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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Adam Putnam to tout lower weapons fee, before tax collectors

Adam Putnam

Octavio Jones - Times

Adam Putnam

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor, is in Clearwater on Thursday for a "major announcement" with Pinellas County Tax Collector Charles Thomas.

The news is that Putnam, working with the state Legislature, got a reduction in the fee to apply for a concealed weapons license or a renewal license, and it's a piece of news that Putnam's office wanted to announce first.

Putnam's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services processes permit applications, but Floridians can file them with their local tax collector, who also accepts property tax payments and issues driver's licenses, vehicle registrations and car and truck titles.

Shortly before Putnam's office issued a media alert Wednesday, it alerted tax collectors in an email that said: "We ask that you refrain from sending your releases until after we send our release, as the news should first come from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. We’ll forward you all our release once it has gone out." (Tax collectors had nothing to do with the fee reduction, but they are elected officials, too). …

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Busted: How a Times photographer captured Donald Trump's fake news

Near the main entrance at Mar-a-Lago, the fake Time magazine cover is on display in July 2016.

Scott Keeler | Times

Near the main entrance at Mar-a-Lago, the fake Time magazine cover is on display in July 2016.

Tampa Bay Times photojournalist Scott Keeler was on assignment last summer for a story about Donald Trump’s presence in Palm Beach, a tale of glamour and conflict. Along the way he inadvertently captured evidence of a Trump fakery -- real fake news.

Keeler had arranged to meet Robin Bernstein, a Trump supporter picked to be a delegate at the Republican National Convention. She parked her Mercedes a couple blocks from Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Winter White House, but Keeler suggested getting closer.

Bernstein noted the mansion's high walls but had an idea. A Mar-a-Lago member, she got on the phone and soon the pair was being whisked inside the compound. Keeler planned to take her portrait outside but Trump employees were concerned about the looks: there were bulky hurricane shutters and mole crickets had rendered the grass an ugly brown mat.

Inside they went, and Keeler got his shot of Bernstein, wearing a red dress and red Make America Great Again cap, standing in the entrance of a long, elegant hallway. The pair went on a tour of the mansion, built in 1927 by Marjorie Merriweather Post. …

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Joe Negron returns to West Palm Beach law firm

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart


Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Senate President Joe Negron is back at work in the private sector as of Wednesday, when he returned to a West Palm Beach law firm he previously worked for seven years ago.

Akerman LLP announced Negron’s return through a statement that touted Negron’s “30 years of experience in high stakes litigation, business law and complex commercial litigation.”

“Joe is widely-known by both the bench and the bar as a compelling advocate who skillfully represents businesses and directors in complex commercial disputes. He brings important investigative and trial experience to our clients,” Lawrence Rochefort, the head of Akerman’s Litigation Practice Group, said in the announcement. “His strong reputation and track record make him a powerful addition to our trial team.”

Negron, R-Stuart, previously worked for Akerman from 2005 to 2010. He had left the firm to join another West Palm Beach-based practice, Gunster.

It was from Gunster that Negron resigned in January out of an “abundance of caution to avoid even the possible appearance of” a conflict of interest with his legislative duties. …

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Tom Lee for CFO against Jimmy Patronis? Some pros and cons

Senator Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa

Scott Keeler - Times

Senator Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa

When Gov. Rick Scott appeared in Tampa Monday with his newly appointed chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, the crowd welcoming them included Republican Sen. Tom Lee, whose interest in a possible second candidacy for the Cabinet post has been well-known for a long time.

"I got a chance to congratulate him, which is something I thought I should do," Lee told the Times/Herald. "I'm happy for him. It's a real honor to be appointed by the governor. But as to all of the speculation, I'm going to defer to another day."

Lee's deference, and his unwillingness to step on Scott's big announcement, are understandable. But friends are urging him to take a close look at the CFO race because of his extensive knowledge of how the state spends money.

There are compelling arguments for and against Lee running for the seat, even if Patronis decides to seek a four-year term. Lee already has a healthy $1.9 million balance in his political committee, The Conservative, which provides a nice starting-off point. …

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Rubio: Critics distorting facts on Senate health care bill

Sen. Marco Rubio this morning defended the Senate GOP health care proposal -- though still not saying definitively he's in support -- and accused critics of distorting facts about the number of people who could lose coverage.

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Statewide condo law reforms sought by Miami-Dade lawmakers signed into law

C.M. Guerrero / el Nuevo Herald

From Brenda Medina of El Nuevo Herald:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has approved state condominium law reforms that seek to punish voter fraud and theft in condo associations, clarify the definition of conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

Amendments to chapter 718 of the state law will take effect on July 1.

“I am very happy that we have finally achieved some of what is needed to stop fraud and abuse toward condominium owners,” said Maritza Escobar, owner of a condo unit in Hialeah Gardens. “In the future we have to make more changes to stop the abuse from management companies and boards.”

The reforms were presented in Tallahassee as a signature bill by the bipartisan Dade Delegation during the legislative session that ended in May. It was sponsored by Rep. José Félix Díaz and Senators José Javier Rodríguez and René García, and unanimously approved by the state House and Senate.

“That [the governor] signed the law is a victory and one that does not always happen,” said Díaz, whose district encompasses the Fontainebleau neighborhood in west Miami-Dade.

Díaz, who is vying for a Senate seat, said the delegation’s action and community engagement were key to the reforms getting passed. …

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Rick Scott appoints Jonathan Zachem to lead business regulatory agency

Scott appoints Jonathan Zachem as Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation


Scott appoints Jonathan Zachem as Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation

From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Jonathan Zachem as Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Tuesday. The department has been without a full-time leader since Ken Lawson left to become president and CEO of tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida in January.

Zachem had been DBPR's deputy secretary and previously served as chief attorney and then director of the agency's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

He also worked as in the prosecution services unit at the Florida Department of Health. Matilde Miller, who had been serving as interim secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulations since Lawson left, has also moved to Visit Florida, taking the role of vice president of compliance.


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Poll: Republicans poised to unseat Democratic mayor in St. Pete

Charles Frago reports:

A newly released robo poll by St. Pete Polls shows Republican former Mayor Rick Baker beating Kriseman by  a 43.5 to 38.8 percentage point margin.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 29 primary, the race continues until Nov.7. That appears to be a distinct possibility at this point. Only 8.9  percent of voters remain undecided. Another 8.7 percent split their support among the other five candidates on the ballot: Ernisa Barnwell (0 percent), Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassite (3 percent), Paul Congemi (1.7 percent), Anthony Cates III (2 percent) and Jesse Nevel 2.1 percent).

Baker leads Kriseman among white and black voters, although the former mayor, who served between 2001 and 2010, has narrow advantage among the latter: 38 to 36 percent.

Baker also leads among younger voters, although Kriseman did well among voters aged 50-69, receiving 41 percent to Baker’s 39.  Baker captured the vote of those above 70 by a 50-36 percentage point margin, his best showing among age groups. …

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Kellyanne Conway warns of health care spin, but then delivers her own in Miami

White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway is welcomed by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-District 105, at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser on Tuesday night.


White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway is welcomed by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-District 105, at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser on Tuesday night.

On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

“I know that people like to spin tales,” she said at the Miami-Dade County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day fundraising dinner. “Do the homework. Read all of the information.”

She, however, was not always providing it.

Conway said the Senate bill, called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” would offer “an increase in Medicaid spending every year, with a slowing of the growth of the expansion” promoted by former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

In its report released Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the lower rate of spending on Medicaid would result in a $772 billion reduction by 2026, about a 26 percent cut over a decade that would leave thousands of people without health insurance. Medicaid, which is run by states but funded by states and the federal government, provides care to the disabled and the needy. …

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Fight between Rick Scott and Aramis Ayala heads to high court

Gov. Rick Scott and Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala square off Wednesday before the Florida Supreme Court in a high-profile case being watched nationally that could have implications for the 2018 elections.

Ayala demands that Scott show by what authority he stripped the elected Orange-Osceola state attorney of nearly two dozen felony cases after she said she would not seek the death penalty for an accused cop killer. Scott argues in court papers that under state law, he can reassign cases for any "good and sufficient reason (that) he determines that the ends of justice would be best served."

In her reply brief, Ayala claims that on four occasions, Scott rejected citizen requests to disqualify prosecutors from cases on the grounds that "each state attorney is an elected official charged with the duty to determine how to prosecute any crime committed within his jurisdiction" and that they "answer to the voters of their individual jurisdictions."



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Rubio, Scott talk health care as vote put off for now

By Alex Daughtery of the Miami Herald

WASHINGTON - Minutes after he delayed a vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare when a number of Republican senators said they could not support it as written, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retreated to his office.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were waiting for him.

The pair met with McConnell for half an hour, and after the meeting Rubio said the vote delay was “helpful to us.”

“I’m going to view this entirely through the lens of what this means for Florida,” Rubio said. “The one unique advantage that we have being from Florida is that we have done what this law is going to... encourage other states to do.”

Rubio and Scott never publicly opposed the bill, which stalled after a number of senators told McConnell said they could not vote for the legislation in its current shape. But their tepid response, with Rubio summoning health care staffers from Tallahassee to review the bill and Scott declining to say he would vote for it if he could, is evidence of the work Senate leaders need to do to get a bill passed. …

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Bill Nelson knocks Rick Scott over Senate health bill

Sen. Bill Nelson attacked Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 rival, over today's trip to Washington.

"Rick Scott is supporting and urging Republican senators to vote for a bill that makes huge cuts to Medicaid, takes coverage away from 22 million people and allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans," Nelson said in a statement. "If he really cared about the people of Florida, he’d be doing the exact opposite of what he’s doing now.”

A vote on the Senate legislation has been called off until after July 4. Scott was scheduled to meet with Sen. Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio at 3 p.m.

Earlier, he previously declined to say whether Rubio should support the bill as written.

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Graham, Gillum and King urge rejection of Senate health care bill

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham delivered petitions to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio Tuesday, urging him to reject the Senate health care proposal this week.

Mary Ellen Klas

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham delivered petitions to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio Tuesday, urging him to reject the Senate health care proposal this week.

As Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida Republicans scramble in D.C. today to try to understand the impact of the proposed Senate healthcare bill on the state, three Democratic candidates for governor offered their own feedback Tuesday. 

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham delivered a three-foot stack of petitions to the Tallahassee office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, signed by 4,000 people, urging him to reject the proposal because it will hurt more Floridians than it will help.

"This bill is heartless,'' Graham said, urging Rubio to transcend the partisanship surrounding the issue and reject it for Florida. "He doesn't represent the Republican Party. he doesn't represent Donald J. Trump. He represents the people of Florida and that's why he should vote against this bill."

She was joined by Dr. Louis St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatrician, who feared that the Medicaid cuts and restructuring in the Senate bill will leave thousands of children in the state without care. …

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Man charged with threatening Florida lawmaker on Facebook

This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.

[Miami-Dade Police Department]

This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.

From The Associated Press:

MIAMI — A Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill a state legislator in a Facebook post. 

The Miami-Dade Police Department said in a news release Tuesday that 34-year-old Steve St. Felix made the threat on Sunday against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. The post said St. Felix would kill the lawmaker if he appeared at a political meeting. 

Police say St. Felix admitted making the threatening post after his arrest and that he is "fed up with the Republican Party." Investigators also say St. Felix said he meant no actual harm and that he had failed to take unspecified medication at the time. 

St. Felix is jailed on a charge of making written threats to kill or do bodily injury. Court records didn't list a lawyer for him.

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Crist puts Beach Drive condo on market

Congressman Charlie Crist in his Washington office.

Alex Leary | Times

Congressman Charlie Crist in his Washington office.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

The couple, who are divorcing, bought the three-bedroom, three bath unit in Parkshore Plaza in July 2015 for $1.036 million while Crist was considering what would be his successful run for the U.S. House. At a time when congressional district boundaries were still uncertain, the couple also bought at house on St. Pete Beach that they sold in January for $1.030 million.

Crist met Carole, a glamorous fixture on the New York and Hamptons social circuit, in the fall of 2007. They got engaged in July 2008 when he was a Republican governor widely seen as a top contender to be Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

Last November, he was elected to the U.S. House, representing much of Pinellas County.

In February, shortly after taking his seat, Crist announced he had filed for divorce.

More here.

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