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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Jeb Bush's troubled days at Andover

The Boston Globe explores Jeb Bush's days at Andover.

In the fall of 1967, when a 14-year-old Texan named John Ellis Bush arrived on the bucolic campus of Phillips Academy in Andover, great expectations preceded him.

Jeb, as he was known, should have been an easy fit in that elite and ivied world. His much-accomplished father and his older brother had both gone to Andover; no one was surprised that Jeb had followed suit.

But this Bush almost ran aground in those first, formative prep school days. He bore little resemblance to his father, a star on many fronts at Andover, and might have been an even worse student than brother George. Classmates said he smoked a notable amount of pot — as many did — and sometimes bullied smaller students.

Resolutely apolitical despite his lineage, he refused to join the Progressive Andover Republicans club and often declined even to participate in informal bull sessions with classmates. In a tumultuous season in American life, he seemed to his peers strangely detached and indifferent. …

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Scott's muzzling of FDLE's Bailey, and more outrage from Putnam

In ways large and small, Gov. Rick Scott's office made life miserable for Gerald Bailey.

Bailey's firing as commissioner of FDLE has become a media firestorm and the worst controversy of Scott's tenure as governor. Here's another incident, one that has Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam shaking his head in dismay, and it involves paying about 300 FDLE employees more money.

Bailey's last appearance as FDLE commissioner was at the Dec. 9 Cabinet meeting, where he gave a presentation on crime statistics and mentioned the Thanksgiving weekend surge in applications for concealed weapons permits. But there was another issue that two Cabinet members wanted to discuss: the unusually high turnover rate among FDLE crime lab analysts, and how Bailey planned to fix it.

"We're having tremendous turnover problems," Bailey testified. "We're considered a training ground for the other county labs that recruit our people." …

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Process starts for Amendment 1 structure changes

The early steps of implementing Amendment 1 have started, but there's a long way to go. 

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, filed legislation Friday to restructure state funds that provide for buying and maintaining land for conservation, in accordance with the constitutional amendment, which passed in November. 

In a news release, Senate President Andy Gardiner said the fund restructuring will not affect which conservation programs receive funds. A bold-face sentence in the release makes that clear: 

"The legislation does not eliminate a single program currently receiving state funding, nor does it allocate funding to any new or existing program, project, or initiative." 

There's still work to be done, though. The six bills put forward by Dean (S.B. 584, 586, 576, 578, 580 and 582) deal solely with fund structure, not with funding decisions or policy. 

Those issues -- which have generated enough public interest to bring in more than 3,800 public comments -- will be dealt with in the next few weeks as legislation works through committees. 

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Commission on Ethics the latest to be asked to look at Bailey ouster

A day after State Attorney Willie Meggs took a pass on investigating the ouster of Gerald Bailey from commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a Villages resident asked if the Florida Commission on Ethics cared to take a look at what happened.

"This is a complaint as to whether it is ethical for Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and the State of Florida to fire Jerry secret meetings not open to the public and without the knowledge and consent of Florida State Cabinet officials," Charles Swofford stated in the complaint.

Download FDLE ethics complaint

Swofford, a Connecticut retiree and a registered Democrat, is no expert on ethics. But under Florida law, he doesn't have to be. Any person can file an ethics complaint as long as it stems from factual allegations and it is not malicious. Swofford said he filed his complaint after reading reports of Bailey's dismissal in newspapers.

Filing ethics complaints is fast becoming habit for Swofford, who filed his first ethics complaint in October against Bernard Nash, a partner of the Washington D.C. law firm Dickstein Shapiro for allegedly violating state law in lobbying Attorney General Pam Bondi. …

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PolitiFact Florida: Has Marco Rubio flip-flopped on path to citizenship

As U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., considers a bid for president, Democrats are attacking him on his signature issue: immigration.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of South Florida had this to say about her fellow Floridian:

"Marco Rubio needs to first figure out which way the wind is blowing when it comes to committing on his position on any given issue," said the Democratic National Committee chair. "He was for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship before he was against it. It is really unfortunate that he has chosen the most politically expedient path on issues that matter the most to people here in Florida."

Has Rubio back-tracked? While Rubio has changed his opinion on how the legislation should be passed, we also found that he hasn't changed his views on the underlying policy issues. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated her claim.



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Squeezed by Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney won't run in 2016

Mitt Romney just announced that he will not run for president a third time, just weeks after he said he was willing to try again. Call it the Jeb Bush factor.

The move came as Bush was scooping up Romney's donors and campaign talent, including Iowa's David Kochel. Romney made it clear he thinks someone else is a better candidate than Bush.

"I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders - one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started -- may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee."

Bush posted a message on Facebook: "Mitt Romney has been a leader in our party for many years. There are few people who have worked harder to elect Republicans across the country than he has. Though I’m sure today’s decision was not easy, I know that Mitt Romney will never stop advocating for renewing America’s promise through upward mobility, encouraging free enterprise and strengthening our national defense. Mitt is a patriot and I join many in hoping his days of serving our nation and our party are not over. I look forward to working with him to ensure all Americans have a chance to rise up."

And here is Sen. Marco Rubio: "Over the past two years, there hasn't been a day when I didn't think that Mitt Romney would have been a better president than Barack Obama. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed getting to know Mitt and campaigning for him, was grateful for his support in my Senate race, and I know what a difficult decision this must be given his love of our country. He certainly earned the right to consider running, so I deeply respect his decision to give the next generation a chance to lead. I wish him, Ann and his entire family the best and hope he will continue to serve our country and his community as he’s done throughout his life."Full Story

Mitt Romney to update supporters on 2016 plans

Mitt Romney speaks at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., earlier this week.

Associated Press

Mitt Romney speaks at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., earlier this week.

From the Associated Press:

Three weeks after unexpectedly saying he was considering another run for president, Mitt Romney plans to update supporters about his plans for the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Republican Party's 2012 nominee will host conference calls for staff and supporters late Friday morning.
Romney jumped back into the presidential discussion on Jan. 10, when he told a small group of former donors in New York that he was eyeing a third White House run.
In the days since, Romney has made calls to former donors and supporters, and given a few speeches in which he outlined his potential vision for another campaign.
But he's also run into defections among several majors fundraiser, who have told Romney they plan to support former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2016.


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Fla Insider Poll: Sizing up Fla's '16 US Senate race

An open U.S. Senate seat is usually a once-in-a-generation opportunity for ambitious poltiticians. And with Marco Rubio moving toward a presidential run and vowing he would not hang onto his senate seat as a fall-back,  2016 is shaping up to be another huge cyce for political dominoes to tumble in Florida  -- a state with countless credible Republican contenders and a tiny Democratic bench.

Who's likely to run, and who's not? Time for another Florida Insider Poll, taking the pulse of many of Florida's most experienced and sophisticated political minds.

Nearly 130 Florida campaign professionals, fundraisers, lobbyists, political scientists, and the like participated and underscored how many more options Republicans have than beleaguered Florida Democrats. Still, there was wide agreement on the likely nominee, with 56 percent predicting Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater of Palm Beach County would wind up the GOP nominee. …

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Political Connections Sun: On FDLE scandal, Sen. Latvala slams 'three little monkeys' on Cabinet

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, appears Sunday on Political Connections on Bay News 9 in Tampa Bay, where he sharply criticizes the "disingenuous" responses and criticism of Gov Rick Scott by fellow Republicans on the Florida Cabinet over the ouster of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief Gerald Bailey. "Leadership is more than press releaes," he says of Jeff Atwater, Pam Bondi, and Adam Putnam.

Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Here's a clip.



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Meggs won't investigate possible Sunshine Law violation in Bailey ouster

State Attorney Willie Meggs said Thursday that he will not investigate whether the state's open meetings law was violated by Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members in last month's ouster of the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"It doesn't ring my bell," Meggs told the Times/Herald. "If one of the Cabinet staff aides came to my office and wanted to confess, that's about the only way I'm going to prove a violation of the Sunshine Law. Short of that, I'd need a wire tap. People are generally smart enough that if they know they're violating the law they're not going to put it in writing."

St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner formally asked Meggs to investigate whether staff aides working for the Cabinet and Scott colluded in Gerald Bailey's removal, violating the Sunshine Law's requirement that business be conducted in public.

It was the second time in a week that Meggs refused to investigate the Bailey case. Last week, he downplayed allegations from Bailey that Scott had politicized the law enforcement agency as "much ado about nothing" and "nothing more than a squabble." …

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Jeb Bush's political team staffs up in Tallahassee

Update: Bush has also snagged David Kochel as an adviser. Kochel has been a longtime Mitt Romney adviser. 

A new but old political team is setting up shop in Tallahassee: Jeb Bush’s crew.

Starting this week, Bush’s nascent political operation began working for his Right to Rise political action committee in the capital city, forming the nucleus of a campaign team if the former Florida governor seeks the White House.

Tallahassee was a natural pick for a Bush political team because it’s populated with fiercely loyal Republicans and former employees of the governor – starting with Bush’s longtime adviser, Sally Bradshaw.

“It reflects the overall ethos that Jeb has – a sense of cause, a sense of principle that he inspired in others,” said Brett Doster, a longtime Bush backer and Mitt Romney’s 2012 Florida campaign manager.

“People get into politics to be part of something greater than themselves,” he said, “and Jeb Bush gave them an outlet.”

The staffing-up of Bush’s operation is yet another sign that a run for the White House is increasingly likely. It also happens at the same time that the Republican Party of Florida is in turmoil. …

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Gov. Rick Scott defends his staff in face of Cabinet criticism

Gov. Rick Scott expressed confidence in his staff Thursday, dismissing the notion that they are responsible for the controversy caused by the hurried dismissal of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

"I have a great chief of staff," Scott said at the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, where he was discussing his proposed $470 million communications tax cut. "Melissa Sellers, along with my other team, is doing a great job."

The response came a day after the three elected Cabinet members criticized the governor's handling of Bailey's dismissal and said they were not consulted before the decision was made to replace him.

At a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee, Attorney General Pam Bondi proposed that the controversial ouster of Bailey in December could have been the doing of the governor's staff without his knowledge. By law, The FDLE commissioner works for the governor and the elected cabinet. …

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John Romano column: Excuses running low for Florida lawmakers who won't expand Medicaid

Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano wonders if Florida will ever embrace Medicaid expansion. An excerpt from his column

The increasing number of states finding creative solutions to Medicaid expansion is making it harder and harder for Florida politicians to trot out excuses.

Once upon a time, former House Speaker Will Weatherford complained about the federal government's inflexibility. Well, it turns out D.C. is quite flexible on this issue. Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan have all gotten waivers to use federal funds for health coverage outside the traditional Medicaid model.

So now, incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is saying the House is philosophically opposed to expanding a broken system. Yet, once again, federal officials have allowed states to use funds to create their own health care systems.

There's also the argument from conservatives that free health care encourages government dependency among lower-income residents. But the Indiana program addresses that by requiring enrollees to contribute monthly payments for their coverage.

The excuses, it seems, are crumbling at the same time the incentives to expand are growing.

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Montford to draft bill addressing testing concerns

Gov. Rick Scott did more than just unveil his budget recommendations on Wednesday.

He met with nine superintendents and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The meeting gave the superintendents a chance to express their concerns about the state's new tests.

The issues aren't new: The superintendents want to see a temporary freeze on school grades, elimination of end-of-course exams for each subject and grade, and a change in how the state ties teacher evaluations to test scores. Superintendents also expressed ongoing concerns about having the technology and training for computer-based testing.

Pinellas County schools Superintendent Mike Grego, who attended the meeting, said the group is concerned that a rushed implementation of the new tests could cause the state's accountability system to "implode."

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said he plans to draft a bill that would address some of the superintendents' concerns.

Montford expects the Senate to work "feverishly" to address the issues.

"If we're going to make any changes, they have to happen quickly," he said. …

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4 key quotes from the Cabinet about Gerald Bailey and FDLE

Gerald Bailey's removal from the top job at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was, unsurprisingly, the big story at the Associated Press Legislative Planning Meeting today.

(But what do you really expect with a room full of journalists and a rotating cast of top officials at the lectern?)

Lots was said -- and not said -- about Bailey's December resignation, which has since been revealed to be a forced ouster by Gov. Rick Scott's office. The other elected members of the Cabinet, who share oversight of FDLE with Scott, have said repeatedly that they were not aware of plans to remove Bailey from his post.

Here are the most interesting bits of what the Cabinet officials said about it today:

Attorney General Pam Bondi:

"We all knew there were going to be changes made in the upcoming months, but did I know that Jerry Bailey was going to be told he was fired and have his things packed up, his entire life as a career law enforcement officer in a cardboard box, and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day? Absolutely not. Nor do I believe the governor knew it."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam: …

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