January 15, 2014

Rick Scott World rumblings: big shifts in gov's office, campaign and RPOF imminent


There's a higher amount of traffic than usual about some big shifts in Gov. Rick Scott's office, his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida. The announcement could happen as early as Friday. Still, consider this all informed speculation based on multiple sources:

Melissa Sellers, the governor's spokeswoman, could soon be tapped to lead the campaign as manager, Republicans say. Sellers wasn't ready to confirm or deny the chatter. 

As the news started to break, Saintpetersblog's Peter Schorsch was the first to tweet that he heard about Sellers' possible move. So hat tip (assuming it's true, which it sounded as if it is). Schorsch noted the curiosity that Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, might not get the post (which many expected him to snag). With the appointment of Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to lieutenant governor, where Scott wants to use the former legislator to press his agenda in the Legislature, it looks as if Hollingsworth has lost a measure of power (probably inevitable, regardless of who was chosen for the post).

It's unclear if Sellers, former spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, has ever run a campaign -- especially a $100 million behemoth that Scott's could become. Either way, given her representation of Scott, there's a good chance she's up to the task. And she could have help.

Tim Saler, RPOF's deputy director for political strategy, might be chosen to be the campaign's deputy director or its political director, sources said. He didn't want to comment.

Matt Moon, RPOF's communications director, could become communications director for the campaign. This press person, too, wouldn't comment along with RPOF spokeswoman Susan Hepworth, who could take over his role at the party. It's always telling when press communications people don't communicate with the press. 

But don't think RPOF is going to be bare. It's going to be a bear (or a bull for you stock-market types).

The party is hiring a: Media Affairs Manager, Communications Assistant, War Room operative, Director of Press Advance (experience needed), Press Advance Field member, Hispanic Comms expert, Research and Rapid Response employee, Bracketing Manager, Digital Content/Community Manager, Digital Rapid Response Manager, Email Manager, Viral Marketing Manager, Website Content Manager, Copy Writer, Digital Insights Analyst, Graphic Designer, Paid Media Coordinator, and Digital-Political Coordinator.

"It's going to be bigger than Mitt Romney's campaign in Florida," a Republican said. "No one will ever have seen a campaign like this in Florida. The Democrats and Charlie Crist won't know what hit them."

October 29, 2013

Steve Crisafulli sounds alarm on House Democratic fundraising gains

In the wake of Amanda Murphy’s surprise victory two weeks ago, just how spooked are House Republicans about losing any more seats?

Very -- from the tone of a Monday e-mail from incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island to members of the House Republican caucus.

While Crisafulli notes that Republicans are raising money at a record pace, he stressed that average fundraising is actually declining. Meanwhile, he says, Democratic members are raising more money on average.

“This is a trend that must be broken!” Crisafulli states (bold and underline are his).

True fear? Motivational tool? Or both? There's no threat that Republicans will come even close to losing their majority (they control the House 75-45). 

What's interesting is how naked the emphasis on fundraising is among House Republicans. Not only is everyone told they must raise a certain amount, but now everyone knows that Crisafulli and other House leaders are keeping score.

Continue reading "Steve Crisafulli sounds alarm on House Democratic fundraising gains" »

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

October 25, 2013

Of 'fortress precincts' and Hispanic voters: FL. election turnout war off to early start


Florida Democrats celebrate this weekend at Disney World; Republicans might wind up knocking on your door.

The contrast between the two parties — one reveling in repeat election wins and favorable polls at its state conference; the other canvassing neighborhoods door-to-door statewide — illustrates Florida’s state of political play over the next election year.

“Florida Democrats are in Orlando this weekend to talk to themselves,” Tim Saler, a top RPOF political strategist.

“While their wheels are spinning at their convention,” he said, “we will have hundreds of precinct captains knocking on doors and talking to thousands of real voters about the issues that matter to them.”

For months, even as Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s poll numbers remained poor, RPOF says it has been identifying and then personally contacting thousands of voters — especially the estimated 450,000 Republicans who vote in presidential elections but didn’t in 2010.

More than half live in conservative “fortress precincts” targeted by the RPOF.

RPOF also recently announced three new Hispanic-outreach coordinators. Democrats had already hired three of their own.

Democrats have a bigger edge with Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. And they’re trying to keep it that way.

Since May, the Florida Democratic Party says it has hosted about six monthly voter-registration efforts outside naturalization ceremonies in Central and South Florida, where they also have held an average of three monthly Hispanic community events.

Democrats have tailored some events toward Venezuelans, Colombians, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Puerto Ricans in different areas of the state.

“We haven’t stopped our efforts since 2012,” said the Florida Democratic Party’s political director, Christian Ulvert, estimating the party has out-registered Republicans with Hispanics by a 3:1 ratio.

“We haven’t seen where the Republicans have been doing it in a coordinated way or effective way,” he said.

Full story here

September 16, 2013

Clemens asks Senate to review the 'serious conflict of interest' with staff outside employment

In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is calling for legislative hearings on the revolving door that allows employees to take leaves of absence from the legislature to work for political campaigns.

In the letter to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, Clemens called it a "serious conflict of interest when legislative employees are allowed to leave work and earn money from campaigns and/or the companies that have business before the Legislature."

"The public deserves to feel confident that special interests are not buying influence with the Legislature by contributing to the bottom line wealth of employees who supposedly earn that money after-hours,'' he wrote. "It also places the employee in an awkward position, knowing he or she may have to make a decision that adversely impacts a special interest that has contributed to the well being of their family, either directly or through a campaign account."

The letter was sent on Sept. 5, after the Herald/Times reported on a three-year arrangement Senate chief of staff Chris Clark had with Senate President Don Gaetz. Clark was given permission to work part-time for the state during the legislative session and then take a leave of absence to work on the side for campaigns. According to public records, he earned more than $400,000 in consulting fees and payroll in the same years he drew a state salary.

Continue reading "Clemens asks Senate to review the 'serious conflict of interest' with staff outside employment" »

September 06, 2013

Jim Greer, now inmate, emerges as prison civics teacher

Jim Greer in prison@SteveBousquet

He once controlled the Republican Party of Florida, flying on chartered jets, drinking top-shelf bourbon and mingling with the rich and powerful.

Now Jim Greer lives at Gulf Forestry Camp, a low-security prison in a remote patch of the Florida Panhandle and a world away from the life he lived as a confidant of former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Near the halfway point of his 18-month sentence for grand theft and money laundering, Greer agreed to speak exclusively with the Times/Herald about his old life and his new one.

The man who use to answer to "Chairman" has a new title: Inmate No. C07705.

On the surface, prison has been good to the 51-year-old Greer.

Seated at a conference table at nearby Gulf Correctional Institution, where prison officials arranged an interview, Greer looks noticeably thinner. He says he has lost 40 pounds.

He's also tanner than when Floridians last saw him in an Orlando courthouse in February. The tan is the result of six-hour days on a work crew, pulling weeds and picking up trash in nearby Port St. Joe.

He says he wakes up each morning at 4 a.m., attends church services on Tuesdays and Sundays, and teaches inmates studying for their GEDs about the three branches of government.

"I teach social studies and civics," he said, "believe it or not."

He is eligible for a work release transfer, has a spotless disciplinary record and has few complaints about prison life.

"When you're down in a ditch, it's 100 degrees and you have a Weed Eater, it's not the most pleasant thing," Greer said. "But it's not North Korea. We're not being beaten every day."

During a 75-minute visit, Greer talked about life in prison, the friends he thought he had and the people (he seldom gets specific) that he blames for his downfall. He tantalizes about a possible tell-all book.

"I have a lot of knowledge of a lot of things," he said. "Maybe someday I'll tell them and maybe someday I won't." Story here. 

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, Tampa Bay Times 

August 25, 2013

From possible juggernaut to punchline of joke, Florida Democrats struggle


With a 500,000 edge in registered voters and a victory by President Barack Obama’s well-organized campaign in the state, the Florida Democratic Party had all the makings of a possible political juggernaut at the start of the year.

Last week, however, it looked like a joke.

The party’s Florida Chief Financial Officer candidate, Allie Braswell, withdrew Monday just days after announcing his bid. Braswell quit after Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union reported he had a few bankruptcies in his past — a damaging bit of history for someone running to manage the finances of the fourth most-populous state in the nation.

“The bright spotlight of a statewide campaign has cast the ups and downs of my life into harsh relief, and I now know that this campaign is not the way I was meant to serve my community,” Braswell said in a written statement.

Continue reading "From possible juggernaut to punchline of joke, Florida Democrats struggle" »

August 13, 2013

Take Andy and Don out to the ball game tonight

Yankees logoWhat can $25,000 and a ticket to NYC get you? A ticket to the ball game with Senate President Don Gaetz and incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, and maybe a box of Cracker Jacks.

The annual fundraiser is intended to raise funds for the Senate re-election campaign in 2014, which is not exactly shaping up to be a heavy lift. (No senator is being forced to retire because of term limits and so no Republicans, who hold the majority, are expected to face much of a challenge.)

The first pitch against the Los Angeles Angels starts at 7:05.

Here's the invite:  Download YANKEES 2013 INVITE (3)

August 09, 2013

UPDATE: Is Senate presidency race down to 13-13 tie with Fasano no longer a Negron threat?

Ex-Rep. Mike Fasano's appointment as Pasco County tax collector didn't just end his legislative career. It also put an end to an intriguing scenario that he might have sought a return to the Senate by taking on fellow Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, next year -- which would have improved Sen. Jack Latvala's chances of becoming Pinellas County's first Senate president.

Fasano shares Latvala's moderate philosophy and he's very popular in Pasco, so Simpson would have been in big trouble. But Fasano says Simpson is "doing a wonderful job" and never seriously considered a Senate run, though he said there was "a big push by some people."

Simpson has heard the story that a privately commissioned poll showed Fasano with a huge lead over Simpson. Simpson calls that "a myth," but he'd like to know why anyone would have wanted Fasano to take him on. "I would love an answer to that question," Simpson said.

Simpson and the other 25 GOP senators must choose between Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the presidency in 2016, following Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The Latvala-Negron race is described as close. "It's basically tied," Latvala said. (Negron could not be reached; 16 of the 20 senators facing re-election in 2014 are Republicans).

UPDATE: Negron supporters however, disagree. They claim the numbers are closer to 13-10 with three holdouts: Sens. Tom Lee of Brandon, Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Gardiner.

They are also confident that three of the open seats in 2016 -- Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville, Garrett Richter of Naples and Charlie Dean of Inverness will go to Negron supporters. Who? Matt Gaetz has already announced he's going to replace his dad. Former state Rep. Tom Grady is said to be considering a run to replace Richter and state Rep. Dennis Baxley is considering seeking Dean's seat. 

Continue reading "UPDATE: Is Senate presidency race down to 13-13 tie with Fasano no longer a Negron threat?" »

August 08, 2013

Corcoran gets behind "outsider" candidate to replace Fasano

The prize for first to file for Florida House District 36, which was left wide open Wednesday after Mike Fasano was tapped Pasco County Tax Collector, goes to Bill Gunter.

“It’s a nice day,” Gunter said hours after he filed paperwork announcing his candidacy Thursday. “I just feel like the constituents of the district need a voice for them.”

Gunter’s already got supporters like Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who’s in line to become Speaker in 2016.

Now if only Gunter lived in District 36, which covers parts of coastal Pasco, the Republicans might really have something.

Turns out, Gunter lives further inland, about five miles away, or a 10-minute drive, from the district boundary. It’s a geographical quirk that kind of makes him the “outsider” candidate for the constituents of District 36. He really lives in District 37, which is firmly held by Corcoran.

For Gunter, residency isn’t a major issue. He said he plans to move by the date of the special election, which he said should be in eight to 10 weeks.

He said he knows the district well because of his job with the chaplain corps of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, and pastor of Redeemer Community Church, which isn’t in District 36 either.

“Many of the people I’ve served as pastor live in District 36,” Gunter said, “so I feel like I already know many of them and their issues.”

He said his church isn't exclusive.

"My church is mixed with everybody," he said. Though Redeemer is a Presbyterian church, he said District 36 residents who have attended his services are from all sorts of faiths, including Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists.

Jewish people?

“Of course not,” he said, “I’m talking about other Christians.”

When he moves, he said he doesn’t plan to sell his Roundelay Drive home, which he bought in 2003. He explained that he might lose next year in the regular election, in which case he would move back. He plans to move to a rental somewhere in District 36.

“Lord willing, if I win again, then it would be wise for me to settle down,” Gunter said.

But what if he loses this year? Will he be forced to live in a district he doesn't represent because he had to make arrangements in case he won? Gunter said he's still working out the details.

"You get into this knowing you'll make some sacrifices," he said.

Florida law allows candidates to run for seats in districts where they don’t reside. And Gunter has done this before. In 2012, he ran for a Pasco County Commission seat in a district where he didn’t reside. He lost, but he said it wasn’t an issue then.

“It was brought up a few times here and there, but it wasn’t like anyone harped on it,” Gunter said.

But Florida Republicans, especially Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, have made residency a major issue this year. He and media outlets have flagged several Democratic lawmakers -- Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Perry Thurston, Rep. Alan Williams, Rep. Hazelle Rogers, Rep. Joe Gibbons, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz -- for questions about their residencies. Latvala thinks the situation is so pervasive that he’s calling for a wider investigation.

When told Thursday about Gunter’s residency status, Latvala said he should be treated like anyone else.

“People need to live in the districts they serve,” Latvala said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s got to really move.”

Gunter said he would. He promised.

“I am committed 100 percent to moving,” Gunter said. “I will fulfill the requirements of the law.”