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Health care: The Florida reaction

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando: I'm glad the president is proposing insurance exchanges that will help the nearly one-in-four Floridians who don't have or cannot get affordable health insurance. Americans who are satisfied with their coverage should be able to keep what they have. And we ought to make coverage affordable for those who don't have it.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota: We should focus on balanced, common-sense reforms such as eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, reducing frivolous lawsuits, coverage of pre-existing conditions, ensuring portability and preserving the doctor-patient relationship. We should also create association health plans that allow small businesses to purchase group health plans, which will make coverage more affordable by spreading risk and increasing negotiating power.

Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami: Tonight's speech was a game-changer. President Obama brought clarity to the health care debate. His objective is straightforward: offering stability and security in our health insurance system to Floridians with insurance and to Floridians who lack insurance.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando: Tonight, the President laid out his plan for health care reform that will bring stability and security to health care in America. He and I both want it to deliver peace of mind for everyone. If you change jobs, lose your job, or lose your health, you should be able to get affordable health insurance. Under the President's plan, you will be able to.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton: I enthusiastically agree with the priorities that President Obama outlined tonight, which include providing affordable and accessible coverage for all Americans, delivering real competition in the market to drive down costs, and helping seniors afford their prescription drugs. Congress is on the cusp of delivering historic change, and tonight President Obama provided the vision and initiative for us to get this done."

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa: Health insurance reform is vital to Florida families and businesses. The status quo is not working for too many of my neighbors and is too expensive. We need to bring competition to lower costs for our hard-working families and make insurance available to many more. No longer will insurance companies be able to deny you coverage if you get sick, they won't be able to charge you higher premiums because of medical history or current illness, if you change jobs, you can carry your policy with you, and you won't have to pay co-pays or deductibles for preventative care. And if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.

RPOF Chairman Jim Greer: The President's speech tonight was a good effort in discussing this important issue with the American public. I, along with many people, believe that our health care system has challenges which must be addressed and while I agreed with much of what the President had to say, there is still much that I cannot support when it comes to government run health care and the many unanswered questions that still exist. At the end of the day, the President was right when he said that the need for bipartisanship cooperation is crucial to passing health care reform legislation that all Americans can support.

Florida Democratic Chairwoman Karen Thurman: We are closer than ever to passing comprehensive reform and President Obama has laid out a clear path forward. Unfortunately, Republican leaders in Florida have decided to stand in lock-step opposition to reform. They want to maintain the status quo and hurt President Obama politically. Opponents of reform have a choice. They can either stop playing partisan games and come up with their own reform proposal, or they can start explaining to the American people why it's better to stand by and do nothing at all as thousands more Floridians face skyrocketing costs and lose their coverage every day.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum: President Obama gave a well delivered speech tonight that was great on style and wrong on substance. The health care plan that Washington Democrats and what I suspect my opponent Alex Sink supports will not work in its current form. As I have said before, these proposals will reduce the quality of care, limit choice and put our more than three million senior citizens in Florida at great risk.

Posted by Alex Leary at 08:54:35 PM on September 9, 2009

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As of 5 p.m., Martinez is the ex-U.S. Senator

Posted by Alex Leary at 05:29:01 PM on September 9, 2009

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Bill Young's ties to defense lobbyist questioned

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, is named in a new Center for Public Integrity report ( that finds questionable ties between lawmakers, defense contractors and lobbyists.

"Young's 'network' analyzed by the Center included three former staffers representing one defense contractor each. Former Young legislative aide Bryan Blom is a government relations manager for Van Scoyoc Associates Inc., the self-described 'largest independent lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.' His company biography boasts that he 'fully grasps the federal funding process, having worked for a senior appropriator.'

"Perhaps this is why defense contracting behemoth SAIC retained his services. In 2008, the company received a pair of earmarks from Young, totaling $4.4 million for battlefield sensor netting and bioterrorism detection systems. Young got $20,500 from SAIC's PAC and $2,250 from the company's leadership. Van Scoyoc Associates told the Center that Blom himself has never lobbied Young or his staff on any issue."

Posted by Alex Leary at 05:25:14 PM on September 9, 2009

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Mark Foley returns, as a radio host

(AP) - There's a surprising new voice in the world of political talk radio as former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley returns to the spotlight three years after a lurid scandal ruined his congressional career.

Foley taped his first stint behind the mic for Inside the Mind of Mark Foley on Tuesday. It will air Sept. 22 on WSVU out of North Palm Beach. On it, he tackles topics such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and its role in the Bernie Madoff scandal.There's even hope for eventual syndication of the show, which will explore Washington politics.

"I don't see anything stopping it," said Joe Raineri, the show's producer. "I can tell you, he's very good."

Foley, who represented parts of Palm Beach County in Florida, resigned in 2006 after sending salacious Internet messages to male teens who had worked on Capitol Hill as congressional pages. Criminal investigations ended without charges.

Posted by Alex Leary at 04:36:10 PM on September 9, 2009

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George LeMieux meets the press

He's not a senator just yet, but George LeMieux was making the Capitol rounds Wednesday. After watching Mel Martinez give his farewell address, LeMieux joined the retiring senator for a lunch with other Republican lawmakers.

Posted by Alex Leary at 04:07:59 PM on September 9, 2009

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Charlie Crist raising bucks in Alabama

Charlie Crist heads to Birmingham, Ala., tomorrow to raise money. Invite here (

Posted by Adam Smith at 01:55:15 PM on September 9, 2009

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Atwater: Senate hearing may be in order for PSC

Senate President Jeff Atwater said today through a spokeswoman that he is open to having a Senate committee look into the process and procedures at the Public Service Commission that have spawned the recent allegations that the utility regulators are too close with those they regulate.

"The Legislature sets up the process, and it's possible there are flaws in the process,'' said Jaryn Emhof, spokeswoman for Atwater. She said the Senate president is willing to have the Senate review the system by which the PSC operates, gets appointed and the laws it follows and ask: "Is there a process change that needs to be made to insure the highest level of integrity is adhered to?"

State Sen. Mike Fasano sent Atwater a letter ( Tuesday urging him to allow the Senate ethics committee to put PSC commissioners and staff under oath to question them about their behavior and practices. Fasano said recent news stories and rulings by the commission have him concerned that the panel charged with balancing between the needs of the utility and its customers "is so obviously skewed towards the utilities."

Atwater "shares some of the same concerns highlight by Sen. Fasano,'' Emhof said. She said no decision has been made about whether to put the issue on the agenda for the Legislature's next round of committee meetings in October.

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 01:13:30 PM on September 9, 2009

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Martinez warns Florida lawmakers against 'mistake' on oil drilling

Sen. Mel Martinez warned Republicans in the Florida Legislature against a push to open up off-shore oil drilling. "Look at what we did," he said of the 2006 federal law that keeps oil rigs 230 miles off Tampa Bay and 125 miles off the Florida Panhandle.

"We did something that opened up a lot of drilling, but it did protect Florida's coast," Martinez told reporters after his farewell speech. "To do it as close as they are talking about would really be a mistake."

With the support of future House Speaker Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, oil and business interests are pursuing a plan that would permit the sale of drilling leases in state waters between the shore and 10 miles off Florida's Gulf Coast (

In an interview outside the Senate chamber, Martinez seemed relaxed, happy even. He said he did not take the decision to resign lightly but feels comfortable with leaving early nonetheless.

Though calls for a renewed immigration debate have intensified, Martinez does not think Congress will deal with the issue soon. "There's too many other issues. I think it's a crowded agenda. I don't think they can do something this divisive and this difficult in the environment of an impending election."

He said he does not have a job lined up but is exploring options, noting his background as a lawyer.

George LeMieux, who watched Martinez's farewell speech, took a pass on the oil drilling question, saying he'd leave that up to the Legislature. He also demurred when asked whether he shared his party's concern about the health care debate.

LeMieux plans on watching President Obama's speech from the House gallery (he cannot take the floor until being sworn in tomorrow afternoon).

Posted by Alex Leary at 12:14:57 PM on September 9, 2009

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Marco Rubio's 'pre-buttal' to President Obama's health care address

"Over the next few weeks, the Obama Administration and this congressional leadership will attempt to pass one of the most radical public policy agendas in America's history. They call it health care reform, but it is really just the architecture for what will one day become a single payer system in America."

Posted by Alex Leary at 11:47:23 AM on September 9, 2009

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Did Charlie Crist pull a John McCain?

Remember John McCain's "fundamentals of our economy are strong" moment in Jacksonville a year ago? The Marco Rubio campaign apparently thinks Charlie Crist may have had a similarly momentous slip when he said on CNBC recently that Florida's population decline is "not that big a deal." The title of this video? Fundamentals.

Posted by Adam Smith at 11:36:13 AM on September 9, 2009

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Sansom, Richburg to be tried together and separately

State Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin and former college president Bob Richburg will be tried together Sept. 29 on official misconduct charges, a judge ruled Wednesday, but the two men will be tried separately on perjury charges.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled after hearing from lawyers from the two men, who are ensnared in a case involving state tax money appropriated in 2007 for a taxpayer-funded building that prosecutors allege was to have benefited the private business interests of the third defendant, Destin developer Jay Odom.

When State Attorney Willie Meggs asked that all three men be tried together for "judicial economy," lawyers for the defendants objected. They said the grand jury testimony of other defendants would be challenged as hearsay evidence. Hearing that, Meggs said the state would try the cases as the defendants want.

"I have no problem with three trials. None whatsoever," Meggs said. "We could have five trials, and that would be just hunky-dory with me."

Sansom, dressed in a blue suit and at times checking his e-mail on his BlackBerry, was in Courtroom 3A in the Leon County Courthouse. He declined to comment after the 40-minute hearing, but appeared to be in good spirits as he waited for an elevator.

As Sansom left court, he referred all questions to his lawyer, Steve Dobson, who reiterated his view that too many people have jumped to the conclusion that Sansom is guilty. "We intend to prove that those allegations are absolutely false," Dobson said. Asked whether Sansom would seek to reclaim his former leadership post of House speaker if he's acquitted, Dobson said: "That will be a decision that will be made when this case is over."

Posted by Steve Bousquet at 11:22:11 AM on September 9, 2009

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Marion Hammer shooting down kids' vote for state bird

For 72 years, Florida's state bird has been the feisty mockingbird, a gray-feathered mimic that is as likely to show up in a suburban back yard or a downtown park as in a forest or a swamp. But the mockingbird is also the state bird of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. So the state wildlife commission asked schoolchildren to pick a new state bird. More than 20,000 voted for the osprey, a raptor sometimes called the fish hawk.

The osprey "represents the thousands of miles of river ways, lake shores and coastlines that make Florida distinctive in the United States and where this regal bird makes its home," the staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wrote in a memo last month. However, past attempts at persuading the Legislature to change the state bird have failed. They were shot down by one very powerful, very determined lobbyist: Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association. And as far as she's concerned, this osprey idea just won't fly.

Story here (

Posted by Adam Smith at 10:43:59 AM on September 9, 2009

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Mel Martinez farewell: 'Grateful to the people of Florida'; 'regret' over immigration reform

Retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez has begun his farewell speech, recounting with great pride the arc of his public service while expressing disappointment over failed immigration reform and pledging to devote himself "to seeing a day when the people of Cuba can live in freedom."

"The unique opportunity to serve in the United States Senate is the culmination of an unlikely journey, a journey that has taken me from the country of my birth to the halls of the most cherished institution of our democracy," the Orlando Republican said in prepared remarks. (click here [] for the speech)

Martinez, 62, announced last month that he was vacating his seat a year early, citing a desire to be with family in Florida. His speech was delivered to a mostly empty Senate chamber, but several colleagues spoke warmly of his devotion to family and the Hispanic community.

"He is truly an example of the American success story," said Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said an immigration reform bill would pass one day and it would be a tribute to Martinez and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he tried for three months to talk Martinez out of retiring.

"I didn't want him to resign because it's been good for Florida the way the two of us have worked together professionally." Nelson said it is important that incoming Sen. George LeMieux forge the same relationship.

LeMieux, to be sworn in tomorrow afternoon, looked on from the public gallery.

Afterward, Martinez appeared relaxed and reflective. "It's the kind of thing you don't do lightly. It's not easy to do. But it feels good. I'm happy with where I am."

Posted by Alex Leary at 10:35:50 AM on September 9, 2009

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Times Union endorses John Thrasher in Senate District 8

Florida Times Union ( editorial board says "Thrasher is best pick": If you want someone to go to Tallahassee and cast conservative votes, you shouldn't feel disappointed, regardless who wins the Tuesday special election to represent District 8 in the Florida Senate....We believe Thrasher is committed to District 8 as much as the other candidates and, based on his record, he has the potential to accomplish more.

Posted by Adam Smith at 10:33:04 AM on September 9, 2009

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J.C. Planas files complaint against Speaker Larry Cretul

In a rare move by a member of the majority party, Miami Republican Rep. J.C. Planas has filed a rules complaint against his chamber's/party's House speaker, Larry Cretul. Planas says Cretul "showed a complete disregard" for the rules by combining two budget committees into one. That, Planas said, is a structural change that requires a vote of the membership.

From the complaint:

Under the Rules of the Florida House of representatives, the Speaker does not have the power to abolish those committees without first amending the committee structure contained in the House Rules under Rule 13. A historical evaluation of past House Rules dating back to the 1968 adoption of the modern Florida Constitution clearly illustrates that the Committee Structure is deliberately attached and intertwined to the rest of the procedural rules. This is further evidenced by House Rules Chairman Bill Galvano's explanation of the Rules during the 2008 Organizational Session where he states clearly:

'And then also the budget crisis that we are in. You know, we don't put together rules in a vacuum, so we took an extra hard look at that, at what are the things we need to do in both the structure and in the process itself that will help us address some of the most difficult challenges that we will be addressing over the next two years.'

Posted by Times Editor at 09:49:30 AM on September 9, 2009

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Electra Bustle: Destination Unknown

Electra Theodorides Bustle is approaching the end of her ride as executive director of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Bustle's last day in charge of the big Cabinet-level agency is next Tuesday, Sept. 15. Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet are expected to name an interim replacement (likely from inside the agency's ranks) at that day's Cabinet meeting.

Bustle will shift to a job in the private sector, but she has declined to discuss the specifics until her resignation takes effect. The new job likely will be in the state capital, where Bustle's husband, Dennis, oversees the Capitol Police. The move to fill the HSMV post permanently will be worth watching closely. With Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink both running for governor, finding a person to oversee the Florida Highway Patrol and the massive driver licensing and registration apparatus could get very political.

Read Bustle's letter of resignation here ( The agency has about 4,500 employees and a budget of $393-million.

Posted by Steve Bousquet at 09:36:24 AM on September 9, 2009