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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Doug Hughes, who landed gyrocopter outside Capitol, again rejects plea deal

Gyrocopter-flying, Homeland Security-defying, big-money-in-politics-decrying Florida mailman Doug Hughes is back in the news.

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - Douglas Hughes, the Florida mail carrier who landed a gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the Capitol as part of a protest against the influence of big money in politics, said Thursday that he has rejected a plea deal that would strip him of his right to vote.

Douglas Hughes said after a hearing in federal court in Washington that prosecutors had offered him a deal that would have let him plead guilty to one felony count. But he said he rejected that deal and offered to plead guilty to misdemeanors because pleading guilty to a felony would mean he can't vote or run for office in Florida. The Florida Constitution bars convicted felons from voting, serving on a jury or holding public office. People convicted of a felony must wait a minimum of five years after finishing their sentences and any supervised release before applying to get those rights restored. …

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About Quinnipiac's irrelevant Fla Senate poll

What's the point of polling Florida's U.S. Senate race if you exclude one of the main candidates running in said U.S. Senate race? Quinnipiac University did just that, releasing a poll that tested potential general election matchups with only two of the four credible Republicans running. Leaving off political newcomer Todd Wilcox, whose viability remains uncertain, is understandable. But leaving off U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores? Just hailing from the biggest media market, Tampa Bay, probably makes Jolly the nominal frontrunner for the GOP nomination at this point.

"We tried to deal with a race where there are several relatively unknown candidates. It's always a challenge in situations like this," Quinnipiac's Peter Brown explained in a statement that explained nothing.

Hard to argue with Jolly adviser Sarah Bascom on this: "The poll is clearly not an accurate snapshot of the race when you leave out the front runner," she said.. "Whatever the reason or rationale was, does not matter.  This omission makes this poll irrelevant."


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New JEB! ads: Disrupt Washington

Jeb Bush's Super PAC, Right to Rise USA has a new 30 second spot airing in Iowa and New Hampshire touting Bush's vow to disrupt the old order in Washington.

Right to Rose also is airing the following two 15-second spots, "Budget Cutter" and "Plan for Jobs."



"This format gives us the ability to communicate both Jeb's record of cutting pork in Florida and his forward-looking plan to reform the tax code and grow our economy. We plan to test a number of different formats like this to ensure our message is breaking through on all mediums during the busy primary season," Right to Rise said of the shorter spots. The committee also has suspended its south Carolina advertising in most markets because of the flooding there.

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Kevin McCarthy withdraws from U.S. House speaker race, lifting chances for Florida's Dan Webster

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. speaks to a reporter Thursday as he leaves a House Republican special leadership election meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republicans must replace House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who is stepping down and retiring from Congress at the end of the month.

Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla. speaks to a reporter Thursday as he leaves a House Republican special leadership election meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republicans must replace House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who is stepping down and retiring from Congress at the end of the month.

Can you say chaos?

In a dramatic move Thursday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California dropped out of the race for House speaker and the election has been postponed, throwing the chamber into disarray.

The majority leader leveled the news as the GOP conference went into a noon meeting. Conservative opposition was rising against him, illustrating once again the power of a group that has made life exceedingly difficult for soon-to-be former Speaker John Boehner.

"It's stunning, but not too surprising," said Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, who had planned to nominate Rep. Dan Webster of Florida for the post. McCarthy "recognized that he was not the person capable of uniting us. He said he did not want to be somebody that furthur divided the party," Jolly said.

McCarthy later told reporters "we need a new face." He was expected to win the vote Thursday but meet a tougher battle when the entire House voted Oct. 29.

Some conservatives have rallied around Webster -- the same group that helped end Boehner's career -- but it's still unclear if the low-key legislator from Winter Garden can mount a winning campaign. …

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Confederate Flag in Florida Senate seal on its way out

The Senate seal is present in many places in the Florida Capitol, including on the doors to the Senate chamber, shown here. A Senate committee recommended Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, that the seal be changed to remove a reference to the Confederate flag.

Kristen M. Clark / Miami Herald

The Senate seal is present in many places in the Florida Capitol, including on the doors to the Senate chamber, shown here. A Senate committee recommended Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, that the seal be changed to remove a reference to the Confederate flag.

Citing historical inaccuracies and a need to reflect modern values, a Senate committee unanimously recommended Thursday that the Confederate flag be removed from the Florida Senate’s official seal.

The vote came after little discussion and no opposition from the bipartisan panel. A two-thirds majority vote of the full Senate, or support from 27 of 40 members, is needed to complete the change.

The rebel flag has been in the chamber’s insignia since at least 1972 as part of “a fan of the five flags that have flown over Florida.” Including the Confederate flag in that array is historically inaccurate, said Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who said he endorsed the rule change “simply upon legal issues.”

Sixteen different flags have flown over Florida in its long history, and the state shouldn’t endorse flags of illegitimate governments, he said, referring to the Civil War rebellion of the southern states. …

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State economist's economic development ideas clash with Gov. Scott's

While Gov. Rick Scott was in New York recruiting jobs Thursday, the state’s top economist as in Tallahassee telling lawmakers that Florida’s strategy for growing the economy is off-base.

Economist Amy Baker laid out recommendations for economic incentive programs that differ from much of the development strategy that the state has taken. The state should give more support to small businesses and entrepreneurs, she said, and spend less effort attracting businesses in industries that might be drawn to Florida anyway.

“They or a competitor of theirs are likely to come to Florida anyway,” Baker said to the House Economic Affairs Committee. “If they’re likely to come anyway, you’re not really getting the bang for your buck.”

Baker further pointed to the problems with using tax incentives to bring in large companies that have a presence in other states. The state’s return on the investment becomes diluted, as money ends up boosting economies in other states where a company already exists.

Much of the growth in Florida right now, she said, is in start-ups and small businesses, and the state can capitalize on that growth and keep more money in the state by focusing less on bigger firms. …

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Senator gets audience with Scott chief of staff to calm tensions

Four months later, he remains baffled by Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes, and the political atmosphere is tense. But Republican Sen. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach made a solo mission this week in what he called an effort to "melt the ice" between the Senate and the governor's office.

"It's as tense as it's ever been," Bean said. So the gregarious lawmaker decided to pay a brief call Monday on Melissa Sellers, Scott's chief of staff.

"'Hey, I'm Aaron Bean. I want to start the relationship off better,'" is how Bean describes him breaking the ice. "She was very cordial. We've got to work together. We've got to have a professional relationship going forward. Hopefully we're headed in that direction."

Asked if he felt he made progress, Bean hesitated for several seconds and said, "Uh, yes, I think so. If not, that's what my mom told me: Go introduce yourself and say, 'Hey, I'm here to help.'"

Scott's office declined to comment. "Our office policy is not to comment on private meetings," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said. …

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Poll: Overwhelming support for medical marijuana; Democrats lead in U.S. Senate race

Florida voters support legalizing medical marijuana by an overwhelming 87 percent, according to a new Qunnipiac University poll.

But support for legalizing pot for personal use drops to 51 percent with 45 percent opposed.

The poll also looked at the U.S. Senate race and found Democrats leading Republicans:

Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy leads Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera 37 – 29 percent and tops U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis 37 – 30 percent. Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson gets 35 percent to Lopez-Cantera’s 32 percent and leads DeSantis 37 – 31 percent.

The poll did not look at party primary match-ups. And it oddly omitted Republican Rep. David Jolly.

-- Florida Gov. Rick Scott gets a negative 41 – 47 percent job approval rating, down from 45 – 44 percent in an August 25 Quinnipiac University poll.

-- Voters approve 46 – 27 percent of the job U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is doing and give U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio a 52 – 36 percent job approval rating

-- President Barack Obama gets a negative 45 – 51 percent job approval rating.

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Bush and Rubio — not Clinton — back Obama on trade

Hillary Clinton’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership makes for an interesting situation.

Once an advocate, Clinton now stands against President Obama while Florida Republicans Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush line up with Obama.

Rubio and Bush have expressed support for the trade deal at a time when other Republicans have attacked it as Obamatrade.

“It will create the opportunity for emerging economies to become the next ‘tigers’ of Asia and enhance linkages between nations in the Western Hemisphere and East Asia,” Rubio wrote in the Wall Street Journal in April.

But this week, they hedged slightly. On CNBC, Rubio said he would need to see the details, while adding he likes free-trade. In Iowa on Wednesday, Bush said it is “probably a good thing.”

Will their support weaken more?

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John Romano: A bizarre Senate candidate fractures Florida's Libertarian Party

The Libertarian Party has gotten all that it can handle in U.S. Senate wannabe Augustus Sol Invictus. So notes Tampa Bay Times metro columnist John Romano:

For a moment last year, they were Florida's favorite political underdogs.

If not hip, Libertarians were at least funky. They sided with conservatives on shrinking the government and owning guns, and stood with liberals on marriage equality and ending the war on drugs.

Palm Harbor's Adrian Wyllie went on to have the most successful third-party finish anyone could recall in a Florida governor's race, and Clearwater's Lucas Overby had the second-best showing of any Libertarian candidate for Congress in the nation in 2014.

At last, Florida Libertarians were hopeful of being taken more seriously.

Then along came the goat blood-drinking, eugenics-talking, civil war-promoting U.S. Senate hopeful from Orlando named Augustus Sol Invictus.

Hello, headlines.

Goodbye, credibility.

Read more here

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David Jolly only Republican to vote against new committee to investigate Planned Parenthood

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, was the only Republican to vote against the creation of a new committee to investigate Planned Parenthood.

Jolly, who is running for Senate, explained his vote on Facebook. "I strongly support investigating these allegations but voted against today's measure for one very important reason - we simply don't need a new special committee to do the job Congress is already sworn to do," he wrote. …

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Florida Senate could remove Confederate flag from its seal

The Florida State Senate seal

The Florida State Senate seal

Lawmakers are meeting Thursday morning to discuss whether to update the decades-old insignia for the Florida Senate and rid it of a reference to the controversial Confederate flag.

The rebel flag has drawn renewed criticism nationwide since the racially motivated shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church last summer.

At the request of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, the Senate Rules Committee will "review and evaluate" the official seal, which was adopted in 1972.

Per chamber rules, the seal's center contains "a fan of the five flags that have flown over Florida" -- those of Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederate States and the United States of America.

A proposal that will be presented to the committee tomorrow removes reference to the five flags and lists specific ones that "have flown or presently fly over Florida" -- the "1513 Spanish flag, the current Florida State flag, the current United States flag, the 1564 French flag, and 1763 flag of Great Britain." …

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Dan Webster gets a boost in bid for House speaker

Rep. Dan Webster got a boost Wednesday in his bid to replace House Speaker John Boehner when the House Freedom Caucus endorsed him.

The group of hard-line Republicans helped push Boehner out and was not inclined to support Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Boehner's No. 2.

"Last night we had productive exchanges with all of the Speaker candidates," the group said in a statement. "We appreciated the opportunity to hear our colleagues' visions for how they would lead our Conference and the House. It is clear that our constituents will simply not accept a continuation of the status quo, and that the viability of the Republican Party depends on whether we start listening to our voters and fighting to keep our promises. We accordingly believe that, under the present circumstances and without significant changes to Conference leadership and process, Rep. Daniel Webster would be best equipped to earn back the trust of the American people as Speaker of the House. We will therefore vote for Rep. Webster in the Republican Conference election tomorrow.”

The election is at noon but the real fight is Oct. 29 when the full House votes. …

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Bill allowing pastors to refuse same-sex weddings clears House panel

A bill allowing religious groups to deny marriages to same-sex couples cleared its first hurdle in the Legislature on Wednesday, passing a House panel.

The Pastor Protection Act (HB 43) was written in response to increasing uncertainty in the law after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage this summer, bill supporters say. It passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on a 9-4 vote along party lines, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against.

Sponsors Reps. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and Bob Cortes, R- Altamonte Springs, said the legislation is necessary to give pastors additional protection, clarifying the religious freedoms in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"As everyone knows, there's been numerous changes in the law and the culture recently, so this law is designed to make clear in Florida statutes that no religious organization will have to perform or solemnize a marriage that violates their religious beliefs," Plakon said to the committee.

Then followed nearly two hours of passionate testimony, much of it from pastors across Florida on both sides of the issue. …

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FHSAA: Harsher penalties needed for high school athletics recruiting

Miami Central running back James Cook gets tackled by Booker T Washington defensive back Marquis Decius during first half of a high school football game Saturday night Sept. 26, 2015.

Gaston De Cardenas / Miami Herald

Miami Central running back James Cook gets tackled by Booker T Washington defensive back Marquis Decius during first half of a high school football game Saturday night Sept. 26, 2015.

State law needs to be changed to make it easier for high schools to crack down on the recruiting of student-athletes, the executive director for the Florida High School Athletic Association told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Roger Dearing asked lawmakers to pursue legislation in their 2016 session that would instill harsher penalties for coaches and teachers who recruit athletes and that would make it more reasonable for schools to prove wrongdoing and improper behavior.

Dearing told the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee that he continues to hear stories from parents about coaches or school representatives who have approached student-athletes to convince them to join their programs -- even going so far as using burner phones to contact the teenagers in secret.

"We really need some statutory help with that. Recruiting is our hugest problem," Dearing told senators. The FHSAA is a private, non-profit organization that, under Florida law, serves as the official governing body for interscholastic athletics. It has 800 member schools statewide.

Why is recruiting prohibited? "You can’t have adults manipulating children for their own gain," Dearing told reporters after the hearing. …

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