Sunshine State News Blogs

On Tuesday afternoon, Juno Beach City Commissioner Ellen Andel announced she was ending her bid for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.


“After much thought and discussion with my family, I have decided to end my run for Congress,” Andel informed supporters on Tuesday. “The stress on my family has become more than I am willing to accept, and their health and happiness are my first and foremost priorities. I have a deep gratitude for all those who have believed in me and supported me.”


Andel had the support of former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., who Murphy beat out in 2012.

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Noting that 54,000 seniors in Manatee and Sarasota counties are covered in Medicare Advantage, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, wrote to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner on Tuesday. The Obama administration revealed last week that Medicare Advantage funds would be used to cover the costs of President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law. Buchanan’s letter reads as follows:

I am writing to express serious concerns about the administration’s new proposal to cut funding for Medicare Advantage health plans that serve more than 54,000 seniors in my congressional district.

Medicare Advantage programs are widely praised for offering preventative and disease management services superior to other health plans in the Medicare fee-for-service program. These popular policies offer a competitive choice to seniors as well as saving beneficiaries out-of-pocket expenses.

The administration’s recent announcement that private Medicare plans face deep cuts in 2015 could be devastating to seniors who will now be at risk of losing their plans, benefits and doctors they trust. This is unacceptable.

At a time when families, workers, and employers are finding it difficult to navigate the intricacies of the new health-care law -- seniors should not be forced to part ways with existing policies they like and want to keep. On behalf of the millions of seniors across the country who are enrolled in Medicare Advantage, I urge the administration to work with Congress to protect this vital program and honor our commitment to America’s seniors.

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The Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Republican David Jolly in the March 11 special election for a congressional seat left open by the death of U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla. Jolly takes on former state CFO Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the Pinellas County race.

“After carefully considering his legislative platform, his close working relationship with the late Congressman Bill Young and real-life experience, the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida State Lodge, is pleased to lend our name to David Jolly for his campaign,” said James Preston, the president of the Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police. “David is right for public safety and he is right for Florida. David Jolly is a leader who understands the unique concerns of Pinellas County. He has a vision of future economic growth and prosperity for our diverse community.”

“I am honored to have the support of such a great organization that not only strives to cultivate the bonds between their members, but between the community and the people they serve,” said Jolly. “Like the Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, the bond I share with my community and my neighbors is important, and if elected, I will continue to keep those lines of communication open as we work to ensure that our streets, schools and parks are safe for Pinellas County families and all future generations. I am proud to have the endorsement from our law enforcement leaders and thank them for their support.”

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On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee, ripped into President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law, insisting it hurts small businesses. Bilirakis pointed to a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Actuary.


“The report is clear,” Bilirakis said. “The CMS Actuary estimates 65 percent of small businesses will be forced to increase their premiums as a direct result of Obamacare. That is roughly 11 million people. Small businesses are a cornerstone of economic growth in this country. To saddle them with increased health-care costs will reduce their capacity to hire or expand.”


Bilirakis took the gloves off and tore into the law. “The administration talks about creating jobs and lowering health-care costs, but their policies do the exact opposite,” Bilirakis said. “This announcement comes after millions of hard-working Americans in the individual market had their plans cancelled because of Obamacare. Contrary to the promises of President Obama, you will not be able to keep your health care or your doctor, and sadly, your premiums will be anything but affordable.”

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Gov. Rick Scott came to political prominence in 2009 by opposing President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law. Scott is going back to that theme in a new web video ad released on Tuesday.

In the new video, Scott calls Obama’s proposal to take funds from Medicare Advantage to fund the health care law “wrong for Florida seniors.” Scott and Obama met at the White House on Monday and discussed the matter.

"Seniors retire based on a belief that they have a healthcare system that's going to be there," said Scott. "We already know that 300,000 people in our state were told they were going to lose their insurance. But now, under Medicare, we're seeing these dramatic rate cuts.

"These Medicare cuts that the President's caused are the wrong thing for Florida seniors," added Scott.

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On Tuesday morning, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) took aim at former Gov. Charlie Crist, the favorite for the Democatic nomination to challege Gov. Rick Scott in November despite spending most of his political life with the GOP. Citing a Politico interview last week with Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the RGA, slammed Crist’s economic record.

"On Friday, Democrat Governors Association Chairman and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told Politico that ‘Charlie Crist has a proven track record of creating jobs and getting results in Florida,’” said Gitcho on Tuesday. “Under Charlie’s failed leadership, there were more than 820,000 fewer people employed in Florida when he left office. Charlie’s ‘Accelerate Florida’ stimulus plan was a failure. And Charlie’s ‘Back to Work’ program – using President Obama’s failed stimulus – was a bust, too. Does Gov. Shumlin even know who Charlie Crist is?”

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Congressional hopeful David Jolly made headlines Tuesday morning when a story surfaced about an accident he was involved in as a teenager.  

Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reported the news on Tuesday. Jolly, whose name was misspelled as "Jolley" in the original story, was not charged for the man's death.

The original story read:

Man walking along road is hit and killed (June 11, 1989)

SECTION: PASCO TIMES; TIMES DIGEST; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 151 words

DATELINE: LAND O'LAKES

   LAND O'LAKES — A 30-year-old Zephyrhills man was killed Friday night [June 9, 1989] when a car struck him as he was walking down County Road 581, three miles south of State Road 54, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

   Blair W. Ropes, 540 Elaine Drive in Zephyrhills, was walking on the right side of the road with the flow of northbound traffic when he was struck. Ropes was thrown 147 feet and was pronounced dead on the scene, the report said. David Wilson Jolley, 16, of 406 W Meridian Ave. in Dade City was driving his car northbound when he hit Ropes, the report said. The accident occurred about 9:30 p.m. on the two-lane blacktop road. According to the report, Ropes was wearing dark clothing. The report said Jolley didn't see Ropes. No charges were filed. The death was the 25th traffic fatality in Pasco County this year.

According to Smith, Jolly's cousin and spokeswoman Sarah Bascom confirmed that the former aide to the late Bill Young had killed a man in a car accident.

"It took several years for me to get to a place of peace, but not something anybody would ever get over," Jolly told 10News Reporter Preston Rudie on Monday. "I don't know who has pushed this story, but I believe it to be a heartless individual who has clearly never lost anyone close to them or experienced such a tragedy." See the 10News story here.

Jolly is expected to face off against former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink in the special election to replace the late Bill Young on March 11.  


 

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From his perch on the U.S. House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., weighed in on the 2015 defense budget proposal Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled on Monday. Crenshaw said he expected the proposal to be studied closely by Congress and even changed during the legislative process.


“Because the administration’s defense budget has not been officially introduced to Congress, it’s too early to comment on which proposals may or may not be rejected,” Crenshaw said on Tuesday morning. “My commitment to our national security at home and around the globe remains unwavering and steadfast. Working together with my colleagues on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, we will review the fine print, ask questions and take testimony at hearings, and analyze the details with particular attention focused on the proposal’s impact to our national security. As the process moves forward on Capitol Hill, the subcommittee will write its fiscal year 2015 Defense Appropriations Bill, which I can confidently predict will not be a direct reflection of Defense Secretary Hagel’s initial request.”

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Gov. Rick Scott met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday and, after the meeting, released a statement on a host of issues. Scott focused on Obama using funds from Medicare to fund his signature federal health-care law, as well as flood insurance and the continuing political turmoil in Venezuela. The statement was as follows:

“President Obama said he wants to use his pen and his phone this year so I brought three issues to him that are important to Florida families. First, if the president cares about our seniors he needs to fix Obamacare immediately. We learned last week that Medicare is being raided to pay for Obamacare which is hurting our seniors who could lose access to the doctors they liked and were told they could keep. We need to give our seniors a voice and ask the president directly to not pay for Obamacare by raiding Medicare. He has stopped and delayed other broken parts of the health care law. He should do the same with this.

“We are also asking the president to stand with the people of Venezuela who are striving for freedom and liberty against the forces of tyranny. President Obama should immediately announce that the U.S. is considering sanctions against Venezuela as long as they keep limiting free speech. He should put sanctions on the table like freezing the bank accounts of Maduro and his gang and revoking the U.S. visas of anyone involved in attacking peaceful demonstrators. The president must show that the U.S. will stand up against oppression and support those yearning to be free. That is our duty and our calling as Americans.

“Finally, President Obama needs to undo the devastating National Flood Insurance Program rate hikes on Florida families. For too long, Florida has been a donor state to the National Flood Insurance Program by contributing $16 billion over the last three decades, which is nearly four times the amount Florida homeowners have received back in claims. Families are being hurt by outrageous increases in their flood insurance rate, all because of a bad bill the president signed into law. He can have FEMA undo these for Florida until fair rates can be established. All the president needs is a pen and a phone to get it done.”

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Businessman Mike Giallombardo, a veteran of the Iraq War, announced on Monday he was ending his bid for the Republican nomination in a special congressional election in Southwest Florida and was endorsing businessman Curt Clawson for the congressional seat vacated when former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., resigned after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.


“Serious times call for serious people with experience from the real world and outside of the political process,” said Giallombardo. “Curt Clawson has experience from outside of the political establishment in running a $2 billion company and saving hundreds of American jobs. He is the leader that I want representing Southwest Florida in Washington, D.C.”


“Mike has served our country with honor and distinction and has a very bright future,” said Clawson. “This endorsement helps us continue to unite conservatives across Southwest Florida who want an outsider with business credentials as our next congressman.”


Clawson will take on Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and former Florida Rep. Paige Kreegel in the special primary on April 22. The special general election will be held on June 24.

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Republican David Jolly looked to push back against attacks from Democratic rival former state CFO Alex Sink on Social Security in a new television ad released on Monday. The ad features Jolly’s mother Judith and his aunt Carol Matthews.

“Alex Sink and the DCCC have taken mistruths about my stance on Social Security and Medicare and turned these misrepresentations into negative attack ads that are intentionally misleading voters,” said Jolly. “Our seniors and voters deserve better than this and I want to set the record straight about where I stand on these critical issues.

"If elected, I will work to guarantee Social Security and Medicare benefits for our seniors who deserve that we honor these benefits as a promise – one that we will keep.

This ad features two of the most important people in my life, my mom Judith and my aunt Carol, who I want to help care for by working to ensure their benefits will not keep getting cut by the failed and broken policies of Obamacare, and which my Democrat opponent seems determined to support.”

Jolly used the occasion to continue attacking Sink.

“Alex Sink’s selfish motivation is clear – she wants to frighten seniors with mistruths for her own political gain,” Jolly said. “Millions of dollars in negative, misleading advertisements will not and should not get in the way of our voters being able to make sound decisions based on good information.

“Social Security and Medicare benefits should be considered a debt we owe our seniors and yet, policies enacted and demanded by Obamacare have undermined these benefits completely and will continue to make it harder for seniors to receive the benefits they have worked hard for and deserve,” Jolly continued. “The people of Pinellas County deserve a candidate who will put people over politics. Alex Sink seems determined to put her support of Obamacare over the health and security of our seniors, and our voters deserve the chance to see through this smokescreen and get to the truth.”

Jolly, Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby meet in the March 11 special election.

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Former Gov. Jeb Bush announced his support for congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo on Monday, taking to his Twitter account to first announce the news. 

“I am pleased to endorse Carlos Curbelo for Congress. He is a proven education reformer and a strong proponent of expanding economic freedom and cutting wasteful spending," said Gov. Bush. "Carlos will bring a servant’s heart to Washington to represent Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. I look forward to supporting Carlos’ campaign this year as he articulates his bold vision for the future of our nation."

Curbelo has served as a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board since his election in 2010. He is seeking the Republican nomination for the congressional seat currently held by Democrat Joe Garcia.
 
“It is my great honor to have Gov. Bush’s support," said Curbelo of the endorsement. "During his tenure our state and our citizens prospered, and our children benefit today from his leadership in overhauling Florida’s school system. His tireless efforts to reform education in America and prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow have inspired so many. He remains the great Florida role model of public service.

"With Gov. Jeb Bush’s endorsement of our campaign, we continue the momentum needed for victory in August and November,” Curbelo added.
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Bob Rohrlack, the president and CEO of the Tampa Chamber, offered a reminder to the three congressional candidates running for an open congressional seat in Pinellas County on Monday morning about the importance of MacDill Air Force Base to the local economy. Former state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, takes on Republican David Jolly and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the March 11 special election.

“With the passing last year of Congressman Bill Young, the Tampa Bay area lost a tireless fighter for MacDill Air Force Base,” said Rohrlack. “While we recognize MacDill lies in Congressional District 14 and we’ve worked closely with Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who is a great supporter of our base -- it is equally important that the person elected to Congressional District 13 understand MacDill’s significant regional economic impact. Our congressional delegation has traditionally been supportive of MacDill, but it is essential that those members of Congress that represent any portion of Hillsborough or Pinellas counties take a special interest in helping to protect MacDill Air Force Base, our service members, veterans and their families. No matter who is elected, we stand ready to work with them on issues important to our military. We ask all three candidates for the Congressional District 13 seat to firmly commit to fight for MacDill and our military servicemen and women.”

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With little more than two weeks to go in the Pinellas County special election for an open congressional seat, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched a new television commercial on Monday, contrasting Republican David Jolly and former state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, on President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law and the need for a federal balanced budget amendment.

“Alex Sink is a tax-and-spend politician who wants to go to Congress and stand with Nancy Pelosi to defend Obamacare,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “While Pinellas families need an advocate in Washington, Alex Sink would rather push Pelosi’s liberal agenda.”

Jolly, Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby meet in the special election on March 11.

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A national poll released this weekend shows American adults continue to believe public schools are not doing enough to discipline students. A Rasmussen Reports poll unveiled Sunday shows 78 percent of American adults believe it’s tougher for teachers to maintain discipline in the classroom compared to the past while 62 percent of those surveyed believe public schools are too easy on discipline. Only 5 percent think public schools are too tough on discipline while 19 percent think it’s about right.

Rasmussen took a similar poll in July 2011 which showed 68 percent of American adults think public schools are too lax with discipline.

The poll of 1,000 American adults was taken from Feb. 19-20 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

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Late last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., released a video responding to President Barack Obama’s plans to cut Medicare Advantage (MA) and use those funds for the federal health-care program.

“Reducing payments to Medicare Advantage providers is going to constrain provider networks, it’s going to cut benefits, it’s going to increase seniors’ co-payments,” Rubio said. “This is going to hurt seniors of all backgrounds and income levels, and our state of Florida is going to be especially hurt by this.

“Big business and unions are getting relief, health insurance companies are going to get their taxpayer-funded bailout when Obamacare fails, but no one is standing up to protect seniors who are going to be hurt by this raid on Medicare -- a raid that’s being used to pay for the rest of Obamacare,” Rubio insisted. “It’s wrong. And it’s another reason why this law needs to be repealed and replaced.”

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Good for the National Organization for Women (NOW), which obviously pays no attention to who's in or out at Emily's List.

NOW has asked Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich to give the keynote address at its annual Susan B. Anthony luncheon. The luncheon, set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, honors Lori Berman, Democratic deputy whip in the Florida House. Berman represents District 90 with an office in Boynton Beach.

Emily's List, which exists to promote women to higher public office, still hasn't extended Rich the courtesy of an explanation why its officials left her off their "recommendation" list of 2014 candidates.

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The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Business Law Section of the Florida Bar Association are teaming up to back a bill ensuring high school students in the Sunshine State are required to take a financial literacy course, nicknamed “The Money Course,” before graduating. More than 40 legislators are behind legislation which would require the course with Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, leading the charge in the Senate while Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, and Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, back it in the House.

“We want to empower young people with the finance skills that will take them into young adulthood and beyond," said Stephen Nagin, chairman of the Business Law Section of the Florida Bar Association. "Dedicating a semester to financial literacy will help set them up for success over the long term."

“Florida’s students aren’t the only ones hurt by financial illiteracy,” said David Hart, the executive vice president of the Florida Chamber. “Our state’s businesses, small and large, suffer when our young adults lack the fundamental financial knowledge to contribute to Florida’s economy. And sound personal finances are a top factor employers consider when hiring.”

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Already facing criticism over their crackdown on protesters demanding more democratic reforms, the Venezuelan government kicked CNN and CNN en Español out of the nation. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Venezuelan regime on Friday.

“We must assume that Nicolás Maduro is kicking out CNN, CNN en Español and other foreign journalists as a precursor to even more violent and deadly tactics against innocent Venezuelans,” Rubio said. “This press assault is a worrying sign that Maduro intends to dig in and step up the violence with the false belief that the world will never find out because he’s kicking out journalists.

“This isn’t simply an assault against press freedom,” Rubio added. “It now poses an even graver danger to Venezuelan demonstrators who will now have fewer news outlets to tell the story of what’s happening there to the rest of the world. We cannot allow this to have a chilling effect on press coverage of what’s going on in Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro and his government should realize that Venezuelans will not be silenced, will continue sharing their stories through online media and other means, and that news outlets and defenders of freedom everywhere will continue magnifying his atrocities for all the world to see.

“The international community, particularly Latin American governments who are supposed to defend press freedom in accordance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, should condemn this move by Nicolás Maduro,” Rubio continued. “The Maduro government’s legitimacy is eroding every single day. Nicolás Maduro needs to realize that he does not have an image or press problem that he can easily expel from his country. He has a repression problem, and the Venezuelan people aren’t standing for it.”

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Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that Azalea Health has selected Gainesville for a corporate expansion, creating 10 new jobs over the next year with a capital investment of $30,000.

Azalea is a leading provider in cloud-based electronic health records software, practice management software, and revenue cycle management services.

Scott pointed to Azalea's expansion as merely part of the thousands of jobs created since he took office in 2011.  

“We are excited that Azalea Health has chosen Gainesville for their expansion," he said. "Not only have we created more than 440,000 private-sector jobs since December 2010, but Florida’s unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in five years. In order to grow more opportunities for Florida families to succeed, we must invest in programs that will diversify our economy and create jobs for future generations. But, our work is not done until every Floridian has a job that wants one.”

The 5-year old health company currently has offices in Georgia, but will be expanding to Florida at UF’s Innovation Square in Gainesville. 

“We chose the Gainesville area because of the great availability of quality talent coming out of the universities, technical schools and community colleges, as well as the innovative and supportive community,” said Doug Swords, chief financial officer of Azalea Health. “Azalea looks forward to recruiting a dedicated team of enthusiastic individuals in order to continue the company’s track record of success.”

 

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Billionaire Tom Steyer -- who inked headlines in recent days for his pledge to raise and spend $100 million in the upcoming election – condemns the mechanism that allows him to do it.

“There have been some legal decisions, some court decisions, which I absolutely disagree with, like Citizens United, which have led to this explosion of money,” Steyer told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on Friday.

Reacting to whether or not he believes he should not be allowed to influence elections with his Herculean war chest, Steyer continued, “I believe there should be a different system ... but right now what we are doing is accepting American democracy rules.” 

In fact, Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action is embracing those rules. It is one of the largest outside spending groups, a liberal machine akin to the Koch political network.

News of Steyer’s election blueprint rippled through Florida this week, when The New York Times reported that Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to spend a similar amount on his own re-election, is one of NextGen’s chief targets.

While the financier touts recent polling that he says shows two-thirds of Americans believe in climate change – the cause of his single-issue super-PAC – he could encounter problems gaining traction on the issue. Steyer admits the surveys show there is “no sense of urgency” on the issue. It’s not a principal concern among voters who are still wrestling with economic issues.


 

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On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott announced that Technology by Designs Partners (TBD Partners LLC) will be relocating its headquarters and expanding operations in Flagler County. 

“The relocation of TBD Partners and the creation of 25 new jobs for Florida families is another example of a private company seeing the value of doing business in Florida," said Scott. "Since December 2010, our state has created over 462,000 private-sector jobs and our unemployment rate remains below the national average because Florida businesses continue to create jobs and opportunities for the families of our state. We must remain focused on creating an atmosphere where businesses can thrive, so every Floridian can find a great job.”

The expansion will create 25 new jobs and make a capital investment of $470,000. 

TBD Partners LLC, a technology solutions provider, is a company which focuses on three strategic areas: virtualization, server and storage consolidation, and network infrastructure. 

“Relocating our headquarters to Flagler just made sense for us. We’ve seen firsthand how the Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity’s new business approach is focused on attracting new companies as well as assisting existing companies that lead with technology. We want to be at the forefront of that expansion of IT excellence here in Flagler County,” said Kim Mills, a TBD Partners' owner.

“By choosing Flagler, we not only get to build our business in the community we have come to love,” said Bill Mills, a TBD Partners' owner. “We get to make a difference by offering careers in technology which will enable talented people to stay here or relocate here and enjoy Florida’s quality of life." 

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Needless to say, I've read a lot of stories about Charlie Crist. Even Charlie Crist's story about Charlie Crist. But never have I seen a piece as well-crafted, as close to the bone, as entertaining and precise in tone and substance as Ben Terris' "Survival of a salesman: Former Fla. governor Charlie Crist tries to get back where he was" in Wednesday's Washington Post.

I don't want to say so much about it I ruin it for you, but I will give you a couple of my favorite paragraphs -- one a quote, the other a comment on it -- to throttle up your curiosity.

They sum things up about Charlie and draw a comparison of the two gubernatorial candidates better than anything I've heard or read anywhere else:

“'(Charlie) has all the intellectual horsepower of yogurt,' said Rick Wilson, a GOP consultant and Crist critic. 'But I admire his political skills. If Rick Scott could work a room like Charlie Crist, he’d be up by 25 points.'

"That, in a nutshell, is the popular Crist narrative. Big smile. Great enthusiasm. Lots of charisma. But push him into the deep end and he’ll drown."

Read the whole article. An awesome piece of writing. And not a word mean-spirited or effusive. Wrapped within this story of a day on Charlie's book tour is also the story of who Charlie Crist really and truly is.

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Gov. Rick Scott said on Thursday that he was pleased that state House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said earlier in the day that reducing fees was on his legislative agenda. One of Scott’s main priorities in the upcoming legislative session is cutting $400 million in vehicle registration fees enacted back in 2009.

“I welcome the support of Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston and House Democratic leadership to return hundreds of millions of dollars in vehicle registration fees to Florida’s families,” Scott said on Thursday. "This is a great first step in returning money to hard-working Floridians. We are committed to return $500 million to Florida families this year as part of our ‘It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,’ which includes undoing the 54 percent tax increase families saw in 2009 to register their motor vehicles. This has never been government’s money and we are happy to have the support of our colleagues in the Legislature.”

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On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott said online jobs are booming in Florida. Scott cited Help Wanted OnLine numbers showing more than 282,000 job openings in Florida last month, an increase of 5.1 percent from January 2013.

“This is the third consecutive month that the number of online job openings has reached an all-time high,” Scott said. “The historic increase in openings is further proof that the steps we are taking to create jobs and opportunities for Florida families are working. Florida has added 462,100 private-sector jobs since December 2010, and we won’t stop until every Florida family has the opportunity to achieve their version of the American dream.”

Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale led the locations for online job openings in Florida. Sales and related jobs generated the most online job ads followed by health care, office support and management positions.

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Veteran Brian Gibens announced on Thursday that he was ending his bid for the Republican nomination to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress and was endorsing Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacusito, R-Fort Myers, in the primary next month.


“I wanted to run for this seat because I care about constitutional conservative principles,” Gibens wrote in a letter released on Thursday. “But it’s clear to me now that we already have someone in this race who cares about individual freedom, conservative values, and making America great again: Lizbeth Benacquisto.


“Please join me in supporting Lizbeth Benacquisto for Congress,” Gibens continued. Please mark April 22nd down on your calendars. That is the day we send one of Southwest Florida’s most passionate and trusted conservative voices to fight for our principles in D.C.”


“All the support I’m receiving is humbling, but when I earn the backing of brave men and women who’ve served in uniform I feel especially honored,” Benacquisto said. “I appreciate Brian’s commitment to service and welcome his support.”

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On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott spoke out on the current unrest in Venezuela as protests escalated against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

"We need to stand with the people in Venezuela who are working for democracy and freedom," said Scott. "As Americans, we are blessed to live in the greatest nation in the world that cherishes liberty. It is our obligation and calling to support those striving for freedom in places like Venezuela and Cuba who are struggling under oppression.” 
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Florida's Stand Your Ground law caused controversy last year after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin, but the self-defense law resurfaced in headlines again in February after a Florida jury found Michael Dunn not guilty of first-degree murder for shooting a teenager after an argument over loud music.

A new Rasmussen Reports poll shows a plurality of American voters are now more confident that such a law improves public safety. Forty-six percent of American adults favor having a Stand Your Ground law in their state, a number unchanged from last July following the verdict in the George Zimmerman case.

Thirty-four percent said they oppose such a law in their state, while 20 percent are undecided.

But a greater number -- 41 percent -- now believe Stand Your Ground laws improve public safety, up 7 points from 34 percent in July. Thirty-four percent think such laws undermine public safety, a number unchanged from the earlier survey. 

Eleven percent say the laws have no real impact on public safety, while 15 percent are not sure.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted Feb. 17-18 by Rasmussen Reports. 
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In Tallahassee on Thursday, Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and his leadership team unveiled their legislative agenda for the 2014 session.

“As Democratic leaders, we will continue to fight for an effective and efficient government that works for the middle class,” said Thurston. “We strive for a state government that makes investments in public education, health care, and infrastructure so Florida can attract jobs and build an economy for the future.” 

Thurston plans to fight for much of the current Democratic national agenda including raising the state minimum wage, relying on federal money to expand health coverage and increasing education funding. With Gov. Rick Scott looking to roll back $400 million in vehicle registration fees, Thurston said he is ready to back repealing fees.

Thurston is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in November.

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Education lobbying group StudentsFirst Florida weighed in on Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart's plan to simplify Florida's school grading system.

“Commissioner Stewart's plan is a thoughtful way to allow school report cards to adapt to the new student assessments that will begin in 2015," said Lane Wright, press secretary for StudentsFirst Florida. "It also ensures that school letter grades accurately reflect student growth and achievement in our schools. Grading schools on the A-F system helps parents understand how well schools are doing, and gives school administrators the information that they need to understand what is working in their classrooms and what they can do to improve. By simplifying the school grading system and making it more transparent, Florida will improve the accountability of its public schools.” 

Florida was the first state in the country to adopt an A-F grading system for its schools, but the grading system has been under intense scrutiny in recent years due to a handful of tweaks and changes which many said made it too complicated.

Under Stewart’s proposal, Florida’s schools will be graded on four factors: achievement, learning gains, graduation, and college credit or industry certifications. Among other changes: cutting out SAT scores and certain graduation rates from the complex formula used to evaluate high schools and requiring schools’ letter grades to drop if less than 25 percent of a school’s students are reading at grade level.

If adopted, the proposed changes could take effect as early as the 2014-2015 school year.
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