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  1. Florida Politics

Buzz: Florida Republican divide over Medicaid expansion creates awkward gaps

Published Jul. 13, 2013

As much as leaders of the Florida Republican Party want to project unity, we keep seeing awkward signs of division between the governor's office and other top Republicans, especially over Medicaid expansion.

Take Attorney General Pam Bondi's latest appearance on Fox News last week. The party was happy to send out a video clip of Bondi's appearance, but cut off the clip when she hailed the decision of Republican legislative leaders to reject billions of federal money to expand Medicaid.

Gov. Rick Scott, who really leads the state party, supported taking the money (after thundering against the Affordable Care Act for years).

Likewise, when Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry recently gave the News Service of Florida a "five questions" interview, the party blasted out an email that included only four of his five answers.

Lopped off? Curry on Medicaid expansion: "This is the one where there were no good choices. The governor took the information before him and made the best decision that he thought that he could," Curry said. "And then it had to go through the Legislature, and they made their decision, and that's just the process. It is what it is at this stage. That's why we have elected representatives."

'Slippery slope'

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is no fan of legalizing marijuana for medical use in Florida, which he makes clear on today's Political Connections on Bay News 9.

"I'm very, very concerned about the slippery slope that would take us down," Gualtieri said of the planned "United for Care" medicinal marijuana ballot initiative. "It will be abused. You will have people that will manipulate it, and they'll get unscrupulous providers to give them fake prescriptions that are unneeded, all that kind of stuff."

Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Rich's low take

Looks like the Florida GOP's efforts to promote Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich and push the state party to let her speak at its recent Jefferson-Jackson dinner did little for her bottom line. The former Florida Senate Democratic leader raised just $39,213 in the last fundraising quarter. To date she has raised about $160,000 and spent about $101,000.

It says something about the state of Florida politics these days that the only credible announced candidate for governor raised less than $40,000 in the last quarter, while Republican state Sens. Joe Negron and Lizbeth Benacquisto both raised more than $220,000 in the same period. Republican state Senate candidate Matt Gaetz raised $252,000 in just seven weeks.

Who cares?

In what may be one of the lamest political attacks of the year so far, the Florida Democratic Party lately has been hammering Gov. Rick Scott for moving slowly in naming a new lieutenant governor to replace Jennifer Carroll.

"It is clear now that Rick Scott is running the governor's office just like he ran his business: with total disregard for the best interests of the people he serves," party spokesman Joshua Karp said last week.

"Almost 120 days after the resignation of scandal-plagued Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Rick Scott says he is only now beginning the search for a replacement for Florida's second-ranking constitutional officer."

Are there even five voters in Florida who care how quickly Scott fills a pointless job?

Living in districts?

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, says he wants Gov. Rick Scott to order a criminal investigation of several South Florida lawmakers who may not be living in the districts they represent.

Latvala told WPLG-TV in Miami that it's a "crying shame" that some lawmakers may not live in the districts they represent, as Channel 10 has reported. At issue are the residencies of Sen. Maria Sachs and Reps. Perry Thurston Jr., Hazelle Rogers and Jared Moskowitz. All are Democrats.

Constant campaign

Normally the folks who run state House Democratic campaigns every two years remain relatively anonymous, working below the radar while the state party leads the overall messaging effort. Under Minority Leader designee Darryl Rouson, however, that's about to change. The "House Victory" team is ramping up a higher-profile effort to energize grass roots activists and build lasting campaign infrastructure.

Rather than remain based in Tallahassee (with its hellish and expensive air travel issues), Rouson has opened a campaign war room in downtown St. Petersburg. As part of the rebranding effort, the team has also created a website, floridahousedemocrats.com, which is a first for the House campaign operation. "This is an initiative that Rep. Rouson wanted us to carry out right out of the gate. We're creating an organization with a singular focus, and that's taking back a majority by the end of the decade," said House Victory political director Chris Mitchell, who is aiming to gain four to eight additional House seats for Democrats in 2014.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz. Adam Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com.

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