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April 21, 2016

CFO Atwater offers two new candidates for state insurance post

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater offered up two new possible compromise candidates Thursday to be the state's next insurance commissioner: Raymond Blacklidge and Belinda Miller.

Atwater also renominated state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, for the insurance post, which means all three will attend next Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, during which Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet will evaluate the performance over the past year of Kevin McCarty, who has resigned.

Atwater's decision to pitch two more candidates will be seen as an acknowledgment that he can't persuade Scott to support Hager for the post. The start of Florida's always-treacherous hurricane season is about six weeks away.

Blacklidge, 55, a resident of Madeira Beach in Pinellas County, describes himself as an insurance executive, business entrepreneur and consumer advocate, and he's a lawyer. He is executive vice president, general counsel and board member of two insurance companies, American Traditions and Modern USA, and said he has 30-plus years of experience representing the property and casualty industry.

Miller, 55, of Crawfordville, is a lawyer who has been McCarty's chief of staff since 2003, supervising a staff of nearly 300 people. Her resume says she has "developed a deep understanding of the Florida insurance code, model laws and general corporate governance issues." 


By law, Atwater and Scott must agree on a successor to McCarty, who has extended his resignation date from May 2 to 45 days after his replacement is appointed.

Scott remains committed to Jeffrey Bragg of Palm Harbor, calling him "the best candidate" to succeed McCarty. Bragg, 67, is a former federal official who ran a terrorism risk insurance program in the Department of the Treasury. However, Bragg's chances of being hired appear slim because Atwater has expressed no enthusiasm for Bragg, saying Hager has a better "skill set" to handle the position.

Blacklidge, Hager and Bragg are all registered Republicans, as are Scott and Atwater. Miller is a registered Democrat.

Florida governor says he's unfamiliar with FPL power lines ruling


Florida Gov. Rick Scott got a question in Hollywood on Thursday about Wednesday's momentous ruling against Florida Power & Light over its Miami power lines project.

"I haven't seen it," the governor said.

An appeals court found Scott and the Florida Cabinet failed to consider the city of Miami's development regulations in backing FPL's plan.

Rick Scott cautions GOP against convention 'monkey business'


Republicans should respect the "will of the voters" when it comes to picking a presidential nominee, Florida Gov. Rick Scott told the party's elite Thursday, cautioning the GOP against any convention "monkey business."

What Scott didn't do: mention the candidate he's endorsed, Donald Trump.

Scott was the luncheon speaker at the Republican National Committee's spring meeting, being held over three days at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood. He didn't use the prominent platform to rally reluctant Republicans round Trump. 

Instead, Scott focused on his favorite subject -- jobs -- and chided all the candidates for failing to make that issue a campaign centerpiece.

"We know how tall their boots are. We know the size of of their hands. We know who's got the best hair," he said. "We also know that we all love Ronald Reagan, we don't care too much about Hillary Clinton, we're pro-life and we're anti-ISIS.

"What are we missing? What have we not talked about? Jobs. If you talk to anybody -- even in our state, were we are heading in the right direction -- the job market, growing this economy, is still the most important thing on the average person's mind."

Scott tied the 2016 presidential race to his own election in 2010, noting he was an outsider unsupported by GOP stalwarts.

"The voters made a choice. The voters believed they should choose," Scott said. Then he brought it back to July's convention, which could be contested if Trump doesn't obtain the required delegate majority: "We have got to be transparent. We can't take the chance that we're accused of any monkey business, tricks, stunts -- anything."

Scott never uttered the word Trump. In fact, the only candidate he mentioned, in an attempt at humor, was former candidate Ben Carson, whom the governor joked "is either the angriest person in the world, or the calmest."

Scott later told reporters Trump will either win the nomination outright "or be very close." 

"I'm focused on winning in November. The way to win in November is rally behind Donald Trump. I think he's the best candidate to win in November," Scott said.

But why not talk about him from stage?

"I used the microphone to brag about Florida," Scott said.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn confirms he, too, is considering 2018 Democratic bid for governor

via Richard Danielson @Danielson_Times

With U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and state Sen. Jeremy Ring both saying they're thinking of running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that, yes, he's still considering a run, too. But don't look for any decisions from him until after November:

Q — Graham's announcement that she will not run for Congress but will explore a race for governor is seen as a sign she is in. You have been considered a likely candidate in the race. How far are you on you exploration and when would you decide?

"I can't imagine that I would make a decision prior to the presidential election. I think it really is unfair for Secretary (Hillary) Clinton and Patrick Murphy to have a governor's race interjected into this cycle. It's competition for money. It's competition for attention. It's competition that they don't need."

Q — How far along are you on the work that you need to do to make that decision?

"What I do every day is the best thing that I can do to position myself if I choose to go down that path. If I run, it will be based on a record of real accomplishments  having to make real decisions and doing what a CEO does.  So the best thing I can do for that story is to continue to do my job every day. I think at the end of this period, Tampa's going to have a pretty compelling story to tell in the biggest media market in the state, where just in this (primary) alone, 22 percent of the vote came out of the Tampa Bay area. So I'm just focused on doing my job."

Q — Are you having conversations with people around the state about the idea of running for governor — party people, potential donors?

"I've said from day one that we were going to explore this, we were going to look, you know, test the message, test out how Tampa's renaissance is playing, test out the messenger. So yeah, I've had ongoing conversations with people all over the state."

Q — And how are those tests going?

"Tampa's got a great story, and I love telling Tampa's story, and to the extent that Tampa's story helps me, so be it, but I think what it does demonstrate is I've got a proven record. It's not hyperbole. It's not rhetoric. It's not, you know, resolutions in the congressional record. It's a real record, creating jobs and creating opportunities and getting this city out of the depths of the recession to where we're one of the hottest real estate markets in America, and that's a great story to tell."

Q —Any pushback from party people that you stayed on the sidelines during the last governor's race?

"No, not necessarily. Because I think they understand why: that my first priority is to be the mayor of Tampa, and I had to do what was in the best interest of being the mayor of Tampa and the city of Tampa. And that medical school I was not willing to put at risk. That was too important to us, too important to USF, and had I gotten involved in a partisan governor's race at the time that probably would not have happened."

Q — What do you think of Graham's announcement?

"It was expected. That was not any surprise to me or anybody else who's been following this."

Q —If she's in, does that play a role in your decision?

"No. None whatsoever."

Q — Why are you thinking about running for governor?

"I think the state needs a change. I think we need adult leadership in Tallahassee. I think the fact that one party has controlled the legislative process for 20 years has led to some really bad decisions. And I think if I can do at the state level what we've done here, I think we could change the state of Florida. And I think people are ready for a change. They're tired of the hyper-partisanship. They're tired of the dominance by one party. I think they're looking for a more pragmatic, more practical approach to governance. And I think the one place you can do that and have an impact on the state like we've done here is from the governor's office. But I do think voters are going to expect you to have a proven track record. They're going to want to see your body of work.  They don't want just another politician running for just another office. They're going to look at the candidates in this race and they're going to say, 'What have you done with your life? In your last job what did you do?' And I think that Tampa's story's going to be pretty compelling."

Debbie Wasserman Schultz attacks Tim Canova for taking money outside of Florida

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has attacked her Democratic challenger Tim Canova for having the bulk of his donations come from outside of Florida.

Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, raised about $559,000 in the first three months of 2016 as a first-time candidate.

From Wasserman Schultz's fundraising email for her Broward/Miami-Dade congressional seat:

“There’s something you should know. First quarter fundraising numbers are in. One of my six opponents raised a large amount of money. But at least 90% of his cash is flowing in from donors outside of Florida. Also outsider SuperPACs have attacked me earlier than ever before.

I represent South Floridians in Congress and I believe the voices of South Floridians should be heard the loudest -- not those of outside donors and groups.

Except, this year, outsiders seem to think they know what’s best for South Florida. They’re trying to defeat us, and they’re not backing down.”

The Center for Responsive Politics shows the top metro areas where donors live for each candidate. The highest amount of donations for Wasserman Schultz came from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, Orlando, and Sarasota-Bradenton. For Canova, the top metro areas were New York, Los Angeles-Long Beach, the Boston area, Washington D.C. area and Chicago.

Wasserman Schultz, who lives in Weston, had about $840,000 cash on hand as of the end of March while Canova, who lives in Hollywood, had about $460,000.

Congressional candidates are allowed to take money from donors from anywhere in the U.S. and it’s no surprise that Canova would receive money from those in other states who are unhappy with her national role as Democratic National Committee chair.

For Canova to raise enough money for a serious challenge including for TV advertising, he will need donors from beyond Florida. However since many of his donations are outside of Congressional District 23 it’s difficult to predict how he will fare at the ballot box Aug. 30. No polls have been released yet.

First elected to Congress in 2004, Wasserman Schultz has never faced a primary challenger in re-elections in the Democratic district. 

Canova countered with his own fundraising email seizing upon his “outsider” status.

“We don’t have the support of the lobbyists, corporate PACs, or any other Insiders. And we don’t want their support, because we are the grassroots. Now it’s up to us to make sure that their Washington Insider dollars are no match for our team of ‘Outsiders.’”

PAC donations comprise about one in five dollars raised by Wasserman Schultz while Canova has received no PAC money.

Bill Nelson to kick off Miami lawmaker's Florida Senate bid


State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez is bringing a big name to kick off his Florida Senate bid: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Nelson will be the featured guest at a May 3 fundraiser at Segafredo, a restaurant in Miami's Brickell neighborhood, according to an invitation sent Thursday by Rodríguez's campaign.

The minimum suggested donation is $100.

Pinellas and Pasco county tax collectors lead state in gun permits

Tax collectors in Pinellas and Pasco counties outpace their colleagues across the state in processing applications and renewals for concealed weapons licenses in Florida. Data from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's office also shows that Pasco is the No. 1 county in permit renewals over the past year.

The Legislature passed a law in 2015 that allowed elected tax collectors to add gun permits to their array of services that include tax payments, driver licenses, auto tags and voter registration. In all, 25 of the state's 67 tax collectors provide the service. The two most populous counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, are not participants because both counties have appointed agency heads that perform the duties of tax collectors.

Tax Collectors Diane Nelson in Pinellas and Mike Fasano in Pasco have together processed more than 11,000 applications and renewals since July 1 of last year, or more than one-fifth of the state total of more than 51,000.

The county-by-county figures are here.

On Senate floor, Bill Nelson renews call for $1.9B to fight Zika

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Thursday filed legislation to fully fund President Obama's $1.9 billion request to fight Zika, saying the move was necessary amid "rumors" that appropriators have struck a deal for $1.1 billion.

"This is truly an emergency,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “I’m calling on our colleagues to approve the president's $1.9 billion in emergency funding request now in the immediate future. Not later. The cost of this inaction would be far greater, and the consequences way too devastating."

Republicans have given a mixed reception to calls for $1.9 billion, with some supporting it and others suggesting Obama first use the funding he has already secured. Sen. Marco Rubio supports Obama's request.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine hasn't ruled out bid for governor

Levine 1

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says he is focused on his city position but hasn't ruled out running as a Democrat for governor in 2018.

"I haven't ruled out becoming president of a cruise line either," he quipped in an interview with the Miami Herald today.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, announced this morning that she won't seek re-election and is seriously considering running for governor. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term limited.

Levine said he hasn't talked to Graham or any of the other potential Democratic candidates including state Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate or Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Levine, a millionaire businessman who was elected to his second two-year term in Miami Beach, has raised his political profile in recent months. He's flown to primary states and appeared on cable news shows to stump for Hilary Clinton, and he recently traveled to Cuba with a group of university students -- a trip that attracted controversy in South Florida after he said he was open to hosting a Cuban consulate in the Beach. And he is one of the more visible politicians speaking out about the need to tackle climate change -- a serious and expensive problem for his coastal community.

Levine's mayoral term expires in 2017. He hasn't yet said whether he will run for re-election as mayor.

"I haven't ruled that out," he said.

-- With Joey Flechas

Daughter's experience motivates Gov. Rick Scott on rape kit laws

TAMPA -- Gov. Rick Scott got the call no parent wants to hear.

On a Sunday morning just around 7 a.m., his daughter in her first year of college in Dallas was on the other end of the phone.

"She said, 'something very bad happened to me last night,'" Scott said recounting the story this morning in Tampa where he was drawing attention to legislation to help speed the process of testing sexual assault kits. "Fortunately she was not raped. But she had a drug put in her drink. It put her in the hospital."

Whoever put the drug in her drink at the party was never caught. Scott said he is just grateful she ended up in the hospital and not the victim of a sexual assault.

"That was a scary time," Scott said at a press conference at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center.

Scott used the personal story as a lead in to why Florida is becoming increasingly aggressive in testing sexual assault kits faster. In March, the Florida Legislature passed a budget that will boost funding for the state crime lab to process all crime evidence faster - including DNA samples from rape kits. And the budget dedicates more than $2 million this year as part of a three year effort to reduce a startling backlog of 13,000 untest rape kits in Florida.

The Legislature also passed new legislation directing law enforcement to submit rape kits in a more timely manner for testing to assure the state never gets a backlog in kits like it has today. That new law requires local law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits they collect to a statewide crime lab for forensic testing within 30 days of a sexual assault offense being reported. Testing of the kits would have to be completed within 120 by crime labs.

Julie Weil, a rape victim from South Florida who attended the press conference, said she is proud to see the state take a strong stand in attacking the backlog of kits. For five years, she said she's been working to bring attention to the problem. She said if there had been more DNA testing when she was assaulted in 2002, her attacker may have already been behind bars because of other sexual assaults and crimes he had committed.

An FDLE report released in January showed that kits are not sent in for testing for numerous reasons, including a victim who first reported a crime refuses to participate in an investigation or a state attorney's office decides not to prosecute. In other cases, a suspect pleads guilty so the kit results are never needed for prosecution.

But Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and victims advocates groups have been pushing for the testing to happen on all kits because they can help solve other crimes and even identify serial rapists. When the city of Houston tested 6,663 previously untested kits, they found 850 DNA matches that have led to more than two dozen convictions.