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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Unusual election could lead to longer term

It has been an unusually long and complicated election cycle for state Rep. Jamie Grant. A primary election scheduled for August didn’t happen until November, and even then, the results were thrown out.

But the strange circumstances could benefit the Tampa Republican.

Some elections experts say Grant, whose election is now set for Feb. 10, could be eligible to serve 14 years in the Florida House, despite a state law limiting lawmakers to eight years per chamber. And an elongated tenure could position Grant to become House speaker in 2022.

Grant told the Herald/Times he was not sure how many years he would be able to serve — or if he would want to stay in the Florida House any longer than eight years.

"My focus is on getting re-elected," he said Wednesday. "Anything else is a distraction."

Grant, the 32-year-old son of longtime state lawmaker John Grant, has served in the Florida House since 2010. …

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Vinyard retires at DEP; Gov. Scott names WIlson interim secretary

After a four-year tenure punctuated by considerable controversy, Herschel Vinyard announced his retirement Wednesday as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement praising Vinyard's record and announced that his interim replacement will be Cliff Wilson, deputy secretary for regulatory programs at DEP.

"Secretary Vinyard was instrumental in helping us protect Florida's environment for future generations," Scott said. "Cliff Wilson has helped lead DEP's efforts to protect Florida's natural treasures. With his knowledge and experience, Wilson will ensure that the department continues to support Florida's environment."

Wilson received a civil engineering degree from Florida State University and serves as a mentor to engineering students there. He also has been DEP's deputy secretary of land and recreation and an assistant director in DEP's northwest district office. 

Wilson becomes the third interim secretary of a large state agency, joining Mike Carroll at the Department of Children and Families and Tim Cannon at the Department of Corrections. …

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Q poll: If not Romney then Bush

Q poll news release:

Republican voters nationwide want 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney back in the game, giving him the top position at 19 percent in an early look at the 2016 presidential race in a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.  Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is next with 11 percent, followed by New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie and Dr. Ben Carson at 8 percent each.  No other Republican tops 6 percent, with 16 percent undecided.

​With Romney out of the race, Jeb Bush leads with 14 percent, followed by Christie at 11 percent, Carson at 9 percent and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at 8 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds.  Another 19 percent are undecided.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sweeps the Democratic field with 57 percent, followed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 13 percent and Vice President Joseph Biden at 9 percent, with no other candidate above 4 percent and 14 percent undecided.

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Rick Scott admits using private email account, skirting public records law

Anyone else remember of Gov. Rick Scott said over and over again that he never used his private gmail account to conduct public business? The Associated Press now reports:

Gov. Rick Scott exchanged emails dealing with vetoes, the state budget and his speeches from a private email account, according to records turned over to the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Scott has previously said he used a Google email account to communicate with his family and not for state business. He also said that if ever he got an email dealing with state business he would forward it to his public email accounts.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, however, acknowledged in a statement that "after a thorough review of this old email account, there were occasions the governor failed to forward messages."

"This email account is closed and the personal email account the governor uses now has not been given out beyond his family," Tupps said.

The Scott administration turned over the emails more than three months after the Associated Press first asked for them. …

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Student group calls on Legislature to revisit guns on college campuses

Last Thursday's shooting at Florida State University has spurred a renewed call for allowing guns on college campuses.

Among those leading the charge: Nathan Scott, one of three people shot and wounded last week when Myron May opened fire at the FSU library. Scott is part of a group called Students for Concealed Carry at Florida State, which on Tuesday asked state lawmakers to allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry firearms on college grounds.

Their request may resonate in Tallahassee, especially with the powerful National Rifle Association echoing the call.

The NRA's Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer said Tuesday that she hopes to have a "thoughtful, deliberative" conversation on the subject when the Legislature reconvenes.

"We're not going to rush into it emotionally, like a lot of people do after a tragedy," Hammer said. “But the reality is, there is a ban of guns on campus, and that did not stop an attacker. The law never stops the bad guy. It only stops the good guys from being able to protect themselves and others."

Read more here.

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Gov. Scott reboots press shop, hires new Cabinet affairs aide

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced Monica Russell as his new director of Cabinet affairs and made more changes to his communications shop in advance of his second term in January.

Russell, 31, is a University of Florida graduate who was communications director at the state Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) before leaving to work as surrogates director for the Scott re-election campaign.

John Tupps, 30, will be deputy communications director. A University of Tennessee commmunications grad, he joined the Scott administration in 2011 and had been serving as press secretary.

That post will be held by Jeri Bustamante, 29, who was campaign press secretary for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. She's a former associate producer for WSVN, the Fox TV station in Miami. The press secretary is the person who most frequently travels with Scott on events around Florida and the U.S.

Scott earlier announced that Jackie Schutz, 28, his campaign press secretary, will be director of communications. …

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Rep.-elect Carlos Curbelo faces FEC questions

By Patricia Mazzei, Miami Herald

Carlos Curbelo was elected to U.S. Congress earlier this month, but his campaign work is not over.

The Federal Election Commission has asked the Miami Republican to respond to a series of questions for omitting or mislabeling more than $93,000 in campaign contributions, which Curbelo has blamed on a computer software problem.

The federal agency issued Curbelo’s campaign two notices last week — one of them 11 pages long — that, if not answered adequately, could result in audits or fines.

Nicole Rapanos, Curbelo’s campaign manager, said Monday that the campaign plans to respond as early as this week with a complete accounting of contributions and donors omitted or mislabeled. “Once we get everything answered, we should be OK,” she said. “We’re not trying to hide anything.” …

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Legislature prepares legislation to rewrite enviro laws to offset impact of Amendment 1

Florida environmentalists say they were forced to go to voters to get permanent funding for land and water protection because legislators neglected the need for too many years. But now — even though Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote — the Legislature will get the last word.

House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to the amendment, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead.

How legislators make those tradeoffs will determine whether the implementation of Amendment 1 is a cordial affair — in which both proponents and lawmakers agree to compromise — or whether the debate becomes a test of wills and, potentially, lawsuits.

“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,’’ said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday during the swear-in ceremony for members. …

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Scott signs death warrant for his 21st execution as governor

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed the death warrant for Johnny Shane Kormondy, who killed a Pensacola banker and repeatedly raped his wife as the couple returned home from her 20th high school reunion in 1993. Kormondy is set to die on Jan. 15, 2015.

In a summary of the case, the governor's office said that Kormondy shot Gary McAdams in the back of the head, killing him, and was the leader of the attack on the McAdamses, having recruited accomplices, provided transportation and cased the neighborhood prior to the crime. Kormondy also threatened to kill witnesses who testified at his trial -- including Cecilia McAdams -- if he were released from prison.

Kormondy was convicted of first-degree murder and three counts of sexual battery. The jury recommended a death sentence by a vote of 8 to 4 and he received life sentences on each of the sexual battery counts. Kormondy, 42, has spent half of his life on Death Row at Florida State Prison in Starke.

Kormondy would be the 21st person to be executed since Scott took office as governor in January 2011. That would tie the number of executions ordered by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who served two terms for a total of eight years from 1999-2007.





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Gov. Rick Scott's corrections secretary, Michael Crews, resigns

Gov. Rick Scott's corrections chief, Mike Crews, told his staff Monday that he's resigning. The News Service of Florida first reported Crews' decision to quit at a time when his agency has been in turmoil as a result of widespread reports of abuse by prison guards, charges of retaliation against whistleblowers and a chronic multi-million dollar deficit.

The News Service said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary confirmed that Crews told his senior staff Monday that he's out.

Crews, 53, won praise from state legislators for his handling of cases in which inmates walked away from a work release center in Pinellas County last year and in one case resulted in a murder being committed. He began a high-profile effort this past summer to clean up the prison system after The Miami Herald reported on a series of cases in which inmates died or were abused at the hands of prison guards.

Crews is the first state agency head to step down since Scott's re-election on Nov. 4. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard is also expected to depart in the coming weeks.


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Paul, Christie, Bush top New Hampshire poll

Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire Poll:

Rand Paul and Chris Christie both at 16 percent, Jeb Bush at 14 percent.

Ben Carson 9 percent; Mike Huckabee 8 percent; Paul Ryan 7 percent; Ted Cruz  Sen. Ted Cruz 5 percent; Bobby Jindal 4 percent.

More here.

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Jeb Bush to give graduation speech at University of South Carolina

Jeb Bush will deliver a winter commencement address at the University of South Carolina, the school said this morning.

During the Dec. 15 event, Bush will receive an honorary degree of doctor of public service at the commencement ceremony.

A news release noted: "Bush will be the fourth member of his family to be honored at a Carolina commencement ceremony. His father, President George H.W. Bush, addressed graduates and received an honorary degree of doctor of laws in May 1990. At that same ceremony, Jeb Bush’s mother, Barbara Bush, received an honorary doctor of education degree. President George W. Bush, Jeb Bush’s older brother, spoke and received an honorary degree of doctor of laws at the May 2003 commencement."

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Finkbeiner joins Rubin Group; Turnbull promoted to executive VP

Tallahassee lobbyist Bill Rubin, an early supporter of Gov. Rick Scott four years ago, has hired former top Scott policy advisor Chris Finkbeiner to help expand the firm's operations. Rubin also announced Monday that his long-time associate, consultant Heather Turnbull, has been promoted to executive vice president and partner in the firm. 

Finkbeiner, who turned 30 on Monday, most recently was policy director for Scott's re-election campaign. His name was in circulation as a possible chief of staff in a second term but Scott named campaign manager Melissa Sellers to that position. Adding Finkbeiner to his roster strengthens Rubin's connections to Scott's office, even though Finkbeiner is prohibited by law from lobbying the governor's office for two years.

Rubin, 61, a Fort Lauderdale resident and founder of The Rubin Group, has been a fixture in Tallahassee lobbying circles for three decades. He was named last week as one of the chairs of Scott's second inaugural. …

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Groups ask Florida Supreme Court to throw out 2012 redistricting plan

The coalition challenging the Florida Legislature's 2012 redistricting plan has filed its initial appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The coalition, made up of individuals and voters rights groups, has been battling to have the maps thrown out, saying they violate Florida's constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering.

In August, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the Congressional map was indeed unconstitutional and ordered two districts to be redrawn. But the coalition says Lewis did not go far enough.

The trial court, the coalition said in a brief filed Friday, "erred by only requiring two districts to be redrawn, by allowing the Legislature to provide the remedy by quickly passing a new plan that is largely the same as the old plan, and then by deferring to the Legislature's decision to maintain an apportionment scheme that ensured continued Republican domination over an electorate evenly divided between the two political parties."

The groups argue that the plan as a whole "was motivated by unlawful partisan intent," and that seven districts remain unconstitutional. …

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Bush-Portman ticket would be hard to beat, Clinton friend says

A top ally of Hillary Clinton thinks a GOP presidential ticket of Jeb Bush and Sen. Rob Portman would be tough to beat.

“Can a Democrat win the White House without both of Ohio and Florida? The answer is yes, but it then has to be a perfect storm,” Harold Ickes told reporters Friday after a Ready for Hillary event.

“Bush has what appears to be very strong credentials with Hispanics,” Ickes said. “I’m told he speaks Spanish at home, and I’m told that he actually thinks in Spanish.”

Bush would likely run strong in Florida. Meantime, Portman could help carry important Ohio and he is one of the few top Republicans to embrace gay marriage, after his son came out as gay.

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