The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

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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Uber launches new campaign to get bill across the finish line

With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, Uber is making an aggressive push to get its priority bills across the finish line.

The luxury-car mobile-dispatching service is throwing its considerable heft behind SB 1618 and HB 1389.

Originally, the proposals sought to let companies like Uber to circumvent municipalities and win approval from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But the bills were watered down in committee, and now would help Uber only in Hillsborough County.

Still, Uber considers the bills an important first step toward changing the regulatory landscape in Florida. So far, the company has only been able to establish itself Jacksonville. It has met roadblocks in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa.

The company's latest campaign includes an online petition (, a Twitter hashtag (#MOVEFLFORWARD) and a new radio ad.

Lending his voice: Miami Heat Forward Udonis Haslem.

In the radio spot, Haslem asks his fellow Floridians "to help to make sure Florida isn’t left standing on the curb while other states pass us by." …

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Rick Scott goes positive, again, in fourth ad this spring

Upbeat and bearing an inspirational story in just 30 seconds, Gov. Rick Scott's latest TV ad is the kind that makes you want to vote for him. Plus, it's not misleading.

So far the governor has spent more than $5.2 million on TV since March 12. This latest spot, the fourth this spring, indicates he's not just mixing it up (positive-negative-negative-positive), he's on pace to unleash an ad campaign that the state has never seen before.

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A minimum wage debate breaks out at Rep. Dennis Ross town hall in Tampa

The liberal group Think Progress is circulating this video of a town hall U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross held Tuesday in Tampa. A young man asks Ross if he'd support a higher minimum wage and the Lakeland Republican flatly says no, arguing it does not make economic sense.

"The minimum wage is not a career wage," Ross said. "It's a wage to make sure that workers are not taken advantage of busienss ownesr. But “If we are going to make it a living wage, who’s going to pay for it?”

"I'll pay 20 cents extra for a hamburger," a man in the audience says.

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Another first for DEO: challenging a local land use permit

From Bruce Ritchie of the Florida Current:

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is appealing a development permit in Lake County in what is the first challenge or appeal to a local land use decision since the department was created.

DEO was created in 2011 when the Legislature eliminated the Department of Community Affairs and shifted its planning division to the new economic development agency. The Legislature that year also rolled back most state oversight of local growth management decisions.

The new department still has not challenged any of the more than 29,000 comprehensive plans or amendments that have been proposed since 2011, according to DEO data. But the department is appealing to the governor and Cabinet a Lake County decision to approve 490 homes on 24 acres along with the removal of 3 million cubic yards of sand and soil from the property.

"The agency is near death but it's good to know there is still an ounce of breath in the body," said Tom Pelham, a land use attorney who twice served as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs. "They have finally challenged a local permit." Story here.

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Rubio, in Texas, says terrorists training in Syria could attack U.S.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio warned Tuesday that terrorists training in ungoverned swaths of Syria could "soon" attack American interests around the world — or even on the nation's home soil.

The tea party darling and possible 2016 presidential hopeful gave a foreign policy speech sponsored by various groups at the University of Texas. That meant heading onto the home turf of two other potential future White House contenders: Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rubio's Senate colleague and fellow grass-roots conservative champion Ted Cruz.

Rubio serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees and has long advocated for more U.S. engagement with the forces opposing the Syrian government. The senator from Florida told a crowd of around 250 students, dignitaries and invited guests that the Obama administration failed to lead during the early stages of the conflict in Syria, creating a void that allowed foreign fighters to gather and train there. …

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Scott to Crist: debate Nan Rich, then we'll talk

"Give me Scott."€

Democrat Charlie Crist issued that implicit debate challenge to Gov. Rick Scott during an impromptu caught-on-video meeting with Lieutenant Governor Carlos-Lopez Cantera.

But Scott said Tuesday that he'€™s not ready to take up the challenge, noting that Crist has refused to debate his fellow Democrat, former Sen. Nan Rich.

"€œThat'€™s laughable. Think about it. He has a primary," Scott said.

"€œI'€™m sure it's going to be enjoyable watching his debates with Nan Rich,"€ he said.

Rich appreciated Scott’s comments.

"€œIt'€™s the first thing Scott has said in almost four years that I agree with,"€ Rich joked, before referencing how Crist used to be a Republican when he was governor.

"Since Charlie is new to the Democratic Party -- especially because Charlie is new to the Democratic Party --€” he owes it to the voters to debate and talk about the issues to show where he stands," she said.

Crist, however, has said that voters from all parties know his record. And, previously, he said he "wasn't even thinking about"€ debating Rich. …

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Survey USA: Crist 46%, Scott 41%

A new SurveyUSA poll shows Democrat Charlie Crist leading Gov. Rick Scott by about 5 percentage points --and despite $5.2 million in ad buys from the Republican.

The likely voter poll, conducted for Tampa's WFLA station, jibes with about a dozen other recent public surveys except two:

1) An early April poll by Voter Survey Service, which often works for Republicans and was hired by conservative Sunshine State News. It showed Scott with an inside-the-error margin lead of 45-44 percent over Crist, the only survey showing Scott out front.

2) A mid-March poll by University of North Florida (which until the Voter Survey Service was the outlier) that showed Crist with the narrowest of inside-the-error-margin leads, 34-33 percent.  No recent survey has found both candidates pulling less than 40 percent of the vote.

In between those two surveys, St. Leo University released a poll in late March that Crist led Scott 43-39 percent.

And the day after the Voter Survey poll, liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling released its own numbers showing Crist ahead of Scott 49-42 percent.

Considering all those polls, SurveyUSA's numbers of Crist leading Scott 46-41 percent is no shocker. …

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Scott picks fight with Senate over child welfare but defends gaps in his proposal

Scott opa lockaGov. Rick Scott visited a Department of Children and Families service center in Opa-locka on Tuesday to tout additional funding and staffing for the troubled agency’s child protection system.

Surrounding by child abuse investigators and supervisors, Scott pledged again — as he did earlier this year — to commit about $39 million in new dollars to hire more staff and lower caseloads. He then chastised the Florida Senate for not including the money in its budget but defended gaps in his own child welfare budget proposal that advocates say leaves holes in the state's safety net.

“I am asking the Senate to do right by our children,” Scott said, after praising the work of local investigators.

The Senate has allocated $33.5 million in new money for child welfare programming but has not identified where the money will be used. The House has set aside more than the governor -- $44.5 million, enough to hire additional child protection investigators and provide $4.5 million in new money for support services. Both sides will meet next week to work out their differences. 

The budget increases have come in the wake of a Miami Herald investigation, Innocents Lost, that chronicled the deaths of 477 children over six years whose families had a history with DCF. The Herald review of the state budget over thath six-year period also found that as the state budget grew by $10 billion, the resources devoted to child welfare dropped by $80 million.

Senate President Don Gaetz has told reporters repeatedly that that he believes more money is needed for child welfare but has refused to specify if he will go beyond the Senate's initial budget. Senate leaders say the final numbers will be worked out during the negotiating process.

"The Senate set aside funding for child welfare reform from day one of our budget planning,'' said Katie Betta, Gaetz spokeswoman. She said child welfare reform has been a priority of Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford and they have not waivered.

“As such, President Gaetz has communicated this point throughout session, as have the other senators working on this legislation,'' she said. "Final allocations for specific workforce initiatives will be determined in the budget conference.”

But neither the governor's budget, nor the Senate budget, provide any additional money for the support services needed by child welfare organizations to help families receive mental health and drug abuse treatment or parent skills and other services to help them become better parents. Full Story

Iowa poll shows Jeb Bush near front of GOP field

Loras College (Iowa) Poll for potential 2016 potential candidates.

Mike Huckabee---14.7 percent                       
Jeb Bush---10.7 percent
Rand Paul---8.5 percent
Paul Ryan---8.3 percent
Chris Christie---8.0 percent
Ted Cruz---6.2 percent
Marco Rubio---4.7 percent
Rick Santorum---4.7 percent
Scott Walker---4.7 percent
Rick Perry---3.0 percent
John Kasich---0.7 percent
Other---0.7 percent
Undecided---23.8 percent

"The inaugural Loras College Poll surveyed 600 likely Iowa GOP primary voters, creating a 4 percent margin of error.  The survey was conducted April 7-8, 2014 using telephone interviews, including both landlines and cell phones.  In addition, the survey was balanced using historical voting patterns for age, gender and geography.  The sample here is of likely 2014 primary voters and not simply of likely caucus goers (although there is much overlap between the two groups). Script development and methodology used for the survey received input from Republican campaign consultant, Steve Grubbs, and Democrat campaign consultant, Dave Heller."

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Rick Scott campaign: We're killing Crist on the ground

FROM: Tim Saler, Deputy Campaign Manager
TO: Interested Parties
SUBJECT: First Stages of the 2014 Ground Game

As you may have seen, Charlie Crist’s campaign announced that they will be opening their Broward County office this week. While the details seem to change by the minute – a third personal residence for Crist in Fort Lauderdale became a field office opening Tuesday, which then turned into a South Florida headquarters opening Saturday – I thought this would be a good opportunity to update you on the early stages of our campaign’s ground game activities.

We have every expectation that, if the Crist campaign is serious about following the Obama playbook, they will deploy nearly 100 campaign-funded field offices around the state. After all, when Terry McAuliffe followed that same playbook in Virginia, he opened 41 offices in a state less than half the size of Florida. But field infrastructure needs to be deployed early in the campaign in order to maximize effectiveness, and the Crist campaign is already behind the eight ball compared to the Obama strategy. …

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Crist seeks to replicate Obama's email fundraising

Charlie Crist campaign email


Charlie Crist campaign email

Boom. Roasted.

That's the subject line of an email this afternoon from Charlie Crist's campaign, which plays off a video of Crist surprising Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera at an event. It's the kind of tactic popularized by Barack Obama and now used by virtually every campaign, Democrat or Republican, at dizzying frequency.

Crist is overmatched by Gov. Rick Scott's fundraising but is trying to tap into the small dollar, grassroots market. His email today asked for $5. The email was sent by Jessica Clark, who was Obama's 2012 Florida finance director.

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RPOF says it doesn't play in primaries but its money has in Benacquisto race

How $300,000 moved from RPOF to a Super PAC

Alex Leary | Times

How $300,000 moved from RPOF to a Super PAC

The Republican Party of Florida says it does not engage in GOP primaries, but nearly $300,000 of its money has landed in a Super PAC supporting congressional candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto, newly filed campaign finance records show.

The money passed through several committees, illustrating how difficult it can be to trace, let alone determine an agenda. RPOF's response: We have no control once it leaves our coffers.

"How dare the party act stupid now like they don't know," said former Rep. Connie Mack, who held the District 19 seat until 2012 and is backing Benacquisto's rival, Curt Clawson. "I think the people of Southwest Florida will reject the idea that a Super PAC funded by the party is going to tell us who our next member of congress is going to be."

The money trail runs like this: Liberty and Leadership Fund, the pro-Benacquisto committee, took in $289,469 from another Super PAC called Liberty4Florida, which in turn got money from Free Speech PAC on Jan. 24. Free Speech PAC, a state committee chaired by Republican consultant Randy Nielsen, got $300,000 from RPOF on Dec. 26, 2013. …

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Ros-Lehtinen, who had Rubio as intern, says she's with Bush

UPDATE 12:20 p.m.: Ros-Lehtinen tweets: "I'm w/Marco also. Wasn't either/or. Both."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, told the Hill newspaper that if Jeb Bush decides to run, "I'm with him."

The comment says a lot about where Florida Republicans lie in a possible clash between Bush and Marco Rubio, who interned for Ros-Lehtinen many years ago. ("I was a lot thinner and he had a lot more hair," she told CNN. 'But it's the same old Marco.")

Ros-Lehtinen told the Hill that Rubio would likely opt against running in 2016 if Bush runs. "Maybe some folks don't think that [Bush is] as conservative as he should be, but he's a very pragmatic conservative and compassionate man as well," she said.

The Tampa Bay Times Florida Insiser Poll revealed overwhelming sentiment that Bush will run.

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Democratic spin ignores Jolly's vote against Ryan budget

DCCC spin on Alex Sink's decision not to run for Congress again:

“Pinellas residents have voted time and again for commonsense solutions instead of reckless partisanship, which is why we are confident our Democratic nominee can prevail on Election Day," DCCC chairman Steve Israel said in a statement.

“In the last few weeks, Congressman David Jolly has become the latest face of the most reckless Republican Congress in modern history and he will be forced to campaign under the full weight of his party’s toxic brand in November: raising taxes on middle class families, ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors, and jeopardizing economic growth for businesses – all to give more to corporate special interests and the ultra-wealthy.”

But Jolly's "weight" isn't as weighty. Last week he was one of 12 Republicans to vote against the Ryan budget.

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