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Politics

Weekly Roundup: State of Flux

September 4, 2014 - 6:00pm

The election is a little more than two months away, but the candidate list is still in a state of flux.

There have been lawsuits and letters about who should and shouldn't be in the race, minor quibbles that have for the most part only altered things a bit. But the biggest shakeup remains out there: the push from Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, to take over as president of his alma mater, Florida State University. At the end of the week, Thrasher was tantalizingly close to his goal, becoming one of 11 remaining candidates for the job.

Also in flux? The state rules for a limited form of medical marijuana, a set of guidelines that seem to get changed or delayed every time they're considered by regulators.

THRASHER FOR PRESIDENT?

Ever since the hunt for a new FSU president began, Thrasher has loomed over the proceedings. The initial consultant for the search suggested that Thrasher be interviewed before any other candidates were considered, something that prompted the consultant's exit and led the school to restart the process.

But Thrasher is still very much in the running, making the shortened list of 11 candidates that will interview next week to be the next president of Florida State University -- despite opposition from students and faculty to the influential Senate Rules chairman taking over the institution.

The university's 27-member Presidential Advisory Search Committee also Friday, in a meeting interrupted by students seeking more input into the process, placed interim president Garnett Stokes on the interview list.

Thrasher, a former House speaker who is chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign, said Wednesday he's refrained from personally speaking with members of the committee and didn't go to the FSU football team's season opener Saturday in Texas because he thought it would have been inappropriate while the search is underway.

"I've hung in there this long, I'm going to hang in until they tell me I'm not a candidate anymore," Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said. "I'm at peace. I've been through a lot of these things, elections and that kind of stuff, but what happens, happens. I'm going to give it my best and let the chips fall where they may."

Thrasher was hardly the only politically-connected candidate seeking the presidency, but Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston did not make the cut.

The whittled-down pool will be asked to come to Tallahassee for interviews Monday and Tuesday.

A smaller group of finalists will be invited for additional interviews the week of Sept. 15, when the finalists will also meet with groups on campus.

The committee is scheduled to make a recommendation to the board of trustees on Sept. 22, with a meeting of the full board scheduled for the next day.

OTHER CANDIDATES OUT:

Thrasher would have to be replaced by another candidate for November if he were to get the nod as FSU's president. But other would-be contenders for the Legislature were also dropping -- or getting pushed -- off the ballot this week.

A divided appeals court rejected pleas from a Republican state House candidate who contended she was improperly kept off the November ballot because of a bank error on a qualifying check.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 ruling Wednesday, upheld a Leon County circuit judge's decision that kept Laura Rivero Levey off the ballot in Miami-Dade County's House District 113. Incumbent Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, is unopposed with Levey out of the race.

Levey submitted a check with her qualifying papers June 17, but the check was not honored by her bank, according to the ruling. State election officials were not notified until after the qualifying period ended June 20. Levey tried to submit a cashier's check for the qualifying fee, accompanied by a letter from the bank indicating it had made an error in returning the original check, but the state would not accept the cashier's check because qualifying was finished.

"The statute at issue is clear and unambiguous,'' said the majority opinion, written by appeals-court Chief Judge Joseph Lewis and joined by Judge Stephanie Ray. "Although we agree with the trial court that this result is harsh, it is mandated by the clear language of the statute. If a candidate's qualifying check is returned for any reason, the candidate must pay the qualifying fee by cashier's check before the end of the qualifying period. Levey's check was returned, the reason for that occurring is immaterial, and she failed to cure the deficiency within the time allotted by the statute."

Sen. Thad Altman, a Rockledge Republican who easily defeated his primary opponent, also locked up a general-election win.

The state Division of Elections classified Altman's general election status as "unopposed" on Thursday after write-in candidate Lloyd Stanton French of Indian Harbour Beach withdrew from the contest

Altman defeated Melbourne Beach resident Monique Miller by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent on Aug. 26 for the District 16 seat, which represents parts of Brevard and Indian River counties.

RULES GOING TO POT:

It was hard enough to get Republican lawmakers to approve a limited form of medical marijuana this spring at the same time that many in the GOP are opposing a broader legalization proposal on this November's ballot. But that might be nothing compared to the infighting going on over setting up rules for the production of "Charlotte's Web."

The rule, which has already been kicked around for several weeks now, took on more critics when a legislative panel that plays a key role in overseeing state agencies joined the chorus seeking changes to a proposed soup-to-nuts rule setting up the new industry.

A 19-page letter from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee to the Department of Health's general counsel questioned nearly every aspect of the proposed rule, beginning with who would be allowed to apply for one of five licenses to grow, manufacture and distribute a type of cannabis approved during this year's legislative session.

The rule, proposed by health officials last month, was slated for what was expected to be a third and final public vetting Friday -- but even that ended with likely delay.

Among the problems cited by the letter: The rule expands eligible applicants to include businesses in which qualified nurseries have just 25 percent ownership, meaning the nurseries would not be required to have controlling shares of the entities. But that definition is at odds with the law overwhelmingly approved this spring by the Legislature and supported by Gov. Rick Scott, according to Marjorie Holladay, chief attorney for the legislative committee.

Under the law, an applicant "must possess a valid certificate of registration" from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to cultivate more than 400,000 plants, be operated by a nurseryman as defined by state law and "have been operated as a registered nursery in this state for at least 30 continuous years," Holladay wrote Friday to Department of Health General Counsel Jennifer Tschetter.

"Thus, it appears that the applicant must be a nursery that meets the criteria of this statute, not an entity with at least a 25% ownership by a nursery meeting the statutory criteria," Holladay wrote, asking Tschetter to "explain the department's statutory authority to authorize" -- a phrase used repeatedly in the letter -- the requirement.

The Legislature legalized strains of marijuana low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, and gave the newly-created "Office of Compassionate Use" within the Department of Health until Jan. 1 to come up with a regulatory framework for the substance.

Supporters of the low-THC, high-CBD strains of cannabis believe the substance can eliminate or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy. Under the new law, patients with other spasm-causing diseases or cancer would also be eligible for the strains of marijuana if their doctors order it, and if their doctors say they have exhausted all other treatments.

At what was expected to be the Department of Health's final day-long hearing on the proposed rule on Friday, Office of Compassionate Use Director Linda McMullen told a packed conference room that changes are likely.

"We've had many, many written comments, all of which have been helpful," McMullen said, mentioning the letter from the Legislature's Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, or JAPC.

The committee will have to certify that the health department responded to its questions before a revised rule can be filed, McMullen said. The agency will file the notice of the changed rule at least 21 days prior to adopting the new regulation.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, moved closer to the presidency of Florida State University as the school continued to whittle down its list.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Good men sitting around discussing & solving political & social problems over fine food & drink date back to the 12th Century with King Arthur's Round Table. ... Tell the Misses not to wait up because the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many." -- An invitation to a March fundraiser for Republican Congressman Steve Southerland. The invitation was published this week by the website BuzzFeed.

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