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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

Winner of the week

Andrew Gillum. The little-known, 37-year-old mayor of Tallahassee may seem like a longshot for governor, but as the crowd of white Democrats looking at running grows (Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando businessman Chris King, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, lawyer John Morgan of Orlando, among them) the odds of African-American candidate winning the primary where 30 percent of the voters are black seems not so bleak.

Loser of the week

Richard Corcoran. The problem for politicians holding themselves as holier-than-though ideological purists, is that they tend to be vulnerable to hypocrisy charges. So when Florida House Speaker Corcoran -- the ultimate Tallahassee political insider casting himself as a warrior against Tallahassee insiders -- bars the public and press from attending a meeting of Republican legislators viewing a taxpayer-funded video, his claim to be a champion of transparency rings hollow.

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Trump welcomes a super fan onto the stage in Melbourne

President Donald Trump in Melbourne

Screen capture

President Donald Trump in Melbourne

Donald Trump dismissed security concerns and welcomed a man onto the stage in Melbourne on Saturday, a splash of showmanship in a rally that made you think the campaign was still going.

"I'm only worried he's going to give me a kiss," Trump joked. "Come on up."

The man is Gene Huber of Boynton Beach, per the Palm Beach Post's George Bennett. Media reports indicated Huber had been on line many hours before the rally.

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A billionaire for Florida governor?

Jeff Greene

Tampa Bay Times

Jeff Greene

Add another potentially game-changing name to the prospective Democratic candidates for governor in 2018. Billionaire Palm Beach resident and former U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene.

"I've been approached by a lot of people, and I've had conversations with people that have approached me," said Greene, who lost the 2010 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to Kendrick Meek after spending about $23 million of his own money.

Though we hear Greene has been talking to political consultants about a potential run, Greene downplayed his interest to The Buzz and said he is not actively looking at it.

Greene said he is largely focused on his "Closing the Gap" conference set for April in Palm Beach. It will explore how to improve opportunities for all of society. Scheduled speakers include former British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Apple CEO John Sculley, columnist Thomas Friedman, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

"It's certainly something that I haven't ruled out if it made sense," Greene said. …

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Trump calls the news media 'enemy of the American people'

Trump tweet


Trump tweet

President Trump on Friday leveled his most acerbic attack on the news media, calling the free press "the enemy of the American people."

Trump launched the salvo after arriving at Mar-a-Lago, his third visit in as many weeks.

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It could be a long legislative session for Shawn Harrison

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa

[Special to the Times]

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa

Here's the latest from William March: 

State Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, is "caught between a rock and a hard place," as Mayor Bob Buckhorn put it, in the internecine GOP feud over business incentives and tourism marketing.

That probably makes prospects dim for Harrison to push through appropriations he wanted for University of South Florida, and projects for New Tampa and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.

The rock: Gov. Rick Scott, who wants to continue funding the Enterprise Florida Inc. and Visit Florida and has the option of vetoing appropriations requested by legislators who don't go along.

The hard place: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who adamantly opposes Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida and can squash any House member's legislative initiatives.

In the coming legislative session, Harrison had hoped to seek $500,000 to expand the TBARTA van pool program; $6.5 million for a New Tampa Cultural and Emergency Center; and $9 million for a science teaching and research facility at USF. …

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Rick Scott ratchets up feud with House Republicans

Gov. Rick Scott


Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott isn't done singling out Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives who voted against one of his biggest priorities.

Following a week that he toured the state publicly calling out Republicans for voting to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Scott is now using a political action committee he controls to launch automated telephone calls to voters in 9 key House districts to complain about those legislators even more.

"Unfortunately your state Rep - Paul Renner - is playing politics with Florida jobs," Scott said on the recorded phone call in Jacksonville. "He voted to kill our state tourism and jobs program and that will destroy our economy and will lead to higher taxes."

The ad is paid for by Let's Get to Work, the governor's political committee. …

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Bob Graham wants Congress to set up 9/11 style panel to probe Russian meddling

Former Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired a congressional investigation into 9/11, wants a similar approach for a probe into Russian interference.

Graham issued the following:

"After the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, the congressional leadership set aside political differences in a search for the truth. For the first time in more than 200 years, Congress merged two standing committees from different houses -- the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence -- into a Joint Congressional Inquiry. Due in large part to the experience of our members, their familiarity with the use of classified information and an independent staff, the Joint Inquiry wrote the first draft of the U.S. intelligence community’s role in the events surrounding the tragedy. Our investigation discovered documentation and data that raised concerns about possible involvement of foreign individuals and sources of support for the hijackers.” …

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Lawmaker wants mental health check for conceal-carry applicants

Miami Shores Democratic state Sen. Daphne Campbell, shown here in the Florida House in 2015, has proposed a bill that would require people applying for a concealed weapons permit in Florida to undergo and clear a mental health evaluation.

Florida House

Miami Shores Democratic state Sen. Daphne Campbell, shown here in the Florida House in 2015, has proposed a bill that would require people applying for a concealed weapons permit in Florida to undergo and clear a mental health evaluation.

Individuals who want a state-issued permit to carry a concealed gun in Florida would first have to pass a mental health evaluation under a new proposal from a Miami-Dade County senator.

The measure (SB 956) comes six weeks after a gunman who had shown signs of mental illness shot and killed five people and injured six others in a baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

State Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami Shores, said the impetus for her proposal came not only from the airport shooting but the ongoing gun violence in Miami-Dade — such as in her district, which includes Liberty City.

“Everybody’s talking about gun violence, but what do we do about it?” Campbell said. “We have to do something. ... It’s crucial. People’s lives are in jeopardy. How are we going to protect our people? That’s why I add this piece to make it harder and stricter on people who want to get a gun permit.”

About 20 gun-related proposals have been filed for the upcoming 2017 legislative session, but Campbell’s is the first related to mental health — particularly in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale shooting. …

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Gasp! Gov. Rick Scott uses the 'p' word to slam his opponents

Gov. Rick Scott

File Photo

Gov. Rick Scott

It wasn't just that Gov. Rick Scott went into the backyards of a half dozen state representatives to call them out by name for voting for a bill he opposes.

It's how he did it that has state legislators still fuming.

In Tampa, in Flagler Beach, and Brevard County, Scott had a similar script, telling business leaders that he was "shocked" at the nine House Republicans on the Careers & Competition Subcommittee who dared to vote for a bill to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. But then he threw salt into the wound, calling them the unthinkable: politicians.

"There's politicians in Tallahassee -- and one of them is your state Rep. Jay Trumbull -- who voted to abolish Enterprise Florida and abolish Visit Florida," Scott said in Panama City on Tuesday. On Monday in Flagler Beach he used the "P" word after calling out Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, and Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville. …

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The nine little words that could cause a legislative train wreck

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart


Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart

The 2017 legislative session begins in Tallahassee in about two-and-a-half weeks and the Senate and House are still hashing out details of a critical joint rule so that writing a budget can get underway.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, tells the Times/Herald that he and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, are making progress, but stumbling blocks remain, including a standoff over nine words in House Rule 5.14: "An appropriations project bill may only request nonrecurring funds."

That's a cornerstone of Corcoran's plan to transform and add transparency to how individual lawmakers' spending priorities work their way into the budget every year. But it's a non-starter in the Senate.

Recurring money is generally used for fixed annual costs, such as paying state workers' salaries. Nonrecurring or one-time money, from a lawsuit settlement or an unexpected uptick in lottery ticket sales, is like a salary bonus and generally pays for one-time expenditures like water projects. …

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Ex-Enterprise Florida head says House GOP video misleading

Former Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope

Times File Photo

Former Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope

A propaganda video that House Speaker Richard Corcoran is using to build support for killing Enterprise Florida includes a heavily manipulated quote that makes it appear that even the former head of the agency has turned on it, when he hasn’t.

In the 3 minute video, the former CEO of Enterprise Florida Gray Swoope appears to say “Enterprise Florida may have lost its way.”

But the quote is a trimmed version of the sentence he actually said and takes him out of context, Swoope told the Times/Herald in an interview.

The quote is taken from a television interview from 2013 in which Swoope actually makes the case that Enterprise Florida was getting the job done and deserved credit for helping the state rebound economically. Swoope said in the context of the interview it was clear he was talking about the agency losing its way before Scott hired him in 2011 to help change the organization.

“I, 100 percent, believe in the model,” Swoope said of what he thinks about Enterprise Florida now. …

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Florida teachers union leaders: We want better pay for all, not a new legislative 'gimmick'

Leaders of local and state teachers unions tell the Times/Herald that they are eager for more details on the Florida Legislature's planned expansion of teacher incentives. But -- with lingering criticism of the two-year-old "Best & Brightest" bonuses -- they aren't very optimistic that lawmakers will come up with a true solution to poor teacher compensation.

"These guys don’t get it. Hiring teachers is not the problem. Retaining them is," Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said in a text message.

Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, called the proposed expanded incentives "a gimmick" by lawmakers "to avoid paying our teachers adequately."

MORE: "$200 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it"

"Teachers don’t want bonus pay; they want real pay," she said, adding that permanent increases to the base student allocation — which could help districts afford to pay teachers more — "is really the only thing that’s going to help with our teacher shortage." …

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Daughter of Trump's Florida campaign manager 'walked out' of White House

The following is from Politico:

Several White House staffers were dismissed Thursday morning after failing FBI background checks, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Six aides were "walked out of the building by security" on Wednesday after not passing the SF86, a Questionnaire for National Security Positions for security clearance.

Among those whose White House posts were revoked was President Donald Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, the daughter of Susan Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign manager and former chief of staff to Governor Rick Scott. Wiles was appointed deputy assistant secretary before the inauguration in January. Two sources close to Wiles said she will get another job in Treasury.

Full story here.

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Negron's DC firm and the Florida House fight

Why would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles over the Florida Constitution, and with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

Joe Negron Richard Corcoran

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

The Sidley Austin contract is to offer the Senate, "general advice," at rates of  $945 an hour fee for lead lawyer Jonathan Cohn and junior attorneys Benjamin Beaton and Eric McArthur for $785 and $700 respectively.

The eye-popping rates have raised the ire of the leaders in the Florida House and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has turned his taxpayer-funded legal staff into a home-made litigation machine.Full Story

House Democrats call out Republicans' closed-door meeting

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, hugs members of her family at a ceremony where Democrats elected her minority leader of the Florida House.


Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, hugs members of her family at a ceremony where Democrats elected her minority leader of the Florida House.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz on Thursday responded to a closed-door caucus meeting held by Republicans in Tallahassee to discuss taking down Enterprise Florida.

"Transparency when conducting the people’s business is of the utmost importance and that’s why our caucus room is always open to the public," Cruz, D-Tampa, said in a statement.

Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, assembled his Republican members at an upscale bar not far from the Capitol called The Edison on Wednesday night, where he played a video targeting Enterprise Florida, instructed members to "stay on the moral high ground" and blocked a Times/Herald reporter from observing the meeting.

Several Democrats voted against a Corcoran-backed proposal to gut Enterprise Flat a committee meeting last week. But Cruz said the minority party wants to reform the program.

"It’s also no secret that Enterprise Florida is an agency in serious need of reform and House Democrats look forward to having that debate," she said. "Floridians deserve an end to corporate welfare that benefits large corporations and the ultra-wealthy and a renewed focus on growing jobs here at home by supporting our local small businesses."


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