Sunshine State News Blogs

A University of North Florida (UNF) poll released on Wednesday shows Florida backs efforts to give veterans in-state tuition for colleges and universities across the Sunshine State. As part of the “Florida GI Bill,” giving veterans in-state tuition was a chief legislative priority for both Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

The poll finds 55 percent of those surveyed strongly support the proposal while 14 percent say they somewhat support it. Only 16 percent say they strongly oppose giving in-state tuition to veterans while 6 percent somewhat oppose the idea.

The poll of 565 Floridians was taken from March 6-16 and had a margin of error of +/- 4.12 percent.
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A University of North Florida (UNF) poll released on Wednesday finds half of Floridians support giving undocumented immigrants in-state tuition but the poll also finds the proposal generates passionate opposition.

The survey shows 33 percent strongly support the proposal to give illegal immigrants in-state tuition while 17 percent say they somewhat support it. But 29 percent strongly oppose the idea and 11 percent somewhat oppose it.

The poll of 565 Floridians was taken from March 6-16 and had a margin of error of +/- 4.12 percent.
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A bill to prohibit minors from using tanning beds passed through the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday with a 6-2 vote. 

SB 572, sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would bar minors from using tanning beds at tanning salons. Sobel, whose husband is a dermatologist, pointed to the increased risk of skin cancer as the primary concern behind the legislation.

Research has increasingly supported that the use of tanning beds increases the risk for melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. SB 572 would place a prohibition on visits to tanning salons by minors, except if physicians prescribe the visits to treat certain medical conditions.

Under current law, minors 14 or older can visit tanning facilities with their parents’ consent, while children under 14 must be accompanied by their parents.
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Gov. Rick Scott plans to take the gloves off on Wednesday at an event in Tampa where he will talk about higher education costs. According to his campaign team, Scott will hit former Gov. Charlie Crist for raising tuition during his term in office. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.

“Charlie Crist repeatedly raised tuition on Florida families,” Scott’s team insisted on Wednesday. “This year, we are going to right this wrong. We are working to undo Charlie Crist’s tuition increases and fight to cut tuition for all Florida families.

“College shouldn’t just be accessible to all – it must be affordable for all,” the Scott campaign continued. “While Gov. Scott is fighting to keep college tuition low and has challenged all state colleges to offer $10,000 degrees to make college more affordable for Florida families, Charlie Crist signed into law an automatic 15 percent  annual tuition increase that put college further out of reach for many Floridians.”

The Scott team pointed to Crist signing a 5 percent tuition increase in 2007 before raising it 6 percent in 2008 for universities. In 2009, the budget Crist signed allowed universities the option to raise it as much 15 percent.
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Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., continued pounding President Barack Obama on Tuesday, labeling him a “disaster of a president” and promising to continue his political activism despite losing his seat to Democrat Patrick Murphy in 2012.

“I've never been afraid to lead from the front when it comes to defending America,” West emailed supporters on Tuesday afternoon. “Barack Obama is a disaster of a president and his ultra-liberal leadership is destroying our country.”

West is trying to keep a seat at the political table with his Allen West Guardian Fund PAC which held an event in South Florida last week with Donald Trump and Greg Gutfeld. West insisted he has a “growing army of Guardian Fund supporters that are just as committed as I am to saving America" which will “succeed in reversing Obama's slide of liberal decline because our supporters are stronger than Obama's defeatism.”
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From his perch on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., asked Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert about what the Obama administration plans to do with the Navy budget.

“My bottom line: make sure the administration makes national security decisions based on strategic need rather than sacrificing key defense assets to fund its own separate priorities,” Crenshaw said. “We need only consider the Ukraine to be reminded that the world is full of threats that must be managed to the best of our ability.

“That means maintaining LCS production levels, preventing the removal of 11 cruisers from the fleet, and making sure P-8 Poseidons, E-2D Hawkeyes, submarines, and all other assets are at the levels we need to accomplish Navy and joint missions for decades to come,” Crenshaw added.
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On Tuesday, Charlie Crist's campaign team unveiled the newest weapon in its arsenal against Gov. Rick Scott -- a new blog and online community called "Scott Free Florida."

"Rick Scott knows his reputation is in the dumps -- that's why he's prepared to spend over $100 million to try to fix his toxic image and reinvent himself in time for Election Day," wrote former state House Democratic leader and Crist supporter Dan Gelber. "We can't let that happen."

According to an email from Gelber, the campaign will contain a variety of content, from infographics to fact-checks to videos. 

The mission: to hold Rick Scott's feet to the fire and defend Charlie Crist's record against the "inevitable onslaught of false attacks." 

"Simply put, the stakes in this election are huge," wrote Gelber. "From slashing education funding to trashing our environment, there's plenty of reasons why Rick Scott will have to run from his record to get re-elected."  
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Tuesday brought another barrage of attacks over Mike Fernandez's departure from Gov. Rick Scott's campaign team, this time with Florida Democrats calling for Scott to fire staffers that allegedly made racially insensitive comments. 

"Rick Scott’s campaign staff mocked Florida Hispanics like schoolchildren. That’s unacceptable from the people trying to elect a governor in one of the most diverse states in the nation,'' said Ana Rivas Logan in a conference call with reporters. "These anti-Hispanic comments are exactly the kind of comments that made up my mind to leave the Republican Party." 

Rivas Logan filed as a Democrat in February, citing hostility toward Hispanics as a reason for her departure from the Republican Party.

"[Scott] needs to take a stand on this,'' she said. "He needs to fire these people and hold them accountable and say that bigotry does not have a place in politics."

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Monday there was “no validity” to the report of the comments. An email released Tuesday by Republicans indicated that Fernandez never heard the comments he complained about. According to the Miami Herald, a business partner named “Luis” apparently did on the way to a Chipotle Grill, a Mexican restaurant.

“It’s culturally insensitive for him to hear a senior staff members [sic] mimicking a Mexican accent on the way to Chipotle. It shows that the team does not understand the culture YOU need to win,” Fernandez wrote. 

The Republican Party of Florida followed up with comments made by Democrats in a new Web video, noting that it was just last week that Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo spoke in support of Scott's decision to get on board with offering in-state tuition rates for Dreamers. 

"The fact that they will be able to pay the same amount that all Floridians pay to attend the university ... this is something wonderful," said Taddeo. 

Republican Executive Committee Chairman Nelson Diaz wondered where the outrage was over former Gov. Charlie Crist's comments about the Cuban community. 

"Where was the outrage from Florida Democrats when Charlie Crist insulted the Cuban-American community or Alex Sink made her offensive comment about immigrants?" asked Diaz. "Phony outrage is a specialty that the Florida Democratic Party attempts to perfect each election season.”

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On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott showcased $80 million in his budget proposal which would go to fighting cancer. Scott is calling for sending $60 million to help Florida Cancer Centers to reach National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation while another $20 million would go into research grants. Scott appeared at the University of Florida’s Proton Therapy Institute on Tuesday in Jacksonville.

“Cancer research funding is important to the health and well-being of countless Floridians,” Scott said. “It is because of the work of Florida’s cancer centers that patients can receive world-class treatment and the needed support to beat this terrible disease. We must continue to focus on enhancing Florida’s cancer research community until Florida is the best in the nation for research.”

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Newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla, was named to the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Veterans Affairs committees on Tuesday.

“I am honored to be appointed to serve alongside my colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Veterans Affairs committees today,” said Jolly. “I look forward to working with fellow committee members to help create jobs, protect and enhance our beaches, improve our local and national infrastructure, and protect our Coast Guard assets in Pinellas and nationally.”

Jolly will serve on the Water Resources and Environment and the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittees.

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What better place to look for a horror story than Florida? Apparently, TV producers are thinking the same thing because Season 4 of "American Horror Story" is going to be set in the Jupiter, Fla., of the 1950s.

And if they knew Jupiter like I know Jupiter, they might realize they've clicked just the right button in the Sunshine State.

The show's title was revealed by creator and writer Ryan Murphy via Twitter.

Look for "American Horror Story: Freak Show."

Here's what Entertainment Weekly has to say about Season 4:

"Freak Show finds Jessica Lange playing a German ex-pat who is managing one of the last freak shows in the U.S. Her group of “unusuals”? Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Angela Bassett, and Frances Conroy all play performers whom Lange’s character has rescued; Denis O’Hare and Emma Roberts are also in talks to return. Freak Show’s 13 episodes will track this group as they do anything to keep their business around."

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Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign team released a Web video on Tuesday focusing on President Barack Obama’s decision to take funds from Medicare Advantage to pay for his federal health-care law and link it to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Despite spending most of his political life as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.

“With Medicare Advantage under attack, Florida seniors are faced with higher costs and the possibility of losing their doctors,” said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the Scott campaign. “This Web ad tells the stories of those seniors who face greater uncertainty thanks to Obamacare. Sadly, Charlie Crist is only looking out for his political career by giving this dangerous law his full embrace."

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., teamed up with U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., to demand answers on federal employees handling public union duties on the taxpayers’ dime. The congressmen sent a letter to Katherine Archuleta, the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), demanding to know how many federal manhours were spent on union business in FY 2012.

"Since taxpayers pay the salary of all federal employees, they have a right to know how much of their money is used for conducting union business while on the clock," said Ross on Tuesday. "That's why I introduced the Official Time Reporting Act which would require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress on the use of official time by federal employees. We are more than $17 trillion in debt. I believe in fair representation; however, we must ensure that we are spending the people's hard-earned money wisely."

"Americans deserve to know where their tax dollars are being spent, and failure to publish an official time report only perpetuates their distrust of the Obama administration," said Gingrey. "The American people would be better served if the use of official time were fully repealed -- as I have proposed in my bill, the Federal Employee Accountability Act. Until this legislation becomes law, however, the least the administration can do to provide adequate transparency and accountability is disclose every penny of our taxpayers' money going to pay union salaries. OPM must commit to responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars by immediately releasing the FY13 Official Time Report."

OPM found federal employees spent 3.4 million hours on union business while on the clock in fiscal year 2011 as taxpayers were billed more than $155 million.

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On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott announced his recommendation for projects in the Apalachicola Bay area to receive disaster assistance funding. According to a press release, these projects will help the affected communities "recover from the devastation and move forward to have sustainable fisheries and fishing communities in the future."

The projects are focused on four specific areas: the Apalachicola Bay Habitat Improvement, monitoring of the wild Apalachicola Bay oyster population, vocational and educational training for Apalachicola Bay oyster industry workers and Apalachicola Bay processor facilities upgrades.

“I am excited today to recommend these projects that will share $6.3 million to help restore economic vitality and provide relief to the oystermen and their families who have endured such hardship in the Apalachicola Bay area," said Scott. "In addition to bolstering their industry, this funding will be used to provide vocational and educational training for oystermen and their families so they are able to support their families for generations to come.”

Last month, Scott announced Florida was awarded $6.3 million in disaster assistance funding for the communities that were devastated by the collapse of the oyster harvesting industry in Apalachicola Bay. This disaster assistance funding follows Gov. Scott’s request for a commercial fishery failure. 

Scott's recommendations are subject to final approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

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One of the most vocal opponents of Common Core in Florida launched a bid for county office on Tuesday.

Erika Donalds announced on Tuesday that she is running for a spot on the Collier County School Board. Donalds, who works in finance and is active with the GOP in the region, is the Southwest Florida coordinator for Florida Parents Against Common Core.

As she launches her bid, Donalds' platform includes local control of schools and parent empowerment.

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Florida TaxWatch released a study on Tuesday which finds the state could save $10 billion over the next decade if Florida rolls back its class-size limit for grades 4-12. Voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2002 with class-size limits.

"The significant investment required from our state to comply with the class-size mandate has drained our education system of the resources it needs to effectively enhance student achievement," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "Florida should maximize the use of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars to ensure every student has the resources they need to succeed. Evidence has shown that reducing class size across all grades, as now required, has not proved to give our taxpayers a good return on their investment."

Bob Nave, the director of Florida TaxWatch’s Center for Educational Performance and Accountability, insisted the 2002 amendment has proven costly for Florida.

"Florida's hard-working taxpayers have spent more than $27 billion to reduce class sizes and the state has little to show for it," said Nave. "Florida has ample opportunities to increase student achievement at a much lower cost to taxpayers. Reinvesting money that has been restricted to class-size compliance will equip Florida teachers with the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, and give more students access to a better quality education."

The report can be read here

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No wonder Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich looked so radiant entering The Moon in Tallahassee Monday night. Charlie Crist's Democratness -- if he ever had such a thing -- is imploding like a cream puff with bad egg custard.

"Did you see Charlie on Sunday?" Rich asked me. I hadn't, but it's all on record. Appearing Sunday on "This Week in South Florida" with Michael Putney, Crist answered a question about this year's proposed voucher program expansion by saying, "I don't know if we should expand it at this point in time."

Rich was incredulous. "By 'this point in time,' you know he means 'in an election year.' He wants it both ways and hopes nobody notices."

Crist went on to note other cuts in public school funding that have occurred, but didn't explain how Gov. Rick Scott's voucher expansion is any different from Crist's own voucher expansion four years ago.

"Charlie Crist and Rick Scott," said Rich, "both the same Republicans."

See Kevin Derby's story in Sunshine State News. 
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Florida Republicans are pushing back at the Democrats over a report that Mike Fernandez, who had been Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign finance co-chair, resigned due to campaign aides doing an over-the-top Mexican accent around him.

Fernandez resigned his post on Thursday night. The Miami Herald is reporting that Fernandez quit in part due to the aides’ behavior. The Scott team, including Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, insists that nobody on the campaign has done anything like that.

Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), weighed in on Monday afternoon, insisting the Democrats have been the party treating Hispanics badly and making fun of them. Curry pointed toward congressional candidate former state CFO Alex Sink’s comment at a candidate forum at the end of February that immigration reform was needed for “people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping.”

Curry also cited former Gov. Charlie Crist’s comment that politicians need to “stand up to that small Cuban community” in South Florida when it comes to dealing with the Castro regime.

“Today I call on all Florida Democrats to condemn the myriad of actual insults that have been continually hurled at the Florida Hispanic community by members of their own party,” Curry said. “These comments are insulting and intolerable and they should be harshly condemned.”

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FreedomWorks announced on Monday it was backing U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho‘s, R-Fla., bid for a second term.

“FreedomWorks PAC is working hard to bring fresh talent to the table, but it’s also critical to protect the new generation of leadership that has begun repopulating the Republican Party,” said Matt Kibbe, the resident of Freedom Works. Kibbe praised Yoho as a “champion of pro-freedom legislation, and a grassroots-backed representative who came to Washington and actually did what he promised to do on the campaign trail.”

"FreedomWorks is a great organization that champions liberty and freedom,” Yoho said. “Their grassroots movement is exactly the type of organization we need to get the conservative message out, mobilize people, and support constitutional leaders. I am honored to receive their support and will continue to work tirelessly not just for conservatives, but all Americans.”

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Gov. Rick Scott's campaign finance co-chair Mike Fernandez abruptly quit Scott's campaign on Thursday evening, prompting questions about the real reason behind his departure.

According to the Miami Herald, Fernandez expressed frustrations to top Scott allies and "complained about two campaign aides who had joked around in a cartoon-style Mexican accent en route to a Mexican restaurant in Fernandez’s home town of Coral Gables."

Fernandez, however, said he was splitting from the campaign to spend more time with his family and businesses.

Questions about Fernandez's departure spilled into a Republican Party of Florida conference call held Monday morning which was supposed to revolve around Scott's latest attack ad against Charlie Crist.

After reporters asked Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera about Fernandez's departure, the lieutenant governor continued to say Fernandez left to spend more time with his family and his business, not because of comments made by campaign aides. 

"Mr. Fernandez left to spend more time with his family and concentrate more on his business," Lopez-Cantera said. "This is a diverse organization that we have here and I'm confident that there's probably no basis for any of that."

Lopez said he did not believe the incident happened -- and Scott's camp, he said, looked into the incident and came up dry.

"Like I said, this is a diverse organization," he said. "We don't tolerate inappropriate comments and I don't believe they even happened ... There's no validity that we can find to any of those comments, or what was written." 

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Former Ambassador Francis Rooney, who represented the United States at the Vatican, announced on Monday he was backing Florida Senate Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in the Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Rooney cited Benacquisto’s opposition to abortion in his endorsement.

“As the former ambassador to the Vatican, it is very important to me that Lizbeth has taken a firm stand in protecting the sanctity of life, and has been a leader in the pro-life community for her entire adult life,” said Rooney. “I’m voting for Lizbeth Benacquisto -- she will make us proud.

“As someone who has served this country and fought to protect conservative values, I know Lizbeth Benacquisto will be an excellent choice for our next representative from Southwest Florida,” added Rooney. “She is a proven, trusted, conservative leader, and we are lucky that she put herself forward for this position of public trust.”

“It is an absolute honor to have not only Ambassador Rooney’s support, but also his friendship,” said Benacquisto. “As a respected voice in the pro-life community, he and I share a commitment to protecting the sanctity of life.”

Benacquisto takes on businessman Curt Clawson and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel in the April 22 primary.

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Charlie Crist's campaign fired back on Monday after Let's Get to Work, a political committee with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, released a new television ad attacking former Gov. Charlie Crist over his support for Barack Obama's health-care law.

"When after four years, you have no record and no vision, you spend millions attacking your opponent," said Crist spokesperson Kevin Cate. "It's the Rick Scott playbook and Floridians have had enough." 

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Let’s Get to Work, a group with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, released a new television ad on Monday which will hit airwaves across the Sunshine State on Thursday. The ad, which is being backed by a $2 million ad buy, hits former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democratic favorite to challenge Scott, for supporting President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law.

“While Charlie Crist continues to talk about how ‘great’ Obamacare is, the facts tell us that it’s been anything but great for Florida families,” said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. “Over 300,000 Floridians have lost insurance plans they like, seniors are losing their doctors due to Medicare Advantage cuts, and job creators are being hit with higher taxes and burdensome regulations. Obamacare seems to only be ‘great’ for Charlie Crist and his political career.”

View the ad below:

Sorry, you need to install flash to see this content.

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With the fourth anniversary of President Barack Obama signing his federal health-care proposal into law, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., took aim at it on Saturday.

“Four years ago, the president signed Obamacare into law, and Americans have seen nothing but broken promises since. If you like your health care, you’ll be able to keep it, he told the nation, while also claiming families would save thousands of dollars on health-care premiums,” Crenshaw said. “The real picture: individuals and families have been turned away from their insurance; premiums and deductibles have increased; and we’ve seen strings of delays as well as problems with the program’s official website.

“My record against this ill-conceived law is crystal clear: I opposed it from the start, voting Nov. 7, 2009, against the bill and for the Republican alternative,” Crenshaw continued. “Today, I stand as strongly against Obamacare as I did then, voting to dismantle, defund, and repeal it more than 50 times since.

“That record includes a successful effort to deny the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) additional funding for the implementation of Obamacare,” Crenshaw added. “As chair of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, I led the effort to write legislation to hold the IRS accountable for its use of taxpayer dollars. Thanks to our subcommittee’s determination, in fiscal year 2014, this agency is provided $1.6 billion below the budget request and $526 million below the fiscal year 2012 level. With recent revelations of targeting Americans based on political belief, the IRS has to clean up its act. Now, with this language signed into law, the agency cannot use additional funds for the implementation of Obamacare. And, among other measures, it is expressly prohibited from using funds to target Americans based on political belief.

“My bottom line: Americans deserve true choice and cost-effective health care that won’t harm the economy, raise taxes, or bankrupt our children’s and grandchildren’s futures,” Crenshaw said in conclusion. “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has not delivered the results America needs -- more choice and higher quality of care without damage to the economy. That’s the direction I will continue to move in on behalf of my constituents and all Americans.”

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Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel is showcasing his opposition to President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law as he continues his bid for the Republican nomination in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Kreegel has been highlighting his background as a doctor as he looks to gain ground against Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and businessman Curt Clawson in the Republican primary which will be held on April 22.

“Four years ago, President Obama and the Democrats passed the single most destructive piece of legislation in our lifetime,” Kreegel said. ”Today, I am releasing my ‘Restore, Reinvigorate and Reform’ plan for our health-care system.

"I am the only candidate with the experience and knowledge to tackle tough issues like health care,” Kreegel added.

Kreegel is calling for returning more health-care decisions to the states, cutting the red tape and pushing tort reform.

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Mike Fernandez, Gov. Rick Scott's campaign finance co-chair, abruptly left his position Thursday evening after weeks of disagreement and internal conflict.

According to the Miami Herald, Fernandez expressed frustrations to top Scott allies and "complained about two campaign aides who had joked around in a cartoon-style Mexican accent en route to a Mexican restaurant in Fernandez’s home town of Coral Gables."

Fernandez said he was splitting from the campaign to spend more time with his family and businesses.

“Together, we have helped the governor raise more than $35 million," wrote Fernandez in a letter released by Scott's campaign. "This has been an unprecedented effort, which is only matched by our shared commitment to re-elect our governor this November. I am proud of the team the governor has put together, and I am confident that we are on course for victory." 

Even though he's not officially working with Scott's campaign anymore, Fernandez expressed he'd remain committed to doing all he could to help the governor defeat Charlie Crist in November. 

“Charlie is not an option,” Fernandez said. “Rick is the doer. Charlie doesn’t have an opinion that is his own. He has a record of not accomplishing anything substantial. Scott has created jobs. Charlie did not.” 

Democrats were quick to pounce on the news, citing Fernandez's departure as an indicator of a crumbling campaign. 

"With his pay-to-play tactics exposed, the turmoil in Rick Scott's campaign has become impossible to hide,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp. “After giving Mike Fernandez over $1 billion in state contracts, Rick Scott thought he had found his money man for 2014. But sunshine is the best medicine, and with their relationship exposed, it was only a matter of time before Mike Fernandez had to leave Scott's campaign. 

"It looks like Rick Scott’s new slogan, 'let’s keep working,' actually refers to his never-ending search for replacements to his scandal-plagued, soon-to-be fired senior officials.”
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Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville Friday to highlight increased funding for early childhood education in Florida.

As part of the governor's “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” is a proposal of $1.1 billion in state funding for early childhood education and care. 

"Investing in early learning is an investment in the future of our children, our families and our state," said Scott. "Florida is a leader in early learning, and is ranked first in the nation with regard to prekindergarten access. ”

The additional $59 million proposed for early learning in the governor’s budget includes a $100 per child increase in the base student allocation for VPK (voluntary prekindergarten), a one-time $30 million increase in funding for the School Readiness Program, and money for teacher scholarships and training. More than 174,000 children were enrolled in VPK in 2012-13. The program is free for children who are Florida residents and will be 4 years old by Sept. 1 of the year they would enroll in the program. 

"We applaud Gov. Scott for his support of the VPK program," said Early Learning Coalition of Duval Board Chair Jennifer Chapman. "As the leader of our great state, it is important that he has acknowledged the public-private partnerships in early learning that help ensure our children enter school ready to succeed."

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Elected officials should be getting nervous about their re-election prospects -- according to a new Rasmussen Reports poll, support for congressional incumbents has fallen to an all-time low. 

The survey found that only 7 percent of likely U.S. voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job, while 64 percent now rate Congress’s performance as poor. 

Even more disheartening for congressmen, only 22 percent think their representative is the best person for the job and only 29 percent believe he or she deserves re-election. Both are new lows in surveying going back to November 2009. Forty-six percent say their local member of Congress is not the best person for the job, while 32 percent are undecided.

Similarly, 43 percent think their representative does not deserve re-election. 

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted March 18-19. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.
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On Friday the Republican National Committee (RNC) established the Florida Hispanic Advisory Council to reach out to Hispanic voters. Florida Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, will chair the new group

“The Republican Party is working to build genuine and permanent relationships with Hispanics across Florida, and our state advisory council will help make that a reality,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on Friday. “Each council member brings a unique perspective and I look forward to working with them to grow the Republican Party in their communities.”

“Over the last year, the RNC has made an unprecedented effort to engage Hispanic communities across Florida and around the country,” said Flores. “The principles of the Republican Party resonate with the Hispanic community and are the natural home for those who share our values. I am proud to be part of the RNC’s state advisory council to ensure our party has a year-round engagement effort that effectively shares our message with Hispanics across the country.”

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While he is not running in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., plans to back 14 Republicans in the 2014 election cycle through his Allen West Guardian Fund PAC. West plans to back veterans and minorities running as conservative Republicans. While the PAC did not endorse Navy veteran Jorge Bonilla, who also served in the Marines Reserves, this week, West did showcase his campaign for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., in November. The PAC included Bonilla on its “Ones to Watch.”

"Jorge, like others, has come to realize that his oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same,’ has no statute of limitations,” West insisted this week. “He has therefore made the tough, personal, family decision to run for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 9th District.”

Noting that “running against Rep. Alan Grayson is an uphill climb,” West compared it to a famous World War II action. “So was Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, but American Marines climbed it, inch by bloody inch, and raised our American flag above it in triumph,” West noted. “Jorge Bonilla represents that spirit -- a military and minority conservative who has seen the American dream through the eyes of his parents. He now wants to ensure the dream endures for his own sons, and others like them. Jorge Bonilla is a former Marine and sailor who has hit the black volcanic beaches of a congressional campaign, and armed with principle, determination, and love of country, will move forward, climb the heights of the seemingly insurmountable high ground, and raise the flag, the standard of liberty and freedom.”

"I am honored and humbled to receive the Guardian Fund's ‘Ones to Watch’ designation,” Bonilla said. “Lt. Col. West is a true American patriot, a friend and mentor whose wise counsel has been instrumental to my campaign."

Bonilla faces Carol Platt and Peter Vivaldi in the Aug. 26 primary. Grayson took 62.5 percent in 2012, beating out his Republican foe by 25 percent.

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