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The Buzz: 2014's winner and loser in Florida politics

By Adam C. Smith
Getty Images
Jeb Bush hands out items for food baskets at the Latin American Chamber of Commerce’s Little Havana office on Dec. 17 in Miami.

We received a lot of strong nominations for winner and loser of the year in Florida politics — everyone from David Jolly, elected to Congress in a special election that most expected Alex Sink to win, to Gwen Graham, who unseated Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland despite a brutal climate for Democrats.

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her hand-picked Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, Allison Tant, could be the most logical losers of 2014 given the drubbing Democrats took. But we tend to look more forward than backward and view each year's winners and losers more in the context of how the past year will affect politics in the coming year.

So, drum roll please …

Winner of 2014

Jeb Bush. A dozen years since he last appeared on a ballot, the former governor's late 2014 moves toward a presidential campaign demonstrated the enormous clout and goodwill he still enjoys in America's biggest battleground state. He dwarfs both Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in stature.

Runnerup: Rick Scott. It looked grim for Florida's oft-maligned incumbent almost until the end, but thanks to an improving economy, a national GOP wave, and a 2-to-1 spending advantage, Scott made Charlie Crist the first major candidate to lose three statewide elections running under three different party affiliations.

Loser of 2014

Pam Bondi. It's hard to imagine how someone who won re-election so handily (rival George Sheldon could not afford a single TV ad) could emerge from 2014 more wounded and diminished as our Republican attorney general. Put aside the unseemly junkets funded by groups seeking to influence her. Bondi's clumsy communication skills and relentless defense of Florida's gay marriage ban have made her a modern-day Anita Bryant. Antagonizing Florida's gay voters over same-sex marriage and Hispanic voters over immigration reform ensures Bondi has a bright political future ahead of her — if she moves to Mississippi.

Runnerup: John Morgan. Lord knows how many more personal injury cases he earned from all his publicity in 2014, but Morgan still lost both his medical marijuana initiative and his shot at installing a pal, employee Charlie Crist, in the governor's office.

The mail's here

Want to read the Jeb Bush emails? Bush has said he'll release them (and some news organizations have already obtained and reported on them) but the Democratic opposition group American Bridge has them for your viewing pleasure.

"Nobody likes waiting for presents, so we're going ahead and sharing them widely for him," the group said. "All of Bush's publicly available emails, obtained via public records request by American Bridge from the Florida Department of State, are now available here. Happy holidays, and rest assured, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scrutinizing Jeb's record."

Read them at americanbridge

The emails cover Bush's two terms, which saw major events like hurricanes and controversies such as Terri Schiavo.

Christie: No Bush fear

Not shocking that presidential hopefuls are saying Bush will play no role in their decision about running for president. The latest is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was asked about Bush in an interview with NJTV, New Jersey's public broadcasting station.

"It's not one of my three questions," Christie said when asked about Bush, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Sharing a passion

Florida political reporters know Dan McLaughlin as a tenacious defender of his boss, Sen. Bill Nelson. If you haven't been on the receiving end of one of McLaughlin's profanity-loaded rants, you're not doing your job.

But McLaughlin has a softer edge.

A former Tampa Tribune reporter who landed his share of big stories, McLaughlin has a passion for painting. In recent years he has sent around a Christmas scene. This year's depicts the Three Kings traveling along a beach, a palm tree in the foreground.

"We were kind-a-poor in the '50s and '60s — five kids and all — yet my Mom and Dad still put out $600 for art lessons when I was a kid," he told the Buzz in an email. "That would be thousands today. I also studied art a bit later in college before abandoning it. I always felt a bit guilty about that, because I know the $600 for that schooling was a big sacrifice.

"So, after my dad died in 2007, I dusted off my old travel box and took up painting again — with oils that were 37 years old. I love Florida landscapes, but also do an 'annual' Christmas card — which folks seem to like, actually."

Times Washington Bureau Chief Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.