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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Legislators move closer to Medicaid expansion decision

Monday could be the day when House and Senate committees studying the health care law make a recommendation on whether the state should accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid. The committees will meet jointly in the morning then have separate meetings later that day, the last before the session officially begins.

To aide the decision-making, state analysts will provide updated estimates on the cost of expanding Medicaid and various other aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Already today they released new numbers on the cost to the state for implementing the law for its own employees and Friday estimators will discuss the cost of Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Land O'Lakes Republican who is chairing the House committee, said the hope is that the committee is able to make a decision on Medicaid expansion and health exchanges Monday. The Senate committee has already recommended the state not pursue setting up an exchange for now.

As of today, Corcoran remains "skeptical" on the plan to allow 1 million people to join Medicaid. "There's clearly cost issues, you've seen that through the testimony," he said. …

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Who is Harry Sargeant? Florida Republican financial powerhouse, close friend of Charlie Crist, oil billionaire

Harry Sargeant, center, introduces Gov. Charlie Crist and Jordan's King Abdullah II at the presidential palace in Amman, Jordan, in 2007.

Kingdom of Jordan

Harry Sargeant, center, introduces Gov. Charlie Crist and Jordan's King Abdullah II at the presidential palace in Amman, Jordan, in 2007.

Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan has a profile of Harry Sargeant III in Friday's Tampa Bay Times. Read the whole story here. An excerpt:

Who is Harry Sargeant III?

A plaque at the Pi Kappa Alpha House on campus calls him "the most powerful man no one knows.'' The moniker comes from a 2008 Miami Herald story that noted his friendship with Crist and his wide-ranging business interests.

Sargeant, 55, is a billionaire former Marine fighter pilot, the owner of an oil and asphalt shipping company with global businesses including aviation companies and an oil refinery.

And in the tangled world of Florida politics, Sargeant is a Republican financial powerhouse.

He has long supported Crist while also helping former party chairman Jim Greer, despite the animosity between Greer and Crist since Greer was charged with stealing money from the GOP in 2010. Crist, now a Democrat considering an attempt to return to the Governor's Mansion, says Sargeant remains a close friend.

Campaign finance records show Sargeant has donated more than $1.5 million to Florida politicians and the state Republican Party since 2000, the year Crist ran for education commissioner.

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African-American leaders call for stronger measures in election reform efforts

Representatives of clergy, student and civil rights groups say voter reform bills under consideration in the Legislature don't go far enough to fix an election process that was marred by long lines, confusion and controversy in the fall.

“We have a process where a 102-year-old woman is standing in line” for hours, said attorney Phelicia Stiell,  local chair of the National Congress of Black Women, referring to Desiline Victor of Miami, who waited more than three hours to cast her ballot Nov. 6. 

It’s a process, she says, that’s “broken.”

Stiell joined speakers Elder Terry Price of the Tallahassee Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, William Tucker of the NAACP and FAMU student Ciara Taylor of Dream Defenders, a Florida coalition of young people of color, along with members of other community organizations, at a press conference Thursday morning outside the Leon County Supervisor of Elections Office, across from the state Capital.

With the legislative session starting next week, African-American community leaders are concerned that there hasn't yet been a lot of public testimony in bill hearings. And they want to be sure their voices are heard. …

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In St. Pete, Gov. Rick Scott pushes tax cut for manufacturers

Gov. Rick Scott talked up tax cuts for manufacturers at a St. Petersburg tech maker Thursday, touting his top legislative priority as a key to creating jobs.

Part of Scott’s $74.2 billion budget plan, the proposal would exclude the state’s 17,000 manufacturing firms from paying sales taxes on equipment.

Manufacturers are now offered a tax cut for new machinery if they prove it boosted productivity by 5 percent or more. Scott’s proposal would ax that requirement and ditch much of the tax break’s red tape.

“The fact that we have this sales tax puts us at a competitive disadvantage to other states,” Scott said. “It’s a barrier to putting more jobs in our state.”

Manufacturers employ about 5 percent of the state’s private workforce, state data show. Estimates show the tax cut would cost the state more than $140 million in revenue.

Scott spoke at Plasma-Therm, a manufacturer of etching machines that builds semiconductor chips used in smart phones, hard drives and TVs.

In 2010, CEO Abdul Lateef said the firm had made $50 million in revenue every year over the previous decade. …

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Weatherford: New thinking, not new money, for Florida Polytechnic

Recent statements made by House Speaker Will Weatherford about Florida Polytechnic University had us wondering whether he regretted his vote last year in favor of establishing the new school. He said today that he stands by his decision to support then-Senate budget chief JD Alexander's push for the university.

"I voted for it, we all voted," Weatherford said. "It was the budget. We didn't have a budget without Polytech. I think that was abundantly clear, and I think we all remember that process very well."

Earlier this week, Weatherford told the Tampa Tribune's editorial board that Polytechnic's creation was a "disaster." He later clarified his comments in an interview with the Lakeland Ledger, saying he was referring to recent reports that the school would be asking the Florida Legislature for an extra $25 million. The school has now indicated it will no longer request the additional cash. The Legislature couldn't afford that request anyway, Weatherford said. …

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New York Republican rips Rubio for raising Wall Street money after voting against Sandy aid

Politicker: Congressman Pete King was not pleased with his fellow Republicans who opposed the federal Hurricane Sandy relief package. Accordingly, Mr. King told us he was shocked to learn that Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who’s widely seen as a potential 2016 presidential contender, has been raising cash on Wall Street after voting against the Sandy bill.

“Being from New York we’re not supposed to be suckers,” Mr. King told Politicker this morning. “It’s bad enough that these guys voted against it, that’s inexcusable enough. But to have the balls to come in and say, ‘We screwed you now make us president?’”

Mr. King went on to urge Empire State donors to cut off Mr. Rubio and any other member of Congress who “threw a knife in the back in New York” by voting “no” on the bill.

Politico reported this week that Rubio and other pols with presidential ambitions have made recent trips to court Wall Street donors. Rubio voted against a $60.4 billion aid package for Sandy, contending it was packed with pork, but did vote for a $9 billion one.

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Nehr says his girlfriend earned $20k campaign payout

Former Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Palm Harbor, defended a $20,000 campaign payment to his girlfriend Kim Marie Thursday by saying she worked on the campaign and deserved the money.

"The fact that I know Ms. Marie on a personal level, and used her as one of my consultants, does not dismiss the fact that she worked very hard on my campaign and is legally entitled to be paid for work," Nehr said in a written statement.

Nehr has said he plans to challenge fellow Republican Susan Latvala for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2014.

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Florida Republicans divided as House passes Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. House today passed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, handing a victory to Democrats and President Obama.

All Florida Democrats voted yes. Florida Repubilcans were divided.

Voting yes: Vern Buchanan, Ander Crenshaw, Mario Diaz-Balart, Rich Nugent, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dan Webster, C.W. Bill Young.

Voting no: Gus Bilirakis, Ron DeSantis, John Mica, Jeff Miller, Bill Posey, Trey Radel, Tom Rooney, Dennis Ross, Steve Southerland, Ted Yoho.

Roll call here.

The legislation previously cleared the Senate, with Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voting yes and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voting no. …

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Alex Sink still courting Fla Dems

Alex Sink no longer sounds like a likely candidate for governor, but the former CFO and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee will join Democratic activists in Pinellas March 14 to celebrate the 85th birthday of  Greater Pinellas Democratic Club president Harvey Morgenstein. For 23 years he and Betty Morgenstein, beloved sometimes feared figures in Tampa Bay Democratic politics (pity the aspiring candidate who skips his well-attended dinners) have led the group.

The event will be at Banquet Masters, 8100 Park Blvd, Pinellas Park, starting with cocktails (cash bar) and social time at 6:00PM, followed by a buffet dinner at 6:30 ($15). For reservations, contact Betty Morgenstein at 727-360-3971.


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Florida House release mobile app, Speaker says 'no plans' to primary Scott


The Florida House of Representatives released a new mobile app that House Speaker Will Weatherford said will “set a national standard.”

The app, reported by the Herald/Times yesterday, will allow users to track the legislative process on their mobile devices, with features like live streaming from the Capitol in Tallahassee and tracking of bills.

“This is the way that people are communicating with their government,” said Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican.

The app is expected to be released next week, as the 60-day legislative session begins.

Read more about it here and see the House press release here.

After the press conference, Weatherford took questions from reporters on a range of issues, including Medicaid, Citizens Insurance, the budget sequester and Internet cafes.

He brushed off questions about a potential run for governor against Rick Scott, while continuing to differ from Scott on the key issues of Medicaid expansion and across-the-board $2,500 pay raises for teachers.  …

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Paid calls hit Reps. Young, Southerland, Webster on sequester

The DCCC is paying for robo calls to voters in the swing congressional districts represented by CW Bill Young, Daniel Webster, and Steve Southerland. Here's the script:

Hello. This is Jennifer calling from the DCCC. On March 1st, America’s middle class is going to pay a terrible price because Congressman Bill Young backed a sequester plan that will eliminate more than 2 million jobs, slow our economy and may drive us back into a recession. 

It can be stopped. Congress can pass a balanced plan that reduces the deficit with smart spending cuts, ends tax breaks for millionaires and closes wasteful tax loopholes for Big Oil companies that are already making record profits.

But Congressman Young refuses. He won’t compromise on a solution for the middle class because he is protecting tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected.  These cuts will be devastating and could set us back for a generation.

Unfortunately, Congressman Young is siding with the worst kind of Tea Party dysfunction and partisanship in Washington, instead of solving problems and protecting the middle class.

Press 1 right now if you’d like me to connect you directly with Congressman Young to demand that he gets behind a plan to end the sequester and put the middle class ahead of millionaires and corporate special interests.

Paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

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New York Times dings Adam Putnam

With Adam Putnam kindling speculation that he could primary Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, it's worth noting the hit his office took from the New York Times last weekend. The Times exposed a seemingly sleezy Florida telemarketer accused of bilking consumers out of thousands of dollars with promises of debt consolidation assistance. It is run connected to Brenda and Tony Helfenstine of St. Cloud.

From the column: …

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Rick Scott touts editorials backing Medicaid stance

How much has Rick Scott evolved? Well, the fellow who used to boycott newspaper editorial boards and once cheerfully told newspaper editors that he doesn't read Florida papers is now sending out press releases touting editorial boards praising his support for expanding Medicaid in Florida. Here's the release the governor sent out:

What They Are Saying…

On Gov. Scott’s Medicaid Announcement

“…Help more needy and disabled…”

“The governor knows the risks of entering into such a bargain with the feds, and is hardly enthusiastic. The final decision will be up to the Legislature, and Scott does not plan to aggressively campaign for the deal.

“Scott had no good options here. Under the circumstances, his decision to try to help more needy and disabled Floridians, while establishing safeguards for the state's finances and monitoring the results, looks to be a reasonable response.” (Tampa Tribune editorial, 2/21/13)

“...Chosen pragmatism…”

“Now Scott has aligned himself with a half-dozen other Republican governors who have chosen pragmatism over ideological purity in accepting the Medicaid expansion. They include governors such as Jan Brewer of Arizona, John Kasich of Ohio and Susana Martinez of New Mexico.” (Tampa Bay Times editorial, 2/21/13)

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Flubbed Putnam tweet sends followers to anti-Scott poll

Adam Putnam inadvertently directs his Twitter followers to a poll about potential candidates who could challenge Gov. Rick Scott's 2014 reelection.

Screenshot via Twitter

Adam Putnam inadvertently directs his Twitter followers to a poll about potential candidates who could challenge Gov. Rick Scott's 2014 reelection.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a vocal critic of Gov. Rick Scott's Medicaid expansion reversal, wrote an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel today about Florida's agriculture industry.

A tweet encouraging his followers to read the op-ed won't do much to quiet rumors that he may challenge Scott's 2014 re-election bid. The link takes followers not to his op-ed but to a Sentinel poll asking "Who's Rick Scott's biggest political threat?"

The first choice on the list? Putnam.

Putnam spokeswoman Amanda Bevis tells us Putnam did not send the link -- it was her mistake. She posted the right link on his Facebook page. Here's the op-ed, by the way.

"I inadvertently converted the wrong link to a URL short enough to post," she said.

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Citing Florida ties to political tricks in N.C., Lenny Curry launches 'Florida Civility Project'

A secret Democratic plan to "eviscerate" Republicans in North Carolina may have gotten some inspiration in Florida -- and has given GOP Chairman Lenny Curry a platform to launch a project seeking more civil political debate.

The strategy prepared for Blueprint North Carolina has caused a stir in the state and has raised questions about the nonprofit's tax status. The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday that another group, America Votes, claimed responsibility for the memo, which outlines steps to "eviscerate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern."

The document suggests links to Florida, referencing the Pink Slip Rick effort that uses aggressive tactics to confront the governor. There's a reference to "using wisdom from other states" including inviting the "FL minority leader up to brief us."

There is also polling from Project New America, which includes Florida Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley as its southern director. (There's no indication from the leaked strategy memo that Ausley played a role.) …

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