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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson resigns abruptly

GerardRobinsonAfter a tumultuous year shepherding a series of high profile reforms to the state's education system, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson submitted a letter of resignation Tuesday, citing family reasons.

"After much contemplation and discussion with my family, I want to inform you of my intention to resign as the Florida Commissioner of Education effective August 31, 2012,'' Robinson wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott. "It has been an honor to serve as Commissioner during an unprecedented period in the history of school reform in the state of Florida."

Since Robinson was lured to Florida by Scott from Virginia, where he was that state's school chief, he has been at the helm of some of the most rocky revisions to the state's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test-based school grading system and the introduction of the Common Core Standards.

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Dave Weldon trying to make a race of it against Connie Mack in GOP primary

Yes, there still is a Florida Republican U.S. Senate primary.

But what once was expected to be an expensive, competitive contest Aug. 14 has instead been pared down to a long shot former congressman vs. someone so sure he'll win that he isn't even really running.

Rep. Connie Mack IV, the far-and-away frontrunner, is saving his dollars and criticism for incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.

But Mack's chief GOP rival, former congressman Dave Weldon, insists the primary isn't quite settled.

"I'm definitely picking up endorsements, and we're getting more and more volunteers and Web hits every day," Weldon told the Times/Herald. "Can we make up what we need ... ? I don't know, but it's exciting."

Click here to read more.

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PSC Commissioner Edgar makes short list for a third term

From the News Service of Florida:

Eight candidates have made the cut and will be interviewed to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Florida Public Service Commission, according to a short list released Tuesday by a state PSC nominating council.

PSC member Lisa Edgar, whose expiring term will create the vacancy Jan. 1, is among the candidates on the list. Edgar, who joined the PSC in 2005, was among 23 candidates who applied for the $130,000-a-year job, The PSC regulates a host of utilities including electric-power producers, water suppliers and telecommunications firms.

Also making the cut was Ken Littlefield, a Republican House member from 1999 to 2006 who was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to a PSC term that started in January 2007. Littlefield's tenure was brief, as Bush's successor, Charlie Crist, appointed someone else to serve on the five-member panel shortly after taking office.

This time around, Littlefield has secured recommendations from a host of GOP luminaries including Bush, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. …

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New Obama ad in Florida pitches his plan to raise taxes on rich

The Obama campaign this afternoon announced a new ad in Florida contrasting Obama's plan for federal spending and taxes with Mitt Romney's, which is portrayed as more military spending and a deficit-busting tax cuts for the rich. Under Obama's plan, a narrator says, “millionaires pay a little more."

Romney and Republicans have a good case to argue about spending/deficits under Obama, but this being a political ad, fairness is not a requirement.

Romney response below:

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U.S. says Florida's voter purge violates federal law

The U.S. Justice Department has filed papers in federal court in Tampa asserting that Florida's efforts to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens is a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The July 27 filing, known as a statement of interest, asserts that before Florida began scrubbing the rolls in search of non-citizens, it was required to submit the proposal to the federal government. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, five "covered" Florida counties are subject to a process known as pre-clearance: Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe.

The feds say Florida never submitted the new "citizenship list maintenance practices" to them for approval, even though they did submit an unrelated change for review in 2011 -- the use of Social Security numbers to verify that a voter had died. 

The latest federal action follows a defeat before another judge, Robert Hinkle, who ruled in June that a law that bars the systematic removal of voters less than 90 days before a federal election does not specifically include noncitizens. The same Justice Department lawyer who unsuccessfully argued that case (John Albert Russ IV) filed the latest protest. …

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PPP Florida: Romney gets small bounce from either Rubio or Condi Rice

From Public Policy Polling:

PPP's first likely voters poll of Florida finds that it's likely to take its customary place as one of the most closely contested states in the country this year. Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by the slightest of margins, 48-47, but Romney would take a small advantage in the state if he added either Marco Rubio or Condoleezza Rice to his ticket.

Speaking to the general discontent of the electorate this year Florida voters aren't terribly enamored with either Obama or Romney. Voters narrowly disapprove of the job Obama's doing, with 50% giving him poor marks to 47% who think he's doing a good job. But they're not terribly fond of Romney either, with 46% rating him favorably to 49% with a negative opinion. Still this parity between Obama's approval and Romney's favorability numbers is notable- Obama has tended to run well ahead of Romney on that front. …

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New Crossroads ad in Florida keeps focus on struggling economy

A new Crossroads GPS ad in Florida seeks to drive home the struggling economy. Crossroads said the ad starts today and "will run on network TV stations in Florida, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia for approximately 10 days in an $11 million buy."

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Will Bill Nelson really have a money advantage over Connie Mack? Don't bet on it

Hotline's latest U.S. Senate rankings pegs Florida's contest between Democrat Bill Nelson and (probably) Republican Connie Mack IV as the 11th most like senate race to switch party control.

Rep. Connie Mack is becoming more competitive simply by virtue of the state's closely divided nature. National Republicans are getting more interested in the race as public polling continues to show Mack running closely behind -- or in some cases narrowly ahead -- of Nelson. If Florida comes off the presidential table, watch Senate groups get more interested. Nelson's money, though, is an overwhelming advantage right now. …

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James Dobson endorses Dave Weldon for U.S. Sen

James Dobson, the evangelical leader who founded Focus on the Family, has endorsed underdog Dave Weldon for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination over frontrunner Connie Mack IV:

"I strongly encourage all Floridians to get behind this honorable man.  He will be a wonderful Senator," Dobson said. "While in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was a champion for the sanctity of human life.  In particular, his work to block funding for destructive human embryonic stem cell research was extremely important.  Also, the Weldon-Hyde language protecting health care providers from being forced to participate in abortion procedures was extremely important.  Dave has solid conservative values and credentials as a hard-working legislator.  He is a veteran, having served our country in uniform for many years, and I know he will be a tremendous asset for our nation in the U.S. Senate."

Dobson said he was speaking as a private individual.

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Weinstein takes 'chip shot' at Bean in Senate mailer

The Republican state Senate primary battle in Greater Jacksonville between former Rep. Aaron Bean and Rep. Mike Weinstein is one of the most closely-watched in the state.

A new comparative mail piece by Weinstein lashes Bean on a host of issues, from government spending to earmarks to taxes, and under the category of experience, notes that while Weinstein has held a variety of public sector jobs in Jacksonville, Bean is a "putt putt golf operator."

Cheap shot or chip shot?

Bean and his wife run a miniature golf course overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Fernandina Beach.

"It's true," Bean says. "I haven't been in government for 35 years."

Weinstein's mailer also plays the geography card, claiming that if Bean, from Nassau County, wins the seat, "Jacksonville will lose Republican representation in the Senate."

This is much more than a fight for a single Senate seat, however: The race is crucial to Pinellas Sen. Jack Latvala's hopes of becoming Senate president in 2016.

Bean is being backed to the hilt by the Senate leadership triumverate of Don Gaetz, Andy Gardiner and Joe Negron, while Weinstein would likely be in Latvala's corner.

-- Steve Bousquet

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Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's brother-in-law busted in Pasco County drug case

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's brother-in-law was arrested Monday in connection with a large Pasco County oxycontin-distribution ring targeted by the local sheriff's office and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Authorities say Edward Beckles, the 59-year-old owner and operator of Ed's Family Friendly Pharmacy, was providing prescription pain medication to two drug rings that operated between Florida and Kentucky. Beckles also dispensed pills to at least one woman in return for sex, authorities said.

Beckles is married to Carroll's sister, and upon his arrest he let DEA agents know of his powerful sister-in-law who knew nothing of the case or his activities.

"Lt Gov. Carroll is not familiar with Mr. Beckle's arrest or his business practices and she has never visited his pharmacy," the governor's office said in a written statement. "She is surprised and saddened that this has happened to her sister's family." …

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Mitt Romney's VP pick is ... a mobile app

Picture 4From a press release:

Romney for President today launched a new mobile app that will allow users to sign up to be the first to learn the identity of the 2012 Republican Vice Presidential candidate.

The new app, called “Mitt's VP,” will serve as the campaign's first official distribution channel for Mitt Romney’s announcement of who he selects to be his Vice Presidential candidate.

“The historic announcement is getting closer,” said Beth Myers, Romney Campaign Senior Adviser. “Soon everyone will know who Mitt Romney selects as his Vice Presidential running mate. With this new app, users can be the first to know the second member of America’s Comeback Team.”

“The first official way to learn the name of the Republican Vice Presidential candidate is by using our new ‘Mitt's VP’ app,” said Romney Digital Director Zac Moffatt.  “Users of the app will be the first to get the news on the biggest political decision of the year through an instantaneous alert on the one device most people carry around the clock – their phone.” …

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Chasing the Jewish vote in Fla - this time with serious money behind it

As sure as the TV ads start blitzing the I-4 corridor every presidential election, so does the chatter that Democrats have a Jewish voter problem that could deliver Florida to the GOP.

"The Jewish vote definitely is moving toward Mitt Romney," said St. Petersburg developer Mel Sembler, a top Republican fundraiser whom Romney invited to join him in Israel on Sunday. "I've had so many people tell me that they've always voted Democrat and they just can't bring themselves to vote for (Barack) Obama."

These predictions are nothing new. Republicans aggressively targeted Jewish voters in 2004, when exit polls found John Kerry won 75 percent of that vote. Same in 2008, when Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote. A Republican nominee hasn't cracked 25 percent in Florida since 1988.

"Obama got 78 percent last time, and the chance of him equaling that number is simply nonexistent," said Palm Beach County Republican chairman Sid Dinerstein, predicting Obama will win slightly more than 60 percent in November. "And if he gets in the low 60s, then I will tell you Florida is not really in play."

Story here

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Gov. Rick Scott omits much of his own email from transparency project

Gov. Rick Scott said he was championing transparency in May when he gave the public access to his emails by posting them online for anyone to see.

But what he failed to say at his May 3 news conference launching Project Sunburst was that the emails he made public were not the emails of his official state account. The emails the public read online were from a different account used almost exclusively by conservative supporters.

On Monday, after the Herald/Times questioned what appeared to be an unrealistically high percentage of favorable emails on the public database, the Scott administration issued a statement acknowledging the two separate e-mail accounts. It also announced that it would phase out RLS@eog.myflorida.com, which Scott solely used to respond to email. That email address — which was not on any official state website — appears on many Tea Party websites across the state, under the heading “Governor Rick Scott’s email.” …

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Sen. John McCain talks defense cuts in Tampa

tp_357447_diez_mccain_3.jpgSen. John McCain estimates that if proposed defense spending cuts go into effect Jan. 1, the state of Florida will lose about 42,000 jobs and about $3.6 billion.

McCain predicts massive defense sector unemployment and gaunt armed forces at a time when the country needs a strong military.

"We are looking at, in our view, an emergency situation," McCain said Monday to a crowd of about 60 supporters in Tampa.

McCain and fellow senators Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., came to town on Monday as part of a four-state tour to protest what McCain calls "draconian cuts" to the nation's defense budget. The senators also will hold sessions in Virginia, New Hampshire and North Carolina — states that are all home to military bases and defense contracting jobs.

Story here. (Times photo by Cherie Diez)

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