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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida operative Jackie Lee to lead Obamacare offensive

Jackie Lee, a Democratic strategist in Florida who was involved in the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns, will lead a statewide effort by liberal groups to go on the offensive on Obamacare as Congress returns for summer recess.

Lee will set up evetns, oversee rapid response and plan events in which Democrats will show up at GOP town halls. She'll be "promoting Obamacare in an aggressive, offensive way," said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change.

The group, along with Protect Your Care, is determined not to allow a repeat of the summer of 2009, when Democrats were caught off guard amid rising conservative backlash to a health care overhaul.

Lee is a veteran political advisor with deeps ties to Florida. In 2010, she managed the successful FairDistrictsFlorida Campaign and 2008 she was the general election director for Obama's Florida Campaign for Change. She was 2006 field director for the Florida Democratic Party.

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Scott, Cabinet expected to OK removal of bodies at Dozier

It appears that the University of South Florida will get state approval to continue to locate and excavate bodies at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Formal approval could come as soon as Tuesday, when the Florida Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund will vote on a joint land-use agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection to permit the excavation on the former Dozier campus. According to the agenda, the board is recommending approval.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner had denied USF researchers' request to exhume bodies in a clandestine cemetery at the former reform school. The decision had been appealed by the university.

Follow the story here.

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Black Florida lawmaker calls Jesse Jackson a 'disgrace'

Mike Hill

Mike Hill

Newly-elected state Rep. Mike Hill of Pensacola, the lone African-American Republican in the Florida Legislature, issued the following statement in response to recent comments from Jesse Jackson about Florida:

“As a father, a husband, and a business-owner in Florida, I find the attacks on our state and our leaders by Jesse Jackson ridiculous. As a black man who has been able to live my dreams in this great state, Jackson’s comments are dangerously divisive and offensive.

“I first came to the Sunshine State as a young Air Force officer, and found a place so beautiful and filled with opportunity I decided to make it my home. When the entrepreneurial spirit took hold, my neighbors and colleagues embraced my new venture without prejudice or discrimination. In the decades since, I have been blessed with a loving family and a community where people are treated with respect.

“When Jackson uses language that describes us as an apartheid state and compares our governor to one of history’s most notorious bigots, he is either hopelessly out of touch or purposefully dishonest.

“Just this summer, I, a black man in Florida, was elected to serve in the Florida House of Representatives just about 180 miles away from the bridge in Selma where racism and hatred were violently acted out. I understand the difference between where America was, where it is today, and where it will go tomorrow.

“The incidents that unfolded and resulted in the tragic death of a young, black man deserved to be heard in our criminal justice system. They were, and a jury of peers decided the outcome based on our laws and a process that originates in our divinely-inspired Constitution.

“For Jesse Jackson to disagree with the outcome of that process is a right and privilege he and every citizen are guaranteed. But for a man who casts himself as a defender of these rights to disparage Florida and our nation with reckless and unfounded commentary is a disgrace.”

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As immigration heated up, Rubio made donation to PAC associated with Jim DeMint

Center for Public Integrity:

Sen. Marco Rubio made a five-figure contribution to a prominent super PAC ahead of a push to court conservative support of his contentious immigration reform proposal, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents filed today with the Federal Election Commission.

Rubio’s donation of $30,000 on March 28 came from his leadership PAC and went to Senate Conservatives Action. That’s a super PAC connected with former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rubio’s one-time mentor who has clashed with the potential 2016 GOP presidential hopeful over the immigration bill.

DeMint, whom Rubio once called his best friend in Washington, and his Heritage Foundation have been leading critics of the immigration bill Rubio helped write.

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Another Democrat calls for Bennett to resign

Add Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, to the list of state lawmakers calling for Education Commissioner Tony Bennett's resignation.

Bullard wrote the following in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday:

"In light of the recent reports from the Associated Press and other news outlets on Department of Education chief Tony Bennett’s grade changing activities in Indiana, I find it necessary to call on you to request his immediate resignation as Florida’s Commissioner of Education. Given the contentious and on-going debate over quantifying and qualifying education in our state, I believe Commissioner Bennett’s involvement in these issues could be looked upon questionably with respect to his objectivity. Certainly, big money is also no stranger to education in Florida and I fear what appears to have happened in Indiana may repeat itself here should Commissioner Bennett be allowed to remain at the helm."

Bennett has come under fire for his role in a school grade scandal in Indiana, where he previously worked.

In other developments, Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has called for a review of that state's school grades. …

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Dems: Education Commissioner Bennett must go

Two Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday called for the resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, saying the school grades scandal in Indiana had called Bennett's integrity into question.

"It’s time for [Gov. Rick Scott] to accept another resignation," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "I don’t care how he does it. He needs to basically wipe the chalkboard clean and start again."

Bennett found himself at the center of a media storm on Monday, when the Associated Press reported that he had changed the school grading formula in Indiana last year to benefit a charter school. The school, Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, is run by influential Republican donor Christel DeHaan.

Bennett took over as Florida's top education official in January.

Bennett has said politics played no role in the decision to change the formula in Indiana. He wanted the formula tweaked, he said, because it unfairly penalized schools like Christel House that weren't traditional elementary, middle or high schools. …

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Gov. Rick Scott: Jackson should apologize for calling Florida "the Apartheid State"

It didn't take long for Florida's Republican leaders to lash out following comments made Tuesday by Rev. Jesse Jackson during his visit with the Dream Defenders at the Capitol.

Gov. Rick Scott asked that Jackson apologize for calling Florida the "Selma of our time" and "the Apartheid State."

"Jesse Jackson owes every Floridian an apology for his reckless and divisive comments," a release from Scott's office said Wednesday. "It is unfortunate that he would come to Florida to insult Floridians and divide our state at a time when we are striving for unity and healing. Floridians are a strong, resilient people. We are fortunate to live in a great state where all Floridians enjoy opportunities to get a great job and world class education."

Jackson, like the Dream Defenders, wants Florida to revisit the “stand your ground” law that was passed in 2005 and has been blamed in a number of homicides. Scott has said he supports the law and won’t call a special session to address the law. 

Jackson said Florida's post-Trayvon Martin environment was "toxic".

"Stand your ground laws must end," Jackson told reporters. "The manipulation of African-Americans here is disgraceful." …

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Crisafulli ready for his close-up as Weatherford promotes him to House Majority Leader

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford on Wednesday announced a changing of the guards, and they're both named Steve(!)

Out goes Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando as House Majority Leader. In comes Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who is scheduled to become the House Speaker in 2014. Weatherford also announced the creation of a new committee, Health Care Workforce Innovation. He chose Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, to be its chair. Oliva is slated to become speaker in 2018.

The promotion will raise the profile of Crisafulli, who only became speaker designate last year when Chris Dorworth lost his reelection. The majority leader is the second most senior official in the House and the day-to-day manager of business on the House floor.

"The Speaker thought it's a great opportunity that will prepare Speaker-designate Crisafulli to be Speaker of the House by leading our caucus," said Weatherford's spokesman. "Also, it's an opportunity for Rep. Precourt to focus on what he loves - policy - in his last year in the Florida House."

Precourt couldn't be reached for comment. But from Weatherford's release, it sounds like Crisafulli is pretty stoked.  …

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John McCain says Charlie Crist would be 'very competitive' candidate for governor

John McCain and Charlie Crist during the 2008 presidential campaign

John McCain and Charlie Crist during the 2008 presidential campaign

Sen. John McCain says Charlie Crist would be a tough candidate if he decides to challenge Gov. Rick Scott, as expected.

"There are a lot of people who thought he did a good job when he was governor," McCain told the Tampa Bay Times. "Everything I hear from my friends in Florida is he's going to be very competitive."

McCain said it was a couple months ago when last spoke with Crist -- who got passed over for Sarah Palin in McCain's 2008 presidential run -- and added that he's not surprised Crist became a Democrat. "He was real angry with the whole scenario that took place."

Would you help his campaign? "I couldn't do that. But I'm not sure I could campaign against him."

Extra: A look at the return of Maverick McCain.

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Can Education Commissioner Tony Bennett survive the school grade scandal?

Nationally celebrated education reformer Tony Bennett was wooed to Florida in January to bring stability to the state education department.

But barely eight months later, his tenure as education commissioner could be in trouble.

Scathing emails obtained by the Associated Press suggest that Bennett, while serving as education commissioner in Indiana last year, intervened to raise the grade for a charter school run by an influential Republican donor. Bennett was already under fire in Florida, where influential superintendents and state Board of Education members have raised questions about the validity of school grades.

Gov. Rick Scott has been silent on the scandal engulfing his education commissioner. He declined two opportunities to speak publicly on the matter Tuesday, saying he had not read the AP report.

Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers later said Bennett was “clearly committed to making Florida’s education system the best in the nation.”

But with the 2014 governor’s race on the horizon, observers say Scott has a tough decision to make. …

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Capitol protesters pursue Plan B

The Dream Defenders say they have enlisted enough state lawmakers to poll the entire legislature on whether to hold a special session on Stand Your Ground. If the poll takes place, 96 lawmakers must give their consent for the special session to take place.

Meanwhile, Rev. Jesse Jackson came to the group's mock special session at the Florida Capitol.

Read the story here.



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Obama and Rick Scott unite in Amazon adoration

On his national jobs tour, Pres. Barack Obama stopped Tuesday at an Amazon fulfillment center (née warehouse order center) in Chattanooga, Tenn. The visit came a day after the online company announced it was expanding, hiring 5,000 for 17 new warehouses like the one in Chattanooga across the U.S.

Obama, who is using the tour as a chance to highlight the need for higher paying jobs for the middle class, sounded like he was impressed.

“I just finished getting a tour of a very small part of this massive facility,” Obama told the crowd. “It’s the size of 28 football fields. Last year, during the busiest day of the Christmas rush, customers around the world ordered more than 300 items from Amazon every second – many of them traveling through this building. So it’s kind of like the North Pole of the South.”

Such a glowing review puts Obama firmly alongside Gov. Rick Scott in the Amazon fan club.

On June 13, Scott announced the state had made a deal with Amazon, in which the company would create 3,000 new jobs in Florida by 2016, but consumers would be required to pay a 6 percent state sales tax. …

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Despite DCF contact, 2 more children die

Summer Stiles had no idea her toddler son had been missing for much of an hour.

When Indian River Sheriff’s deputies returned 3-year-old Dakota Stiles to his mother July 12 — he had wandered into a neighbor’s backyard — she acknowledged she had lost track of her children that day.

“I guess I’m missing one,” the 34-year-old said.

More shocking, though, to state child welfare investigators was the condition of the Stiles home: One toilet was clogged with feces, and the only working bathroom was in a garage that was filled with garbage, mold and stacks of wet clothing.

Dakota’s room was “a pigsty,” piled with garbage, old food and other “filth.” But it was the pool that concerned the investigator the most: It was described as “exceptionally unsafe… green from disrepair, filthy, filled with unsanitary water and bugs and unknown contaminants.”

The report noted Dakota could get to the pool “by merely turning a knob.”

“These conditions, and the parents’ flat reaction to the child victim getting out of the home,” an investigator wrote, “pose a significant risk of harm” to Dakota.

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Obamacare brings new coverages, higher premiums to Florida

UPDATE: An unnamed senior official from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement in response to today's update on the health care law, mainly on the issue of rising premiums in Florida and the lack of statistics in the state report:

"We are consistently seeing in states across the country that premiums are lower than expected.  In 11 states that HHS studied, premiums were on average almost 20 percent lower than what the Congressional Budget Office projected. We are confident that Florida’s premiums will be affordable, and that consumers will have multiple options in a competitive and transparent marketplace.  When the marketplaces open Oct. 1, consumers will be able to shop for the plan that best fits their budget and needs.  Without releasing the premiums, the statistics released today don’t provide consumers with any information on what they will actually pay in the marketplace."

ORIGINAL POST: A state health insurance advisory board received an update on the federal health care law today, including new projections on how premiums could change in the coming months. …

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Rev. Jesse Jackson joins Dream Defenders

The Rev. Jesse Jackson listens to students after a mock special session in the old Capitol building in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

Rochelle Koff | Times/Herald

The Rev. Jesse Jackson listens to students after a mock special session in the old Capitol building in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

Since Gov. Rick Scott won’t call a special session to address the Stand Your Ground law, student protestors called their own mock session on Tuesday, with the help of a special speaker: the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Jackson said he would be joining the students, known as the Dream Defenders, for  “at least one night” outside the governor’s office. 

“He’ll be on the floor with the rest of us,” said Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew.

 Jackson is the second national figure to visit the young protestors in two weeks. Singer Harry Belafonte spoke to the group on Friday.

The students have spent the past two weeks camped in the Florida Capitol. They have pledged not to leave until Scott calls a special session addressing the Stand Your Ground law, the number of young adults in prisons and racial profiling.

While Scott was announcing that the Golf Channel is expanding its worldwide headquarters in Orlando on Tuesday, Jackson was sitting outside the governor’s office, listening to the young Defenders talk about their own experiences and why they were there. …

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