Politics

Weekly Roundup: All Signed Up and Nowhere To Go

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: June 21, 2014 3:55 AM
Charlie Crist, Rick Scott, Nan Rich

Charlie Crist, Rick Scott, Nan Rich

There aren't that many politicians looking to get out of Tallahassee nowadays -- not that there are many options, with neither U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in 2014 and Florida already boasting two possible presidential contenders.

Instead, most incumbents are simply looking to return to their existing posts. (One Democratic lawmaker found out this week how difficult it can be to do just that.) And the few who are looking for new jobs are looking around the capital city for posts like the presidency of Florida State University or a spot on the Public Service Commission.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott was handling the duties of his job -- in this case, by signing bills -- even if he took some time out of his schedule to throw a few elbows in his campaign for re-election.


THE MULTIMILLIONAIRE VS. THE MILLIONAIRE:

The headliners of qualifying, of course, were Scott and his most likely Democratic foe, former Gov. Charlie Crist. Both officially got in the race Monday -- no surprise there -- and filed personal financial disclosures that shed a little bit of light on their wealth.

And Scott, far wealthier than Crist, tried to flip the script from the 2012 campaign, when President Barack Obama's Democratic allies hammered on GOP nominee Mitt Romney's reluctance to release tax returns giving details on Romney's personal fortune.

Scott, a former health-care executive, released three years of tax returns, and challenged Crist to do the same.

"I hope that Charlie Crist will follow our lead and take the same steps today by releasing his and his spouse’s tax returns,'' Scott said. "His immediate public production of these tax returns for 2011 and 2012 is important to provide the people of Florida the transparency they deserve."

The actual net worth that Scott disclosed was more money than most Floridians are likely to see in their lifetimes: $132.7 million as of the end of 2013, up from $83.8 million a year earlier.

Crist is no pauper; while his tax returns aren't out yet, he had to file a financial disclosure showing he's now worth almost $1.3 million after earning $712,780 last year.

In a statement, Crist's campaign said he would release "way more financial records than Rick Scott." That didn't stop the GOP from starting a website counting how long it had been since Scott issued the challenge.

To pull off the disclosure, Scott ended a blind trust he formed in 2011 and publicly listed his investments, then placed them into a new blind trust.

"I think it's incumbent for a governor to have their assets in a blind trust," Scott said in a telephone interview. "By not knowing what assets, and having an outside professional run those assets, you don't have either the appearance or the conflict of interest by knowing what is in the blind trust."

The law allowing Scott to use a blind trust was in court Thursday, as an attorney for Jim Apthorp, former chief of staff to the late Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew, argued that the use of blind trusts violates disclosure requirements under the state's Sunshine Amendment.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper didn't rule on the challenge. The outcome of the case could hinge on whether Apthorp has "standing" -- a legal basis -- to bring a lawsuit.

"That's the one that obviously troubles the judge, so it's got to trouble us as well," said Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, Apthorp's attorney. "But if not Jim Apthorp, who?"


COMING AND MAYBE GOING:

Other candidates also qualified this week -- and we don't just mean former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, who has struggled to gain media attention in her primary challenge to Crist.

"For the past eight years, Republican governors Rick Scott and Charlie Crist and the right-wing Republican leadership in the Legislature have taken Florida down the wrong path,'' she said. "It’s time we changed direction. I believe it’s time Florida had a genuine progressive governor again. And, this year, I am the only genuine progressive Democrat running."

Most incumbent lawmakers not facing term limits also officially signed up to run, though one missed the deadline: Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, failed to qualify after two notaries public improperly filled out his financial disclosure form. Fullwood is likely to file in a special election called because there are no other candidates.

All three incumbent members of the Cabinet -- who qualified themselves -- drew challengers. Attorney General Pam Bondi will, as expected, face either former Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon or outgoing House Minority Leader Perry Thurston in the fall. Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer is also challenging Bondi, who has a huge fundraising edge on her opponents.

Meanwhile, Deerfield Beach Democrat William "Will" Rankin qualified Wednesday to run this fall against incumbent state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who also has a huge edge in money raised.

So does Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who will face Thaddeus Hamilton and a write-in candidate in November.

Officeholders weren't just seeking another term in their jobs, though. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, continues to be a top contender for the presidency of his alma mater, Florida State University. A search committee agreed Friday to set a goal of recommending a new president by late September.

The committee agreed Friday to a timeline that will require potential applicants to file by Sept. 2. The committee would whittle down the pool of candidates three days later. Interviews with select applicants would be held the next week. The finalists would be asked back for additional interviews the week of Sept. 15, with the committee's recommendation coming Sept. 22. The timeline places the completion of the selection process between the primary and general elections -- and Thrasher faces opposition in both.

Thrasher was initially scheduled to have an interview with the search committee before other candidates were considered. But an uproar followed, and the committee eventually backed down. Its first choice for a consultant resigned after receiving a vote of no-confidence from the Faculty Senate. That has raised concerns among some of those observing the search.

"I think this search has damaged FSU, their national reputation," said board member Dean Colson. "I think it's damaged the national reputation of FSU the way this search has played out."

And three current or former lawmakers were among 33 applications for two upcoming vacancies on the Florida Public Service Commission. The applicants included term-limited Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City; PSC General Counsel and former longtime lawmaker Curt Kiser; and former Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola. Commissioner Julie Brown is seeking appointment to another four-year term, but Commissioner Eduardo Balbis, whose term will expire in January, announced last month he would not seek another term.

Kiser plans to retire as Public Service Commission general counsel in December, but said serving on the commission would be a different role. As a staff member, Kiser said he is able to make recommendations and suggestions, but as a commissioner he would have more decision-making authority.


SCOTT WIELDS THE PEN:

When he wasn't challenging Crist to release tax returns or doing other campaign-related duties, Scott was tending to the final bits of business remaining from the spring legislative session: Signing bills. Lots and lots of bills.

On Monday, he quietly signed a measure legalizing a limited form of medical marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web," even as much of the state's GOP leadership continues battling a constitutional amendment allowing more extensive use of pot.

The bill (SB 1030) allows some patients to use a strain of marijuana that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but high in cannabidiol (CBD) -- a mix that supporters say provides the health-care benefits of pot without the high.

The strain is supposed to dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy but has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"The approval of Charlotte’s Web will ensure that children in Florida who suffer from seizures and other debilitating illnesses will have the medication needed to improve their quality of life," said Scott, who had announced during the legislative session that he would sign the bill. "I am proud to stand today with families who deserve the ability to provide their children with the best treatment available."

On Tuesday, it was a pair of bills (HB 989 and HB 7141) aimed at curbing human trafficking.

And on Friday, Scott released a list of 58 bills he had signed, from a measure (HB 850) expanding eligibility for the state's de facto voucher program to a bill (HB 7095) setting up a new ranking system to fund professional sports stadiums in Florida out of a designated pool of money.


STORY OF THE WEEK: Candidates qualified to run in the November elections, as Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist traded shots over their finances.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I could have gotten my documents in earlier. We'll get it right this time -- we'll literally make sure the boxes are checked." -- Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, after failing to qualify for re-election because his paperwork was improperly filled out.


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