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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Winner and losers of the week in Florida politics

Winner of the week - Florida Democrats.

They may be impotent and borderline irrelevant in Tallahassee, but this week they can legitimately say that Republicans running the executive and legislative branches have proven themselves unable to govern.

Loser of the week - Rick Scott, Steve Crisafulli, Andy Gardiner.

You had one job, passing a budget, and a billion-dollar surplus to work with. You've actually made Congress look like a model of effectiveness by comparison, and that's no easy accomplishment.

Runner-up: Marco Rubio.

The presidential candidate took time off the fundraising trail to return to Washington on Wednesday and fight for amendments to a delicately crafted Iran bill. Not getting a vote, Rubio staged a tantrum on the Senate floor. "If you don't want to vote on things, don't run for office," he said. This coming from the man who has missed more votes than any other current senator.

Runner up II: Matt Gaetz.

It's one thing to be a jerk. It's another to make the Speaker of the Florida House issue a statement insisting you are not racist.

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Gridlock and uncertainty in GOP ranks, but does it matter?

@PatriciaMazzei and @MaryEllenKlas

The Florida House quit early. Senate Democrats sued. The state still has no budget, and no one has figured out a compromise on how to pay for healthcare.

But last week’s legislative meltdown in Tallahassee, dramatic and dysfunctional as it was, doesn’t appear to threaten the political future of Republicans who control both chambers of state government — or of anyone else in their party running for office in 2016.

Most GOP state lawmakers remain in safe, conservative-leaning districts. Democrats have only a thin bench to challenge the ones who don’t. And there’s little indication that many Floridians are aware that their state Legislature, an institution followed far less closely than Congress, is gridlocked.

“I always use my parents, who live in Orlando, as a measure — and it’s fair to say the average Floridian isn’t paying a lot of attention compared to the rest of us living in the bubble of Tallahassee,” said David Hart, executive president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. …

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In S.C., Jeb Bush and other GOP hopefuls run against Obama, terrorism

The following is from the Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican presidential hopefuls eventually will have to start running against each other. But, for now, many are content to run against President Barack Obama, Iran and Middle East extremists.

At the South Carolina Republican convention, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, called the president's international stewardship "an unmitigated disaster. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum called Obama "weak." Rick Perry, Texas' former governor, blasted "vacillation" by the administration. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the president "feckless" on the world stage. And Graham and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas echoed each other as they accused Obama of "leading from behind."

All five pledged loyalty to Israel and expressed varying levels of disdain for Iran. …

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Columba Bush to appear at fundraiser with Jeb

Fundraising notice


Fundraising notice

Columba Bush is getting more comfortable with the campaign, and will appear with her husband at May 18 fundraiser in Miami that carries a very low entry fee: $25.

Also featured: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

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UPDATE: Matt Gaetz travels to Kentucky the day before Derby, but hey, it's OK says RPOF spokeswoman

(8:03 p.m.UPDATE: Sarah Bascom, RPOF's interim spokeswoman, had no answers for us when we wrote this Friday afternoon. But after the blog posted, she contacted Gaetz, something we could not do, and was able to come up with this statement: "It is my understanding that Rep. Gaetz is traveling on his own dime and to meet personal friends of his from law school.  As I clearly stated to you numerous times this week, the RPOF, House Campaigns and Senate campaigns have no official events at the Derby.  Your claim that Rep. Gaetz is traveling on a fundraising trip are untrue.  To imply, as you did in your story otherwise, and to use my quote in that manner, is not only politically expedient it is simply untrue.")

Maybe Matt Gaetz should give up Twitter, at least for awhile.

Not only did his Thursday tweet on the Senate Democrats' lawsuit blow back on him, but then he replied back on Friday in a tweet with a location marker that revealed where he was: Kentucky, USA. 

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A 'Pioneer' Bush fundraiser is working on Marco Rubio Super PAC

It'€™s no big surprise that Marco Rubio would have a Super PAC, Conservative Solutions PAC, set up to raise unlimited contributions to help his presidential campaign. What may surprise is one of the names listed on the committee’s paperwork filed with the Federal Election Committee: Treasurer Nancy Watkins of Tampa.

As in Robert and Nancy Watkins, the top Republican fundraisers who in 2004 were dubbed "€œPioneers"€ in George W. Bush'€™s campaign for raising more than $100,000 for his re-election. Don'€™t read too much into it, said Mrs. Watkins, one of the country'€™s top campaign finance experts who works with Republican political committees all over the country.

"€œWe are honored to be asked to be treasurer for the Super PAC that is now supporting Marco Rubio. We think he'€™s a great guy,"€ she said. "But we are staying independent of the presidential candidates."

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Court rules House violated constitution but it's too late to bring them back

Five justices of the Florida Supreme Court concluded Friday that the Florida House violated the state constitution but denied the request by the Senate Democratic caucus to order lawmakers to return to Tallahassee and compete their work after adjourning three days early.

"In my view, the House’s unilateral adjournment clearly violated the Constitution,'' wrote Justice Barbara Pariente in a concurring opinion by Justice Barbara Pariente and signed by four other justices.

In the one-page ruling agreed to by all seven justices, the court concluded that because the regular session was scheduled to conclude at midnight tonight, the plaintiffs "failed to show" that compelling the House to return and reconvene by issuing a Writ of Mandamus "would produce any beneficial result.'' 

"This is the law of the land and they can't do this again,'' said Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, who along with 13 members of the Democratic caucus filed that lawsuit on Thursday afternoon after the House adjourned three days before the scheduled end of session.  …

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Seminole Tribe urges governor and lawmakers to resume gaming talks

Frustrated by the lack of progress over talks to renew their gaming compact with the state, the Seminole Tribe of Florida sent a letter Friday to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature urging them to resume negotiations to allow them the exclusive right to operate black jack and other card games in exchange for payments to Florida.

"The certainty provided by a multi-year agreement to renew the banked card games would allow the Tribe to move forward with plans to invest over $1.6 billion in capital improvements and hire thousands of new employees,'' the Tribe said in a statement accompanying the letter. "The State would further benefit by receiving billions of dollars in exclusivity payments from the Tribe over the term of the new agreement."  

The Tribe wants to renew the portion of the gaming compact that expires on July 31 that allows them to offer banked card games at five of its seven casinos. Legislative leaders had been in negotiations as recently as last week with tribal lawyers, but those talks ended when the House abruptly adjourned in the face of a budget impasse and left town three days early. …

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Challenger wants Fla House member to return salary for quitting early

Mike Reedy, the Democratic running to unseat Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison in a north Tampa swing district, has seized on an interest message over the Florida House shutting down early this week: You owe taxpayers their money back.

 “Shawn Harrison and his gang in the Republican leadership have let us, the taxpayers, down once again. I, along with my fellow citizens of District 63 call for you, Representative Harrison, to return your paycheck. You work for us, not the Republican leadership," Reedy said in a statement. “When you ran, you committed to do a job for the people who elected you. When the going got tough, you quit. In the private sector, if you decide to stop doing your job, you get fired. We can’t fire you until November 2016, but we can demand you repay us for deciding to not do your job. You didn’t have time to finish the one thing you are obligated to accomplish—a budget. You neglected the pressing necessities of healthcare, water and land preservation, the environment, and education, but you somehow found time to advocate for discriminatory policies against your own constituents and to give tax cuts to the wealthy and large corporations.|”

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Here's where conservatives can go after Jeb's fiscal record

...Jeb Bush left the governor's office more than eight years ago and lately has been consumed with raising millions of dollars for a presidential campaign. Yet he had a lousy legislative session.

The overwhelmingly Republican Legislature eagerly moved to curb school testing, a clear repudiation of the best-known piece of Bush's legacy. His education advocacy group, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, supported the move, but unquestionably Bush's education agenda is on defense.

Gaining less attention, though, were developments that cast doubts on Bush's record of fiscal conservatism.

Exhibit A: Gov. Rick Scott has a local pension reform bill on his desk, SB 172, meant to deal with the first bill Bush ever signed — a $500 million gift to police and firefighter unions that local governments have long decried as a reckless, unfunded mandate.

Exhibit B: "It is a tax increase if you're a property taxpayer who gets a tax bill that will go up next year compared to this year." That's Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz, acknowledging — as Bush never would — that requiring higher property tax bills to fund public schools amounts to a tax increase.... …

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Gov. Jeb Bush on Baltimore and his presidential decision

From our friends at the Associated Press:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he trusts the legal process that resulted in charges against six Baltimore officers in the death of a man from injuries sustained while in police custody.

The likely presidential candidate was asked on Friday how a president can address rising anger toward police. He told reporters a president can lead a conversation on how to fight the pockets of poverty that can result in dissatisfaction and anger.

Commenting on the Baltimore case, Bush said: "The process works" and "people are innocent until proven guilty."

Bush met Friday morning with dozens of supporters at the North Carolina Republican Party headquarters in Raleigh as he edges closer to a decision on whether he'll seek the GOP presidential nomination. He says he'll decide soon.

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Senators counter: House misconstrues the constitution, court should order them back

In a lengthy response to the House's request to dismiss their lawsuit, the Democrats of the Florida Senate countered Friday that "by unilaterally adjourning sine die with more than seventy-two hours" remaining in the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers violated the constitution and deprived Senators "of their opportunity to fulfill their duties and responsibilities."

The court gave the Senate Democrats two-and-a-half hours to file the response to the House's request to dismiss the case. The Senate Democrat's responded that the separation of powers doctrine does not prohibit the court from ordering the House back into session but, they argued, there is lengthy precedent for the court to act in similar cases, and they are entitled to an emergency order that forces the House to return to Tallahassee.

They argued that the House adjournment sine die "by motion rather than by concurrent resolution is inconsistent with the text and purpose of the Florida Constitution" and the House's argument misconstrues the terms “Adjournment” and “Adjournment Sine Die” and notes that the state Constitution titles both "Adjournment.” …

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Joyner on Matt Gaetz tweet: 'His words are the kind I have fought against my entire life'

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, issued a statement Friday morning in response to a tweet by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, which some have called racist.

Joyner, who spent her career as a civil rights activist, had this to say:

“But there are two things that remain deeply troubling to me, as they should to most Floridians. First, there has been no apology from Rep. Gaetz. There were some additional tweets, one attacking liberals and Obamacare, but the silence addressing his disparaging remarks has been deafening. 

“Second, the Speaker’s attempts to defend his member while assuring us of Gaetz’s non-racist persona did not succeed. In fact, I believe they underscored what myself and others have long suspected, namely that this fierce battle launched by the House Republicans against the Senate’s good healthcare expansion bill had nothing to do with taking federal money.”

On Thursday Gaetz tweeted that a lawsuit filed by Democratic senators “reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen Joyner......and spell checked by Sen Bullard.”

After Joyner's statement was released, Gaetz offered a partial apology to his Twitter followers. …

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House tells court: Separation of powers means stay out of Legislature's troubles

Citing major court cases of the past, the Florida House of Representatives urged the state's high court to dismiss the claims of Senate Democrats that they legislative dispute that resulted in them adjourning three days early was unconstitutional.

"As a threshold matter, the Petition should be dismissed because it seeks relief that is contrary to the separation of powers,'' lawyers for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wrote in a 23-page brief filed by 10 a.m. "...The judicial branch cannot, consistent with the separation of powers, question or intrude upon the internal procedures or the manner in which the Florida House of Representatives has chosen to exercise its legislative prerogative to adjourn sine die."

The lawyers argue that the Senate Democrats also do not have "a clear legal right" to file the claim and suggest they have not "argued that "the functions of government would be adversely affected absent an immediate determination by this Court"-a circumstance that is ordinarily a prerequisite to this Court's consideration of an extraordinary writ petition." …

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Step aside Rubio and Bush, another Floridian is running for president

Mike Huckabee, a Florida resident, put out a video this morning that amounts to an announcement he is running for president.

Huckabee built a $3 million home in the panhandle in 2010, but he'll formally announce next week in Arkansas, where he was governor. His 2008 bid generated a lot of buzz early on, and the backing of Marco Rubio and others.

Rubio is now a rival, as would be Jeb Bush. Ben Carson, who lives in West Palm Beach, is also close to announcing, but like Huckabee he's not really thought of as a Floridian. Carson will announce in Detroit.

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