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Florida Taxpayers spent $300K protecting visiting politicians

When they visit Florida, you pay.

In a little-noticed and long-standing tradition, the state of Florida provides security to dozens of politicians who visit the Sunshine State for business and personal trips, even though the visitors bring their own protection.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement spent nearly $300,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30 to pay for salaries, transportation, lodging and other costs related to 96 appearances by U.S. senators, members of Congress, senior White House officials and 38 governors. Among the visitors were California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Gov. David Paterson, the first lady of Puerto Rico, the premier of Ontario and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. (story here

Posted by Alex Leary at 12:17:04 AM on September 14, 2009

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Blago: At least I didn't pull a Charlie Crist!

From The Hill: ( When Fox News asked the former governor during his interview on Monday whether that politicking was illegal, Blagojevich suggested other lawmakers have acted similarly in the past.

"I could've named my wife if I wanted to," Blagojevich said of his Senate appointment, adding that his team had looked into such possibilities as Oprah and Valerie Jarrett. "Look at what Gov. [Charlie] Crist (R) did in Florida -- he put his chief of staff in there to hold the seat warm for him so he could run for the U.S. Senate. I didn't do any of those things."


Posted by Adam Smith at 10:39:41 AM on September 14, 2009

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Brown-Waite punches back at AARP

The tiff between U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite and AARP continues. The Brooksville Republican responded today to an AARP letter ( that blasted her for spreading misinformation ( in the health care debate.

In her response (see letter here, she stands by her damning analysis of House Bill 3200, calling the 40-million-member advocacy group "a mouthpiece for this President at the expense of what is best for America's seniors."

Posted by John Frank at 10:51:15 AM on September 14, 2009

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Insurance execs help Alex Sink raise money

The Democratic candidate for governor will be raising money in St. Petersburg this week. Invite here (

Posted by Adam Smith at 10:53:24 AM on September 14, 2009

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McMurrian urged to step down from rate case

Richard Unger, a Sarasota resident and intervener in the Florida Power & Light rate case, is asking Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian to remove herself from voting on the rate case because of allegations that she's conflicted.

Unger's representative, Stephen Stewart, has disclosed that McMurrian served on a panel in New York and attended a dinner with an FPL executive and other panelists. McMurrian told the Herald/Times that she did not discuss any pending rate case, the dinner preceded the FPL case and she has done nothing wrong.

Unger disagrees and believes there is the appearance of impropriety. "I am most concerned with the conduct and actions of Commissioner McMurrian both in her socializing with FPL Executives over a Steak Dinner in NYC that included the Treasurer of FPL and the off the record, out of the public's view conversations and discussions with these FPL Corporate Officers, when she should be totally impartial and avoid any appearance of impropriety,'' he said in a statement. Download Unger Motiion For Recusal


McMurrian on Friday has made her own recommendations about changing the rules that regulate the PSC that would require that any conversation between staff and the PSC be put in writing. Download McMurrian Release 091109 (

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 11:02:57 AM on September 14, 2009

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Crist throws down PSC gauntlet

Amid an allegation that Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian had an inappropriate meal with an FPL exec, ( Gov. Charlie Crist suggested Tuesday that McMurrian and Chairman Matthew Carter should vote against an FPL rate increase -- or face losing their jobs.

Both commissioners are up for reappointment this year, but Crist can chose four other people whose names were forwarded to him by a nominating council.

Crist said the New York City dinner McMurrian had was was "probably not appropriate."

The transcript:

Should the PSC delay its rate hearings until a myriad of questions (including an FDLE probe) are cleared up?

"I don't know why we should postpone it. Let's see what the commissioners want to do, and then I can have a better handle on who to appoint or reappoint," Crist said.

The reason that Sen. Mike Fasano and others have called for delay is due to the numerous allegations raised concerning the PSC.

"That's for others to decide," Crist said." I know the FDLE is involved in that, but I think that it would be nice to reject the rate increase.

"I'm trying to appoint members that will be sympathetic to the people and the economic challenge that they're facing. And so that's a factor, of course.

"Reducing the rates reduces the rates. And it seems to me that the people deserve a break now more than ever. And so that's what I've encouraged and I continue to encourage."

Posted by Times Editor at 12:40:49 PM on September 14, 2009

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Thrasher near $600K and counting

If Republican John Thrasher's bid for a state Senate seat falters Tuesday, it won't be for a lack of money. Through last Friday, the former House speaker raised $591,000 as he seeks to succeed the late Jim King in a Jacksonville-based Northeast Florida Senate seat. Taken together, the four candidates have raised $1.1-million in a few weeks. Second is Pontre Vedra businessman Dan Quiggle, who reported $189,000; third highest is Jacksonville City Council member Art Graham ($181K), with ex-Rep. Stan Jordan last, having raised $114,000.

Needless to say, these totals look like pocket change compared to the massive expenditures by a dozen or so 527 committees, which can't be tracked because of a recent court decision that voided reporting requirements for so-called electioneering groups. An operative working for one candidate reports that Republican voters in the district are "very, very fatigued" after weeks of direct-mail pieces, radio and TV ads, robo calls, and repeat visits by volunteers canvassing neighborhoods. In recent days, a pro-Quiggle group has been bombarding the airwaves with ads criticizing all three of his opponents.

Polls are open from 7 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. So far, more than 11,000 people have cast ballots through early voting or absentee ballots. The race tests the power of a Jeb Bush endorsement (for Thrasher); the power of trial lawyer-sponsored advertising (against Thrasher); and the ability of the Senate leadership to determine the outcome of an election (Thrasher is the leadership-based candidate).

Posted by Steve Bousquet at 12:49:50 PM on September 14, 2009

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Gov. Paula Dockery?


State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, appeared on Political Connections on Bay News 9 on Sunday. We talked a lot about rail -- commuter, high-speed, light -- but here's a clip of her stressing that she's still seriously looking at running for governor and slamming the U.S. Sugar/Everglades deal. Bright House customers can see the full interview on Ch. 342, Bay News 9 On Demand.

Posted by Adam Smith at 02:53:47 PM on September 14, 2009

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Consumer groups file lawsuit challenging Tampa Electric rate hike

In what could be another blow to Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy's quest to raise base rates, several lawyers representing customers of Tampa Electric Company today filed a lawsuit challenging the $136.9 million increase awarded to them by the Florida Public Service Commission.

The group is asking the Florida Supreme Court to halt the rate increase approved on a 4-1 vote. Only Commissioner Nancy Argenziano objected to the increase.

The lawsuit was filed by the Office of Public Counsel, which represents utility customers, Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Florida Industrial Power Users' Group and the Florida Retail Federation. Their claim: the PSC erred when it approved a rate increase above and beyond that TECO had sought.

"The commission went too far," said Public Counsel J.R. Kelly in a statement.

In the final days of the hearing, TECO petitioned for a so-called step increase that allowed it to get $104 million rate increase effective May 7, 2009, and then another $32.9 million in 2010. The company's original application sought the rate increase to pay for new gas generators and a new rail facility at Tampa Electric's Big Bend plant in Tampa that were supposed to start production during 2009.

The step-increase request mirrors what Florida Power & Light is seeking in its rate case pending this month, in which it's asking for a $1 billion increase starting in 2010 and another $300 million beginning in 2011.

"We are also opposing the step increase for FPL," said Florida Retail Federation President Rick McAllister in a statement. "We believe that now is the time for the Supreme Court to take a strong look at the Florida Statutes and the FPSC's decisions to make sure that Florida citizens get an even break, adequate notice and a fair hearing when decisions are made to increase their basic cost of electricity."

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 05:37:41 PM on September 14, 2009

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Reps. Vern Buchanan, Alan Grayson among 50 richest members of Congress

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, is the seventh richest member of Congress, according to an annual analysis by Roll Call.

His approximate net worth: $50 million.

But like most other members in the exclusive club, Buchanan has been battered by a poor economy and he's reported a minimum net worth of $15.7 million less than in 2007. Ouch.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, comes in at No. 12, with a $31 million net worth. (more here

Posted by Alex Leary at 06:38:28 PM on September 14, 2009

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2012 GOP convention in Tampa?

TAMPA - Twice Tampa has been rejected by the GOP in its search for a city to host the Republican National Convention. But the party still wants to know if local leaders want to bid for the event in 2012.

National party chairman Michael Steele sent a letter to Mayor Pam Iorio at the end of August inviting Tampa to make a pitch.

"Hosting a national convention is a major undertaking that requires a substantial amount of planning and a significant financial commitment," Steele wrote. "We hope you will be able to submit an official bid and place your city under consideration."

(Story here

Posted by Adam Smith at 09:18:11 PM on September 14, 2009

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Does it matter to Fla Cabinet if more homes not needed?

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet are scheduled to decide on Tuesday whether 400 acres of rolling horse country outside Ocala can be developed into about 800 homes. It's a minor agenda matter for Florida's top elected officials, but one with major implications for the future of the state's growth management policy.

The issue is simple: Does Marion County need more homes?

The state's growth management agency says no. The developers say that regardless of need, they should get to build on land that is theirs. Big guns, including the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are lobbying on the developer's behalf. Tom Pelham, head of the Department of Community Affairs, said it's no accident that an innocuous subdivision in the middle of the state has attracted such high-powered attention in Tallahassee.

(Story here

Posted by Adam Smith at 09:43:21 PM on September 14, 2009

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Herald/Times Video: Crist, the PSC and FPL


Incidentally, PSC Chairman Matthew Carter finally responded to Sen. Mike Fasano's request that the PSC consider postponing its rate hearings. Well, he kinda responded. Carter said he was placing Fasano's letter in a file. Download Fasano (

Said Fasano: "It's insulting. It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious."

Posted by Times Editor at 10:14:49 PM on September 14, 2009

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Grayson's bill puts Constitution back in school

The House today passed a resolution, ( sponsored by Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando that urges high schools to spend a week each September teaching the U.S. Constitution to seniors.

"More teenagers can name the judges of American Idol, and the 3 Stooges, than can name the three branches of government," the Orlando Democrat said. "The Constitution is the highest law in the land. If we are not teaching our children the Constitution, what are we teaching them?"

It passed on a voice vote and 222 lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors, including 40 Republicans (Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and John Mica.)

Posted by Alex Leary at 10:23:29 PM on September 14, 2009