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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Miami makes bid for 2016 Democratic convention

Our friends at the Miami Herald have the scoop on Miami announcing it will pursue a bid for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. We remember how much fun the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa was, so go, Miami! Here's an excerpt:

Miami announced on Friday it would pursue the Democratic National Convention in 2016, an event expected to require double the organizing costs of what the region expected to raise to put on the Super Bowl.

Organizers are pushing downtown’s AmericanAirlines Arena for a gathering widely expected to put Hillary Clinton atop the Democratic ticket. Initial estimates put the cost as $50 million, about what Tampa paid to host the 2012 Republican convention.

Though both Richard Nixon and George McGovern were nominated at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 1972, the region has since been out of the convention game. Miami pursued the 2000 Democratic convention, but tourism officials have pointed to costs in recent years when explaining why the region wasn’t in the hunt for the events that generally draw about 50,000 people for a week of speeches, parties and media events. …

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Political Connections Sun: Gaetz and Weatherford on how money barely influences legislators

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford appear Sunday on Political Connections at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9. Here's a clip.


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Watch the final CD13 debate tonight at 8:30 on WEDU

The final debate in the Congressional District 13 special election airs tonight at 8:30 p.m. on WEDU PBS. Republican David Jolly, Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby will face off for the third time ahead of the March 11 election.

The 30-minute debate is moderated by Florida This Week host Rob Lorei. It will air again Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and be available next week online at

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DEO takes credit for drastic drop in jobless claims (really)

TALLAHASSEE — State officials who prematurely celebrated a new unemployment benefits website are claiming now that the defects that kept thousands of Floridians from getting benefits since October are mostly fixed.

Officials with Gov. Rick Scott's Department of Economic Opportunity who oversee the CONNECT project say the number of jobless claims stuck in the system for more than a week dropped from more than 58,000 to fewer than 5,000 last month.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said CONNECT project manager Tom McCullion this week. "We're just in a phenomenal position today serving our claimants."

Yet most of the improvement has nothing to do with DEO, said Alí R. Bustamante, a professor at Florida International University's center for labor research.

Starting Jan. 1, 73,000 Floridians lost their federal long-term unemployment benefits when Congress didn't renew the program. That, combined with a reduction of state benefits, wiped away 17 weeks of unemployment eligibility practically overnight, hitting Florida especially hard because it leads the nation in long-term unemployment. …

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Rep. Castor highlights 'irony' of Medicaid cash grab months after rejection of expansion dollars

This issue has received scant attention, likely because Florida's Republican leaders would rather not talk much about their decision to ask the federal government for more Medicaid dollars even as they rejected Medicaid expansion.

But U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, brought up the state's cash grab in a letter to House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz today wherein she implores them to support Medicaid expansion.

Florida is waiting to hear back from the federal government on its request to expand a pool of money funded by state, local and federal Medicaid dollars to provide health services to the poor and uninsured. The $1 billion "Low Income Pool" (LIP) program would be combined with other Medicaid funding streams and be renamed the "System Access and Transformation Incentive Fund."

The state plan calls for that new fund to be increased to roughly $4.5 billion annually, or $45 billion over 10 years. Last session, Flroida rejected $51 billion over 10 years in Medicaid expansion funding tied to President Barack Obama's federal reforms. …

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Curt Clawson runs as outsider but plays insider game with contributions

Earlier this month we reported that Curt Clawson, a Republican candidate in the race to replace disgraced former Rep. Trey Radel, had made a single political contribution in his life — to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

His campaign said the single contribution was evidence he is "truly is a political outsider and a breath of fresh air that is needed in Washington."

But it wasn’t true.

In late December, Clawson gave $5,200 to Sen. Mitch McConnell and an additional $4,800 to the Republican Party of Kentucky, FEC records show. The money caught the attention of a conservative commentator on Facebook, who scoffingly referred to McConnell as an “Establishment GOP RINO.” The McConnell fundraiser was held in Naples.

"Curt is doing what he can to help Republicans win in 2014 and therefore has stepped up his donations in the last few months to conservative candidates and organizations in southwest Florida and across the country,” advisor John Yob told the Tampa Bay Times. “He will continue making contributions to make sure that republicans have the votes to repeal Obamacare and implement pro-growth fiscal policies." …

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Hours before final debate, Jolly has questions for Sink

Hours before the final debate in Pinellas County's open congressional race, Republican David Jolly's campaign put out some questions (via Twitter) he says Democratic opponent Alex Sink should answer.

It will be interesting to see if the questions are asked, and if they are answered. The debate, which also features Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby, will be shown on WEDU at 8:30 tonight and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Here are the five questions for Sink from the Jolly campaign: …

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U.S. Chamber's new TV ad hits Sink on Medicare Advantage cuts

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today released this TV ad, attacking Democrat Alex Sink for the cuts to Medicare Advantage. The Chamber has spent about $800,000 in the Congressional District 13 race, adding to more than $6 million in outside spending.

“This misleading ad is a wild distortion of Alex Sink’s position on the Affordable Care Act. Alex wants to keep what works and fix what doesn’t, and she opposes these cuts to Medicare Advantage," Sink spokeswoman Ashley Walker said.  "But special interest lobbyist David Jolly’s position of total repeal is out of touch with Pinellas voters because it would make seniors pay more and even bring back the Medicare prescription drug donut hole.” Jolly has said he favors some consumer protections, including the ban on excluding coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

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Gov. Rick Scott cloaks travel details, citing security

TALLAHASSEE — By using his personal jet for public business, Florida Gov. Rick Scott can shield his itinerary from websites that track flights, and when his plane lands, he uses a public records exemption to tighten the cloak of secrecy.

Wherever Scott goes, he's shadowed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents. In citing a records exemption that protects FDLE "surveillance techniques" from publication, he withholds the members of his traveling party, restaurants and homes he visits, and people at meetings — all in the name of security.

To a much greater degree than the past three governors, Scott, former chief executive of the nation's largest private hospital chain, conceals information from the public about his travel.

Full story here.

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Rick Scott recommended big donor for lucrative school contract

TAMPA — Jonathan Hage sat on Gov. Rick Scott's education transition team. He and his company, Charter Schools USA, have given more than $100,000 to Scott's Let's Get To Work fund and the state Republican Party.

Now it appears it was Scott — or someone very close to him — who suggested Charter Schools USA run a school at MacDill Air Force Base.

Meeting minutes obtained by the Hillsborough County School District, which opposes the school, describe the origin of a plan that is at the heart of a battle before the Florida Board of Education.

"Upon advice from Governor Scott, MacDill Air Force Base representatives reached out to Charter Schools USA to support the process to develop and operate a charter school," the meeting minutes say.

The minutes summarize a July meeting of the nonprofit Florida Charter Educational Foundation, which works closely with Charter Schools USA.

Tom Gonzalez, a lawyer for the Hillsborough district, included the minutes in a legal filing opposing the charter. Gonzalez wants to prove there is not enough distance between the foundation — which he called "a fig leaf of a not-for-profit" – and for-profit Charter Schools USA.

More here

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Ginny Brown-Waite helps Jolly reach out to seniors

Former U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite participated in a telephone call tonight with residents in Congressional District 13, talking about Medicare Advantage cuts, Obamacare and issues related to seniors -- the coveted voters in the battle between David Jolly and Alex Sink.

The call, sponsored by American Action Network, also featured Doug Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the CBO whois president of American Action Forum.

"Pinellas seniors should know that Alex Sink supports Obamacare that is cutting Medicare Advantage, leading to higher costs, fewer choices and limited doctor access for seniors. Alex Sink can’t be trusted in Washington to protect Pinellas seniors from cuts under the health care law she supports," said Emily Davis, AAN spokeswoman.

She said 40,000 numbers were dialed, but did not know how many people chose to listen.

AAN has put $500,000 into the race, including video and display ads.

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Miami-Dade lawmaker to be honored at CPAC


 For the second year in a row, a state lawmaker from Florida has been named one of 10 rising conservative stars under 40.

This year, American Conservative Union is recognizing Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, of Miami.

Diaz will be honored at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins on March 6 in Washington, D.C.

"Being selected for this honor is an amazing opportunity to showcase that conservative solutions advanced by Republican members of the Florida legislature can serve as a model to address our country's very real issues," he said.

Last year's rising stars included Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The Wesley Chapel Republican used the platform to oppose a federal expansion of Medicaid.

"Here's the bottom line: It's time for the states to take a stand," Weatherford told the crowd of conservative activists.

Diaz will have the opportunity to speak on March 8. He plans to talk about diversity and the Republican Party, he said.

"It's a huge platform," he said. "I will talk a little bit about who I am, where I come from, and how I see Hispanics playing a role in the future of the party." …

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Campaign cash: $538K for Jolly, $1.3 mill for Sink

Republican candidate David Jolly has predicted he will be outspent in the race to win Pinellas County's open congressional seat, and his prediction seems to be coming true. A campaign report filed Thursday indicates he has raised $538,571 in the most recent reporting period. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Alex Sink's campaign said she has raised $1.3 million during the same period.

All this is overshadowed by the outside groups that have poured more than $6 million into campaign ads outside of the candidates control.


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Rubio and Scott to stand together for Venezuela

Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott plan to participate in a noon event tomorrow in Doral to express solidarity for protesters in Venezula.

Rubio has been out front on the issue and Scott joined in as well, suggesting President Obama consider sanctions against the Venezuelan government. (video here)

Today, Rubio and Sen. Robert Menendez introduced a resolution "deploring the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Venezuela, calling for full accountability for human rights violations, and supporting the right of the Venezuelan people to live freely and democratically."

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Sink campaign raises $1.3 million more

In Pinellas County's hard-fought and highly financed congressional race, Democratic candidate Alex Sink's campaign says she has raised $1.3 million since the last reporting period, which was in December.

The campaign said in a news release that:

  • It raised $1,307,318.92, and filed its report with $971,586.62 cash on hand.
  • Since the beginning of the campaign, over 19,000 donors have contributed.   
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