September 01, 2015

Beer, guns, rock 'n' roll: Scott and Cabinet head to St. Augustine

America's oldest city welcomes the Gang of Four Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott and the three Cabinet members gather in St. Augustine in conjunction with the city's 450th anniversary that begins Friday and runs through Labor Day weekend. The top state officials will adopt measures to evaluate the job performances of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen and Terry Rhodes, executive director of the highway safety agency, and a five-year plan for land acquisition under the Florida Forever program.

Cabinet members arrived early. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam did a news event Monday with St. Johns County Tax Collector Dennis Hollingsworth on expanding services for people seeking concealed weapons licenses.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater toured a city distillery in St. Augustine. Attorney General Pam Bondi went to a concert featuring '80s rocker Rick Springfield ("Jessie's Girl," No. 1 in '81), and posted a picture from the event on her personal Twitter account. Scott plans a Tuesday afternoon jobs announcement at Anheuser-Busch in Jacksonville.

It's the first time in six months that the Cabinet has ventured out of Tallahassee, and it's likely to be a lot tamer than the last time. The previous road show was in Tampa last March to help kick off the annual state fair, but the tension-filled session attracted a media horde and focused on Cabinet self-criticism and the need for change in the wake of Gerald Bailey's orchestrated dismissal at FDLE.

August 31, 2015

Tax collectors alarmed by state talk of revamped driver license system

You can't get completely away from politics in Florida. One of many things that make the state such a unique place is that the person who provides your license tags and renews your driver's license and provides your license tags is likely to be an elected official.

Yes, a politician. Your county tax collector. (The licenses and tags are produced using equipment owned by a vendor under contract to the state). State highway safety officials are quietly studying a possible change to a new system of issuing driver licenses. No decision has been made, and wouldn't be without the approval of Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. But just the idea of changing things has stirred up a lot of controversy.

More here. 

August 28, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott puts all of Florida in state of emergency

@MichaelAuslen

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency throughout all of Florida after the latest forecasts show Tropical Storm Erika could rip through the middle of the state.

At about 8:45 a.m., Scott announced the order, which puts Bryan Koon, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, in control of emergency response and initiates a number of state laws allowing aid to come in to Florida from the outside in the event that it's needed and for state agencies to react.

The latest forecast by the National Hurricane Center at 8 a.m. Friday says Erika is no longer expected to become a hurricane. However, the tropical storm's path is forecast to go right up the middle of the state. At 2 a.m. Monday, the current forecast shows Erika making landfall in South Florida. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, it could be in the middle of the state, not far from Lakeland.

After a briefing from emergency management staff Thursday, Scott spoke to reporters, urging Floridians to start making preparations now using resources at floridadisaster.org and to ensure loved ones are prepared as well.

August 27, 2015

Scott warns to pay attention, plan ahead for Erika

@MichaelAuslen

Gov. Rick Scott's message to Floridians late Thursday morning was straightforward: Start preparing for Tropical Storm Erika now.

The National Hurricane Center forecasts that the storm could approach Florida's east coast this weekend and could escalate into a hurricane. If it did, it would be the first to hit the state in 10 years.

This could cause a big problem, he said, especially as millions of people have moved to Florida in that time and haven't experienced a hurricane before. 

"We haven't had a hurricane in years," Scott said, addressing reporters in Tallahassee after a statewide emergency management conference call. "The way I think about it is stop and think about your family for a second...How can I make sure they're prepared? Do I have enough water? Do I have enough food? Are they going to need a shelter?"

The state has a website, floridadisaster.org, with resources for hurricane and storm preparation.

In addition to making a plan, ensuring people have enough food and water and a place to go in the event that an evacuation is ordered, Scott said it's important to follow the news.

Especially with the likelihood that the storm could escalate during the weekend, he said it's critical that Floridians pay attention to elected officials and follow the news to stay up-to-date about any new information about the storm.

But there remains a lot of uncertainty about the storm and its path. Tropical storms and hurricanes tend to be unpredictable, and it's not yet clear when, where or if Erika will hit Florida.

"Hopefully this will continue just being a drill," the governor said.

In the meantime, get ready. Scott's next briefing on Erika is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Tallahassee.

Back from vacation, Gov. Scott heads to emergency center

Gov. Rick Scott cut short his Colorado vacation and flew home late Wednesday night as Tropical Storm Erika slowly gained strength in the Caribbean. Scott's temporary base of operations will be the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Tallahassee, the statewide command post for storm preparations.

In Florida, the imminent threat of severe weather is always a crucial moment that tests every governor's leadership skills. Floridians rely on the state's elected leader to provide calm reassurance, provide accurate information and help people prepare for the worst. 

The National Hurricane Center in Miami usually updates its storm track advisories at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. Immediately afterward, NHC officials, Scott, state emergency management director Bryan Koon, Leo Lachat, director of the state Emergency Response Team (SERT), other state officials and county emergency planners will join in a conference call.

Scott will meet with reporters afterward, his press office said. Storm briefings are broadcast live on the Florida Channel.

August 26, 2015

From Colorado, Gov. Scott bring briefed on Tropical Storm Erika

ErikaTSAs Tropical Storm Erika moves on a path toward the Florida peninsula, state, county and city emergency planners are watching closely, especially in South Florida. Gov. Rick Scott is still on vacation in Colorado, and his office says Scott will be briefed twice Wednesday by phone from Bryan Koon, the state director of emergency management, at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Below is the detail for the first briefing as it appears on Scott's official state schedule.

11:30am                                  BRIEFING ON TROPICAL STORM ERIKA WITH BRYAN KOON, DIRECTOR OF THE FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (VIA PHONE)

The latest advisory, at 8 a.m. Wednesday, has the storm on a track to make landfall, possibly in South Florida, late Sunday or early Monday.

Florida has been remarkably hurricane-free during Scott's nearly five years as governor. Three years ago this week, Scott skipped many events at the Republican National Convention in Tampa to focus on the effects that Tropical Storm Isaac was having on the state, mainly in the Florida Keys.

There's no word yet from the governor's office on whether Scott will cut short his Colorado vacation to return to Tallahassee to more closely monitor weather-related developments. Scott's office has declined Times/Herald requests for details of his vacation.

August 25, 2015

Scott seeks federal disaster declaration for Tampa Bay flooding

@JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is calling on President Barack Obama to issue a major disaster declaration to help Tampa Bay recover from the deluge that swamped the region earlier this month.

Scott said prolonged rain in late July in and early August resulted in at least $7.5 million in economic disruption for businesses in the five counties and resulted another $2.7 million in losses for individuals and homeowners.

Scott specifically states in his letter to President Obama that the state does not need public assistance, as of now, for things like debris removal or other emergency measures, but needs “individual assistance” which includes programs to help homeowners, crisis counseling, disaster employment assistance and disaster case management.

During a 10-day stretch that ended Aug. 3, up to 20 inches of rain fell on some parts of the region, swelling rivers, closing roadways and damaging homes and businesses. Scott declared a state of emergency Aug. 6 for five counties hardest hit by the rains: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Dixie and Taylor counties.

“Central Florida communities and businesses are working hard to recover from recent flooding, and we must do everything we can to support them,” Scott said. “It is our hope that President Obama will move quickly to issue a major disaster declaration in order to free up federal resources in support of recovery and rebuilding efforts.”

Rubio gets highest job approval rating yet in new Florida poll

@JeremySWallace

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio may be stuck in the middle of the pack in the race for the White House, but back home he is getting his best ratings ever from Floridians for the job he is doing in the U.S. Senate.

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows 57 percent of 1,093 voters said they approve of the job Rubio is doing as senator. It is the highest rating Rubio has ever had from the polling organization, which regularly polls Florida.

In April of this year, 54 percent approved of how Rubio was doing his job – tying a previous record high he last enjoyed in 2012.

Rubio’s current 57 percent approval rating is about 8 percentage points higher than he had in a Quinnipiac Poll and 10 percentage points up from their February poll.

And it is light years ahead of where he was at the start of his tenure in the Senate. In February 2011, just 42 percent approved of Rubio’s performance, though he had only been in office for a month at that point.

Rubio’s approval rating is well ahead of both Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat. Both had an approval rating of 45 percent in the latest Quinnipiac Poll.

Voters clueless about Fla. Senate field; Scott's numbers improve

A new statewide poll in Florida by Quinnipiac University largely comes up empty by finding that every major candidate for U.S. Senate in both parties is so unknown that "none has achieved enough voter recognition for a valid measure of their favorability."

And in a small sign of progress for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, his job approval edged upward, with a divided electorate approving of his performance by 45 to 44 percent. That's hardly a ringing endorsement, but it marks the first time since February 2011, one month after Scott took office, that he scored a positive approval rating with voters. The previous Q-poll in late June had Scott underwater, with 39 percent approving of his job performance and 49 percent disapproving.

Quinnipiac polled 1,093 Florida voters from Aug. 7 to 18. The overall poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

As expected, the race for U.S. Senate is completely wide open and very few voters recognize the names of the people jockeying to replace Republican Marco Rubio.

In the Republican Senate field, 92 percent of voters have not heard of entrepreneur and combat veteran Todd Wilcox of Orlando; 87 percent didn't recognize the name of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach; and 86 percent didn't know enough about either U.S. Rep. David Jolly of St. Petersburg or Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to rate him.

Former state Attorney General and U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum's name was a mystery to 71 percent of voters, a stunning statistic considering McCollum has run four times for statewide office in the past 15 years, including previous two Senate bids in 2000 and 2004.

Among Democrats, the most familiar name was U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, but his numbers suggest trouble at 10 percent favorable, 22 percent unfavorable and 67 percent not knowing who he is. The "don't recognize" numbers was 86 percent for one-term U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and 81 percent for two-term U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

August 24, 2015

For third time, Gov. Scott appoints Spottswood to statewide board

The third time was the charm for Robert Spottswood.

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed the Keys real estate developer, a sixth-generation Floridian, to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He'll replace board chairman Richard Corbett, a Tampa real estate investor who submitted his resignation last week.

Scott's appointment of Spottswood is effective Sept. 2. The governor also appointed Spottswood to the 3rd District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission in 2013 and to Scott's Commission on Healthcare and Hospitals last May.

Spottswood and his company gave $13,000 to Scott's Let's Get to Work Committee in the 2014 campaign, and he gave an additional $3,000 to Scott's re-election campaign.

Corbett had an unusually long tenure on the FWC board. He was first appointed in 2003 and was named chairman in 2013 after Scott appointed him to a third consecutive five-year term. He gave no reason for his resignation, which is effective Sept. 1.

Scott also appointed Spottswood's wife Elena to the Florida Keys Community College Board of Trustees.