November 10, 2014

Termed-out Seth McKeel lands a gig as Southern Strategy lobbyist

What do Florida lawmakers do when they are termed out? Well, if you're Seth McKeel of Lakeland, who served as House appropriations chair under House Speaker Will Weatherford, you become a lobbyist with one of the most powerful firms in the state.

McKeel and Laura Boehmer, a partner with the firm, will open a new Tampa office for Southern Strategy, according to Monday release by the firm. Making a surprise cameo in the release is Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, who lauds McKeel, a Republican.

“Seth has been a great leader for Tampa Bay," Buckhorn says in the release. "He’ll be an asset to businesses and organizations throughout our region in his new role and I’m proud to welcome him and Southern Strategy Group to the Downtown Tampa business community.”

Now if we only knew what Weatherford planned to do next.

Here's the release:





Florida’s largest and most influential lobbying firm, Southern Strategy Group, announced today that it has tapped Seth McKeel to be Managing Partner of its Tampa office, heading up the firm’s local and regional lobbying practice.  McKeel will join veteran lobbyist and partner Laura Boehmer, and the team will open a new office in Downtown Tampa later this month.


Paul Bradshaw, the firm’s founder said, “Seth is respected as a leader at the local and state levels, and we are thrilled to have him leading our Tampa Bay team and helping clients in that important region of Florida.”


McKeel said “I’m honored to have been asked by the partners at Southern Strategy Group to lead the Tampa Bay office and so thankful for their trust in me.  Kim and I are thrilled to begin to this exciting new chapter in our lives.  Being a legislator was an extraordinary experience, but I’m looking forward to new opportunities and challenges in the private sector, to working in Tampa Bay and, most importantly, to being a more present husband and father.”


Tampa Mayor Buckhorn applauds the announcement and said: “Seth has been a great leader for Tampa Bay.  He’ll be an asset to businesses and organizations throughout our region in his new role and I’m proud to welcome him and Southern Strategy Group to the Downtown Tampa business community.”



About McKeel

A small business leader and a 14-year veteran of public service in our state, McKeel is a fifth-generation Floridian.  In 2006, McKeel was elected to the Florida House of Representatives following a five-year term on the Lakeland City Commission.  Early in his legislative career McKeel tackled important issues facing Florida including natural resource development, energy independence, and higher education reform. 


A commitment to fiscal responsibility earned him the trust of House Speaker Will Weatherford and in 2012 McKeel was named Chairman of the Florida House Appropriations Committee, a position he held until the conclusion of his term this year.


A graduate of the University of Florida, McKeel recently was awarded the Presidential Medallion, one of UF’s highest awards, for his contributions and service to UF and higher education in our state.  He’s a Graduate of Leadership Florida, Leadership Lakeland and a member of Florida Blue Key.  Seth and his wife Kim live in Lakeland and have one son, Seth III (8) and one daughter, Caroline (5).


About Southern Strategy Group

Southern Strategy Group is a full-service lobbying firm that was established in Tallahassee, Florida in 1999. It is the largest lobbying firm in the state with offices in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa Bay and has been referred to as “the most powerful lobbying firm in Florida” by the St. Petersburg Times.  For more information, visit

November 09, 2014

The takeaways and lessons of Florida's 2014 election


Those who ignore history are condemned to look like Florida Democrats in a midterm election.

Before Tuesday’s Republican drubbing of Democrats at the polls, there were warning signs — lessons that should have been learned or heeded — that were either ignored or downplayed by Democrat Charlie Crist, his campaign or his supporters.

Take, for instance, an August column headlined “Florida Democrats’ biggest problem is ... Florida Democrats,” where I noted how poor primary turnout, especially in South Florida, was a potentially bad sign for Crist.

One Democratic reader told me on Twitter that the column was full of “histrionics.”

Continue reading "The takeaways and lessons of Florida's 2014 election" »

November 08, 2014

Scott's weak victory strengthens clout of GOP's powerful legislature

Rick Scott victoryThe biggest winner in Tuesday’s election in Florida was the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature. It coasted to victory with little effort, broke fundraising records and came away with enough political power to control the agenda — even that of Gov. Rick Scott’s.

Florida voters gave the governor four more years in office, but more people voted against him than for him. Unofficial election returns gave Scott a 1.1 percent victory over Democrat Charlie Crist, a margin of nearly 66,000 votes out of 6 million cast, nearly identical to Scott’s 61,550-vote win over Alex Sink four years ago. Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie got 223,000 votes.

By contrast, Republicans in the Legislature picked up a super-majority in the House and preserved their majority in the Senate, essentially restoring the numbers they had in 2010 when Scott was first elected in the Tea Party wave.

The results are a reminder that Florida remains a deeply divided state with a majority that swings right during the mid-term elections and swings left in presidential years.

The returns also show that, even in a year in which Republicans swept most competitive seats and the Florida GOP invested more than $100 million re-electing the governor, Scott’s political persona remains weak. He will go down in the history books as the only governor elected twice without getting a majority of the vote either time.

“There is no mandate for Rick Scott,” said Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant. “We’re going to continue to hold him accountable. He does not have the support that he thinks he has.”

As a result, the Republicans in the Legislature are expected to set the agenda and shape it, as they have done in Scott’s first four years.

“We’re going to pick up right where we left off,’’ said Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, the incoming House speaker. “We will continue to work on what we’ve been working on — providing a good environment for businesses to create jobs and a lower unemployment rate.” Story here

Expect legislation to track the agendas of some of the GOP’s largest donors. Among them:

Continue reading "Scott's weak victory strengthens clout of GOP's powerful legislature" »

PunditFact checks Leonard Pitts' claim about Rush Limbaugh and Fox News

Many words have been said and many numbers crunched to explain political polarization in America. One theory is that liberals and conservatives swim in different waters when it comes to news and information. Liberal columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. offered a new spin on this theme. In a Nov.1 op-ed, Pitt said most of the fault lies on the right end of the spectrum. He blamed conservative hardliners who "are more rabid in support of those who validate their views than the rest of us are in pursuit of simple truth."

To prove his point, Pitts cited a recent report from the Pew Research Center that explored the level of trust enjoyed by 36 news sources, ranging from television networks to partisan blogs. Pitts focused his column on two sources, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. In the Pew study, 39 percent of respondents said they distrusted Limbaugh, and 37 percent voiced the same misgivings about Fox News.

Pitts noted that Rush Limbaugh "hosts the number one show on radio and Fox is the highest-rated cable news outlet." His conclusion?

"America’s least-trusted news sources are also its most popular."

A reader asked us to check that statement and we are happy to oblige.

There are two elements to check: Are Limbaugh and Fox News the least-trusted? And are they the most popular with Americans? Read what Jon Greenberg of PunditFact found here.


November 07, 2014

After election massacre, House Democrats search for answers

Florida House Democrats are still grappling with a disastrous Election Day that saw them lose six seats, subjugating them to further backbench oblivion.

Now on the wrong end of a 39-81 split of the House with Republicans, the blame game is starting just in time for the Nov. 18 organizational session.

Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, wants to replace Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach as the presumptive leader of the sagging Democratic caucus. It’s not a novel attempt on Taylor’s part. He tried to oust Pafford earlier this year as the legislative session was ending.

That fizzled quickly, but given the mood of Democrats after Tuesday, Taylor, who couldn’t be reached, might be more convincing. The caucus will meet on Nov. 17 when a vote might take place.

“Everyone is pointing fingers in different directions,” said Rep. Larry Lee of Port St. Lucie. “Until we get up there and find out how this shakes out, we won’t know how divisive this fight is going to be.”

For many of the House Democrats that remain, Taylor’s latest attempt to wrest the leadership post from Pafford seems familiar.

“It’s more of the same,” Rep. Janet Cruz. “What we have to realize is that there was a tsunami that hit the Democrats nationwide. It wasn’t specific to Florida. Mark Pafford is doing everything he can. He’s doing everything right.”

Cruz and Karen Castor Dentel, who lost her Orange County seat on Tuesday, said Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, along with his ally Rep. Kevin Rader of West Palm Beach, was behind Taylor’s coup attempt of Pafford this spring.

Castor Dentel said Rouson has never forgiven Pafford for ousting him as the incoming minority leader in 2013  by a 24-17 vote.

“Darryl Rouson was waiting for this moment to attack,” Castor Dentel said Friday. “It’s just sour grapes. He’s trying to create dissension once again. He puts Dwayne Taylor in front of him and Kevin Rader to his side and they will create trouble where there isn’t any.”

“That doesn’t surprise me coming from Castor Dentel,” Rouson said, without elaborating. He also wouldn’t comment on whether he was orchestrating Taylor’s latest challenge of Pafford.


Continue reading "After election massacre, House Democrats search for answers" »

Cause of Broward voter ID machine problems still unkown


The Nov. 4 election feels like eons ago. But the cause of a high-profile complication with voter identification systems in some Broward precincts remains unknown.

Several voters, including Sun-Sentinel editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau, complained Tuesday that their precinct's EViD system incorrectly reported that they'd voted already. Goudreau wrote a column about her experience.

The Supervisor of Election said no one was denied a vote, and the contractor who provides the equipment said the problem affected as few as a half-dozen voters out of the more than 1 million who used the equipment by mid-afternoon.

But the cause of the problem was unclear Tuesday. And three days later, VR Systems, the contractor, said it isn't any closer to knowing what went wrong.

"They have to download the logs, so they've got to wrap up the election first," said VR Systems President Jane Watson. "We haven't ruled out user error, but we're not blaming the voters. We really truly do not know yet."

The Supervisor of Election has another election coming early next month. Spokeswoman Mary Cooney said there's urgency to find the cause of the problem, but VR Systems assured their offices Tuesday that they'd find out what went wrong.

Truth-O-Meter weighs in on Jeb Bush claims about high school dropouts, and the lack of economic mobility in U.S.

With the 2014 elections in the rear-view mirror and 2016 coming up fast, the political world has begun speculating about whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- son of one president and brother of a second -- could seek the White House himself.

In a recent fundraising letter sent on behalf of the Excellence in Education Foundation, Bush discussed several of his signature issues including about education and the economy. PolitiFact checked two claims by Bush:

"1/3 of our kids drop out, cannot go to college or start a career." We rated that claim Mostly False.

Bush also said this:

"Americans could always count on hard work leading to higher incomes and improved lives. The American dream was real and within reach," Bush said in the letter. "But today, among the developed nations, we are the least economically and socially mobile country in the world."

We rated that claim True.

The fact-checks were written by Joshua Gillin and Louis Jacobson. Here is Jeb Bush's full report card from PolitiFact.

Tampa Bay region liked Libertarian Wyllie the most

Florida's Libertarian streak appears to run right through the heart of Tampa Bay.

Voters from Tierra Verde to Wesley Chapel must love their craft beers, because Libertarian candidate for governor Adrian Wyllie performed better in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties than elsewhere.

Wyllie got 3.75 percent of the statewide vote, according to unofficial returns that will change slightly after the counting of provisional and overseas ballots. That's less than what most polls projected he would receive, but Wyllie did better in Tampa Bay, where he ran a TV ad.

The Palm Harbor resident, who made a statewide tour of craft breweries, got 5.6 percent in Pinellas and 4.8 percent in Hillsborough. Pasco, the home of Wyllie's running mate Greg Roe, gave Wyllie 7 percent of the vote, his high-water mark. Those three counties account for 22 percent of all Wyllie votes statewide (Pinellas and Hillsborough also have the most Libertarian Party voters).

The Wyllie boomlet continued up the Nature Coast. He got 6 percent in Hernando and 6.5 percent in Citrus before fading to 3.74 percent in Levy, almost identical to his statewide share of the vote.

Compare those numbers to Wyllie's dismal South Florida showings: Miami-Dade, 1.4 percent; Broward, 1.9 percent; Palm Beach, 2.2 percent.

Breaking down the media-market wins of Rick Scott and Charlie Crist


Whenever a statewide political race is decided by a percentage point or so, it can be argued that every little thing played a major role in a campaign's win or loss.

And so it is with Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, who lost to the Republican by 1.1 percentage points, or 65,838 votes. In 2010, Scott beat Democrat Alex Sink by 1.2 percentage points, or 61,550. So Scott's overall margin in raw votes increased by just 4,288 while the number of ballots cast increased by 581,974. 

Yes, it was a tight race. Money played a big part. Money doesn't buy an election. But it puts a downpayment on it. And Scott not only outmuscled Crist in media message, the governor vastly improved his numbers in North Florida.

In the three North Florida media markets Scott won, he improved his 2010 margin by almost 90,000 and and in the two he lost, Scott also improved his margin by nearly 20,000.

Crist improved on Sink's margins in the two Southeast Florida media markets by 96,000. But, consider how Scott fared in North Florida, it wasn't enough.

Here's our first day-after story on the race and the graphic that went with it, breaking down the media markets.

Fixed Graphic for Marc

Don Peebles joins the list of executives seeking Miami-Dade grant dollars


[updaetd 10:24 a.m. Nov. 8 with statement from Peebles.]


Add Don Peebles to the still-growing list of prominent business executives pursuing economic-grant dollars funded by Miami-Dade property taxes.

The application for $6 million from Peebles and partners is slated to be heard Thursday, one week after another batch of grant proposals divided county commissioners. Peebles and company want the money for Overtown Gateway, a 30-story tower of hotels rooms, residential units and retail in one of Miami's poorest neighborhoods. 

Peebles, who splits his time between New York and Coral Gables, developed the luxury Bath Club high-rise in Miami Beach.

But the former chairman of Miami-Dade's tourism bureau is probably best known in South Florida for relaunching South Beach's Royal Palm hotel in a subsidized redevelopment deal with Miami Beach.  Like the subsidies for the adjoining Loews hotel, the Royal Palm arrangement was designed to create large blocks of room for conventioneers. Peebles and Miami Beach frequently feuded over the Royal Palm deal.

Continue reading "Don Peebles joins the list of executives seeking Miami-Dade grant dollars" »