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Weekly Roundup -- They're Off and Running

May 8, 2014 - 6:00pm

It didn't take long.

The Legislature adjourned its 2014 legislative session on May 2, with Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist already beginning to take a few shots at each other. Within a week, the campaigns were in full swing.

Scott toured the state, touting the $500 million in tax and fee reductions that lawmakers had agreed to during the 60-day session. Along the way, he and his surrogates also hammered away at Crist, who has a slight lead according to most polls.

Meanwhile, Crist hit the airwaves, using an appearance on the Fusion television network to blast away at his former party mates, essentially accusing the GOP of racism. The former governor also tried to convince the audience -- and, indeed, the show's host -- that the reason Crist left the Republican Party four years earlier was because of the party's drift to the right and hostility to President Barack Obama, not because he was about to lose a Senate primary.

It didn't take long for the mud to start slinging after the Legislature adjourned, and there are almost six long months to go before voters head to the polls. Buckle up.


Over the last few years, Scott has picked up the political habit of naming everything. This year's spending plan was the "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget." And Scott's triumphant cross-state journey was entitled the "Help Is On The Way! Tax Cut Tour."

Part of what Florida voters need help with, apparently, is beating Crist. Speaker after speaker at a stop in Panama City on Thursday slammed Crist either directly or indirectly, comparing the sunnier economic times under Scott to the darker times Crist faced during the depths of the financial downturn.

"We need four more years of Rick Scott, and we're going to get four more years of Rick Scott, because the alternative would be a nightmare," said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

If signs are any indication, the crowd was also stridently anti-Crist. Among the handwritten posters: "Charlie Crist [Hearts] ObamaCare" and "Charlie Loves Charlie."

And the subtext was clear: Scott is a governor who has made things happen, while his famously charismatic predecessor was someone talented at speaking, but not much else.

"He's a lot of talk," Scott told reporters after the event. "We're a lot of action. And that's what we're going to talk about over the next six months."

Scott himself appeared to be loosening up a bit after the businesslike tone of the session. The suit was gone, replaced by dark slacks and a light blue dress shirt, with the sleeves slightly rolled up. He posed for pictures and talked to supporters after the rally, even kneeling down at one point for a photo-op with a young girl.

And the event did stick to at least one of the issues Scott is hoping to use this fall -- that much-hyped tax and fee reduction, primarily focused on rolling back a vehicle-registration fee increase signed into law by none other than Charlie Crist.

"On the back of every vehicle, there's a driving tax cut delivered by Gov. Rick Scott," said Bill Herrle, executive director of National Federation of Independent Businesses' Florida chapter.


Meanwhile, Crist journeyed to the set of "AMERICA with Jorge Ramos," the flagship interview show on Fusion TV, an English-language channel geared at Latinos. Things got tense in the Tuesday interview when Crist tried to explain why he broke with the GOP in 2010 -- saying that it had to do with the sharp rightward turn the party took in the wake of President Barack Obama's victory two years earlier.

But Ramos, drawing implicitly on Crist's statement in 2010 that he wouldn't let "a club within that club" decide who won the U.S. Senate race, suggested it had more to do with the then-governor's lagging poll numbers in his bid for the GOP nomination.

"I understand, but the moment in which you decided just to leave the Republican Party, it was because you were going to lose to Marco Rubio," Ramos said.

"No, it was because I couldnt be consistent with myself and my core beliefs and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president. Ill just go there," Crist replied." ... And I saw how the party, some of them, were treating the African-American president. And I couldnt take it anymore. Thats a big part of why I left the party."

In his own interview with Ramos on Thursday, Rubio hit back.

Its quite embarrassing, he said. When all is said and done, I think the Democrats are going to be embarrassed that Charlie Crist is one of them."

Crist also tried to defend his changing tone on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, something he opposed as governor but now supports. Scott is expected to sign a bill granting the discounted rates to some students in the next few weeks.

Crist said he opposed the idea because he was trying to fit in with the GOP.

"I really felt like a round peg in a square hole, and so, you know, would try to be a good team player. And it wasnt always comfortable for me," he said.


Outside of the narrow lens of politics, a federal appeals court rejected arguments that the Seminole Tribe of Florida should be exempt from state taxes when fueling up vehicles on nontribal lands.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Florida Department of Revenue in the long-running dispute, which involves fuel that the Seminoles say is used to provide government services on tribal land.

The ruling, issued Monday, said the Department of Revenue and top officials are shielded by sovereign immunity from the claims.

"An Indian tribe can sue a state and its departments in federal court only if Congress has validly abrogated the immunity of the state or if the state has waived its immunity, but neither of those conditions has occurred here,'' said the ruling, written by Judge William H. Pryor and joined by Judge Paul L. Friedman.

In the lawsuit, the tribe contested $393,247 in fuel taxes it paid between June 7, 2009, and March 31, 2012, according to the ruling. A federal district judge dismissed the case, which was similar to an earlier unsuccessful challenge in state court of taxes the tribe paid in 2004, 2005 and part of 2006.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The 2014 campaign was already in full swing days after the Legislature adjourned its 2014 legislative session.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Our goal was not to convert Florida into a magnet for the pot industry." -- Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who helped pass a bill allowing low-THC marijuana to be ordered for some medical conditions, on restrictions on who can produce and sell the substance.

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