The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Judge disqualifies write-in challenger to Rep. Jamie Grant, opens primary

Another conflicting ruling about residency requirements for write-in candidates means the issue is even more likely to be appealed and challenged all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.

Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey decided Thursday that Donald John Matthews is not eligible to run as a write-in candidate for the House District 64 seat in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties because he was not living inside the district at the time of qualifying.

Just last week, a different Leon County Circuit judge ruled the opposite on a similar case. Judge George Reynolds concluded that write-in candidates are only required to live in the district on the date of election and allowed one to remain in the race for House District 69 in Broward County.

Write in candidates have never won a Florida legislative race, but they can be a game-changer during primary elections. According to Florida law, if all of the candidates in a particular race are from the same political party then all voters, regardless of their political affiliation, can cast ballots in the primary since that will essentially be the only election to determine the winner of the seat. …

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Rep. Grant's the winner in Florida ethics commission ruling

In a closed-door session, the Florida Commission on Ethics ruled in favor of Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, after an investigation into whether he misused his position to benefit a company that allegedly funded a grant awarded to his personal business venture.

The nine-member panel also decided there was no probable cause concerning an allegation that Grant had a conflict when he voted on legislation that related to excise taxes on phosphate mining.

The decision was announced Wednesday after the commission's investigator spent more than a year examining a complicated case stemming from complaints filed by Henry Kuhlman, a retired military pilot from Hardee County.

"My reaction is that they missed the mark and politics are involved," Kuhlman said.

Kuhlman has been aggressively trying to get Grant and others to account for about $2.6 million Hardee County awarded to the representative's startup company, LifeSync, starting in 2011. The money is from a pot of $42 million the phosphate giant Mosaic gave the county in exchange for mining rights. Hardee officials handed out the money, expected to produce jobs, which didn't happen in the case of LifeSync.  …

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Families say FEA's school choice lawsuit will hurt special needs kids

Six families -- and their powerful attorneys -- want to intervene in a lawsuit challenging a controversial new school choice law.

The families have asked a judge to help defend the law, which creates scholarships for children with profound special needs. The money can be used for private-school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and various types of therapy. The average award is expected to be about $10,000.

The scholarship program came into being as sweeping education bill that also expanded the school voucher program, created collegiate high schools, and addressed middle-school reform. It passed largely along party lines on the last day of session.

Earlier this month, the statewide teachers union challenged the constitutionality of the law, saying it violates a requirement that each pieces of legislation be limited to a single subject. The families want to join the existing defendants: Gov. Rick Scott, the Cabinet and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The lawsuit is pending, but the plaintiffs have indicated they do not oppose allowing the families to join the case. …

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Crist ad violates Pinellas schools policy

Strolling toward the double doors of St. Petersburg High School, gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says, "This isn't just a doorway to a school. It was my doorway, as a public school kid, to opportunity."

5 Months Ago

4 Months Ago

3 Months Ago

The 30-second television ad, which began airing last week, shows Crist walking through the halls of the historic school, his alma mater, where he was class president and quarterback of the football team.

There's just one problem. The political advertisement never should have been filmed.

The Pinellas County School District prohibits the use of school property for "advertising or otherwise promoting the interests of any commercial, political, or other nonschool agency or individual organization."

School administrators at St. Petersburg High violated the board's policy. A letter, written on the high school's letterhead, gave the Crist campaign permission to film on the campus. The letter states that there was no charge for use of the campus, and that administrators would offer the school to "any candidate regardless of political affiliation.

Story here

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Video: Charlie Crist debates Charlie Crist

This is courtesy of of the Florida GOP:


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Regulators modify pot rule to allow dispensaries to sell statewide

MarijuanaFive medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell their product statewide under a new rule proposed by state regulators, but to avoid litigation regulators will pick the nurseries that will operate the new industry by lottery, Florida officials said Wednesday.

The revised rule will be discussed at a workshop in Tallahassee on Friday as the state prepares to authorize five nurseries in each region of the state to cultivate and distribute marijuana for medical purposes.

Florida legislators passed the law last spring legalizing marijuana low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and high in CBD (cannabidiol) for patients with seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and cancer. The dispensaries must be in operation by Jan. 1 to start selling to patients who are put on a state-run “compassionate use registry.”

The first draft of the rule came under harsh criticism from members of the industry who want the state to focus on finding applicants that can produce the best quality, not those that can win because of chance.

Despite those concerns, however, state officials have refused to abandon the concept of choosing the five regional vendors based on a lottery, saying that they fear a lawsuit could stymie efforts to get the drug to patients.

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Unions now embrace Crist with support, and cash

Charlie Crist, TBT

Charlie Crist may be a newly minted Democrat, but he’s racking up union support as if he has always been a liberal shade of blue.

AFSCME, the union that bargains for most state employees, sent Crist’s political committee a $1 million check on Tuesday, the same day he announced that, if elected, he would use his executive powers to immediately raise the minimum wage for state contractors to $10.10 an hour — a top union priority.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association also endorsed Crist this month, and sent his campaign $50,000 — an amount matched by the Florida pipefitters’ union. The Dade County firefighters donated $25,000; AFSCME’s political committee, the Florida Workers’ Advocates, already gave Crist $50,000; and the Florida Education Association, which first endorsed Crist as an independent Senate candidate in 2010, this year endorsed him again.

The endorsements and contributions are more signs that Crist is now the candidate of the Democratic establishment, which has eschewed longtime liberal Democrat and former state Sen. Nan Rich, his opponent in the Aug. 26 primary. And they are proof that attempts by Gov. Rick Scott to mend fences with teachers and police unions, whose ranks provide boots-on-the-ground campaign support, have fallen short.

“We are backing [Crist] so aggressively because we feel we have given every governor in the governor’s seat a fair deal in treating public employees fairly, but that hasn’t happened with this governor,” said Jeannette Wynn, Florida president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.Full Story

U.S. Sugar support no longer "disgusting" to Scott

Before he was governor, Rick Scott attacked another Florida politician for accepting campaign funds from U.S. Sugar. He even said Bill McCollum, his opponent in the 2010 Republican primary, had been "bought and paid for.''

Four years later, Scott has received at least $534,000 for his reelection campaign from the corporate giant, and went on a 2013 hunting trip to its hunting lodge at King Ranch in Texas.

"The governor enjoys hunting and doesn't get to go as often as he'd like," said campaign spokesman Greg Blair in a Tuesday night e-mail. "But he enjoyed the experience. He was even able to shoot a buck on the trip."

While Scott bagged a buck, his hosts may claim the bigger prize: access to the state's most powerful politicians.

Read story here.

Also, watch this video, starting at the 1:53 mark.



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UPDATE: In bid for AG, Sheldon's restores eligibility for practicing law

AG candidate George Sheldon holds The Florida Bar letter informing him of his expired status

Michael Van Sickler

AG candidate George Sheldon holds The Florida Bar letter informing him of his expired status

Since October, George Sheldon has been running to be the Democratic nominee for Florida Attorney General, the state’s top lawyer.

So it didn’t help his campaign any when he learned Tuesday that, according to The Florida Bar, Sheldon could no longer -- wait for it -- practice law in Florida.

By late Wednesday, Sheldon managed to get his license and membership restored. But what happened?

Turns out he hadn’t been reporting his continuing legal education, a Bar requirement.

“A delinquent member shall not engage in the practice of law in this state and shall not be entitled to any privileges and benefits accorded to members of The Florida Bar in good standing,” The Bar’s executive director, John Harkness, Jr., wrote in a July 7 letter to Sheldon.

“We assume this is an oversight,” Harkness wrote. “However, under the Supreme Court Rules, in order to correct your CLER delinquency, you must complete the required general hours, including five hours of ethics, professionalism, substance abuse or mental illness awareness, or show eligibility to claim an exemption.” …

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Florida Republicans vote to approve lawsuit against Obama; Democrats decry it as a waste

The House voted along party lines this evening to approve a lawsuit against President Obama, alleging he overstepped the powers of his office. At issue is Obama's decision to delay the employer mandate under Obamacare. Republicans oppose that mandate and the health care law in general but said Obama's action defied a law and were ground for a suit. Both sides have used the issue to rally their base.

Florida Republicans voted yes; all Democrats voted no. Reaction: …

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Scott blasts Crist's debate 'hypocrisy'

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to three debates. Democrat Charlie Crist wants more. 

But against Democrat Nan Rich, the Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-independent Crist has no interest in debating.

“It’s hypocrisy at the highest level. Either one is too many. Or three is not enough,” Scott said Wednesday during a stop at TimBar Packaging and Display in North Miami. “One is too many when he’s talking about running against a woman in the primary. But three is not enough if he makes it to the general. So it’s pure hypocrisy.”

But Democrats are quick to point out that Scott, too, has Republican primary opponents. And Scott won’t debate them, including a woman named Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, either.

When asked about the Democrats’ likely response, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera jumped in and answered for Scott about the difference between Rich and the GOP primary also-rans. …

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AARP spreads word on lawmakers' voting records

AARP Florida today released it's third annual Legislative Voting Record to help Floridians 50 and up track their legislators' handling of such issues as support for family caregivers and care recipients overseeing assisted living facilities and fraud protection.

“Florida voters 50+ wield strong  influence in nearly all elections in Florida,” said AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson, noting that voters 50 and older cast more than 40 percent of all ballots in a typical Florida election.

“But to hold your state House or Senate member accountable, you need to know how they voted on key issues.  AARP Florida offers its Legislative Voting Record to make it easier for you to track legislators’ decisions on key issues in each year’s legislative session.”

Here's the report


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Big sugar bagged some big ones w secret Texas hunting trips

In some quiet town in southeast Texas, business must be looking up.

Trophies from King Ranch, a nearby hunter's paradise, are presumably arriving daily at all the best taxidermy shops. And these are not your run-of-the-mill mounts.

We're talking exotic game. Prized targets.

We're talking about the coveted House Speaker of Florida. A preening Agricultural Commissioner. Even the elusive Florida Governor, a breed more skittish than most.

Yup, those political hunters from Big Sugar have bagged 'em all.

In case you missed the story in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times, reporters Michael Van Sickler and Craig Pittman detailed how the biggest names in the Florida Republican Party have apparently been wined, dined and undermined by Florida's sugar industry.

I say apparently because most of the politicians refuse to acknowledge they have been feted at the famed King Ranch. Some refused to admit they even knew King Ranch existed. Or, for that matter, the state of Texas.

More here

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Rubio comes out in limited support of medical marijuana

Sen. Marco Rubio talks with reporters in his Washington office on July 30, 2014.

Alex Leary | TImes

Sen. Marco Rubio talks with reporters in his Washington office on July 30, 2014.

Sen. Marco Rubio this afternoon said he supports the use of medical marijuana but only the noneuphoric type approved by the Florida Legislature.

"If there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don't have the elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate whatever condition it may be they are trying to alleviate, that is something I would be open to," he said.

His comments came in a wide-ranging interview with reporters, and the Florida Republican made clear he was limiting support to noneuphoric strains such as "Charlotte's Web."

Rubio called the ballot initiative before voters this November a "ruse" that could allow people with dubious medical needs to get access to the high-inducing form of the drug.

"You've seen how this has been abused in many parts of this country. It's the reality that there are states now that you go in and can have a doctor write you a prescription for something that you are really just using for purposes of acquiring legally a recreational drug." …

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Parents want to defend new school choice program against lawsuit

Six families will be in Tallahassee Thursday to make the case for Florida's new scholarships for students with special needs.

The program came under fire earlier this month, after the statewide teachers union filed a lawsuit questioning the way it became law.

The six families are planning an 11 a.m. press conference to say the scholarship program should not be abandoned because of the lawsuit.

"If we're not convenient to their cause then we just don't matter," said Ashli McCall, a certified teacher in Florida and the parent of an autistic child. "We matter."


Other participants will include former Sen. Alfred Lawson, Jr., a Tallahassee Democrat; Allison Aubuchon, of former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education; and Clint Bolick, of Goldwater Institute.

The Goldwater Institute has defended similar school choice programs nationwide.

"These children deserve high-quality educational opportunities that are customized to suit their unique needs, and we will stand up with their families and defend these scholarships from the very people who have failed these students in the public schools,” Bolick said.

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