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THE BUZZ: FLORIDA POLITICS

Published Jun. 5, 2009

Democrats blowing out GOP on voter registration

"We must not allow the success Democrats have seen in voter registration in recent months lead to success at the ballot box," state GOP Chairman Jim Greer declared Tuesday in announcing a major statewide voter registration drive. "With a U.S Senate Seat and four open Cabinet races in 2010, we must maintain our focus on the general election next November and work to build our infrastructure of registered voters and grass roots volunteers who will implement our nationally recognized GOTV Program."

Updated voter registration numbers since the last election show Republicans have their work cut out for them. Nearly 40 percent of new registrations since October were Democrats, 35 percent independents, and 26 percent Republicans. Less than one in six Hispanic voters registered as Republican during that period, while more than half registered as Democrats. More than 40 percent of new registrations from voters under 35 were Democrats, while fewer than one in four registered Republican.

"A successful GOTV Program takes months to plan, build and manage," said Greer. "This year, we are working from the ground up, starting with the county leadership. Local leaders will provide insight and information, suggest a time frame and training schedule, work with an RPOF Voter Registration Strike Team and finally carry out an aggressive calendar of voter registration activities focused on local needs."

They'd better get moving.

Posted by Adam Smith at 10:25:36 AM

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Alex Leary heading to Times' D.C. bureau

Alex Leary, our ace Tallahassee reporter, will soon be moving to the St. Petersburg Times' Washington, D.C., bureau. He will replace another star, Wes Allison, who is headed to law school in South Carolina. Congrats to Alex.

Posted by Adam Smith at 10:29:41 AM

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Crist winces at Troxler's criticism as 'gutless'

Gov. Charlie Crist is one of St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler's loyal readers, but he hadn't seen Thursday's piece (http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/state/article1007003.ece) before reporters asked him about it at a press conference. Troxler blasted Crist for signing a bill that weakens growth management in Florida and noted that Crist did so Monday "in gutless fashion" by "waiting until the close of business to send out a brief announcement."

Radio reporter Rick Flagg asked Crist: "Did you have a chance to read Howard Troxler's column this morning?" "No," Crist replied.

"He basically made the point that he thinks you sold out your environmental cred and destroyed growth management for the rest of the century," Flagg said. Then BayNews 9 videographer Steve Thomas said: "He (Troxler) said a stronger word than that, governor. He said 'gutless.'^"

Crist visibly winced at the mention of the word, and Flagg asked: "Do you think you have any environmental cred after this and after the drilling flip-flop?"

"Oh, I think that's for others to decide," said the governor, who's seeking voter support as a 2010 U.S. Senate candidate.

Posted by Steve Bousquet at 10:42:34

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Crist's general counsel leaving, weighing offers

UPDATE: The Governor's Office would not confirm that Rob Wheeler, a member of Crist's legal staff, will be promoted to the general counsel post. Spokeswoman Erin Isaac said an announcement will be made Friday.

Jason Gonzalez, general counsel to Gov. Charlie Crist, is leaving and weighing offers in private practice.

The 35-year-old UF law school graduate has been in the post less than 18 months, but it has been a busy and historic period. He has played a historic role in the shaping of Florida's Supreme Court, serving as Crist's chief adviser on the appointment of four new Justices: Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, James E.C. Perry and Charles Canady. The four appointments are the first time in Florida history in which a governor appointed a majority of the Court in less than a year.

Gonzalez's last day is Friday, when Justice Perry will have his investiture ceremony, becoming only the fourth African-American justice in state history. The Times/Herald hears Gonzalez, who is married with three young children, is weighing offers from several prominent statewide firms but has not yet decided which to join. He has been one of just a few minorities to serve in the top of Crist's administration.

Before joining Crist's administration, he served starting in 2006 as general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida. After graduating from the University of Florida law school, Gonzalez joined the Tallahassee firm of Ausley & McMullen, P.A., as an associate attorney.

Posted by Shannon Colavecchio at 10:59:46 AM

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Burden of proof property tax bill becomes law

At a ceremony in the Capitol on Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation that lowers the burden of proof for property owners who challenge their tax bills. Joining Crist at the ceremony were Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce (at left) and John Sebree of the Florida Association of Realtors (at right).

Before HB 521 became law, the burden was on the taxpayer to prove that the appraisal was incorrect. The new standard is the preponderance of the evidence, and the change "is an added protection for taxpayers, and it's good public policy," Crist said. Asked about concerns by local governments that the legislation could "handcuff" them by costing them up to $500 million, Crist said: "Florida taxpayers feel handcuffed, and they need some help."

The bill will not affect pending property tax challenges, but it will affect taxpayer challenges filed with counties' Value Adjustment Boards in 2009. Challenges are usually filed in August and September. The legislators who led the charge on the bill were Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami.

Posted by Steve Bousquet at 11:36:06 AM

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Rep. Proctor blasts McCarty over rate dereg bill objections

As Gov. Charlie Crist leans (http://blogs.tampabay.com/buzz/2009/06/crist-moving-toward-veto-of-insurancedereg-bill-.html#comments) toward a veto of Rep. Bill Proctor's bill that would deregulate large insurers' rates, Proctor has sent a letter to Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty blasting and questioning his criticism of the legislation.

McCarty recently voiced his objections to HB1171 in a letter (Download McCarty Letter) (http://blogs.tampabay.com/files/mccarty-letter-2.pdf) to Crist, which prompted Senate bill sponsor Sen. Mike Bennett to demand that McCarty step down (http://blogs.tampabay.com/buzz/2009/05/mccarty-urges-crist-to-veto-consumer-choice-insurance-rates.html) from his post. His letter: Download Bennett. (http://blogs.tampabay.com/files/bennett-1.doc)

Proctor's letter, sent today, questions McCarty's contention that the legislation will disrupt the market for 40 new companies that have been brought in to Florida to write policies under McCarty's watch. Proctor, R-St. Augustine, also expresses concern over the financial viability and claims-paying capacity of those smaller companies.

Read it here: Download Proctorletter1171 (http://blogs.tampabay.com/files/proctorletter1171.doc)

Posted by Shannon Colavecchio at 01:17:48 PM

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Aronberg jumps into AG race

Haven't heard it officially yet, but multiple sources say Democratic state Sen. Dave Aronberg (http://www.dave4florida.com/) is about to announce for attorney general.

UPDATE: Setting the stage for a two-or three-person Democratic primary, state Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres announced his candidacy for attorney general today, calling himself a champion for consumers. State Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach is likely to follow suit soon, while former state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua also is looking at the race.

"Whether it is tightening our state laws against sex offenders, safeguarding our ports, or going after corporate scam artists who target our seniors, we need an Attorney General who really understands what it takes to stand up for the people of this State," Aronberg said in a statement.

"Public safety is not some political theme to me. It is a passion. The people of this state deserve a true watchdog who will fight to protect them every day - that's exactly what I will be," said Sen. Aronberg. "Corporations have their attorneys, and criminals have their attorneys. I will be the people's attorney," said Sen. Aronberg. "And as your Attorney General, I have one message for those who seek to commit crimes or fraud against our citizens: If you target Floridians, the state will target you."

Posted by Adam Smith at 01:18:21 PM

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Mary McCarty gets 3.5 years

Palm Beach Post: (http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/2009/06/04/0604mccarty.html) WEST PALM BEACH - A judge this morning handed a 3 1/2 -year prison sentence to former Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty for turning the public's confidence in government into a confidence game.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks ordered her taken into custody immediately.

Posted by Adam Smith at 01:25:52 PM

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Lawmakers lobby governor on 'electioneering' ban bill

Rep. Janet Long, D-St. Petersburg, is urging Gov. Charlie Crist to sign legislation that bans local governments from using taxpayer dollars to advocate or oppose matters coming up for a vote during elections. Think penny taxes for schools, local stadiums and the like.

Long sponsored the House version of SB 216, which is sitting on Crist's desk. He has until June 10 to decide whether to let it become law. Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, sponsored it in his chamber.

"Using taxpayer dollars to tell people how to vote is not an appropriate use of public funds," Long writes.

Her letter includes a copy of a recent column by the Times' Howard Troxler. Read more here: Download Sb216letter (http://blogs.tampabay.com/files/sb216letter.pdf)

Posted by Shannon Colavecchio at 01:27:19 PM

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Ready, aim, fire: Smith v. Gelber v. Aronberg?

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Rod Smith, tells the Buzz he's still seriously looking at running for attorney general, despite the newly announced candidacy of Dave Aronberg and likely candidacy of Dan Gelber.

"I believed it was in the best interest that we worked this out and avoid a primary. We certainly hadn't been able to to do it thus far ... I like Dave Aronberg. He's a friend. But we may be candidates against one another. That's just politics."

Likewise Gelber was disappointed a primary appears likely: "We seem to have an irresistible impulse for self-immolation ... We all had been talking and all had agreed to wait a little but to give everybody a chance to come to a thoughtful judgment, but unfortunately we're not going to be able to do that."

Posted by Adam Smith at 03:40:32 PM

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Club for Growth slams Crist again

"Charlie Crist: Another Day, Another Tax Hike; Florida Governor Raises Taxes Twice in One Week," says the latest Club for Growth (http://www.clubforgrowth.org/) headline.

Charlie Crist would fit in well with Washington's tax-and-spend crowd. This week, he increased the amount of unemployment taxes paid by Florida businesses by over 20 percent. It is the second tax increase signed by Crist in one week, with the first being a cigarette tax hike of $1 per pack. ... Crist had firmly committed to oppose new taxes as Governor, but he broke that pledge. He has made a similar promise on federal taxes (ATR Taxpayer Protection Pledge).

"Governor Crist should be upfront with Florida residents when it comes to his tax-and-spend agenda," said Club President Chris Chocola. "Like Arlen Specter, he's a flip-flopper. Senate Republicans ought to make sure he doesn't intend to join the Democratic Caucus if elected."

Posted by Adam Smith at 05:46:33 PM

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Sen. King undergoes successful surgery to remove tumor

Sen. Jim King, diagnosed last month with pancreatic cancer, today underwent a lengthy surgery at Mayo Clinic in his Jacksonville district to remove the cancerous tumor.

Friends and family say the surgery was a success. He will remain in the hospital for 10 days before returning home for further recovery.

See below the memo Senate President Jeff Atwater sent to King's fellow senators:

TO: All Senators

FROM: Senate President Jeff Atwater

SUBJECT: Update on President Jim King

DATE: Thursday, June 4, 2009

President King underwent surgery today at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to remove a cancerous tumor from his pancreas. I'm pleased to report that the surgery went very well. Jim is in the ICU tonight and will remain in the hospital for an estimated ten days, after which he will continue his recovery at home.

Jim and Linda have asked that well wishers please continue to share their thoughts and words of encouragement on their website, which also sends periodic updates on Jim's condition if you sign up for journal updates.

I have been in touch with Linda throughout the day, and she has remained very upbeat and positive. As you can well imagine, the period of recovery will be a difficult one for President King. The family therefore encourages you to please refrain from calling or visiting the hospital and instead convey your well-wishes via the website, which they will check often.

Please continue to keep our friend Jim King and his family in your thoughts and prayers during this journey of recovery.

Posted by Shannon Colavecchio at 08:41:24