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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Donald Trump hurls insults, thousands cheer on in Sarasota

Thousands of Donald Trump fans packed inside and outside a Sarasota arena Saturday to hear the Republican frontrunner rip Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, super PAC political committees, “phonies” in the press corps (especially the New York Times), Obamacare, “weak” generals leading America’s military, political correctness, Hillary Clinton and assorted people who have doubted or criticized him.

The billionaire reality TV star who has upended the Republican primary drew booming cheers and chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as he delivered a disjointed, borderline stream of consciousness speech heavy on knocking critics and vague promises about reviving the American dream and making it “bigger and stronger and bolder” than ever before.

At least 4,000 people filled Robarts Arena, and thousands more listened to speakers booming his remarks outside the arena. After his Trump helicopter landed on the grounds, Trump first spoke to crowd outside, calling for half a dozen “beautiful children” to hop aboard for a ride. …

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Donald Trump takes the stage in Sarasota

A crowd gathers as Donald Trump's helicopter prepares to leave Saturday's rally in Sarasota.

[ADAM C. SMITH | Times]

A crowd gathers as Donald Trump's helicopter prepares to leave Saturday's rally in Sarasota.

Looks like at least 2,000 people are on hand so far to see Donald Trump in Sarasota, and based on our conversations with folks lined up outside the Robarts Arena, all the attacks in the world from his critics won't dampen the enthusasm for the reality TV star who has upended the GOP primary.

"He's honest, he tells it the way it is. He's going to close the border, which is very, very important. He's using his own money. He's go so many things foing for him," gushed Nancy Blemaster, a retiree from Venice, who gave a thumbs-down sign when asked about Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

"I just don't like them. They're part of the Republican establishment, and the establishment is as crooked at the Democrats," she said.

The scene at the Fruitville Road arena included homemade "Obama, you're fired" T-shirts, an elephant with "Make America Great Again" painted on his side, and at leass one pickup bedecked with a "Trump=Competence" placard.

"Look around you. This is only the beginning," retiree Ken Morrow of northeast Florida said, scoffing at the notion that Trump's support would not last. …

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DEP deputy administrator lacks environmental experience

Three months after Gov. Rick Scott named Jon Steverson the new secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Steverson hired a man with nearly zero environmental experience to serve as one of his top administrators.

Before getting the $125,000-a-year job as deputy secretary in charge of state lands and parks, Gary F. Clark had no prior experience working for DEP, or for any other state agency, much less managing Florida's state park system.

He holds a bachelor's degree from an online university in business administration, not biology. He has been vice president of a rural electrical co-operative, director of a bank, co-owner of a dozen Subway sandwich shops, a college trustee and chairman of the Washington County School Board. He has seldom traveled far from his Panhandle hometown of Chipley (population: 3,600).

But Clark, 47, does own and operate what's billed as "Northwest Florida's premier bobwhite quail hunting preserve." …

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Shadowy conspiracies and charges of improper intent fly in latest redistricting docs

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The knock-down fight over the political future of the Florida Senate entered its third round this week as lawyers for the coalition of voting groups accused Republican lawmakers of conspiring again to protect incumbents, while the Legislature’s lawyers accused opponents of “operating in the shadows” trying to advantage Democrats.

The Senate’s map “smacks of partisan intent” because it failed to maximize population and respect political boundaries, “while offering unmistakable benefits for the Republican Party and incumbents,’’ wrote the lawyers for the coalition plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida.

But the lawyers for the Republican-led Senate and House blasted the plaintiffs for relying on map drawing experts who had ties to Democrats and therefore drew maps that “systematically” benefited Democrats.

The sparring legal briefs, filed late in the evening on Wednesday, offer a glimpse into the arguments in the Senate redistricting trial scheduled Dec. 14-18, before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds.

Lawmakers tried and failed to adopt a Senate map for the 2016 elections during a three-week special session that ended early this month so the job was handed to Reynolds who has asked each side to present alternative maps.

The coalition named the incumbents they believed were protected by the proposed Senate map -- from Miami Sens. Anitere Flores and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, to Panhandle Sen. Greg Evers and Rep. Matt Gaetz -- and said the Legislature failed to enact a Senate map during its special session “because of partisanship, self-interest, and palace intrigue,’’ a reference to the Republican infighting over the future Senate presidency.

The Senate proposal was submitted to the court by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate redistricting chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as a combination of two staff-drawn maps but it was never voted upon by the Senate.Full Story

Lawmakers seek to crack down on gas pump 'skimmers'

With the simple swipe of a credit card at a gas station pump, it’s become easier for identity thieves to steal customers’ information and rack up fraudulent charges in their names.

State Sen. Anitere Flores’ family knows this all too well; a close family member’s credit card information was stolen from a gas station “skimmer” two years ago in Miami, she said.

“Within hours, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of charges — specifically gas station charges — were put on the card,” said Flores, R-Miami. “It was scary, but it was also a major inconvenience: canceling credit cards and changing account numbers. You shouldn’t have to go through all that just because you’re using the convenience of paying at the pump.”

With support from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Flores and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, want to crack down on the use of skimmers by requiring gas stations to have better security measures and by increasing the penalties for criminals convicted of credit card fraud.

Skimmers are devices that illegally capture and steal credit- and debit-card information. State inspectors in Putnam’s department have located and removed 161 skimmers statewide since March alone. …

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Talks continue over how to limit — but still expand — gambling in Florida

The deadline has passed for the Seminole Tribe to complete its negotiations with the state over whether it will be allowed to continue operating lucrative blackjack games at its Hard Rock casinos, but the cards are still on the table.

The stakes are so high for all the parties involved in Florida's complicated gaming landscape that legislators and the governor's office are trying to negotiate a way to turn a deal on the card games into a blueprint for gaming across the state by the onset of the legislative session on Jan. 12.

Among the issues: the prospect of another slots casino in Miami, slot machines in Palm Beach and Fort Myers, a requirement that future gambling licenses get statewide voter approval, and the promise of $3 billion in gaming proceeds directed into the state treasury over the next seven years.

"We're still talking, still hashing," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate's lead negotiator who, along with the House's negotiator, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, has been meeting with the governor's general counsel, Tim Cerio, and lawyers for the Seminole Tribe. …

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Marco Rubio: 'We are most definitely at war with ISIS'

Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, were interviewed by TODAY's Natalie Morales this week in South Carolina and it aired this morning during the Thanksgiving telecast. Together they talked about how their kids are supportive of dad's presidential run, but also tough critics. One on one with Morales, Rubio talked about the war with ISIS and the refugee crisis.

"We are most definitely at war with ISIS," Rubio said, "and I'd be supportive of declaring that, whether it's formally thorugh Congress or rhetorically."

Watch it here.

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Marco Rubio, other GOP candidates show how they would pardon a turkey

Sen. Marco Rubio shows how he would pardon a turkey.

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Sen. Marco Rubio shows how he would pardon a turkey.

A presidential tradition this time of year is the pardoning of a turkey. 

President Barack Obama actually pardoned two on Wednesday. Their names are Honest and Abe.

Not to be outdone, three of the Republican presidential candidates showed their poultry pardoning techniques in a comic video on the news website IJReview. 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says in the video, "And so if I am president this is the turkey that I would pick. Otherwise well behaved... really has not done anything that would cause us to frown upon her."

Later he tells the turkey, "I hope you won't grow upset at me, but we roast one in the normal way, and the others, we fry them."

He then offers a bit of advice: Never fry a frozen turkey. It doesn't end well.

Also in the video are Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. 

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Florida newspapers weigh in on Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget

Newspapers across the state are weighing in with editorials on Gov. Rick Scott's $79.3 billion proposed budget for Florida's upcoming fiscal year.

Not all of it in a favorable way.

Among the reactions: an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times says Scott's spending plan "is aimed at generating headlines to use in his next campaign rather than investing in a state government facing systemic failure in nearly every corner."

A Sun-Sentinel editorial questions both Scott's priorities and his math, concluding, "His numbers don't add up."



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Rate of kids coming into foster care rising in Florida

From the News Service of Florida:

TALLAHASSEE - More children are coming into Florida's foster-care system after a sweeping child-welfare reform law went into effect 19 months ago, but officials say the state is trying to focus on what's best for kids in difficult situations.

"You write laws to respond to the issues of the day, and those change at least annually," said state Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican and sponsor of a number of foster-care reforms. "So our focus in today's world is the best interests of the child in every way - safety, quality of life, the best location - and that's all we can do."

Last month, according to the state Department of Children and Families, there were 22,635 children in what's known as out-of-home care - or 5.53 per 1,000 children in the general population. In June 2014, the month before the law took effect, there were 19,299 kids in foster care, or 4.76 per 1,000.

The 2014 law was nearly a year in the making, during which media reports on the deaths of youngsters already "known" to the Department of Children and Families roiled the public and galvanized lawmakers to plug what they saw as holes in the child-welfare system.

Read more here

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Gov. Rick Scott wants lawmakers to fund bear-proofing measures

From our friends at the News Service of Florida:

TALLAHASSEE - The state would set aside $230,000 for bear-resistant trash cans and outreach programs to reduce conflicts between humans and bears, as part of Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $79.3 billion budget.

The money would be used to partner with residents, local governments and businesses as a way to prevent bear attacks, according to a press release that accompanied Scott's budget on Monday. The funding request will be considered during the 2016 legislative session that begins in January.

Center for Biological Diversity Florida Director Jaclyn Lopez said in an email on Tuesday that Scott's proposal "sounds like a great start."

Lopez's organization was among the animal-protection and environmental groups that supported a lawsuit seeking to stop last month's state-sponsored bear hunt. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the hunt, the first of its kind, with the goal of reducing the state's bear population by 10 percent.

Scott's proposed spending alone won't fix Florida's bear problem, Lopez said.

Read more here


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Grayson, Murphy are thankful for... your campaign donations

Not even national holidays are immune from being politicized.

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, the two leading candidates battling for the Democratic primary in Florida's U.S. Senate race -- U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter -- have both sent out fundraising emails to their supporters asking for donations of "$3 or more" because of the holiday.

Grayson's email on Tuesday, suiting his fiery, sometimes-combative personality, offers supporters the chance to "win a call from me to your most conservative relative on Thanksgiving."

"You know that Republican in your family who always tries to get into a political debate with you over Thanksgiving dinner? This year, they can argue with me instead," Grayson writes.

Meanwhile, this morning, Murphy's finance director released a fundraising pitch for Murphy -- intentionally or not, countering Grayson -- and pledging that "Thursday is off-limits" and that he has a "strict no-politics-on-Thanksgiving policy."

So instead, Murphy's campaign is asking his supporters to donate the day before -- so as not to infringe on the sanctity of the holiday, of course.

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Rubio-Cruz battle escalates

The battle between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz continues with an ad from a political nonprofit attacking the Texan as soft on terrorism.

Cruz hit back on Fox News last night, accusing Rubio and his allies of trying to shift attention from Rubio’s immigration work.

The ad comes from American Encore, a group that does not have to disclose donors. Politico reported that founder Sean Noble is backing Rubio and co-hosted a fundraiser for Rubio in Arizona last week.

Noble asserts his group isn’t pro-Rubio. Yet the Florida Republican first opened up the attack on Cruz for voting to curb the NSA’s data collection. That came after Cruz went after Rubio on immigration.

A new poll shows Cruz surging to a near tie with Donald Trump in Iowa. Coincidentally, the anti-Cruz ad is playing in Iowa.

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Hillary Clinton to hold rally in Orlando

Hillary Clinton will hold a grassroots event Dec. 2 in Orlando, her campaign said.

“During the event, Clinton will discuss the issues that keep Floridians up at night and how she’ll address them as president. Clinton has previously campaigned in Ft. Lauderdale, Davie, and Miami.”

The location of the 1 p.m. event has not yet been named.

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Bill Nelson says Syrian refugees already face strict vetting; real problem with visa waivers

Sen. Bill Nelson opposes legislation approved by the House last week to make it harder for Syrian refugees to enter the U.S., saying a rigorous screening process is already in place.

Besides, the Florida Democrat said, the concern is with people who could arrive on a visa waiver agreement the U.S. has with 37 countries.

“This is making political points,” Nelson said of the House bill, which is expected to come up in the Senate after the Thanksgiving break. Nelson predicted it may not get the 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle.

The current refugee vetting process already takes about two years. But the House bill would add more layers that Nelson in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times called “unreasonable.”

“Every single Syrian refugee would have to be signed off by three people: the director of national intelligence, the secretary of homeland security and the director of the FBI,” Nelson said.

Last week, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act passed by a 289-137 vote and 47 Democrats joined in support, including Florida Reps. Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham. …

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