The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Is an out of wedlock child a problem for a congressional candidate?

With Democrats scrambling to find a strong candidate to take on newly elected U.S.. Rep. David Jolly in Congressional District 13, not everyone is thrilled with the idea of the Rev. Manuel Sykes of St. Petersburg jumping in the race. Some Democrats are buzzing about the 2007 front page story revealing that the Rev. Sykes, who was single, fathered a child out of wedlock and allegedly encouraged the mother to have an abortion. From the article:

Sykes, 50, says he knows he was wrong to engage in a physical relationship, even though he was single. He says he thinks he has let his congregation down.

"I think we all sin, everybody, but the outcome is not always visible. But my feeling has always been, if I can't garner your respect and I am not suitable to lead you as a human being with all my frailties, I can accept that," he said....

...When she called him to tell him she was pregnant, she said, she hoped he would do the right thing.

"But I know a lot of children are born out of wedlock, so that's not a reason to really marry a person," she said. "But I would think that with him being a pastor, he would say, 'Okay, I know what I need to do.'" …

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Jeb Bush, Rick Scott and former Gov. Martinez: FL Senate should vote on DREAMer tuition bill

From a press release:

TALLAHASSEE – Today, Governor Rick Scott and former Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez advocated for lowering tuition by advancing SB 1400, which would allow all Florida students, regardless of their background, to qualify for the in-state tuition rate.

Governor Scott said, “Students who have spent their childhood here in Florida deserve to qualify for the same in-state tuition rate at universities their peers and classmates do. We want our students to stay here in Florida when they go to college and when they choose a career, and that means we must make college more affordable for all those students who call Florida home. The Florida Senate should take immediate action to move SB 1400 forward.”

Governor Bush said, "We must keep and capitalize on the talent of all Florida students who want to attend our exceptional colleges and universities.  Punishing some children for their parents' acts by creating obstacles to a college degree isn't in their interests, or ours.  I urge the Florida Senate to do the right thing for our state and pass SB 1400." …

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Kendrick Meek among candidates who got illegal donations from Clinton backer

A hotel magnate with ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton pleaded guilty Thursday to funneling illegal donations to three candidates, including Kendrick Meek, the former Florida congresssman who ran for Senate in 2010.

Sant Singh Chatwal admitted using straw donors to move $180,000 to the candidates (the others have been identified as Hillary Clinton and former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecitcut). Chatwal then reimbursed the donors.

A Justice Department news release said: “The evidence against Chatwal includes an October 2010 recorded conversation between Chatwal and a business associate who became an informant, in which Chatwal underscored his view as to the importance of political campaign contributions, stating that without campaign contributions, “nobody will even talk to you. . . . That’s the only way to buy them, get into the system. . . . What, what else is there? That’s the only thing.”

It also said there is "no allegation that the candidates participated in, or were aware of, Chatwal’s scheme." …

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Rubio headed west for fundraising

Sen. Marco Rubio is going west - for campaign money.

He's scheduled to begin a three-day fundraising swing in Seattle on Monday, with two events. The Florida Republican then heads to California for events in Sonoma, San Diego, Los Angeles and Tarzana.

Rubio's fundraising committees pulled in about $1 million in the last quarter, pushing his overall total to about $9 million. He has $3 million in the bank. Where'd all that money go?

Building a national fundraising infrastructure and assembling a staff that just might guide a 2016 presidential run (or Senate re-election.) Rubio last week shifted Cesar Conda, his Senate chief of staff, to the Reclaim America PAC, where he'll join Terry Sullivan, Todd Harris and others. Rubio has also paid for ads to support other Republicans, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Senate candidate Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

While in Texas this week, where he did public events in San Antonio and Austin, Rubio raised money in those cities plus Houston and Dallas.

He'll visit in New Hampshire in early May.

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Juvenile justice funding becomes latest state budget dispute

An article in Friday's paper outlines the budget dispute between counties and the state over juvenile justice costs and how the Legislature is being asked to find a solution:

For years, county officials say, they've had to shoulder too much of the cost of dealing with young offenders. In recent years, they say, the state has erroneously billed them $140 million for juvenile justice costs, sparking legal action.

Now, with the annual legislative session drawing to a close, the costs are at the center of the latest budget dispute.

Lawmakers have proposed a new funding formula that counties agree would avoid future billing disputes. But only the House proposal, HB 5305, also reimburses counties for previous overpayments through small annual installments.

Counties — especially large urban centers that are bearing the brunt of costs — are hoping the Senate will embrace the House plan during budget negotiations that begin when lawmakers return Monday.

"When the state overbills us over $14 million (over several years), we need to be compensated," said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman.

Read more here.

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Political Connections Sun: Jack Latvala's admiration for Rick Scott, Adam Hollingsworth

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is arguably the leading moderate Republican in Tallahassee, and at first blush, not the most likely candidate to be a top legislative ally of Gov. Rick Scott. But the maverick Pinellas legislator who never hesitated to butt heads with Gov. Jeb Bush has emerged as one of Scott's most vocal cheerleaders.

Latvala appears Sunday on Political Connections on Bay News 9, gushing about Gov. Scott and Scott's controversial chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth. The praise appears genuine, but it also happens to be a wise approach as veto season approaches.

The full interview airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday. Here's a clip.

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Senate panel won't hear in-state tuition bill, weakening its chances

Thousands of undocumented immigrants fighting for in-state college tuition rates may have had their hopes dashed Thursday when a top state lawmaker announced his committee would not hold a vote on the controversial bill.

The surprise move by Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron — which caught Republicans in the House and governor's office flatfooted — means the proposal (SB 1400) will be a long shot for passage during the final two weeks of the legislative session.

Negron, R-Stuart, gave a list of reasons for rejecting the bill, including the potential cost.

"If state colleges and universities can absorb the tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition, what effect will this policy have on limited financial aid funds for Florida students and parents?" Negron said in a statement. "I believe it is imprudent to commit Florida to a new statewide education law without first ascertaining the present and future fiscal impact."

But Sen. Jack Latvala, the moderate Republican from Clearwater pushing the proposal, called Negron's argument a "red herring." …

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Gay Florida couple and son invited to White House Easter Egg Roll

From left to right, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier during a January news conference

Associated Press

From left to right, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier during a January news conference

A gay couple from South Florida has been invited to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll with their son, an advocacy group said today.

Melanie and Vanessa Alenier are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Florida's ban on gay marriage.

“Melanie and I have worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides," Vanessa Alenier said in a statement distributed by Equality Florida. "Our family is in need of those protections just like other families. We want our son to understand that his family is secure and just as respected as any other family part of our community here in Florida.”

The annual Easter Egg Roll will be held Monday.

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In Miami, Rubio and Nelson renew call for sanctions against Venezuela

By Patricia Mazzei, Miami Herald

Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, joined forces Thursday in Miami to call for stepped up attention and potential sanctions from the U.S. against Venezuela for repressing political protests.

To try to persuade their colleagues, Rubio said the Senate Foreign Relations committee on which he sits plans to hold a hearing soon on the ongoing unrest, with as-yet unnamed leaders of the Venezuelan opposition invited to testify.

“What we want to do is build a case,” Rubio said — not only for sanctions against members of President Nicolás Maduro’s administration, but also perhaps against private Venezuelan citizens tied to the government.

That possibility has drawn particular interest in South Florida, home to the largest community of Venezuelans outside their country, including some rumored Maduro allies. Miami and Orlando remain frequent destinations for Venezuelan tourists, among them government officials. …

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Gaetz: SB 1400 "not limited to Hispanics"

The holiday break didn't stop Senate President Don Gaetz from weighing in on one of the most controversial bills of the session.

On Thursday, Gaetz sent an email to his constituents in Northwest Florida voicing opposition to Senate Bill 1400. The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities. 

A version of the bill has already passed in the House.

The Senate bill has 20 co-sponsors, meaning it has enough support to pass on the upper chamber floor. But in order for that vote to even take place, Latvala must first secure a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, has had issues with the bill since the beginning of session.

He made his position clear in his electronic newsletter Thursday.

"Though I am likely in the minority in the Legislature on this matter, I cannot support taxpayer subsidies in the form of tuition discounts for undocumented or illegal students," he wrote.

Gaetz acknowledged that the issue was politically charged. …

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Another Charlie Crist shakep, the Eric Conrad edition

Something's weird in Charlie Crist's campaign.

His new spokesman, Eric Conrad, just left after less than a week on the job "to pursure other opportunities," said de-facto spokesman Kevin Cate. The pro-Crist Saint Petersblog noted the departure first.

Cate has said as much before when Bill Hyers, Crist's here-today-gone-tomorrow campaign manager quit before/around the time he started.

Gov. Rick Scott, too, has had his share of shakeups. So it's not as if these things don't happen. They do.

But Crist is walking a tight rope. He doesn't have the money that Scott has. Florida Democrats don't have the organization Republicans do. And for a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, having Democrats in good standing suddenly up and leave your campaign with no explanation looks a lot more damaging. …

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Pastors: Dennis Ross' objection to raising minimum wage is 'morally bankrupt'

A group of pastors are criticizing Rep. Dennis Ross for dismissing calls to raise the minimum wage. Ross, R-Lakeland, made the comment during a town hall this week in Tampa. His position isn't novel among Republicans but the liberal group Think Progress was there to get it on video and spread it around.

Today, a group called Faith in Public Life sent out statements from three pastors.

"It is morally bankrupt for Congressman Ross to fight against making the minimum wage a family wage," said Rev. Richard Huggins, pastor at McLeod Memorial Presbyterian Church and constituent of Rep. Ross. "Someone who makes a six-figure salary paid for by tax dollars has no business making the lives of his working poor constituents even harder. It is a failure of both judgment and conscience."  …

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Pockets of anti-Crist resistance are not hard to find in Broward

As the Democratic Women's Club of Broward gathered for its monthly meeting Wednesday, a table was filled with leaflets promoting Nan Rich's candidacy for governor, but not a piece of Charlie Crist literature could be seen.

Long-time club member Joanne Sterner greeted guests as she stood in front of a sign that read "Stand with Nan." Sterner says she's scared by the talk that Crist, a former Republican governor, is the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

"He's going to get killed," she said, because of his history of shifting positions on key issues. This feisty crowd of determined liberal activists made it clear Crist has a lot of work to do to unite Democrats in the state's most heavily-Democratic county.

Broward is the home turf of Rich, a former Senate Democratic leader from Weston. Among the club's 35 members, there was strong support for her and a visceral dislike for Crist, who plans to open his first regional campaign headquarters in Plantation on Saturday.

"I don't have respect for him," said Barbara Ruge, vice-president of the nearby Oakland Park Democratic Club. "He doesn't know what he's doing. He's just on his own political agenda." …

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Archbishop: Jeb Bush has moved immigration debate forward

Thomas G. Wenski, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Miami, writes a piece in the Miami Herald applauding Jeb Bush for his "act of love" comment about immigration.

"With one three-word phrase, Gov. Bush has helped humanize these migrants — they are human beings who love their families, just as Americans do. This runs counter to the rhetoric of many shrill anti-immigrant voices and reframes the debate in human terms.

"Gov. Bush no doubt weighed his comments before uttering them, with full knowledge of the opposition he would encounter by some in his own party. In so doing, however, he has moved the debate forward toward a just solution to our immigration woes."

Full column here.

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson seeks local Medicaid expansion solution for Florida

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is keeping the Medicaid conversation alive this week, publicizing talks with federal officials about an alternative plan he devised that would use local dollars to pay the state's share. Here is an excerpt of a story in Thursday's paper:

Expanding Medicaid to cover thousands of uninsured Floridians has mostly been ignored by Republicans during this year's legislative session, but U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is making a last-ditch effort to get it done.

Medicaid is a joint state-federal program, though most of the expansion called for under the Affordable Care Act would be funded by Washington. Still, Florida Republicans have balked, claiming that in the future, the burden on state funds would be too great.

Politics may be an even bigger problem than money, since Medicaid expansion is key to the success of President Obama's signature health law.

For months, Nelson has sought a way around the opposition while still meeting federal requirements. He thinks he has found it in a never-tried-before plan: Using health care dollars raised by counties to get the $3.5 billion needed to draw down $51 billion in federal funding. …

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