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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Chinese government pays for trip by aides to Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen

WASHINGTON — Top aides to Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, two of the most vehement anti-Communist voices in Washington, took an all expenses paid trip to China this month courtesy of the Chinese government.
Sally Canfield, deputy chief of staff to Rubio, and Arthur Estopinan, chief of staff to Ros-Lehtinen, were part of a congressional staff trip facilitated by the U.S.-Asia Institute.

The trips, which include meetings with government officials in Beijing, have occurred since 1985, involving hundreds of lawmakers and staffers. They are a popular perk on Capitol Hill and come with luxury hotel stays and visits to top tourist sites, including the Great Wall. The cost can exceed $10,000 a person.

The Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen connection stands out because of their strong anti-Communism views. Both Cuban-American lawmakers have condemned the human rights records of China and Cuba and have opposed efforts to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. They also regularly criticize people who have gone to Cuba.

Full story here.

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Winner and loser of the week in Fla politics

Winner of the week

Charlie Crist. The puny turnout did not exactly signal Democratic enthusiasm, but Crist's 3-to-1 primary victory over Nan Rich should tamp down chatter about Democrats not being ready to embrace the former Republican.

Loser of the week

Jeb Bush. The Lee County School Board voted to opt out of Common Core. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a presidential contender, sued the federal government over Common Core, while Rick Scott is scrambling to distance himself from Common Core and standardized testing. Bush's strength as a presidential candidate looks much more dubious today than a few months ago, amid widespread backlash against education accountability policies closely associated with him.

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President Clinton to campaign with Charlie Crist on Friday

President Bill Clinton will use his star power to ramp up support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist on Friday in Miami.

The rally will be held at 6 p.m. at the J.W. Marriott Marquis hotel. Members of the public who wish to attend must RSVP at www.charliecrist.com/bill-clinton-sept5.

in announcing the event, Crist said he was "over the moon." Here is more from an email to supporters:

"President Clinton's been fighting on the front lines for years on the issues we care about: Equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, expanding health care to everyone who needs it, and making sure that everyone has a fair shot at success.

He's better than anyone at explaining why what we're doing matters.

I'm looking forward to kicking off the final two months of this campaign with him."

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Here's how Charlie Crist beats Rick Scott

Charlie Crist's political fortunes have been hitched to President Barack Obama, for better or worse, since their man hug five years ago helped sink him in the Republican Party.

So it may seem counterintuitive that as the Crist campaign plots its path to victory over Gov. Rick Scott, the benchmark is not Obama winning Florida in 2008 or 2012. Rather, it's Alex Sink's narrow loss to Scott in 2010.

How does the former Republican governor make history by getting elected governor again as a Democrat?

The plan essentially boils down to matching Sink's performance — the former chief financial officer lost to Scott by 1.2 percentage points, less than 62,000 votes — and then, through sophisticated computer modelling, analytics and voter targeting, to modestly improve on her showing among various voter groups that make up Florida's complicated electoral mosaic.

"We know the universe we have to turn out," said Omar Khan, Crist's campaign manager and one of many Obama campaign veterans helping Crist. "Every decision we make and everything we've done is to get to 50 percent plus one. We know where our voters are, and we feel very comfortable." …

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Sheldon awaits Bondi's response to his request for five debates

Officially, Attorney Pam Bondi was the first to issue the debate challenge to George Sheldon.

It was just minutes after Sheldon had won the Democratic nomination for Attorney General on Tuesday night when Bondi's campaign blasted an email stating that Bondi "calls for general election debate."

"The voters will have a clear choice between candidates in this election and they deserve to hear directly from us on the distinct difference in visions and leadership that each candidate will offer," the email stated. "This can be accomplished through thoughtful and respectful dialogue worthy of our great state."

While celebrating with supporters at a Tallahassee wine bar, Sheldon accepted, and then some.

"I'll debate her five times if she's up for it."

To emphasize that, Sheldon's campaign blasted its challenge to Bondi on Friday: Five debates over the next two months.

"The choice of attorney general every four years deserves more than one debate," Sheldon concludes in an open letter to Bondi. …

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Andrews expands lawsuit against Scott and Bondi, alleging public records violations

Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews expanded his public records complaints against Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday, asking the court to hold the state's top officers in violation of the state's public records laws and seeking relief and attorneys fees. 

Andrews, who successfully sued the governor and Cabinet for violating a contract he had to purchase the build that houses his office near the Florida Governor's Mansion, has engaged in a two-year battle to obtain public records as part of his legal battle.

He now alleges that the governor's office not only withheld documents but engaged in "actively concealing them" and "conspiring with others known and unknown, to conceal public records" from him as well as "dealying the production of public records to interfere with the Petitioner’s prosecution of Andrews v. Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund (“BOT”), Case No. 2012 CA 859." 

Lawyers for the governor and attorney general have repeatedly argued they have turned over all relevant documents and deny the allegations.  …

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Charlie Crist calls on Rick Scott to stop Fla's defense of gay marriage ban

A letter released by the Charlie Crist campaign: …

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State Sen. John Legg declines award from FSBA, urges group to drop lawsuit

Senate Education Commitee Chairman John Legg declined an award from the Florida School Boards Association on Friday -- one day after the organization announced plans to challenge the school voucher program in court.

"It is now apparent to me that the association's stance on educating low income students and access to choice in education is too conflicting with my own," Legg wrote in a letter to FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton. "It saddens me that the FSBA would take a position that looks to eliminate customization in education, an approach which is widely viewed to be essential to improving student learning."

The FSBA named Legg its Legislator of the Year on July 1.

His notification letter included a hand-written message from Blanton: "Thanks for all you have done for us. Your support of technology is greatly appreciated by all of the school districts."

Legg, a Trinity Republican and longtime supporter of school choice, declined the honor Friday. …

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Voter groups appeal newly drawn congressional map in latest redistricting challenge

The coalition of voter groups that originally challenged maps draw during redistricting efforts in 2012 said they will also apeal newly draw maps approved earlier this month by a Leon County circuit court.

Last week, Judge Terry Lewis upheld the revised congressional map that the Legislature approved during a three-day special session. Lewis said the new map corrected what he had determined were violations of the state's Fair District rules against gerrymandering. The new map updated boundaries for congressional seats currently held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, along with adjoining districts.

Lewis ruled that the new map would go into effect for the 2016 election. Both Brown and Webster are running for re-election now under the old boundary lines.

The coalition that originally challenged that map said the new one doesn't fix the issues they've raised and have criticized Lewis' ruling. They said the changes the Legislature approved to districts 5 and 10 didn't go far enough to fix the political gerrymandering. …

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Florida Legislature sets schedule for 2015 session

Incoming Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli has notified members of which weeks to block out of their schedules leading up to the 2015 session.

They will first gather Nov. 18, two weeks after the election, to have an organizational session. If Gov. Rick Scott wins re-election, this will be business as usual. But if Democrat Charlie Crist wages an upset, there will be many changes in the Capitol and the Republican-controlled Legislature will have even more to discuss.

Of course, either way the gubernatorial election goes, there will be some newly elected members (and some former members returning) joining the Legislature on Nov. 18 and for training the week of December 8.

Here are the committee weeks:

  • -The week of January 5
  • -The week of January 20 (Begins on Tuesday because the state observes Martin Luther King Day)
  • -The week of February 2
  • -The week of February 9
  • -The week of February 16

The 60-day regular session begins March 3, 2015.

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Jeb Bush's education foundation: Lee County 'neglecting its duty'

Jeb Bush's education foundation today issued a strongly-worded rebuke of the Lee County decision to opt-out of state mandated tests, a pillar of Bush's legacy.

"We are deeply disappointed by the Lee County School Board’s vote to abandon Florida’s academic tests and with it, their responsibility for the success of the community’s students," Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, wrote in a statement. “Not only do these academic checkups provide an honest assessment to parents of how their children are progressing in school, they also prepare students for the future because tests are a part of life.

“Measuring student achievement is the cornerstone of a strong accountability system that allows our children to learn to their full potential and be competitive with their peers across the state, nation and around the globe. Tests also shine a light on where school systems need to improve, where they need to invest more resources. Without them some schools and students would fall through the cracks. …

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Tampa Bay GOP big dogs raising $$ for Rick Scott

The fundraising invite

RPOF

The fundraising invite

Many of Tampa Bay top tier Republican money raisers are hosting Sept. 16 fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott at downtown Tampa's Oxford Exchange. Write a $10,000 check to the Florida GOP and you can attend a VIP reception and get a photo with the governor. A $1,000 check gets you into the general reception

Chairmen include Beverly Austin, Dab and Roz Doyle, Sr., Dan and Nicole Doyle, Jr., Bill Edwards, Gordon Gillette, Gov. Bob and Mary Jane Martinez, Donald and Erin Phillips, John Ramil, Brent and Debbie Sembler, and Trey and Nina Traviesa. Co-Chairs include Carlos Alfonso, Lee and Deborah Arnold, Tom and Dixie Arthur, and Robert and Nancy Watkins. Hosts include Allison Adams, Charlie Funk, John and Kimberly Kirtley, Rick Michaels, Les and Pam Muma, Chris Sullivan, and Robert Thomas.

 

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Florida Health Choices website aimed at the uninsured draws little interest

From today's paper:

Last year, legislators allocated $900,000 to help Floridians find affordable health care through a new state-backed website.

At the same time, they refused to expand Medicaid or work with the federal government to offer subsidized insurance plans.

Six months after the launch of the state's effort, called Florida Health Choices, just 30 people have signed up. Another seven plans were canceled either because consumers changed their minds or didn't pay for services.

These numbers are dwarfed by the nearly 764,000 Floridians who are too poor to afford subsidized plans, yet can't qualify for Medicaid under Florida's stringent standards. They are supposed to be the target market for Health Choices.

But Health Choices doesn't sell comprehensive health insurance to protect consumers from big-ticket costs such as hospitalization. Instead, it has limited benefit options and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses.

The plan's biggest backer in the Legislature blames the lack of business on the federal Affordable Care Act, which features comprehensive plans with varying subsidies for those who qualify.

Read more here.

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Nominees for PSC posts include Patronis, Murzin and Brown

The Public Service Nominating Council on Thursday included a current and former legislator, as well as a sitting commissioner, in the slate of seven candidates forwarded to Gov. Rick Scott to fill two positions on the five-person board that regulates Florida utilities. 

Julie Imanuel Brown  Download (Redacted) Applicant 11 - Julie Imanuel Brown
David J. Murzin  Download (Redacted) Applicant 20 - David J. Murzin
Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez  Download (Redacted) Applicant 25 - Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez
Stuart Wayne Pollins  Download (Redacted) Applicant 29 - Stuart Wayne Pollins
Kevin LeRoy Wiehle  Download (Redacted) Applicant 30 - Kevin LeRoy Wiehle

Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.  Download (Redaction Not Needed) Applicant 33 - Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.

Regulatory experience or utility industry background was not abiding criteria for the council, which is dominated by legislators whose voting record frequently aligns with the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities. …

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Climate activists protest but candidates for PSC ignore the issue

Scientists hoping to draw attention to Gov. Rick Scott's disregard for climate change and rising seas staged a press conference next door to a meeting of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council at the Miami International Airport Hotel Thursday.

But before they could even start, state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, who chairs the council, announced, "I support climate change," as he walked by University of Miami climate scientist Harold Wanless and South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard.

Abruzzo later walked into the press conference to urge Wanless and Stoddard to apply for a position on the advisory board that oversees Florida utilities, including Florida Power & Light, and noted that none of candidates for the regulatory board addressed climate change in their presentations.

"I'm a firm believer in global warming," Abruzzo said. "Renewables are important to me, especially solar power, because we're the Sunshine State."

Wanless and Stoddard have frequently criticized Scott for ignoring the dangers of climate change. They used the meeting of the nominating council to underscore what they say is a "cozy relationship" between the regulators and the utilities that have fought against increasing Florida's energy conservation mandates and wean Florida's energy market off fossil fuels. Full Story