Michael Van Sickler, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Michael Van Sickler

Michael has been with the Tampa Bay Times since 2003. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, he graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and got his master's degree at the University of Florida. He has worked at the Ledger and the Palm Beach Post. For the Times, he has covered everything from mortgage fraud, growth and development in Tampa Bay, and St. Petersburg City Hall. He now covers state politics and government as part of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau.

Phone: (850) 224-7263.

Email: mvansickler@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MikeVanSickler

  1. A history of Florida's gift ban: Scandal. Reform. Repeat.

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Free hunting trips, whether to King Ranch in Texas or destinations closer to home, are a fixture of Florida politics.

    It was nearly 25 years ago that details emerged about lawmakers hunting and fishing with lobbyists. Their crime: not reporting the trips, which was a violation of a 1970 law.

    Back then, all county and state elected officials were required to report gifts worth more than $25, so the public would have an idea of who might be influencing their politicians....

    Willie Meggs charged more than two dozen state lawmakers.
  2. King Ranch's storied history: from cattle rearing to luxury hunting

    State Roundup

    Sprawled across 1,300 square miles of Texas hills, desert and coastal prairies, King Ranch is among the top hunting destinations in North America, and one of the Lone Star State's most historic treasures.

    Established in 1853 by a steamboat captain named Richard King, it was the state's first cattle ranch, the prototype for all the other magnificent spreads that helped define the American West. It's where some of the original cattle drives started and where the first American cattle breed was created. It inspired Edna Ferber's novel Giant and the screen version starring James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor — not to mention a line of Ford pickup trucks....

    A horse trainer works at King Ranch near Kingsville, Texas. Hunting accounts for a growing portion of revenue at the King Ranch that rivals, if not surpasses, money made from ranching.
  3. Adam Putnam on King Ranch hunting trips: Better than golf

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The closest any Florida public official came to providing answers about hunting trips to King Ranch came after a June 17 meeting of the state Cabinet. As Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam walked from the meeting to his office in the Capitol, a Times/Herald reporter asked him about his trips. Here is an edited transcript of the interview:

    Can you explain when you've gone to King Ranch and for what purposes?...

    Florida Agriculture chief Adam Putnam said he had been to the King Ranch in Texas “for campaign purposes as well as to see more of their ag operations.’’
  4. Why won't Florida GOP leaders talk about hunting trips to King Ranch in Texas?

    State Roundup


    On a Friday in February 2013, Gov. Rick Scott stepped aboard a Texas-bound plane to take part in a secret ritual for Florida's power elite.

    As other politicians had done before and would do after, Scott was departing for historic King Ranch, one of North America's premier hunting grounds. The trips, records indicate, were financed all or in part with contributions from Florida's sugar industry, right down to the hunting licenses....

  5. Scott fundraiser instant comedy classic on HBO's John Oliver


    Gov. Rick Scott tempted the comedy gods with his latest choice of fundraisers.

    And, as Sunday night’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” proved, the comedy gods show no mercy.

    Not with the material Scott gave them Monday night.


  6. Attorney general candidates look past primary with eye toward Bondi

    State Roundup

    In the state attorney general race, Democrats still must choose between George Sheldon and Perry Thurston in the Aug. 26 primary.

    But nevermind that contest. For now at least, both candidates are focusing on the opponent who awaits — Attorney General Pam Bondi.

    Thurston, a state representative from Fort Lauderdale and the outgoing minority leader, on Tuesday launched a website: bondis bungles.com....

    Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi is unopposed in the Aug. 26 primary. The two Democrats vying to face her in the November general election lag far behind in campaign contributions.
  7. Dem rivals for AG reach consensus on Bondi bashing


    In the Florida Attorney General race, Democrats still must choose between George Sheldon and Perry Thurston in the Aug. 26 primary.

    But nevermind that contest. For now at least, both candidates are focusing on the opponent who awaits -- Attorney General Pam Bondi.

    On Tuesday, Thurston, who is the outgoing Minority Leader in the FLorida House as a representative from Fort Lauderdale, launched a new website: Bondi's Bungles....

  8. Tax records suggest Crist, Scott lag in charitable giving


    TALLAHASSEE — While Gov. Rick Scott and his Democratic rival Charlie Crist have waged a bitter public relations battle over the release of their tax returns, both sides have been mum about one aspect of the documents:

    They suggest that both candidates are philanthropic laggards compared with their well-heeled peers. The returns show no giving from Crist in recent years, and declining charity from Scott....

    Charlie Crist's tax returns show that since 2002 he's made no charitable contributions, not even when his income jumped from $135,000 as governor to $705,000 two years later while working in the private sector. [AP photo]
  9. One-third of Florida Legislature faces no opposition at polls


    TALLAHASSEE — Millions of voters in Florida will get no vote in choosing who represents them in the Florida House and Senate next year. That's because the deadline for candidates expired at noon Friday with no challengers qualifying to run against a third of the state Legislature.

    The lack of opposition means candidates for eight state Senate seats — all incumbent Republicans — and 38 House seats, all but one an incumbent, automatically won their seats despite no ballots being cast in those districts. That will make 2014 even less competitive than 2012, when 24 percent of lawmakers ran unopposed....

  10. Gov. Scott signs bills on vouchers, guns and sports stadiums


    TALLAHASSEE — From pro sports to Pop-Tarts, Gov. Rick Scott signed dozens of new laws Friday, including two NRA-supported gun bills and an expansion of school vouchers.

    The voucher program, part of a 140-page education bill (SB 850), expands the use of tax credit scholarships so that low-income children can attend private schools. It was a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and was supported by former Gov. Jeb Bush's think tank, the Foundation for Florida's Future....

  11. Ethics complaint filed on Scott's stake in oil drilling company


    An investment in a French oil services company that drills in Florida poses a conflict of interest for Gov. Rick Scott, according to a complaint filed with the Commission on Ethics on Tuesday by a Broward County activist.

    In the complaint, John Lundin alleges that Scott’s past $135,000 investment in Schlumberger LTD., once held in a blind trust, is grounds for a broader investigation into Scott’s portfolio. Lundin said he filed the complaint after reading about Scott’s investment in Schlumberger in the Times/Herald on Sunday....

  12. Scott signs 94 bills into law, including measures restricting abortion, charities


    TALLAHASSEE — Florida became the latest Republican-controlled state to pass new restrictions on abortion on Friday as Gov. Rick Scott signed 94 bills covering a wide range of topics.

    House Bill 1047 bans abortions once a fetus is considered viable, which is typically at 23 weeks of gestation. The new law, which passed with a partisan vote in the Legislature, replaces Florida's existing ban on abortions starting in the third trimester, which is about two weeks after the new standard....

     Florida Gov. Rick Scott, smiles while talking to a panel of students and their parents during a round table discussion of skyrocketing college costs Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at Jefferson High School in Tampa.
  13. Light vetoes predicted when Gov. Rick Scott signs Florida budget

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott's veto pen is looking more like a scalpel as signs point to him trimming a fraction of spending in a record-high $77.1 billion election-year budget.

    Scott is expected to sign the budget by Tuesday, and it will be an opportunity to express his fiscal values as he seeks a second term.

    His line-item vetoes are highly anticipated because Scott is running as a fiscal conservative and careful steward of tax dollars, but the budget on his desk is loaded with hundreds of millions in discretionary spending in every part of the state. Most projects were championed by Republicans whose support Scott will need on the campaign trail....

    Gov. Scott is expected to sign the $77.1 billion budget by Tuesday.
  14. Florida TaxWatch 'turkey' hunt targets Tampa Bay projects

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida TaxWatch released its annual list of budget "turkeys" on Friday, flagging $120 million in spending the group says was included by lawmakers without the proper public vetting, including large projects in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

    Hillsborough County had 12 projects dubbed turkeys, including $12 million for a large crane at the Port of Tampa Bay, $5 million for a new building at the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine, $3 million for the Florida Conservation and Technology Center in Apollo Beach and $2.5 million for the Museum of Science and Industry....

    Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the turkey list has become meaningless.
  15. Hillsborough leads the way in Florida TaxWatch's "turkey" hunt


    Florida TaxWatch released its annual list of budget “turkeys” on Friday, flagging $120 million in spending the group says was included by lawmakers without the proper public vetting, including large projects in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Miami-Dade and Pasco counties.

    Hillsborough County had 12 projects flagged: $12 million on the Port of Tampa Bay’s Gantry Crane; $5 million on the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine; $3 million for the Florida Conservation and Technology Center in Apollo Beach; and $2.5 million for the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)....