Sunshine State News Blogs

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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On Thursday, Florida State University’s LeRoy Collins Institute (LCI) unveiled Tougher Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future, a report on a host of fronts including state finances, education, public employee pensions and other issues. The report was written by a team of economists from the Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) at the University of Florida. LCI has been releasing Tough Choices reports since 2005.

“Almost 10 years ago, the LeRoy Collins Institute published Tough Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future, which analyzed Florida’s revenue and spending trends and found that, while Florida certainly has boundless economic potential, there were tough decisions to be made to achieve that potential,” said Carol Weissert, a political science professor at Florida State University and the director of the LCI. “This report, Tougher Choices, revisits these concerns and, unfortunately, finds that Florida has made little progress in addressing the key issues outlined in our initial report. We hope this new report will help to further illustrate the challenges facing the state and inspire appropriate reforms.”

The report can be read here. LCI offered the following overviews of the report’s findings:

• Florida’s education system is struggling across the spectrum – from K-12 through higher education. Funding for the state’s public schools is lagging, and Florida's young workers are less likely to have a college degree than their peers in other states.

• Florida’s reliance on retirees and tourists comes at a price as the demands of older residents and vacationers are disproportionately linked to lower-paid service jobs. To make matters worse, growing Medicaid demands due to baby boomer retirements and labor market polarization will likely lead to greater expenditures for the state in the near future.

• Florida’s transportation congestion is among the worst in the country, especially in urban areas. The state continues to lack an appropriate amount of roads for its growing population, which is only compounded by its aging infrastructure and overcrowded highways.


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The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) tried a political ju-jitsu on Thursday as it sought to turn former state CFO Alex Sink’s attacks on David Jolly on Social Security against her. Sink, the Democratic candidate, takes on Republican Jolly and Libertarian Lucas Overby in a special congressional election for an open seat in Pinellas County on March 11.

On Thursday, the NRCC bashed Sink for saying she supported Simpson-Bowles.

“Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “Sending Alex Sink to Washington guarantees that seniors right here in Pinellas County are in jeopardy of losing the Social Security and Medicare benefits that they have earned and deserve.”

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Enterprise Florida will lead a delegation of 138 exporters, business leaders and statewide economic development representatives to the Dominican Republic for an international export sales mission this weekend, focusing on creating unique opportunities for companies and the state of Florida. 

Gov. Rick Scott, who usually attends Enterprise Florida's trade missions, will not be participating in the trip, which begins Sunday and ends next Wednesday. 

The Dominican Republic is Florida's ninth largest trading partner, with $5.34 billion in two-way trade and the state's ninth largest export market with $2.95 billion in Florida exports. In addition, the Dominican Republic ranks as Florida's 10th largest import market, with $2.38 billion in imports. 

According to Enterprise Florida, EFI hosted 19 major overseas events with 412 participants in fiscal year 2012-13. In all, 41 international trade events were held last fiscal year, generating nearly $726 million in total projected export sales reported.
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Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., called for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to resign on Wednesday night. Gingrich sent out a message to supporters on Wednesday night and pointed to a speech from Kerry last week on climate change, insisting it proved the former Democratic presidential candidate should not hold high office. Gingrich sent out the following email:

If in recent history an American secretary of state has made a speech as delusional as John Kerry’s in Jakarta last week, I can’t remember it.

Discussing the most dangerous threats facing the world, Secretary Kerry said that “terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” are all problems, but added, “the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.”

That was extreme enough, but then came the claim that should disqualify him from serving as secretary of state. “In a sense,” he said, “climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

At a time when Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon, Ukraine is erupting into violence, Syria has collapsed into civil war, Venezuela is falling apart, Iraq and Afghanistan continue to devolve, and China is asserting itself all over the world, the American secretary of state stated that the most urgent threat we face is a small rise in sea level by the end of the 21st century – a threat even greater than nuclear war, terrorism, or catastrophic attacks on critical infrastructure.

It’s a disaster for someone in that position to announce global warming is the greatest threat to the human race. It’s dangerous. If these are really his priorities, he should not remain in office.

Kerry clearly doesn’t intend his statement as hyperbole, though. He actually believes climate change could be worse than nuclear war. You realize that when you hear the doomsday scenarios he goes on to prophesy: droughts and dry spells, floods and monsoons, typhoons, famine, the end of species (“cod or sardines,” he says), entire countries submerged, and more.

Kerry predicts economic disaster, too -- for instance, a trillion dollars every year in flood damage to ports in Asia, “unless we make big changes to the infrastructure of those ports” (which, presumably, “we” would, rather than bear a trillion dollars in unnecessary costs each year. ...).

All of these catastrophes, Kerry says repeatedly, are “facts.” The science of climate change, in his telling, is as indisputable as it is simple -- a scientific truth in the same way that gravity is a scientific truth.

“When an apple separates from a tree, it falls to the ground ... It’s a scientific fact,” he says. Similarly, climate change “is not really a complicated equation ... This is simple. Kids at the earliest age can understand this.”

The computer model projections, of course, are not scientific fact -- they’re hypotheses -- and they are not simple, either. They are based on thousands of variables, and many educated guesses and assumptions. Guesses and assumptions that failed to predict the last 17 years without warming (a scenario none of these “scientific” models projected).

Secretary Kerry has no time for questions about his bumper-sticker science, however. As a lifelong politician, he implored the world to ignore “a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues” who are skeptical of his claims.

It’s not just the science skeptics Kerry can’t tolerate, however. Your view is equally unacceptable to the secretary of state if you grant him his forecasts but question the left’s policy prescriptions (which always involve giving more power and trillions of dollars to the government in a futile attempt to prevent the Earth’s climate from changing). We should not allow “any room,” Kerry says, “for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits.”

We must follow him anywhere, apparently, even if it does more harm than good.

Not only do Kerry’s injunctions verge on totalitarianism -- intolerance of any view but the state’s -- but they are also the opposite of the scientific method, which is based on openness to doubt.

Unfortunately, Kerry’s eagerness to shut down the conversation is increasingly common on the left. A climate scientist at Penn State is suing the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for libel because they dared to question his research. (Scientists who sue columnists for questioning their findings are reason enough to be skeptical of the global warming “consensus.”)

How can anyone take seriously a secretary of state who gives a speech like Kerry did in Jakarta and actually means it?

Clearly the Iranians can’t take him seriously. The day after Kerry announced that America is more concerned with global warming than nuclear weapons, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, said of his nuclear negotiations with the West: “I am not optimistic about the negotiations and they will lead nowhere -- but I am not against them.”

But Secretary Kerry has bigger problems on his mind. In a delusional administration, he is the most delusional Cabinet member. If Kerry really thinks like this, he needs to resign.

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Longtime Republican leader Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) and the leader of the American Conservative Union (ACU) in recent years, will join Squire Sanders as a senior partner starting on March 1. 

“Al is a respected legal practitioner and business leader who is uniquely qualified to provide an exceptional level of strategic counsel to our clients in Florida, Washington and across the Americas,” said Jim Maiwurm, the chairman and global CEO of Squire Sanders, on Thursday. “We are pleased and proud that he has committed to joining us.”

“Squire Sanders has emerged as one of the world’s premiere law firms with a strong platform in Florida, Washington, Latin America and around the world,” said Cardenas on Thursday. “I look forward to practicing in an environment that will enable me to contribute what I have learned through both my public and legal career.”

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Fresh from getting the endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony List for her congressional bid on Wednesday, Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, filed more than 3,100 signatures to get on the ballot in an open congressional contest in Southwest Florida. Benacquisto is running in next month’s Republican primary for the seat that had been held by former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., who resigned after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.

“I am humbled that thousands of signatures from the people of this community have enabled me to qualify for the ballot,” said Benacquisto. “I know we are going to be outspent, but once again I see that we cannot be outworked.”

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Businessman and former college basketball star Curt Clawson is running for the Republican nomination in the race for an open congressional seat which had been held by former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla. Clawson promised earlier this week to deliver a “game changer” at a media event held on Wednesday which would “unite the team of conservatives who are looking for an outsider to represent us in Congress.”

Clawson announced the endorsement of businessman and conservative activist Byron Donalds who ran in the Republican primary in 2012 but lost out to Radel. Donalds, who had opened the door to running again in 2014, placed fifth in a six-candidate field taking 14 percent of the primary vote back in the 2012 primary.

“It is rare that a person with a background as a CEO of a multibillion-dollar company offers himself as a candidate for Congress,” said Donalds. “Curt Clawson has tremendous experience in the business world and fundamentally understands that we need people from outside the political process to step up to the plate and change business as usual in Washington, D.C.”

Clawson continued to insist that getting Donalds’ endorsement was a “game changer” on Wednesday.

“This is a game changer that the career politicians weren’t expecting,” Clawson said. “I voted for Byron Donalds in 2012 because he has leadership qualities that are unique in Southwest Florida and frankly across the country. I am grateful for his support and look forward to working with him to inspire constitutional conservatives who are looking for an outsider with business experience and conservative principles.”

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Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, best known for his three presidential bids, announced on Wednesday that he will be active in the 2014 congressional primaries through his Liberty PAC.

Bashing “statist incumbent Republicans like U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham" and praising “rock-solid liberty-movement challengers,” Paul pledged to be busy in the primaries.

“The truth is, without a strong showing this spring and summer, the results we see this fall might not matter one bit,” Paul informed supporters on Wednesday.

Paul ripped into the business establishment, insisting “the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some other supposedly ‘pro-business’ organizations announced they were planning to spend up to $50 million this primary season to defeat tea party and liberty movement candidates” across the nation.

“To them, the big problem we face today isn’t our $17.3 trillion national debt,” Paul continued. “It’s not the Federal Reserve devaluing our currency by printing money out of thin air. It’s not even the Obamacare monstrosity, which threatens to destroy every last shred of our economic growth! To them, their big worry is ... folks who truly believe in limited government.”

Blasting groups like the U.S. Chamber for “cronyism, bailouts, sweetheart deals, and tacit support for tax-and-spend boondoggles,” Paul praised leaders like U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.

Paul praised candidates who are running for higher office.

“Greg Brannon in North Carolina, Paul Broun in Georgia, and Owen Hill in Colorado are just a few of the candidates for federal office I have already endorsed,” Paul continued. “On the state level, I have issued endorsements for Debra Medina for Texas comptroller and Curtis Coleman for governor of Arkansas.”

Paul added he was not done yet in the primaries. “My staff and I are currently sorting through dozens of endorsement requests, and I am certain that number will only continue to rise,” Paul insisted. “There are Senate races in South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and other places where good liberty candidates could emerge. In the House, there are races in West Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Arizona, and elsewhere where liberty candidates are running. Then there are the hundreds of state and local races across the country. I want to make endorsements and help as many of these candidates as possible.”

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A poll from the University of North Florida (UNF) finds Mayor Alvin Brown of Jacksonville, who is running for a second term in early 2015, starts off his re-election bid in solid shape.

Brown garners the approval of 59 percent of those surveyed while 22 percent disapprove of the Democratic mayor. While Brown’s numbers are good, that is a slip from where he stood last February when 70 percent of those surveyed in a UNF poll approved of him.

Matched up against possible Republican candidates, Brown starts out in the lead. Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford comes closest but Brown still bests him 41 percent to 35 percent. Brown does better against Duval County Property Appraiser Jim Overton, beating him 42 percent to 31 percent. Brown takes 43 percent when matched up against City Councilman Bill Gulliford, 43 percent to 28 percent. Matched against Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), Brown has his biggest lead, routing him 45 percent to 25 percent.

The poll of 442 registered Duval County voters was taken from Feb. 10-17 and had a margin of error of +/- 4.66 percent.

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The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) Candidate Fund, a pro-life group, announced on Wednesday it was backing Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in an open congressional race in Southwest Florida. Benacquisto is running for the Republican nomination for the seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., who resigned after pleading guilty for possessing cocaine.

“As we ramp up our efforts for the 2014 election cycle, this race is a critical opportunity to send an articulate, strong pro-life woman to Washington ahead of schedule,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the group. “Women are uniquely qualified to defend the dignity of human life. Benacquisto beautifully embodies the legacy of Susan B. Anthony and the early suffragettes. The SBA List is proud to get behind state Sen. Benacquisto as she seeks to represent Florida women and families.”

The primary will be held on April 22 and the general election on June 24.

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On Wednesday, Robert Nave was named director of Florida TaxWatch’s Center for Educational Performance and Accountability and as a senior education policy analyst. Nave worked for the state for more than a quarter of a century and rose to serve as chief of staff of the Florida Lottery. He also worked as vice president of Convergys HR Management.

"Bob has the strategic planning and policy skills to function as a trusted resource to education policymakers in Florida, and lead the center's research efforts," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "Bob's experience in Florida policymaking and execution will be a resource to the entire team at Florida TaxWatch."

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Dr. Ben Carson burst on the national scene last year when he criticized President Barack Obama’s health care law at the National Prayer Breakfast. Carson is generating buzz as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016 and is currently leading the American Legacy PAC’s Save Our Healthcare project.

Carson is running petitions against the health care law and has gathered around 140,000 signatures, and he showcased his work in an email to supporters sent out late on Tuesday night. Calling his actions a “national citizens’ effort, which I am leading, to hold Washington accountable and replace Obamacare with patient-centered reforms,” Carson noted that one of his supporters was a former patient of his that he spoke with via phone last week.

“As we recounted our brief time together, it reinforced something that seems to unfortunately get lost in the whole political debate over health care: this is about our health, and the health of those we love and care about,” Carson wrote. “Nothing is more personal. Put aside the discussion about taxes and mandates for a moment. The underlying and irreconcilable flaw of Obamacare is that it forces us to surrender our personal decision-making power to a distant bureaucracy, which however well-intentioned, will neither save us money nor provide the care we deserve.”

Carson left no room for doubt that he intends to be extremely active against Obamacare, including on the campaign trail for congressional candidates.

“It is our sincere prayer that through the Save Our Healthcare call to action, we can recruit every American concerned about the future of health care, and convince them that a new and better direction is possible,” Carson insisted. “Over the course of the year, we will lay out this new direction, step by step, so we can build trust with the American people along the way – and then it’s up to us to elect people to Congress who will implement our vision.”

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Roy Jones Jr., who was at one point considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, told TMZ he plans to run for mayor of his hometown of Pensacola. Now 45, Jones told TMZ he has paperwork ready and more than enough signatures to get on the ballot.


After winning a silver medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics (and losing in a controversial decision in the gold medal round), Jones, who is now 45, burst onto the professional scene, winning titles in the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. In December 2013, in his most recent fight, Jones won the lightly regarded World Boxing Union’s cruiserweight title. His record currently stands at 57 wins and eight losses with 40 of his wins by way of knockout.

H/T Fight News.

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Prominent Florida governmental affairs and consulting firm Ballard Partners announced Tuesday the formation of a strategic partnership with Ioppolo Law Group, an elite, boutique business law and consulting firm based in Lake Mary.

It's a strategic arrangement made to offer clients top legal, legislative and government affairs services in Central Florida, Ballard said in a written statement.

“Ballard Partners prides itself on offering world-class representation to the most diverse client list in Florida,” said Ballard Partners President Brian Ballard. “Becoming allies with Ioppolo Law Group will provide our clients with a seamless approach to legal and governmental affairs advice throughout the Central Florida area.”

Chris Dorworth, managing partner of Ballard Partners' Central Florida office, said, “This strategic alliance expands the reach of two great forces in government and legal affairs, maximizing our ability to provide the best possible services to our clients. I’ve known Frank Ioppolo and his team for nearly a decade and they are recognized across the country as leaders who make a difference in government and business.”

Ballard Partners’ Central Florida Office will relocate to the Ioppolo Law Group Offices in March, according to the statement.

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Former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico called on President Barack Obama to take major federal action to decriminalize marijuana on Tuesday. After spending most of his career as a Republican, Johnson was the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 2012 and has left the door open to running again in 2016.

“One of the greatest offenses against liberty over the past several decades is the failed War on Drugs,” Johnson emailed supporters on Tuesday. “Millions of lives have been adversely impacted by arrests and convictions for simple possession of marijuana, and billions of tax dollars have been spent prosecuting Americans for a simple choice that even President Obama admits is no more harmful than consuming an alcoholic beverage.”

Johnson insisted there was a quick remedy Obama could enact to end the criminalization of marijuana. “What many don’t realize is that the president and the attorney general have the authority right now -- today -- to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act,” Johnson insisted. “Taking this common-sense step would effectively end the criminalization under federal law of simple marijuana possession.

“I have advocated this overdue ‘reclassification’ for years,” Johnson continued. “With a majority of Americans now favoring the legalization of marijuana, two states having voted to legalize it, and several others considering doing so, the time has come for the president to act. As I have said many times, the American people are ready to do the right and smart thing, but where are the politicians? To date, with few exceptions, they have been ‘missing in action’ on this issue.”

Johnson praised 18 members of the U.S. House who wrote Obama last week to “remove marijuana from Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act” and the former New Mexico governor said he gave that effort his “wholehearted support.” Johnson plans to use his Our American Initiative group to help that effort.

“Liberty means being free of government prosecution for simple personal choices that do no harm to others,” Johnson insisted. “More than 100 million Americans have, at one time or another, made the simple choice to use marijuana. Isn’t it time to stop calling those Americans criminals?”

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On Tuesday, Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, announced the Tallahassee police had found the body of Ryan Uhre, an intern in his office who had been missing for over two weeks. Uhre was last seen downtown on the night of Feb. 2 when he had been out to watch the Super Bowl. The body was found in Tallahassee on a building on College Avenue. 

“Today, I am deeply saddened and truly shocked by the news that law enforcement in Tallahassee have announced that they have found the body of my legislative intern Ryan Uhre, who had been missing since Feb. 2,” Stark said on Tuesday. “A few minutes ago, I attempted to reach out to Ryan’s family to express my condolences. Ryan’s family, friends and co-workers are in our thoughts and prayers in this time of grief. I have no further information or comment about the circumstances. I encourage you all to keep Ryan’s family in your prayers.”

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Republican-aligned super-PAC American Crossroads announced on Tuesday it was launching a new television ad taking aim at former state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate running in a special congressional election in Pinellas County. Sink takes on Republican David Jolly and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the March 11 election.

The ad from American Crossroads, which has ties to prominent Republican strategist Karl Rove, slams Sink’s record in Tallahassee. The ad will be running over the next three weeks as American Crossroads spent $357,000 to run it in the Tampa Bay market.

“Alex Sink sunk Florida, and now she wants to reward herself with a congressional seat,” said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads. “Floridians deserve better.”

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Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, is cheering the news that SB 188, which ensures schools will not collect biometric and personal information from students, sailed through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday. The bill also replaces using Social Security numbers with Florida Student Identification numbers to better protect students’ security.

“A student that becomes used to giving up their personal information at an early age may not question further invasions of their privacy as they become adults,” Hukill said. “With the increase in incidents of credit card and identity theft, we have a reason to be concerned about our students’ biometric and personal information. There is a significant risk of students’ information being misused and these issues are addressed by this legislation.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) came out swinging on Tuesday, attacking former Gov. Charlie Crist for his ties to convicted frauster Scott Rothstein. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November. Earlier this month, Rothstein said Crist appointed judges based on campaign donations.

"Charlie Crist's friend and convicted felon, Scott Rothstein, shed more light on their relationship recently when he said he used his influence with then-Gov. Crist to hand-pick judges,” said Lenny Curry, the chairman of the RPOF, on Tuesday. “Charlie's silence about his fellow lawyer and friend's testimony under oath has been deafening. Will he face the music this week as he returns to the scene of Rothstein's crime?"

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Anti-Common Core protesters are gearing up for Tuesday's State Board of Education meeting, preparing themselves to let their opposition to the standards be heard. 

Florida Stop Common Core Coalition outlined its plan on Monday to protest Tuesday's meeting, which is expected to give the green light to nearly 100 proposed changes to Common Core in Florida.

"The appointed State Board of Education ... is meeting tomorrow to vote in place the Department of Education's self-admitted 'minor' and cosmetic changes to the Common Core standards while trying to remove their toxicity by changing the name to Florida's Standards or the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards," read the email.  

Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart proposed the name change last month after rolling out the proposed changes. Some have, however, dismissed the name change as a brand overhaul in an attempt to distance Florida from Common Core, which has gathered considerable criticism over recent months.

A protest is planned before the board meeting kicks off at 8:30 a.m. and FSCCC has invited protesters to make signs and tune into Twitter to voice their opposition to the standards.  
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On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott announced the advancement of the Gateway Express project, which would serve as a direct connection from I-275 to US 19 and from I-275 to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport and the Bayside Bridge via an elevated tolled expressway.

As a result of investments in the Transportation Work Plan of more than $131 million in state funding, the Department of Transportation will be able to speed up the project allowing the road to open 20 years sooner than previously expected. 

“With this $131 million commitment we will be able to speed up this critical project," said Gov. Scott. "This will make roads safe, and allow families to spend more time together and less time sitting in traffic. The Gateway Express Project will also allow economic activity to continue to grow and develop in Pinellas County, which will create jobs and opportunities for Florida families.”

An expressway could provide faster travel times and could also provide revenue to help cover future maintenance and operating costs. 

A toll-free option will remain available on the existing road network and motorists will be able to travel from US 19 or from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport to I-275 without stopping at any signals. According to a press release, the potential time savings is from nine to 13 minutes during the morning and afternoon commutes.

FDOT is partnering with Pinellas County on this project. Funding includes federal, state and Penny for Pinellas funds. The project, estimated to cost nearly $338 million, would start construction in early 2017. 

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The State Board of Education will review and vote on proposed changes to the Common Core State Standards on Tuesday, ultimately deciding whether or not to pass revisions to the academic standards. 

With nearly 100 proposed modifications to Common Core -- including over 50 in calculus -- the Florida Department of Education seemed to indicate in January that the changes were a sharp departure from Common Core and rebranded them as the "Florida Standards." The board, which will meet in Orlando, is expected to approve the changes as most of its members have been generally supportive of the new academic standards. 

Gov. Rick Scott has been supportive of the Florida Standards, distancing the Sunshine State from Common Core, which has gathered considerable criticism over recent months.

“These are Florida standards,” he said at the Republican Party of Florida’s annual meeting in January. “They’re not some national standards; they’re going to be Florida standards. This is our state. We’re not going to have the federal government telling us how to do our education system.”

Common Core has been adopted by 45 states across the country and Florida adopted the standards in 2010. 
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