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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Report: Witnesses said Jeb Bush lied about Nigeria sales deal

The Naples Daily News digs back into Jeb Bush's role in and compensation for helping a south Florida water pump company complete a $74-million deal with Nigeria. The deal has long dogged Bush, who has maintained he never earned a penny off the Nigeria deal and all told earned no more than $648,000 working with the company, MWI.

But the paper uncovered records indicating at least three people involved in the company told federal authorities Bush did earn money for the Niegeria sales and earned more than he said:

...At least three former MWI employees said under oath that Bush received anywhere from $800,000 to 5 percent of MWI sales. While specific sales numbers were not readily available, the company saw a $16 million increase in net sales from 1993 to 1994 attributed primarily to the Nigeria project, according to testimony from the financial officer.

Carcamo worked for the company for six years, including working directly on the Nigeria deal. His boss was Juan Ponce, MWI’s former vice president of international sales. Carcamo told FBI agents that Bush’s contract with MWI provided commissions on sales in a host of countries, including Nigeria. …

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Rod Smith rips "radical and reckless" guns on campus bill

Former prosecutor, state senator, governor candidate, stand your ground sponsor and Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith takes aim at the guns on campus bill before the legislature in a Gainesville Sun op ed. An excerpt:

...The legislation will pass unless common sense prevails. Legislators will vote for it simply because they fear political fallout from the NRA. Nonetheless, ordinary citizens, including gun owners, NRA members, faculty, students, administrators and family of students or prospective students can stop this plan. All we have to do is let our voices be heard for this legislation to be defeated or, at the very least, amended to leave the final decision to each university's leadership. The NRA is counting on your standing back rather than standing up. Please join me by standing your ground against the idea of guns on college campuses. Remember, bad ideas become the law when good people fail to oppose them.

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Prison deaths in Florida: an interactive graphic

Prison deathsFlorida prisons are becoming deadlier. More than 3,900 inmates in 68 prisons have died, some by unusual circumstances, since 2000. For the last year, the Miami Herald has investigated suspicious deaths reported to the Florida Department of Corrections, including a Dade Correctional Institution inmate who was found dead in a small, enclosed shower at the prison in June 2012. State data released last fall showed inmate deaths have increased by 40 percent in the last 15 years. And that number continues to rise.

Here's our story on the cannibalization of Florida's prison system. Here is the interactive graphic. 

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Winner and loser of the week in Fla politics

Winner of the week: Ray Sansom. A circuit judge ruled Friday that taxpayers should cover the legal expenses of the former House speaker, who was accused of trying to fund an airplane hangar for a political supporter but ultimately saw the charges dropped. Runner up: Jeb Bush. He finished 5th in the CPAC straw poll, but managed the leave the lion's den unwounded and showed off his organizational muscle bussing in supporters to counterbalance the conservative critics.

Loser of the week: Dean Cannon. Court testimony in the trial over whether taxpayers should reimburse Sansom makes former House Speaker Cannon look pretty slippery, revealing that Cannon quietly tried to get legislators to appropriate money for Sansom, before deciding it was too controversial. Runner up:  Club for Growth: The conservative group invited all the top presidential hopefuls, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, to its annual winter meeting last week in Palm Beach. But you didn't hear about it in the Florida press. Home state reporters weren't invited, while the Washington Post, Politico and others were.

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Legislators open session, this time faced with the legacy of 'cannibalizing' Florida's prisons

Cross City Correctional ceilingThe two DVDs were only minutes long but they depicted deplorable conditions in the state’s prison system: uninhabitable dorms, inmate-on-staff assaults and roofs that were so porous that prison staff rigged sheets of cardboard to serve as makeshift gutters.

It was a vivid example of chronic underfunding and understaffing at the Florida Department of Corrections, and then-Secretary Michael Crews wanted to show them to legislators last year in his effort to make the case for more money.

But the graphic pictures didn’t fit the jobs message of Gov. Rick Scott, who came into office vowing to cut $1 billion from prisons. The governor’s office ordered Crews not to show them. He made copies and distributed them to the chairmen of legislative committees anyway and, while no one agreed to show them publicly, Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, encouraged his budget committee to take a look. …

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Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll; Jeb Bush takes fifth

Sen. Rand Paul, as expected won the CPAC straw poll, but Gov. Scott Walker showed his ascendancy and took second place. Jeb Bush didn't do great, coming in fifth, but he surpassed Marco Rubio. (In 2013, Rubio came in second.)

Could that have anything to do with Bush busing in supporters? Does the poll even matter? In any event ...

25.7            Sen. Rand Paul
21.4            Gov. Scott Walker
11.5            Sen. Ted Cruz
11.4            Dr. Ben Carson
8.3             Former Gov. Jeb Bush
4.3             Former Sen. Rick Santorum
3.7             Sen. Marco Rubio
3.5             Donald Trump
3.0             Carly Fiorina
2.8             Gov. Chris Christie
1.1             Former Gov. Rick Perry
0.9             Gov. Bobby Jindal
0.8             Former Gov. Sarah Palin
0.3             Former Gov. Mike Huckabee
0.3             Former Ambassador John Bolton
0.1             Sen. Lindsey Graham
0.1             Former Gov. George Pataki

1.0             Undecided
0.7             Other

(3,007 votes cast Feb. 25-27 at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Conducted by the Polling Company Inc./WomenTrend)


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The email that rallied Jeb Bush's troops at CPAC

Jeb Bush met with supporters after his CPAC appearance on Feb. 27, 2015.

Alex Leary | Tampa Bay Times

Jeb Bush met with supporters after his CPAC appearance on Feb. 27, 2015.

Setting aside Jeb Bush's solid performance on the CPAC stage yesterday, the headlines would have been quite different today had he been repeatedly booed or faced a mass walk out.

People booed and heckled, and some walked out. But hundreds of Bush supporters filled the spacious room and sent up waves of cheers and applause. The strategy began with a Feb. 19 email:


A group of JEB! '16 supporters are heading out to National Harbor to support Governor Bush during his speech at CPAC next Friday, 2/27.  We're working on having a location at CPAC for Governor Bush to visit with supporters after the speech.  If you have friends or co-workers who support the Governor, please encourage them to attend as well.  Let's show the nation that Governor Bush's proven conservatism and leadership is what America needs right now.

Please plan on being there by noon as we want to make sure every supporter is able to get a seat for the Governor's speech, which will be approximately 1:30pm." …

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Coming in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times: 'The Elephant in the Room'

The 'elephant in the room' is obvious: It's the Legislature, not Gov. Rick Scott, weakened by mistakes at the start of his second term.

Illustration by Steve Madden - Times

The 'elephant in the room' is obvious: It's the Legislature, not Gov. Rick Scott, weakened by mistakes at the start of his second term.

Coming in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times: The most comprehensive package of news, commentary and opinion on the Florida legislative session that opens Tuesday. You can find it all in the Perspective section.

Front and center is a story about a newly emboldened Legislature that appears ready to challenge Gov. Rick Scott on a number of issues. The strongly-Republican Legislature is literally the "elephant in the room" -- a concept expertly captured by Times illustrator Steve Madden. 

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Audit blasts CONNECT, states it broke law

Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly refused to answer questions about problems with Florida's unemployment claims system, CONNECT, since it launched in October 2013.

But according to an audit released Friday by the state's Auditor General, there are a number of critical issues with CONNECT, which is now estimated to cost taxpayers $77.9 million.

Chief among them is that the system broke Florida law by requiring its users to log in by using their Social Security Numbers, exposing them to an unnecessary risk. Florida law prohibits agencies from requiring SSNs if it's not imperative.

"The use of SSNs as user IDs is contrary to state law and increases the risk of improper disclosure of SSNs," the audit states.

Another finding by audits concluded there were no controls in place to ensure "the confidentiality, availability and integrity of its data."

In short, the system relies on millions of data records that are neither accurate or secure.

Read DEOconnectREPORT.   …

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Florida Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope bids adieu

A Friday afternoon email from Gray Swoope as he exits the role of Gov. Rick Scott's chief job creator:

Today marks my last day as Florida’s Secretary of Commerce as well as President of Enterprise Florida, the state’s lead economic development entity.  For the last four years Governor Rick Scott and our economic development team have made a big difference in how our state can compete for job generating projects.

Businesses and site selection consultants now look at our state differently than in the past when it comes to choosing a great place to do business.  As a result in four years we have seen the number of established projects increase by 19%, total job generation 84% and capex by 150%.  There is no doubt that Florida can compete for projects.Full Story

Judge: Taxpayers should pay Ray Sansom's legal bills

From our friends at the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge says taxpayers should pay the legal fees of disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom.

Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey said Friday that she would side with Sansom.

Dempsey didn't say exactly how much she would award Sansom. He sued the state to recover nearly $1 million stemming from his successful defense of corruption charges.

Sansom was accused of scheming to add $6 million to the state budget for an airplane hangar that would ultimately benefit a political supporter. The charges were dropped by prosecutors after a judge blocked the testimony of a key witness.

His lawyers argued the state should pay his fees because the charges were connected to his actions as a legislator.

In a surprise move Sansom testified on Friday and defended his actions. 

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Surprise? CFO Jeff Atwater's office knew FDLE chief was doomed

Florida Cabinet members have said they were blindsided by Gov. Rick Scott's decision to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Dec. 16. "(It) caught a lot of us by surprise," Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told Capitol reporters last month.

Really? It wasn't a complete surprise to Atwater, whose office began lobbying for a top aide to get the FDLE job before the ink was dry on Bailey's letter of "departure" (he refused to use the word resignation).

Emails show that Atwater's chief Cabinet affairs aide, Robert Tornillo, began promoting deputy CFO Jay Etheridge as Bailey's replacement even before Bailey's ouster was publicly known. Bailey has said he got a surprise visit from Scott's former general counsel, Pete Antonacci, at about 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 16. Within minutes, Tornillo had hand-delivered Etheridge's resume to two of Attorney General Pam Bondi's aides on the first floor of the Capitol in Tallahassee -- Kent Perez and Rob Johnson. …

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PolitiFact Florida: Rick Scott's 2014 campaign promises at the Legislature

Gov. Rick Scott won a second term with a slew of promises to constituents about cutting taxes, spending more on education and improving the environment. In recent weeks, Scott has taken actionon his promises by putting forward those ideas for the upcoming legislative session, which opens Tuesday. PolitiFact Florida is tracking those promises on the Scott-O-Meter, where the promises are currently rated In the Works. Read PolitiFact Florida's report to see which promises are in play for the session.

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High-level changes in Insurance Commissioner McCarty's shop

With Gov. Rick Scott trying to push state insurance regulator Kevin McCarty out the door, several high-level staff changes are afoot at McCarty's Office of Insurance Regulation. But a knowledgeable source says the personnel moves have been in the works for a long time and are unrelated to the turmoil swirling around McCarty's job status and those of other Cabinet agency heads.

McCarty's chief of staff, Rebecca Matthews, will leave at the end of next week to be the executive director of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, and Richard Koon, deputy commissioner of property and casualty insurance, is also leaving for a private sector post.

Matthews' replacement will be Belinda Miller, OIR's general counsel, and Koon's replacement will be David Altmeier, who currently runs the P&C financial oversight unit in the insurance office, and the agency's new general counsel will be Anoush Brangaccio. The Matthews and Koon departures were first reported by SNL, an online news service that covers the insurance industry.

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Jeb Bush faces the heat at CPAC and stands ground

OXON Hill, Md. — Jeb Bush walked into a hostile swarm of conservative activists here Friday but, backed by scores of supporters who often drowned out boos with cheers, stood his ground on immigration and Common Core while touting his time as governor."It's a record of accomplishment, of getting things done," Bush said, standing on stage with moderator Sean Hannity at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Responding to hecklers, Bush joked that he considered them neutral but said he hoped to be their "second choice," an acknowledgement that he won't win over the most ardent conservatives.

As uncomfortable as he seemed initially, Bush likely left pleased, showing he could face the heat. The forum, with dozens of reporters looking on, gave him the opportunity to address the issues that have dogged him as he considers a presidential run. Talk of a massive walkout never materialized, though animosity pulsed through the crowd. …

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