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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

In Fox interview, Rubio explains use of GOP credit card, friendship with David Rivera

In an interview on Fox News that just ended, Sen. Marco Rubio defended his use of a Republican Party of Florida credit card and said he would stick by his friend, embattled Rep. David Rivera. The interview was part of a series of profiles on potential running mates for Mitt Romney, and it's not hard to argue that Rubio again is getting in front of vetting issues.

On his use of Republican Party credit cards (background here) while a state legislator:

"At the end of every month, we would get those statements, we would see what was on there that was party related and the party would pay that. If it wasn't party related, I would pay that directly to American Express. Now, obviously, in hindsight, it looks bad, right? Why are you using a party credit card at all. Well some of these expenses were because the travel agent had the number ... and they billed it to that card instead of the other card. Sometimes it was just a mistake -- literally just reached for the wrong card. But it's important to understand I did not bill personal expenses to the Republican Party of Florida. The Republican Party of Florida never paid my personal expenses. Never. But look, I shouldn't have done it that way. It was lesson learned."


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Bondi seeking tips on how to use $300 million in housing assistance cash

Attorney General Pam Bondi is asking the public to give her office suggestions on how to spend about $300 million in settlement money from a $8.4 billion settlement with several large banks.

Part of a $25 billlion national settlement over robo-signing abuses, Florida's $8.4 billion settlement includes money for principle reductions, mortgage modifications and cash payments to people who were foreclosed upon.

Then there's a $300 million chunk of change that goes to the state, that has not yet been allocated. Bondi has not yet said what the money will be used for, but she's beginning to seek public input.

The money is supposed to be used for "consumer relief" and could go to help hire housing counselors, fund foreclosure assistance programs, or pay for neighborhood revitalization. Some states have indicated they'd use their unallocated funds to plug their budget holes, but Bondi indicated that she is not considering that.

Members of the public have until May 14 to make comments at


Below is the release from Bondi's office:

Attorney General Pam Bondi Seeks Public Input on Distribution of $300
Million in Settlement Funds for Housing-Related Programs

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Steve Bousquet column: Johnnie Byrd plots comeback, this time as a judge

When Johnnie Byrd left Tallahassee after serving as House speaker eight years ago, the judgments were not kind — from his peers or the public.

Now Speaker Byrd wants to be Judge Byrd.

"I feel the call to public service," Byrd says. "I know that I can be the best circuit judge Hillsborough County has ever had."

He wasn't the best speaker Florida has ever had.

In Tallahassee, Byrd hired 13 communications specialists at a cost of $600,000.

He ran for the U.S. Senate while he was speaker, and got 6 percent of the primary vote.

He punished Republicans who refused to back him on an election-year phone-rate freeze.

He said House members were so docile they acted like "sheep." Lobbyists mocked him by wearing plastic sheep masks on the last night of his final session.

Byrd championed social issues as speaker. He fought for state intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, backed a parental-notice abortion law and sponsored Florida's ban on same-sex marriages.

As a partisan Republican legislator, Byrd criticized the "liberal justices" on the state Supreme Court.

Column here.

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Genshaft: No layoffs for USF Poly employees until at least July 2013

After saying last week that she wasn’t sure the University of South Florida would be able to keep all the employees from USF Polytechnic past this summer, USF President Judy Genshaft now vows there will be no layoffs for at least a year beyond that point.

Genshaft delivered the message Monday flanked by Florida Rep. Seth McKeel, who helped craft the bill that creates the state’s 12th university, effective July 1. McKeel, R-Lakeland, said he wanted to clarify the situation after hearing about Genshaft’s message last week.

Starting on that date, USF Poly will have to give the new university all its resources, while USF gets $10 million to allow existing students to finish their degrees in Lakeland with USF Poly faculty. Though Genshaft previously said USF Poly’s payroll was closer to $18 million, McKeel pointed out at a news conference Monday that the Florida Poly legislation includes language that requires the new university to cover any additional costs incurred by USF during the teach-out.

Genshaft said any staff that aren’t needed as USF Poly starts closing down, such as those in the admissions office, for instance, would be welcomed at the main USF Tampa campus. …

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Movers and Shakers: Scott appoints state surgeon general, Cotterell lands at LobbyTools

Scott appoints state surgeon general

Gov. Rick Scott names John. H. Armstrong as the state’s new surgeon general and secretary of the Department of Health. He replaces former Surgeon General Frank Farmer, who resigned in March to be with his ailing wife.

Armstrong is an associate professor and chief medical officer at the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. He previously served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army Medical Corps for 17 years.

The Florida Medical Association endorsed Armstrong for the job, citing his “distinguished military career and many years of medical practice as a surgeon with unique training and leadership positions in trauma care and emergency management.”

Cotterell lands at LobbyTools

After many farewell and a very short retirement, Florida Capitol journalist Bill Cotterell will land at LobbyTools and The Florida Current on May 1. Cotterell recently retired from the Tallahassee Democrat after 42 years as a statehouse reporter.

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Judge rejects Dems' attempt to put Congressional map on hold during trial

In what has become a one-two punch today for the Florida Democrats' attempt to put a stop to the redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature, a trial court judge on Monday refused their request for an injunction on the Congressional map pending a court review.

Democrats have filed a suit claiming that the Congressional map not only violates the contitutional ban against protecting incumbents and political parties but also unfairly packs black and Hispanic voters into districts to give Republicans an electoral advantage. They asked the court to stop the maps from taking effect this election cycle.

Second Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis wrote in a 20-page opinion released today that while he understands their concern "that if elections go forward under what is later determined to be an unconstitutional redistricting plan, Florida citizens will have been denied their righto to have meaningful participation in the election of their representatives. I do not find, however, that they have established a right to an injunctions." …

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Marco Rubio to tour military bases in Panhandle

Sen. Marco Rubio will tour the Panhandle tomorrow and Wednesday while the Senate is on recess, his office said.

He will tour Tyndall Air Force Base and the Naval Surface Warfare Center on Tuesday after a "constituent coffee" hosted by the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce.

On Wednesday, he'll visit Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field. On both days, he'll have media availabilities, ensuring a stream of coverage in the area.

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Justice department finishes legal review of redistricting maps

Florida's redistricting maps are ready to be implemented, officials announced Monday.

The U.S. Department of Justice granted Florida's request for administrative preclearance of the maps under the Voting Rights Act, according to a Monday letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.

"However, we note that Section 5 expressly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin the enforcement of the changes," Perez cautioned.

The review of redistricting plans wrapped sooner than earlier cycles, Senate spokeswoman Lyndsey Cruley said. The preclearance letter is attached.

"One of our foremost goals during this redistricting cycle was to conduct the process in a manner that would give both the voters and candidates time to become familiar with the new districts," Senate President Mike Haridopolos said in a statement. "With the completion of the review process for these redistricting plans today, I am proud to say that we accomplished that goal."

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Super PAC backing Connie Mack hits Nelson on Keystone pipeline

Freedom PAC, a group supporting Connie Mack in Florida's U.S. Senate race, announced its first ad buy, hitting Sen. Bill Nelson on the Keystone pipeline.

No detail on the size of the buy (and Democratic ad buyers say they don't see time reserved) which offers essentially the same message as Mack's campaign made in its first radio ad.

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Sen. Chris Smith's task force releases Stand Your Ground recommendations

 Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has released a list of recommendations for amending Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, after a task force he convened debated the language of the law earlier this month.

Among the unanimous recommendations:

- Cases should be presented to a Grand Jury to allow for a cross section of society to determine what a reasonable person would do in that case.
- Educate the public and law enforcement
- Create a system to track self-defense claims in Florida
- Add language requiring an “imminent” danger provision throughout the statute
- Change the “Defense of Others” wording in the law’s title to “Defense of Property”
- Allow law enforcement to detain someone who uses the Stand Your Ground defense while they investigate.

For more details, visit for the full report.

Smith said he would give his recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott and his public safety task force, which will have its first meeting Tuesday.

Smith said Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who chairs the public safety task force, rejected his request to speak at the inaugural meeting and present the recommendations. …

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Florida Bar launches campaign to educate voters on merit retention

When Florida voters go to the polls this November to pick a president, they’ll also be asked to decide on races that will get much less fanfare: whether to retain three Florida Supreme Court justices and 15 appellate court justices in various regions of the state.

Many voters will skip the judges elections – in which they are asked to vote "yes’’ or “no” to let them stay in the job another six years, election data shows. Many more will simply guess, willing to make an uninformed choice.

The Florida Bar, the statewide professional organization for lawyers, wants to change that.

Armed with data that shows that 9 out of 10 Florida voters are unaware of what it means to have a “merit retention” election for Florida judges, the Bar on Monday launched a statewide education campaign to spread the word about the process that allows the state’s appellate level judges to stay in office.

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Joe Garcia preparing to challenge David Rivera

Joe Garcia has been making call to Democrats and donors announcing he will jump in the race against Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

Garcia, who ran against Rivera for the then-open seat in 2010, has been mulling a run since state Rep. Luis Garcia (no relation) dropped out of the contest, prompting Democrats to try unsuccessfully to recruit former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas before settling on first-time candidate Gloria Romero Roses.

State and national Democrats appeared settled on Roses, a Southwest Ranches businesswoman. But Miami-Dade Democrats have appeared slower to warm up to a candidate they don't know who lives far outside the congressional district, which extends from Southwest Miami-Dade to Key West -- and who worked for a condo management company involved in a dispute with the Service Employees International Union. Last week, Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Richard Lydecker said he would be happy to see a primary in the race.

Garcia also ran unsuccessfully for the same congressional seat in 2008, against then-incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart.

-- Patricia Mazzei, Miami Herald

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Will McBride, a Senate candidate again, but with lower goal

Will McBride, the Orlando businessman who ran for U.S. Senate in 2006 and flirted with a run this year, is setting a lower goal. He's running for the newly created state Senate District 14.

"Serving the people of district 14 in the State Senate would be the honor of a lifetime," the Republican said in a statement Friday.

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RNC hotel assignments out -- Florida gets Innisbrook Resort, 30 miles from Tampa Bay Times Forum

The coveted hotel assignments for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa are out, and Florida will be sent to the convention's version of Siberia.

The Republican National Committee had vowed to give Florida lower priority for hotels as part of the punishment for state legislative leaders setting the presidential primary in January in violation of party rules. On Monday, the RNC Committee on Arrangements announced that the Florida delegation will be at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, nearly 32 miles from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"I'm p---ed off,'' said Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry. "We're one of the most important swing states, if not the most important swing state, and our activists and our donors are going to be punished for something they had nothing to do with."

Florida Republicans certainly could do a lot worse.

Innisbrook, a swank, sprawling property with a golf course, spa and multiple swimming pools and fine restaurants, is no Econo Lodge. Owner Sheila Johnson, co-founder of the BET network (and a major Democratic contributor) has significantly upgraded the resort in recent years.

Still, it's no easy stroll to downtown Tampa. …

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$8,000 fine for Rubio was not first from FEC

The $8,000 fine the FEC slapped Sen. Marco Rubio's campaign with was not the first violation. In January, the campaign paid a $1,360 fine for failing to disclose a number of campaign contributions that fell under a 48 hour reporting rule.

The FEC had said Rubio failed to disclose 36 contributions totaling $92,440 and proposed a $9,904 fine. But the campaign contested that, and the FEC agreed only six contributions were not disclosed as required. (Those contributions are in the jump.)

Before the 48 hour window, Rubio's campaign got a flood of money from contributors and corporate PACs, including $5,000 each from Exxon Mobil, Geo Group and Las Vegas Sands Corp. PAC.


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