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February 03, 2016

For University of South Florida students, campaigning in New Hampshire is part of class



BOW, N.H. – The young people who filled several rows of Marco Rubio’s town hall here early Wednesday came a long way to see him: from St. Petersburg, Florida.

They were 23 political science students -- read: political junkies -- from the University of South Florida, in New Hampshire for the last 10 days before Tuesday’s primary as part of a class called “The Road to the White House.” As part of the course, the students -– half Republicans, half Democrats -– volunteer with a presidential campaign of their choice and attend candidate events across the state.

“There’s just nothing like the New Hampshire primary –- it’s electrifying,” said their professor, Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan. “It’s retail politics. Florida campaigns, when you’re running statewide, it’s the media, it’s television. We will never have this opportunity in Florida.”

Six of her students are volunteering for Rubio, who started the day taking voter questions in a youth sports complex. Two are volunteering for Jeb Bush, two for Ted Cruz and one for Donald Trump. Among the Democrats, seven are helping Bernie Sanders and five Hillary Clinton.

One student had signed up to work with Martin O’Malley, who dropped out after the Iowa caucuses Monday. So David Thompson, 18, switched campaigns –- to Rubio’s.

He’s still a Democrat. But he played Rubio in a mock debate in class.

“I decided that if a Republican is going to be in the White House, it should be Marco Rubio,” said Thompson, a political science and environmental policy major from Silver Springs, Maryland. “I just really liked his overall message. There are many Republicans who have a negative message.”

Also volunteering for Rubio is 19-year-old Chris Happel, a political science major from Port Charlotte and a “hardcore Republican.”

“It’s been Marco Rubio since 2010,” he said of his candidate. “I knew he was going to run for president.”

The experience at Rubio’s Manchester campaign office has been less than glamorous: He and his classmates have been making phone calls and on Wednesday assembled 600 yard signs.

But Thompson, who got to ask Rubio a question at the town hall and later posed for a photo with him, said the work has been worth it: “It’s been fun.”

Photo caption: Chris Happel, left, and classmate David Thompson at Rubio's town hall Wednesday in Bow, New Hampshire.

Marco Rubio would like Rand Paul's support, but knows he probably won't get it



BOW, N.H. -- Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul dropped out of the Republican presidential race Wednesday while one of his rivals, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, was in the middle of a New Hampshire town hall.

Afterward, Rubio said he’d "love" to get Paul’s support –- but it didn’t sound like he was counting on it, given how much the two men diverge on foreign policy and aspects of criminal-justice reform. Paul is far more libertarian.

“Rand is someone I disagree with on a lot of issues, but as I said earlier, in the debate, he actually believes strongly in what he stands for, and I respect that,” Rubio said. "I thought he ran a good race."

“The liberty movement needs to be a part of the larger Republican coalition.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. endorses Alan Grayson in U.S. Senate race

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The son of former U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy is backing U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, in Florida's contentious Democratic primary in the race to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate next year.

The endorsement of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. marks one of the few but most high-profile names yet to pick Grayson over U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who's drawn considerable support among the party establishment.

Grayson, in contrast, has earned most of his favor in progressive circles.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and progressive radio host, touted Grayson's strength in standing up against special interests, particularly on energy and environmental issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline.

He heralded Grayson as "the lone, true environmental defender in this Senate race."

“It’s a comfort to know Democrats like Alan Grayson still exist in Washington,” Kennedy said in a statement provided by Grayson's campaign. “He’s one of those who will not compromise in what they believe and fight for. We need Alan in the Senate.”

Photo credit: AP

Lee faults Scott's school budget 'built on backs of local taxpayers'

You can add the influential voice of Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, to the list of Republicans howling about Gov. Rick Scott's budget -- and its heavy reliance on higher property tax bills.

As Lee's committee prepares to wade through, amend and pass its first budget proposal Wednesday, Lee had choice words for Scott's plan to increase spending for public schools by taking advantage of higher property values for homes and businesses.

"We're building the increase on the backs of local taxpayers and then we're running around the state and doing a victory lap," Lee told the Times/Herald. "I'm opposed to the way we are funding public education largely on the backs of local taxpayers."

An alternative plan developed by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, would divert about $254 million in state tax revenue to the public school budget, and package that as a tax cut. But that would likely doom Scott's own package of $1 billion in business-friendly tax cuts next year.

Scott's method of paying for what he calls a "historic" boost in public school spending is one of the most contentious points in the 2016 budget debate. To review the math, Scott proposed an increase of $507 million in K-12 spending next year, and $427.3 million of it would come from local property taxpayers (including $60 million from the separate discretionary millage school districts can collect from taxpayers). The increase from state tax revenues would be $80 million.

Under Scott's plan, the total amount of local property taxes dedicated to schools -- what's known as RLE or required local effort -- would reach a record $7.9 billion.

Miami agency moves to give Liberty City restaurateur $317K grant after critical board members removed


All but a fraction of a $350,000 public contribution by the operator of Bayside Marketplace to help spur "economic development" in Liberty City will likely go toward renovating a single Seventh Avenue restaurant that promises to use the money to create a culinary and tourist destination -- and two permanent jobs.

Late Tuesday, board members of Miami's quasi-independent Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust reversed course from the summer and moved to award $317,000 to Shantels lounge, a 2,500-square-foot eatery just north of 54th Street. The restaurant and jazz cafe is owned by Edward Colebrook, and serves up Caribbean cuisine and soul food. It is the occasional spot for campaign parties.

Trust leaders and city representatives who attended the Tuesday meeting said they believe Colebrook will create the type of sit-down restaurant that hasn't existed in Liberty City since Jumbo's closed shop. A grant application shows an estimated $222,000 will pay for renovations, $35,000 will pay for furniture and upgraded tables and chairs, and $40,000 will go toward the creation of a cook and server's position.

"There was a time that black restaurants and entertainment centers were prevalent in the community. Unfortunately those establishments are figures of the past," said Tyrone Coverson, a city of Miami liaison. "We hope to, with the Trust, start a new era to allow Shantel to be a beacon of future restaurants and entertainment centers."

The money to be given to Colebrook comes from General Growth Properties, which agreed in the summer of 2014 to pay a lump sum to the city of Miami's Liberty City Trust as part of a deal to allow for the expansion of Bayside Marketplace and the extension of the tourist attraction's public lease. GGP LP Bayside Marketplace LLC cut the city a $350,000 check in September 2014. And in May, the Liberty City Trust solicited bids for a small business grant program, drawing interest from 14 bidders.

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Report: Former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff joins Shutts & Bowen


Former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has joined the law firm Shutts & Bowen as a partner, where he will specialize in land-use, lobbying and maritime law, the Daily Business Review reports.

Sarnoff spent nine years on the city commission before stepping down in November due to term limits. He represented most of Miami's waterfront neighborhoods, including Coconut Grove and downtown. His wife, Teresa Sarnoff, unsuccessfully campaigned to win his seat, which ultimately went to new District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell.

Ethics rules bar Sarnoff from immediately lobbying or working on city of Miami issues, but he's free to practice with other public agencies. The DBR reports that he was "recruited" by attorney Alex Tachmes, and plans to spend "much of his time" in the firm's Tallahassee office.

Sarnoff has been quiet since stepping down. He recently told the Miami Herald he was serving as general counsel for Cigarette Racing, out of Opa-locka. He also launched a consulting business, Sarnoff Solutions.

VIDEO: Florida House members react to debate over open carry


Florida House members were in session until nearly 10 p.m. Tuesday night, spending much of the evening debating two high-profile gun bills: open carry and campus carry.

The open-carry bill was amended with one significant change: To allow lawmakers to carry concealed handguns in legislative sessions and official meetings. It's one of the handful of areas specified in law where licensed gun-owners can't carry concealed.

Here's what Republican and Democratic leaders had to say about that amendment following last night's session, and read our full story here about the evening's debate.

Floor votes on both the campus-carry and open-carry measures are expected this afternoon in the House.


Son of Hillary Clinton donor to file for Florida state Senate, not Congress


Andrew Korge has made up his mind: He will run for the Florida state Senate -- and not Congress -- this year.

A Democrat and the son of prominent Hillary Clinton donor Chris Korge, Andrew Korge had filed to run for the Legislature before flirting with a congressional race

He told the Miami Herald he made up his mind after taking a hard look at the redrawn Senate map and considering where he might be able to get more done.

"To run for Congress is a tremendous honor, but at the end of the day, seeing what these folks in Tallahassee are doing with this session, it's just had a tremendous effect on me," he said. "I want to make an impact, too, and when you think of a freshman congressperson and a freshman state senator -- you can really do something in Tallahassee."

Among his top issues, Korge cited protecting South Florida from climate change and fracking, and defending abortion rights. He's also got an interest in education policy.

For Congress, Korge would have challenged Annette Taddeo -- and possibly former Rep. Joe Garcia, who has yet to enter the race but has made it clear he probably will. Garcia's candidacy would have made it more difficult for a political novice like Korge to survive a primary.

Korge plans to send paperwork to Tallahassee Wednesday filing for Senate District 39. The expected Republican candidate in that seat would be Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, who would have to move to the district. Korge said he's intends to do the same.

The seat leans Hispanic -- which Flores is but Korge is not -- but also Democratic. Flores and Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard had worked out a deal where Flores would run for District 39 unopposed by a Democrat in order to avoid facing her colleague Bullard in District 40, where both now live.

Korge, who due to his family network would be less reliant on Senate Democrats' support, said talk of the agreement didn't sit well with him. "It is not uncommon or unusual for insiders in Tallahassee to cut deals at everyone else's expense. That's part of the frustration that everyone has with what's going on in Tallahassee. That's part of what needs to change."

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee



The governor plays cornhole at the Florida Capitol, lawmakers huddle for initial budget talks and controversial gun bills get a floor vote in the House. Here's what we're watching today:

* Proposed plans for the 2016-17 budget will go before the House's and Senate's full appropriations committees. Both chambers have scheduled daylong meetings to debate and revise their respective proposals, which were released Friday. (House Appropriations, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building. Senate Appropriations, 9 a.m. 412 Knott Buiding)

* Gov. Rick Scott is elevating his efforts to persuade the Legislature to support his call for a $1 billion tax cut and $250 million in business incentives. In a rare move, he's hosting a rally at the Florida Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. It will feature "leaders from around the state" and a specialty cornhole set branded with Scott's slogan of "1st For Jobs."

* The House Finance and Tax Committee, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, plans to formally unveil its "bipartisan" tax cut package -- and "much anticipated" hashtag -- during a press conference after the committee's meeting, set for 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

* More than 100 employees of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa plan to visit with House and Senate members to help draw support for a $3 billion gaming compact, which the Seminole tribe and the governor signed but which the Legislature is hesitant to back.

* The House convenes for session at 3. After heated debate yesterday evening, the chamber is expected to pass two controversial gun bills and consider a slew of other legislation on the table.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott's office

February 02, 2016

Under revised open-carry bill, Florida lawmakers could carry concealed guns in legislative meetings



Florida's 160 lawmakers could inconspicuously pack heat in the state House and Senate chambers and legislative meetings, under a provision tacked on to a controversial open-carry handguns proposal that's expected to pass the Florida House on Wednesday.

The amendment by Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, was one of almost two dozen proposed changes that representatives vetted -- and a handful they approved -- during three hours of debate that stretched past 9 p.m. Tuesday over two high-profile gun bills.

The measures alter how 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida can carry handguns.

The Republican-dominated House accepted Wood's idea by a 72-43 vote to allow lawmakers to carry concealed guns in legislative sessions and official meetings, but it's possible the change could prove fatal for the measure, which already faced a tough climb in the Senate.

Both the open-carry measure and another that would allow permit-holders to carry concealed on public university and college campuses are likely to pass the House. But across the Capitol, Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said he won't hear the campus-carry proposal in his committee for the second year in a row, and he indicated last week he could change his mind and not hear the open-carry plan, either.

The two measures are endorsed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, but opponents cite numerous safety concerns.

Heading into Tuesday's House debate, more than 40 amendments were filed to the open-carry bill but almost half were later withdrawn; those were mostly rebuttals that bill sponsor and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, initially sought.

All but one of the others -- Wood's -- were filed by Democrats, as an attempt to chip away at the proposal and add exclusions to where concealed-carry permit-holders could openly carry. Each Democratic amendment failed by wide margins with almost entirely Republican support.

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