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Monday, May 02, 2016

Fresh Squeezed

A Florida Politics Blog

Made fresh, never frozen, here's the juice on local and state politics from the staff of The Tampa Tribune and The St. Petersburg Tribune.

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Holder knew, early, about Fast and Furious ... but do we care?

Remember the old adage, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up”? Yeah, well, that one might have outlived its usefulness — if it was ever useful in the first place.

The notion gained currency in the early 1970s as a result of clumsy efforts to obfuscate connections to the White House, turning a “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate into a scandal that brought down a president. As it turns out, maybe it wasn’t the cover-up that was so bad; maybe it was the ineptitude of Richard Nixon’s merry henchmen.

When it came to riding out scandals, Bill Clinton’s administration was far tougher, far more skillful and light-years more brazen, possibly because of knowledge gained by a prominent member — then-first lady Hillary Clinton — during her time serving on the staff of the congressional committee investigating Watergate. Deny, divert and delay were honed to a science in the Clinton war room.

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Governor, Cabinet consider buying historic Pasco ranch

TALLAHASSEE – One of the oldest ranches in Pasco County could be bought for conservation purposes Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will consider a proposal to buy 617 of the 632 acres that make up the Phillips-Mathis Ranch as a conservation easement to protect it from encroaching residential development but still allow cattle ranching.

The $6 million cost would be split evenly between the state and Pasco County.

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Simpson qualifies by petition, welcomes Citrus voters

TALLAHASSEE -- Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, has successfully qualified by petition to run for the recently created District 10 Senate seat.

The new district is made up of a third of Pasco County and all of Hernando County, areas that overlap with the old District 18 seat Simpson was first elected to in 2012.

But it also includes all of Citrus County, and Simpson made a conscientious effort to reach out to voters there once he registered to run days after the new map of all 40 senate districts was adopted by Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds in December.

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Utility relocation bill heads to governor’s desk

“It’s not just the expense of having to relocate the utilities, but what is going to happen to our transportation dollars? How many projects would we be able to undertake?” Tampa Councilwoman Lisa Montelione asked in a previous story.

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AFP strikes back at EFI’s Johnson

TALLAHASSEE -- While House members this morning engage in a lengthy debate over whether economic incentives—giving tax breaks to corporations to grow their business -- help Florida’s economy, an alley fight is going on outside the capitol.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative free-market advocacy group financed largely by Koch Industries, is upset over comments made by Bill Johnson, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida Inc., the state agency that negotiates all those incentive packages with businesses and local governments.

Johnson called out AFP for being hypocrites because Koch Industries has received $196 million in government incentives itself, prompting AFP Florida ‘s director Chris Hudson to say in a news release of his own last night, “Newsflash, AFP is not Koch Industries.”

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Johnson to Koch: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”

The head of Enterprise Florida today lambastaed Americans for Prosperity for launching a campaign that attacks Gov. Rick Scott’s $250 million economic development package, versions of which are still making their way through the Senate and House this week.

“Yesterday, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) launched an ad to oppose the new $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund, citing it as ‘corporate welfare.’ However, Governor Scott’s proposal would support Florida’s efforts to win competitive projects with a guaranteed return on investment to ensure taxpayer dollars are protected while helping grow jobs in our state,” Bill Johnson, President and CEO of Enterprise Florida, said in a prepared statement released this afternoon.

Johnson said it was hypocritical of AFP to take such a stand, since Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the U.S. and the primary backer of AFP, has received $196 million in governmental tax incentives.

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Fear of ISIS fuels debate over refugee bill

TALLAHASSEE -- Fear and frustration ruled the rhetoric Tuesday as members of House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee debated a bill that would make it difficult to place Syrian refugees in Florida and target the agencies that help them.

Jacksonville Republican Rep. Lake Ray said his bill, HB 1095, is necessary for the protection of Florida citizens from an attack by ISIS. “If we’re sitting here and pretending that the federal government is protecting us then shame on us,” Ray said.

Like its Senate counterpart, SB 1712 by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, Ray’s bill would create a state process overlaying the federal one for screening refugees, prohibit the use of public funds to resettle dangerous immigrants from “invader nations” that harbor groups intent on waging war against the U.S.

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Clerks could see budget relief

TALLAHASSEE -- Help is on the way for Florida’s clerks of courts, who have seen a huge reduction in their operating revenues over the last several years and are facing another round of budget cuts and staff layoffs this year.

Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart said Wednesday on the floor of the Senate that the 2016-17 budget has $12.9 million to deal with their budget shortfall this year – roughly half the $25.8 million reduction estimated by the Legislative Budget Committee.

Several things have contributed to the clerks, which are supposed to be self-sufficient agencies that operate on money they raise from court fees, traffic ticket fines and other court-related payments.

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Senators work toward compromise on Uber. Lyft insurance

TALLAHASSEE -- On the eve of an important committee hearing on statewide ride-hailing regulations, Sen. Jeff Brandes has introduced an amendment to bring the senate version of statewide insurance regulations more in line with what the House has already approved.

It isn’t the only difference between the two versions, but it is the most important one, Brandes said Monday.

“Insurance is the lynchpin,” Brandes said. Once that gets squared away, he said, “Everything else will fall into place.”

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Gambling bills to be discussed next week

TALLAHASSEE -- Two gambling-related bills will get their first hearing Tuesday before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee chaired by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming.

Bradley is one of the two negotiators of a new, $3 billion gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, signed by Gov. Rick Scott Dec. 7. The other negotiator was Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami.

Both bills are preliminary drafts, barely a couple of paragraphs long. Final drafts could be made available before Tuesday’s 1:30 pm hearing in Tallahassee. But legislative leaders have said passage is going to be tough given the competing interests of the pari-mutuel industry and opposition from some Senate leaders.

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