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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.14.19

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

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

We’re both from Pinellas County, about the same age, and run in some of the same circles, but Speaker-to-be Chris Sprowls and I aren’t like best friends. I get it: for those who work in The Process, positioning yourself close to leadership is the coin of the realm, even when the connections are tangential. I could do that here with Rep. Sprowls, but I’m not going to embarrass myself that way. He’s always been very helpful to me, but I suspect, that’s just the way he is.

Happy birthday Mr. Speaker-to-be, a genuinely great guy. (Image via Florida House)

That said, let me tell you why Chris Sprowls warrants a top of Sunburn shout-out for his birthday. It doesn’t have to do with him being positioned to be Speaker in two years. It has to do with how truly kind he is. I first witnessed it before he was elected. Michelle, Ella, and I were at a restaurant with a dozen other candidates and politicos. What I remember about that event is that in a room full of ambition and maneuvering, Chris was off to the side, playing with Baby Ella. He was the only politician to do that. And he wasn’t doing it to make the rest of the people in the room think that he cared about kids or something like that. He just seemed to care more than others.

That same attitude has stayed with him while he’s climbed the cursus honorum in the Florida House. That’s why so many of his colleagues, as content and comfortable as they are with past and current leaders, are excited about what the future holds for everyone who works in The Process and everything The Process touches.

Chris Sprowls just seems to care more than others.

Happy birthday, Mr. Chairman.

On a more serious note … We know Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked all South Florida Water Management District board members for their resignations, but so far, none have complied.

But now, a source especially close to DeSantis told Florida Politics over the weekend that the new Republican Governor may eschew the carrot for a pretty big stick: Asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to launch a criminal investigation of the board.

DeSantis may have telegraphed this move in his speech this past weekend at the Florida GOP gathering when he said board members who don’t get the message would “feel the heat.”

Plaza-level insiders say DeSantis, a Harvard Law graduate and former member of the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps, believes a lease was improperly approved during the Rick Scott-to-DeSantis transition at the behest of Florida Crystals.

As TCPalm reported last week, at a Nov. 8 meeting, the board approved leasing land for the proposed EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) reservoir to Florida Crystals subsidiary New Hope Sugar Co. while the project is being built. The item was not added to the board’s agenda until the night before the meeting.

So why is approving the lease criminal? “Improper influence,” our source said without elaborating.

P.S. Could Nancy Smith be any more obvious about who is footing the bill over at Sunshine State News — “Gov. DeSantis, think beyond those ill-advised SFWMD board resignations.”

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RealDonaldTrump: Wish I could share with everyone the beauty and majesty of being in the White House and looking outside at the snow filled lawns and Rose Garden. Really is something — SPECIAL COUNTRY, SPECIAL PLACE!

@DelSnwfdn: They can’t build a wall. An entire subgenre of movies will be wiped out. “No Country for Old Men,” “Sicario,” “Traffic,” “From Dusk til Dawn” … this hasn’t been thought through. #Mexicanbordermovies

@MDixon55: @JoeGruters extends olive branch to press. Encourages party members to have a “dialogue” with press. Actually, don’t think there has been one “fake news” so far. Been awhile at one of these

@JohnMorganESQ: There may be a ‘Director of Cannabis’ but there will only ever be ONE #PotDaddy Me.

@LennyCurry: The Rams call on 4th and goal says it all. Calculated risk for the bury. I love this sport.

@SkipFoster: If your takeaway from FSU-Duke is anything other than: “that was an amazing game by two talented teams which both deserved to win,” then you have a particularly cheerless view of sports.

— DAYS UNTIL —

MLK Day — 7; State of the Union address — 15; Super Bowl LIII — 20; Scott Maddox trial begins — 28; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 29; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 29; Valentine’s Day — 31; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 50; Tampa mayoral election — 50; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 53; St. Patrick’s Day — 62; 2019 Major League Baseball season begins — 65; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 90; Easter — 97; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 109; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates begin — 144; Iowa Caucuses — 382; 2020 General Election — 659.

— HAPPENING TODAY —

Job predictions, industry trends, small business issues, Florida’s probability of recession and more will be released today during the Florida Chamber Foundation’s daylong “2019 Economic Outlook & Jobs Summit” in Orlando.

Jamal Sowell, the new President and CEO of Enterprise Florida, will be among the featured speakers — which also includes three of Florida’s leading economists.

Newly named Enterprise Florida CEO Jamal Sowell will talk jobs and the state’s economy during the Florida Chamber Economic Outlook Summit.

Additional speakers, among other, include Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; Tim Giuliani, President & CEO, Orlando Economic Partnership; Adrienne Johnston, Chief of the Bureau of Labor Market Statistics, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; Crystal Stiles, Director of Economic Development, Florida Power & Light Company and Chair, Florida Economic Development Council (FEDC); and Mark Wilson, President and CEO, Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Business, industry, community and elected leaders will take a deep dive into the topics that matter for Florida’s growth, including the 2019 Economic Outlook, a discussion with Florida’s economic development leaders, a conversation on Florida’s Opportunity Zones, and more.

That’s 10 a.m.-3 p.m., GuideWell Innovation Center at Lake Nona Medical City, 6555 Sanger Road, Orlando. A livestream starting at 10 a.m. will be available here, and the full agenda is here.

— THE NEW ADMINISTRATION —

Scoop —Ron DeSantis to appoint Robert Luck to Supreme Court” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Gov. DeSantis will appoint Robert J. Luck, a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, to the Florida Supreme Court. Sunday night, the Governor’s Office said DeSantis will “make a major announcement” in Miami. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez also is slated to attend. Three sources later confirmed to Florida Politics that DeSantis will appoint Luck, one of only two nominees with an immediate Miami connection. Moreover, Luck and his wife are listed as donors to Scheck Hillel Community School, where the announcement will take place.

Assignment editors — DeSantis will make the announcement, 10 a.m., Scheck Hillel Community School, 19000 NE 25th Ave., Miami. Media arrival time: 9:15 a.m. at 190th Street and 25th Avenue.

Here comes the judge: Ron DeSantis is naming Robert J. Luck of the 3rd District Court of Appeal as his second appointment to the Florida Supreme Court. (Image via J. Albert Diaz)

Family of Norma Padgett stands by her accusation against Groveland Four” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — When all four of Florida’s statewide officials granted full pardons to the Groveland Four, many heralded a righting of injustice. But for the family of Padgett Upshaw, the news felt like condoning a decades-old crime. Charlene Padgett, Upshaw’s daughter-in-law, told Florida Politics: “That case was decided before we walked in [the] doors.” Padgett Upshaw, though, testified Friday at a state Clemency Board hearing and maintained her story. “I’m … no liar,” she told the board. But there’s little evidence the crime took place. Charlene Padgett said the family does not question that the Groveland Four did not receive fair treatment. “I understand totally the injustice that they faced,” she said. “But that was not Norma’s fault that all that injustice was brought on them guys.”

Surrounded by her sons, Norma Padgett, the Groveland Four accuser, pleads with the clemency board not to pardon the Groveland Four during a hearing at the Florida Capitol. (Image via Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat/AP)

Shade:

Parkland families stand with DeSantis as he suspends Broward sheriff” via David Smiley, Julie Brown and Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — DeSantis appointed Gregory Tony, a former Coral Springs police sergeant, as Broward’s top cop, replacing Scott Israel, the embattled sheriff who has been widely blamed for the chaotic response to the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. After weeks of speculation, DeSantis — surrounded by many of the parents of students slain — announced at a news conference at Broward’s public safety building in Fort Lauderdale that he was suspending Israel, a two-term sheriff and 30-year law enforcement veteran. He cited overwhelming failures of leadership that led to egregious breakdowns that may have contributed to the deaths of the 14 students and three staff members. “I have no interest in dancing on Scott Israel’s political grave,” DeSantis said, “but suffice it to say the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.” Israel, at a subsequent news conference, vowed to fight being stripped of his elected office.

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Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie could be next target” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — DeSantis criticized Runcie’s leadership in light of the Parkland school shooting and said he plans to look into whether he can take action to remove him. “There were obviously security failures. There were some really egregious failures with the school district,” the Governor said. The School Board appointed Runcie, leaving many experts to say the governor has no authority over Runcie. Asked whether he could remove Runcie: “I don’t know that, to be honest. I know for sure I can do an elected superintendent. That would be something I would want to make sure I have the authority to do.”

Brian Mast blasts board members who won’t resign as DeSantis asked” via Ali Schmitz of TCPalm — Mast, who recommended the resignations as chair of DeSantis’ environmental advisory committee, said: “The arrogance displayed over the past 24 hours by the board is indicative of how they have operated for the better part of the last decade — without transparency and with disdain for the people of South Florida who have been made to suffer through lost summer after lost summer. They have failed to exercise even the most basic, legally required level of transparency and, therefore, should be removed for cause.” The most controversial “cause” Mast referred to was a Nov. 8 board vote to lease land needed for the EAA reservoir to curb Lake Okeechobee discharges to Florida Crystals subsidiary New Hope Sugar Co. while the project is being built. The item was added to the board’s agenda the night before.

DeSantis silent on climate change causes” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — DeSantis didn’t say whether he thinks climate change is at least partly caused by human activity. The new Governor, a Ponte Vedra Beach Republican, held his first news conference in the Governor’s Office with the Capitol Press Corp. Asked if he thought climate change was real, DeSantis said he put in his order “as climate changes, as the environment changes, as the water rises in places like South Florida, we want to make sure we’re taking steps to combat that.” Asked whether he agreed with many scientists “that humans cause climate change,” DeSantis pointed at another reporter, saying “Next question.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis may have a lot to say, but not so much about the causes of climate change.

DeSantis: Diverted disaster aid for Trump wall would need to be replaced immediately” via Gray Rohrer and Mark Skoneki of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis said he hadn’t talked to his political ally Donald Trump about reports the President might attempt to tap into disaster aid earmarked for Florida, Puerto Rico and other areas to build a wall on the Mexican border. But he also said he wouldn’t oppose the move as long as the money was immediately replaced. “You may be able to repurpose some money,’’ he told reporters before his first meeting with the Florida Cabinet in Tallahassee. “I’m not sure how that works. Obviously, anything that was done on the disaster front, we have people that are counting on that. If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine, but I don’t want that to be where that money is not available.”

’In it for the long haul’: Hurricane Michael recovery may be first test for DeSantis” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The devastation, evident for hundreds of square miles of blue-tarped roofs, leveled forests and trees stripped bare, provided a stark backdrop for DeSantis as he got a firsthand look at the scope of the recovery task that lay ahead for him and the Legislature. “Step one is I’m here today. This is my first full day in office without having to do some of the excessive pomp and circumstances like we had to do the last couple of days,” said DeSantis on Wednesday in Mexico Beach. “I wanted to send a message to the people of northwest Florida that we have not forgotten about this storm … We’re in it for the long haul.” Governors Scott and Jeb Bush received bipartisan praise for how they handled storm recovery and reconstruction but neither faced damage on Michael’s scale. The Panhandle is rural, heavily-Republican and is reeling. It’s looking to the new governor to get things moving after legislators opted not to call a special session to address hurricane recovery.

Jose Oliva says DeSantis needs a ‘reliable’ ride” via The Associated Press — Florida used to have two planes that could be used by state officials, but former Gov. Scott ordered them sold. Scott, a multimillionaire, instead used his own jet to travel. DeSantis this week was using a plane that belonged to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and was seized during a drug bust. Mechanical problems, however, forced an emergency landing of the plane in St. Petersburg. The state then chartered a plane so that DeSantis could make it to Fort Lauderdale for a news conference. House Speaker Jose Oliva said the size of the state and the incident shows the need for DeSantis to have “safe and reliable means of transportation.”

Then-candidate Rick Scott aboard his private jet while running for Florida Governor in 2010. (Image via The New York Times)

The inside story of Rick Scott’s decision to sell Florida’s state airplanes” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist — In the earliest days of Scott’s quest to become Governor, Tony Fabrizio, Scott’s general campaign consultant, pollster and confidante, organized a series of focus groups around the state. Panelists — a cross-section of voters from places including Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and Jacksonville — were asked their general feelings about the current members of the Florida Cabinet. The panelists in every city — all of them likely voters — almost universally soured on Attorney General Bill McCollum and CFO Alex Sink after learning that state leaders had abused their access to the state airplane by cleverly combining official business with personal side trips. Knowing he’d found a perfect line of attack that would not only work against McCollum in the Republican primary but also against Sink in the general election, Fabrizio budgeted significant resources to maximize the impact and damage. In early January, shortly after his inauguration, Scott directed the Department of Management Services to put both state airplanes up for sale, and within weeks, he announced both planes had been sold, fulfilling his campaign promise.

New AHCA Secretary has fans, detractors” via Christine Jordan Sexton of the News Service of Florida — While Gov. DeSantis announced that Mary Mayhew would take the helm at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, it hasn’t been made clear when she will begin the job or how much she will earn. Known as Mary “mayhem” by her detractors, Mayhew served as commissioner of health and human services under former Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePageTarren Bragdon, who co-chaired LePage’s transition team at the time, recommended her for the Maine job. Bragdon was a member of a DeSantis transition advisory committee on health and wellness. He said he did not directly recommend Mayhew for the Florida post. But he’s been impressed by her throughout the 15 years they have worked together. He dismissed the name-calling from “trolls” who are attacking her before she steps foot in Tallahassee.

Mary Mayhew [AP Photo - Robert F. Bukaty]

Critics gave newly named Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew the nickname ‘mayhem.’ (Image via AP)

Nikki Fried creates new position of ‘Director of Cannabis’ ” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Ag. Commissioner Fried said she has created a position of “Director of Cannabis” under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We will be naming a Director of Cannabis in the coming weeks,” Fried said in a media availability after Friday’s Cabinet meeting. She is the only Democrat on the panel. “That individual will oversee all of the different parts of the medical marijuana program that the Department oversees currently.” But the Department of Health, under DeSantis, largely regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

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— ROAD TO SESSION —

DeSantis wants state on ‘war footing’ in water fight — but lawmakers may settle for skirmish” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — Signs are emerging that fellow Republicans in the Legislature may be considering a more narrow approach — one some critics dismiss as a mere skirmish against the enemies of red tide and toxic algae that fouled both coasts. “The public wants us to take on the entire problem, and that’s what we should be doing,” said Rep. Thad Altman, whose Brevard County district was plagued by “brown tide” last spring and summer, an algae bloom that caused massive fish kills. “Blaming one thing for these problems and saying that’s all we have to do is wrong. It’s a diversion,” he added … foreshadows a tension between the new governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has long allied with the state’s powerful agriculture industry.

Senate Democrats warn against changes to Medicaid program” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Senate Democrats are attempting to pre-emptively push back again any potential changes to Medicaid put forward by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP Legislature. Democrats have long criticized the previous administration for declining to expand the state’s Medicaid system under the Affordable Care Act. Now, Senate Dems are criticizing DeSantis’ choice to head the administration that administers Medicaid, as well as signs the GOP could push for a Medicaid block grant. “We know that where there’s a block grant, there’s always a ‘block’ that gets left out,” said Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson. “We don’t need ‘increased flexibility.’ That’s just bureaucratic speak for cutting eligibility, services, or provider payments and putting up barriers like time limits or onerous work requirements.”

Bill would expand ‘scope of practice’ for psychologists” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A bill filed by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes would allow psychologists to prescribe drugs, including controlled substances, an ability that would blur the line between them and psychiatrists. SB 304, titled “Prescriptive Authority Certification for Psychologists,” would institute several safeguards to ensure psychologists have the proper knowledge before handing out scripts. Unlike psychiatrists, who must attend medical school to practice, psychologists can get a license with a relevant Ph.D., be it in education or psychology. The bill lists many requirements, though all but a few of them align with the current requirements to become a licensed psychologist in the Sunshine State.

’Fracking’ ban proposed in House” via the News Service of Florida — State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen filed the bill (HB 239) the same day DeSantis released a series of environmental proposals that included opposition to fracking. State Sen. Linda Stewart submitted a similar bill (SB 146) last month to try to ban fracking. Environmental groups and some lawmakers have long wanted to block potential fracking in Florida, but legislation has not passed. During the 2018 session, a Senate version was approved by two committees, while a House version was never heard.

The new smoking ban frontier: removing butts from beaches” via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times — Anti-tobacco forces are turning their attention to outdoor spots such as beaches and parks. But measures like SB 218 by Sen. Joe Gruters are about eliminating litter — getting butts off beaches. “To me, this is like an easy thing to support,” said Stephen Leatherman, a Florida International University coastal geology professor known as “Dr. Beach” for his annual ranking of the world’s best beaches. “Cigarette butts are the number one type of litter on beaches, by volume. They are disgusting.” They’re also hard to get rid of. Beach sweepers that clean up litter on public beaches around the state can’t use screens small enough to catch cigarette butts, so they just fall back into the sand or, in some cases, are flung hither and yon by the sweeping machine, Leatherman said. Worse, the filters are made of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic that will not begin to break down for years.

Butt ban: Smoking on Florida beaches could be illegal under a new bill from state Sen. Joe Gruters. (Image via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Legislation to allow guns on college campuses is back. Will it pass this year?” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — State Rep. Anthony Sabatini said he knows Senate Republicans in the past few years have successfully blocked campus carry bills, including former state Sen. John Thrasher, now president of Florida State University. But, he said, that was because he felt “many people inhabiting political offices ignore the constitutional rights of their own citizens. They’re afraid of controversy … and they sidestep issues and kill bills considered more controversial.” Opponents are gearing up for a fight on one of the few issues where Florida’s gun laws are stricter than in many other states. “We definitely have a battle on our hands when it comes to campus carry this year,” said Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

Priorities: Red light cameras and concealed carry on college campuses are among the top issues for freshman state Rep. Anthony Sabatini. (Image via Daily Commercial)

Freshman legislator Anthony Sabatini outlines his priorities” via Katie Sartoris of The Daily Commercial — Money is a word that comes up a lot in conversation for Sabatini. He’s particularly interested in conservative economic policies, which is why he said he was thrilled to be on the commerce committee in the House. He’s also on the joint select committee on collective bargaining, as well as five subcommittees, including criminal justice. Since December, Sabatini has filed three bills. One aims to abolish the state’s red-light camera program, a topic of controversy over the past couple of years. Sabatini filed another measure that, if passed, would get a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot to establish term limits for school board members. Sabatini said he was also looking forward to supporting the priorities of House Speaker Jose Oliva, which include clean water and lowering government health care spending.

Today’s legislative delegation meetings — Various delegations meet ahead of the 2019 Legislative Session: The Suwannee County delegation, made up of state Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Chuck Brannan, 9 a.m., Live Oak City Hall, 101 White Ave. S.E., Live Oak. The Polk County delegation — Sens. Ben AlbrittonTom LeeKelli Stargel and Reps. Melony BellColleen BurtonSam Killebrew and Josie Tomkow, 1 p.m., Polk County Commission chamber, 330 West Church St., Bartow. The Columbia County delegation — Bradley and Brannan, 1 p.m., Florida Gateway College, Administration Building, 149 S.E. College Place, Lake City. The Baker County delegation — Bradley and Brannan, 4 p.m., Macclenny City Hall, 118 East Macclenny Ave., Macclenny.

House, Senate stack up committee meetings” via the News Service of Florida — Both chambers will hold meetings from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24, after the state observes the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 21. The House will start Jan. 22 with the Appropriations Committee and will continue later in the day with several major committees: The Education Committee, the Health & Human Services Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Commerce Committee, the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee and the State Affairs Committee, according to a schedule posted on the House website. The Senate, meanwhile, has set aside time Jan. 22 for 14 committees to meet, followed on Jan. 23 by appropriations subcommittees. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet Jan. 24.

— STATEWIDE —

Stung by Florida midterm losses, Democrats see a swing state drifting away” via Patricia Mazzei and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times — Democrats started organizing Latino voters too late, didn’t tailor their message for an increasingly diverse community and ultimately took Latino support for granted, a Florida pollster told about 50 members of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Broward County. Democrats will lose again in 2020 if they don’t move swiftly to win over Hispanics, the pollster, Eduardo Gamarra, told the group. “You just need to start now,” he said. With the swearing-in of two newly elected Republican leaders, Gov. DeSantis and Sen. Scott, Florida has become a more reliably red political bastion, making the path to Electoral College victory that much tougher for the 2020 Democratic nominee. The successful courting of up-for-grabs Hispanics, the surge of transplanted senior voters, the solidifying support in conservative North Florida: All illustrate why this prized battleground state is tilting to the right.

Florida will draw 2020 Democratic hopefuls in 2019” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post — Roughly two dozen Democrats have shown some level of interest in running for president in 2020. Florida’s Republican and Democratic presidential primaries are scheduled for March 17, 2020. That’s several weeks after the traditional early nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and two weeks after a round of Super Tuesday contests that will include the massive delegate troves of California and Texas. “With proportional allocation, nobody’s going to have a majority of delegates by the time we get to Florida,” said longtime Tallahassee-based Democratic consultant Steve Schale, who is expected to help former Vice President Joe Biden if Biden runs. Biden’s youngest brother, Palm Beach County resident Frank Biden, recently told The Palm Beach Post he thinks Joe Biden will run. Regardless of how the delegate math plays out, Schale and others say candidates are likely to spend significant time in Florida because of the state’s history as a fundraising source and the importance of its 29 electoral votes in the general election.

Rick Scott chased the Hispanic vote and got it” via Salena Zito of the Washington Examiner — Scott, who won by about 1/10 of a percentage point over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, did so despite suffering the same poor performance among suburban voters all Republicans did. He made up for that shortfall with his healthy support among Hispanic voters for his win. Scott won 48 percent of the Hispanic vote, just about the same portion he won in his two gubernatorial victories. OnMessage founding partner Wes Anderson said his firm conducted a postelection survey just among Florida Hispanics for their own contemplation: On job approval, Scott scored at 61 percent, with 47 percent strongly approving and 14 percent somewhat approving. “Hispanics, including a chunk who said, ‘I’m not sure if I like him personally,’ said, ‘Yeah, he’s doing a good job as governor,’” explained Anderson. “Scott blows it out with Cubans, but we had majorities of all Hispanic voters agreeing that yes, Gov. Rick Scott, in fact, cares about the concerns.”

Joe Gruters elected Florida GOP chair” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Florida GOP activists voted overwhelmingly to make Gruters, a state Senator from Sarasota and early supporter of Trump, the chairman of the Republican Party in a key swing state that could play a decisive role in one of the most anticipated presidential elections in years. Gruters had the backing of new Gov. DeSantis and also touted his White House connections during his bid to take over the Republican Party of Florida. Borrowing from Trump, Gruters passed out red hats before the vote with the slogan “Keep Florida Great!” written in white letters. “You better believe we will deliver for our president!” Gruters told the crowd of GOP activists gathered in Orlando for the vote.

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— “Joe Gruters: This is now the party of Ron DeSantis” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

Mike Watkins opens cash lead in race for House District 7” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — Watkins had $143,000 ready to deploy at the end of 2018. He amassed more than $23,000 in contributions during the month of December. Jason Shoaf, another Republican hopeful, boasted just more than $50,000 through the same period, though unlike Watkins his campaign fund hit that target thanks to $30,000 in candidate loans. He wins December when it comes to total receipts, but it’s Watkins who wears the crown in true fundraising. Casting aside the family and candidate contribs, Shoaf brought in $17,200 in outside money compared to $19,675 for Watkins. Watkins started the year with $143,000 in the bank while Shoaf had $50,170 in his war chest.

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Happening this week:

Essential reading — Behind the scenes, Pat Bainter pulls strings” via The Gainesville Sun — Since 1987, Patrick Jay Bainter has steadily built Data Targeting from a startup company to a must-have campaign team for Republicans, often securing victories for candidates at all levels of government, sometimes with the help of associates and questionable tactics. The company has worked on hundreds of campaigns over the last 30 years, including races in at least 12 other states … (But) few know the man who has helped elect dozens of lawmakers. “He is the best-kept secret in Alachua County, if not the state,” said Daniel Smith, a political-science professor at the University of Florida. “Rarely do you have someone so powerful that wants to remain behind the scenes.”

>>>Dixon did it better — Pat Bainter: The most influential man in Florida GOP politics you don’t know” via Matt Dixon, then at the Naples Daily News

— LOCAL —

Scott Israel: Career defined by controversy and fury over failures during Parkland shooting” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The sheriff has been a target of conservatives across the country since the shooting, in part for his criticism of the National Rifle Association and what he considers lax gun laws. Israel — who started his law enforcement career as a Fort Lauderdale patrol officer in 1979 and served four years as police chief in North Bay Village before becoming Broward sheriff — had also faced criticism for his leadership during a mass shooting Jan. 6, 2017, at the Fort Lauderdale airport, where five people were gunned down in a baggage area. After that crisis, Israel failed to address problems that would later cripple the response in Parkland. An internal report obtained by the Sun Sentinel was highly critical of the agency’s performance at the airport, but dozens of recommendations were excised and revised with a statement praising the sheriff.

Suspended: Several failures and controversy marked Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel’s career. (Image via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

These school districts tried to arm coaches. It’s harder than it sounds.” via Katherine Campione, Vincent McDonald and Christina Morales of the Tampa Bay Times — Brevard isn’t the only school system to have trouble complying with a new state law that allows certain employees to be armed, according to an examination of how the program is being implemented across the state. Some small districts struggled to recruit enough so-called school guardians to keep their schools safe. Levy County launched a program, only to have nobody apply for weeks. Others had trouble with the guardians they hired. In Duval County, a school safety assistant was arrested for pawning a service weapon issued to him by the school district. In Hillsborough, a school security deputy resigned after exposing students to pepper spray. The problems have piled up, largely unnoticed, even as the concept of vastly expanding the controversial program has gathered momentum. The Legislature gave them until the start of the school year to comply.

Panama City Beach Council calls for probe of high Bay County gas prices after Hurricane Michael” via Ed Offley of the Panama City News-Herald — Alarmed over what they term “increasingly disproportionate” gasoline prices being charged to motorists in Bay County compared with other parts of the state, City Council members called on newly sworn-in Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Florida Division of Consumer Services to launch an investigation into the matter. In a letter to Moody, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, state Sen. George Gainer and Rep. Jay Trumbull, the five city council members pointed out that while gas prices in Florida are at a three-year low, the average rate of $2.46 per gallon in Bay County is higher than anywhere else in the state. By contrast, they noted, gasoline in Pensacola averages only $2.07 per gallon — a $0.39-cent difference — despite the fact that Pensacola imposes a higher local gasoline tax. “This disparity simply doesn’t add up,” wrote Mayor Mike Thomas and Councilmen Paul CastoGeoff McConnellPhil Chester and Hector Solis.

Lenny Curry and Anna Brosche battle for Jacksonville mayor and place in history” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — Curry is running to become the fifth Jacksonville mayor to win re-election in the last 50 years. Brosche wants to be the third challenger over that span to knock off an incumbent mayor. The battle lines were drawn when Brosche, an at-large City Council member, launched her work-in-progress candidacy for Mayor on the last day of qualifying for the March 19 election. If Brosche wins, it would rank among the biggest upsets in Jacksonville history and could realign city politics. Curry and Brosche both are Republicans, but her ability to win will hinge on winning over Democrats on a grand scale, said Michael Binder, a University of North Florida political science professor. “You’ve got to unify and then mobilize the Democrats and keeping Curry under 50 percent in March is not going to be easy.” If no candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold, the top two vote-getters will face off May 14 in a second election.

Unprecedented: No matter how it goes, Republicans Lenny Curry and Anna Brosche are headed for history in the race for Jacksonville Mayor.

Scott Maddox indictment: FBI sought more than subpoenas in probe; manager to audit City Hall actions” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — An FBI agent’s request for emails and other records beyond the scope of the four subpoenas delivered to the city during the course of an ongoing corruption probe yielded thousands of emails and other documents related to clients of former Commissioner Maddox. They include communications with city officials about companies represented by Governance — Waste Pro fines being reduced, Arbor Properties dealing with fence and electrical issues, and negotiations with NoPetro. The data dump also includes Governance utility bills for 502 N. Adams, a building once owned by Maddox and sold to partner Paige Carter-Smith, business taxes and declarations of information for Governance Inc. and Governance Services, and financial disclosure forms for Maddox.

What Amanda Taylor is reading —Cattle deaths might be linked to Purina feed” via the Lakeland Ledger — Purina Animal Nutrition is recalling bags of cattle feed as the Florida Department of Agriculture begins looking into multiple cattle deaths that might be linked to the product. The agency said a specific cause of the deaths hasn’t been determined, but they might be related to Producer’s Pride 20% All Natural Cattle Cube feed, manufactured by Purina Animal Nutrition and distributed to 40 Tractor Supply Co. stores in Florida and Georgia, including the Lake Wales, Bartow and Haines City stores. Purina Animal Nutrition has removed the feed from all of the stores and from the market. Consumers are advised to stop using the product and to discard it or return it to the place of purchase for a refund or exchange. The Department of Agriculture said the feed poses no known risks to human health.

325th Wing Commander: Tyndall AFB ‘recovery effort has been amazing’” via Ed Offley of the Panama City News-Herald — “Our recovery effort has been amazing,” said Col. Brian Laidlaw, commander of the 325th Wing at Tyndall, in a presentation to a joint meeting of the Bay County and Panama City Beach Chambers of Commerce. He cited remarks of various military personnel involved in the base recovery effort, including Senior Airman Jonathan Pfau, a base firefighter, who said: “It seems like every time I come back on shift, something else is back up and running.” While much remains to be done in rebuilding damaged or destroyed structures on base, most major component units at Tyndall are fully operational, including First Air Force headquarters, the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, the 823rd Red Horse engineering squadron and the 337th Air Control Squadron, Laidlaw said. Currently, there are 48 separate repair projects underway affecting 144 different base facilities. To date, he added, officials have issued more than $175 million in recovery contracts.

Happening today — The Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. board, which oversees BP settlement money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, meets to discuss funding requests by the Gulf County and the Franklin County school districts, 1 p.m., Gulf Coast State College, Gulf/Franklin Campus, 3800 Garrison Ave., Port St. Joe.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Americans blame Trump and GOP much more than Democrats for shutdown, Post-ABC poll finds” via Scott Clement and Dan Balz of The Washington Post — By a wide margin, more Americans blame Trump and Republicans in Congress than congressional Democrats for the now record-breaking government shutdown, and most reject the president’s assertion that there is an illegal immigration crisis on the southern border, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Support for building a wall on the border, which is the principal sticking point in the stalemate between the president and Democrats, has increased over the past year. Today, 42 percent say they support a wall, up from 34 percent last January. A slight majority of Americans (54 percent) oppose the idea, down from 63 percent a year ago.

The blame game: Most Americans point the finger at Donald Trump and Republicans for the history-making government shutdown. (Image via Getty)

’Their lives are on hold’: Miami’s immigration court grinds to a halt because of shutdown” via David Ovalle and Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — Now entering its fourth week — and as of Friday, tied for the longest ever — the federal government shutdown has sowed chaos and confusion into an already swollen immigration courts system. Judges and support staff have been furloughed. Lawyers can’t file court motions at the Downtown Miami immigration court. For immigrants facing deportation but who are not being held in detention, hearings are being postponed indefinitely. Anxiety in the immigrant community, already heightened under the Trump administration’s open hostility to immigration, is mounting. He “It takes a long time to prepare these cases. People wait a long time for relief and now their lives are on hold because of the shutdown,” said Miami immigration attorney Evelyn Alonso.

Concourse G closes At Miami International Airport as federal government shutdown drags on” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — The airport was forced to shutter the concourse for the afternoon due to a shortage of Transportation Safety Administration officers, who have been working without pay for three weeks and are missing more shifts as the shutdown drags on. The closure allowed the airport to send TSA workers to busier checkpoints. Concourse G — used by United, Bahamasair, Aruba Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Sun Country — is the least busy of the terminals; around 12 planes usually fly out of G after 1 p.m., making up just 3 percent of the roughly 450 flights from MIA on a typical day.

Shutdown blues hit Sarasota and Manatee” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The 35 Coast Guard service members who work at the station in Cortez remain on duty through the partial government shutdown, responding to maritime emergencies as they arise. Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration managers at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport already have gone without a paycheck but also remain on the job as essential government employees. Nobody answers the phone At the IRS office in Sarasota. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office in Wauchula — which serves farmers in Sarasota and Manatee counties — has a similar voicemail message stating, “We are on furlough due to the lapse in funding.” Meanwhile, DeSoto National Memorial in Bradenton remains open, but the visitor center is closed and park rangers are not on hand to offer guided kayak tours or perform demonstrations of Spanish colonial life in Florida in the 16th century.

Spotted — Brian Ballard inWhy Republicans are cautioning Trump against using emergency powers” via Time magazine — President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to declare a national emergency in order to build a border wall have led to an unusually high amount of pushback from Republicans concerned about executive overreach … Even Republicans who are supportive of using these powers acknowledge that a Congressional negotiation is preferable, and that invoking them would inevitably lead to a protracted court fight. “I think everyone would rather a deal [with Congress],” said Ballard, a Republican lobbyist and vice chairman on the Republican National Committee’s finance team. “But I don’t think a deal is possible.”

— OPINIONS & ANALYSIS —

Welcome to Tallahassee, Gov. DeSantis” via the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board — Although your biggest booster, Trump, called Tallahassee one of the “worst & most corrupt cities in USA!,” we don’t believe you share those sentiments. We believe our willingness to tackle head-on problems like violent crime, drainage, urban blight and economic inequality can be a model for cities across our fair state. We’ve made community dialogue a civic virtue. Tallahassee is home to much about what’s right and desirable about Florida. With your “bold vision” Tallahassee can move forward along with our great state. Our suggestion? Be open. Keep to the spirit of the Sunshine Law and do everything you can to share your thoughts and actions with the public. Florida is ready for more openness. And finally, we must confess to some self-interest. Talk to us. The Tallahassee Democrat is only a few blocks away.

Is marijuana as safe as we think?” via Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker — Drug policy is always clearest at the fringes. Illegal opioids are at one end. … The cannabis industry would have us believe that its product, like coffee, belongs at the other end of the continuum. But cannabis is not coffee. It’s somewhere in the middle. The experience of most users is relatively benign and predictable; the experience of a few, at the margins, is not. For the moment, cannabis probably belongs in the category of substances that society permits but simultaneously discourages or limits — cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs. The advice that seasoned potheads sometimes give new users — ‘start low and go slow’ — is probably good advice for society as a whole, at least until we better understand what we are dealing with.

— MOVEMENTS —

‘Agency fixer’ Erin Rock to join SSG — Look for seasoned influencers Southern Strategy Group to add some rock to their playlist this week. The firm is expected to name former Management Services Secretary and veteran agency fixer Rock to the team. A steady hand in three governor’s administrations, Rock’s leadership experience reads like a who’s who of the state’s most complex agencies — DEM, DEP, DOE, DCF and DMS.

Personnel note: Ann Howard heads to FDOT — Howard is becoming the Communications Director for the Department. Howard, a Virginia Tech graduate, moved to Tallahassee more than 16 years ago to join the WCTV news team as a reporter and anchor. After leaving TV news, Howard was recruited to work for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. From DSHMV, she took over as Communications Director for the Department of Corrections. Most recently, Howard was the communications director for the successful Florida ballot initiative, Everybody is for 2. Since leaving state government, Ann has been working on marketing efforts for organizations, companies and running campaigns, local and statewide.

>>>Look for Jared Moskowitz to names these folks as part of senior staff at the Department of Emergency Management: Deputy Director — Kevin Guthrie, Chief of Staff — John Bussey, Communications Director — Lauren Engel, Press Secretary — Jason Mahon, Legislative Affairs Director — Jared Rosenstein.

Spotted — At the Sunshine State Ball, the inaugural event held Friday by the Junior League of Tallahassee: Keaton Alexander; country music star Rodney Atkins; Allison and Josh Aubuchon; Halsey Beshears, incoming DBPR Secretary; FPL’s Mark Bubriski; Gary Clark, PSC Commissioner; Gus Corbella, GreenbergTraurig lobbyist; Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey; Claudia Davant; Mark Delegal, Holland & Knight lobbyist, and Ginger Delegal, executive director of the Florida Association of Counties; Dave Ericks; Matt Farrar, co-founder of SDS, and Anna Farrar, Deputy Chief Financial Officer; Jay Ferrin; Tom Griffin; Nicole Hagerty and Richard Reeves; NFIB’s Bill Herrle and his wife Ruth; Foley and Lardner’s Robert HosayBrian and Katie Logan; Natalie Kato and Tim Nungesser; Toby Philpot, Chief of Staff for AHCA; Kristin and Fred Piccolo; Alan and Sara Suskey; Brad Swanson, president and CEO, Florida Internet & Television; Justin Thames; Erin VanSickle, Deputy Chief of Staff, OIR; Robert Weissert; Cameron and Jamie Yarborough.

— ALOE —

An emotional opening for ‘Hamilton’ in Puerto Rico — not just for Lin-Manuel Miranda but an island still reeling from a storm” via Peter Marks of The Washington Post — The first performance of the Tony-winning musical at the Centro de Bellas Artes in the heart of the island’s capital city betokened one of the most extraordinary events in the history of the nation’s performing arts. Here was a show arriving not merely to entertain, but also to serve a humanitarian mission: raising money for the relief effort. Miranda’s mission achieved an emotional crescendo as a new “Hamilton” touring production — the musical’s sixth incarnation — celebrated its official opening to the hurrahs of an exuberant sellout crowd. When the actor made his entrance, during the introductory number, “Alexander Hamilton,” it was the audience that stopped the show, with a prolonged, thunderous ovation. At the curtain call nearly three hours later, Miranda once again brought down the house, with a teary speech that ended with him pulling a large Puerto Rican flag from under his costume and holding it aloft.

‘Hamilton’ opens in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico to ‘joy, hope and tears.’ (Image via Los Angeles Times)

Apple plans three new iPhones this year, plays catch-up on cameras” via Yoko Kubota and Takashi Mochizuki of The Wall Street Journal — Apple is planning to release three new iPhone models again this fall, including a successor to the struggling XR, the lower priced 2018 device with a liquid-crystal display that has fallen short of Apple’s sales expectations. Apple plans to introduce some new camera features like a triple rear camera for the highest-end model and a double rear camera for the two other models, the people said. Such cameras have multiple lenses that offer better-quality photos. For 2020, Apple is considering dropping the LCD model which would mark a complete shift to the organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, display for iPhones. The OLED displays on current XS models are considered to provide better contrast than the less expensive LCD displays on the XR and earlier iPhones such as the 7 and 8 models.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to the effervescent, yet formidable Erin Daly Ballas of Public Affairs Consultants as well as Mr. Gwen Graham, Steve Hurm, and comms pro Claire Van Susteren.

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 Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the 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.

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