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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

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.

I know this will be a smooth transition as Bill Johnson (billjohnson@eflorida.com) moves into this position on Monday, March 2.  Please keep Florida in mind for your future projects.  And as always, I appreciate your continued support.


Gray Swoope

Florida Secretary of Commerce

President & CEO, Enterprise Florida, Inc.



New Contact Information Below:  


Gray Swoope

President and CEO

VisionFirst Advisors, LLC

113 South Monroe Street

Suite 121 …

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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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Jeb Bush exploits non-candidate status to rewrite campaign finance playbook

By Alex Leary and me:

 As Jeb Bush continues a torrid fundraising schedule across the country, he is pushing new boundaries of campaign finance law, exploiting his status as a non-candidate to avoid contribution limits and amass a cash pile already in the tens of millions.

The effort, which supporters call "shock and awe," is designed to assert Bush's dominance in the 2016 Republican presidential field, but it also represents a new chapter in the era of unlimited money in politics and raises numerous questions, beginning with the most basic:

How can Bush, who acts and sounds every inch the candidate for president, not be a candidate?

The former Florida governor says he is merely exploring the idea of possibly running for president. He drops disclaimer after disclaimer — If I decide ...

That may seem laughable given Bush's actions — including campaign-style speeches and visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, courting the wealthiest donors and best political talent in the country, and resigning from corporate boards that pose potential conflicts of interest — but it is part of a carefully planned strategy. …

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Jeb brings reinforcements to CPAC

A Jeb Bush supporter hands out stickers

Alex Leary | Tampa Bay Times

A Jeb Bush supporter hands out stickers

Jeb Bush is about to take the stage at CPAC, a venue where his name has already been booed, his wife's spending mocked and his alignment with immigration reform and Common Core is ripe for attack from the conservative wing of his party.

But Bush is bringing in reinforcements.

Shortly before his 1:30 p.m. apparance, supporters entered the room wearing red Jeb! '16 stickers, and later they will meet privately with him.

Bush has already met with Erick Erickson, of Red State fame. He told Beth Reinhard of the Wall Street Journal he was "impressed with both (Bush's) competence on the issues and his appreciation for the hurdles he faces."

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Florida, say farewell to Allen West

Former Florida Congressman Allen West at CPAC on Feb. 27, 2015.

Alex Leary | Tampa Bay Times

Former Florida Congressman Allen West at CPAC on Feb. 27, 2015.

Ran into Allen West, the bombastic former Florida congressman, at CPAC and asked him if he's still looking to run for Senate if Marco Rubio runs for president.

"I'm no longer a Florida resident," he said, ribbing a reporter for "not keeping up."

West said he left the Sunshine state on Christmas Eve and he now lives in Dallas, where he's president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

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Jeb v. Hillary in Fla? Dem leader says Jeb will own 'testing quagmire'

There are precious few people in Florida who have known Hillary Clinton longer than Tampa Attorney Arthenia Joyner, the state senate Democratic leader who first met Mrs. Clinton in 1988 and in 2008 argued her case to the DNC when the party was deciding on how to punish Florida for its early primary.

So how does she see a Jeb Bush v. Hillary Clinton match-up in Florida? Bush will have a lot of explaining to do about his school testing legacy, Sen. Joyner said in a Political Connections interview airing Sunday on Bay News 9.

"He said when he was governor, don't judge him by one action, just him by the totality of his actions. That's why we're in this testing quagmire now, because he created that...Tthose issues are going to come up and they're going to look back to Florida and see this is where it all started. The teachers and students have said also don't judge us by one action - a test."

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