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So far, no contenders commit to join Florida GOP's shindig

It's time to raise the possibility that "Presidency 5" — the Republican Party of Florida's Sept. 22-24 weekend featuring a nationally televised debate, every major Republican presidential contender and a nonbinding presidential preference vote by 3,500 Florida Republican activists — could be an embarrassing flop.

No, we're not predicting a dud at the Orange County Convention Center. It seems unlikely that serious presidential candidates would snub the GOP in a battleground state that also stands to have a major say in determining the Republican nominee.

Still, the fact remains that none of the candidates has yet committed to the Florida event, which partially conflicts with another high-profile political cattle call, the Sept. 23-25 Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan. And unlike the straw polls the Florida GOP conducted at Presidency 1 (1979), 2 (1987), and 3 (1995), there is zero sign of early straw poll organizing by the presidential campaigns.

The state Republican Party is officially optimistic. The expected addition of the Conservative Political Action Committee conference sweetens the enticement for candidates to come.

The deadline for delegates to register is Friday. (Cost is $175.) Find out more at

Romney has his hand out

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney will hit Florida's fundraising circles big time next week. Here's the working schedule and current list of hosts:

Tuesday evening in Boca Raton: Ambassador Ned and Stephanie Siegel, Rodger Krouse, Marc Leder, Zach Zachariah.

June 15 breakfast in Miami: Steve Ross, David and Carolina Cardenas, Mike Hernandez, Stanley Tate.

June 15 lunch in Orlando: Bill Heavener, Ferdinand and June Duda, Harkley Thornton, Genean McKinnon.

June 15 evening in St. Petersburg: Mel and Betty Sembler, Brent and Debbie Sembler, Jim Holton, John Rood, Sen. John and Jean Thrasher.

Looking north for school chief?

Struggling to recruit a new education commissioner, Buzz is that Gov. Rick Scott and his folks are looking to recruit Indiana's controversial education chief, Tony Bennett. He pushed bills to empower the state to take over low-performing schools, limit teacher collective bargaining, and increase teacher evaluations while expanding publicly funded private education.

Bennett's school-choice zeal led to a spot of controversy when his wife earlier this year resigned as a consultant to the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, which stood to benefit from her husband's reforms, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

Bennett, an elected official, would seem a perfect fit for Scott. He's a fellow union-criticizing Republican who doesn't blink from pushing conservative policies. Scott already snagged one former Indiana official, prisons secretary Ed Buss.

Ethics challenge thrown down

Democratic provocateur Jon Ausman on Tuesday called on the Florida Democratic Party to create a code of ethics and take a cue from the national party by banning donations from corporations and lobbyists. By Ausman's count, the state party collected $1.2 million from corporations and more than $267,000 from lobbyists in the first three months of 2011. Ausman is offering $250 for anyone who can bring him a copy of the ethics policy he says doesn't exist. And he's offering another $250 to anyone who can write the best ethics policy for Democrats. He'll announce a contest winner July 4.

Redistricting hearings set

This summer, the Florida Senate and House are hosting public hearings throughout the state on redistricting. The schedule is on the Senate's website, The meetings start June 20 in Tallahassee. There's a meeting in Wesley Chapel on July 26, Tampa on Aug. 29, and Largo on Aug. 30.

Democrats demand inquiry

Florida House Democrats are asking Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to look into the removal of some people from Gov. Rick Scott's budget signing event May 26 in the Villages. Democrats say the protesters were "unlawfully" removed and want Bondi to back them up. They're asking Atwater to determine whether public money was inappropriately used.

Times/Herald staff writers Marc Caputo, Michael C. Bender and Janet Zink contributed to this report.

So far, no contenders commit to join Florida GOP's shindig 06/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 13, 2011 10:54am]
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