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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.13.18

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.

Breaking overnight — Leon County Republican Party Chair and lobbyist Evan J. Power was arrested Wednesday and charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence with property damage, according to a Tallahassee Police Department report. Power, who refused to take a breath test, was later released from the Leon County Jail on a $500 bond. In a text message, the 37-year-old Power told Florida Politics he was “tired and a distracted driver and made a mistake. I will be using the court system to set the record straight.”

Power, who was this week re-elected as chair of the county party, confirms to Florida Politics that he will drop his bid to serve as Vice Chair of the Florida GOP.

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No, I really don’t know what this is about:

A top-of-Sunburn shout-out to Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried. A year ago who’d a thunk she’d be the toast of the town. But here she is, soon to be the highest ranking Democrat in Florida. And, almost single-handedly, she will make watching stuffy Florida Cabinet meetings must-see TV. Have a great birthday.

An Inaugural Ball will end two days of activities surrounding the Jan. 8 swearing-in of Republican Ron DeSantis as the next Governor.

His Inaugural Planning Committee, chaired by lobbyist Brian Ballard, released a list of events.

Jan. 8 is going to be a busy day for Ron DeSantis. (Image via Orlando Weekly)

They include breakfasts, a first-ever “Legislative Luncheon,” and an appreciation of “veterans, military members, first responders and Gold Star families.”

“I am honored by the trust Floridians have placed in me to serve as Florida’s 46th Governor and am focused on moving our state forward,” DeSantis said in a statement.

“Inaugural events will highlight our state’s diversity and pay tribute to the Floridians who serve our communities, including our military, first responders and faith leaders,” he added.

“Casey (his wife) and I invite all Floridians to join us for this historic celebration.”

Times have yet to be decided, but for all the other details, click here.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Isikoff: Quite the irony that David Pecker, whose National Enquirer did so much to promote Trump’s candidacy, may soon become one of the most crucial witnesses against him.

—@mj_lee: Cohen: “Recently the president tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”

@RosieDunk: Did I dream this? I was flopping around in bed this morning watching Morning Joe when I could swear Mika called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the president’s “butt buddy.”

@MarcACaputo: Looking more and more like @AndrewGillum was NOT a target of the federal corruption probe in Tallahassee.

@JeffBurlew: Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kunz told Judge Stampelos that the public corruption investigation “is ongoing.”

@Fineout: Some of the allegations against Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox show that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas

@darrylrouson asks legislative economist Amy Baker to ask what she means by “revenue enhancements” Immediately, out of nowhere, staff from the majority office appear. I don’t know how they did it. It’s like if you say “revenue enhancement” three times, they just appear

— DAYS UNTIL —

116th Congress convenes — 21; College Football National Championship — 25; Florida’s gubernatorial inauguration — 26; Scott Maddox trial begins — 32; Office of Insurance Regulation’s OIR Summit begins — 33; Super Bowl LIII — 52; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 61; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 82; Tampa mayoral election — 82; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 85; Iowa Caucuses — 417; 2020 General Election — 691.

— TOP STORY —

Scott Maddox, Paige Carter-Smith plead not guilty to corruption charges” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics —Tallahassee City Commissioner Maddox and Downtown Improvement Authority Executive Director Carter-Smith pleaded not guilty to public corruption charges in a 44-count federal indictment. Gov. Rick Scott later in the day signed an executive order indefinitely suspending Maddox from office without pay. With their ankles shackled, the two appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Stampelos to discuss pre-trial release conditions. The indictment, secretly filed earlier this week, was unsealed after they were in custody. Both Carter-Smith and Maddox, represented by different pairs of attorneys, entered not-guilty pleas at their first court appearance. For now, trial is set to begin Jan. 14. North Florida’s Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker will hear the case in Tallahassee.

Tweet, tweet:

Rick Scott just suspended Maddox after indictment. What happens to his commission seat?” via Jeff Burlew and Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — “It is in the best interest of the residents of the city of Tallahassee, and the citizens of the state of Florida that Scott Maddox be immediately suspended from the public office which he now holds,” Scott said in the executive order. The indictment of Maddox on 44 federal counts of racketeering, extortion and fraud sets the wheels in motion for a replacement process laid out in the city’s charter. The City Commission now has 20 working days to appoint a successor to fill out the remainder of Maddox’s term. If they cannot choose a replacement within that window, the governor could choose a replacement. Hours after Scott suspended Maddox, city officials invited applications to fill his vacant seat. Registered voters who live within the city limits can apply to fill the commission seat on an interim basis by submitting a resume and cover letter for consideration.

The FBI probe that may have cost Andrew Gillum his election no longer appears interested in Andrew Gillum” via Mark Joseph Stern of Slate — While Wednesday’s revelations point to appalling corruption in Tallahassee’s City Hall, one name is conspicuously absent from the indictment: Gillum himself. It looks increasingly likely that the former Tallahassee Mayor is not implicated in the FBI probe, as he insisted throughout the 2018 race. Instead, it appears that Gillum may have been the victim of a political hit job by a Republican lawyer who represented one of the players at the center of the investigation and is now working for the man who defeated Gillum in November. Gillum’s connection to the FBI inquiry has always been indirect. Documents released from the Florida ethics inquiry contributed to the narrative that Gillum may have exchanged political favors for luxury travel and Hamilton tickets. But Gillum was not subpoenaed and had exactly one conversation with FBI agents, who allegedly told him that he wasn’t the focus of the probe.

Shot — “Yep, the FBI f*cked Andrew Gillum” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics, published at 8:59 a.m. on Wednesday

Chaser — “‘He got screwed’: Gillum absent from indictment after DeSantis bashed him as corrupt” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida, published at 9:10 p.m. on Wednesday

— TRANSITION —

Ron DeSantis to act quickly on water, Supreme Court, Broward sheriff” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post — DeSantis plans to move quickly on water-quality issues, filling three Florida Supreme Court vacancies and deciding whether Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel should keep his job — but he called for caution in enacting a voter-approved measure to restore voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences. DeSantis said he’ll ask the president to help get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to end toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. With three Democrat-appointed Supreme Court justices slated to retire on the day he’s sworn in, DeSantis said he’s been studying the writings of 11 candidates forwarded to him by the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. None of the 11 nominees is black. “I was not involved with the list, so you’ll have to talk to the JNC about how that happened. I can tell you this, I would love to be able to appoint justices from a variety of backgrounds.”

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel is top of Ron DeSantis’ to-do list in January. (Image via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Agency heads under DeSantis must reapply to keep jobs” via David Smiley of the Tampa Bay Times — Agency chiefs like Department of Children & Families interim Secretary Rebecca Kapusta received an email from transition team executive director Susie Wiles explaining that their resignations must be effective by the end of business on Jan. 8. That’s the date that DeSantis is to be sworn in as governor. Wiles said anyone hoping to retain their jobs in the DeSantis administration should also submit a résumé. “This request applies to all agency heads under the Governor’s purview,” Wiles wrote. “Agency Heads should also forward this request to the following agency leadership: all deputy and assistant secretaries, chiefs of staff, communication directors, general counsels, legislative affairs directors and division directors.”

Forget ‘Smart Cities’ and start thinking ‘Smart State,’ officials say” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Joe York, president of AT&T Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, said Florida has the chance to lead the nation in data infrastructure at a moment when the “internet of things” begins to affect everything from mobile phone service to autonomous vehicle navigation. A member of DeSantis’ Transition Advisory Committee on the Economy, he said some metropolitan areas like Columbus, Ohio had made strides in tech availability, but with Florida growth patterns and the cutting-edge commercial opportunities already here, Florida has the opportunity to establish Florida as a leader in innovation. “Those things are all going to have to be made more simple,” York said.

Transition team seeks ways to lower health care costs” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Part of the transition team for Governor-elect DeSantis met Wednesday to discuss ways to lower health care costs under DeSantis’ tenure. The Transition Advisory Committee on Health and Wellness gathered at the Turnbull Conference Center at Florida State University Wednesday afternoon. Chairing the committee is Lieutenant Governor-elect Jeanette Nuñez; co-chairing it is Alan Levine, the former Secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. “How do we ensure that we are keeping the cost of health care down?” asked Nuñez to kick off the session. A recurring theme throughout the hourslong meeting was a desire to smooth out communication between various agencies tasked with delivering health care.

— ROAD TO SESSION —

Rob Bradley says next budget needs to be ‘very, very conservative’” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A healthy but also fragile economy led the Senate’s budget chief to tell fellow lawmakers they need to be “very, very conservative” in writing the state’s next yearly budget. Indeed, with chief legislative economist Amy Baker saying the state needs roughly $6 billion in new money over the next three years just to keep up, Bradley added that the “base budget” — the minimum needed to provide essential services — shouldn’t be considered “sacrosanct” … Add to the state’s money woes the lingering costs from hurricanes Irma last year and Michael earlier this year. “The numbers speak for themselves,” Bradley told reporters after the meeting.

The 2019 Florida budget must be ‘very, very conservative,’ says Senate budget chief Rob Bradley.

After another bumpy Florida election, there’s talk in Tallahassee of how to fix voting problems” via Mitch Perry of Florida Phoenix — Democrats floated a variety of proposals during a workshop in The Capitol. The House Democrats intend to come with an electoral reform package that can get bipartisan support. Whether Republicans will be on board with any of the ideas is an open question. Among the proposals: Change the current system where early voting ballots aren’t counted until the end of the early voting period. Require mandatory statewide training for county Supervisors of Elections and Election Canvassing Boards on how to match signatures to verify vote-by-mail ballots. Another possibility: Eliminate signatures altogether and use the last four digits of a Social Security number or even a thumbprint to identify a unique voter. Eliminate or adjust what Thompson called “arbitrary” deadlines for manual and/or machine recounts. Make the process for all vote-by-mail ballots uniform.

Will Florida try again for state tax incentives to attract the film industry?” via Mitch Perry of Florida Phoenix — There’s a small movement in Tallahassee to try to revive the tax incentives that could lure film and TV shows back to Florida, in part because DeSantis has been ambiguous on the issue, not dismissing it outright. And that’s enough to inspire some legislators to try again in the spring 2019 Legislative Session. “I think that the residual value that we get from some of these films and television shows that are produced in our state last long after the productions come and go,” says Sarasota County Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters. “If it’s done right, it’s a major winner for local communities with jobs, and continues to drive tourists here.”

— STATEWIDE —

Rates likely to rise for almost all Citizens customers” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics — Governors of Florida’s last-resort property insurer voted to seek an 8.3 percent average premium increase for 2019, amid calls for the Legislature to finally act on assignment of benefits abuse and litigation widely blamed for rising rates. Actuarial data would justify increases of 25.9 percent for residential coverage and 54.2 percent for commercial lines, but state law limits increases for Citizens Property Insurance Co. to 10 percent. If the Office of Insurance Regulation approves, the increases would begin kicking in on Sept. 1, although the full effect wouldn’t be felt until Aug. 31, 2020.

Judge won’t drop suit against ex-deputy in school shooting” via Terri Spencer and Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — Refusing to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the parent of a victim, Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning found after a hearing that ex-deputy Scot Peterson did have a duty to protect those inside the school where 17 people died and 17 were wounded on Feb. 14. Video and other evidence shows Peterson, the only armed officer at the school, remained outside while shots rang out. The negligence lawsuit was filed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed. He said it made no sense for Peterson’s attorneys to argue that a sworn law enforcement officer with a badge and a gun had no requirement to go inside. “Then what is he doing there?” Pollack said after the ruling. “He had a duty. I’m not going to let this go. My daughter, her death is not going to be in vain.”

A judge gives the go-ahead for Andrew Pollack’s lawsuit against ex-deputy Scot Peterson. (Image via The Miami New Times)

New rules loom for shark fishing” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Using chum to attract sharks in waters used by beachgoers, surfers and divers is closer to being banned in Florida, despite concerns the change will further squeeze out “blue collar” angling. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed to place many shark-fishing changes on its February agenda, from the chumming restriction to a requirement that people who cast for sharks from land annually get a no-cost permit that requires taking an online educational program. People younger than 16 or over 65 would be exempt from the permitting requirement. Jessica McCawley, the commission’s director of marine fisheries management, said the changes are an attempt to balance the interests of anglers and other people who use state waters, while also helping the agency learn how many people engage in land-based shark fishing.

Mike Haridopolos says he deserves a tax break because of Indian River Lagoon problems” via Wayne Price of FLORIDA TODAY — That’s part of an argument being made by former Florida Senate President Haridopolos, who disagrees with the more than $2.3 million value placed on his Lansing Island home this year by the Brevard County Property Appraiser. It could be the first argument in Brevard County for adjusting a residential property value based, in part, on the ill health of the lagoon. If successful, others with homes on or around the lagoon could seek similar decreases in their property appraisals and possibly get several hundred or several thousand dollars knocked off their annual county tax bills if they are successful. Of course, that also would mean conceding their home isn’t worth as much when it came to selling it.

— LOCAL —

Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist repeat call for federal investigation into All Children’s heart unit” via Neil Bedi and Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times — Castor and Crist doubled down on their request for a federal investigation into the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute, a day after the hospital announced resignations by the CEO and other top executives. They had already released a statement calling for action after an investigation found that the mortality rate at the hospital’s heart surgery unit had tripled from 2015 to 2017. Children died after heart operations at a higher rate than any other Florida program last year. “We continue to call for a federal investigation to provide the answers and accountability demanded by the seriousness of this situation. Major corrective actions must be taken to reestablish the high quality of care patients deserve and the pre-eminent reputation the institution held for decades.”

Jerry Demings keeps key advisers, staffers who worked for predecessor Teresa Jacobs” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — They include County Attorney Jeffrey Newton, Jail Chief Louis Quiñones Jr. and deputy county administrators Randy Singh and Christopher Testerman. “All of these professionals bring extensive experience in each of their respective fields,” Demings said in a statement. “They have proved to be excellent public servants to Orange County Government, and I’m confident they will carry out their appointments with continued service and distinction.” The appointments will be presented to the County Commission for confirmation.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is keeping much of his predecessor’s staff.

What Jose Oliva is reading — “Auditor: Purpose of $300K to former UCF president John Hitt ‘not readily apparent’” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — Trustees decided earlier this year to keep Hitt, who retired June 30 and has moved to Wisconsin, on the university’s payroll as “president emeritus,” a fundraising-focused role. But the auditor’s office pointed out Hitt’s pay rate — he’s working in a quarter-time position — is higher than that of current university President Dale Whittaker, whose compensation will total $651,240 this year. Hitt’s salary was among several items flagged in a document detailing the preliminary and tentative findings of a recent review by the auditor’s office.

South Florida man’s deportation scare sparks legal fight over cooperation between Florida jails and ICE” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Orlando Sentinel — Civil rights groups filed suit last week against Monroe County’s sheriff on behalf of 50-year-old Peter Sean Brown, who said he was detained for deportation despite repeatedly telling officials at the county’s jail he was a U.S. citizen and had only been to the Caribbean country once on a cruise. The litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and other attorneys is the first legal challenge to a pilot cooperation agreement between dozens of Florida sheriffs and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which the civil rights organizations argue violates the Fourth Amendment. The “basic ordering agreement” was first announced on Jan. 17, 2018 and has since been signed by 34 Florida counties — including Lake, Brevard, Polk and Seminole in Central Florida — and one county in Louisiana, according to ICE spokeswoman Tamara Spicer.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Fentanyl now America’s deadliest drug, federal health officials say” via Doyle Rice of USA TODAY — It’s the first time the synthetic opioid has been the nation’s deadliest drug. For the previous four years (2012 to 2015), heroin topped the list. On average, each year from 2013 to 2016, the rate of overdose deaths from Fentanyl increased by about 113 percent per year. The report said that Fentanyl was responsible for 29 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016, up from just 4 percent in 2011. Overall, more than 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, according to the new report, which was prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is an average of 174 deaths per day.

Bill Nelson bids U.S. Senate adieu, vows to continue fighting” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — In a 30-minute speech from the floor of the U.S. Senate, Nelson recalled accomplishments and struggles of grand scales, such as the 2009 passage of the Affordable Care Act and modernization of America’s space program, and on intimate scales, such as efforts on behalf of missing federal agent Bob Levinson and Florida Army veteran Sam Snow. For Florida, he called on the Senate to continue bipartisan efforts to oppose offshore drilling, to support efforts to restore the Everglades, provide relief from hurricanes, support Puerto Rico, and to support space exploration and the commercial space industry. Yet Nelson also cautioned “setbacks temper the successes,” chiding efforts to disenfranchise voters, and lamenting the effect the Citizens United decision had on money in politics. He implored the Senate to practice civility, humility, moral courage, justice, and respect, to insist on truth, and to uphold the law.

To view highlights of Nelson’s final Senate speech, click on the image below:

 

Marco Rubio bids farewell to Nelson on the Senate floor” via YouTube — Rubio said: “It’s a lot easier to dislike a political opponent than it is to dislike the whole person. And I raise that with you because I’m very proud of the relationship, the working relationship that we’ve had in our eight years here together … The men and women we represent in our respective parties and our respective political leanings, they usually only know about our colleagues on the three minutes they may see them on a television interview. But we get to know each other as people. We get to know each other outside of politics. And I knew Bill Nelson, and I know Bill Nelson as a person and as a man.”

To view the video, click on the image below:

 

Congress approves $400 billion for farmers, forests, poor” via The Associated Press — After months of debate and negotiation, Congress voted final approval to a massive farm bill that will provide more than $400 billion for agriculture subsidies, conservation programs and food aid. The House voted 369-47 for the legislation, which sets federal agricultural and food policy for five years after the Senate approved it 87-13. It now heads to the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it. The measure reauthorizes crop insurance and conservation programs and pays for trade programs, bioenergy production and organic farming research. It also reduces the cost for struggling dairy producers to sign up for support programs and legalizes the cultivation of industrial hemp — one thing the bill doesn’t include: tighter work requirements for food stamp recipients, a provision of the House bill that was celebrated by Trump but became a major sticking point during negotiations.

Matt Gaetz pitches Donald Trump on pardon for Michael Flynn — U.S. Rep. Gaetz says the President should give Flynn a clean slate in comments made to Sinclair Broadcast Group. “I believe that President Trump should pardon Michael Flynn,” Gaetz said. “Michael Flynn is largely dealing with a plea deal as a consequence of process, not as a consequence of some nefarious affirmative action that he took.” Flynn pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during Trump’s transition into office. Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has suggested the general should not serve jail time due to his cooperation with the government.

Matt Gaetz makes the elevator pitch to his pal Donald Trump for a Michael Flynn pardon.

Stephanie Murphy condemns reported Trump plan to allow Vietnamese war refugees to be deported” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The Atlantic reported the administration had decided Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before diplomatic ties were re-established in 1995, who since 2008 have been specifically barred from being deported to communist Vietnam, would now be “subject to standard immigration law — meaning they are all eligible for deportation.” There were an estimated 12,845 people of Vietnamese background in Orange County alone in 2017, according to the U.S. Census. “My family fled Communist Vietnam when I was a baby because they would have rather died in search of light than to have lived in darkness,” Murphy said in a statement on social media. “Thanks to a program under President Carter, we resettled to the U.S., and I became a proud citizen of this great nation.”

Brian Mast’s resolution condemning Assad regime in Syria clears the House” via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News — At the end of last month, Mast unveiled a resolution “condemning the Assad regime and its backers, including Russia and Iran, for their continued support of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.” Mast serves on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. The resolution urges Trump and the U.S. State Department to “work toward a sustainable political transition in Syria that results in a government in Syria that is not a danger to its own people” and to “develop a strategy to prevent a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, understanding that the Russia Federation has not proven to be a viable partner to help in this effort.” The House passed Mast’s resolution without objection.

Cook Political Report predicts fights for Ross Spano, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — House Editor David Wasserman writes that Democrat successes in the 2018 midterms mean the party could be on defense in two years, but that Republicans will have to for to keep some of its own turf too. Specifically, he singles out U.S. Rep.-elect Spano as a freshman already drawing unwanted interest. “Incoming Republican Ross Spano (FL-15)’s acknowledgment that he may have taken illegal campaign loans could complicate his reelection bid,” Wasserman wrote. On the other side of the Cook chart, Florida’s 26th Congressional District gets listed as “Leans Democratic.” There, U.S. Rep.-elect Mucarsel-Powell narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Carlos Curbelo by less than 2 percent.

— OPINIONS —

Jim Kennedy: Florida lottery — investing in growth for education funding” via Florida Politics — Since 1988, the Lottery has contributed more than $32.1 billion to public education in the state. More than 800,000 Florida students have attended college on a Bright Futures Scholarship made possible by the Lottery’s returns. Generating $32.1 billion in 30 years for education makes the Florida lottery one of the top-performing lotteries in the U.S. In fact, it could school even the brightest business leaders from other industries in return on investment. The Florida Lottery’s consistent, successful strategy? Investing in responsible growth and innovation for all stakeholders to grow its most productive product line: instant “scratch-off” games. The Florida Lottery’s entrepreneurial spirit with its scratch-off games has made education funding bigger, better and by far a leading example to all U.S. lotteries of what is possible through a winning partnership with Scientific Games, the largest and most successful creator, manufacturer and manager of lottery instant games in the world.

— MOVEMENTS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Jasmyne Henderson, Pittman Law Group: Town of Mangonia Park

Christian Caballero, Foley & Lardner: Institute of Hazardous Materials Management

Elizabeth Dudek, Greenberg Traurig: West Broward Rehabilitation and Healthcare

Nicole Graganella, Trevor Mask, Katherine Webb, Colodny Fass: Uber Technologies and Affiliates

Brian Lee, TPG Consulting: Food & Water Watch

Alan Williams, Meenan: American Family Life Assurance Company

On “Fluent in Floridian” — Meet Alyson Lundell, PR Director for Universal Orlando As the Director of Public Relations at Universal Orlando, Lundell has a hand in one our state’s biggest economic drivers in the theme park industry. With over 120 million tourists projected to take trips to Florida, there needs to be something for everyone. Guests at Universal can expect for their vacation to be an immersive experience — right down to the Butterbeer taste tested by J.K. Rowling herself. Listen as she sits down with Heidi Otway to discuss her last decade working with Universal Orlando, the way the PR landscape has shifted since the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and her best advice for young professionals in PR.

— HAPPY HOLIDAYS —

Florida is the Bah humbug state, survey says” via David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel — In a survey that ranked Christmas spirit by state, Florida came in No. 48. That’s nothing to write the North Pole about. The survey was done by internet provider GetCenturyLink and measured two main categories — online activity and culture. Online activity meant the number of Google searches for Christmas movies and gingerbread houses, Google shopping trends for wrapping paper, Christmas cards, ornaments and “Elf On The Shelf,” and Christmas music streaming and tweets about Christmas. I’d prefer to blame Florida’s lame showing on the weather than admit we’re a bunch of tightwad, Elf On The Shelf bigots. And what the weather dampens in Christmas spirit, it more than makes up for in not freezing our chestnuts off after Dec. 25.

Every state has a favorite Christmas movie, says study. Florida’s is a little, um, dark” via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — Movie industry news site Streaming Observer conducted a study on Americans’ cinematic tastes state to state. Using data from online movie review aggregators Rotten Tomatoes, SO created a list of the most popular Christmas movies of all time. That list was then compared to Google Trends data to determine which film each state was “obsessed with,” and the results, especially for Florida, were a little surprising. Floridians apparently aren’t pining to watch anything sentimental or romantic … The Sunshine State’s overall favorite Christmas movie is 1992’s classic “Batman Returns.” Hmm, is there something about nice weather and beaches that make people want to watch twisted holiday superhero movies? See the movie map here.

Hmmmm: Florida’s favorite Christmas movie?

Enterprise students send Christmas spirit to Florida Panhandle” via Josh Richards of The Enterprise Ledger — A joint effort between Diane Lassiter and her cousin Mary Ann Thomas, the idea for the project was born, Lassiter said when Thomas asked what the children in affected communities would be doing for Christmas. “I called her up and said, ‘Why don’t we do something for them?’” Lassiter said. “We actually had some items for Operation Christmas Child but we figured we had all these children in our backyard affected by the Hurricane and decided to do something.” Lassiter said the idea was to give children in affected areas some form of a Christmas and to pass along the Christmas spirit. From there, the idea spread and many in Enterprise and the Wiregrass eventually decided to make their own stockings.

Florida woman known around world for her ugly Christmas sweaters” via D’Ann Lawrence White of Patch — Deb Rottum‘s mantra is “The tackier, the better.” Throughout the year, she’s on the lookout for gaudy baubles, tacky trimmings and gimmicky appliques to incorporate into the ugly Christmas sweaters that she now sells around the world. Deb’s Handmade Ugly Tacky Christmas Sweaters launched six years ago when the Wesley Chapel woman decided to sell three tacky Christmas sweaters that had been languishing in her closet. “I had them for over 13 years and would wear them every Christmas,” said Rottum. “But I got tired of them and decided to sell them on eBay.” To her surprise, the sweaters, priced at $25 each, were quickly snatched up. Obviously, there was a market for ugly sweaters so Rottum began designing and making her own hideously festive creations.

— ALOE —

Park reopens two months after Michael damage” via the News Service of Florida — Portions of Torreya State Park in Liberty County reopened for the first time since Hurricane Michael swept through Northwest Florida. The Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Parks Service announced the park is open for day use after sustaining heavy damage in the Oct. 10 storm. Named for the rare species of Torreya tree that grows only on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River, the park continues to undergo cleanup, which requires limited access to certain areas, including campground and trails.

Torreya State Park partially reopens after damage from Hurricane Michael in October.

SeaWorld says feds won’t take action against it for ‘Blackfish’” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — The U.S. Department of Justice does not plan to file any charges against SeaWorld, the company said Wednesday, ending a federal investigation into whether former leaders misled investors over the “Blackfish” documentary. “The Company considers the DOJ matter concluded,” SeaWorld said in an SEC filing in which it gave an update on the case. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced a $4 million penalty for SeaWorld and $1 million fine for its former CEO James Atchison in September. In the settlement, SeaWorld did not admit or deny guilt.

Largest dog show in country returns to Orlando this weekend” via Trevor Frazier of the Orlando Sentinel — With 9,000 dogs participating in the events, the Canine Extravaganza and AKC National Championship Dog Show Presented by Royal Canin is the largest dog show in the country. Returning to Orlando for its 18th year, the event takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Orange County Convention Center. Tickets are $10 each day. Don’t know the difference between schipperkes and a Xoloitzcuintli? The “Meet the Breeds” stations offer dog lovers the chance to interact with more than 100 different breeds, including some exotic ones. More than 5,000 pooches will be competing for the $50,000 grand prize in Conformation (the “look pretty” competition), but that only scratches the surface.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

In addition to Commissioner-elect Fried, a boisterous birthday wish for our main man, Greenberg Traurig’s Hayden Dempsey, as well as Mike Millner. Belated wishes to Houston Barnes, whom we’ve never met, but enjoy on the Facebook and the Twitters.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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