissed a rumor that he has sought advice from the Senate's general counsel about whether ethics rules would allow him to serve as a state university president and in the Senate simultaneously or preclude him from voting on FSU related matters while he pursues the job. A Senate spokeswoman said attorney-client privilege would protect that conversation from public disclosure anyway, if it were to occur.

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October 28, 2013

John Thrasher as Scott's No. 2? 'I'm not going to speculate'

It has been nearly eight months since Jennifer Carroll resigned as Florida lieutenant governor, and Gov. Rick Scott appears to be in no hurry to name her replacement. But speculation persists that Scott is seriously considering state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine as his new partner, and Thrasher won't completely rule out his interest.

"I'm not going to speculate on that. I'm happy being a senator," Thrasher said Monday. About the chatter that he's Scott's No. 1 choice, he said: "It's all news to me ... I don't know where the speculation's coming from. Nobody has directly contacted me from the governor's office." 

As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Thrasher wields plenty of power in the state Capitol. But within a year, control of the Senate will shift to Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who last year survived an attempted coup by Thrasher to keep his grip on the presidency. It would surprise nobody if Gardiner has someone other than Thrasher in mind for the agenda-setting Rules chairmanship.

Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, told The Buzz Friday that it would be "not true" to report that Thrasher's selection is imminent. Scott's office said nothing has changed as of Monday. The governor's office dismissed the notion that Scott may want to announce his choice by Friday, just before leaving for a week-long trade mission to Japan, and in an effort to steal the spotlight from Charlie Crist's candidacy announcement next Monday.

Thrasher has the respect not only of Scott, but especially Hollingsworth, a close friend who's in charge of the search. Thrasher also is a consummate deal-maker and effective fund-raiser who played a pivotal role in orchestrating the ouster of former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, who was Crist's hand-picked choice for party chairman.

But Thrasher, 69, a multimillionaire who lives in St. Augustine, would not help Scott expand his base: he's a safe establishment pick who would appease centrists and help Scott govern, as opposed to enhancing his re-election prospects.

After leaving office, Thrasher made millions as a super-lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group, making him an easy mark as a symbol of all that's wrong with Tallahassee and its revolving door culture.

Thrasher's past controversies also will be gleefully recycled by Scott's critics, too. He was twice punished for ethics violations and oversaw a $6 million refurbishing of the House chamber when he was speaker (1998-2000), but that's ancient news.

If he's about to be picked as Scott's running mate, Thrasher said, it's news to him. "I think the Florida Senate is really a fun place to be," he said. "That's where I am now, and that's where I think I'm going to be happy staying."

Now, the plot thickens: Thrasher's departure from the Senate would open his seat and demand a special election, so it could alter the balance of power for control of the chamber in the 2016-18 term, when Republicans Jack Latvala and Joe Negron are both seeking the presidency. (Thrasher is aligned with Negron). 

Scott has to choose someone sooner or later. He's being advised by Republican allies to choose an L.G. soon or wait until next May, after the 2014 legislative session ends, by which time the campaign will be heating up.

-- Steve Bousquet

June 28, 2013

Greasing growth machine, DEP to award staff for quickly issuing permits

In December, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection laid off 58 employees to cut costs. Several who were fired went public with allegations that the DEP is easing regulations on industrial plants and developers that could have far-ranging environmental consequences for years to come. And environmental groups are threatening to sue over lax water protections.

Yet on Friday, the seemingly embattled agency was held up as an example of good government by a legislative budget committee that awarded it permission to dole out more than $500,000 in bonuses.

Recipients will be “high-performing” employees who, among other things, were deemed to have improved customer service and reduced the time it takes to issue permits, a criteria that conservatives found refreshing and environmental advocates found vexing.

“Everywhere I go I hear my constituents tell me how efficient the agency is, whether they are for or against a permit,” said. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. “The agency is doing its job and this vote will award that efficiency.”

“The thing that bothers me is when they start emphasizing speed, they threaten to turn the DEP into a Jiffy Lube,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Florida Audubon, who was in Tampa and couldn’t attend the meeting. “If they’re stressing that employees to get a job done quickly, rather than do the best job they can, we lose the guarantee that the DEP is properly focused on the environment.”

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March 04, 2013

Pre-session ritual: One last blast of collecting money

On the eve of the 2013 Florida legislative session, the Capitol was bustling with activity, including the pre-session ritual of lobbyists scurrying from one fund-raiser to the next with campaign checks for the lawmakers. On Tuesday, they will convene and begin to talk about the need for more stringent ethics laws in Tallahassee.

Fund-raising is prohibited during the 60-day session that starts Tuesday and will end in early May. So Tallahassee politicians collect what they can before the ban takes effect.

"I'm going to six (fund-raisers) now, but there are a bunch more at 4:30 and 5," said lobbyist Ron Book, who opened his legislative briefing binder to reveal a stack of checks in envelopes. He said there were a lot more fund-raisers during a stretch of three weeks of committee meetings held in February.

On the third floor of the nearby Governor's Club, Senate Rules Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, greeted a small but steady stream of lobbyists bearing gifts for a lawmaker who plays a central role in setting the legislative agenda. Thrasher readily agreed to allow a Times/Herald reporter and photographer to attend his midday fund-raiser, and most lobbyists quickly scattered at the sight of a news camera.

"I'm going to run again," Thrasher said. "It's just a way of reaching out and telling people you're out there." Among the lobbyists stopping by to shake Thrasher's hand and say hello to his wife, Jean, were Book, Brian Ballard and Reginald Garcia.  

-- Steve Bousquet

June 14, 2012

Senate leadership endorses Rep. John Legg's campaign

It's been only two days since Sen. Jim Norman announced he wasn't running for re-election, but as expected support has coalesced around state Rep. John Legg's bid to join the Florida Senate. Five of the most powerful state senators jointly announced their support for Legg today in a statement sent out by the Republican Party of Florida.

Senate President-designate Don Gaetz joined Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, Jack Latvala, Joe Negron and John Thrasher in endorsing Legg. Gardiner will take over the presidency in 2014; Latvala, Negron and Thrasher all want to become Senate president in 2016.

Legg, a Port Richey Republican, faces former state Rep. Rob Wallace and security consultant John Korsak in the August primary.

His other endorsements include Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Dean Cannon, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, and Sen. Mike Fasano.

Here is the full text of the joint statement:

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March 06, 2012

Diaz de la Portilla decries ‘bare knuckle politics’ during PIP debate


Senators John Thrasher, R- St. Augustine, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, Mike Fasano, R- New Port Richey, and Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, huddle on the Senate floor during a tense debate on PIP reform on Tuesday. [Scott Keeler | Times]

There were somewhat familiar fireworks in the Senate Tuesday afternoon as leaders frantically tried to get their colleagues to reverse a decision on a component of personal injury protection, or PIP reform.

Senators initially voted 24-15 to approve an amendment filed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, that authorized the continued use of attorney fee multipliers in PIP lawsuits. Immediately after that happened, Senate President Mike Haridopolos left the dais for several minutes and conferred with other leaders as onlookers scrambled to figure out what was happening.

Haridopolos and senators John Thrasher, Don Gaetz, Joe Negron, Garrett Richter, JD Alexander and David Simmons scurried to consult one another on the floor and then in a small meeting room known as “the bubble.” When the chamber was called back to order, Gaetz requested for a re-vote on Diaz de la Portilla’s amendment, saying senators didn’t fully understand what they were doing at the time.

Given a second chance to making a closing argument, Diaz de la Portilla said the “bully pulpit” had been used to “mysteriously reconsider the overwhelming vote by which my amendment was adopted.”

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March 02, 2012

Senate refuses to fast track ‘parent trigger’ legislation

The Senate is divided again. This time it is over the so-called "parent trigger" bill that would empower parents of children in failing and low-ranked schools to set in motion the firing of a principal and the shift in the school to a charter school.
The bill passed the House on Thursday on a party-line vote and Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher tried to pull the Senate companion by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto out of its last committee and directly onto the floor. But, after Democratic Leader Nan Rich objected, the motion failed to get the required two-thirds votes of the 40-member Senate and failed on a 20-19 vote.
Thrasher had a back up plan. He announced that the Senate will hold a rare Saturday morning meeting of the budget committee -- at 8 a.m. -- to take up the lone bill. "Be there or be square,'' he said after the vote.

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March 01, 2012

Repeal of controversial septic tank requirements close to reality

The Legislature is close to repealing a 2010 law that required Floridians to have their septic tanks inspected once every five years. Almost from the beginning, critics decried the measure as creating unnecessary and costly “one-size-fits-all” rules for the entire state.

The House has already approved HB 999, which replaces the statewide requirements with new restrictions on local inspection programs in counties with first-magnitude, or large, springs. The measure also allows local governments to opt out of the new program with a 60-percent majority vote.

The Senate’s Budget Committee approve that chamber's version of the repeal, SB 820 sponsored by Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. The legislation is now ready for a floor vote. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, both voted "no" on SB 820. Negron said he was uncomfortable with the measure because it goes beyond a simple repeal of the 2010 law.

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February 26, 2012

Haridopolos, the history professor, gets lesson learned in running state Senate

When Mike Haridopolos was elected Senate president, he vowed to make the traditionally moderate chamber more conservative — in his own image.

Mug_smallBut the University of Florida history instructor miscalculated one thing: The Senate by its very nature moderate. Haridopolos and Senate leaders attempted to push several controversial conservative issues in the past year only to have the Senate hit the ideological reset button and vote them down.

It happened two weeks ago with the vote to privatize 30 South Florida prison facilities. It happened last year with the tea party-driven proposal to require all employers to use E-Verify to check immigration status, with the proposal to ban state worker unions from collecting dues, with a House measure to split the state Supreme Court in two, and with dozens of bills that appeared as part of the budget on the last night of session.

Haridopolos and his leadership team wanted them; the chamber, dominated 28-12 by Republicans, still said no.

“The Senate’s independent streak is what distinguishes it from
the House,’’ said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston.
“It’s always there under the surface. You never know when it’s
going to emerge.” Sitting_small

The conflict played out again last week, when Haridopolos’ top deputies attempted to orchestrate a
coup to designate the Senate president for 2014 and 2016. Story here.

Photos by Matt Riva.

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