The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sheldon not budging, will remain in AG race

Questions about whether the residency status of George Sheldon should disqualify him from the Attorney General's race have exposed a rift in the Florida Democratic Party.

On Friday, the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, Henry Crespo, said Sheldon should step aside in his Aug. 26 primary race against House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale. 

"Recent questions about his residency and bar license are overwhelming," Crespo stated in a release. "(Attorney General) Pam Bondi is our target. If we allow the Sheldon campaign to continue it will become a distraction on winning the Attorney General's Office, which for African Americans is critical with issues like 'stand your ground,' voting rights and clemency board within the scope of the attorney general's office."

Earlier in the week, Sheldon's Florida Bar license lapsed. To reinstate it, Sheldon signed an exemption that stated he had been a nonresident living in Washington D.C. from 2011 to October 2013 while working in his $179,000 job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. …

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Feds OK continuing Medicaid managed care, give hospitals reprieve on money issue

It was an issue that threatened the bottom lines of Florida's safety net hospitals, who are now breathing a sigh of relief.

The federal government had accused them of receiving $267 million in Medicaid payments erroneously over the past eight years and wanted to recoup the dollars immediately. Hospitals asked for a compromise that would have spread the penalty over three years to soften the blow and give them time to finalize audits and possibly dispute the charges.

The hospitals got even better news Thursday. In a letter granting a three-year renewal of the state's Medicaid managed care program, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it will slow down on the repayment issue and focus only on part of the disputed funds.

For now, the federal government will only go after hospitals for $104 million that audits show was overpaid through the Low Income Pool (LIP) fund for the first three years of the program. Hospitals will also be allowed to file appeals and challenge the amounts before any money is recouped. …

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Confusion reigns after redistricting ruling

Confusion is the primary reaction to the redistricting ruling today as legislators, elections officials and others sort through the order to immediately redraw congressional maps and contemplate what impact it will have on elections this year. 

"It's like jello -- you don't know where it all stands but it certainly has explosive implications for Florida politics,'' said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida and a redistricting expert.

Responding to reporters question Friday, Gov. Rick Scott implied that he won't be getting involved in calling legislators back into special session to redraw the map but he sounded ready to put an end to the discussion.

"The Legislature is reviewing what the court decided and the Legislature has the power to make their own decision about calling special session," he said while campaigning Friday in St. Petersburg.

Ron Labasky, general counsel for the state's 67 supervisors of elections, said supervisors are trying to figure out what to do next.

"It's like a car wreck when everyone gets out of their car and wonders what happened and they're not too sure if they all had the same experience,'' he said.  …

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Jim Greer keeping mum - "for now"

Here’s some good news for Charlie Crist: Jim Greer, his former close friend and former state GOP Chairman, has decided against doing interviews since leaving prison a month ago. In a recently published tell-all book written by St. Petersburg author Peter Gollenbock, The Chairman: The Rise and Betrayal of Jim Greer, Greer castigates Crist as a self-absorbed liar and lightweight.

But Greer told Buzz today that - for now - he is declining interviews. Since completing his sentence for stealing more than $200,000 from the state party, Greer said he his focused on his family and future and “trying to put this nightmare behind me.”

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Insider Poll: Fla's same-sex marriage ban is doomed

It was less than six years ago that nearly sixty two percent of Florida voters passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Today, judges are ruling against the ban and public opinion has shifted so sharply that Florida's savviest political players overwhelmingly see an end to that marriage ban looming.

Our latest exclusive Florida Insider Poll found a whopping 87 percent of the 131 savvy Florida politicos predict that within five years Florida will no longer ban same-sex marriage.

"It's only a matter of time," said one Republican. "While Florida is still socially conservative to a large degree, this is the civil rights issue of our time and to continue to fight against it goes against the philosophy of live and let live and personal freedom."

Agreed another Democrat: "Gay marriage is the fastest changing social issue of our generation. It will be legal all over the country in a hell of a lot less than five years." …

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Appeals filed in cases challenging residency of write-in candidates

An emergency hearing has been scheduled for Monday in a case that could determine whether or not Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, has an August primary.

The write-in candidate challenging Grant, Daniel Matthews, was kicked out of the race by a Leon County judge. Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey ruled Thursday that Matthews did not live in the district at the time of qualifying and therefore was ineligible to run for that office. As a result, she also ruled that the primary between Grant and fellow Republican Miriam Steinberg be moved to November and opened to all voters in the district.

Matthews' attorney immediately filed an emergency motion to stay the judge's order, meaning the primary between Grant and Steinberg would remain as scheduled in August and closed to all but registered Republican voters. That hearing is set for Monday, and whatever is decided will affect how the Pinellas and Hillsborough supervisors of elections treat thousands of ballots that have already been printed.

Meanwhile, the First District Court of Appeal will decide whether it wants to take up the Matthews case, kick it back to the Circuit Court or pass it on to the state Supreme Court. …

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RPOF wants TV stations to stop airing controversial Crist ad

The Republican Party of Florida wants TV stations to stop airing one of Charlie Crist's ads.

The TV spot has drawn scrutiny because it was shot at Crist's alma mater, St. Petersburg High School, in violation of school board policy.

The Florida GOP also says the ad violates a state law prohibiting candidates from using government resources to further their candidacy. 

On Thursday, the party asked Pinellas Superintendent Mike Grego to get involved.

The district reached out to Crist.

"The school district's legal office has reached out to Mr. Crist's campaign headquarters and has asked that campaign officials cease running the ad," school district spokeswoman Donna Winchester wrote in a statement. "The school district is taking this opportunity to clarify this particular School Board policy to all Pinellas County Schools employees."

Winchester conceded that a district administrator had given the Crist campaign permission to film at the school, but called the decision "an error in judgment."

On Friday, the party appealed directly to the television stations. …

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Judge calls for special session, immediate revamp of congressional map

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled Friday that the Florida Legislature must immediately revise its flawed congressional map and ordered lawmakers to submit a revised map by Aug. 15 and the secretary of state to propose a special election plan for the affected congressional districts.

Lewis agreed with the Legislature's lawyers and concluded "there is just no way, legally or logistically, to put in place a new map, amend the various deadlines and have elections on November 4th as prescribed by Federal law."

While he acknowledged that there is no easy solution to fixing the map that violates the state's Fair Districts rules, he suggested "it might be possible to push the general election date back to allow for a special election in 2014 for any affected districts." Download Romo.Remedy Order.August 1, 2014 (1)

Lewis ruled on July 10 that the congressional redistricting map drawn by the Republican-led legislature included two districts drawn with illegal partisan intent which makes the entire map unconstitutional. His order on Friday requires the Legislature to modify the two districts, but it is estimated that could affect the lines of as many as 10 districts that touch them.


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Gay rights group seeks to mobilize voters

When judges in two counties struck down Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages last month, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy group was poised to get the word out.

The group, Equality Florida, organized celebrations from Tallahassee to Key West, and flooded social media with colorful graphics proclaiming "Love Wins in Florida!"

Equality Florida has been working to protect Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for more than two decades. But its statewide profile has risen to new heights in the aftermath of the rulings.

Its leaders hope to carry that clout into the November elections.

"We have more than 300,000 pro-equality voters that we have identified and mobilized in different elections," founder and CEO Nadine Smith said. "We will be doing everything in our power to get them to the polls."

Read more here.

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PolitiFact Florida: Charlie Crist says Rick Scott raised property taxes.

Charlie Crist's latest campaign commercial says Gov. Rick Scott raised property taxes. But the process isn't that simple.Full Story

Regulators seek 'compromise' in marijuana rules at second hearing

Paige FigiThe state lawyer helping to draft a rule to bring low-THC marijuana to Florida said Friday that the changes to initial rules were designed to find compromise between the concerns of potential applicants and patient needs.

“Our goal is to get the product to patients as soon as possible,’’ said Jennifer Tschetter, general counsel for the Department of Health which is drafting the rule.

She made the comments Friday at the onset of a second workshop to get feedback from marijuana industry hopefuls about a proposed new rule that will create the framework for the legal cultivation of low-THC, high-CBD marijuana in Florida for medical purposes.

Regulators have heightened the requirements for entrepreneurs who see potential profit in pot but weakened the law that limited cultivation of the crop to 30-year nurseries. The new draft says that the nurseries need only have a 25 percent ownership interest in the dispensary company to apply for a license to cultivate and distribute medical pot. …

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King Ranch Trivia: Who is Mitch Hutchcraft?

A month after Gov. Rick Scott took a secret hunting trip to the King Ranch in Texas last year, he faced a big decision.

A seat had come open on the board that oversees Florida's efforts on the multibillion-dollar project to repair damage to the Everglades caused by agriculture. To fill that position, Scott picked a corporate executive named Mitchel A. "Mitch" Hutchcraft.

Hutchcraft's major qualification for a seat on the board of South Florida Water Management District: He is the vice president in charge of the King Ranch's Florida agricultural acreage.

"That's astounding," said David Guest of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which has repeatedly sued the agency over its protection of Lake Okeechobee and other water-related issues.

Scott's announcement of Hutchcraft's appointment in March 2013 made no mention of what the governor's staff called a fundraising trip the month before. Scott's trip wasn't listed anywhere on his official calendar, nor is there any mention of King Ranch donations from that period in his campaign finance reports.

Read more here.

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Sheldon's residency status questioned in AG race

George Sheldon has spent nine months and raised nearly $300,000 to become Florida's next attorney general.

But now his candidacy is in some doubt because of questions over where he has lived.

"For him to stay in the race, he has to satisfy the legal requirement of being a resident," said his opponent in the Aug. 26 primary, House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale. "The residency issue is an issue, based on my reading of the Constitution. I think it raises some serious questions."

According to the Florida Constitution, those running for attorney general must reside in the state the preceding seven years.

From 2011 to October 2013, Sheldon held a $179,000 job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that required him to live, at least part time, out of state.

Sheldon says there's no problem because he claimed Florida's $50,000 homestead tax exemption for one of his two Tallahassee homes. He said he didn't rent out the home and would visit it periodically. And he kept his voter registration in Tallahassee.

"I was clearly a resident," Sheldon said. "As long as I maintained my residence in Florida, I think I qualify."

Read story here.

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U.S. Attorney General Holder to Rick Scott: We're watching you

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's letter to Gov. Rick Scott


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's letter to Gov. Rick Scott

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a scathing letter to Gov. Rick Scott over voting changes in Florida and issued a warning that the Justice Department is “carefully monitoring” the state.

“Whenever warranted by the facts and the law, we will not hesitate to use all tools and legal authorities at our disposal to fight against racial discrimination, to stand against disenfranchisement and to safeguard the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot,” Holder wrote.

Scott’s office dismissed it as a “bizarre attempt to help Charlie Crist.”

The letter, dotted with pointed language and examples of changes that have been enacted under Scott, comes months before the Republican governor faces off in an expected showdown with Democrat Crist.

“I am deeply disturbed that during your tenure your state has repeatedly added barriers to voting and restricted access to the polls,” Holder wrote, citing a 2011 decision to narrow early voting “that had previously enabled thousands of Floridians to cast ballots.” Holder said it was “widely recognized as a disaster.” …

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PSC applicants list narrowed to 16

The legislatively-dominated committee assigned to nominate six candidates to the Public Service Commission narrowed its list of candidates from 32 to 16 on Thursday, preserving the chance for a term-limited legislator who runs a Panama City restaurant to get the high-profile job.

The PSC Nominating Council will interview the 16 candidates and then decide who to select to send to the governor to fill a post vacated by outgoing PSC Commissioner Eduardo Balbis and the post held by Commissioner Julie Imanuel Brown, who is seeking a second term. Gov. Rick Scott will then choose from the list.

Balbis surprised observers when he announced in May he would not seek a second term after being appointed to the post by former Gov. Charlie Crist. The vacancy occurred after legislators sided with electric companies in 2010 to oust two of Crist's appointees who rejected controversial rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, now known as Duke Energy Florida.  Download Balbis Nominating Council Letter

The PSC is an agency that reports to and is funded by the Legislature. The five commissioners are appointed by the governor and serve four-year staggered term. 

The final list includes Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant in Panama City which is owned by his family. Patronis holds a degree in political science and communication from Florida State University and lists no utility-related experience in his resume. He did, however, surprise some observers when he announced earlier this year that he was dropping out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race.

In 2010, the Senate narrowly voted to oust Crist's appointees David Klement, the former editorial page editor of the Bradenton Herald, and Benjamin "Steve" Stevens, the former accountant for the Escambia County sheriff. The primary reason given for rejecting the candidates was that they were not qualified because they did not have regulatory or utility backgrounds and were both white men. Full Story