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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Marco Rubio faces backlash from the right

Sen. Marco Rubio has (again) launched an aggressive and impressive public relations campaign. This time its  over the immigration reform plan he and other senators have put together (though Rubio surpised some of his fellow Gang of Eight reformers with a Wall Street Journal op ed he published without giving them a heads up). As a darling of conservatives, he's helped soften opposition from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and others.

But he cerainly hasn't stopped it.

Alex Leary has more in this story, but here's a sampling of the criticism from the right: …

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Cardenas starts lobbying feds for mega GOP donor Gary Morse

From the Center for Resonsive Politics: One of the Republican Party's biggest donors -- a Florida real estate developer who apparently is facing a federal investigation over the use of special tax districts for his retirement complex -- hired a lobbyist in the last quarter of 2012 for the purpose of "contacting the federal government" about the districts.

The Villages, owned by developer H. Gary Morse and his family, had not previously hired a lobbyist at the federal level, according to records. But the new lobbying report shows that it paid $30,000 during the quarter to Cardenas Partners, led by Al Cardenas, the Cuban-born two-time chairman of the Florida Republican Party. Cardenas has done state-level work in the past for the Villages. ... …

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State loses attempt to have Sansom suit dropped

A Leon County circuit judge on Thursday denied a motion by the state to dismiss a suit by former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who is seeking more than $800,000 to cover his legal defense against corruption charges that were later dropped.

Calling it a “fascinating case,” Judge Kevin J. Carroll said the suit should move ahead to a hearing.

Sansom, a Republican from Destin, had been charged him with conspiracy and grand theft in his role as House budget chairman after he secured millions of tax dollars for a local college that later offered him a job. Prosecutors argued that Northwest Florida State College received money for a building that could also be used as a hangar for a jet business owned by Jay Odom, who was a major supporter of Sansom’s.

Sansom resigned and state prosecutor Willie Meggs later dropped the charges against the former legislator and Odom, after a judge ruled that the state had failed to show evidence of a conspiracy to steer money to the college building and possible hangar.

Lisa Raleigh, special counsel with the Office of Attorney General argued on Thursday that Sansom’s complaint failed to show that the original litigation resulted from Sansom's official duties. …

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Financial woes force Miami think tank, the Collins Center, to close

The Collins Center for Public Policy, one of the state's most well-respected think tanks, announced Thursday it is closing its doors after 25 years as a non-partisan policy center based in Miami.

A roller coaster period of growth, followed by recession-induced decline over the last two years, led to a financial fall from which the organization, named after former Gov. LeRoy Collins, could not recover.

"This is a sad, somber day for the Collins Center, the causes it espoused so valiantly, the numerous people and organizations the center helped and those who've fought to save it from a fiscal abyss that proved too deep to overcome,'' siad Merrett R. Stierheim, the board's most recent chairman, in a statement.

Parker Thomson, a Miami lawyer who served as the board's long-time chairman, said the center had been "the standard bearer for the legacy of former Gov. LeRoy Collins and his vision for a better Florida." 

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Gov. Rick Scott proposes $74.2 billion budget

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday unveiled details of a $74.2 billion budget proposal — the largest in Florida history.

Scott, who is seeking re-election in 2014, proposes to increase spending statewide by $4 billion, including $1.25 billion more for education. Much of that would cover a $2,500 teacher pay raise and a pension fund contribution that won’t be felt in classrooms.

“It’s the right thing to do for our children,” Scott said of his spending plan as he stood at a lectern adorned with his budget logo, “Florida Families First.”

As a candidate in 2010, Scott campaigned on a promise to shrink government, and his first budget in 2011 cut school spending by $1.3 billion. But his spending plan contains one of the biggest one-year increases in spending in Florida history.

Follow the developing story here. And check out these PDFs on budget details:

Budget highlights

Budget FAQ

Remarks from Gov. Scott

The full budget


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Orange neckties and sand sculptures as Scott launches new 'business branding' campaign

Gov. Rick Scott joined top business leaders Thursday to unveil a new “business branding” campaign, the latest initiative in a multipronged effort to cast the state of Florida as an attractive place for commerce.

The branding campaign will feature orange-colored neckties, strategically-placed sand-sculptures and the slogan: “Florida: The perfect climate for business.”

“To help achieve my goal of creating 700,000 jobs in seven years, I am constantly calling on CEOs to let them know why Florida is the best place in the world to start, grow or expand their business,” said Scott. “Now we will be able to have an ongoing initiative and brand to reinforce what we’ve been saying.”

The campaign is part of Scott’s ongoing mission to create jobs by catering to business interests. The governor has appeared on several cable shows, sent letters to business professionals and traveled across the globe to talk up Florida’s business climate.

Scott’s administration has also made use of taxpayer funds to pitch the message that Florida is open for businesses, approving billions of dollars in business-freindly tax breaks and incentives in recent years. …

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Florida university presidents push for immigration reform

Saying the need for comprehensive immigration reform is as much about economics as it is fairness, four Florida higher education leaders are joining forces with a national organization lobbying for change.

Florida State University President Eric Barron said “now is the time to act” on the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, calling it a bipartisan solution. He said allowing foreign students who come to the United States for college to remain in the country to live and work will create a stronger workforce.

“We are truly a nation of immigrants where we know that education has driven the economic success of this nation,” Barron said.

Foreign graduates who stay and work in the U.S. create 2.5 new jobs for American workers on average, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft said. She said there aren’t enough U.S. born students to keep up with demands in science, technology, math and engineering fields.

“Really it is very important for us to work closely and to support the visas for STEM graduates,” Genshaft said.  …

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Court affirms authority of legislature to set tuition rates, rejects Graham's challenge

Florida Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed the authority of the state legislature to set university tuition and fees, rejecting an appeal by former Gov. Bob Graham and other advocates who contended that the power resides in the board that oversees the schools.

In an opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente, with the remaining six justices concurring, the court said that the 2002 constitutional amendment creating the Board of Governors did not transfer authority over tuition and fees to the board.

The court upheld a lower court ruling and concluded "that the constitutional source of the Legislature's control over the setting of an appropriations for the expenditure of tuition and fees" comes from the state Constitution.

Two lower courts ruled that power lies with the Legislature but Graham, a Democrat and former U.S. senator, led other plaintiffs challenge that ruling.

The 2002 constitutional amendment established the Board of Governors and allowed the governor to appoint  14 of the board's 17 members. The state education commissioner and leaders of faculty and student associations appoint the remaining three seats. …

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Marco Rubio says he'll oppose Chuck Hagel

Sen. Marco Rubio on Fox a while ago said he will oppose Chuck Hagel for defense secretary.

"I’ve been deeply disturbed by his previous comments and positions with regards to sanctions on Iran, with regards to direct negotiations with North Korea. Obviously, statements he’s made about Israel," Rubio said. "These are not the kind of statements and kind of positions that I want to see our secretary of defense have. These are big, big problems. And so, for those reasons I just don’t believe I will be able to support his nomination especially after his testimony in the last hour here. He's really not said anything that addresses those concerns to my satisfaction."

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Thanks but no thanks on bonus, PBA tells governor

Even before Gov. Rick Scott publicly touts a new bonus plan for some state employees, a union representing some of those workers has in effect told the governor, "Thanks but no thanks."

The union is the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which represents officers in the Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies. The PBA said it would seek across-the-board raises for its members instead of what Scott is proposing, which is a one-time $1,200 lump-sum bonus for employees.

"We appreciate the governor's acknowledgement that the officers deserve an award for their outstanding accomplishments," PBA executive director Matt Puckett said in a statement. "But we believe base salary increases are long overdue. Some officers have gone six years without a wage increase due to state budget constraints."

Puckett said the PBA would seek pay increases "through the legislative budgeting process" and that the union is "hopeful that the governor will have a change of opinion." Public school teachers are the only group Scott is recommending receive an across-the-board pay raise, of $2,500 each. …

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WaPo: E-mails show Jeb's foundation pushes for laws that benefit funders

From the Washington Post's education blog reports: A nonprofit group released thousands of e-mails today and said they show how a foundation begun by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and national education reform leader, is working with public officials in states to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders.

A call to the foundation has not been returned.

The e-mails are between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a group Bush set up called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education commissioners who support Bush’s agenda of school reform, which includes school choice, online education, retention of third-graders who can’t read and school accountability systems based on standardized tests. That includes evaluating teachers based on student test scores and grading schools A-F based on test scores. John White of Louisiana is a current member, as is Tony Bennett, the new commissioner of Florida who got the job after Indiana voters rejected his Bush-style reforms last November and tossed him out of office.

Donald Cohen, chair of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization and responsible for contracting in the public sector, said the e-mails show how education companies that have been known to contribute to the foundation are using the organization “to move an education agenda that may or not be  in our interests but are in theirs.”

Here are the excerpts about Florida specifically: 

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Catching up with Robert Wexler

Beth Reinhard of National Journal catches up with former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, who retired in 2010 after seven terms to become president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

NJ Do you miss Congress?

I miss the many friends that I had both in Congress and among my constituents, but the act of being a member of Congress—I don’t miss it. I had been in elected office for 19 years, and I had run for office every two years for 21 years, starting when I was in my 20s. It was my time to do something different.

NJ What do you think about the level of partisanship in Congress?

Sometimes people romanticize the [low] level of partisanship in the past. My first term was the impeachment of Bill Clinton, so it’s hard to imagine a more partisan time than that. And then there was the election of 2000. Maybe the difference is that the politics of the two parties, but particularly the politics of the Republican Party, have become more extreme, so the ability to compromise has been significantly lessened.

NJ What do you think about the possibility of Charlie Crist running again for Florida governor, this time as a Democrat? …

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House files campaign finance reform plan: $10,000 limits and no more CCEs

Florida House leaders unveiled what they believe will be behavior-changing campaign finance reform Wednesday, phasing out candidate-controlled political committees and ushering in stricter reporting deadlines, more contribution accountability and campaign contribution caps of $10,000 per election.

 “It’s a way to start the conversation,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made reforming what he considers a “messed up” campaign finance system a top priority.  “We are keeping the baby and throwing out the bath water.’’ 

The most dramatic proposal of the 47-page bill filed by House Rules Chairman Rob Schenck is targeting the elimination of nearly 700 Committees of Continuing Existence, political committees that can collect unlimited campaign checks but may not expressly advocate for candidates. The CCEs have been increasingly used as personal slush funds by candidates who can legally spend the unrestricted money on travel, entertainment and meals as well as steer money to other candidates and causes.

The bill requires all CCEs to be shut down by Nov. 1, giving time for organizers to allow them to become traditional political committees. Traditional political committees will remain in law to be used to advocate for a candidate or an issue and would be allowed to accept unlimited contributions from donors.

The proposal also raises the 20-year-old cap on campaign contributions from $500 to $10,000 per election, and from $1,000 to $20,000 per election cycle. See chart here:  Download House Campaign Finance

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Newt regrets Florida primary debate performaces

"I'd love to do the two Florida debates again." -- Newt Gingrich moments ago on CNN.

He said he was buried with negative ads and had trouble responding in debates.

Gingrich also said Mitt Romney's is to blame for his poor performance among Hispanics. Romney during the Tampa debate uttered the infamous "self-deport" comment. “That is the most anti-human phrase you can imagine,” Gingrich said on CNN.

During the Florida primary Gingrich called out Romney for his rhetoric but other Republicans mostly stood by. Sen. Marco Rubio even denounced Gingrich.

Now, of course, most Republicans agree with Gingrich's view.

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Gov. Scott to offer $1,200 bonuses to state's civil service employees

 School teachers aren’t the only ones Gov. Rick Scott wants to pay more.

When Scott unveils his $74 billion budget on Thursday – the highest dollar figure in state history – it will include bonuses of $1,200 for each of the state’s civil service employees in non-supervisory roles. It's been six years since state workers have received a pay increase.

The chief negotiator for the union representing the employees said he was surprised by Scott’s offer, which he received late Wednesday.

Previously, Scott had told the union he would propose bonuses only for up to 35 percent of workers. “It’s better than expected,” said Doug Martin. “This is a significant financial commitment to the employees, and we appreciate that.”

Scott’s proposal applies to the state’s civil service workers in agencies like the Department of Revenue and the Department of Transportation and non-sworn employees at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, covering jobs that range from research scientists who studied the oil spill to support personnel in prisons. …

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