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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Allison Tant's plans for the Fla Dem party

tant.jpgclendenin.jpgFormer lobbyist Allison Tant (left) of Tallahassee, in an unpredictable race for Florida Democratic chairman against Tampa activist Alan Clendenin, today fleshed out her vision for leading the party. Clendenin (right) had long ago spelled out his plan but Tant was a late entry into the race having been recruited by Debbie Wasserman Schultz and promptly endorsed by Sen. Bill Nelson.

Here's Tant's email:

With a coordinated campaign, a strong message and successful fundraising, we can position the Florida Democratic Party to win important elections and regain control of the Governor’s Mansion and Cabinet offices. By securing high-tech infrastructures and empowering our local democratic parties, we will recruit stronger candidates and achieve greater victories that will grow our numbers in the state legislature and at the county and municipal levels of government.

Five Pillars of Success …

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Bill Young will remain chairman of defense appropriations committee

Longtime Florida Rep. C.W. Bill Young will serve another term as chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, House leaders said Monday.

It is the second time 82-year-old Young, R-Indian Shores, has gotten a waiver from Republican term limits on leadership positions. In a statement he praised Speaker John Boehner and full appropriations chairman Harold Rogers:

“At a time of great uncertainty and what I see as instability in the future direction of U.S. defense policy, I believe we need to keep our national security team intact, ready to respond to any threats to our readiness,” Young said. “I appreciate the confidence the Speaker and Chairman Rogers have shown in me to bring before the House good appropriations bills that protect our nation from threats abroad, continue to support our all volunteer force so they can carry out their missions safely and effectively, and to care for our fallen heroes and their families when they return home, many with injuries from which they will never fully recover.” …

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As fiscal cliff deal nears, Florida lawmakers react

A deal is in the works over the so-called fiscal cliff ... and reaction is starting to come in from Florida.

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City: “The people of North and Northwest Florida sent me to Congress to stand firm on principle and get things done, even when some in Washington tried to convince us that those goals couldn’t coexist.  I believe that today’s negotiations over the fiscal cliff provide us a valuable opportunity to prove that we can advance good policy without sacrificing what’s right.  While it is disappointing that Senator Reid threw in the towel at the final hour, I am hopeful that a solution can still be attained that extends sorely needed tax relief for hardworking families while also getting serious about cutting spending and reforming Medicare and Social Security for the sake of our children and grandchildren.”

Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers (via Twitter): "Mr. President, no deal! It's all about spending ... ."

Sen. Bill Nelson spoke on the Senate floor:

 …

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Retired state Supreme Court Justice Ben Overton dies

Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Ben F. Overton, who was instrumental in bringing cameras to the courtroom, died Saturday in Gainesville due to complications from heart surgery.

Justice Overton, 86, a former Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge, retired from the state's highest court in 1999, but continued working as an adjunct professor at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law. His death, announced late Sunday, came as a shock to his family.

Justice Overton had been in good health until just recently, according to his son, Pinellas County Judge William H. Overton. He said his father made sure to finish grading papers for his constitutional law class in time for a triple-bypass surgery Thursday.

Justice Overton celebrated Christmas a day late, as his family joined him in Gainesville on Wednesday to exchange gifts and then be by his side after the surgery — prompted by test results after he experienced shortness of breath recently.

"He was very comfortable about having surgery," William Overton said Sunday. "He expected to be here." …

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Will GOP keep denying lessons reinforced by 2012 election?

Adam C. Smith:

This is a threshold moment in American politics.

A Republican Party that only a few years ago envisioned a permanent majority must take steps to avoid going the way of the Whigs.

In 2013, the aftershocks of President Barack Obama's comfortable re-election victory, especially soul-searching by Republicans, will continue to dominate the news.

But it wasn't just Obama's personal appeal or his campaign's mastery of social media and personal data that won him another term. It wasn't Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair or even America's fast-changing demographics.

Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. The party's fundamental message is turning off a vast swath of middle-class Americans. The modern GOP's best path to success is when fewer people vote, not a healthy sign.

Full column here.

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Nelson, Rubio split votes on Hurricane Sandy relief spending

The Senate this evening voted to approve a $60.4 billion appropriations bill for Hurricane Sandy relief. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson voted yes; Sen. Marco Rubio voted no, joining other Republicans who said it had been stuffed with pork unrelated or barely related to the hurricane. Some Republicans wanted offsetting cuts.

Rubio offered the same reason for voting against the Restore Act, which provided BP oil spill money to the Gulf coast. Rubio voted for a stripped down Sandy alternative that would have provided $24 billion. Twelve Republicans voted with Democrats for the larger amount.

The Sandy legislation still has to pass the House, a difficult climb. More here.

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Taxpayers charged $190K more in legal bills for Scott's drug testing push

Gov. Rick Scott’s drug-testing push has racked up even more legal bills, with a federal judge ordering the state to pay $190,000 in attorney’s fees for a case involving state workers.

The ruling, posted Friday, orders Scott—and by extension, taxpayers—to cover the legal fees of the lawyers that took on the governor’s controversial plan to require random drug testing for state workers.

The $190,000 legal tab is in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and costs spent in attempts to defend controversial laws passed by Scott. They include drug testing for welfare recipients, a 3-percent employee contributions for state workers’ pensions, voting law changes and a 2011 law banning doctors from asking patients about guns. In most cases, judges have ruled the laws to be unconstitutional, sparking appeals from Scott and higher legal fees. …

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Nelson, Rubio vote to reauthorize foreign surveillance program

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio helped pass a re-authorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, a controversial set of tools allowing investigators to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists overseas without court permission.

The bill passed (73-23) over objections from a vocal minority, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said it tramples on the Fourth Amendment. Among the amendments that failed to pass was one by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., which would have informed Congress of any U.S. electronic or phone communication picked up in an investigation.

Advocates said the fears were overstated and that FISA is needed to protect the country.

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Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf dies in Tampa

UPDATE: Tweets @JebBush: "General Schwarzkopf was a great patriot. My family's thoughts and prayers are with his family."

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. official says retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the U.S.-led international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait in 1991, has died. He was 78.

The official tells The Associated Press that Schwarzkopf died Thursday in Tampa, Fla. The official wasn't authorized to release the information publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A much-decorated combat soldier in Vietnam, Schwarzkopf was known popularly as "Stormin' Norman" for a notoriously explosive temper.

He lived in retirement in Tampa, where he had served in his last military assignment as commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command. That is the headquarters responsible for U.S. military and security concerns in nearly 20 countries from the eastern Mediterranean and Africa to Pakistan.

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Scott presses Obama on ports, Dems press Scott on Obamacare, education

 Gov. Rick Scott called for Pres. Obama to take emergency measures to halt an impending shut down of the nation’s ports stemming from a labor dispute.

Joined by the state’s ports directors on a conference call on Thursday, Scott said the shut down of ports throughout the state of Florida would lead to unacceptable job losses and economic turmoil.

“We are together on this call today for one reason – we must help the Florida families whose jobs and livelihoods depend on our Florida ports,” Scott said. “A shut down of Florida ports is simply not an option for Florida families.”

Scott wrote a letter to Obama last week asking for the president to invoke presidential powers to halt a strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association. He said he “hoped” the president had read the letter, indicating that Obama had not yet responded.

The national strike is scheduled to go forward on Saturday if there is no agreement for a new contract. It could have a multimillion-dollar impact in Florida, where the massive port of Miami is located. …

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Marco Rubio condemns Russian adoption ban, urges Obama to act

Marco Rubio joined his colleagues, including Sen. John McCain, in urging President Barack Obama to forcefully condemn Vladimir Putin's announcement that he will sign a bill into law banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children. The adoption ban follows a decision by the United States to deny visas to Russian citizens who have been alleged of committing human rights violations, and further strains tensions between the United States and Russia. …

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Don Gaetz on a diminished tea party and 'kooky' nullification of health care law

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz is quoted in a NYT story that looks at the diminished clout of the tea party.

 ... But a number of Republican leaders said the Tea Party seemed headed toward becoming just another political faction, not a broad movement. It may rally purists, but it will continue to alienate realists and centrists, they said.

“I think the Tea Party movement is to the Republicans in 2013 what the McGovernites were to the Democrats in 1971 and 1972,” said Don Gaetz, a Republican who is the president of the Florida Senate. “They will cost Republicans seats in Congress and in state legislatures. But they will also help Republicans win seats.”

Because the Tea Party comprises thousands of local groups, it is impossible to determine whether its ranks shrank after the many electoral defeats last month, which activists said caused grief and deep frustration. …

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Memorial service for Bill McBride is Friday in Tampa

A memorial service for former gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, 3501 San Jose St. in Tampa.

The service is open to the public. The family will receive friends in the courtyard of the church at the conclusion of the service.

McBride, 67, died of a heart attack Saturday while on a holiday trip in Mount Airy, N.C. 

Stay tuned to this link for more information.

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Tributes pour out in memory of Bill McBride

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson: "Bill McBride was larger than life. He was one of the great business, legal and political leaders of Florida, and he is a friend that many of us will miss."

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa: “Bill McBride was a leader whose devotion, intelligence and commitment to service knew no bounds. Everyone in the Tampa Bay area loves Bill McBride and his wife, Alex Sink, because they have served as shining examples of selflessness and moral courage. Bill McBride was a force for good in our community and a strong advocate for public education and civic rights. His mission in life was to serve Florida, and he accomplished that in innumerable ways. It feels like part of Florida is missing tonight. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, especially Alex, Bert and Lexie. They kept Bill young and inspired, and his spirit will live on.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor: My thoughts and prayers are with @AlexSinkFlorida, family and friends during this difficult time. Bill will be truly missed. …

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Bill McBride -- Tampa lawyer, husband of Alex Sink and former gubernatorial candidate -- dies at age 67

bill-mcbride-photo.pngBill McBride, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tampa lawyer, died Saturday.

He had a heart attack Saturday evening while in Mount Airy, N.C., with family, according to his wife, Alex Sink, also a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Mr. McBride, who lost the 2002 gubernatorial election to Jeb Bush, was 67 years old.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson released a statement saying, "Bill McBride was larger than life. He was one of the great business, legal and political leaders of Florida, and he is a friend that many of us will miss."

Watch this link for more information.

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