State Capital Briefs: Thursday, November 17, 2016

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who led a political committee that raised $20 million to help Republican Donald Trump's campaign, traveled to New York City on Thursday to congratulate the president-elect on his victory last week and to offer help "to reinvent the federal government." Scott tweeted two pictures of himself and Trump, who were both smiling broadly, taken at Trump Tower. "Great seeing my friend @realDonaldTrump today," Scott tweeted. Later in an interview on Fox News, Scott reaffirmed that he wants to remain as Florida's governor, although there has been speculation he could join the Trump administration, possibly as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "I'm not interested," Scott told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto. "I'm interested in doing whatever I can to help him rewrite Obamacare, redesign the government and help him work with the 33 Republican governors who have great ideas to help him be successful. If he's successful, Florida will be successful." Asked to react to the possibility of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had been a harsh critic of the president-elect, becoming Trump's secretary of state, Scott said: "It's the Trump administration. It's always going to be the Trump administration. It's going to be what his beliefs are. All this talk about different positions and things like that, it's still the Trump administration." Scott told Cavuto that "you should surround yourself with people who believe in what you're doing and are going to do everything they can to support you." But Scott recalled his election in 2010, when most of the Republican establishment did not support him, and said "I had to forget some of the things that people said" as he created his first administration as governor. Scott expressed confidence that Trump would be successful in establishing a leadership team. "Donald Trump is going to find the best people. He's going to make sure they do their job. He's going to hold everybody accountable." Scott, who like Trump was a business executive before winning his first political office, said Trump "has specific goals to get things done." In addition to repealing Obamacare, Scott said: "We have to get rid of a lot of parts of government that doesn't work. So much of federal government, there is no return on investment and Donald Trump is going to focus on that."

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Thursday ordered a manual recount in last week's election in state House District 118, where the candidates are separated by a 50-vote margin after a machine recount in Miami-Dade County. Robert Ascencio, a Democrat, holds the slim lead over former state Rep. David Rivera, a Republican who is also a former member of Congress. Under state law, Detzner ordered the manual recount because the winning margin represents less than a quarter of a percent of the 62,771 votes cast in the House race. The recount, which will be conducted by the Miami-Dade canvassing board, will focus on "over" votes, where the machine recount determined a voter may have voted for more than one candidate, and "under" votes, where the machine recount determined a voter may not have selected a candidate. The law states those ballots may be counted, after a manual inspection, if the canvassing board finds "there is a clear indication on the ballot that the voter has made a definite choice." Detzner's order set a noon Sunday deadline for completing the manual recount. The initial machine recount was triggered after the Nov. 8 election, when the results showed Ascencio's victory margin was less than a half of a percent of the total votes cast in the contest. If Ascencio's victory stands, Democrats will hold 41 seats in the state House, with Republicans controlling 79 seats. Lawmakers convene in an organization session Tuesday to formally swear in members and leaders.

The Republican state committeeman from Sarasota County announced Thursday that he will run for the top job at the Florida GOP, opening his bid with an implicit shot at current Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. Christian Ziegler, who chairs the Republican caucus of state committeemen and committeewomen, emphasized his connections to supporters of President-elect Donald Trump in an announcement posted online. He also seemed to take a swipe at Ingoglia, who doubles as a state representative from Spring Hill. "I believe we must be an independent-yet-unified Republican Party of Florida, with a chairman whose sole focus is strengthening the party within the most important political state in the union," Ziegler wrote. "I will make this my full-time mission." Ziegler also noted in passing his relationship with Gov. Rick Scott. The governor's relationship with the state party has been icy since Ingoglia unseated Scott's preferred candidate, former Chairwoman Leslie Dougher, in 2015. But if Ingoglia runs for another term as party chairman, he will be able to point to a series of victories for the GOP in 2016. Trump won the state in the presidential election, the first time a Republican has done that since 2004, while U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was re-elected and the party suffered only minor losses in Congress and the Legislature despite what was supposed to be a forbidding political environment.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday sent to a lower court a request to at least temporarily block Lee County judges from holding videoconference hearings in cases about the involuntary commitment of mentally ill people. A panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in September rejected a challenge by public defenders to judges holding remote hearings in so-called "Baker Act" cases. Public defenders, who say Lee County judges should be required to hold the hearings in person, then appealed to the Supreme Court. Justices scheduled arguments for Feb. 7 in the dispute. But in filings this week, public defenders asked the Supreme Court to issue a stay that would at least temporarily block the videoconference hearings until the dispute is resolved. The Supreme Court, however, issued an order Thursday that sent the request for a stay to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court said a rule requires that a "party seeking to stay a final order or non-final order pending review shall file a motion in the lower tribunal."


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