Big Florida political stories to watch in 2012

It's a journalistic tradition to recap noteworthy stories of the year in the final week.

In a slight variation on the theme, here are 10 emerging political stories to keep a close eye on in 2012.

10. Outsourcing, in or out? Stymied by a court, the Legislature will persist in seeking to privatize dozens of prisons in South Florida while seeking to outsource all health care for inmates statewide. The jury's still out on privatization, in more ways than one, because the cost savings have yet to be proved and it's highly disruptive to rank-and-file state workers.

9. Greer's trial. When Jim Greer goes on trial for alleged misdeeds as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, the GOP's free-spending, credit card-loving ways will be on trial, as well.

8. Jack's turn? Two GOP senators are quietly battling to determine which one will become Senate president in 2014: Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The outcome could have far-reaching political repercussions because these two men stand in stark contrast to each other. Latvala is a moderate and a maverick; Gardiner is a button-down conservative.

7. Line drawing. Reapportionment plans for the state House and Senate, and U.S. Congress will shape the state's political leadership for years to come.

6. Where there's a Will … Pasco's Will Weatherford, just 32, is the House point man on reapportionment and will become speaker of the House in fall 2012. (Pasco's one previous speaker was John Johnston of Dade City in 1893.)

5. PPP. The three letters stand for presidential preference primary. Mark the date: Jan. 31. That's when Florida Republicans exert their influence in the selection of the GOP nominee to be formally crowned at the party's convention in August in Tampa.

4. Senate sendoffs. Next year is when term limits exact their full impact on the state Senate, emptying the chamber of much of its experience and institutional know-how. The roll call of senatorial short-timers includes Dennis Jones of Seminole, who by next fall will have an astounding 32 years in the Legislature; Mike Fasano of New Port Richey (18); Mike Bennett of Bradenton (10); Paula Dockery of Lakeland (16); and JD Alexander of Lake Wales (14). Eight isn't always enough; experience matters.

3. Mack the Fourth. Will U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV follow his namesake father's footsteps all the way to the U.S. Senate? He'll need to win a crowded, tough GOP primary, then face well-funded Democrat Bill Nelson in a November race.

2. Election machinations. The Legislature's big changes to early voting and voter registration in Florida are still unresolved and in the hands of three federal judges in Washington, D.C. Approved or not, they will be a rallying cry for Democrats in 2012.

1. Rick Scott 2.0. The governor has a full year of experience under his belt, and he embarks on the second year of his term with lots to prove. Some of his policies have been blocked or curtailed by the courts; he remains personally unpopular; and legislators have their own ideas of how to run the state. The newness of Rick is gone, and it would be good if he and his constituents would trust each other more. By this time next year, he'll have reached the mid-way point of his term.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Big Florida political stories to watch in 2012 12/26/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 26, 2011 7:03pm]

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